As I mentioned in Part 1, Galway is a fantastic base for day trips on the west side of Ireland.
One of the not-to-be missed sites, within driving distance of Galway is the Cliffs of Moher. There are several day tours available or if you are renting a car this is an easy drive, with plenty of time for side stops along the way.
Our first stop was Dunguaire Castle, built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan. It was restored in the early 1920’s and became part of the Irish literary movement, hosting gatherings George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Edward Martin and others.
From Dunguaire Castle we continued into Burren National Park for a stop at Poulnabrone Dolmen. This megalithic monument is the oldest one in Ireland. It is classified as a Portal Tomb and researchers believe is was used for rituals well into the Bronze Age. Poulnabrone Dolmen is in an isolated area and requires a bit of walking to get to, but the view of the monument and surrounding area, is worth the walk.
From Poulnabrone Dolmen, we made our way to Kilfenora for a stop at the Celtic crosses. Dating back to the twelfth century, the Doorty Cross is the most famous of the Kilfenora crosses. Be sure to take a few moments to enjoy the incredible stone work on the crosses.
Just before heading to the Cliffs of Moher, make a lunch stop in Doolin. We recommend Gus O’Connor’s Pub. Brett still says this was the best Seafood Chowder he’s ever had. It’s safe to say, we’ll be back to Gus O’Connor’s Pub on our next trip!
After our lunch in Doolin we headed to the Cliffs of Moher. (If you are a Princess Bride fan, you may also recognize them as the Cliffs of Insanity). We were both looking forward seeing the Cliffs of Moher, but I’m not sure anything could have prepared us for just how incredible they would be in person.
Note: Plan to spend at least two hours exploring the Cliffs of Moher and the visitor’s center. There are plenty of walking paths in both directions for exploring, you’ll want to wear good hiking shoes and bring a jacket as it can get quite windy up there!
Both Brett and I love traveling through Europe by train so when it came time to go from Dublin to Galway, train was our preferred method. It’s an easy two and a half hour ride through the middle of Ireland. Lots of countryside, sheep, faerie mounds and we even saw a rainbow or two on our journey.
Galway is small enough that when you arrive at the train station, you’re fairly close to wherever you might be staying. I highly recommend staying at the Eyre Square Hotel. We absolutely loved our time there and look forward to staying with them again. Extra bonus — this hotel is probably 150 steps from the exit of the train station. They have lovely rooms, an elevator and a delicious breakfast available each morning.
When we planned our trip to Ireland, we went over the Thanksgiving holiday to maximize our vacation days. We would both do this again in a heartbeat. Thanksgiving in Ireland was very different but we had a great time. Obviously, it’s not actually Thanksgiving there but if you were looking for a turkey dinner, most of the restaurants in Galway made sure “American Thanksgiving” was on the menu that night.
Another bonus of going over Thanksgiving, was being in Ireland for the start of the Christmas Market season. When I discovered we would be in Galway for their Christmas Market, I was beyond excited. I’m still not sure there is anything more magical than European Christmas Markets. Between the food, the holiday shopping tents and the Christmas Lights, it’s just a special thing to experience.
Along with it’s Christmas Market, Galway is a good landing spot for exploring the west side of Ireland. A visit to the Aran Islands should be on your day trip list.
The Aran islands are just off the west coast of Ireland. Inishmore (or Inis Mór) is the largest of the island chain. It is easily accessible by a bus/ferry combination leaving from Eyre Square in Galway. When we arrived on Inishmore our ferry was greeted by several locals with vans, ready to give visitors day tours of the island. Because we were visiting in November, our time was cut a bit short due to daylight and the return ferry schedule, so we opted to use one of the local guides for the day. If you go this route, have Euro available and talk with several guides to see where they are going and which tour fits what you might want to see.
We choose a guide heading toward the Ring of Aran. Our van of six was cozy but our guide was great. He pointed out spots along the way to our destinations. Our main stop was the base of the walk to Dún Aonghasa. Originally constructed around 1100 B.C., Dún Aonghasa is the largest of the prehistoric forts on the Aran Islands. We were dropped off at the visitor’s center down below and given a couple hours to explore. The cost to walk to the fort is five Euro and well worth it. The walk is a gentle uphill climb that takes you past the famous stone walls of the Aran Islands up to the fort, perched on the top of a cliff. The last hundred steps are on a bit of rocky terrain, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes for this walk.
At the top, we explored the ruins of the fort and had incredible views of Galway Bay.
