The last city I visited while touring Ireland with my family and boyfriend over the holidays was Dublin. We had originally flown into the Dublin airport, but all we did on that first day was rent a car so we could go straight to our Airbnb in Belfast. I was very excited to be back in the busy city and explore it for the last four days of our trip.
When we got to Dublin one of the first things we did was return our rental car, so we no longer had the freedom to go wherever we wanted to go whenever we pleased. Luckily for us, Dublin is a very pedestrian-friendly city and it was easy to walk to the various attractions, and there are plenty of taxis throughout the city that are eager to give you a ride if you’re tired of walking.
Here’s the itinerary from my time in Dublin! All of these things were accessible without a car, so don’t fret if a rental isn’t part of your travel plans.
Day 1: See a show at the Abbey Theater
My family and I arrived in Dublin on New Years Eve, and we opted to see a play at the Abbey Theater instead of fighting through the crowds to attend the big concert in the middle of the city. We saw Come from Away, a play about a town in Newfoundland that housed over 7,000 people when 37 planes were forced to land after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. The theater itself was gorgeous and the performers were incredibly talented.
Day 2: Visit the Guinness Storehouse
When I told people I would be traveling to Ireland on vacation they always brought up the Guinness Storehouse. “It’s a must do in Dublin!” Well, I did it, and frankly I wasn’t that impressed. I’ve gone on plenty of brewery tours in the United States so I thought I knew what I was signing on for, but the Guinness Storehouse is less like a brewery and more like Disney World for beer.
The building is seven stories tall and has everything you could ever want to know about Guinness beer; an in-depth explanation of how they make it, an area where you can learn to pour the “perfect pint” of Guinness, and a 360 degree viewing deck overlooking the city with a bar in the center. Don’t get me wrong it was a fun way to spend the day, but it felt more like I was at a museum than a brewery. Looking back the Storehouse part of the name should have clued me in, but I digress. If you’ve been to the World of Coke in Atlanta Georgia then you have a pretty good idea of what the Guinness Storehouse is like, and while it’s fairly enjoyable it just wasn’t for me. The major upside is that each ticket comes with a free drink voucher, and later on in this blog post you’ll learn that the employees don’t have a problem with giving out free beer.
Day 3: Explore the Wicklow Mountains National Park
Day 3 in Dublin was day 8 overall in the trip, so John and I were eager to have a day to ourselves. Booking a bus tour was John’s idea and I’m so glad that we did, because it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. We used Gray Line Ireland and it was only $30 each for a full day of activities. The bus itself was top of the line; there were charging ports above each seat, the bus had free wifi, and there was plenty of overhead storage for our backpacks.
All of the stops were within the Wicklow Mountains National Park except for the very last one. The first stop on our bus tour was the town of Glencree. A military barrack was built in the middle of the town during World War II and it has been transformed into a center for peace and reconciliation. John and I suspect this town was added to the trip only to serve as a bathroom break, but even so it was nice to stretch our legs and walk along the river with cascading waterfalls.
After Glencree we went to the bridge that was in the film P.S. I Love You. I didn’t expect much from this stop but I was pleasantly surprised by how magnificent the landscape around the bridge was. The rolling hills and rounded mountains were orange and yellow and green from all of the grasses, and on the drive there we would occasionally see a sheep stare down the bus as it passed.
Shortly after we left the bridge we arrived at Guinness Lake, the third destination of the day. The lake is owned by the Guinness family, hence the name, but is also referred to as Lough Tay. When the bus parked in the parking lot we couldn’t see the lake at all, and as John and I hiked up the hill and rounded the top we were greeted with the most amazing view of the mountains reflected in the glistening water.
We had a decent amount of time to take in the views at this stop, so John and I sat down on a rock and admired the Irish countryside that was stretched out before us. I learned later that the white sand at the right side of the lake was imported by the Guinness family and that the estate along the beach is available to rent for only 20,000 Euros per week. Yikes.
After 20 minutes it was time to say goodbye to Guinness Lake and hop back into the Gray Line bus. Our next destination was Glendalough: a monastic village nestled in the heart of Wicklow that was raided by vikings and destroyed in 1214. Several large ruins remain, including a massive cemetery and a stone cottage, making this an eerie spot to visit. If you continue on past the monastic village you’ll come across two lakes, the upper lake and lower lake, which sit at the base of the mountains.
