August 19-21, 2022
After having to cancel the weeklong trip we were planning to take to Ireland for New Year’s 2022 due to the Omicron variant, we were so excited to finally make our way to Dublin this August for a long-overdue weekend getaway in Ireland. The trip was made even better because we went with one of Andy’s friends from high school, who planned the majority of the (flawless) weekend for us—and I must say, it was really nice to just be along for the ride for once.
Despite some delays getting out of London, we arrived midday on Friday and had a wonderful lunch at Brother Hubbard South before heading out to see some of the city’s major sights, including the beautiful campus of Trinity College Dublin. Our only planned activity in Dublin was a tour of the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate Brewery, which was just as cool of an experience as we had been told by pretty much anyone who has ever been to Dublin. The seventh-floor Gravity Bar was particularly incredible, although it was a bit of a letdown that we couldn’t order more than one pint each. We made up for that by grabbing another pint or two at Against the Grain, a cool craft beer pub near our hotel (the absolutely excellent Iveagh Garden Hotel), before ending the day with a fantastic dinner at Clanbrassil House.
Andy’s friend has a close friend who is a travel agent specializing in Ireland (among other places) and she set us up with an incredible private tour guide from ProBus & Car Luxury Touring, a boutique agency that offers private, customized tours across Ireland—I would highly recommend using the company for any trip to Ireland. Our guide for the day, Will, picked us up from our hotel on Saturday morning and spent the whole day showing us around the stunning countryside of County Wicklow, including Wicklow Mountains National Park, the largest national park in Ireland; the ruins of a monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century near Glendalough Upper Lake; the stunning gardens at Powerscourt Estate; and the mountain pass at Sally Gap, which was covered in blooming wild heather. Although Dublin was great, at the end of the day it’s pretty similar to other European cities we’ve visited and so it was SO much more special to see some of the beautiful Irish landscapes, especially with such a wonderful tour guide.
We rounded out a perfect day with a magnificent dinner at The Winding Stair and checking out some live music at The Cobblestone, a delightfully traditional pub north of the River Liffey. Everything about our trip went so smoothly and it was so much fun to explore such a lovely city with one of Andy’s closest friends. We can’t wait to go back to Ireland someday and see more of such a friendly and beautiful country.
If you’re planning a trip to Dublin, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations.
Food & Drink
- The Winding Stair: It would have been tough to find something more on brand for me than a restaurant-bookshop combo recommended by The New York Times, but I’m happy to say that the dinner we had here exceeded expectations. The Winding Stair Bookshop Café was a popular meeting place for writers, musicians, and artists in the 70s and 80s, and in 2006 it reopened as an elegant but laid-back restaurant serving traditional, seasonal Irish dishes. Named after a Yeats poem and in honor of the staircase winding up three levels of tables spread out between bookshelves, the restaurant is on the north side of the River Liffey and the third floor (where we sat) had beautiful views across the Ha’Penny Bridge. Everything we ate was excellent, and the lengthy wine menu was perhaps even better.
- Clanbrassil House: We had a phenomenal dinner at this simple, unassuming restaurant tucked away on Clanbrassil Street in a more residential part of the city. They only served a six-course tasting menu, which was an absolute steal at €68 per person, and the simple small plates and mains were all absolutely exquisite. The staff was also incredibly friendly and helpful with selecting wines from the eclectic wine list.
- Brother Hubbard: Although Dublin would have been a good place to try a traditional Irish breakfast, I’m so happy we went to Brother Hubbard’s south location for brunch instead. Their seasonal menu was simple, but had some Arab-style influences and leaned heavily on high-quality, local produce and ingredients—I had the Moroccan chicken sandwich, which was divine.
- The Cobblestone: We really wanted to listen to traditional Irish music after dinner on Saturday night, and I’m SO happy we decided to check out this slightly out-of-the-way pub on the north side of the river instead of attempting to find something in the tourist-oriented Temple Bar (which looked like my worst nightmare, to be honest). This no-frills pub offered the perfect mix of locals and tourists and the bartenders were extremely friendly and surprisingly attentive despite it being a very busy Saturday night. After a few pints of Guinness, we worked up the courage to make our way to the front of the bar to catch a seisiún—which is essentially an informal jam session for traditional musicians—and the experience was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
- Against the Grain: This pub on Wexford Street was about as different from The Cobblestone as it could get, but it was still absolutely fantastic. Owned by Galway Bay Brewery, a popular craft beermaker from Galway, the modern bar featured an impressive selection of Irish craft beers on tap and had flight options available, which was super fun.
