We’ve come to expect nothing but the highest caliber of style when it comes to anything Alexandra Grant does, but today’s tour of Ireland takes the cake. Prepare to experience an extreme case of wanderlust as you read through Alex’s must-visit spots and shops in Ireland.
I’ve gone not once, not twice, but three times to Ireland in the last year. Obsession doesn’t even begin to describe it. I come from the Great White North where we’re definitely not short on natural beauty, but still, I’ve never seen landscapes that have taken my breath away more, laughed harder or, well…had more Guinness than during my time in Ireland. The third time around has definitely been the most special trip of all as I got to go with most of my best friends—we covered a huge part of the country and even headed up to Northern Ireland! Without further ado, here is my guide to a truly unforgettable trip on the Emerald Isle!
I returned to Cork after a doozy of a week in Paris so was not expecting to do much—naturally, when it comes to Ireland, I couldn’t have been more wrong. From a (rare) sunny day spent traipsing about town, heading from the famous English Market for lunch upstairs to the stunning Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral to a pint at the Franciscan Well (Cork has some truly amazing local beer—Mi Daza is a must as well, and only available on tap). The Mutton Lane Inn is a must, Arthur Mayne and Orso are great dining options and Electric serves up amazing cocktails if you need a break from the beer (though I never do). If you’re looking for a unique experience, stop by the legendary Hi-B Bar where the owner has notoriously banned cell phones and is wont to kick out people who don’t obey this rule.
We took off to The Burren, which though misty and wet, was still every bit as beautiful as when I saw it in the sun earlier this year. Of course, the legendary Cliffs of Moher are a must-visit. They are truly breathtaking in person, even in the rain (and quite frankly, it will likely be raining). I’d suggest taking your time driving through The Burren, so you can appreciate its unique karst landscape. Make sure to stop along the way to see the ancient ruins and tombs.
It’s hard not to instantly fall in love with Galway. The people are fantastic (our cabbie happened to be the mayor of Galway, and he proceeded to set us up with all of his friends who owned pubs and shops around town). Other than the craic (i.e. fun, good times—begin to get comfortable using this word now if you have Ireland in your travel bucket list!) at famed establishments such as The Quays, Monroe’s and more, I’ve had some of the best food of my life at Kai Café and Ard Bia at Nimmos. Don’t believe the stereotype that Ireland serves up awful food—the country is increasingly focused on supporting farm-to-table dining and, believe me, I’ve yet to experience it better than in Ireland. Finally, be sure to get a Claddagh ring while in Galway, which symbolizes loyalty, friendship and love—it’s such a special memento to bring home!
After an incredible few days in Galway, we headed east to the awe-inspiring Wicklow Mountains. Remember that scene in “P.S. I Love You” when Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler first meet? That’s set there, and its wild beauty translates even better in person. We went for an ill-fated hike (I got stung by stinging nettle, we got lost, I absolutely wore the wrong shoes), but with a bottle of wine staring down into the stunning mountains, it was hard not to still have the best time ever. We left the mountains to tour Powerscourt Estate (the gardens here are a must, as is a visit to the famous Avoca) and also stopped in idyllic Enniskerry for a lovely brunch at Kennedy’s of Enniskerry, where again, we met the nicest people—a common theme to our time in Ireland.
Because none of us had seen Northern Ireland yet, we packed up in my friend’s car and headed north. After a stop for ice cream in Carrickfergus at Mauds, we finally got into town. Quite frankly, at first we didn’t know what to make of Belfast—the decades-long conflict isn’t apparent right in the center of town, but especially after taking a Black Cab Tour, we were all too aware of how much the city’s gone through. It’s something that is important to see and understand though, and at the end of our tour (our cab guide was the nicest and dropped us off at the Titanic Museum free of charge), we just felt really grateful that we had a chance to learn so much about such an interesting city. The Titanic Museum is also an absolute must. Belfast was where the Titanic was constructed and the museum is located exactly where it was built.
While the day was somber in many ways, the night, well…wasn’t. We started at the famous Crown Liquor Saloon and made our way through Belfast’s truly fun nightlife—from the Duke of York to The John Hewitt. We pretty much all agreed it was one of our absolute best nights ever and when we woke up the next day ready to take the Causeway Coastal Route up to Portrush, we were all rather in love with Belfast.
Causeway Coast Way:
I’ll just go ahead and say that you need to drive up the Causeway Coastal Route at some point in your life. From the turquoise waters to the rolling green hills to the many iconic sites en route, it was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Carrick-a-Rede—a rope bridge dangling over the Atlantic Ocean built by fishermen to catch fish on the island you eventually walk to—isn’t mentioned as much as the Giant’s Causeway, but our group unanimously decided it was the highlight. The views are just beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and the adrenaline rush from getting battered by wind as you cross the bridge adds to the whole experience. Of course, the famous Giant’s Causeway is a must—a truly otherworldly natural beauty.
We were all exhausted from the trip, but Portrush proved to be such a great experience—we would’ve seriously regretted missing it. This surf town at the northern edge of Northern Ireland offers more vivid waters, sandy beaches and a beach town vibe all of us West Coast girls had missed. The Ramore Wine Bar is an institution that can’t be overlooked. We had a special last evening in Northern Ireland reminiscing about the entire trip over wine and delicious food. Then we had an even lovelier morning walking around the sea walls all around town, stopping by the famous Arcadia to test out the Northern Irish treat Fifteens, which is aptly named for the 15 ingredients in them, including marshmallows, biscuits and coconut!
And with one walk into the Atlantic Ocean, we took off back to Dublin for the shortest (but still incredibly fun) night at Grogans before we all went our separate ways. To Ireland, as always, thank you for filling my heart with so much joy! Sláinte!