This summer, my job finished at the end of July, giving all of us summer associates a solid month off before starting law school in early September. Because of this, a common small talk question at social events was, “So, what are you doing with your time off?” My answer, obviously, was “I’m going to Ireland!” This was then usually followed by the question, “Cool – so is your family Irish?”
This exchange happened at least five times, maybe more. And each time, it struck me as strange – is family heritage really the only reason one might travel to Ireland? For the record, I’m only a little bit Irish, and Ireland has still been at the very top of my travel list for quite some time now. For me, going to Ireland was never about discovering my roots – rather, I had in mind the friendliness of the people, the richness of Irish music and literature, the gorgeousness of the countryside, and – yes, I will admit it – the hotness of Irish accents. On all counts, Ireland delivered.
Given that, it’s accurate to say the country of Ireland totally charmed me, and this all began in Dublin, where my mom (my travel partner in crime for this trip) and I spent a lovely four days to kick our vacation off.
We flew from Detroit to Atlanta to Dublin and, upon our arrival in Dublin, were delighted that the Irish gentleman ushering us through the customs line was cheerful, polite, and helpful – my mom and I looked at each other and wondered aloud if we had ever encountered a cheerful person at US customs (answer: no). So, from almost the first moment we arrived, I knew I loved the Irish.
After making it through customs, we took a bus from the airport to downtown Dublin (it was 6 euro/ticket; more info can be found here), getting off at the Trinity College stop and walking to our hotel just a few short blocks away. Our hotel, Buswells, was really lovely, and I would highly recommend it to anyone – it’s within easy walking distance of most key sites, it’s in a nice neighborhood, the lobby and rooms are beautifully kept, the breakfast is tasty, and the staff are all friendly and helpful.
We had a quick lunch at the hotel, attempted to make ourselves look fresh after our transatlantic flight, and then headed out to explore. After consulting my guidebook (I always use Rick Steves guidebooks in Europe, and they rarely let me down), it seemed like the easiest – albeit, cheesiest – way to get from site to site was to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. Even though I cringe at the site of huge tourist buses in NYC, somehow when I myself am a tourist overseas, I can get on board with them – so we did. The bus turned out to be useful for two reasons: 1) it gets you to certain places – like the Guinness Storehouse – that aren’t walking distance and 2) it gives you a nice orientation to the city as you make your loop.
The first place we “hopped off” was St. Patrick’s Cathedral which, we were surprised to learn, is actually not a Catholic church (nor were many of the grandest churches in Dublin – a legacy of the English Reformation). Nonetheless, the church was worthwhile to explore; I especially admired the colorful floor tiles and the array of flags over the altar. The adjacent park and garden were also lovely, and it seemed like many Dubliners use the spot as a place to relax, read, or have a picnic lunch.
We hopped back on our bus and headed for the main event of our day – the Guinness Storehouse! While I am admittedly not much of a beer enthusiast, a visit to Guinness seemed like a requirement (and, since I’d previously visited Heineken in Amsterdam, it only seemed fair to visit this one too). While you won’t see anyone actually making Guinness on your tour, you will learn quite a bit about the brewing process and history of the company.
At the end of your tour, you can make your way to the top floor “Gravity Bar” for a free pint of Guinness. As someone who rarely drinks beer, I will say this: I thought Guinness was better than most beers, but it’s still not something I would drink much of on my own. Still, when in Ireland, you pretty much have to drink Guinness, right?! And, even if you aren’t a big beer drinker, paying a visit to the Gravity Bar is worth it for the views of Dublin – as you walk around the bar, you get a 360 degree panoramic view of the city.
Our stomachs filled with Guinness and our bodies tired from jet lag, we headed back to our hotel for a short rest before dinner. We decided to dine at Bewley’s Cafe, and it turned out to be a good choice. Our entree – we each chose fish ‘n chips – was delicious, but our dessert flat-out blew us away: sticky toffee pudding. The sponge cake was drowning in delicious, rich toffee sauce, and the side of whipped cream served as the perfect companion to the dish. Though we would order sticky toffee pudding a few more times while in Ireland, none of them lived up to the magic of the one at Bewley’s. One tip: though the dish is delicious, it’s probably best to share it with your dining companion; my mom and I loved it, but it probably would’ve been too rich and decadent for either of us to eat entirely on our own.
With countless calories from our pudding to burn off, we took an evening stroll around the area. Bewley’s is located on Grafton Street, a main center of shopping and activity in Dublin (we would return to the area every day we were in the city). The street is nearly always crowded with people; we spent a while window shopping and checking out the various street performers before fleeing to a quieter spot.
That spot was St. Stephen’s Green, a lovely park just south of Grafton Street. We wound up arriving at the park shortly before closing time, and the gardens were quite peaceful because of this. It was also cool to walk through the park because it made an appearance in Leap Year, one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies.
And with that, our first day in Dublin came to a close. Though we had a few low moments due to jetlag, it was a successful day overall – and it was certainly enough to show me that I find the city of Dublin quite charming indeed.
- Buswell’s Hotel: 27 Molesworth St., Dublin 2, Ireland | +353.1.614.6500
- Hop On, Hop Off Bus: Dublin Sightseeing (18 euro for an adult 2-day ticket; 16 euro for a student)
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral: Saint Patrick’s Close, Dublin 8, Ireland | +353.1.453.9472
- Guinness Storehouse: St James’s Gate, Dublin 8, Ireland | +353.1.408.4800
- Bewley’s Grafton Street Cafe: 78/79 Grafton Street, Dublin 2, Ireland | +353.1.672.7720