The real treasures of the Emerald Isle aren’t found at the end of a rainbow, but in their rich culture, stunning landscapes and incredibly friendly people. Castles, golfing, museums, nature, music, luxury resorts and pubs (lots of pubs)—Ireland offers a little bit for everyone and all with a welcoming smile.
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
Summer is the peak tourist season in Ireland, but the shoulder seasons of spring and fall are your best bet for moderate crowds, costs and weather. Rain showers are going to pop up no matter when you visit, but thankfully they seem to last just long enough to provide you with a daily rainbow.
Ireland did not decriminalize homosexuality until 1993, but since then has progressed quickly toward equality. 2010 saw the passage of the Irish Civil Partnership Bill, which many consider a huge step toward total marriage equality. Socially, the Irish people may be a tad bit conservative, but above all they are incredibly friendly and welcoming to all visitors.
The Westin Dublin Providing both class and comfort in the heart of Dublin, this hotel is steps from Trinity College, shopping on Grafton Street and all the great pubs and restaurants in Temple Bar. Their Atrium Lounge is a great spot for a cup of tea after a day of exploring or head downstairs to grab a pint in The Mint Bar, located in the former bank vaults of this historic building. From the friendly and helpful staff to the Westin’s famous Heavenly Beds, you’ll be enveloped by the warm Irish welcome from morning until night.
Lyrath Estate Hotel As you pull up the drive, you know you’re in for something truly special. This renovated 17th-century home has been transformed into a resort offering the perfect combination of Old World charm and modern luxury. There’s tranquility at every turn; spend your day taking a walk through their private gardens and woodlands or book a day at their spa for true indulgence. The hotel is located just minutes from Kilkenny City and only an hour drive from Waterford and its famous crystal factory.
Hayfield Manor This five-star hotel will feel like a world away but is only a short walk to the city center of Cork. Each room is unique and all are lavishly decorated. Their staff is ready to meet any request and assist with any excursions or sightseeing. They have two award winning restaurants onsite as well as a full-service spa.
WINE & DINE:
Millstone Restaurant When you’ve had enough of the pubs and are ready for romance, head here for a quiet dinner for two. Bathed in candlelight, you can dine on traditional Irish fare like the sumptuous lamb stew or choose something with a contemporary twist like the roasted pork belly with black pudding. Either way, you’ll enjoy a meal expertly prepared with fresh Irish ingredients. Live music is performed most evenings, and you’ll want to make reservations because of the limited amount of tables.
Take in dinner and a show at the Arlington Hotel on O’Connell Bridge to enjoy traditional Irish music and some incredible Irish folk dancing while noshing on a set menu of traditional Irish food and putting down a few pints of the black stuff.
Dublin has so much more to offer than just pub fare, so if you’ve grown tired of fish and chips don’t despair. Thai Orchid, located at the edge of Temple Bar, is a small restaurant that is big on flavor. Their traditional Thai dishes are right on the mark, and it offers weekly set menu specials. On St. George’s Street, you’ll find Diwali Restaurant serving authentic and deliciously spicy Indian and Nepalese dishes. For those craving sushi or noodle bowls, you need to look no further than next door at Yamamori for an excellent selection of Japanese dishes.
For 25 years, The George has been at the forefront of the gay community in Dublin. The front bar known as Bridies is a quieter area for a drink and chatting or head into the rear bar for nightly entertainment, great drag shows and arguably the best dance floor in the city. The crowd is fairly mixed these days, which attests to the progress made in the visibility of Dublin’s LGBTQ scene.
You can’t swing a stick in Dublin without hitting at least a couple of pubs. You can rarely go wrong with any of them, but be sure to visit one of the oldest pubs in the city, The Brazen Head, for nightly traditional music and The Stags Head for a perfectly gregarious Irish pub experience.
SEE & DO:
Hit the Bricks Dublin is a compact city and walking is the best way to get from one place of interest to the next. You can enjoy some of the famous Irish storytelling by taking an organized walking tour. Trinity College graduate students provide an informative tour of their historical college for only an extra Euro when you visit the Book of Kells. The 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour is a great way to learn about the history of Irish Independence and is laden with loads of Irish wit.
Museums History, art and literature buffs are easily appeased in Dublin. Take a guided tour through Kilmainham Gaol Historical Museum to see where most of Ireland’s most famous patriots were held during their long struggle for national freedom. The National Gallery of Ireland houses the country’s finest works of art and the Chester Beatty Library has a wonderful collection of artifacts and ancient texts. The Book of Kells, an ancient illuminated manuscript of the gospels, can be seen at Trinity College Library. The tour includes a visit to the library’s Long Room, which holds thousands of classics from floor to ceiling and is worth the trip in and of itself. Fans of Irish authors like Swift, Wilde, Beckett or Shaw will want to visit Dublin’s Writers Museum for a look at the influence that Irish literature has had around the world.
Churches Everyone knows you can’t come to Dublin and miss St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but you’ll also want to visit a few other important churches while you’re traversing the city. Christ Church predates St. Patrick’s and played an essential role in the country’s history. St. Audeon’s Church is the only remaining medieval parish church remaining in the city and offers free admission and tours. For a truly strange and macabre experience, head to St. Michan’s for a tour of the crypt to see mummified remains and if you’re brave enough, even touch one’s finger for luck.
Guinness Arthur Guinness was more than just the founder of a brewery: He was a philanthropist and in many ways, an Irish hero. Once the largest employer in the country, the St. James Gate Brewery is still doing what it does best and produces more beer than any brewery in the world. Take a tour through the modern museum at the Guinness Storehouse to learn the history of this famous Irish brew and enjoy a pint of the plain with the best view of the city at the Gravity Pub.
Road Trip Ireland is a relatively small country and that’s good because there are so many things to see outside of the capital city. Rent a car or reserve a spot with a tour; just be sure to see as much of Ireland as time allows. To the south of Dublin, you’ll find the breathtaking Wicklow Mountains, Waterford and the vibrant little town of Kilkenny with Kilkenny Castle and some wonderful shopping. Even farther south is the picturesque County Cork where you can kiss the Blarney Stone to get the gift of gab or do some sea kayaking off Glengarriff Harbour. You can drive the famous Ring of Kerry and enjoy one of the most scenic routes in Ireland or head west to County Clare to see the dramatic Cliffs of Moher and the stark rocky landscape of the Burren.
PERFECT FOR COUPLES LOOKING FOR:
Cultural attractions, natural beauty, world-renowned golf courses and good, old-fashioned fun.
DAYS TO STAY:
Depending on your chosen itinerary you’ll need at least a week, although two weeks would be ideal to see it all.
OH, AND BY THE WAY:
If you plan on doing the driving, remember the Irish drive on the left side of the road, and be sure to arrange your rental far in advance if you can’t drive a manual transmission as automatics are not as readily available.
Photos and story by Melissa Varnadoe