The final stops on our tour were the urbanest locations of the entire trip. Ireland’s Ancient East is made up of much smaller, yet more populated counties. Largely influenced by Dublin’s location on the far east, the areas we visited had more of a modern, suburban feel, which was welcomed after spending the last six days in the countryside. Staying in the cities of the same name, County Kilkenny and County Dublin were our home bases while visiting the eastern part of the country and offered accessible sights and attractions while visiting.
County Kilkenny is home to two of Ireland’s famous brews: Smithwicks (pronounced smith-icks) and Kilkenny. Located in an old abbey, the Smithwicks Experience brewery tour takes you inside the famed yellow-stone archway and is a popular tourist attraction. It’s a great way to learn a little more about the oldest Irish red ale and interact with the congenial personalities of Kilkenny. In addition to great beer, this county is known as an Irish craftsman’s paradise. There are dozens of artisans selling pottery, handmade jewelry, blankets, and hand-woven sweaters, all of whom are willing to speak to you about their passion for their work. Kilkenny county also is the meeting point of three main rivers in Ireland: Nore, Barrow, and Suir. Nore flows through the city center and near Kilkenny Castle, making it one of the many sights to see downtown.
As you probably guessed, County Dublin is home to the capital of Ireland, Dublin city. Brimming with over 1.3 million people, Dublin is similar to our home, Boston. Rich with history and classic gothic structures, but also rapidly developing new modern office buildings, bridges, and community parks, this city offers amazing architecture and views around every turn, alley, and corner. Some of the most popular attractions in this city include the Guinness factory, Trinity College with the Book of Kells, and Phoenix Park. If still craving the lush country of the Emerald Isle while in this metropolis, Avoca Mills is just a short hour road trip outside of Dublin in County Wicklow. Head here for a day trip filled with weavers, bright fabrics, and the most delicious food in their eateries.
Truth be told, we wish we had more time and energy to explore these parts of the country. By this point in our 10-day excursion, we became a little burned out and/or ridden with a nasty head cold. However, when looking back on this leg of the trip, we feel this is the place we could come back and navigate by ourselves without a tour guide or a driver to assist us in our adventures.
Keep reading for our tips on how to experience the best of eastern Ireland!
- Bring a rain jacket and pocket umbrella. Though usually known for its sunny weather, this area can still see spot rain showers coupled with some pretty intense wind gusts. It’s best to carry portable rain gear here.
- Skip the car. Dublin and Kilkenny have public transit options and are really walkable so a car is definitely not necessary. However, if interested in visiting Avoca or Waterford Crystal, a car or driver will be needed.
- Bring your walking shoes. Because these cities are walkable, we highly recommend breaking out those sneakers or comfy walking shoes. You’ll thank us later.
Where to stay:
Full disclosure, because we were traveling through a tour/travel company we didn’t get to choose these hotels.
Pembroke Hotel: A modern, boutique hotel located right across the street from Kilkenny Castle. Great, young vibe with friendly service and a delicious restaurant attached. This was our favorite hotel decor by far, though the rooms were smaller than the other rooms on this trip.
Ballsbridge Hotel: Located in the heart of the Ballsbridge neighborhood in Dublin, this four-star hotel is located just blocks away from Aviva Stadium, the home of the Irish rugby and football (soccer) teams. It is a bit further than where we would like to stay from city-centers, but it did offer coffee shops and an interesting atmosphere when there is a match.
Where to eat, drink, and be merry:
Kilkenny Design Centre: This two-story building houses a gift shop and two eateries. Be sure to stop in this establishment for a special gift or trinket or a delicious crème brûlée.
Statham Bar and Restaurant: Connected to the Pembroke Hotel, this restaurant offers delectable dishes for all meals in a modern, hip, welcoming atmosphere.
Smithwick’s Brewery: Smithwick’s, located on the medieval mile in Kilkenny, has been brewed at this location for over 300 years. Discover what makes this beer so flavorful and unique.
Pour your own Pint of Guinness: A trip to Ireland wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the famed Guinness brewery. Take a step inside rooms of memorabilia, experience the interactive process for making the dark stout, and even learn to pour the perfect pint. Oh and be sure to head to the Gravity Bar to drink above the Dublin rooftops.
The Old Punch Bowl: Owned and operated by the O’ Rorke family for the last 20 years, this restaurant has a rich history of more than 200 years. Head here for a traditional Irish breakfast or an afternoon meal of the freshest fish in all of Dublin
The Reg: If visiting Waterford Crystal, be sure to visit this establishment. Built around a historic tower, The Reg has five distinct bars each offering up its own specialized menu.
What to do:
Catch a hurling match: One of the most popular sports in Ireland goes by the name of hurling. For those not familiar, similar sports are field hockey and lacrosse. Kilkenny is home to one of the successful hurling teams in all of Ireland so be sure to experience this sport while you can.
Walk around Kilkenny Castle: Originally built in the 1100s, this castle served as a way to defend key roadways and the Nore River. Now the expansive castle and grounds are open to the public and are worth waltzing around the premises, viewing the mixture of architecture added throughout the centuries of its existence.
Take a Tour of Waterford Crystal Factory: If looking for a road trip idea while in Kilkenny, look no further than the beautiful Waterford Crystal factory. Head here for a tour to see craftsmen blow hot glass into desired shapes and statuettes.
Phoenix Park: At over 1100 acres, this urban park is the largest enclosed park in all of Europe. With rolling hills and tall native trees, this park hosts concerts, a zoo, and even a herd of wild deer.
Roam the library at Trinity College: Probably one of the most amazing tourist attractions is the book of Kells. Believed to be written in 800 AD, these four volumes are housed at the historically beautiful Trinity College Library. Each page is full of bright paintings and medieval calligraphy.
Learn about Handweavers at Avoca Mill: If lookings for a road trip idea while in Dublin, head out to the picturesque Wicklow County for the day and visit the Avoca Mills for a tour of their weaving looms and meet some of the tradespeople still working in the mill. When visiting, pick up one of their hand-woven pieces in their commemorative shop, they’re the softest fabric you will ever own.
We took the “Ireland In Depth” Tour through Grand Circle Travel and are so grateful to Shelia and our other guides who dedicated their time and share their knowledge with us!