I used to travel a fair amount when I was younger. Both my parents enjoyed going to new places when and where they could and wanted to bring me with them to experience other countries: try their cuisine, see the landscapes, and understand and appreciate the culture. I was always a bit nervous, but I embraced the experiences when and where I could.
Sadly, as I’ve gotten older, I don’t have as many opportunities to be able to jet off to new locations and adventure as much as I used to. But I didn’t want that to spell the end for trying to get out there and visit new places, and not end up in a rut of only going on a beach holiday to somewhere in Spain again and again.
So, me and my girlfriend had a sit down and had a think about what we could do that was both affordable, not -too- far away, and somewhere neither of us had been. We started by thinking of places we’d like to visit; Italy, Germany, Cyprus. We only wanted a long weekend away, just for a nice little bit of escapism. We finally decided on Dublin, Ireland. Neither of us had ever been, and we couldn’t get much closer to a short journey than that. I had always wanted to visit Ireland, after having learned a fair amount during my history lessons in college. Booking tickets was fairly priced, and we managed to find a nice place to stay in the Temple Bar area.
We’d decided to set off early and get one of the first flights out of Manchester to Dublin, so we could spend our first day exploring and getting our bearings without losing any precious time. It was a stress-free journey, at least in our experience. When your flight only lasts about 30 minutes in the air, you don’t exactly have much time to stress out about anything. I literally only got to read the first chapter of my book before we were already set for our descent.
Although it’d been an early start, as soon as we were able to drop-off our luggage at the hotel, we immediately set off to the nearest touristy sight – in this case, Dublin Castle. It was a lovely building, but only had fairly small bitesize bits of history dotted around. But then again, I’m a bit biased and could spend a long time just reading information about a place. Not that Dublin Castle wasn’t interesting, it was perfect weather to look around the castle grounds, and it is still an officially used building, so only part of it was open to the public.
What I really loved was just behind the castle: The Chester Beatty museum – a gentleman who I’d never heard of before, but left knowing a lot more about. Now I could go on for a while about this since I enjoyed it so much, so I’ll do my best to try and keep it brief.
Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, an American, nicknamed the “King of Copper” was something of a business legend for his time. Having made his fortune from mining in the United States, he had moved over to Dublin in 1950, and became a private citizen. Beatty was a collector; European, Asian, African and Middle-Eastern texts, objects, all sorts. Some items were hundreds of years old, from all the corners of the globe, all carefully preserved and cared for at the museum, which has been open to the public since 1954. Although a large amount were religious texts and manuscripts, this didn’t make it any less interesting whatsoever, as there was bundles of information for everything that was on display. Even though it wasn’t the largest museum, it did still contain a fair amount; and if you took the time to stop and read everything, you would still be there for a while and learn a lot too. Overall, I was a huge fan, and we even ended up stopping by again a couple of days later just to try and get a little memento from the gift shop.
We were a bit knackered after our first day, even though we hadn’t walked around too much. When searching for somewhere nice to eat in Temple Bar, we weren’t short of choices. We always try to make the effort to try and go somewhere completely new whenever we go anywhere, rather than restaurant chains which can be somewhat same-ish and a bit boring occasionally. We spent a lovely evening at a nice Japanese restaurant called “Eatokyo Noodles and Sushi Bar” where we subsequently stuffed our faces with Gyozas, Sushi, Japanese-style stir fry and Katsu Curry.
We’re big fans of Japanese food, and we jump at the chance to try somewhere that may have some different items on the menu. It was only a small place, but thankfully we were able to get seats even thoughit was busy. If you’re a fan of Japanese food and find yourself in Dublin for whatever reason definitely worth your time and money. (A darn side cheaper than going to Yo-Sushi.)
Staying in Temple Bar was a good choice. Right in the middle of the city, and everything was either in walking distance, or we could just get one of the hop-on-hop-off tour buses if we were going a little further afield. But we were lucky enough to have good weather practically the entire time we were there, so we pretty much walked everywhere. (Although, it was a good thing we got the bus back after visiting the Jameson Distillery…)
I think it’s fair to say, if you go to Dublin, you will end up at the Guinness Storehouse. Even if you’re not a fan of the “Black Stuff” you must appreciate how popular it is, and how far its reach is all over the world. We’ve all seen one of their adverts at some point in our lives, and most of us have tried it. (I don’t mind it myself, I used to drink a lot of it when I turned 18!) Although the Storehouse is a bit out of the way, it’s still easily within walking distance of the city centre.
You know you’re close once you’re assaulted by the many smells from the brewery, as you start walking close to the brewery grounds. Once inside (and you’ve fought your way through the humongous gift shop) you take a nice leisurely walking tour of the entire process it’s making. With a very visual and interactive tour, showing you step-by-step the processes in which the good stuff is made, as well as the history.
Whilst most of the Storehouse is simply a testament to how big the brand is, it is impressive how far they’ve come: The process for making Guinness, the history of the brewery and the product’s surge in popularity, the brand’s various advertising campaigns, they’ve pretty much got all their bases covered. The best part of the tour is the last part when you get your free pint of Guinness, and get to take it to the sky-lounge. A fantastic 360 degree view of the city, it is definitely worth lugging up all those stairs to get. (Although don’t drink too much, or if you do, go down carefully.)
We had purchased the Dublin Pass, which got us into a lot of the iconic locations in Dublin for free or for a reduced price. If you’re going to Dublin with the intent of going full-tourist mode, I would highly recommend it. We used it for just about everywhere we visited, so it was well worth the money. We also used it to get in Dublin Zoo! One day on our ventures we hopped on the bus to Phoenix Park and thankfully it was the perfect day for it.
