Day 1 - Familiarising yourself…
Upon arriving in Dublin, just like when arriving in most cities, you should drop your bags in your room and go exploring straight away. The city centre is compact and very easy to get around, meaning it doesn’t take a long time to familiarise yourself with the place. Take some time to walk around Henry Street and O’Connell Street where you will find one of Europe’s tallest monuments, known as ‘The Millennium Spire’ standing 123 metres into the sky.
Unless you plan to go shopping and give your credit card a good bashing, there isn’t much else to keep you on the northside apart from the Spire. When you reach the River Liffey which separates the north and south sides, don’t cross at O’Connell Bridge, instead look for a small, humpback footbridge called the Halfpenny Bridge. With the Spire behind you, cross the bridge and pass through the arch on the other side. This area is known as Temple Bar, an area of Dublin very popular with tourists and full of bars and restaurants that gets particularly busy at night. After that go up to Grafton Street and the surrounding streets to watch Dublin life go by.
In the afternoon, after your stroll about the city you should take some time out to relax in one of the city centre greens. Not only are they the perfect places to gather your thoughts, if you want to watch Dublin life pass you by there are no better places.
St Stephen’s Green at the top of Grafton Street is always full with all walks of life. ‘The Green’ has ponds if you wish to feed the ducks and large open grass areas for when you simply want to laze around for a number of hours.
Just 5 minutes west from Stephens Green is Merrion Square. This green isn’t as big as its city centre counterpart, but the grounds are just as impressive and it doesn’t get the crowds meaning you can get more peace and quiet here.
If this is your first time in Dublin, chances are the first place you shall visit once night falls is Temple Bar, just south of the Liffey in the city centre. Totally pedestrianised, wherever you see cobbled streets, you know you are in Temple Bar. In Dublin, this is where you will find the typical ‘Oirish’ bars, complete with traditional music, Guinness flowing and maybe even some locals doing a bit of Irish dancing if you are lucky.
Day 2 - Phoenix Park - bigger than Central Park!
It would be a shame to go to Dublin and not visit the Phoenix Park which is just 10 minutes in a bus from the city. Covering 1730 acres, it is one of the world’s largest city centre parks, even bigger than New York’s Central Park and London’s Hyde Park. Apart from strolling around the grounds, you can also visit the Dublin Zoo or have a look at Áras an Uachtaráin, home to the Irish President.
Culture vultures reading this may think when do the museums come into play? Well if you have a couple of days to kill in Dublin, you can’t leave without visiting some of the museums. Arguably, the best of a good bunch is the National History Museum on the southside, near Merrion Square. Locally known as the ‘Dead Zoo’, this is because there is a large collection of stuffed animals inside.
If you want to find out more about Dublin’s famous writers, you should visit the James Joyce Centre which is on North Great Georges Street and dedicated to the work the world-famous Dublin writer.
Around Dublin the typical ‘Irish Pub’ is harder and harder to come by. Instead Dublin has a new breed of pubs and bars which are more like ‘drinking houses’. Huge couches and glass tables and are frequented by Dublin’s ‘beautiful people’. While some of them can be a small bit pretentious, the door policy in Dublin has relaxed over the last three years and, once you don’t wear your scraggy white runners, you should get in. They don’t have the atmosphere of a typical Irish pub, but you will still have an enjoyable night if you decide to spend the night drinking in one.
Day 3 - Grand Finale for Dublin
After a few days in Dublin, chances are you will have had an aul’ sampled a pint of Ireland’s national brew Guinness, sometimes known as ‘the Black Stuff’. If not, maybe you have tried some authentic Irish whiskey. Maybe you have tried both! You can go to distilleries and breweries where you learn all about how these national drinks are made, and even sample them!
The Guinness Brewery covers 64 acres on either side of James' Stand and can be found a mile west of Christ Church. Founded in 1759, Guinness has the distinction of being the world's largest single beer-exporting company, exporting some 300 million pints a year. Although you can't go round the brewery, the former Guinness Hop Store on Crane St houses an exhibition centre where you can taste the best Guinness in Dublin. Also, the top story of the Guinness Hop Store has been transformed into one of Dublin's most innovative bars, Gravity. Enjoy 360 degree views over the city from here while sipping on your pint of the black stuff.
Maybe you will prefer to find out how Irish whiskey is produced. The Old Jameson Distillery Tour based in the distillery which was built in 1780, has for years been recognised as one of the best distilleries in the world and the whiskey it produces justifies this.
After going on either one of these tours, you should just take some time out to stroll around the city again. All around Georges Street and Wicklow Street are an array of cool shops selling loads of strange bits and pieces at good prices, while just up Dame Street from these streets is Dublin Castle. Within the castle are a courtyard, state apartments and much more to be viewed by the public.
After seeing the various buskers around Dublin’s streets, particularly Grafton Street, you may have wondered at some stage along the line whether or not Bono and U2 may have busked there in the past. On the Musical Pub Crawl two professional musicians drag you around various spots while telling you different stories of some of Ireland’s most famous musicians.
Day 4 - Kicking Back in Kilkenny
Kilkenny might not be one of the country’s largest cities but it’s certainly one worth spending at least a day and a night in. It’s also a nice way to break up the journey to Cork.
