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The Lowdown | Ireland

Ireland’s greatest hits – from striking, unspoilt scenery to thriving city hotspots. Words by Nicola Brady

Where Ireland

Quick Quote $700 per day, including hotels

Best Season Spring and early fall

Thinking of Culture,countryside, Guinness

Best Portrayed in A Quiet Man, Once, The Dubliners, Ulysses

Whether you’re looking for soaring mountains, hidden white sand beaches or a buzzy little bistro for a laid back dinner, Ireland has the answer. Dublin, with its endless charm and affable sense of mischief, is perhaps more exciting than it’s ever been, with innovative new bars, restaurants and hotels opening up almost every other week. There’s never been a better time to explore the capital, and it’s remarkably easy to do so—Dublin is a cinch to explore on foot, and even the furthest flung sights are a short cab ride away.

Get out of the city, though, and you’ll discover why Ireland captivates anyone who sets foot upon these shores. From crumbling castles to tiny, wild islands, there are charming spots all across the land, just begging to be explored.

Where to Stay

In Dublin: Not only an immaculately luxurious hotel, The Shelbourne has an important role to play in the history of Ireland. It played an integral role during the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Irish Constitution was signed within its very walls (you can see the room itself, as well as the chairs sat in by important figureheads of the movement). Nowadays, it’s simply a flawless combination of old school luxury and modern flavors—and the Horseshoe Bar is the perfect spot for a dash of people watching. You’ll find more of the same in The Gallery in The Westbury. Afternoon Tea taken in this opulent, light-filled room is something of an institution in Dublin, and the hotel’s restaurant, WILDE, is one of the standout eateries in the city. The Merrion is made up of four Georgian townhouses and is home to a spectacular collection of art. There’s also a selection of cozy fireside spots, where you can enjoy a cup of Irish breakfast tea by one of the peat fires that burns all year round (which is always welcoming, in the unpredictable Irish climate).

“There’s a warmth to the welcome in Ireland that is unparalleled. Stop to ask someone for directions and you’ll likely end up chatting for hours – the Irish will seize any opportunity for a lively conversation.”

Outside: Fresh out of a multi-million Euro renovation, Adare Manor is a stunning country house hotel that has impressed visitors for almost 200 years, whether they were staying with the Earl of Dunraven or visitors to the hotel as it stands today. Another historic property is Ashford Castle, on the shores of Lough Corrib in Co. Mayo. From the first glimpse you catch as you weave up the long driveway, to the view from the hotel’s fishing boat on the lake, you can never fail to be wowed by this property. If it’s a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience you’re after, Ballyfin deserves all of its acclaim. With only 21 rooms on the grounds, the attention to detail is impressive, but it’s the 8-course dinner that you’ll be dreaming of for years to come.

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Words by Nicola Brady Ireland Editor

Nicola Brady is an award-winning travel writer based in the west of Ireland, who has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, The Guardian, Tatler and The Sunday Times Travel Magazine. She is also a regular contributor to The Irish Independent, where she had a weekly column.

Where to eat and drink

In Dublin: There’s never been a more exciting time for Irish cuisine. The modern food scene is stellar—the stereotype of Irish food as bland and monotonous is well and truly gone. For a masterclass in how it should be done, head to The Greenhouse, where Irish produce sits center stage in a small and chic dining room. Chapter One is often lauded as one of the best restaurants in the country, and rightly so. Treat yourself to the tasting menu and you’ll be presented with innovative dishes using the best of homegrown ingredients, like native seaweed, game and salty, hand-churned butter.

And a trip to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a pub (or two). Avoid the tourist traps in Temple Bar (no Dubliner would be seen dead there) and head to one of the classics. The Long Hall is the perfect example of a traditional Irish pub that has stood the test of time (over 250 years worth, in fact). Or try Kehoe’s, with a rickety upstairs bar that has the feel of a grandmother’s living room (if said grandmother also served a mean pint of Guinness).

Outside: There’s far more to the food scene than just Dublin, of course. On the coast, make the most of some of the freshest seafood that you could ever ask for – you haven’t visited Ireland until you’ve tasted quiveringly-fresh local oysters paired with stout. Cork has recently earned its culinary stripes, with two restaurants in the Rebel County awarded Michelin stars for 2019. Ichigo Ichie is a tiny spot in the heart of Cork city, where Chef Takashi Miyazaki wows diners with innovative, delicate kappou-style Japanese dishes. And in the wilds of West Cork, the second star went to Restaurant Chestnut, an intimate restaurant with a menu that’s a love letter to the best of Irish produce.

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Discovering Dublin

For an introduction to the capital, you can’t beat the Little Museum of Dublin. Set in a Georgian townhouse on Stephen’s Green, the delightfully quirky guides take you on a journey through the last century in the city, from James Joyce and the Easter Rising to U2. Around the corner, the newly refurbished National Gallery of Ireland is home to a well-curated combination of Irish and international art—the multi-story installation in the atrium is a particular draw, as is the watercolor Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs, which is only available to view for two hours a week, due to its sensitivity to light.

For a taste of the artistic vibe in modern day Dublin, take a stroll around the Creative Quarter. Between little boutiques and galleries, you’ll pick up the most stylish souvenirs, from hand-woven scarves to turf candles. The Powerscourt Centre has the highest number of independent boutiques in one place, and is in a gorgeous townhouse to boot.

Out in the country

The real power of Ireland lies in its natural beauty. From spotless, Caribbean quality beaches, to mountains swathed in dark luscious fawna, the countryside is impossibly striking. Drive around the Ring of Kerry and you’ll be met with an infinite backdrop of gorgeous scenery, from vast, still lakes to ancient historic sights. An added bonus? The seafood restaurants along the coast are to die for.

And that’s the case further up the coastline, too. Drive the Wild Atlantic Way and you’ll come across geographical masterpieces like the blowholes and sea stacks of Co. Mayo, by way of seaside shacks doling up fresh crab and piping hot fish and chips.

Some of Ireland’s biggest attractions have been around for centuries—or more, in the case of Newgrange, which has stood for 5,000 years. And it’s far from the only Neolithic site in the country—there are ancient burial grounds in Sligo and The Burren. The geometric basalt columns at the Giant’s Causeway go even further back, as do the Cliffs of Moher.

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