in may, I embarked on a two week road trip around certain parts of Ireland. starting in dublin, my itinerary took me to Kilkenny, waterford, castlemartyer, and finally cork. the road trip also included day trips to the cliffs of moher, the ring of kerry, the copper coast, and the villages west of cork.
during the next several weeks I'm going to break down each destination, talking about the city, the hotels, the things-to-do, the food, and our itinerary. I'll give you an honest look at how safe I felt, how clean the city and the hotel was, insights on getting around, what was worth seeing and what to skip, and what I would do differently knowing what I now know.
I'll also be breaking down what it's like to drive in Ireland, particularly as someone coming from America, as well as advice on day trips while you're in Ireland.
this road trip began in Ireland's biggest and most popular city - dublin...
the city at a glance
population - according to the 2016 census, the population of the urban area of dublin was 1.345 million people.
brief history - dublin's history is steeped in viking tales, as the vikings made permanent settlement in 841. in 1040 they adopted christianity and it wasn't unil over 100 years later in 1169 that the irish king seized control. war between the christians and protestants kept dublin in a constant state of battleground for centuries, and it wasn't until 1949 that ireland became a republic and elected their first prime minister.
safety - I personally felt very safe in dublin. I stuck to the touristy areas, minded my belongings, and didn't stray down any dark alley's late at night. you know, the common sense stuff. now, is there crime in dublin? of course there is! there's crime everywhere.
according to the Ireland 2016 crime & safety report from the u.s department of state bureau of diplomatic security most crimes against u.s. citizens include petty theft, burglary, and minor offenses. violent crime is rare, but does happen occasionally. so a little bit of common sense and you can very easily avoid encountering any sort of crime and have a great time.
cleanliness - for as large of a city as it is, I was quite impressed with the cleanliness of the streets. I'm under the impression they sweep the streets at night, as every morning that we went out it was clean. there are signs everywhere reminding people to pick up after their dogs, the parks were well manicured and maintained, and other than the occasional spilled drink or leftover food on a late walk home from the pub, I found Dublin to be a decently clean city, which was in stark contrast to another place we visited later in our trip that I'll be telling you about later.
vibe - if I had to describe dublin in one word it would be 'historic'. it's a grand and beautiful city, adorned by brightly colored doors, incredible architecture, and steeped with history. the people are friendly, the streets are clean, the crime is low, and we really felt comfortable and at home in the city.
walking around - as the biggest city in Ireland, dublin will take you the most time to walk around to see the sites, but it's EASY. you're going to walk miles, but for the most part dublin is relatively flat.
hotel: clayton hotel burlington road
location - the clayton hotel burlington road is located approximately 1 mile from the city center, although "city center" is quite the subjective term in dublin. the nearest 'big' location in city center is st. stephen's green, which is approximately a 15 minute walk. from st. stephen's green you're approximately a 1-3 mile walk from the majority of landmarks.
bottom line - bring your walking shoes. everything is walkable from the hotel, though I wouldn't want to stay any further out. taxi's can be expensive and the exercise is great, so be prepared to save money, burn some calories, and walk around the city.
parking - parking at the clayton hotel is self parking and costs 13 euros per night, however, it's first come, first serve. what does that mean? there aren't enough parking spots for everyone. AND, the self parking, parking lot is actually open to the public, increasing your competition for a spot. we arrived at approximately 11am on a thursday and got one of the two spots left in the parking lot, and we didn't move our car until we left dublin on sunday.
breakfast - breakfast costs 15 euros per person and the clayton hotel burlington road had the best breakfast out of any of the places we stayed. after being seated the staff will take your order for tea or coffee, and then you're free to help yourself to the breakfast buffet.
practically all breakfast places, be they in a hotel or restaurant, offer the 'full Irish breakfast' which entails eggs, pork, sausage links, bacon, black and white pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, and potatoes. but if you're like me that's A LOT of food (and you don't want all of those items), so when you're at a hotel buffet you can pick and choose which items you'd like.
in addition to the 'full Irish breakfast' the clayton hotel burlington road offers another 'hot' item, such as waffles, as well as a full buffet of fruit, yogurt, granola, cereals, toast, muffins, porridge, cheeses and hard boiled eggs. water and various juices are also available, and as we left breakfast to head out to the city the restaurant manager offered us a free bottle of water for the road.
all of the food was fresh and great care was paid by the staff to ensure that the room was clean and the food was always full and stocked for every person that came down for breakfast.
cleanliness - the hotel was very clean. from the lobby to our room, everything was clean, modern, and well kept.
cost - the cost of rooms at the clayton hotel burlington road differs per night. we stayed a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, so the cost continued to rise for each night as we got into the weekend. the average price per night for us was $131.71.
also, this genius ONLY took pictures of the bathroom, so here ya go.
