People are obsessed with Ireland. More specifically, it seems Americans are obsessed with all things Irish. I’m pretty sure we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day harder than Ireland does. I’m willing to venture a guess that Ireland is one of the top European travel destinations for Americans. After all, it is the “closest”. A flight from NYC to Dublin can be less than 6 hours depending on the jet stream. For some reason, Ireland wasn’t one of the countries we went to right away, when we moved to England. I guess we figured because it was so close, we’d make it eventually. We headed to Dublin and Belfast this past spring (see my blog post on Belfast and the stunning coastline trip to the Giant’s Causeway). I’m not gonna lie, we didn’t LOVE Dublin like most people do. It’s probably one of our least favorite places we’ve been, but to be fair we really like a lot of places we’ve been. Anyhow, it could have been the cold and rainy weather that turned us off, or the fact that we aren’t in our 20s and looking to party. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have a quaint “Old Town” like Prague, Nuremberg, Krakow, and so many other places we’ve been. It’s also a rather large city, and we tend to like smaller European cities. Irregardless of the reason, we figured Dublin was “one and done” and we’d likely come back to drive around Southern Ireland.
That was the plan…. until I started researching trips to the states for Christmas break. Flights were literally twice the price from London than they were from Dublin. So we decided to hop a cheap Ryanair flight to Dublin, spend a few days in Ireland before our trip, and a day coming back. The best part? We only had to drive to London Stansted, instead of dealing with the hellish drive and traffic to Heathrow. Pro Tip: if you are doing a multi-city tour of Europe from the states, look into flying into Dublin first and then taking Ryanair and EasyJet between cities (just make sure you check the baggage allowance). So we made the plan to fly to the states, with Ireland as bookmarks on either end. Since we didn’t love Dublin the last time, we decided to fly into Dublin and rent a car to drive somewhere else.
For some reason, I’ve always been intrigued by Galway. Ok, the reason is Ed Sheeran’s song “Galway Girl”. That’s literally the only reason Galway was on my radar. I freaking love that song and I love Ed! I’m sure I annoyed the crap out of my husband by singing it on repeat. When we made the decision to fly into Dublin, I was excited to learn that Galway was an easy 2:15 drive from Dublin! And even better – the Cliffs of Moher were fairly close to Galway. I knew I couldn’t bank on having good weather to see the Cliffs in late December, but it was still part of the draw for going to Galway. I did a quick google search and saw that Galway has a Christmas Market in December and I was sold! Decision made; fly into Dublin, drive to Galway and spend 2 days (one overnight) there, before checking into an airport hotel for our flight to the states.
We took a Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Dublin. I was surprised at the cost of the flight (around $100) because you can usually go to Stansted to Dublin for less than 50 quid. Either way, it’s still cheap air travel by American standards, and much better than driving all the way to Heathrow and dealing with that airport around Christmas. We rented a car from Flizzer, which is located at the Dublin airport, and then it was an easy drive to Galway. Unfortunately, it was super foggy and low visibility on the drive to Galway so we didn’t get to see much. That’s typical for Ireland and the UK! Lucky for us, it lifted as we were arriving in Galway, and it ended up being a beautiful (overcast, but dry) day in Galway. We stayed at the Jurys Inn, which was an excellent location to city centre in Galway. Part of the reason I choose this hotel was the underground parking right next door to the hotel. The hotel validates the parking and it ends up being 10 euros a night for parking, which was reasonable. The hotel employees were friendly and our room was large by European standards, and it was clean. I would stay there again.
After checking in to our hotel, we went for lunch because we were starving. Those early morning flights mean you wake up at 3 am to get to the airport two hours ahead of time. That means I am famished by 12:30. Ok, I’m hungry all the time and eating is a favorite activity of mine, but still. My husband and I are always complaining about how bad the burgers are in England. We can go to a great pub, but they will cook that burger until it is black and beyond well done. So when we saw a burger joint just steps from our hotel, we were drawn to it like a moth to a flame! The Burgerstory hit the spot and satisfied our cravings for a good, American (not fast food, but gourmet) burger! I’d definitely go back there, and the fries were so good as well. If you are in Galway and craving a burger, this is the place to go.
After lunch, we wandered the streets of Galway. The Christmas decorations were spectacular and it was so pretty to wander the streets lined with lights. Galway has some really quaint streets with adorable shops. We did some window shopping and some actual shopping. I was disappointed that my suitcase was completely full for my flight home, because I could’ve really done some damage in those shops. I noticed a surprising amount of jewelry stores for a smaller city. There were also many shops with handmade Irish wool sweaters. The Aran Sweater Market (which is right next to Burgerstory on Quay St) has a huge selection of sweaters, scarves, gloves, etc. There is something in there for everyone, and it’s worth a visit. Their products are beautiful, and I wish I had room in my suitcase, and the ability to make a decision. If you’ve ever seen the show The Good Place, my husband calls me Chidi because I struggle at making decisions. Last year, we were in Scotland and I loved all the Harris Tweed bags. I must’ve dragged him into ten shops, looking for hours. I couldn’t decide on a bag because they were all beautiful. The whole way home I regretted not being able to choose a bag. I feel the same way about these sweaters! Luckily, my husband surprised me with a Harris Tweed bag for my birthday shortly after that trip to Scotland. So maybe the same will happen with a sweater??
