Clients often struggle with how to explore Ireland, when they don’t want to be “tied down” with an escorted bus tour, and don’t want the stress of having to drive themselves (on the wrong side of the road). It’s tough, because so much of the real beauty of the country is outside the cities, and beyond the (easy) reach of public transport. I think that Alicia and Jay’s trip report (below) illustrates the perfect answer to that dilemma — use Dublin as a comfortable home base, add a couple of group daytrips to experience the countryside to the south and west, and use the train to pop up to Belfast. Bingo! A fabulous, memorable, inexpensive, and EASY week in Ireland 🙂
Norwegian Air was great! This was our first time flying with them, and we had a great experience. We flew on their Boeing 737-Max both ways, and the planes were new and clean. They didn’t have the individual screens for each seat, but for a short-haul direct flight to Europe this didn’t bother us one bit. Our flights were on time (we actually landed early in Dublin!) For a budget airline, I didn’t feel like we had to sacrifice much (we bought their Low Fare + rate so our checked bags and meal were included). We also got lucky and sat in seats 2D and 2E both ways, which gave us extra legroom at no extra charge! Row 2 is actually the first row on the side where we sat (row 1 is the first row on the other side, and has the same amount of extra legroom.) I think the emergency exit seats also have extra legroom at no extra charge, but we didn’t go back there to investigate. One tip for future travelers – it gets REALLY cold on the plane. They sell blankets for €5 – ridiculous lol! I just used my wool coat as a blanket – I’m glad I decided to fly with it! All in all, we had two great flights, and look forward to flying with them again someday! The price and flying out of PVD direct to Dublin just can’t be beat!
We landed in Dublin early on the 12th and took a taxi to our hotel. It was early, so our room was not ready yet, but the hotel stored our luggage and we went to breakfast at the bistro that is attached to the hotel. Let’s first talk about the location of the Harding Hotel– absolutely ideal! We were within walking distance of everything we wanted to see. Being right in Temple Bar was great with so many restaurants and pubs right outside our door (and one of our favorites was the pub called Darkey Kelly’s attached to the hotel)! It is located just enough on the outskirts of Temple Bar that there wasn’t too much street noise, except on the Saturday night when Ireland won the rugby match against New Zealand, but can you blame them?! We could see the Christchurch Cathedral from our hotel window, and the bells ring every 15 minutes lol. We found that once we fell asleep, they didn’t wake us up though.
Our room was very clean and spacious. I think we got lucky and ended up in a triple room because there were two beds – one double (two twins pushed together that made it the size of a king) plus another twin. There was a mini refrigerator, iron and ironing board, coffee, and a safety deposit box. The bathroom was small with little counter space (something that didn’t bother us because we are used to European bathrooms) and the shower had great water pressure. There was an abundance of clothing and shoe storage – two huge open closets. I sat at the desk and did my makeup every day. The only negatives were that the bed was quite uncomfortable (we were generally very tired though so this didn’t bother us too much), and the room was always hot because we think the heat was regulated for the whole building. We opened the windows and turned the thermostat down all the way (I think we had the AC on haha). But, we made it work and this place was such a great find on our budget!
After breakfast on our first day, we decided to walk to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and get on the Hop-on Hop-off Bus. Ahead of our trip, we bought The Dublin Pass for 5 days. This gave us free admission to all of the places we wanted to go, plus more, including the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Bus. Doing the Hop-on Hop-off Bus on our first day gave us a great overview of the city, and we made note of places we wanted to go back and see. We hopped off at O’Connell Street and walked around the shops there. Everything was beautifully decorated for Christmas! We got back on the bus, and rode back to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where we got off there and did a tour. We then walked back to our hotel where our room was ready. We took hot showers, changed, and headed back out for more adventures! As we were strolling, we somehow ended up finding the cutest boutique shops on a street called Exchequer – including consignment stores with some fabulous designer items! We found Laduree and HAD to buy some macarons (our favorite)…you can take us out of Paris, but you can’t take the Paris out of us… We then eventually came upon The Bank, an amazing old bank turned bar (it reminded me of The Dorrance in Providence) where we had our first pint of Guinness and glass of Jameson of the trip! In search of a traditional Irish pub for dinner, we found Mulligan & Haines where we started with nachos and had fish and chips and great drinks.
