Out There: Dublin and the Irish Coast

Dublin – the small and historic capital of a country that’s contributed so much to the rest of the world. Between mountains, rivers, and the Atlantic, Dublin’s heart is that of openness, geniality, and having simple, good times.

An exciting but less busy part of Temple Bar, Dublin.

The city’s streets are so lively with art, both traditional and hip restaurants, buskers, festivals, and pubs, that you understand why so many poets, writers, and the like have made Dublin their home.

My name is Zach Duhamel and I am the Associate Marketing Specialist in Travel here at AAA Northeast. I recently visited Dublin and the Irish coast with my girlfriend Phoebe, and wanted to share my experience.

Myself! This photo was snapped by Phoebe after experiencing the coast winds of Howth, Ireland.

Tell us a little about yourself! What are your hobbies, interests, and anything else you would like us to know about yourself?

I love travel, cooking, photography, outdoor adventures, and music. Oh, and on my own time, I run my own New England travel website. I love to tell people about travel and I want to encourage as many people as possible to make their travel dreams come true.

What is your background in travel? How much experience do you have? What sorts of places have you been to? What kinds of trips – cruises, guided tours, self-guided etc.

I consider myself a fairly experienced traveler. I have now been to 10 different countries, most of them in Europe.

I went to London and Ireland to meet and see my girlfriend, Phoebe! You can find out more about the first part of our adventure here.

What type of traveler are you? Are you an adventure seeker or do you prefer to travel for relaxation? Are you a backpacker or theme park and resort-goer? Think about your past travel experiences, preferences, and habits.

I am an avid proponent of solo and minimal travel. Solo traveling, for me, is the way to go. It lets you see exactly what you want when you want, and how you want! Plus, you don’t have to worry about the hassle of planning a trip concurrently with others.

Some of my favorite travel memories have been with other solo traveling friends – the ones I didn’t know before and did not spend enough time with! When you go solo, you are bound to find other people who have shared interests. They are usually solo traveling as well, so they are in a similar position of willingness to make friends and interests. What brought them there, brought you as well!

Tell us about your time in Dublin!

As I mentioned before, I traveled to the UK to meet my girlfriend Phoebe! We spent a few days in London and wrapped up our trip with a visit to Dublin.

I have always wanted to visit Ireland, especially growing up in New England where so much Irish influence exists. My family says we are at least a tiny bit Irish, and Phoebe is Irish on her father’s side, so we figured it would make a perfect place to visit.

The world-famous Ha’Penny Bridge over the River Liffey.

Plus, as a travel bug, I wanted to give Phoebe a taste of some of my favorite types of travel experiences by having the both of us visit an entirely new place to us, stay in a hostel, make friends, and go on adventures.

Our home base was the Jacobs Inn, which is a hostel located downtown along the River Liffey and a scenic moments’ walk from the famous Temple Bar district.

The Temple Bar itself dressed up for Christmas. This is one of the more touristy areas in Dublin.

Our time in Dublin was strikingly calmer and slower placed than London. This probably had to do with the exhaustion of the previous days, but also in part to the small, cozy, and laid-back feeling Dublin imparts.

I think it is an incredibly special thing to be able to look at your nation this way, with such humility and positivity as to see that perhaps, Ireland’s greatest gifts and achievements lay not within her own borders, but around the globe instead.

Ireland’s history has everything to do with this. Despite their geographic similarities, the story of England and Ireland could not be more different; Britain, once the greatest empire the world has ever seen, has a history of successful global conquest and incalculable cultural, political, and economic contributions while Ireland… well, they have pretty much lost every war they have ever been in, so we learned.

That’s not to mention the famines and periods of tyranny. It’s no wonder that Ireland is known for emigration. Therefore, the Irish people have a different way of looking at the achievements of their countrymen. Rather than look to their island, they look abroad.

This is highlighted by the EPIC Irish Immigration Museum. There, they celebrate the “epic” contributions emigrants have made as Irish people outside of their homeland, as well as recognize their struggles via several interactive exhibits.

I think it is an incredibly special thing to be able to look at your nation this way, with such humility and positivity as to see that perhaps, Ireland’s greatest gifts and achievements lay not within her own borders, but around the globe instead.

This is a highly recommended museum that has been praised by many other visitors over the years.

Not far beyond the city borders of Dublin are the country’s stunning coasts. In fact, a couple of Euros and a 40-minute ride on Dublin’s public transport bus will bring you to the coastal peninsula town of Howth.

The Bally Lighthouse – one of the incredible sights you will get along the Howth Cliff Walk.

This tiny town is known the world over for its stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. The bus brings your right to the Howth Cliff Walk – a gentle hiking route that gives you the best views of both ocean and mountains, as well as a historic lighthouse. If you have the time to visit, it makes a great change of pace.

Phoebe walks to take a further look at the sea crashing into the cliffs and rocks.

A great culinary stop in Howth has to be O’Connell’s Pub and Restaurant, where I enjoyed an Irish classic; an Irish fisherman’s pie cooked beyond perfection, with tender and melt-in-your-mouth pieces of fish.

Of course, Ireland is known for its whiskeys, ales, porters, and stouts, but one reigns above them all. Phoebe and I had heard that the Guinness in Dublin is fresher and tastes better than anywhere in the world, which I can now confirm!

If you are a fan of Guinness, a trip to the Guinness Storehouse is an absolute must. It is a giant and stunning museum that walks through the creation of Guinness today, as well as the origins of the legendary libation and a chance to see the brewing equipment of years past.

