From South to North we covered my favorite parts of the Emerald Isle:
It was a lovely overnight flight on Aer Lingus from Boston to Dublin
We were really lucky and the flight was half full so I moved up a row and took over two seats to sleep. The food was worse than dogs dinner…but what do you expect from an economy ticket. Great movie selection though! 1 tylenol PM and a glass of wine and I am arriving into DUB fresh as a daisy…kinda.
We arrived into Dublin around 8am, easy departure and luggage pick up. We decided to splurge on a taxi direct into the center of town. Like any major city they have rush hour traffic, but we had another layer of dealing with a local bus strike. Our driver was friendly, knew exactly how to get us to town it cost around $35 USD, there is a bus line for around $7.
The Dean hotel is at a prime spot just off St. Stephen’s Green and within walking distance of just about everything in Dublin. The lobby is plush and the front desk staff are outstanding. They are understanding of weary overnight travelers and took our bags while we had breakfast upstairs at Sophie’s. The bar/restaurant is outstanding, amazing views and great food. We still had time to kill before a Noon/1pm check in so with some fuel in our bodies we wondered around Dublin. We did the basics: O’Connell Bridge, Trinity College, Temple Bar, Grafton Street and a few side streets. I have been in Dublin a few times and Steve has also been so it was more killing time and wondering around. Of course I had to hit a Boots (love that store) and Steve found a local Vape Shop. http://vintagevaperooms.com/ and http://www.boots.ie
After what seemed like ages we were able to get into the room (I think it was around 1pm…totally reasonable but after the overnight flight and Steve not really sleeping everyone was ready for a rest). They had upgraded us to a suite…it was HUGE! Beautifully decorated, big windows, massive bathroom with soaking tub and a small balcony. This place is bigger than my condo! It was all very plush and hip, every detail is taken care of. There was even one small details…ear plugs on the night stands. We enjoy a quick “disco nap” and did some more exploring before dinner including: Christ Church, The Bull & Castle (lovely quiet bar upstairs, great drinks and helpful staff) and a mis-step in traveling…taking a taxi driver’s advice to eat at the Hairy Lemon. We had 1 drink at the Lemon and I am pretty sure that was the beginning of my demise of a serious sour stomach. The Lemon also included miserable staff, smelled like a cesspool and the food looked terrible…we high tailed it out there back to the Dean.
We ate upstairs at Sophie’s and had the most amazing meal: Risotto Primavera, Spiced Lamb, Tomato Pimento, Red Onion, Rocket & Tzatziki Flatbread and Calamari. It was wonderful! We ate on the terrace and enjoy the heaters. We popped downstairs for nightcaps including Sticky Toffee Pudding. This was a great first full meal in Dublin. The staff and the scenery at Sophie’s are tops!
But here is the kicker….we went up to our awesome room around 11pm (ish) to feel the thumping vibration of a night club pounding the walls and windows of the room. Ahh…now I get the ear plugs. This went on until around 3:30am when the taxis arrived to shuttle away the rowdy and stumbling patrons. Mind you, this was a Monday night and I was informed by the manager this happens EVERY NIGHT. This hotel is amazing, the details are perfect but this racket was awful. It was so disappointing. I would be checking in again if it wasn’t for this noise. I figured with a few beverages and the jet lag I would be sound asleep…nope.
Hide sight is 20/20…trip advisors may have given us some insight, but we used a local paper instead…oh well http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/ireland/dublin/hotels/
We got up the next morning dragging ass and ready for some peace. We had an awful meal at Café Nero (our own fault, HANGRY attitudes put us in the closest place) and then grabbed a cab to Howth…
Hotel: The Dean 33 Harcourt Street Dublin 2 http://deandublin.ie/
The Bull & Castle http://www.fxbuckley.ie/the-bull-and-castle/
The Hairy Lemon http://thehairylemon.ie/
Sophie’s at the Dean http://deandublin.ie/eat-drink/sophies/
A 30 minute cab ride (about $35 USD) and a world away from Dublin is Howth. This beautiful seaside town is the also reachable via the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit http://www.irishrail.ie/about-us/dart-commuter). It is post-card perfect and just what we needed after the chaos of Dublin and the Dean. We checked in to the King Sitric and went straight to our penthouse room (pay the extra $ and get the nice room people…). This is a small, quiet and peaceful place (with no elevator – the sent the poor kitchen boy to lug up our over packed American bags). This hotel is beautiful, clean and quiet. This location is spectacular on the corner over looking the bay. I spent my afternoon watching the fishing boats and listening to the sea. It was only 205 Euro per night, at home this place would be double that! The front desk staff are kind and smiling. Let’s be clear, this is a small “country” hotel so do not expect glitz and glamour, but do expect great service and quality views.
