Ireland is definitely the friendliest country I have traveled to so far. And that’s coming from someone who’s lived in Canada for 10 years (but imo, Canadians are more polite than friendly). While most would spend spring break somewhere tropical, my friends and I opted for a less popular option. But I would gladly give up sun tanning (which is so boring) any day to gallivant about in Ireland to the background music of Hozier.
We must have really looked like tourists because, on more than one occasion, locals came up to us asking if we needed help with directions. And with their jolly accents, it literally felt like us lost sheep had found our Bo Beep. Ireland just made us feel very comfortable and welcome as travelers. And if beef stew is not already your ultimate comfort food, then try Irish Guinness beef stew or PIES (or more stew). So here’s how we spent a jam-packed week split between Dublin and Galway.
Getting there: One of our main deciding factors in going to Ireland was the price. Probably due to the fact it was Canadian spring break (aka Reading Week) and that we booked our flight months in advance, the round-trip flight from Toronto to Dublin only robbed me of $630CAD (including tax). Planning ahead is key.
Getting around: Walk! And get lost so you can experience friendly locals offering to help.
Things to do:
- Guinness Storehouse: This is a no-brainer, even if you don’t like Guinness. Price of admission includes a pint to enjoy in their Sky Bar which has a great view of the city. You can also attend a quick lesson in the “Guinness Academy” where you find out not everybody is cut out to pour beer (me).
- Bustle along Grafton Street: It may be known as the shopping street of Dublin but I really just enjoyed getting lost in the hustle and bustle of the city/other tourists and watching street performers.
- Lunch at Queen of Tarts: Absolutely adorable and homey bakery/café with a wide selection of tarts (duh) amongst other delicious baked goods. I recommend the chicken pot pie and at least 3 other sweet treats to share. Also keep in mind there are two locations, the one on Cows Lane is much bigger and has more seating.
- Stroll through Trinity College: Worth a visit since it’s right in the heart of the city and makes you feel like a medieval scholar on your way to alchemy class or discovering microorganisms. The Book of Kells is on display if you’re feeling extra cultured, but it is also perfectly acceptable to turn-tail at the sight of the lineup and go find another place to eat stew (or some blessed freshly made pasta near Grafton at Pasta Fresca).
- Live music at a Pub in Temple Bar: Irish pubs back home will never be the same after going to an actual Irish pub. Although the “Temple Bar Pub” seems to be the most popular, any pub in the area will do really. We just chose whichever one was less crowded. As long as you can get beers and a nice spot to enjoy the live music. Sláinte!
Getting there: We took a 2.5 hour bus ride from Dublin to Galway which cost us about 15 euros. It is definitely worth the journey and included my all-time favourite/most memorable activities of the entire trip. Or you could take a train, which would be pricier but super comfy according to Melissa.
Staying there: Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel hands down, if you are planning to stay at a hostel. The staff were super helpful and helped us plan our trip to Clifden (see below).
Things to do:
- Souvenir shopping on Quay St: If you liked Grafton Street, you will die for this little alleyway of dreams. Quay Street, or should I say Quaint Street, captured the essence of what I imagined Galway, the “cultural heart of Ireland” to be. Things to buy: Thomas Dillon Original Claddagh Rings and Aran Sweaters.
- Traditional Irish Afternoon Tae: I can confidently say I am no stranger to afternoon tea sets, having conquered most of the major players in HK (winner: Joel Robuchon). However, this cozy little tea salon tucked away in Quay Lane lured me right in and sang to my soul. Ever since, I’ve tried to recreate their cucumber sandwiches, but I realize it’s impossible without a generous spread of rich Irish butter. Solution: go back to Cupan Tae tearoom
- Cliffs of Moher & Burren bus tour: Only 20 euros each for students! And if you stay at the hostel I mentioned, you can request to get picked up there. As much as I hate guided tours, this is the cheapest and most convenient way of visiting the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced moh-wer). It is a full day excursion that includes a lunch stop, in which you should order stew. There is no downside to this, seriously.
- Fish and chips: Because Galway is a harbour city and Irish potatoes are next level (potatoes that are creamy, not starchy!?)
- EAT PIE: Melissa briefly visited Galway the year before this and entrusted me to remedy her one painful regret: not trying Piemaker. As a dutiful sister, I tried three pies: Apple pie, Banoffee pie and Galway Beef & Guinness pie. (sharing optional)
Horseback-riding along the coast of Connemara: Yes this deserved its own section. I was so impressed I even wrote a review on it.
- Book your trek: The Point Pony Trekking & Horse Riding (We paid 30 euros for 1 hour)
- Bus to Clifden: It was worth every second of being hungover/dying on that 2 hour bus ride from Galway. Costs around 10-15 euros.
- Taxi to horses: The bus dropped us off in Clifden which literally seemed like it was comprised of just one street. At a loss (as per usual), we went into a clothing boutique to gather our wits only to be saved by the friendly locals yet again! The storeowner called her friend the taxi driver (did I mention this is a small town) who knew of the pony place and so kindly agreed to send us there AND pick us back up in an hour. #kindredspirits
- Experience the restoration of your spirit: Literally the moment I was successfully seated (after a few tries) on my horse-angel Sam, all traces of my hangover disappeared. This left me free to soak in the fresh ocean air and concentrate on not falling off or dropping my camera (because pics or it didn’t happen).
- EAT STEW: You can never have too much stew. And I remember the stew at Guys Bar in Clifden being the best I ever had. This may have been a slight exaggeration due to the combination of recovering from a hangover and spending an hour on a horse in the cold February winds. Regardless, good stew.
- Important note: Cash-only for horseback riding