After browsing some shops, taking lots of pictures (too many according to my husband) and peeking inside some churches, we set out for the Christmas Market. Christmas Markets are one of my favorite things about Europe in December. Sadly, I’ve never been to any markets in Germany, other than one small market in Potsdamer Platz in November (before the other markets opened) but hopefully that will change next year. I’ve enjoyed Christmas Markets in Prague, Krakow, Budapest, London, and other smaller English cities. I was curious what an Irish market would be like, but it was very similar to other cities, complete with a Ferris Wheel. One thing that frustrated me was how overpriced the mulled wine was, and it was in such a small glass! That did not put me in the Christmas spirit. I had my one obligatory glass and couldn’t justify getting another one so we wandered around the market and didn’t stay long. We would’ve stayed longer if the mulled wine was better and cheaper! Just sayin…..
Since the Christmas Market was a little bit disappointing, we set off in search of something we knew would be perfect. I mean, if you go to Ireland and don’t have a pint of Guinness, did you really go to Ireland??? Truth be told, I love Guinness. In fact, I love all stouts and most porters, even the ones they try to make hipster such as those caramel coffee toasted marshmallow stouts, or chocolate covered cherry coconut stouts. Who knows if those exact flavors really exist, but the point is I love stouts when they are plain, and when they flavor them. And Guinness is one of my favorites, and YES, it does taste better in Ireland. So of course we need to grab a pint, and heading a somewhat loud pub with rugby playing in the background (I’m a former flanker and hooker, played for about 10 years in the states) seemed like the perfect fit for the ultimate Irish Guinness drinking experience outside of Dublin. We headed to the Dail bar and enjoyed our pint with an appetizer (nachos) before dinner. It made for a brilliant Irish experience and I’d recommend it to those visiting Galway. We didn’t eat dinner there, so I can’t comment on the entrees, but the Guinness was cold and refreshing and that is all that matters. For dinner, we went to the Piemaker which is delicious but they recommend you have a booking. The dinner pies are baked individually. We both enjoyed the steak and ale pie and the crust was so tasty! This is an Irish/English specialty done right. I highly recommend checking this place out.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel, grabbed a quick coffee (hot chocolate for my husband) and hit the road. The drive to Cliffs of Moher wasn’t too bad, but it was a lot of back roads through smaller towns. It was absolutely beautiful. We hoped to find a pub for lunch, but it was Sunday, and all the pubs in smaller towns were closed. After about three stops, we decided we’d just eat lunch at the cafe at the Cliffs. When we arrived we paid for parking (I can’t remember how much but it was the price of admission and it wasn’t bad) and walked across the street to the Cliffs. I’d recommend wearing hiking boots or wellies, as it is really muddy. My running sneakers, or trainers as the British say, are still covered in mud. The narrow paths get traveled on so much, that even on a dry day it is muddy. The Cliffs of Moher are truly stunning and a must see if you’re exploring the Western Coast of Ireland. The visitor center has information about the wildlife on the Cliffs. We walked as far as we could go (maybe a mile) until the path became covered with large, muddy puddles. Everyone seemed to turn around at this point, as you’d be shin high in water and mud if you keep going. We lucked out with the sunny weather and got amazing views of the Cliffs. This was definitely a bucket list for me, and I’m so glad we had the chance to go! The Cliffs of Moher are famous in Irish folklore, and are often used as filming locations in movies. In fact, all my fellow Potterheads will recognize the Cliffs of Moher from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, when he is searching for the Horcrux in the cave with Dumbledore. I could bore you with details about the Cliffs and the geological makeup, blah blah blah. But instead I will leave you with some pictures. Afterall, a picture is worth 1,000 words.
After spending a few hours at the Cliffs (and you need a few hours to explore, especially if you take a million photos like I do) we started the drive back to Dublin. It’s a little over three hours from the Cliffs of Moher to Dublin. We did a lot of driving in 36 hours, but it was so worth it to see different parts of Ireland. I know we will be back to explore more of the Wild Atlantic Way. The drive back to Dublin was beautiful and we had daylight for a good part of it. We had made a plan to stop in Kildaire for dinner because I’d heard it was a cute, charming, Irish town. I heard correctly; it was indeed cute. But it seems like EVERYONE ELSE heard this information too, because all three restaurants we tried to stop in were completely booked. In hindsight, it was 3 days before Christmas so I should’ve made a booking ahead of time, especially since some of the restaurants looked excellent. We ended up at a Chinese restaurant which was quite tasty. We were literally the only ones in the restaurant, but it looked like they did a large amount of take away orders, because the phone never stopped ringing. After dinner, we headed back to Dublin and stayed at an airport hotel before catching our flight to the USA the next morning. I quite liked touring Ireland and saving money on a longhaul flight at the same time. I may need to incorporate trips to Ireland with all our overseas flights. One thing is certain; there is still more of Ireland left to see.