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Ireland graduation trip with our daughter

My husband and I visited Ireland and Northern Ireland from 5/21-5/29, along with our 22-year old daughter. Our daughter had been celebrating her college graduation by traveling with several friends, staying in hostels in London, Prague, Munich and Amsterdam. She met us in Dublin for the last leg of her trip, and picked the itinerary for much of our visit. We had a great time! I’ve listed the highlights below.

Day 1 (travel) – We flew through Boston, and as an extra bonus, were able to meet up with our son who works in downtown Boston. For the first of many times during the trip, we were so glad we brought carry-on, as there is no luggage storage at Logan. We took the blue line, and met our son at Tatte, a coffee/shop café that has become wildly popular. The coffee was good and the company was even better! It was really easy to take the blue line back to the airport in plenty of time to catch our overnight flight to Dublin. (We received some humorous ribbing from our son, due to my penchant for arriving at airports really, really early. Guilty, I admit.)

Day 2 (Dublin) – We arrived in Dublin at about 8:00 a.m. and took the Airlink Express (747) to the O’Connell Street stop. It was a short walk to our hotel (Jury’s Parnell Street). Our daughter met us, and we went to a late breakfast at Flanagans. Then, we walked to Trinity College to meet our daughter’s travel partners. The girls all went off to visit the Guinness Storehouse, as it was the last day in Ireland for most of them. My husband and I attempted to walk off our jet lag by walking through St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square. (We had already visited Guinness on a prior trip.) We walked to the Hairy Lemon for dinner, and my husband was tickled to see the snug where they filmed a lot of the bar scenes from The Commitments (a favorite movie of his). The food was really good. By the time we left, there were a lot of locals waiting for the live music to start at 8. We were just too jet-lagged to stay, so we went back for an early night.

Day 3 (Belfast) – The Titanic Museum was on our daughter’s “must see” list, so we traveled to Belfast. We had planned to rent a car, but my husband (who normally is the intrepid driver of the family) was still recovering from a nasty sinus infection, so we took the train. Great decision – it was very easy to walk to the Connolly station from our hotel, and the train ride was so comfortable. We weren’t sure how close the Belfast train station (Lanham Place) would be to our hotel, but it was less than a mile walk. We were staying at the AC Marriott, and it looked on the map like it was kind of far from the city center. We were delighted to find that it was actually very close to everything, including walking distance to the Titanic.

The Titanic Museum was really interesting. It focused quite a bit on the history of ship building in Belfast, as well as the Titanic design and construction process. It was sobering to think that some of the safety measures we take for granted (like having enough life boats to house all the passengers) came about as a result of the Titanic sinking. We had purchased timed tickets, and went on a fairly uncrowded afternoon, so we were able to enter before the time on our ticket. If you go, I would definitely avoid the weekends and try and pick off-hours. The exhibits are spaced pretty tightly and I can’t imagine how crowded it would be on the days the timed tickets sell out.

We closed our day by having a great meal at The Morning Star. While we were eating, a young couple pushed a pram up to the table next to us. They had a three-week old baby, and it was their first night out with him. They were worried we would be distracted by noise from their baby. (“You must think we’re terrible parents – taking him to a pub”, they joked.) The couple was so happy and their baby was so cute – it was fun to sit near them.

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Day 4 (Giant’s Causeway and the Antrim Coast) – We all agreed that this was one of our favorite days. We traveled to Giant’s Causeway, and did the optional cliff walk. (We used Away a Wee Walk, and you can also use the Nationaltrust.org.) This is a guided 5 mile walk along the cliff paths into Giant’s Causeway. Our guide, Deidre, was so knowledgeable about the nature, land, and Irish history. The scenery was stunningly beautiful. There were only five of us on the hike, which made the experience feel very personal. Deidre led us into Giant’s Causeway, and we had lots of time to explore the rock formations. If you like walking, I highly, highly recommend doing this hike. We also visited the Carrick-a -Rede rope bridge and had timed tickets to walk the rope bridge. It was really relaxing to sit in the grass and admire the view from the small island once we’d crossed the bridge. The Antrim coast drive is also spectacularly beautiful, with amazing sea views.

