Ireland had long been on my bucket list. March weather there is rather cold and damp, but I was going with my friend Joanne, a college professor who had spring break week off. So we packed our woolies, raincoats, gloves, hats and umbrellas and soldiered on. And the beauty visiting this time of year? No crowds, no lines!
You can spend several weeks in Ireland, but we had only a few days. Dublin was our base, an easy city to get around by foot with a vibe that was young, cool and hip…like us.
We made the most of our limited time and started with Ireland’s #1 most visited attraction, the Guinness Storehouse. The Guinness history goes back to 1759 and is synonymous with Ireland. Highlights of the tour include the Guinness heritage, how to pour the perfect pint, a tasting and time to chill in the Gravity Bar with a panoramic view of Dublin. You don’t need to be a beer drinker to appreciate the Guinness Storehouse.
I am a firm believer in hiring a local guide when visiting a city. There is no reason to keep looking at directions, reviews or instructions on your phone or to flip through a guidebook when you can have a local expert to show you. Whether a private guide or a small group, you will get so much more with a knowledgable person than a book or a smart phone. We had the pleasure of Connor, a local Dubliner, and he was awesome. When we booked the tour, we received an in depth questionnaire so the tour could be completely customized to our interests, activity level and curiosity. Connor had all this information and we began the day with a visit to Trinity College where we saw the ancient Book of Kells and the Long Room at the Old Library with over 200,000 books.
Next was a visit to see the relics of St. Valentine at the Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin Castle and the gorgeous Christ Church. Connor walked us through the streets and different neighborhoods sharing with us a bit about his life growing up in Dublin. Each neighborhood has its own flavor from Merrion Square with the classic Georgian houses and the stunning Merrion Hotel to Temple Bar, an area full of pubs, music and nightlife. And Connor was a wealth of information on the day in the life of an Irishman when we stopped in to the Jameson distillery for a quick nip.
Rail Ireland has some terrific day trips to easily travel beyond Dublin, which I recommend you do if you have time. One very early morning, we arrived at the train station and joined a small group for a full day to see the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, the gorgeous countryside, Bunratty Castle and the city of Galway. It’s easy to see how Ireland got the name the Emerald Isle, because it is breathtakingly green. And there are sheep…lots of sheep!
With weather that changes from minute to minute, be prepared for all types of conditions. In one hour, the cold weather went from pouring rain to sunny and windy, back to rain and then sun again.
So much of a culture is the food and we tried as much Irish food as possible. Definitely lots of salmon and seafood, wonderful fish and chips, Guiness beef stew, black and white pudding (blood sausage), steak pie, colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage) and beer.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect with Edinburgh. I knew they had kilts and bagpipes, and oh yeah…whiskey. I was awestruck by the architecture including medieval to victorian and a bit of modern. But it’s the history of old town Edinburgh dating back to the 12th century which I found utterly fascinating. From Edinburgh Castle at one end of the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace at the other every building, monument and church has a story.
Our scholarly guide had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Edinburgh’s historical events. The centuries of battles, the long line of kings, queens and palace intrigue is fascinating and has added many more books to my reading list.
The Hop-on-Hop-off bus was a great way to see some of the other neighborhoods…and to stay warm and dry. The weather in Edinburgh was similar to Dublin – but a bit more raw. We popped in to the National Museum of Scotland which includes some of everything – history, science, nature, art and fashion. Admission is free.
Shops are filled with lots of cashmere, Harris Tweed, kilts and plaids. And whiskey. Lots of shops where you can taste and buy whiskey. There are more than 120 whiskey distilleries in Scotland and we learned the difference between blended and single malt and that all Scotch is whiskey, but not all whiskey is Scotch.
I really enjoyed the food we had in Edinburgh. What did we eat? Of course, lots of Scottish salmon. And Haggis, the national dish of Scotland which is absolutely delicious and you should just eat it and not ask what it is. But if you are an inquiring mind, it is made with sheep offal (heart, liver & lungs), oatmeal, suet, onions and spices and looks like crumbled sausage. Neeps and Tatties which sounds like slang body parts but is mashed turnips & potatoes often accompanies haggis with a whiskey sauce. Venison and other wild game is very common. Fantastic Cranachan, sort of like a trifle, is the king of Scottish desserts.
Our trip was just a short visit to these two captivating places, but enough to get a feel for the culture, history, food and the lovely people…who have a great sense of humor.
If Ireland and Scotland are on your bucket list, I’d love to help you check it off!
I’m not just enthusiastic about travel—I live travel, each and every day. From plotting out my clients’ next great escape, to logging airmiles on my own adventures (I always have a suitcase packed and at the ready!), travel drives me in everything I do.
I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I’d love to share them with you. Learn a bit more about my journey to founding my own travel agency—it involves quite a few glasses of Italian wine!
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