Compared to other trips you have been on, what would you say made this one different?

This was my first time visiting Ireland. I think what made this trip different was recognizing the echoes in my home in New England. With so many Irish having lived in New England throughout its history, it makes sense that the feel of Dublin reminded me of so many places in Boston and the rest of New England.

Even Howth, with its cliff-adorned coastlines, walking paths, and views of the horizon called me back to Newport, Rhode Island’s famous Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive.

How was your experience traveling during COVID-19?

As I stated in my last Out There, traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic definitely made me wish I had access to a travel advisor so all of my questions and concerns could be easily answered. But overall, I always felt safe regarding COVID-19 in Ireland.

What was your favorite part of your trip? What was your least favorite?

A walking tour is a great way to get introduced to your destination, as the stories told on these tours provide context to where you are, what happened here, and what events in the past shape how it is today.

I had so many favorite parts, actually. Another one was the “free” independent walking tour we booked. This is one of my keys to a great travel experience, especially when I am visiting a place I don’t know much about.

Our hysterical tour guide and comedian, John Spillane.

A walking tour is a great way to get introduced to your destination, as the stories told on these tours provide context to where you are, what happened here, and what events in the past shape how it is today.

 I have always noticed a greater sense of excitement, enthusiasm, appreciation, and understanding for the place I am visiting after taking one of these tours – it’s almost like it helps to know what historic buildings, parks, museums, and landmarks you’re looking at actually are! Even when simply walking down the streets or through a scenic spot, I can feel the difference.

Free walking tours are given by independent tour guides, which means you often get a unique, down-to-earth tour of your destination, with off-the-beaten-path sites, and advice from a local – heck I have even gone to lunch with some of them after! They are tip based as well, so you are not obligated to pay anything, rather they ask you tips based on how good/how much the tour was worth.

My other favorite part was our visit to a real Irish pub! We finally made our way to The Celt, a traditional Irish pub just outside of our hostel. The Celt is the perfect kind of these; offering the fun, classic Irish pub experience you’ve dreamed of, without succumbing to being an overly expensive and inauthentic tourist trap.

The Celt not only serves up Irish pub fare, plenty of local brews, and of course, Guinness, in a quaint and dimly lit environment but also live music performances. Yes, this is the place to go dancing and sing along to Irish jigs. With the music making everyone upbeat, it was super easy and fun to meet other travelers as well!

Earlier in the day, our tour guide and part-time comedian John advised us that the most Irish experience we could have was to go to a pub like this, have a pint or two of Guinness, make new friends, and sing and dance with them, and repeat!

Especially after nearly two years of COVID quarantines, I was very glad to end my trip like this.

My least favorite part was leaving, to be honest. We simply did not spend enough time here!

What surprised you the most?

The people! Everyone was incredibly friendly, polite, and had the kind of social skills and jovialness to talk to you about anything.

That, and the food for sure, especially the seafood! Ireland is rarely spoken about for its food, but between the oysters, fish and chips, and fisherman’s stew I ate, I don’t think I had a meal that was less than exceptional.

Phoebe’s clam chowder had this New Englander question everything he knows about soup, let alone clam chowder.

Travel gives us a lot of opportunities to learn about the world, ourselves, and anything in between. What was one thing you learned on this trip?

After having been to so many places all over the world with histories and monuments to great successes and achievements, I think Ireland taught me just how to have an incredible and special place without that kind of past, necessarily. It’s a lesson I will never forget. A lesson to always remember to make the most of your situation, to constantly celebrate, and that friendliness to strangers, some good food, and some good music will take you far.

What was something you wish you did differently?

I wish we had spent more time in Dublin! Small cities like this one give you the chance to end a trip and say, “wow, I really experienced it all”. Just a few more days would have given us that opportunity.

That, and I wish Phoebe and I had planned our trip more in advance. We had a fair idea of the things we wanted to do and see in London, but in Dublin, it was not as apparent, even when visiting. That’s why having a travel advisor to help plan our trip would have been so useful. That, or even taking a guided tour, would have made sure we saw and ate everything we could.

What was your favorite food, meal, dining experience, etc.?

All of them! No seriously, all the food I ate in Ireland was excellent. In fact, Ireland was home to some of the best seafood I have ever eaten, which means a lot coming from a lifelong Rhode Islander!

If I had to pick, it was our stop at The Fish Shop. We went for Phoebe’s birthday just after checking in, so that alone made it a memorable experience. The Fish Shop is a small, humble-yet-elegant restaurant that specializes in fish and chips that exceed any expectations.

They were serving two kinds of fish, both cooked perfectly, which is something quite difficult to do without getting dry. In addition, we had oysters that blew me away. They were some of the biggest, most tender, and most delicious oysters I have ever had.

Again, I am all about simple, humble meals cooked exceptionally well. Anyone can get fish and chips just about anywhere, but it takes a lot of skill to cook it with crispy batter and melt in your mouth-flakes of fish inside. That is exactly what I experienced with every meal there.

Share some advice to future travelers, whether it be to this destination or any other.

Ireland and Dublin might seem small, but don’t underestimate it! There is plenty to do and history to learn about. My advice would be to come hungry and plan for more time than you think you will need on this tiny island nation.

Want to visit Ireland? Book the Ireland trip of your dreams with AAA Travel. Reach out to your AAA Travel advisor today to get all of the information you need and latest deals on your next trip!