I’m not going to lie: Traveling to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s truly a bucket list event. So, when I had the chance to attend, there was no way I was going to miss it. (I’m looking at you Winter Storm Stella!)
One of the main reasons we wanted to get out of debt was so we could live our dreams now while saving for the future. We’re only on this Earth for a short time, and we didn’t want to miss our chance to make the most of it – especially since we’re still young and healthy. Seizing control of our money gave us the chance to design a life full of options. Although we were invited on this trip, becoming debt-free allowed us the time and flexibility to jump at the opportunity.
That being said, traveling to Ireland is well within your reach as well. And if traveling is something you’d like to do more of, there are some simple things you can do to get started. Make the most of the money you already have by creating a budget, cutting unnecessary expenses, and starting a travel fund. Remember, it all adds up. By using your money efficiently and saving on things that don’t matter, you’ll have more for the experiences that do.
But enough about money. Let’s get to the fun stuff, right?!? We hope this peek at our trip serves as inspiration for you to take control of your own finances so you can chase your travel dreams. Enjoy!
Getting to Ireland
While the weather was surprisingly cooperative once we arrived, getting to Ireland required a bit of creative planning. With winter storms approaching both Indianapolis and the East Coast, we had a choice to make: Either fly out a day early or risk getting stuck in NYC for several days, missing the majority of our 3-day trip. When Delta gave us the option of changing our flights, we were all over it. We added a day to the front-end of our trip and escaped JFK International mere hours before Winter Storm Stella started pummeling the area.
This was the first time we traveled with Delta on a transatlantic flight, but it won’t be our last. We had originally upgraded to Delta Comfort seating but lost those seats due to the flight change. With the storm bearing in, the plane was completely booked. We did however grab the seats right behind Delta Comfort which turned out to be a mistake.
I’m 6’3″ tall, so leg room is always a bit tight for me. However, it was even a bit cramped for Holly, who is about a foot shorter. It probably would have been fine had the people in front of us not tried to lay their chairs flat. Since Delta Comfort seats lean back further than the regular coach seats, this created even less space for us. Note to self: Avoid the seats directly behind the Delta Comfort section.
On the other hand, the Delta service was good and our flight home was great. Keep in mind that Delta is a partner with Flying Blue. We’re flying to Europe with them twice more this year (in Delta Comfort, whew), both flights we booked using credit card miles. You can find our favorite travel rewards cards here, or use our free travel coaching service for personalized rewards advice you can use on your next trip.
Day 1 – The Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle
Since we arrived a day early and didn’t have anywhere to be, Holly and I wanted to make the most of it. We landed in Dublin at about 8:00 A.M., flew through customs, and picked up the world’s most questionable rental car by 8:30 A.M. After spending 10 minutes trying to get the damn thing started, we were finally headed down the “wrong” side of the road and leaving the city by about 8:45 A.M.
If you can, try NOT to check a bag on your way over. Your bag won’t get lost, plus there’s no waiting around at baggage claim. Just grab your bag and go. I like to carry an expandable suitcase which fits in an overhead bin. On the way home, I can expand it to carry more stuff, including any souvenirs I buy.
The rest of our planned itinerary was entirely inside of Dublin, so we used our extra day to explore some of the Irish countryside. Personally, I love getting a rental car whenever possible because it helps us travel to places we may not see otherwise. This time, that meant taking the M7 highway on a three-hour trip to Ireland’s west coast (via the M1 and M50).
Our first stop was in the town of Limerick, about two hours southwest of Dublin. We had a nice lunch at a very Irish pub and eatery called Bobby Byrne’s. (We were actually served by Bobby himself!) After taking a minute to admire the Georgian architecture outside the restaurant, we moved on to our next stop, Bunratty Castle.
The current version of Bunratty Castle was built around 1425 A.D. and is just 15 minutes from Limerick. (The shape of the structure reminds me of the White Tower at the Tower of London.) What struck me most was the defensive capability inside the building. The staircases are extremely narrow, allowing just a few soldiers to easily defend the upper levels against enemies who had breached the walls.
In addition to the main attraction, a tour of the castle’s “folk park” provides insight into how commoners lived. Several replica houses give visitors a feel for the cramped quarters, complete with the strong smell of a peat burning fireplace which adds a nice sensory touch. The staff was also very helpful, providing us with suggested routes and information on our next stop – The Cliffs of Moher.