We got off the bus earlier and decided to walk through the park to Dublin Zoo, which is nicely placed near the middle. Admittedly we didn’t spend that long at the Zoo, and didn’t end up going around it entirely, but we had other things we wanted to do that day. It was a nice layout, but with it being a hot summers day, most of the animals were all tuckered out and sunbathing. Can’t say I blamed them.
Afterwards, we made our way down to the Jameson Distillery. My girlfriend had to talk me into going, since I was unsure whether it would be as good as the Guinness Storehouse, and there were plenty of other things we could’ve done to fill the time. But she insisted that we go, so of course we did! It was the right decision,I ended up enjoying it more than the Guinness Storehouse by a mile.
There wasn’t a walking tour, but instead a guided tour. I loathed the idea at first, since I’d rather just wander around and read the available material. However, I was delightfully wrong, as our tour guide was very charming and knowledgeable on everything – the process for creating whiskey, the history of the distillery (which was even directly involved with the Easter Rising), the family history behind the brand, and about how Jameson are operating now.
Typical, I know, but it was very well laid out. We were given three whiskeys, one being Jameson, one American leading whiskey (Jack Daniel’s) and a leading Scottish whiskey (Johnnie Walker). We were told about whiskey tasting etiquette (I had to restrain my instinct to just down the shot, some habits die hard.) we compared all three, and discussed the differences between all of them in terms of taste, smell, and even how it moved around in the glass.
Thankfully my girlfriend wasn’t half as buzzed as I was afterwards (She made me finish 2 of her whiskey shots, and I wasn’t about to say no!) as she managed to guide me to the bus stop. We hopped on and made our way back to the hotel and started to decide where to eat tonight. After a failed blunder at finding somewhere to eat one night, trying to find what we thought was a restaurant but turned out to be a takeaway, we had found somewhere named “The Hungry Mexican” that sounded appealing with some rave reviews.
The restaurant was quite literally a hole in the wall. Only a small place stuck between two shops, right by a very busy bus-stop, we walked past it by accident when trying to find it. The décor inside was simple – cheap and cheerful tables, with all the walls painted black. Our waitress came to the table to order drinks, and she returns with a large piece of brown paper. “Are you expecting us to make a mess?” I ask jokingly. “No” she replied “I expect you to draw!” as she plopped down a container full of crayons. She then turned to point out the wall behind us was covered in dozens of drawings from previous customers. (Many of which were of Donald Trump failing to assemble a wall correctly.)
Although we were a bit baffled, we went with it. Why not? We’ve got time to kill while we’re waiting for our food. I can only draw Snoopy, so that’s exactly what I drew. A few minutes later the chef comes out from the kitchen, with several sombreros, handing them out to customers if they wanted to wear them. Everyone in the restaurant bar a party of Americans instantly donned the hats, so we thought again: Why not? Then our food came out, and it was just amazing.
Typically, we went for the nachos and burritos, but they were just delicious. It was amusing watching people walk past, peek their head through the window after having looked at the menu and then walk on by, as they probably thought “I’m not wearing a hat like that to eat here!” they couldn’t be more wrong. If they’d brought out a poncho and insisted, I wore that too, I wouldn’t question it. It ended up being our favourite meal the whole time we were over there, and we got a pretty funny story out of it too.
On our last full day, we were tired; We’d done a lot of walking at this point, and just as much eating. We never did any shopping whilst we were there, although from what we saw we imagined it would have been pretty good. But we only had small suitcases (Actually, -I- had a small suitcase… My girlfriends’ case was somewhat larger, but already full.) We stopped by Trinity College, which was about 5 minutes away from our hotel, and it was positively bustling. We didn’t hang around too much, but it was a very impressive and large campus overall.
When we stopped for a quick lunch, we decided to stop by a nice little spot we’d walked past a few times in Temple Bar. It was called “Off-Beat Donuts”. If you go to Dublin, you absolutely need to go to Off-Beat Donuts. Honestly, it put every major donut chain to complete shame. Apparently, it’s only localised in Dublin, although it could -absolutely- expand further if it wanted to. Red Velvet, Ferrero Rocher, Reese’s Pieces… There were so many different ones to choose from, we ended up picking some up for breakfast on our final day. We both instantly loved it, and we’ve done nothing but sing songs of praise for it ever since. Make. Sure. You. Try. Them.
The last place we ended up visiting was further down the river more towards the docks. It was the EPIC Immigration museum. We thought it would be good to end with something more educational, since most of the time we spent drinking and eating. It was very interesting, giving an entire history of Ireland’s immigration throughout the ages, telling us all about various famous figures, up to modern days. There were many famous Americans with Irish ancestry presented and lots of interactive features scattered all the way through the museum. Even though the museum is sort of out of the way from everything else, it’s worth going if you fancy learning a bit more about Ireland’s history, and how they as a people have spread across the globe.
To sum up, it was a worthwhile trip. The time we spent in Dublin was worth every penny, as we absorbed as much history and culture (and alcohol) as we could and didn’t waste a single opportunity. We ate at some lovely restaurants that we have done nothing but recommend to people we know if they ever find themselves on the Emerald Isle. I went over thinking I knew a decent amount of Irish history, and left knowing a lot more. If you’re ever looking for a nice long weekend away, Dublin is the perfect escape. Everyone we met was lovely and welcoming, and I don’t think we had a single negative thing to think about afterwards.
We may not get the chance to go again for a while, although I do hope we get the chance to stop over again sometime, even if it’s only for another long weekend. Although we saw a lot, there were still a lot of things we sadly didn’t get the time for. We had a wonderful time. We actually went to celebrate being together for 5 years – and it’s fair to say it was an unforgettable experience that we’ll both remember fondly.