A D.C. couple is heading to Dublin on a last-minute two-day trip. At the top of their to-do list: having a Guinness pulled in a real Irish pub.
Interested in getting coached? E-mail us your questions—seriously, the more the better—to Letters@BudgetTravel.com.
DEAR TRIP COACH...
My partner, Eva, and I couldn't resist a last-minute flight-and-hotel package to Dublin. Trouble is, we leave in less than two weeks, and we haven't planned a thing. Can you help? Shana McDavis-Conway, Washington, D.C.
We'll only have two full days on this trip. How can we get a real sense of the city without running ourselves ragged?
Dublin is small and the city center is compact, so you can see a lot in two days. The 417-year-old Trinity College, in the heart of the city, is a good place to start. Skip the Book of Kells—the line is always long, the experience hurried, and the admission fee high—and just meander around the grounds instead. Visit the arts and crafts-style Museum Building to see the intricate stonework, and stop for a cup of tea at the Buttery Restaurant, in the dining hall. From the south end of campus, walk along Grafton Street to St. Stephen's Green, a 22-acre park. If the crowds get to be too much—Dubliners love this place when the weather's nice—find the National Concert Hall, on the south end of the park, and go through the back entrance to the Iveagh Gardens. Chances are, you'll have the fountains, rose gardens, wooded areas, and archery grounds all to yourself.
We'd love to see the countryside, too—is that overly ambitious?
Not at all. As the locals know, the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), the commuter rail line that hugs the coast all the way around the bay, sells all-day tickets (dublin.ie/transport/dart.htm, all-day ticket $11). Hop off in Howth, a village on the north side of Dublin, to walk along the cliffs overlooking St. George's Channel, and then grab a bite at Ivans Oyster Bar and Grill, a casual spot next to a fish market (17/18 W. Pier, 011-353/1-839-0285, ivans.ie, from $8). The town of Sandycove, on the south side of the city, is home to The James Joyce Tower ($9.50), where Ulysses begins. Dalkey, an old port town east of Sandycove, is the perfect place for a pint at a seaside pub. Keep your eyes peeled for U2's the Edge, who owns a house here. Vico Rock is a popular sunning spot in the summer, but don't be fooled by the sparkling blue water—although it looks inviting, it's bracingly cold. If you're feeling brave (or just want bragging rights), join the locals for a life-changing dip.
Our hotel is near Grafton Street. Any recommendations for cafés in the area?
Writers love Metro Café because it's one of the best people-watching spots in Dublin. Ask for one of the corner tables outside for optimum viewing (43 S. William St., 011-353/1-679-4515). On the same corner, Avoca Café is a good spot for tea and dessert, like a currant bun with icing or a fairy cake, the Irish term for cupcake (11-13 Suffolk St., 011-353/1-672-6019, avoca.ie, from $6.50).
We first bonded over a mutual love of Guinness, so we definitely want to visit the brewery. When is the best time to go?
It depends on what you're looking for. If you want to avoid the crowds, get there right when it opens at 9:30 a.m.; if it's atmosphere you're seeking, go in the late afternoon and settle in at the Gravity Bar in time to catch the sunset. Be sure to walk around the cobbled streets behind the Storehouse. Unlike the rest of the factory—which can feel touristy—these streets evoke the old industrial age of Guinness production (beer has been brewed here since 1759). On most days, you can smell either the chocolaty scent that comes from barley being roasted, or the strong, bitter aroma that comes from boiling hops (St. James's Gate, 011-353/1-408-4800, guinness-storehouse.com, $19.50 gets you admission, a tasting, and a free pint at the end).
Everyone says you've never had a Guinness until you've had one in an Irish pub. Is there really a difference?
Guinness in Ireland is brewed with mineral-rich soft water. Some say that they find the beer to be a bit thicker and that it leaves a more consistent, creamier ring on the glass. The taste is also incredibly complex: smooth and soft at first, but with a slightly bitter aftertaste like expensive dark chocolate. There's no shortage of Dublin pubs that pull a great Guinness, but two of the best are Library Bar, a quiet spot where you can sit by the fireplace (Central Hotel, 1-5 Exchequer St., 011-353/1-679-7302), and Neary's, where upstairs you'll find a swank cocktail lounge and the downstairs is all dark wood and stained glass (1 Chatham St., 011-353/1-677-7371). Don't be shy about striking up conversations with strangers in the pubs. Dubliners love to talk to foreigners, and right now they're obsessed with the economy and President Obama—so you'll be the center of attention!
Eva is a vegetarian, but Ireland seems to be a meat-and-potatoes country. Where should we eat?
Café Fresh is a great option for lunch. The restaurant has cafeteria-style service and a veggie lasagna so popular that it inspired the owner to write a cookbook based on the restaurant's menu (Top Floor, Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, 011-353/1-671-9669, cafe-fresh.com, from $13). Juice looks like an ordinary café, but all the food is vegetarian—and remarkably innovative, especially for a city where vegetarian used to mean pasta or toast. Start with the Smoked Pimento Pâté, and for the main course, go with the Spicy Corn Fritters with avocado, sour cream, and tomato relish (73-83 S. Great Georges St., 011-353/1-475-7856, juicerestaurant.ie, from $7).
What can we check out that's quintessentially Irish?
Go to a hurling game! The insanely fast-paced sport is like a cross between field hockey and lacrosse, but with sticks flinging wildly and body checks that would make an NHL player cringe. Hurling has been around since the 13th century, and the Irish are obsessed with it. In fact, it's the country's official national pastime. You can get tickets for a club game through the Gaelic Athletic Association, or GAA (gaa.ie, regular games are free, championship games $13).
HOW WAS YOUR TRIP?
"At the Guinness Storehouse, we finished our free pints and caught the sunset from the seventh-floor Gravity Bar," says Shana.
"While waiting for our room at the Mercer Hotel, we ate toasted cheese sandwiches at Metro Café and stopped to listen to the buskers on Grafton Street," says Eva.
The pair came home with seven books, including Irish novelist Edna O'Brien's The Country Girls. "We get sucked into bookstores," Shana says.