Regarded by many as the best preserved medieval town in the country, Kilkenny Castle, built in the 13th century, is located right in the middle of the city centre and should be the first port of call for any visitor to Kilkenny. Allow a few hours to stroll around as there is a great deal to take in including the many rooms in the castle itself, the Butler Gallery in the basement and the grounds surrounding the castle.
When you’ve finished looking at the opulence enjoyed by the Earls of Ormonde, the former residents of the castle, make your way to St. Canice’s Cathedral. All the major attractions in Kilkenny are within walking distance of each other so you shouldn’t have any trouble making your way round. The Cathedral, after which Kilkenny was named, also dates from the 13th century and is just one of the many excellent examples of religious architecture in the city. Be sure to climb the ladders inside the 100ft tower for an excellent view of the city itself and the surrounding countryside.
All that climbing is pretty thirsty work so your next stop should find you at the Smithwicks Brewery. You can pick up free tickets at the tourist office on Rose Inn St. (also provide free city maps) which will entitle you to both an audio visual show and the all important tasting. The brewery is built on the site of a 14th century monastery where the monks themselves used to brew their very own ale – wonder how they would feel about the fact that Budweiser is now brewed on the premises too.
And after your day’s sightseeing, the good news is that Kilkenny enjoys one of the best social scenes in the country. With a wealth of excellent pubs and restaurants to choose from, you will probably find yourself staggering into your hostel in the wee small hours – but hey, you’re on holiday so make the most of it.
Day 5 - Munster Madness
Next up is Cork, a city which lies about an hour and half south west of Kilkenny and is regarded by the natives as the real capital of Ireland. While this is quite a bone of contention among the ‘Corkonians’ and the ‘Dubs’, it is undeniably the capital of southern Ireland.
Many of the county’s most famous landmarks are located in the city itself and all are easily reached on foot. In fact, anyone who has ever visited Cork would agree that there is no better way to see it. By taking your time and strolling from place to place you can truly experience all the city has to offer.
One excursion which most make, however, means taking a bus from the central bus station to just outside the city. And this particular journey will take you to the famous Blarney Castle with its even more famous Blarney Stone. Located about 8km northwest of the city itself, this attraction is renowned the world over. Tradition has it that once you kiss the Blarney Stone you are blessed with ‘the gift of the gab’ or in layman’s terms, eloquence. Whether it’s true or not the castle itself is extremely impressive and easily reached by Bus 154 from the main bus station on Parnell Place.
When you return to the city, attractions worth checking out for art lovers are the Triskel Arts Centre and Crawford Municipal Art Gallery while church fans should visit Christ Church, St. Finbarr’s Cathedral, St. Anne’s Church and Shandon Church. And if you’re not too particular why not pay them all a visit and throw the Shandon Craft Centre, the public museum and Cork City Jail for good measure.
Finally, every single visitor to the city should check out the English Market. Open daily except Sunday, this is a truly unique experience where you can buy anything from pigs’ crubeens (trotters or feet to non natives) to Clonakilty black pudding. Selling a fantastic mélange of food including meats, fish, bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables, spices, cakes and much more, just listen to the conversations going on to appreciate how special this place is.
And like Kilkenny or Dublin or any other city in Ireland for that matter there’s food and drink a plenty in Cork. Favourite restaurants at the moment include Proby’s Bistro, Star Anise, Jacobs on the Mall and Oz Café & Bistro. As for bars and clubs, well this one we’re going to let you figure out for yourselves because if there’s one thing the capital of the south is not lacking, it’s good watering holes.
Day 6 - Getting it on in Galway
As well as being Ireland’s most westerly city, Galway is also its most vibrant. A university town with over twelve thousand new recruits enrolling every year, Galway is alive and kicking all year round. The social scene is second to none and unlike Dublin, Galway has never lost its small town intimacy - a factor which greatly endears it to its visitors.
And it’s thanks to this small town intimacy that you will find the city so easy to get around. While there are some interesting buildings and attractions in Galway including Nora Barnacle’s House dedicated to the wife of the famous writer, James Joyce; the Spanish Arch, the only remaining gateway to the old trading area of the city; the Galway City Museum which houses a fascinating collection of old photographs of the city; the Claddagh after which the famous ring was named and the Galway Arts Centre which has excellent exhibitions all year round.
After spending a few hours strolling through the city, however, we hopping on a bus and making your way to Salthill which overlooks Galway Bay. There is a promenade here that is perfect for strolling along and gazing out over the bay where you can see Galway’s neighbouring county Clare.
When you’ve cleared the cobwebs with a nice walk in the west of Ireland’s bracing wind make your way back into town prepared to enjoy one of the most entertaining nights out you will ever experience. Head straight for Shop Street or Quay Street. Live music is what Galway is renowned for so don’t miss it. You are guaranteed to find a traditional Irish band playing somewhere around the city. Kings Head and The Quay’s Bar on Quay Street are two of the city’s most popular venues and are always packed. Somewhat smaller is Taaffes which usually has musicians entertaining the crowd from the corner. There is a good selection of nightclubs in the city centre, some cheesy, some trendy, and others just a good place to get a late jar.
Finally, if you have the time, Connemara, Kylemore Abbey, and the Aran Islands are all located less than a couple of hours from the city centre and all can be reached by public transport leaving from Eyre Square. In the case of the latter because you can’t catch a boat in Eyre Square, for obvious reasons, but you can either take a bus which travels to the harbour at Rossaveal or get a boat at the city’s docks.