Pubs, Pints & Castles: An Ireland Road Trip

Pubs, Pints & Castles: An Ireland Road Trip
Driving through the grey skies of Ireland.

The last few years, I’ve made it a tradition to travel abroad for Thanksgiving. I’m not quite sure how this started. Likely my hatred of domestic travel during the holidays, stemming from a series of bad experiences. Whatever the reason, the tradition has continued because it’s a great time to head to Europe. I’m not a snowbird, so I’ve found this to be a much better way to embrace the intimate nature of fall and winter. There might not be a better place to be cozy than surrounded by the charm of western Europe. This year, I embarked on a Ireland road trip to explore all the Emerald Isle had to offer.

Day 1

I’ve been to Dublin before, visiting the Jameson & Guinness factories. This time around, it was a little different. Instead of just staying in the country’s capital, we decided to take a road trip. Before we get started, pro tip: don’t take a red-eye and attempt to drive through Ireland for 3 hours, on the left side of the road, with little to no sleep.

Anyway, the first stop on our Ireland road trip is a small fishing village on the southeast side of the island, Kinsale. From the docked ships, the cozy pubs, to the colorfully painted houses, this tiny town is filled with charm. Only budgeting for one night here, we had to make the most of it. After a quick nap, it’s time for a history lesson.

Apparently, Kinsale was pivotal in England and Ireland’s military history, as indicated by this old fort.

Now that we got our culture and history out of the way, it’s time to eat and drink. The first stop is Cru Winebar & Bistro for a few small plates. Extremely cozy and welcoming, this was a great spot to start the night. After some lovely spreads of different fish, time for dinner at The Supper Club for a tasty steak and cocktails. Finally, the best for last, we head to The Spaniard. If I were to imagine Ireland, it would almost certainly be this place. An old inn sitting just outside town, the Spaniard has old-world vibes. We sat next to a warm fire, waiting for our turn up with the dartboard. As we started playing, we got talking to an older couple from the area. Always eager to learn the perspectives of those in foreign places, the conversation took wild turns from Brexit to Trump. After a couple of pints and good conversation, we turn in for the night.

Day 2

After a charming Thanksgiving in Kinsale, it’s time to head to Galway. But first, castle time! No trip to Ireland is complete without castles. Conveniently located on the way to Galway is the Blarney Castle. One of the more famous and well-kept castles in Ireland, the Blarney Castle dates back before the year 1200.

No Ireland road trip is complete without a castle stop.

Another good reason to travel in the shoulder seasons, no crowds. Typically, it can be over an hour to tour the castle, but luckily we could waltz right in. After a kiss on the Blarney Stone, it was time to continue the trip.

I’ve never been to Galway before, and I’m always eager to explore new cities. Did we play Galway Girl a few times in the car on the way? Yup. True to the nature of our whirlwind trip to Ireland, we only had one night here, so we had to make the best of it. We head to a gin & tonic bar called Hyde. This was an upscale bar, featuring a floral and vibrant decor to pair nicely with the spirit of choice. For dinner, we went to Kai. This farm-to-table restaurant had a rustic ambiance, looking like it was once stable or farmhouse. The food was spectacular; I had venison, and my girlfriend had the Monkfish. This meal was one of the best we had on this trip.

Following dinner was a Guinness (or two) and some live music at The Crane next door. I had heard that Galway’s live music scene was good, so it was nice to see it in action. For a few more drinks, we went to The Kings Head. Now I’d imagine that during the day this would be a perfectly fine spot. At night though, the people watching was prime. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to a bar with quite a range of peoples. First dates, girls night out, older folks looking for a drink, this place had it all. Grab an Irish whiskey, sit back and enjoy the show.

Day 3

The next morning was a little, uh, slow. But fortunately for us, brunch was within reach. We went to Ard Bia, another impossibly quaint restaurant. The menu is also farm to table, focusing on modern twists to Irish food. It doubles as a small inn, which I will definitely be staying at on my next trip to Galway.

After a fantastic bunch, it’s time to head back to Dublin for the final leg of our Ireland road trip. We got into Dublin in the evening. A strange Airbnb check-in involving a hair salon & chihuahua later, it’s dinner time. On the menu tonight is steak, and for that, we head to WILDE. A restaurant attached to a hotel, this upscale spot is a far cry from the grub at Kinsale & Galway. After a bottle of wine and a giant porterhouse, it’s time to take on the night.

