Ireland started as a goal destination for me mainly through my love of Celtic music and Jameson whiskey, but don’t be fooled by the drunken persona Ireland sometimes gets! This magical land has so much history and culture to soak in. I’ve only scratched the surface here, starting east in Dublin and driving out west to Galway.
Street Art in Dublin
Upon arrival, one of the first things I noticed was the graffiti art presence, which is interesting set against such a historical city.
Listed one of the most important buildings in Irish history, this Georgian-style castle was originally built as a fortress and seat for British monarchy. It later served as the royal residency for the Viceroy of Ireland and was a state parties hot spot until Irish independence was gained, turning into a court of justice for a time. The castle still entertains state dinners and official ceremonies, but these days you don’t have to be royalty to tour the lavish apartments, throne room, chapel, gardens and more.
The Book of Kells & Old Library
The Trinity College destination is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in touring historic Dublin. It begins with the Book of Kells exhibit, housing pieces of the beautiful illuminated manuscripts, and leads into the legendary Long Room & Old Library, holding some of the library’s oldest books. Eat your heart out Samwell Tarly.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
The National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, the Gothic-style St. Patrick’s is the tallest and largest church in the country. Literature fans can visit the final resting place of Jonathan Swift, who was also Dean of the cathedral.
It’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but for beer. Brace yourselves: this is seven floors of self-guided touring packed with exhibits, drinking, and dining opportunities all along the way. The end of the journey lands you at the top in the Gravity Bar, where you can get your free pint of the black stuff while getting a 360° view of the city!
Jameson Distillery – Bow St.
This may have been the most magical place, especially for me. Even if you’re not a whiskey drinker, the heart-warming distillery tour is a wonderful tale through history, like the time John Jameson banded together with other distillery owners to battle against prohibition and bring whiskey’s good reputation back up. The bar area is snazzy and outside the distillery is a courtyard with eateries.
The city has a variety to offer in terms of food, from bangers-and-mash to Indian and Asian cuisine. The quick-bite favorites included a surprising fast-food mediterranean joint called Abrakebabra (points for name alone, best falafels ever) and donut shop Krüst Bakery (where you don’t have to wait in a day-long NYC line for a cronut). My choice traditional bite & live pub music pick: Merchant’s Arch in the Temple Bar area, right along the River Liffey.
Westward Bound: Connemara
Making our way to the opposite coast, we landed in the dreamlike hills of Connemara for the second half of the trip. This part of Ireland is strongly connected to its Celtic culture where the Gaelic tongue is still prevalent.
Want some luxury? Stay in a castle! Located in County Galway, this riverside castle hotel boasts a 700-acre estate and is full of historic notes, including the residency of famous pirate queen Grace O’Malley and being purchased by cricket legend Prince “Ranji” for his love of the landscape and fly-fishing in 1924. The castle grounds include multiple walking & hiking trails, clay shooting, and, of course, fishing.
Dining in Clifden
The coastal Clifden, a short drive from Ballynahinch, is the main town in Connemara and offers some quaint bars and restaurants. A fantastic pub lunch was had at E.J. Kings, a mainstay for over 100 years.
Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden
First built by a wealthy English Parliament member for his wife in 1871, this castle turned abbey became a fresh start for Belgian Benedictine nuns fleeing World War I. On the property, you can tour through restored rooms inside the Abbey, the gothic church, and the sprawling, exquisite Victorian walled gardens.
Galway City is another imperative if you’re going for the authentic Irish pub & live music experience. For history fun, go see the Spanish Arch, the last two remaining arches from the walled city that existed in the 16th century. The Galway City Museum is also nearby, which has a delightful Sea Science exhibit.
Cliffs of Moher
Better known to me as the “Cliffs of Insanity” from Princess Bride, what Ireland adventure is complete without seeing these breathtaking views of the Atlantic? The weather on the cliffs can be erratic, going from blazing sun to fierce winds when I was there, so definitely layer up! The trail along the cliffs stretches 14km from Doolin to Hag’s Head, with the visitor center in the middle.
Tourist Pro Tips
- If driving: Remember your lane is the left one in this country. Practice in the rental parking lot for some confidence! Get used to traffic circles. Become one with the circles, they replace traffic lights in a lot of areas. Get used to tighter roads in more rural spots (especially on the West Coast) and honk your horn if you’re going around tight curves – it’s a courtesy so other cars know you’re there!
- Most of Dublin is entirely walkable (depending on your conviction), but some things are a little farther out of reach such as Guinness Storehouse, Jameson Distillery, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. You can drive or take one of many tour buses to these sites to make things go a little faster.
- Attention museum lovers: Many museums and galleries in Ireland are free to get into.
- For attractions you need to pay for, book online as most places offer cheaper prices through their websites.