Exploring Dún Aonghasa, Inishmore, Ireland (Photo credit: Erin Moore)
When you return to the base, take some time to wander through the couple craft stores. We found a few things made on the islands to bring home with us.
Walking either the entire Ring of Aran or the South of the Island walk would probably take three to five hours each. So if you really want to enjoy the island, I recommend looking into a Bed and Breakfast for a night so you have a couple days on Inishmore.
While you’re there, also make time to stop into the Aran Islands Sweater Market for some shopping and plan to have a meal at Joe Watties.
NOTE: Listen carefully to the ferry announcements and schedules, depending on the time of year, there may only be one ferry returning to the mainland at the end of the day, make sure you don’t miss it!
You can’t really stop in Dublin and not enjoy at least a few good meals and a pint or two. As promised last week, here are a few recommendations for trying and enjoying Irish beer, whiskey and food.
1. Guinness Storehouse — The Guinness Storehouse is a multi-story experience located next to the St. James Gate Brewery. Founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, the company eventually signed a 9,000 year lease for their property and became a mainstay in Dublin.
Even if you aren’t a beer drinker or a Guinness fan, this is still a pretty amazing exhibit of Irish history and the influence of the Guinness company in Dublin. Brett and I did the self-guided tour through five stories of beer making and advertising history. During the tour we had a chance to try a sensory tasting experience and learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness at the Guinness Academy.
We did a later afternoon tour and unfortunately the restaurants on the fifth floor were closed by the time we arrived but we did get a chance to head to Gravity Bar on the top floor for a drink. With floor to ceiling windows, the views of Dublin and the countryside are incredible.
If you do have Guinness lovers in your party, be warned, there are several places to purchase rare or limited release brews. There is also a large gift shop that will probably steal of bit of money from your wallet!
NOTE: If the Guinness Storeroom is on your list (and it really should be), book tickets ahead of time to save a bit of money and skip the ticket line. I’d recommend an 11 or 11:30 time slot and plan to have lunch on the fifth floor. You can add on extra experiences when you purchase a ticket, including a guided tour, and personalized Guinness pint glasses. There is a new experience that includes a drink at the old Guinness Power Station, now home to Roe & Co Whiskey Distillery, definitely on my list for our next visit!
2. Teeling Distillery — Teeling opened in 2015 and was the first new distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years. We visited Teeling in 2017, when they were still new and bit unknown. Since then, we’ve started seeing some of their bottles appear in our grocery story and local liquor stores.
We arrived at Teeling in time to enjoy a quick lunch in the Phoenix Cafe. It was a bit rainy that day, so having a chance to warm up with soup and tea was fantastic. I definitely recommend stopping in for a quick snack, if you have time.
Teeling guided tours come with Tasting Options. Anytime we have options, Brett and I usually get two different tastings so that we can share and try more. That’s exactly what we did at Teeling. At the end of the tour, the whole group sits down with their guide for a guided tasting of their whiskeys. Both of us had upgraded our tastings to the Teeling Trinity and the Teeling Select. The rest of our tour had kept to the tasting that is included in the tour, small batch whiskey tasting and a cocktail. The tastings were great and Brett and I enjoyed what we had, but it was a bit awkward as our guide had to walk us through different tastings than the rest of our group. If you upgrade, be prepared that you may have six to eight people watching you taste something they don’t have!
Note: If you like whiskey and are interested in seeing a smaller distillery, I do recommend a visit to Teeling, however, if you are just going to pick one whiskey experience while in Dublin, I’d save that for Jameson.
3. Jameson — Jameson was our favorite whiskey stop in Dublin. Since we had done a blending experience at the Irish Whiskey Museum and a distillery tour at Teeling, we opted for the Secret Tasting Experience at Jameson.
If you skipped Teeling or didn’t blend your own bottle of whiskey at the Irish Whiskey Museum, you might want to consider choosing The Bow Street Experience for a tour of the distillery or the Jameson Blending Experience. Your other options include combining the tour and a secret tasting or just the secret tasting.
What’s so special about this secret tasting? It’s done in J. Jameson’s private office. (Well, a very close replica to his private office as we were told the actual office doesn’t exist anymore). Brett and I lucked out for our Secret Tasting. Normally, that experience accommodates up to 18 guests at a time. Fortunately for us, we were the only 2. So we enjoyed a 4o minute private tasting in Jameson’s private office. This was one of the highlights of our visit to Jameson.