First stop, the Bar with No Name. This spot is laid back and comfortable with couches and a space that is inviting. Full with a good beer selection and cocktails, it’s a good way to start the night. On a Saturday night, it was packed, with a pretty young crowd you’d expect from a thriving city.

Next up, bespoke cocktails at Peruke & Periwig. It’s a small place and tends to be crowded, so be sure to make reservations if you’re going with a crowd. But the cocktails are worth it, inventive and a menu that is musically inclined.

drink in Dublin purse periwig
Cocktails at Puruke & Periwig in Dublin.

What tends to sound good after a few drinks in Dublin? Live music. To scratch the itch, we venture to The Cobblestone. A lively pub with locals teaming about, this spot was fantastic. It can be a bit crowded on the nights with music, so expect standing-room-only. A few local brews later, and it’s time for bed.

Day 4

Definitely no hangovers today….nope not at all. Good thing the main event today is a trip to the Teeling Whiskey Distillery. Believe it or not, Ireland used to have 40 unique distilleries in the city limits in the 1800s and was the largest spirits producer in the world. Unfortunately, the Irish War of Independence, a civil war, a trade war with Britain, and Prohibition in the U.S. brought crippled the industry. Eventually, most distilleries moved out of Dublin city limits to Cork County, where most of the Irish Whiskey is produced to this day (including Jameson).

However, in 2015, Teeling was the first new distillery to open in Dublin in over 125 years. So obviously there was no way I’d pass this up. Being a family-run operation, this distillery was small, and you could tell not quite as industrialized as the Jameson or even Guinness tours. Halfway through the tour, our group was co-opted by the patriarch of the family, John Teeling, to give us an enthusiastic and off-the-cuff tour himself. These little touches made the tour feel inviting and more vibrant than some of the larger distilleries.

Pot stills at the Teeling Distillery in Dublin.

Along with the tour, you get a tasting and a complimentary cocktail or pour of whiskey. I opted for the whiskey pour and got my hands on the first Irish Whiskey produced in Dublin city limits in over 100 years. It was a young whiskey, aged only 3 years, so it was a little rough around the edges. But I couldn’t pass it up.

After the tour, it was time to eat. We head to Fade Street Social, a spot I’d been to on a previous trip to Dublin. Fade Street Social is a farm-to-table restaurant and an Irish “tapas” bar. Each time I’ve dined in the restaurant and would definitely recommend it. Opt for the Irish stew, you’ll be in heaven. Stuffed from dinner, it’s time for a stroll.

As it’s our last night in Dublin, we venture down to the Temple Bar area to wander the beautiful cobblestone streets. Though touristy, this area is gorgeous. The street lights glisten off the damp cobblestone while the roar of laughter and conversation fills the air.

Down one side street, we see a peculiar sight, a few well-dressed individuals entering an unmarked door. A few seconds of contemplation and a slight shrug, we follow. Immediately greeted by stairs, we tentatively venture up and find ourselves in a bar. The Vintage Cocktail Club is a speakeasy-style bar right in the heart of rowdy pubs. With a menu that reads like a history lesson, they have a focus on drinks that have been pivotal to cocktail culture across the past few hundred years. I also got to try out poitín, an Irish moonshine that has a rich history.

Did I mention we had a second dinner lined up? Yeah, my stomach couldn’t believe it either. Alas, we are on vacation, so we must suffer. We head to Forest & Marcy for a local, seasonal tasting menu & wine bar. The ambiance is what you’d come to expect from a small, limited seating tasting menu spot in 2018. The food was fantastic, the wine was excellent. Honestly, I never thought I’d come to Ireland and have as much wine as I did on this trip. But I guess that’s just a sign that Dublin has been quietly becoming a center of gastronomy in Europe. After 6 plates and two bottles later, we force ourselves to walk home and contemplate our gym routine for the next week.

Sadly the next morning, it was time to say goodbye to the Emerald Isle. Though it was tough to leave the pubs, castles, and pints behind, I’d call it a pretty successful Ireland road trip.