An Irish Road Trip
Experiencing a destination—or two, or three—on a tight schedule can be tricky but certainly not impossible. And it doesn’t have to be stressful or rushed, or so WOW magazine correspondent Krista Connor learned soon after arriving at Dublin Airport. She had just a few days to take in the capital cities of Ireland and Northern Ireland, along with the island’s lolling hills of absurdly infinite shades of green.
Day one: Jolly jaunts in Dublin
I meandered around the Republic of Ireland’s capital the best way I know how—on foot. Dublin is all brownstone and brick and buoyant residents. Music permeates the streets. Bands camp out on any given sidewalk, tangled in a wild mess of drums, electric violins and boisterous song. These street performers, seemingly a little more established than your average buskers, such as techno-folk band Mutefish, always draw a foot-stomping crowd.
Everything felt so quintessentially Irish. So, naturally, my next stop was a pub, randomly selected: the Hairy Lemon on Stephen Street. Here, for me, the common myth rings true. Guinness really does taste better drunk freshly from the taps of its home city.
Turns out I wandered into the Creative Quarter, located on the south side of the city center. The area touts 300 years of artisan inventiveness, and these days it’s still a portrait of craftsmanship with a contemporary twist. Boutiques, studios, cafés and restaurants draw visitors and locals alike. I purchased a watch at a pop-up market and ducked into a handful of other pubs and restaurants, some of dark, imposing architecture, others sticker-laden and bawdy.
Of course, a trip to Dublin is incomplete without a foray into the Temple Bar district, a juxtaposition of plants draping from balconies, warm street lamps, cobblestone—and very loud tourists.
I met up with Sarah, an old friend who now lives here, and together we faced the iconic Temple Bar. It’s a confusion of packed bodies and live ’90s punk music, and when I, ever frugal, asked the bartender for a half-pint of something, my friend shook her head in admonition and quickly doubled my order. “We’re in Dublin!” she shouted over the din… I should have known a half-pint was heretical. Sláinte!
Day two: A private tour of Belfast, tea and Game of Thrones
Early the next morning, I caught a bus to Northern Ireland, a two-hour dream of bucolic countryside punctuated only by sleepy towns tucked away in the hills. I was Belfast-bound, where I’d meet up with a friend of a friend, Peter Edgar, who is conveniently a city expert involved with a handful of think tanks motivating the city with invention and innovation. The city felt vibrant, hopeful, and we spent an afternoon pursuing history, literature and amusement.
Historic landmarks such as Belfast City Hall, the Ulster Museum, and Queen Anne’s Cathedral that are peppered throughout the city offered insights into the city’s rich past, while the Botanic Gardens at College Park were a fresh-air break of flowerbeds, rose gardens, sculptures and birdlife.
I got a glimpse of the city’s love for two of its great writers, C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Swift at Belfast’s oldest library, Linen Hall and in Queen’s University’s reading room dedicated to Lewis, and while viewing the iconic hilltop, Sleeping Giant (aka Cave Hill), outside of Belfast. It’s said to be Swift’s inspiration for Gulliver’s Travels. Then, there was one very UK full pot of tea—one for each of us—and chocolate croissants at Black Bear Cafe on Stranmillis Rd.
Lastly, at sunset, we pulled up at the shipyards where the ill-fated Titanic was built and where a monolith memorial museum, Titanic Belfast, now stands. Nearby is Titanic Studios, where, most notably, portions of seasons one through six of HBO’s Game of Thrones were shot from 2010-2015. We lingered for a moment, hoping Jon Snow or Arya Stark would step outside, but soon we shrugged and headed back through the streets of Belfast.
Day three: The ancient glow of Glendalough
After returning via bus to Dublin for my final day in Ireland, I joined one of many daily tours heading south to County Wicklow (a place just as delightful as its name suggests). My destination was Glendalough, located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, one of the most important monastic settlements in all of Ireland. I spent an entire afternoon wandering around the site and exploring nearby hills and trails.
Glendalough was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century, surviving Viking raids and eventually developing into Monastic City until the Normans destroyed most of it in 1214. A handful of relics remain, including a stone tower and church, and one imposing graveyard.
I entered the settlement through a granite archway appropriately deemed The Gateway, where a woman perched faerie-like on the crumbled steps. Playing Irish bagpipes called “uilleann pipes,” she tapped out celestial notes in some sort of communion with the encircling mountains, the river and the wind.
Time for more? Add a road trip to Cork
If you have a few more days to explore, at least one longer road trip through Ireland is essential. Cork, with an inland route and various scenic stops along the way, is a solid destination. Car rentals are available at Dublin Airport, and public transportation is also an option, though renting naturally provides more flexibility.
The fastest way south—just under three hours—from Dublin to Cork is an easy drive via highways M7 and M8. But what’s the hurry? Depending on the selected route, a handful of stops can be made in one day. Visit towns Kildare and Kilkenny, riddled with ancient castles and brightly-hued buildings along the docks, followed by the cluster of medieval buildings at Rock of Cashel.
The Blarney Castle—home to the legendary Blarney Stone—is a feasible final stop before arriving in Cork for the evening. The cosmopolitan city melds a growing hipster scene with plenty of traditional snug pubs, live music and welcoming locals. Oliver Plunkett Street and Washington Street are rather lively on weekend nights, while the narrow streets are packed with restaurants and shops growing more and more popular.