The other highlight, bottling our own bottle of Jameson Whiskey. At the Bow Street Distillery, they have a special whiskey that can only be purchased at that location and when you purchase it, you bottle it, write out the label and add your label’s number to the official book. That’s bit on the pricier side, but it was something we couldn’t pass up!
Before leaving make sure to stop by the bar for a seasonal cocktail creation. We tried the Pear and Blackcurrent Sour and the Cherry and Orange Sour and enjoyed both of them!
NOTE: Tickets are timed entry, I recommend purchasing ahead of time to guarantee the time slot that works best and to skip the ticket line.
4. The Brazen Head — If you are looking for an Irish pub, The Brazen Head definitely meets that description. It has been a pub, restaurant and at times also a hotel since 1198. The current building can be traced back to 1774. Revolutions planned by Robert Emmitt (1798) and Michael Collins (1916) were planned at The Brazen Head and authors, Behan and Joyce were frequent visitors.
We went to The Brazen Head for Food, Folklore and Faeries, a combination dinner, Irish Folklore and music event. This was absolutely a highlight of our trip. The program and dinner are held in an upstairs room at The Brazen Head. We were seated at a long table with several other parties and ended up meeting some very nice Norwegians sitting next to us. The evening started with a host introducing the program and sharing a few stories. Then as each course is served, we were treated to traditional Irish music. In between courses, more Irish folklore. If you are looking for something that gives you a good understanding of the more popular Irish legends or want to know why the Irish still preserve faerie mounds, this is the place to go! Good food, captivating story-telling and great music.
Note: This is a popular show in Dublin, it runs nightly March through December but you do need to book in advance.
5. Boxty House — We can’t wait to go back to Boxty. This meal was the best of our time in Dublin and maybe even our whole trip! Boxty is a type of potato pancake that is thin enough to wrap around other ingredients. So as you might guess, Boxty house, specializes in boxty and it is delicious. The also have other Irish specialties such as Colcannon and Champ, additional potato side dishes. The service was fantastic, the food was incredible and atmosphere was cozy.
Note: You can make a reservation on their site, I would recommend it, just to be sure you have your preferred dinning time. We went for dinner, but their breakfast and brunch menus look equally delicious.
Brett and I made Ireland our first international priority as a married couple. We both have Irish roots and both really wanted to visit the Emerald Isle.
Ireland did not disappoint at all! We left wishing we had more time to explore and vowed to return again soon.
Collectively, the Irish are about as welcoming as you will find anywhere. With more people of Irish descent living outside of Ireland than in the country itself, the Irish are very quick to say “Welcome Home” as soon as they discover you are even a tiny bit Irish. While neither of us have lived a day in Ireland in our lives, it did feel like we had come home.
We spent four days in Dublin and easily could have spent more time there. If you have been to Dublin, you know the city is very walkable and with a little help from the occasional bus or rail it’s very easy to get from place to place.
If you’re thinking about a few days in Dublin, here our my suggestions for a few locations to carve into your itinerary.
1. Dublin Literary Pub Crawl — This was our introduction to Dublin and I can’t imagine starting our trip any other way. The Literary Pub Crawl is part historical tour and part theatre performance. We met our guides at The Duke and joined a group of about 20 people in an upstairs room for a drink and the start of the evening. Over the next two hours, our guides took us through the streets near Trinity College, pausing to share stories and perform passages from works by Joyce, Beckett, Yeats and more. Along the way, we stopped at three additional pubs for a drink and conversations. This was definitely one of our favorite experiences in Dublin.
NOTE: This tour runs year round and in all sorts of weather, dress warmly in the winter and be prepared for rain.
2. The Book of Kells and The Long Room at Trinity College — The Book of Kells is on most “must see” lists for Dublin. It is one of the most famous medieval manuscripts and depicts the four gospels of the Bible. Whether you are religious or not, these are beautiful works of art that should not be missed.
Just passed the Book of Kells exhibit is the The Long Room. This might be one of my favorite places in Dublin. The Long Room is part of the oldest library in Dublin and contains 200,000 of the oldest books in the collection. While you can’t touch the books, just being in the same room with them is a bit awe inspiring.
Note: This exhibit is a timed entry ticket, so it is important to book at least a day or two in advance to get the time that works best.
