Ahhhh, Ireland. A breath of fresh air. A home away from home. A place that feels magical no matter if it's coated in sun, rain, mist, fog, wind or all of thee above. Venture to Ireland in January or February and it's never cold, only "fresh" (as per the wisdom of Ireland native and Galway tour guide, Gary). And fresh it was! Don't miss the video at the end of this blog documenting our Switzerland + Ireland journey.
Dillon and I touched down in Dublin in early February following four days in Switzerland - a quick 2.5-hour flight. After grabbing a to-go lunch wrapped in much-missed English packaging, we immediately jumped on a bus to Galway. We'd been getting around on public transportation during the entire trip and Ireland was no different. We opted to bus and train anywhere we went. We spent two days exploring Galway and the west coast before heading back east.
There we called Dublin our home base for the final 2.5 days of our trip. Even after spending three months studying abroad in Ireland in 2017, I was always left with the feeling of wanting to see so much more. Only having four days this time around, that was again the case.
There is so much you can discover with four or less days to spend in Ireland.
Here's how we made the absolute most of our four days in the Emerald Isle:
Land in Dublin and catch the direct bus to Galway from the airport. We arrived in Galway in less than three hours!
Check into The Nest Boutique Hostel. This place was amazing! Plenty of private rooms, around the corner from the Galway Bay promenade, complimentary breakfast and lovely customer service. It's a bit of a walk to downtown (about 20 minutes), but charming nonetheless. O'Connor's Pub is in this neck of the woods and a 10/10 recommended stop.
We spent the first night wandering the streets tasting the incomparable Guinness brews, eating the legendary McDonagh's fish and chips, and settling in at my personal favorite Galway pub - The Quays. There we listened to seriously world-class live music before heading back to The Nest.
Catch a 10-minute cab to the Galway Coach Station where we boarded our all-day Cliffs of Moher and the Burren tour! The cliffs are simply a must-see if you're in Galway or on the west coast. Tons of tours start in the city and make their way up along the Wild Atlantic Way - a roller coaster of Irish backroads filled with rugged coastal beauty. If you've already seen the cliffs, head to Inishmor, the largest of the Aran Islands, and explore the ancient fort of Dún Aonghasa which sits on another set of breathtaking cliffs.The Burren is an absolutely breathtaking region of endless glacial-era limestone that spans County Clare. It's other-worldly. Lucky us, Gary the bus driver pulled me aside after cracking a joke with him and told us to move into the "reserved" front row bus seats, playing it off to the other passengers that I was sensitive to motion sickness... I'll take it! 😏
The Cliffs of Moher decided that we were worthy enough for them to reveal themselves once we arrived. It had looked dicey for a while - the fog and the rain - but the views were solid (though the gusts of wind never did let up). At one point, they disappeared behind sheets of clouds, but after retreating to the indoor museum for 15 minutes, we came back out to find them reappeared. A seriously magical place. I find it important to see the views from both the right (castle side) and the left. The left side allows you to get closer to the edge—my preference!
After a final night and morning in Galway - which included more live music and snagging some Claddaugh rings from the city they originated (must do) - we bussed back to Dublin midday. There we checked in at The Hendrick, a hotel in a pocket of the city called Smithfield. I'm 111% partial to Smithfield because that's where I lived when I studied abroad, but 10/10 recommend it nonetheless for its walkability, great restaurants and proximity to the Guinness Factory, Jameson Factory, Phoenix Park, Temple Bar area and all things downtown Dublin. The Hendrick, in particular, had stellar customer service. After getting settled, we headed a block and a half away to the infamous bar, The Cobblestone - the ultimate hole-in-the-wall, traditional Irish music joint. We made many friends simply by sitting at the bar for an hour. If you look approachable, just about anyone will talk to you in Ireland. At one point, the man we'd been talking to sidestepped to the trad music corner and burst out in acapella song. Normal things.
The next day, we slept in. This was a go-go-go trip so give us a break. Fast-forward to around noon and we strolled about 15 minutes into downtown Dublin where we grabbed breakfast. I had a bagel with cream cheese and bacon and it made me wonder why no one does that at home?
We hopped on the train at Tara Station and rode about 25 minutes out of the city to the small sea-side of Howth. I absolutely adore the sea-side towns and highly recommend day trips to Howth or Bray if you find yourself in Dublin. In Howth, we grabbed ice cream and coffee and took our time walking around the active fishing port where fishermen were both leaving and coming. I have a personal affinity for the harbor seals that tease you with short appearances of their adorable heads above water. Two must-dos in Howth: 1. Do the Howth Cliff Walk. 2. Eat seafood. The cliff walk is breathtaking and only mildly strenuous in the very beginning. And the seafood is simply the best. Although Galway is right up there with it.
Two must-dos in Howth: 1. Do the Howth Cliff Walk. 2. Eat seafood.
After spending a very full day hiking and breathing in the freshest sea-air, we headed back to Dublin on the train around dinnertime. Our walk back naturally took us through the Temple Bar area where we popped in and out of bars as we pleased, sampling Guinness along the way. Mind you, I had hiking boots and a backpack on for the entirety of the night which I don't recommend for a crowded Saturday on the town. Most of our time was spent at The Quays - my favorite downtown pub (yes, the same name as my favorite Galway pub). Not a great place is you're looking to sit back though because it tends to get very crowded on the weekends - even at 1:00 in the afternoon. There we met the cutest, young Irish and stayed longer than either of us anticipated. ~Go with the flow, I suppose.~
Our final full day in Dublin was spent hopping around the city. We first headed to our 11:00 tour of the Guinness Storehouse. We bought the tickets online and though I typically steer clear of upsells, I didn't bat an eye when choosing to add on the "Stoutie" experience. What's that? So glad you asked. Picture a room dedicated to selfies and digitally printing faces onto Guinness foam. Add in numerous grown men tenderly smiling down at their pints and it was well worth the extra moolah. Check it out:
We easily spent nearly 3 hours touring the Storehouse (and it wasn't hard to do), with the cherry on top being a fresh pour at the glass skybar with panoramic Dublin views.
The rest of the day was short on daylight but was spent making stops at St. Stephen's Green, Grafton Street, Trinity College and St. Patrick's Cathedral. We attempted souvenir shopping though both of us had little to negative room left in our backpacks. For "the last supper" we stayed in Smithfield, hitting up the all-too-appealing My Meat Wagon. How traditional, I know.
Coming off a non-stop adventure in Switzerland, Ireland was a breath of warm(er), fresh and unbeatably friendly air. I will never not crave the Irish mist, the music-filled pubs and the endless green. Another chapter full of memories to hold close to my heart—complete.