There are several different hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous that will take you to the lakes. We had two hours to see all of the sights around Glendalough and that was plenty of time to visit the monastic ruins and to hike to both lakes. Also the park is dog friendly so feel free to bring your pup with you!
John and I opted for one of the easier trails and took our time as we walked through the forest. Both of the lakes were crystal clear and perfectly still, which created a perfect mirror image of the surrounding scenery. When we got to the upper lake we found a cozy spot against a tree to eat peanut butter sandwiches and paint. It was a nice change of pace to aimlessly wander through the park and relax once we reached our destination; most of my adventures in national parks include high energy activities like strenuous hikes or serious climbs.
By the time we ambled back to the parking lot there was just enough time to stop by the restroom before getting back on the bus. Everyone was a lot sleepier as we rode to Avoca, a tiny village just outside the border of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Smoke poured out of the chimneys of the colorful houses and delicious smells wafted out of every open door. John and I had anticipated some difficulty finding a plant-based meal at this stop which is why we brought our own food to the mountains, but we still went into the pub recommended by the bus driver in order to get something warm to drink.
By the time the bus pulled back into the Dublin visitor center I was absolutely exhausted. The Gray Line Ireland company really went above and beyond my expectations and gave me a day I will always remember. If you are planning on traveling in Ireland but don’t want to rent a car I highly recommend booking a bus tour; they have them in most major cities and go to all of the popular spots, even the Giant’s Causeway!
Day 4: Shop around, walk through the National Gallery of Ireland, and tour the Jameson Distillery at Bow Street
For our last full day in Dublin, my family booked a tour of the Jameson Distillery at Bow Street. Since the tour wasn’t until later in the afternoon we were able to see a lot of the city as we walked towards that side of town. We started by going through Saint Stephen’s Green: a 22 acre park full of swans and statues.
When we came out of the park we walked towards the main street in search of food. There are plenty of boutique stores and local cafes to check out in Dublin, and my mom and I were more than happy to shop around. I found a bookstore chain called Eason that has locations all over Dublin and it took a considerable amount of self restraint to only walk away with one book. I picked up The Woman at 1,000 Degrees by Hallgrimur Helgason but had my eye on a few other titles, like How to Live Plastic Free by the Marine Conservation Society, Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey, and Women Talking by Miriam Toews. If you have any of those books and don’t mind sharing please let me know!
Another great find was the Patagonia Outlet on Wicklow Street. I have never seen a real live Patagonia store in the wild, so I was definitely freaking out a little when I stumbled upon this one. I didn’t buy anything (who can afford to buy Patagucci at full price anyway?!) but I enjoyed talking to the employees about environmental advocacy initiatives and trying on all of the gear.
Once we had our fair share of shopping around we went to the National Gallery of Ireland. This free art gallery has art from most major movements and features artists like J.M.W Turner, Henry Vaughan, and Monet. Some of the exhibits cost money to see, like the Monet one unfortunately, but there was still plenty to admire without paying a cent.
By the time we walked out of the National Gallery we had killed enough time and were ready to walk to the Jameson Distillery. There are several different experiences you can have at the distillery – tours, tastings, classes, etc. – but my family decided to do the 40 minute tour of the facility that discussed the history of the company and the science behind making whiskey and ended with a tasting. While Guinness was touristy and oversaturated, Jameson was very intimate and ruggedly classy. The tour was informative, interesting, and surprisingly hands on, and we had a guide with us the whole time who explained every step of the process. At times it felt less like a tour and more like we were simply having a conversation at a bar with someone who knows a lot about whiskey.
Just like at the Guinness Storehouse our Jameson tickets included a voucher for one free drink. I got a mixed drink made with whiskey, ginger ale, and a lime, and it was so refreshing and delicious. The bartenders had a whole arsenal of ingredients at their disposal (like lavender! Who even puts lavender in a drink?!) and they clearly knew what they were doing, because each drink that left the bar was intricately concocted. I’m not even a huge whiskey fan and I was ready to spend the next couple of hours at the distillery just so I could try two or three more drinks.