Day 5 (Belfast/return to Dublin) – We enjoyed a leisurely morning in Belfast and then took the train back to Dublin. I loved Belfast, and its laid back yet friendly vibe. The size of the city feels so relaxing compared to the hustle and bustle of Dublin. There are also lots of small side streets with charming restaurants and pubs. On this day, we ate a delicious brunch at the National Café. There was a maritime festival going on, and it was interesting to see the ships in the harbor.

When we returned to Dublin, we listened to some live music at The Celt. My daughter’s hostel had recommended this place to her, and she had really liked it. We had dinner there, and then returned later when the music started. It was pretty packed, but our waitress from dinner remembered us and came up and whispered “I’ll find you a table.” Sure enough, she did! (She told us that she has been studying Irish dancing since she was five, and often dances with the band. However, she had forgotten her shoes that day.) We had also planned on going back to the Hairy Lemon to listen to live music, but we learned something – a lot of the pubs have DJ’s instead of live music on the weekends.

Day 6 (Dublin/Wicklow Mountains) – The highlight of this day was the Sunday rural pub tour (ruraltours.ie). Shane from Rural Pub Tours drove us in a van to visit three pubs in the Wicklow mountains. We were able to have a pub lunch, and enjoy live music. The pubs we visited included Johnny Foxes (“the highest pub in Dublin”) and the Blue Light, which has a great view of Dublin Bay. It turns out that Sunday afternoon is a popular time in the pubs, and it was fun to people-watch. We also had a blast with the very interesting group in our van, including two sisters who’d traveled to Dublin for the Spice Girls concert at Croke Park and a couple about our age from Romania. The weather was comfortable– sunny but not too hot, so we could also sit outside. My husband and son had taken this tour a few years ago with Shane. Our daughter said this activity was one of her favorites.

Day 7 (Kilkenny/Glendalough) – We all loved Glendalough. The monastic ruins of Sir Kevin were beautiful, and the area is part of the Wicklow National Park. We walked some of the trails by the upper and lower lakes near the monastery. There is a park office near the upper lake, and they can advise you about which trails to choose. This was the day when we really got to experience the changeable Irish weather. It went from windy rain to sun, to thunder, to sun to torrential rain in a very short period of time. The changing weather made the scenery even more spectacular, if possible. We also watched a sheep herding demonstration that was unexpectedly fascinating. (I had to drag my husband and daughter to see it, but we all really enjoyed it.) We learned a lot about how border collies are trained, and what it takes to be a good sheep herding dog.

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Day 8 (Dublin) – This was our last day of the trip, and the highlights were the Book of Kells, and the Brazenhead dinner.

Book of Kells – I know a lot of people on this forum recently haven’t enjoyed the Book of Kells, as they felt it was a long run for a short slide. I had purchased morning timed tickets, fully expecting lots of eye rolls during the visit from my husband and daughter. However, we all really enjoyed this exhibit. The display includes a lot of historical information about who recorded this version of the gospels, and how the pages of the book were made and written. It was incredible to think about how much time and effort went into each page. I actually got teary when I saw the four book pages on display. The exhibit ends in the Long Room, which has over 200,000 old books, and which served as the inspiration for a scene in Harry Potter. We all thought this room was striking. The Long Room also had an original copy of the Irish Proclamation of Independence.

Brazenhead dinner – Our last night was the fairies and folklore dinner at The Brazenhead. This often books out well in advance, and this was the only night available when I went to book a few weeks ago. The dinner is on the third floor at The Brazenhead (the oldest pub in Dublin). Philip, our storyteller, had several story telling sessions during the evening. The first session detailed the conditions before and during the potato famine. Philip also told lots of stories involving folklore and fairies. He did a great job of tying the stories to Irish culture and history. During dinner, there was some excellent traditional Irish music. The rest of the entertainment time was spent with the story telling . One word of warning – even though it was in the 50’s outside, the room was HOT, and a lot of people were visibly sweating. I would definitely suggest wearing layers.