The Cliffs of Moher
The trip from Bunratty Castle to the Cliffs of Moher takes about an hour. Littered with rundown castles and churches, the rolling green hills of the Irish countryside provide a scenic backdrop to be enjoyed – at least by car passengers. Roads along this route become quite narrow and take some getting used to for the driver.
With our energy lagging from a long day and lack of sleep, the Cliffs of Moher provided just the jolt of energy we needed. At their tallest point, the cliffs rise 700 feet straight above the North Atlantic Ocean which breaks against their base. The view is absolutely magnificent, and those without a fear of heights can work their way right to the edge of Ireland.
After spending an hour or so, we made our way back toward Dublin. Taking the same route back, we drove about 20 minutes from the Cliffs before stopping for dinner in the quaint town of Ennistimon. There, we enjoyed our deliciously Irish seafood dinner while eavesdropping on locals telling tales of their day. It was definitely an authentic slice of Ireland.
Day 2 – The Book of Kells, The Long Room, and St. Stephen’s Green
Rested and ready for day two, we embarked on our first day of sightseeing in Dublin. After meeting our guides for a nice lunch at Avoca Cafe, we walked to the Trinity College Library for a look at the world-famous Book of Kells.
The Book of Kells
Created by several Irish monks around the year 800 A.D., this national treasure is a beautifully illustrated version of the New Testament’s four gospels. The pages, made from the hides of over 100 calves, are filled with incredible calligraphy and symbolism. It’s believed the book was used for ceremonial purposes only, never intended to be read. I’d love to show you some pictures, but cameras are not allowed.
Before viewing the actual Book of Kells, be sure to spend a few moments in the exhibit. There, you’ll learn about the book’s history, view some images of its pages, and gain a greater appreciation for what you’re about to see.
The Long Room at Trinity College Library
Around the corner and up the stairs from the Book of Kells is one of my favorite single rooms of all-time: The Long Room of Trinity College’s Old Library. This incredible two-story library houses over 200,000 of the college’s oldest books. The shelves are lined with busts of history’s most famous Irishmen, providing the room with even more charm. Instantly recognizable to pop culture fans, this library has been featured in several films (including Harry Potter) and served as inspiration for libraries in several others (Star Wars: Episode II).
The Long Room also houses one of the last remaining original copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic – Ireland’s Declaration of Independence, if you will. The Brian Boru Harp, one of only three medieval Gaelic harps that survive, is also housed here. And while the images below capture some of this room’s beauty, it can’t capture that incredible old book smell!
St. Stephen’s Green
Next, we made our way to St. Stephen’s Green – a gorgeous green space located in the heart of Dublin. The weather was uncharacteristically beautiful so the park was abuzz with activity. Made possible by the political backing and personal fortune of Sir A.E. Guinness (great-grandson of Guinness Brewing founder Arthur Guinness), the park was given to the public in the late 1800s.
Dublin is an extremely walkable city. While there, I saw a sign that proclaimed Dublin to be the largest village in Europe – and it really is. Try staying somewhere in the city center, south of the River Liffey. From there, you’ll be able to walk to most major attractions within about 10 minutes.
Adjacent to the park is the relatively new Little Museum of Dublin. Here, the story of Dublin is remembered through over 5,000 public donations of pictures, artifacts, and memorabilia. My favorite two rooms included a look at “Dublin Through the Decades” and a room dedicated to Dublin’s own superstar rock band U2. Definitely check this out if you get time.
A trip to Ireland wouldn’t be complete without spending an evening at an authentic Irish pub. (To be honest, Dublin at night feels very much like an Irish neighborhood you might find in Chicago.) Following a great dinner at The Pig’s Ear, we made our way to a local pub, complete with carpet on the floors and wallpaper all around. The Guinness was flowing as was the conversation, but the photos are locked away never to be seen 😉
Day 3 – The Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Kilmainham Gaol
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Day 3 of our trip started with a guided tour of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Founded in 1191, the cathedral now serves as the National Cathedral for the Church of Ireland. It’s also the largest and tallest cathedral in the country. Built over a long dry river bed (where it’s said St. Patrick performed baptisms), the cathedral’s suspect foundation eventually led to a state of disrepair. With funding from Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, grandson of Arthur Guinness and father of Sir. A.E. Guinness, the cathedral was restored to its current condition in the 1860s.
