Alex and I both believe that if at all possible, each birthday we share together should be celebrated by going away, whether it be 3,500 miles to New York or just a few miles up the road to London. For Alex’s 22nd, I arranged a surprise trip to Dublin.
Day One – 9am: We wasn’t really sure what to expect when we hopped off the short Ryan Air flight from London Stansted but being as we just had hand luggage there was no need to waste any time at baggage reclaim and so we headed straight out to the arrivals area. I’d been told by a friend that the best way to explore Dublin with such a short period of time was to purchase tickets for a hop on, hop off bus and so we tracked down the bus desk (just on the right as you exit the meet and greet area). There were a number of different options to choose from but we decided to go for the AirLink and Green hop on/hop off combo ticket for 27 euros per person. This is valid for 48 hours from first use but it can be extended to 72 hours for an extra 5 euros. The Air Link bus (either the 747 or 757) is a return ticket from the airport to the city centre with stops near all the major tourist attractions. Also in the leaflet you are given is a handy list of all of the popular hotels in Dublin and the nearest bus stops so make sure to give this a read and don’t just stuff it in your bag! The people at the ticket desk were really friendly and helpful if you need any advice. We arrived at our hotel (The Shelbourne) within 30 mins of leaving the airport and luckily there was a bus stop within a 2 minute walk.
11am: Once we got checked in and freshened ourselves up, we headed straight out to Trinity College which was only a 5 minute walk, so there was no need for the bus just yet! We walked straight through the doors into the beautiful Trinity College courtyard and found a stall with a lady in graduation robes standing behind it, offering guided tours for 14 euros per person. The tours are held at different times each day and are displayed on a board next to the stall. Luckily the next tour was due to start in 15 minutes time and so we paid for our tickets and spent 10 minutes having a walk around the courtyard. The tour is led by a current student of the university and includes admission to the Book Of Kells Exhibition and Trinity College’s old library. The tour itself was very interesting and explained a lot about the history of the college and its grounds after it was founded in 1592. The old library is a MUST see, it was like a scene straight out of a Harry Potter film with books stored in huge bookcases that stretch along two floors. Very cool!
1pm: After our tour, we jumped on our first green bus. When you board the bus you just have to scan your ticket on the reader like you would on a London bus. If you didn’t manage to buy a ticket from the desk at the airport, you can also buy them on board with the driver. There are a number of different hop on/hop off buses in the city but our ticket and bus was green (easy to remember when in Ireland!) with buses roughly every 10 minutes. We stayed on the bus and listened to the commentary for a while as it was a good way to get our bearings in the city. We were quite lucky with the weather and so most of the time we chose to sit on the top deck to get a good view.
2:00pm: Our first stop was St Patrick’s Cathedral. The admission fee was 7 euros and unless you’ve got a keen interest in the history and design of cathedrals and churches, I wouldn’t say this is a must see. Don’t get me wrong, some aspects of it were beautiful but sometimes I feel that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all! We also visited Christ Church Cathedral which was much more impressive from the outside but we didn’t venture inside, instead choosing to wander around its grounds.
5:00pm: After grabbing a bite to eat and having a wander around, it was time to jump back on the bus to the Guinness Storehouse. Alex’s parents had bought us tickets for Alex’s birthday and booked a time slot of 6pm. Annoyingly, you can’t buy an open ticket and have to book a time slot although this doesn’t seem to help with overcrowding. The building is a huge glass cylinder that represents the shape of a pint glass and has 7 different floors all telling different parts of the ‘Guinness Story’. The Guinness Storehouse experience is a self-guided tour through the brewery and includes information on the ingredients, the process of brewing the ale, pouring the perfect pint and of course, taste-testing! We had to queue for the taste test unfortunately but not for too long. It was a 15 minute session on the correct way to sample Guinness by using all of the 5 senses. Once we had necked the miniature tasting glasses, we moved on up to the Gravity Bar to exchange our tickets for a well-deserved pint of the black stuff. It was Alex’s birthday after all! The Gravity Bar is on the 7th floor of the Guinness Storehouse and offers a 360’ view of Dublin. It was quite busy up there but to be honest, our 6pm time slot was actually one of the busiest times to visit. We got our photos taken against the backdrop of the city skyline and then moved down to the 6th floor to enjoy our pints. Before we left we had a look around the gift shop which sold numerous items with Guinness flavouring including crisps, steak sauces and even fudge!