On Tuesday we woke up with the intent to put the Dublin Pass to good use! We visited Dublin Castle – so incredible to be in the room where the president is sworn in! I loved learning about the presidential history of Ireland! We then headed to Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells – so amazing! The Book of Kells was the only exhibit not included on our Dublin Pass (but we didn’t mind). We then visited the National Gallery of Ireland, stopped into The Lincoln’s Inn for lunch. We then walked to one of the highlights of our trip – EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. This is one of the best museums I have ever been to. It was incredibly informative and interactive. We both agreed that it was one of our favorite places of the entire trip, and think it is a must-see for anyone visiting Dublin. We learned so much about how, why and when the Irish people immigrated to other parts of the world. It was very moving. After EPIC, we started making our way back to Temple Bar. We stopped at a really cool pub called O’Neills Pub & Kitchen for some drinks on the way. I was ready to branch out from the pub scene, so we had dinner at Toscana, an Italian restaurant not far from our hotel.
On Wednesday, we were up very early for our tour to the west coast of Ireland! We met our tour guide, Michael, with Railtours Ireland at the Heuston Train Station and were soon on our way to Limerick. At the Limerick Station, we boarded our coach and began our tour west. We stopped at Bunratty Castle, an amazing medieval castle with a ton of history. We climbed to the top of the castle and took in the amazing views of the Irish countryside. We also explored the quaint village surrounding the castle. We then hopped back on the coach and headed to the beautiful small village of Doolin and had lunch at O’Connors Pub. Fun fact – this pub had police and fire department patches displayed from all over the world! There were tons from the U.S., and we found the South Kingstown, North Kingstown and Providence police departments! We almost gave up looking for Warwick (where Jay is a police officer), but then we spotted the Warwick Fire Department patch! How cool is that?! Next time we go away, Jay will need to bring some patches with him! Soon after, we were on our way to the highlight of this day, the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs were absolutely breathtaking. It’s hard to even explain in words just how incredible being here was. We took in the sights, took lots of photos, and tried not to get blown away! We also explored the indoor exhibit and learned about all of the wildlife living on or near the cliffs, and how they were formed. After departing the cliffs, we drove down the Wild Atlantic Way headed to Galway. We stopped twice to get off the coach and take photos. The views and scenery on this drive were just amazing. We arrived in Galway and walked around the adorable city, then settled in to the Meyrick Hotel for dinner. We then boarded our train back to Dublin. This tour was just incredible! Even though it was a long day, it was so worth it to be able to see the Cliffs of Moher, Wild Atlantic Way and Galway. Our tour guide was top notch. Michael was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We had a great day, and once back in Dublin, we went to Darkey Kelly’s for a nightcap before turning in.
On Thursday, we set off to explore more of Dublin. We visited Dublinia, the exhibit about Dublin’s Viking and Medieval history. We climbed to the top of the tower and took in beautiful views of Dublin. We then walked over the bridge to Christchurch Cathedral and also visited their impressive crypt. We then set off for the Jameson Distillery. We did their Bow Street tour, which was included in our Dublin Pass. This turned out to be another highlight of our trip! The tour was so cool and interactive. We learned so much about the Jameson family history, and how they make their whiskey. At the end of the tour, we compared Jameson with Scotch and American Whiskey. Jay also bought a bottle of Jameson only available for purchase at the distillery, and had the label personalized with his name! We then headed to the Guinness Storehouse for a self-guided tour, and made it to the Gravity Bar to enjoy a pint just in time for the perfect Irish sunset complete with a little rain!
After the Guinness Storehouse, we headed to Zara so I could quickly grab something dressier to wear for the night. During our time in Dublin, I had seen ads for The Nutcracker being performed by Ballet Ireland at the Gaiety Theatre. Jay and I had planned to see it in Providence, but instead we figured why not see it in Ireland?! I was able to buy tickets online earlier in the week. After stopping at Zara, we went back to the hotel to change, and then went to Mykonos Taverna, a Greek restaurant a short walk from our hotel. We then walked to the Gaiety for The Nutcracker. I am so glad we did this. The theater is so detailed and beautiful! The performance was fabulous and the dancers were so talented!
