Last updated on July 3rd, 2023
Featured image: | Photo by Sue Janzen
Tips to explore Ireland, from Dublin to the Aran Islands
By Sue Janzen, Contributor, Women Over 50
Rugged landscapes and misty rain, steaming bowls of beef stew with soda bread and a pint of Guinness, laughter and singing … Ireland is a feast for the senses!
In September, I travelled to Ireland to take the Globus Green With Envy tour. I usually travel independently, so taking a tour was a bit of a stretch for me. But I was excited to meet new people, learn more about the history of Ireland, and experience the food and culture of this beautiful country. Over the week, the tour took us west from Dublin to the Aran Islands and back again to the city. During the tour, we visited Westport, Tullamore, Athlone, Kylemore and Galway. We took the ferry across to Aran Islands and saw the stunning Cliffs of Mohar. We visited an abbey, a farm and the oldest pub in Ireland. It was an action-packed eight days!
Highlights of Ireland
If you go to Ireland, here are my recommended travel tips on where to stay, Irish pubs, and not-to-be-missed experiences. I also have some tips for solo travellers who might be going on their first group tour, which you can read here.
Where to stay
My tour started and ended in Dublin. I stayed at the Gibson Hotel on arrival and ended the week at the Samuel Hotel. Both are lovely hotels on the north bank of the River Liffey with spacious rooms and a traditional Irish breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, beans, soda bread, white and black pudding, and more. Just a word of caution about the soda bread – you’ll want to eat a lot of it. A lot! Slathered with the best butter you’ve ever tasted.
Continuing west, I stayed two nights in Westport at the Westport Plaza Hotel before moving on to the Maldron Hotel in Galway for two nights. Both were also spacious with excellent dining facilities. The Westport Plaza Hotel was in the perfect location for a charming after-dinner stroll. I also loved the large soaker tub in my room which I took advantage of both nights we were there. And the Maldron Hotel is particularly good if you’re driving as it’s slightly away from the centre of town and offers free parking.
Westport is a charming town, perfect for an evening stroll / Photo by Sue Janzen
Sue recommends a visit to Sean’s Bar in Athlone, the oldest bar in Ireland / Photo by Sue Janzen
Pubs to Visit
Sean’s Bar, Athlone
Pub culture is big in Ireland and it’s about more than just drinking. In Athlone, I visited Sean’s Bar, the oldest pub in Ireland which dates back to 900 AD! I felt like I was stepping way back in time as I walked through the door and into the dim room. It was easy to imagine generations of families gathering together, accompanied by music and laughter. Part of the original wall, made of straw and clay, is still visible in the bar, safely protected behind a glass window.
Kings Head Pub, Galway
When you step into the Kings Head Pub in Galway, the first thing you see is the fireplace that dates back to 1612. It’s as cosy as you can imagine! The building is full of history and, if my Beef and Guinness Stew was any indication, the food is top notch pub fare.
Joe Watty’s Pub, Aran Islands
If you make it to Inishmore on Aran Islands (please do!) you must stop in at Joe Watty’s Pub. If you time it right, you’ll get to enjoy your meal while listening to folk musicians as they sing of tales from long ago.
I’m not much of a drinker but I enjoyed my fair share of whiskey while I was in Ireland. Whiskey tastings, cocktails made of whiskey and that sweet sweet Irish coffee! A highlight was the tour of Kilbeggan Distillery, the world’s oldest licensed distillery which dates back to 1757.
We learned about the distilling process before gathering to sample several different kinds of whiskey. Even if you don’t want to taste samples, the tour is full of fascinating stories about triumph over food shortages and fires. Even the Temperance Movement, which saw a large portion of Irish society pledging to abstain from alcohol, couldn’t stop the Kilbeggan Distillery.
You can’t go to Dublin without touring the Guinness Storehouse. If you’ve heard that Guinness tastes better in Ireland, I can confirm that it’s true. It’s so smooth and fresh! The Guinness Storehouse tour took me through the ingredients to the brewing techniques. I learned about the ancient craft of barrel making and the six-step ritual behind the perfect pour. My tour ended with a pint in the 7th-floor Gravity Bar with its 360-degree view of Dublin. An experience not to be missed!
The Kilbeggan Distillery, the world’s oldest licensed distillery, dates back to 1757! / Photo by Sue Janzen
When our Women over 50 writer Sue Janzen travels to Ireland on a group tour, she discovers landscapes, legends and laughter. (Sponsored)
Rathbaun Farm, near Galway
I also highly recommend a visit to Rathbaun Farm, about a 45-minute drive from Galway, where I was served a delicious lunch in the farmhouse before getting a tour of this 80-acre working farm. We bottle-fed lambs, learned about sheep-shearing, and got to witness an untrained puppy do what comes naturally – herd the sheep!
The Book of Kells and the Trinity College Library
One of the most wonderful experiences I had was visiting the library at Trinity College in Dublin. A quick glance through any guidebook or website about Dublin will show that it is one of the top recommended sites to visit. I agree! And, if you stay at either the Samuel Hotel or the Gibson Hotel, you’ll find Trinity College and its library a pleasant half-hour walk away, along the River Liffey.
Seeing the Book of Kells, believed to have been created around 800 AD and so perfectly preserved, was fascinating enough, but stepping into the Old Library was simply awe-inspiring.
The entire library – all 350,000 early printed books and 700,000 collection items – is currently being emptied as part of a monumental conservation project. Each book is carefully cleaned with a specialised vacuum, measured, electronically tagged and linked to an online catalogue before being safely stored in a climate-controlled facility. They expect to close the library in the fall of 2023 for several years to complete the project, so you’ll want to book your trip soon!
The tour included a visit to Rathbaun Farm, a working sheep farm / Photo by Sue Janzen
Just a few of the 350,000 books in the Old Library at Trinity College / Photo by Sue Janzen
Lessons about taking a tour
As I look back on my experience as an independent traveller taking a tour, here are three suggestions for women thinking of doing the same:
- Make sure you take your alone time when you can so you can replenish your energy and sit with your thoughts. Wander off where you have the opportunity and choose to eat a few meals on your own.
- Stay open to interacting with your fellow travellers. Our tour included people of all ages and I found great joy in listening to the broad range of life experiences and travel stories.
- Make time before or after the tour if you can. I returned to Toronto the day the tour ended but really wish I had stayed another week to explore Dublin independently.
Taking a tour of any country is a wonderful way to be introduced to its history and culture. For me, the Green With Envy tour served as an appetizer, and now I want more. I want to spend more time in the charming city of Galway and I want to explore more of the countryside. I also look forward to seeing museums and other sites on a return trip to Dublin.
Disclaimer: On her trip to Ireland, Sue was a guest of Globus Travel, which covered the cost of her travel to Ireland. Globus did not review this article prior to publication.
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