Ah Dublin. The city that inspired James Joyce, and gave the world Guinness and Jameson. A city that has countless legends, and some of the best pub culture in the world.
It’s also one of the most visited cities in Europe, either top 5 or top 10, depending on your source. Sounds like a solid travel destination, right?
Wrong, and OH MY GOD did Dublin give us a mixed experience. It’s not that it was bad, it’s that it felt like we were being cheated the whole time we were there.
From Derry we took a 4hr direct bus. The bus was a double decker, and Kaeti and I sat right up top so we could get the best views of the countryside.
After arriving in Dublin we were really hungry, and wanted some good old fish and chips to end our day with. And this first meal pretty much set the tone for the rest of Dublin
Our hotel promised that a certain restaurant had “The best fish and chips in Dublin” and that “every Dubliner goes here when they want the best”. They lied. It was the worst we’ve ever had, even the fries were bad. Seriously. And why was it so expensive? Beshoffs, you suck. We assumed that we had just fallen into a tourist trap. So we picked ourselves up and got excited for the next full day in Dublin, which was going to be jam packed with the top attractions.
The Jameson Distillery.
We got here right when they opened at 9:30. They do sell tickets online but not if you have a Dublin Pass, and tour spots go quick, so getting here early is the only way to guarantee getting a good entry time.
They had a neat room with smelling stations where you could touch barley and malted barley and compare their scents, as well as the scents of unmatured, half matured, and fully matured Jameson.
We learned that they use oak casks from American bourbon distillers as well as Spanish Jerez (sherry) distillers to age their whisky, both of which we got to smell. Lots of smelling over all. If there’s one thing we’ve never done on our tours around Budweiser, Makers Mark, Jack Daniels, Evan Williams, and Jerez we’ve never just been given things to smell.
We’ve been to 4-5 major distillers in the US and around Jerez and they were much more passionate and kind about their tours. I think Jameson just missed the boat for me. Even after going to the 4th bourbon distillery in a row we still learned something new every time. Here, though, it was a lot of talk with no substance. I didn’t learn anything new and it felt like the tour guide was reciting things. When we asked him some questions later he didn’t seem to know anything off his script and was somehow condescending about it. It felt very soulless. Besides the smelling things, that was a nice thing to provide.
We only to to taste a tiny bit of Jameson alongside two other competing whiskeys. They had three shot glasses lined up one had scotch, another had American whiskey, and the last had Jameson (the guide reluctantly told us that they were Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels).
We spent some time in the bar afterward, and sipped down an 8 Euro Irish coffee. It wasn’t the best distillery tour in the world, but it was alright.
The Guinness Storehouse.
Have you ever wanted to step inside a billion dollar corporate ad campaign? Well boy do I have a thing for you!
Guinness is not brewed here but you can still learn about its origins and how it’s made. At least you would be able to learn about how it’s made, if there weren’t thousands of other people desperately trying to learn about it, too. It’s aggressive. “Thousands” is no exaggeration either, while we were there an announcement came over the PA system letting us know that the 20 millionth visitor had just gotten a Guinness. They had a marching band and everything. This place has only been open since November of 2000, quick math that’s just shy of 3000 people A DAY. This place is busy y’all.
We struggled through learning about the brewing process and skipped a lot because it was just packed with people. We made it all the way to the “tasting class”. This is where they take about a hundred people and cram them into a small white room. In it there are 4 pillars representing the 4 ingredients in Guinness, hops, malt, barley and yeast, and the pillars emit the smell of each of the respective ingredients. But overall it smells more like a room of 100 people and whichever pillar you happen to be closest to. The “tasting leader” told us through her megaphone to move about and smell each pillar, as if moving about was possible given the number of people. Then they distributed wee little glasses of Guinness, but we were not allowed to drink them yet. We first had to shuffle into the next room, which had been made up to look like a pub, where the “leader” continued shouting at us about how great Guinness is, and about the proper way to drink it. I honestly couldn’t hear anything over 100 people taking pictures and getting excited about how cute the tiny Guinness was in its tiny little cup.
We had a few moments to enjoy our beer until we were unceremoniously herded back to the other rooms.
We skipped the advertisement room, since the whole thing was, itself, an advertisement.
It wasn’t all bad though. We did get a “free” beer with our ticket. To get it we climbed to the top floor to their “Gravity Bar”, a round glass room that gives visitors a 360 degree view over the city. Kaeti and I somehow managed to get a window location, no seats, with Kaeti wedged against a pole and Chris’ back keeping pushy people away from us. Drinking a Guinness overlooking Dublin was a really cool experience, and something I’m happy to have done. But I don’t know if it was worth the hustle.
I actually love Guinness, (GIVE ME FREE STUFF), but this more like a Disneyland walk-through than an educational tour. I’d skip it, mostly because I hate crowds. Go to an expensive pub, order 5 pints of Guinness for the same price as the ticket.
It was now 11:30 am and we had had 3 small shots of whiskey, a whiskey drink, an Irish coffee, a baby Guinness and a normal Guinness. It was finally time to enjoy Dublin on our own (a little drunk) terms. After a drunken bathroom selfie we headed to hallowed ground.