7:30pm: We left the Guinness Storehouse at around 7:30pm and by this time, the tour bus was not operational and so we wandered across the river and picked up a normal commuter bus back to our hotel. It only cost us 2 euros each and saved us a 40 minute walk in the dark!
9:30pm: After having a quick shower and getting dressed we found ourselves back at our favourite place – The Hard Rock Cafe! – in Temple Bar. With a live Irish band playing well into the early hours, it was a fun night and a great end to Alex’s birthday.
Day Two – 8am: The following day we were up bright and early and so decided to hop on the tour bus to Phoenix Park. The 1752 acres of open space mean that it’s one of the largest recreational areas in Europe. Safe to say we were not able to explore it all but we decided the best way to see as much as we could was to hire a bike for a few hours. See below the prices for the different bikes on offer at Phoenix Park Bike Hire which is a little hut just outside the entrance of the park. Our tour bus dropped us directly opposite and so you can’t miss it.
Keeping in mind my history with bikes (I’ve fallen off every one I’ve ever sat on), we decided it would be best (and safest!) if we hired a tandem and that was an experience in itself! We laughed so much that we had to stop a number of times in fear of falling off but after around half an hour we had the hang of it – peddling in sync, knowing when to speed up and slow down etc. So much so that we even managed to get the GoPro out for some selfies (although I was told off by a very stern local coming in the opposite direction who nearly collided with the selfie stick – oops)! We stopped to get pictures of various monuments in the park including The Wellington Monument and the Papal Cross as well as lots of animals including a herd of deer at one point.
We didn’t have time to visit Dublin Zoo, once home to the infamous MGM Lion that’s shown roaring at the beginning of every film produced by the studios, but it is recommended as one of the best things to do when visiting Dublin. Being over 69 acres in size and with different areas such as the ‘Asian Forests’ and ‘Fringes of the Arctic’, it’s definitely worth visiting if you have time. Other things to see and do in the park include the Victorian Walled Kitchen Garden, the People’s Flower Gardens, the Magazine Fort and the one of the oldest tea rooms in Dublin.
12pm: Next on the agenda for the day was a visit to the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery. Until very recently, Jameson Whiskey was distilled right in the heart of Dublin. In 1971, the site was moved to Cork and so the old distillery in Bow Street was opened as a museum. For 18 euros per person you get an interactive guided tour that lasts around 40 minutes and includes comparative tasting of different whiskeys on the market including Jack Daniels, a scotch and of course Jamesons. Straight whiskey is definitely not our choice of tipple and so by the time we left the tasting session it was safe to say we were feeling a little wobbly on our feet! Still, we weren’t going to turn down our complimentary drink at JJ’s bar afterwards, instead choosing a shot of Jameson’s mixed with Ginger and Lime. Very refreshing but definitely not as deadly!
2pm: We decided to spend the last few hours in Dublin wandering through Temple Bar. Temple Bar is an area of Dublin on the south bank of the River Liffey and is the cultural heart of the city. The pretty cobbled streets are filled to the brim with buskers, street performers and artists and if you are visiting on a Saturday – a colourful food market. We decided to visit the Pieman Cafe as recommended by our Marco Polo guide book and we were not disappointed. The exterior of the cafe doesn’t look anything special and there isn’t an awful lot to choose from on the menu but after deciding on a Beef and Guinness pie (we had to!), we were not disappointed!
5pm: After packing our cases and checking out of our hotel, we wheeled our cases and sat in St Stephen’s Square, a pretty little garden space just next to our hotel before getting our bus back to Dublin airport.
After hearing a number of different opinions about the best amount of time to spend in Dublin, I can honestly say that 48 hours was about right for us. There were a couple of places that we didn’t visit due to it either being closed or too busy (namely St Michan’s Church and Kilmainham Gaol) but we saw the majority of Dublin’s top sights and didn’t feel rushed. I would probably say that unless you’re very slow and like to take your time wandering around a city before tackling the main attractions, 72 hours is the absolute max I would spend here. It was 48 hours of non-stop laughter and we loved every minute of our weekend in The Emerald Isle!