On Friday, we met our coach near Trinity College for our trip through the Wicklow Mountains with Collins Day Tours. For some reason, our tour guide didn’t have our names on his list, but I gave him the Viator confirmation page you had given us, and he quickly sorted it out with them. This tour was so personalized because there were only 8 of us on the tour! Our tour guide, Pat, was incredible. He memorized all of our names and made the day really special. We set out for Glendalough National Park – what an amazing place! We learned all about its history of St. Kevin and took in the incredible views of the mountains, waterfalls and lower lake. We hopped back on the coach and drove through the beautiful Wicklow Mountains on our way to Kilkenny. We saw the Irish “Hollywood” sign. We then made it to the small medieval town of Kilkenny, where we walked around, had lunch at the Langton Hotel, shopped, and explored Kilkenny Castle. Soon we were back in Dublin where we had a quick drink at the oldest pub in Ireland – The Brazen Head. We then had an amazing meal at Piglet Wine & Tapas Bar. We enjoyed a bottle of Cava, and some delicious food. Definitely the best mussels I have ever had!
On Saturday, we decided to take the train to Belfast, Northern Ireland. We had bought tickets ahead of time for both the train and the Hop-on Hop-off Bus. When you arrive at the Belfast Train Station, you can take a city bus for free with your train ticket to the city center, so that is just what we did. We located the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Bus easily and were quickly on our way! We had a live tour guide on the buses we took, and they were so funny! We hopped off at the Titanic Museum – what an incredible place. This was another highlight of our trip! The museum is simply awesome. I enjoyed learning so much about the Titanic’s history from the company that built it to its discovery after it sunk, and everything in between. It’s also incredible to learn about how the shipyard industry has shaped the city skyline of Belfast! After the Titanic Museum, we hopped back on the Hop-on Hop-off Bus and got off near City Hall. We walked to St. George’s market in search of something to eat. While the market was really cool, we selected Ronnie Drew’s Pub next door instead. After lunch, we headed over to the Christmas market. The Christmas market was amazing! There was an abundance of handmade goods, rides and food. It was the first day for it, and I’m so glad we got lucky on our timing! We had mulled wine, and even ventured into the beautiful city hall to see the impressive Christmas tree and listen to some music. We then got back on the train and went back to Dublin. We made reservations at Bar Italia Ristorante for later in the night, but first stopped at the hotel to change and have a few drinks at Darkey Kelly’s because the Irish rugby team was playing in a huge match against New Zealand! I swear it was like a football night in America! This was so much fun! We then headed to Bar Italia Ristorante for dinner. The food here was amazing, and everyone in the restaurant was speaking Italian (including me because I almost forgot what country I was in lol!) After dinner, we headed back to Temple Bar in search of a good bar for more drinks. The streets were certainly alive since Ireland had won the rugby match! We ended up in Trinity Bar, and while it was filled with tourists and college students, the music was absolutely awesome! We had a blast here!
Sunday was our last day, so we decided to sleep late and take it easy. We ventured out to have “Fancy Pants” Afternoon Tea at the Morrison Hotel (we had made reservations the day before). This was a beautiful hotel across the River Liffey. We had delicious finger sandwiches, sweets, prosecco, and of course tea! We then headed out toward O’Connell Street again for some shopping and to pick up some Irish souvenirs at Carroll’s. Arnotts, the huge department store, was amazing! Their Christmas windows were beautiful! After we shopped, we went back to the hotel to sadly pack for our trip home. We later headed out for dinner at Musashi, a delicious Japanese restaurant.
On Monday morning we had breakfast at our hotel (the only day we managed to do this – oops lol! The days of our excursions we had to meet to early and the other days we wanted to sleep in haha. Oh well!) We then headed to the airport, cleared U.S. Customs (so convenient!) and were on our way back to PVD.
Ireland is such a beautiful country. I never once felt unsafe or worried about pickpockets (like I have in other European countries). While we were still always careful, it was a nice feeling. The Irish people are so friendly and eager to chat, and their culture beautiful and happy. We loved the sights of the countryside as much as the old city buildings, castles and churches. And of course, the old pubs were just so cool!
We can’t thank you enough for putting this fabulous trip together for us, Ann. It was just what we needed, and I’m still in shock that we were able to see SO MUCH of Ireland and stay at such a perfectly located hotel within our tight budget. You know us so well and truly put together the perfect trip!