Day 9 (travel home) – One nice thing about traveling out of Dublin is that you go through U.S. passport control and customs in Dublin. We were able to get off the plane in Boston as if we had come on a domestic flight. This allowed us to pick up an even earlier connecting flight home to Cincinnati. (“You just gained 5 hours,” quipped the gate agent.) At the Dublin airport, we went through security twice (first Irish then US) and then US customs. It looked like some people did not make our Dublin-Boston flight, as they were held up in passport control, so make sure you give yourself enough time.

Odds and ends:

Packing: We all packed carry-on. I had a 20” Eagle Creek rolling bag and a collapsible backpack. I also brought a small travel crossbody that could fit inside the backpack. My husband had a 22” Eagle Creek rolling bag and a Thule backpack. (This is the combination he uses for work travels and he finds it very easy to carry on.) Our daughter used an Osprey Farpoint 40L backpack, along with a collapsible backpack and small cross body. I can’t imagine managing any bigger luggage than what we had given the crowded streets in Dublin.

Lodging: Our first night in Dublin, we stayed at the Jury’s Inn Parnell Street. I had stayed there a few years ago, and it has a good location. It looked like the hotel had been remodeled since I had been there last, and our room was quite nice. The breakfast had an individual coffee machine with organic coffee - best coffee of the trip! The other nights, we picked our lodgings based on where we could use hotel points my husband had accumulated. Since our daughter stayed with us after her friends went home, we needed a family-sized room, which limited our choices. In Belfast, we stayed at the AC Marriott. The hotel has a great view of the Titanic, a fairly small room, and really helpful staff. The other nights in Dublin, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Custom House. Next time, if we weren’t using points, we would probably look at other options.

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Weather: We had a fair bit of clouds and rain our entire trip, as well as some sun, with highs generally in the upper 50’s and lows in the upper 40’s. We were all glad we had rain jackets. I had also splurged on a Blunt umbrella (Duluth Trading sells them) and was glad I had brought it. The rounded tips meant I didn’t have to worry about poking anyone in a crowded place, and it lived up to its promise of withstanding wind.

What Would We Change: Because we had only a short visit due to our work schedules, we spent most of our time in the Dublin area. We debated traveling to Galway but were put off by the travel time. (Our daughter had visited the Cliffs of Moher with her friends.) In retrospect and even though we really enjoyed Dublin, we would have spent a couple less days there and instead either traveled West or South. We briefly visited Kilkenny, and it was a pretty town, but this was our least favorite part of the trip. Next time, I’d skip Kilkenny and go to Powerscourt instead, as well as spend more time in Glendalough hiking

Favorites: My husband’s favorite thing was the cliff walk to Giant’s Causeway. My daughter’s favorites were the Titanic and the rural pub tour. I especially loved the Book of Kells. We all really enjoyed the live music we heard.

Food for Thought: While in Dublin, I read this thread about pushy tourists in Halstatt: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/why-is-rick-steves-still-taking-tours-in-hallstatt
It was really timely, as we experienced some folks blithely pushing their way to the front of the line at the rope bridge and Book of Kells. The thread gave me a greater cultural understanding of some of the reasons that might contribute to these behaviors. Our daughter mentioned that on the train in Prague, her friend who had lived there had told them “you will need to push people to get out”, which was so different from her experience in trains in other U.S. cities. On the other hand, we also witnessed American tourists being needlessly rude to the staff at our hotel. This all helped me to reinforce the need to be polite and kind, and seek to look at things from others points of view.

All in all, we had a wonderful time! Now if I could just win the lottery and travel all the time…..

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GREAT trip report! Plan to see Ireland some day and you’ve given lots of food for thought. Many thanks!

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Loved your trip report. Ireland is one of my favorite spots in the world. Your day 4 was also one of the highlights during our trip there a few years ago. Glad you had a great time and to enjoy with your daughter is truly special.