Upon entering, I was immediately struck by the cathedral’s sheer size. The ceilings were enormous and the altar area was breathtaking. Then, I looked down to find an incredible floor, peppered with colorful tiles and designs. We spent roughly an hour walking through the cathedral, making a stop at the final resting place of Jonathan Swift before leaving. I never knew that Swift was more than an author; he actually served as Dean of this very cathedral.
The Guinness Storehouse
After a quick stop at Marsh’s Library (which is super cool), we made our way to the most popular attraction in all Dublin – the Guinness Storehouse. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d heard about the famous 9,000 year lease signed by Arthur Guinness in 1759. (BTW, that’s before the U.S. declared independence from Britain!) I also knew that over a million people a year visited this place, so something was definitely worth seeing. What I found was even more fun than I imagined.
The Guinness Storehouse was originally built as the fermentation plant for the brewing company. Upon building a new plant, this historic building was opened as a visitor’s center in the year 2000. Part museum, part bar, and part entertainment venue, the Storehouse is an incredibly crisp and well-laid-out seven levels of peer fun. (If you look carefully, you’ll notice the center staircase is built in the shape of a pint glass!)
Beer lovers will enjoy the story of how Guinness is brewed. Pop culture fans will love reminiscing over the company’s famous branding through the years. And at the top of the building, indeed the top of Dublin itself, sits the incredible Gravity Bar. Surrounded by walls of glass, you can sip a pint of Guinness while enjoying an incredible view of the city.
We toured the Guinness Storehouse the day before St. Patrick’s Day, and the energy was palpable the moment we stepped through the door. While there, we delighted in flash mobs of Irish dancers, performances by marching bands who were in town for the parade, and – of course – loads of great beer. It was a blast! My favorite experience was the Connoisseur Tasting. Held in a “secret” bar which seats just 18 people, we enjoyed tasting several different Guinness draughts before attempting to pour a perfect pint of our own. The experience was loads of fun, and it’s available to anybody who reserves a spot!
One last thing I want to mention about the Storehouse – the food here is absolutely incredible! We dined on 3 separate meals prepared by Executive Chef Justin O’Connor and his team, and I can’t even explain how delicious they were. Seriously, if you go home hungry, it’s your own fault! Additionally, several of the areas (and in fact the entire complex) make a great setting for events like weddings, company parties, and more. Here are some photos for you to enjoy!
Before heading back to the Storehouse for dinner, we decided to make the last tour of one of Ireland’s most infamous spots, Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced kil-MAIN-ham jail). Known primarily for the political prisoners held and executed here, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising, Kilmainham Gaol also housed thousands of regular inmates throughout the years. The tour provided a somber, sobering look at some of Dublin’s saddest history. And at under 10 Euros, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Day 4 – St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Our last day in Dublin was spent enjoying St. Patrick’s Day, with the main event being the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Over 500,000 people attended this massive event, dressed in a sea of green and orange that stretched down O’Connell Street as far as I could see. While parade watchers packed themselves elbow to elbow against the barricades, the Fáilte Ireland Media Platform provided us with one of the best spots in the house.
I loved that the parade wasn’t something just for visitors. It’s a true family event, attended by locals and tourists alike. Although marching bands from around the world performed, he majority of the parade was filled with flair-filled entries from local neighborhoods. It was a total blast and a once in a lifetime experience.
Below are some still photos I took at the event, and here’s a link to a Facebook Live video I recorded at the parade.
After the parade, we stopped back at the Storehouse for a final lunch at 1837 Bar and Brassiere. We then popped in the Storehouse’s Arrol Room for more beer and conversation before heading out to a late dinner. To finish the night, Holly and I walked over to the Temple Bar area to check out the St. Patrick’s Day madness. Here’s what it looked like about midnight 😀
I couldn’t have asked for a better time in Dublin! From the moment we got there, the city felt very much like home. Dublin is filled with great history, incredible and often heart-wrenching stories, and – of course – that fantastic Irish music. Above all else, the kindness and hospitality of the Irish people is second to none. Thanks for the memories Dublin! We’ll see you again soon.
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Thanks for for reading, and happy traveling!
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