- The Wicklow Heather Restaurant (County Wicklow): Our tour guide brought us to this pub in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains on our way to Glendalough, and it was the perfect place for a hearty lunch after a long day of sightseeing. The family-run establishment was decorated with a charming assortment of bric-a-brac and antique advertisements, and the menu was slightly more refined than I would have expected from a traditional pub in a small village. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunches, as well as the excellent range of local beers and spirits.
Activities & Attractions
- Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate Brewery: Everyone I know who has been to Dublin said that the Guinness brewery tour is a must-do activity, and they weren’t wrong. Guinness has been brewing beer at the St. James’s Gate Brewery since the company was founded in 1759, the same year that Arthur Guinness famously signed a 9,000-year lease at £45 per annum for the previously unused brewery off the south quays of Dublin. In 2000, the company opened the Guinness Storehouse, which contains seven floors surrounding a glass atrium shaped in the form of a pint of Guinness. Now the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland, the self-guided tour highlights how Guinness is made, the history of Guinness advertising, and what makes Guinness different from other beers. The tour itself wasn’t terribly different from other brewery tours I’ve done in the past, but drinking a pint of Guinness Draught on the seventh-floor Gravity Bar with views over the city was well worth the price of admission.
- Trinity College Dublin: Queen Elizabeth I founded the most prestigious university in Ireland in 1592, and it is still considered to be one of the most traditionally elite colleges in Europe (along with Oxford and Cambridge). Despite its location in the heart of the busy capital city, the campus was really very tranquil and we enjoyed walking around the college grounds to admire some of its iconic buildings. We weren’t able to get tickets to visit the Library of Trinity College, which contains many of Ireland’s most important historical objects and manuscripts (including the 9th-century Book of Kells), but a long walk around the campus was enough on its own.
- Ha’Penny Bridge: The cast iron footbridge over the River Liffey is one of Dublin’s most iconic landmarks and one of the most photographed places in the city. Honestly, I am utterly perplexed as to what makes this bridge special or remarkable in any way, but it is at least an extremely practical way to cross over the river so we walked over it multiple times during our stay in Dublin.
- County Wicklow: Driving just 30 minutes south of the city will take you to County Wicklow, which is appropriately known as the “Garden of Ireland” because of its natural beauty and woodland scenery, including Wicklow Mountains National Park, the largest national park in Ireland. We spent most of Saturday exploring the absolutely lovely area with our phenomenal guide from ProBus & Car Luxury Touring, and I couldn’t recommend the experience and the tour company highly enough. A day in County Wicklow was the perfect way to get the countryside experience on such a short trip, especially because so much of it looked like the quintessential Irish village or woodland setting—which makes sense since it’s an extremely popular filming location that has been used in films like Braveheart (despite being one of the most famous movies about Scotland) and P.S. I Love You.
- Powerscourt Estate & Gardens: One of the most notable points of interest in County Wicklow is a large country estate noted for its beautiful stone manor and 40+ acres of carefully landscaped gardens. This was one of the first places our guide brought us and it really set the stage for the rest of our day. Although a fire destroyed most of the interior of the 18th-century manor house in the 1970s, the exterior views of the house overlooking its incredible gardens were really the main attraction. We really enjoyed spending the morning walking through the different ornamental gardens, which included Japanese gardens, an Italian garden, many walled gardens and lakes, and a lovely garden of mixed wildflowers.
- Powerscourt Waterfall: The second highest waterfall in Ireland lies at the base of the Glensoulan Valley within the Powerscourt Estate, although a separate entrance fee was required to visit. The nearly 400-foot-tall waterfall was beautiful, with an interesting horsetail-fan pattern of water flowing over the steep back wall, and the surrounding recreational area was just as lovely.
- Glendalough Monastic Ruins: Tucked away in a gorgeous glacial valley surrounding Glendalough Upper Lake, Glendalough is renowned for its (fairly well-preserved) ruins of a monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. We spent an hour or so learning about the rich history associated with the settlement as we explored the ruins, which included an impressive “round tower”, the stunning Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, and a trail of stone crosses marking the traditional pilgrimage route.
- Sally Gap: One of two east-to-west passes through the Wicklow Mountains, Sally Gap made for an absolutely gorgeous drive. Wild heather was in full bloom when we visited, which made the views across the bogs even more breathtaking as we navigated along the winding road.
- Loch Té (Lough Tay): Commonly known as Guinness Lake, this small but scenic lake in the Sally Gap lies between the mountains of Djouce and Luggala on a private estate formerly owned by the Arthur Guinness family. We pulled off at one of several scenic points along the R759 to take in the absolutely stunning view of the lake and surrounding area, which was well worth the stop.