st. stephen's green - this park was the first 'stop' into city center from where our hotel was, so we found ourselves walking through or around st. stephen's green at least twice every day. a beautiful park with lots of trails, st. stephen's green is place you can be in the open playing music, having a picnic, or kicking around a soccer ball, or you can weave your way through small paths to fairy tale nooks and crannies. the park is free and worth the time and beauty to walk through.
trinity college, the old library & the book of kells - okay, so this was one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting, and the entire thing was a bust. let me explain...
our first goal was to get to trinity college in the morning and to try and miss the big afternoon crowds, so we set off early to make the walk. and like any city when the weather gets nice you'll get construction going, so as we got closer to the library we had to weave in and out of lots of street construction. not a big deal. as we got closer to the college we turned on our gps and asked it point us in the direction of the old library. I am a HUGE reader; obsessed with books, and I immediately wanted to go straight there. we followed the gps and it took us too.....a locked up building that was clearly NOT the old library.
and so began the confusion. we knew we were very close. the college was a mere block or two away, though it seems so much further in a sea of people and construction that takes you almost an extra block out of the way just to cross the street. we stopped in a Starbucks to hop on some wifi and regroup; we were just so close. we realized that the library was IN the campus, so off we went. walking, and walking, and walking. and we got to the entrance just to find out that that particular entrance was closed FOR CONSTRUCTION. so we turned around walked back the other way, finally finding an entrance to the college.
now trinity college is a BEAUTIFUL campus. absolutely incredible. I think if I was a student I would get really annoyed with all the tourists milling around, but I also know it's a point of pride and it's so so beautiful that of course people want to see it. so we walked in, asked a student tour guide to point us in the direction of the old library, and finally, after a couple hours of walking and searching, we were headed to the number one place I wanted to go.
but because we got lost, wound up in construction, and turned all around, we were nearing noon and we rounded the corner to the library and oh my word - THE LINE. It went on forever, weaving it's way around the campus. if I had to estimate, I bet we would have stood in that line for easily a couple hours. and you can tell by the fact that I said 'would have' that we most certainly did not. I didn't have the patience nor the time, so we decided to call it bust and head towards the canal docks.
I still long to see the old library, but it just wasn't in the cards for us. my advice is to get there early, and don't use your gps; just go the college where you'll be directed to the right place to go.
the brazen head - the brazen head is Ireland's oldest pub, dating back to 1198, and it's worth the stop! we headed there for lunch after our tour of the guinness storehouse and as luck would have it we were able to get a table for two in the cute courtyard area right away. whether you're inside or outside, the brazen head it worth the stop. the food is great (more on that below in the 'food' area), and ambiance is fantastic.
the temple bar - a popular 'tourist' place, the temple bar was our first stop in dublin (after a 10 hour flight and a nap!) for a beer. everyone says it's over priced and the place caters to tourists, and perhaps it's true, but you know what - I was a tourist! we weren't spending all our hard earned euros there, but we wanted to have a drink and check it out. I mean, would you go to Paris without checking out the Eiffel Tower? probably not. the outside was adorable and the inside was great. we got a beer, sat, took it all in, and we were on our way. and I would suggest you do the same if you find yourself in dublin for the first time.
toner's pub - we stopped at toner's pub as i was intrigued by it's draw of literary greats. it's said bram stoker frequented toner's when he was writing dracula. the inside of the pub brings you back to the 1800s, and musical greats such as mumford and sons have played sets in the courtyard. toner's has won numerous awards for 'best bar' and is worth the stop for pint.
grand canal docks - my travel planning fiance found the grand canal docks through a podcast he was listening too. a "newer" area, if you find yourself in dublin head towards the grand canal square where you'll find lots of shops, bars, and restaurants along the waters edge.
merrion square park - dylan actually found this park during his research and we cut through it one day on the way to trinity college. it was early (early for dublin); about 9am, and i immediately fell in love with this park. there was one couple playing fetch with their golden retriever, and the rest of the park was silent. bright green grass, funky trees, and walking paths (complete with a statue of oscar wilde who lived in the house across the street), weave their way through this small park. i highly recommend a stroll through merrion square park when in dublin!
guinness storehouse - seven stories high with a bar at the top that offers 360 views of Dublin, the guinness storehouse brewery tour is truly an experience that even non beer lovers will enjoy.
the cost is 20 euros per adult, and the tour is self guided, though it starts will a small introduction by a brewery member. while it is busy, they let small groups go through at a time, so it's not a bottle neck on those first couple of floors as you go through the brewing process.
the two highlights of the tour are learning how to taste, and how to pour guinness. in the tasting room your guide talks you through the process of tasting guinness, then you're given a small sample and you get to try it, and believe it or not, it really brings out the flavor and tastes different. from that point you have the option of learning how to pour guinness, which is quite fun. 6-8 people are taken to a bar where you're talked through the process of pouring guinness, then you get to try for yourself. each ticket comes with a free pint of guinness so if you do the pouring than the pint you pour counts as your free drink, otherwise you can proceed to the gravity bar and turn in your ticket for your free pint there.