Christ Church Cathedral
You know a town is touristy when they charge an entrance fee (7 Euro each) in the cathedrals.
They gave us a nice map of the church with points of interest marked, and without it this place would have been pretty boring.
We learned that
- The first church built here was built by king Sitric, a norse viking king who turned christian.
- The tomb of Strongbow, aka Richard de Clare, is located here. This guy was one of the first Anglo-Normans to invade Ireland. He is remembered as one of England’s greatest knights.
- One of the walls has a serious lean to it. Back in the 1870s the roof of the church collapsed and damaged the walls. So today the wall has an 18 inch outward tilt to it. We would not have noticed but for the brochure we were given.
- Their basement/catacombs were full of golden things. Golden crosses, golden plates with biblical scenes on them, chalaces, the works. More interesting than this was the mummified cat and mouse they found in the church organ.
It was pretty interesting for a church. We’ve been to so many in Europe that they kind of all blend together, so for one to stand out (as this one did) is pretty special. We had been salty from the Guinness experience, but
this place brought us back around the alcohol was making everything really great.
The GPO Building.
During the Easter Uprising of 1916 the Irish Volunteer army took control of key public buildings and fought against the British (though mostly Irish) Army. They located their headquarters in the GPO (general post office), and managed to hold off the British Army for about 5 days. The British eventually resorted to shelling the building, destroying most of it. There’s a cool Netflix historical drama called “Rebellion” if you want to watch it.
Today you can go there and visit an interpretive center that explains the uprising in detail.
We liked it for sure, at times it felt a little propaganda-y, but what can you do? We had just come from Northern Ireland where they had been a little tip-toe-y about the events. Here things were very direct which felt less refreshing and more in your face.
At the very end they had a section where we got to learn about the symbolism of the Irish flag. The green represents the catholic population, the orange represents the protestants, and the white represents a truce between them.
For some reason (alcohol) we failed to take a single picture of either the building or the museum.
The EPIC Museum.
This was an interesting museum. And I say this as a sober person who had finally eaten lunch.
It was all about the people who left Ireland, their motivations and their experiences.
There were no “things”, but there were A LOT of interactive stations where you could immerse yourself and learn about different things, because of this they call it “The Museum of the Future”. A really interesting thing they have is a passport that each visitor gets with their ticket. You can stamp this passport in each room of the museum and keep it as a souvenir.
The whole thing was really a homage to people with Irish ancestry, and it was interesting. They say Ireland’s greatest export is its people so it was a homage to why they left, what happened to them, and famous people with Irish roots. The museum also houses the Irish Family History Center where visitors can consult with experts and try to trace their roots through Irish records, but this was closed by the time we made it.
The museum was only built back in 2016, and since then has managed to become “one of Europe’s best museums”.
It had taken us all day to visit these 4 places, and we were tuckered. We wanted to get a fancy meal, but we were weary to try any of the restaurants in our area. Every meal we had had in Dublin managed to be meh. So we decided to choose the last restaurant a tourist would ever step foot in, a boring looking “Chinese” restaurant near a metro train station.
No joke, this place didn’t have a single thing on it’s dirty white walls. Just some cheap mismatched chairs and tables with a counter to order at in the back. Their menu was incredibly simple and everything was thrown into styrofoam take out boxes. Perfect!
But we were really looking for 2 things that are unique to Irish-Chinese restaurants, and not authentically Chinese in the slightest (but are truly, authentically Irish). A spice bag, and a 3 in 1. A spice bag (which actually came in a box) is a heap of french fries and chicken with a few token carrots and green peppers thrown in. This mix is then tossed in a spice mixture, which is mostly chili flakes, MSG, and some sugar (or maybe that was just more MSG). The 3 in 1 is a box filled with rice, topped with cheese and then french fries smothered in a curry sauce.
We took these back to the hotel, and loved every bite. It also cost us about 10 Euros, which is much less than even a single order of fish and chips from the tourist restaurants. It was a good night in the end.
What we learned:
Basically, there is Dublin, and Dublin™. Dublin™ is an endless series of over priced pubs and fish and chips restaurants, and feels more like a Disneyland ride than a city. It is a place that doesn’t have to work hard for its tourist money because people will always want to see it. It will always make the “Top 5 Destinations in Europe” lists because it has instant brand recognition. Try telling someone you went to Ireland, but DIDN’T visit Dublin, they’d think you were insane. Same with the Guinness Storehouse, it’s just something you’ve got to do.
We thought that there was SO much to see and do, and on paper at least, there is. So we each bought an expensive ($70 apiece) Dublin Pass, which got us into a lot of the main attractions for “free”. Would I recommend it? Well, I wouldn’t recommend Dublin. BUT given the outrageous ticket prices to everything in this city, the pass will save you money, though you have to hustle to see enough things to make it worth your while.
Real Dublin is still there, but it’s hard to find. I don’t think we found it. I would go again but do things differently.