We took a short walk around and had lunch at Crabby Jo’s. AMAZING! Steve’s fish and chips were the best he has ever had and my seafood pie was out of this world. The service was lovely and the meal with great. Howth has now officially blown Dublin out of the water – better food, better views, better service and a much more chill vibe. We retired to our hotel to nap and listen to the waves. A quick afternoon hike up the trails of Howth to work up an appetite for a light dinner at East Café. We split a cheese and meat board and then moved into mains of lamb stew and fish cakes. Both were outstanding, Steve’s stew was broth based, very light but full of flavor and meaty chunks. My cakes were perfect, paired with a salad. Great wine, beer and spirits selection. Steve tried all the whisky of any worth!
The next morning we went upstairs for an amazing breakfast and of course another beautiful view. The salmon was outstanding! This is way more than you would get at any European breakfast or even any American breakfast. Well worth the visit upstairs and the price of the room. We bailed on breakfast the next morning because it was so big and because Steve is no eggs no fish for breakfast it makes it a little more difficult.
We wondered around town and up the hills into the village and enjoyed the views. The village is lovely and it was just nice to walk with Steve and enjoy the day. You don’t realize how insane your schedule is until you have a whole day together to just relax and wander around.
That day we had lunch at the Brass Monkey (it was recommended by some locals we met at East Café). It was nice but a bit expensive for what you got. Kinda cramped and décor is dated, but the scallops were very nice. We had walked past Abbey Tavern day and Steve wanted to go in for dinner that night. It has a great history and we thought it would be a good edition to our list of visited locations…WRONG. It was the worst meal ever. The venue was beautiful and cozy but I think the chef must have been on a bender the night before. I would go into more detail but in short, the order was wrong (blame the waitress for that), the food was terrible and the service sucked. We ended up back at the East Café for another cheese and meat board because we were hungry…oh well.
We did miss eating upstairs at their “fancy” restaurant but we kinda “fooded out” by day three.
We were sad to leave the next day. I took a long walk in the morning along the cliffs and it was amazing. Walking alone without the dog or hubby was kinda strange but it felt good to power along the cliffs in my own thoughts. I met a few locals along the trail out for their morning rituals so that was comforting (read my Carolina Dog section about walking and you’ll get more info). The scenery was out of movie and the sea breeze was calm. How do I get a job here in Howth and make this morning walk a regular routine?
The owners actually drove us to the DART station in their personal car so we didn’t have to hire a taxi to go the mile. What wonderful hospitality and kindness from this couple. The King Sitric will always be on the top of our list of places to return.
We DARTED back into Connolly station in Dublin, very easy ride and cheap (about 7 euros per person). A cheap in the station lunch of Subway and off to Newry we go!
Hotel: King Sitric Hotel East Pier Howth http://kingsitric.ie/
Steve had never been to Northern Ireland or taken the train up the coast so I was so excited to make this part of our trip. We cruised on Irish rails up to Newry where our friends live in Ballynahinch – County Down. So we changed our money (Euros to Pounds) and began our time in the North.
We spent our time in Northern Ireland staying with friends so not much on the hotel front. We did do a few awesome things along with visiting them and just enjoying more vacation time:
Private Taxi Tour of Belfast – our guide Bobby Walsh www.cabtoursni.com
This guys was AWESOME! Come to find out he also toured our mayor Marty Walsh and my foodie idol Anthony Bourdain. It was not cheap, but the best money I spent all week. Almost six hours (including lunch) of cruising around Belfast with a private guide. Our friends Marea and Marc (both locals) came with us and even they learned a thing or two about the city. That’s usually the way happens, you never tour your own city. We may have missed a few points because we had ripped it up the night before all over Belfast and ended in the Crown Bar.
For some reason we decided to add on to yet another activity to our hectic day of touring and go to Ulster Rugby http://www.ulsterrugby.com/. Though we were all exhausted from the day I really enjoyed it. The sport is fast, tough and the crowd really gets into it (I love the whole stadium singing along). We ended our night at the Errigle Inn before another cab ride back to M&M’s house.
Saturday we decided to just relax and be on vacation. M&M went to a fun run out at Castlewellan while we stayed back and just chilled. I went for a hike over to Lidl’s to do some food shopping and cooked us all lunch and dinner. It was nice to be back in the European way of hoofing it to get my groceries at the local market and back to the house. If you’ve never been in a Lidl’s I highly recommend it https://www.lidl.com/. In any new place you go to taking a cruise around the local grocery store will always give you insight into the culture, food and daily habits.
Sunday was “family day”. We relaxed in the morning and then went to St. George’s market for some shopping and then out to lunch. We swung by Marea’s niece’s 4th birthday party on our way out of town. Dinner was at Paddy’s Barn in Saul, NI with both M&Ms parents and a family friend. I loved just driving through the beautiful country lanes and enjoying the view. Our friend’s parents live in a beautiful house with views of lush green hills dotted with grazing sheep that looks into a small lake. It is a happy place.
Sadly on Monday we were back on the road to Dublin to fly back to Boston. We were exhausted, never wanted to see another “chip” (French Fry) again but had such an amazing time. I am so lucky to have met Marea in college and we have been friends ever since. It was so nice to have a whole week to ourselves!
I cannot rave enough about the Irish people, their hospitality and their wit. The beauty of the country is unrivaled and I cannot wait to go back.