from the pouring we took our pints and headed to the gravity bar on the 7th floor. this bar area is busy, but the views are gorgeous, even on a foggy day like we had. I can't imagine what it would be like on a sunny day! so long as you're patient tables and chairs will open up, and every one sits and chats with everyone else, so don't expect your 'own table', but enjoy being friendly and meeting people while enjoying your pint of guinness!
christ church cathedral - we opted not to do the tour of christ church cathedral. if I'm being honest, the cathedral in cologne, germany took my breath away, and though beautiful, it was clear that christ church cathedral would not match the grandiose beauty of the cologne cathedral.
st. patrick's cathedral - we opted not to do the tour of st. patrick's cathedral, either, for the same reason that we didn't do the christ church cathedral tour, however you can get spectacular views and pictures of the outside of the church, and the attached park is open to the public at no charge.
dublin castle - construction on dublin castle began in 1204 at king john of england's request. what began as the seat of colonial rule, the castle was handed over to the first leader of the irish free state, michael collins, in 1922, and since then the castle has became a place of prominent social gatherings, such as the inauguration of the Irish president even seven years.
we opted to do the tour of the castle, and while beautiful, I have to be honest and say that I've been to other castles I prefer over dublin castle. the castle has been well maintained, however it didn't have the 'wow' factor that I want to experience when I tour a castle. my vote would be to do the self guided tour or skip it altogether.
canal bank cafe - best. meal. in. dublin. seriously...words cannot describe how amazing this meal was. i'd even go so far as to say that it's easily a top 5 meal of all time, and the second best pasta dish i had (the pasta carbonara i had in rome is #1).
i went with the pasta special - rigatoni, white beans, smoked pancetta, green olives, almonds, baby greens, goat cheese, and freshly shaved parm with a pesto cream sauce. HEAVEN. the smokey taste from the pancetta + the saltiness of the slivered green olives + the tangy goat cheese was one of the best bites of food and balances of flavor i've ever had.
we started with the mezze plate that had marinated feta, beetroot puree, hummus, red pepper puree and toasted pita. all of it was great, but the red pepper puree was incredible. i'm currently scouring the interwebs for the perfect recipe.
dylan had the slow cooked free range pork belly with chinese five spice, sauteed bok choy, spiced orange glaze, pickled shallots and steamed rice. also, so so so good. if you find yourself in dublin you MUST go!
super miss sue - we wandered in super miss sue our first night in dublin. a little drowsy from a nap and ready for some food, we definitely didn't have the lay of the city yet but this restaurant that serves all day breakfast had a fun, funky vibe and some terrific fish and chips! (ps: don't pull the red string next to the toilet in the bathroom - it's an alarm...)
cafe bar h - cafe bar h is one of the few places we found open at noon for a much needed drink after the trinity college mess. we had made our way from trinity college to the grand canal docks and were ready for a drink. while we didn't actually eat here, the restaurant is a tapas and wine bar, but it has a beer selection for anyone that would prefer to stick with beer.
the brazen head - established in 1198, the brazen head is ireland's old pub. only a few blocks away, we stopped in after our guinness tour for a pint and lunch. i'd read good things about the burger at brazen head, and while i typically don't order burgers to eat, i was on vacation and wanted to give it a try. this burger beat the pants off of any regular burger i could order at home. it had a slightly peppery/spicy taste to it and was cooked perfect. i could do without big thick cut fries so i gobbled up the burger and let the fries (chips!) set. also, i was so hungry i ate the burger and forgot to take a picture - oops!
the church - formerly st. mary's church of dublin, the building was built as a church at the beginning of the 18th century, but it wasn't until 2005 that it opened as a bar/restaurant. we stopped for lunch and shared the vegetarian nachos and chicken wing appetizer, and were impressed. if you go, be sure to head upstairs to the top to be seated for a view looking down from the balcony.
st. stephens green > grafton street > the temple bar > super miss sue > whelan's > b bar (in hotel) = 3.5 miles (5.6km), 1:10 of walking
guinness storehouse > christ church cathedral > st. patrick's cathedral > dublin castle > george's street arcade market > canal bank cafe > hotel = 5.3 miles (8.5km), 1:48 of walking
merrion square park/oscar wilde statue > trinity college & the old library > grand canal dock > the church > bagots hutton > the porterhouse > toners pub > b bar (hotel) = 5.9 miles (9.4km), 2 hours of walking
are you thinking about going to dublin? pin this travel guide so you know what to see, what to eat, and what you can skip. and stay tuned for part 2 of our trip through kilkenny (plus I'll be breaking down what it's like to drive in Ireland and the best day trips you can take!).