3. Christ Church Cathedral — Another highlight of our time in Dublin was our guided tour at Christ Church. The Cathedral is nearly a thousand years old (2028, will be it’s official thousandth birthday). Brett and I tend to explore on our own, rather than hop onto guided tours, but every once in a while we take a chance and in this case, we won the lottery on tours. The guided tours at Christ Church are the only way to head up to the Belfry. (It is 84 steps up a rather small circular staircase, so if tight spaces make you a bit nervous, take that into account before heading on this portion of the guided tour). If you are lucky, your tour guide will take you across an outdoor bridge at the top of the cathedral and into the bell tower, where you just might get a chance to ring the cathedral’s bells! Our guide explained that Dublin has no laws governing when bells can be rung, so it is perfectly fine to ring them anytime during the day for any occasion! I’m not usually one who enjoys those spiral staircases or heights, but I’m so glad I pushed myself a bit to make it up to the top of this one. Ringing those bells was quite the experience!
NOTE: You can combine your visit to Christ Church with a visit to Dublinia, right next door. We wandered into Dublinia, a museum detailing the beginnings of Dublin. Well worth a visit, especially if you want to brush up on your medieval Irish history!
4. The Irish Whiskey Museum — It’s hard to visit Ireland and not at least try a bit of whiskey. Brett has always loved whiskey, but prior to our first trip to Ireland, I wasn’t really a big fan. It didn’t take long for Ireland to change my opinion!
Whiskey drinker or not, the Irish Whiskey museum showcases two thousand years of whiskey making history. The guided tour is a lively, interactive experience complete with a tasting at the end.
Brett and I are always looking for unique activities and we took advantage of the Whiskey Blending Experience, a ninety minute guided tour and tasting with the opportunity to blend your own whiskey to take with you. Mine was a little more traditional blend of Irish whiskies while Brett went heavy on the Connemara Whiskey, which has a smoke and peat taste to it.
5. The Hill of Tara — While not in Dublin, this is worth the day trip out into the Irish country side. Located in County Meath, legend says it was the inauguration site for the High Kings Of Ireland. At the top of the hill you’ll find The Lia Fáil, or The Destiny Stone, according to the stories, when the rightful High King of Ireland would step on the stone, the stone would roar with joy. Nearby you’ll also find monuments from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, including a passage tomb and burial mounds.
If you’re heading out to the Hill of Tara, you may want to also include stops at Trim Castle and Loughcrew Cairns. To make transportation easy, we booked a full day Celtic Boyne Valley Day Trip. I’m not always a fan of group tours, but this one was a model example of how these tours should be done. We were a group of about 15, our guide found the perfect combination of commentary and music during our drive and we never felt rushed at any stop during the day.
NOTE: There is a lot of walking on uneven ground and it can get windy on the hills. I definitely recommend sturdy walking shoes and a jacket.
6. Marsh Library — Built in the early eighteenth century, the March Library is perfect example of a late Renaissance, early Enlightenment library. This hidden gem is located adjacent to St. Patrick’s cathedral and doesn’t take long to explore. Like The Long Room, you are not allowed to touch the books, but you can get close enough to read the titles and marvel at the volumes on the shelves.
For added fun, currently the Marsh Library has a LEGO Scavenger Hunt available. You receive a pamphlet with clues to hidden LEGO figures throughout the collection. Brett and I had fun finding them as we went through the library. No photos are allowed until you reach the Selfie Corner at the back of the building. We took a few moments to take a few photos there, with the right angle, you can absolutely get some of the books into the photo.
NOTE: The Marsh Library is closed on Sundays and Tuesdays, If you are planning to include this in your Dublin itinerary, definitely check operating hours first.
Make sure to check out the next post to hear more about our experiences at Guinness, Jameson and so many other delicious places in Dublin.
If you’re dreaming of Dublin or already have a trip planned but want some help with the itinerary, please contact me. I love helping people create their ideal vacation experience.
Link Note: I do not receive payment for any links or endorsements in this article. They are all my personal suggestions.
Welcome to Travel Bug Adventures! This space is about sharing and planning adventures all over the world. Whether you are staying local and exploring your own city or venturing out of the country, every trip should be full of experiences and adventures.
Traveling shouldn’t just be about checking the “must see” boxes, it should also be about experience the culture, seeing things through the eyes of locals and exploring your passions wherever you are.
Planning for vacations can be stressful, I’ll take away some of the stress by sharing packing tips, checklists, suggestions and travel guides. Don’t have enough time or worried you’ll miss something? Let me plan your itinerary! Every vacation, every adventure should be customized for the people traveling. Vacations aren’t one size fits all!
I hope you’ll share your stories and photos along the way as we explore the world together.