I honestly can’t say enough good things about the Jameson Distillery tour. Looking back I can’t believe that people recommended Guinness over Jameson, or that we almost didn’t do the tour at all after the general letdown from the storehouse. The aesthetic and vibe of the two companies are as different as, well, beer and whiskey, and if you only have time for one it definitely should be Jameson.
If you read my last two Ireland travel guides then you know the deal by now, but I still want to reiterate a little disclosure: whenever I travel I’m less strict with my diet. I still strive to be mostly plant-based and to consider the environmental impact of what I eat, but I also want to fully experience the culture of wherever I am. Part of why I love traveling is because it allows me to try new things and experience things like a local, and I love eating while traveling for the same reasons. That being said I tried to incorporate as many vegan/vegetarian options as possible.
Gallaher & Co Bistro
Gallaher & Co is a trendy bistro and bar with at least one vegan/vegetarian option on the menu. We went here mainly because it was on our way to the Abby Theater, and in my opinion it wasn’t the best food. John and I split a vegetarian stir fry of sorts and my biggest complaint was that it was too sweet, which is a uncommon issue to have with that kind of dish. That being said it was still pretty filling, and the toast appetizer that my dad ordered had a fat stack of arugula on it which made me very happy.
Ciao Wood Fired Pizza
My dad and I picked up to-go pizzas from this restaurant one night when everything else was closed. The entire place was the size of a walk in closet and was packed with people also picking up to-go orders (which is always a good sign), and man oh man was the pizza good. They have plenty of vegetarian options on the menu but nothing without cheese, so if dairy isn’t for you then there isn’t a whole lot you can eat.
1837 Bar & Brasserie
1837 is the restaurant in the Guinness storehouse, and the food and drinks there were honestly my favorite part of the Guinness tour. I had an incredible vegan cottage pie and the waiter gave me three free beers, so I was a happy camper by the end of the meal.
When John and I went to this tiny bar in Avoca it truly felt like we were experiencing Ireland like locals; everyone who walked into the restaurant was greeted by name and it was clear that the bartender knew everyone’s regular order. John ordered two coffees with Baileys for us and they were heavenly. The steaming coffee with frothed milk and cinnamon warmed me right up and kept me awake for the bus ride back to Dublin.
John and I went to Leo Burdock when we got back to the bus stop after our tour through the Wicklow Mountains and were walking home to the Airbnb. Both of us were craving fish and chips, because let’s be honest if you go to the United Kingdom and don’t eat fish and chips did you even really go to the United Kingdom? This was my first time trying fish and chips and I really enjoyed it!
If you’re into vegan food you have to go to Cornucopia. This buffet-style restaurant serves heaping portions of vegan comfort food. John and I split an overflowing plate full of veggie lasagna, potato salad, and a sprouted salad, and I got a matcha latte for myself. I left feeling completely stuffed and extremely satisfied, and even my meat-eating family was happy with their orders. I highly recommend stopping here if you’re in Dublin!
My parents went to Paulie’s Pizza without us one night and loved it so much that we all went back the next night to see what all the fuss was about. The restaurant was dark and cozy and absolutely packed, but luckily they were able to squeeze us into a table upstairs. After trying their pizza I knew why my parents were so eager to return; the vegetable pizza with vegan mozzarella was absolutely amazing, and the crust was flakey and uneven like a real Italian pizza.
Man of Aran Fudge
Man of Aran Fudge is a tiny fudge stand smack in the middle of a building full of small and quirky vendors (the building is called George’s Street Arcade, you should check it out). Tomás Póil is the man who makes all the fudge and his son was working the stand when we stopped by. Every flavor of fudge that you could dream of was for sale at this tiny stand, and the employee didn’t hesitate to let us try a sample of each one. My family walked away with four decadent flavors: salted caramel, chocolate orange, “chocolicious fudge” (essential rocky road ice cream in fudge form), and vanilla. One small bite was rich enough to fill me up, so be prepared to walk away from Man of Aran with enough fudge to last you a lifetime.
Was this helpful? Have feedback for me? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise specified in the caption. Header photo by John Miller.