Visiting Ireland: An Extended Q&A Session

2

July 18, 2012 by Evin

An American friend whose family is planning a trip to Ireland asked my advice and here are all the questions and answers that resulted, so I thought I’d share it with you! There is probably someone else out there planning a trip over here to the Emerald Isle and maybe this can help a bit. If it does help you, I’d love to hear from you with a comment. If you think I overlooked something, also comment so future visitors can know what’s what.

Is it easy to visit Dublin or Cork (or both) without a car?

Flying into Dublin, there is are affordable, clean and safe shuttle buses into the city of Dublin. It’s so easy, I wouldn’t even consider a taxi. To explore beyond Dublin, the train may be the best method. The Luas is great for getting around Dublin.

Irish Rail costs about €40 each way for Cork/Dublin routes. Trains are frequent, clean, safe, and have free WiFi. Heuston Station in Dublin has the trains Cork. Tickets are discounted if purchased ahead of time online.

Cork’s train station is called Kent and is walking distance to city centre but there are taxis and the 205 bus too. That bus costs €1.70 per person and runs from the station to the other side of the city, passing most hotels, B&Bs, and such. Taxi drivers must use meters in both cities.

Getting to and around Cork is fairly easy. Here’s a whole blog post about it. If flying into Cork, it costs about €15 to taxi from the airport to city centre. There is also a bus. If you rent a car, be aware of parking options.

What about visiting with a car?

You won’t want to drive in Dublin too much. It is confusing and bustling and lots of weird one-way systems and pedestrian lanes in the city centre. And there are lanes in Ireland that are just for the bus to use and taxis so stay out of those unless you’re turning. Those lanes are marked ‘Lána Bus’ which is Irish for ‘bus lane’. (Special thanks to Maire O’Sullivan for sweetly correcting my Irish on this one)

Is West Cork a neighborhood of Cork City? I’ve heard it is beautiful.

West Cork is a region of County Cork west of Cork City. It is the most southwestern area of the Republic and noted for its coastline and cuisine. I recommend West Cork, especially if the weather is good. It is Ireland’s answer to California (without the heat). Beaches, food producers, fields, and very scenic. The pace is just a little slower (much slower than Dublin). We go there at least once a month even if just for lunch and it is very accessible from Cork City and Kenmare/Killarney for a day trip. Though buses do service towns in West Cork like Skibb, this is one area it is nice to have a rental car so you have flexibility to stop wherever you wish.

Do you recommend any particular hotel in Dublin that is central or well-located?

My favorite places to stay in Dublin are The Gibson (hip and located across from the O2) and The Brooks Hotel (classic and well-kept near St. Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street). But Dublin is a city and, as such, there are many many hotels I’ve never heard of so do some research and ask friends who’ve been there. Porterhouse is a nice spot to get a pint.

Any suggestions for restaurants in Dublin?

If you get the chance and advanced time to make reservations, Chapter One is a VERY nice restaurant (I have yet to get in since reservations are essential and I never plan ahead enough when going to Dublin). Eden is nice too. Dunne & Crecenzi is a sentimental favorite because we dined there on our honeymoon. Avoca on the top floor of their shop at the end of Grafton is delectable. There’s also one on the M7/N7 near Naas.

Where do you recommend we call home while we’re in County Cork?

There are a few places. Depends where you want to be and where you want to explore.
In Cork City Centre, my Dad likes the Imperial Hotel in Cork City Centre. It is central and there are NO hills between that hotel and the city. Clarion is also good but three blocks farther from everything and not in an interesting direction. There are many B&Bs along Western Road near UCC (University College Cork). The Gresham Metropole is supposed to be very nice as well and it’s on MacCurtain. Slight hill heading into town from there unless you exit out the hotel’s lower level which is on the Quay level. There is also River Lee Hotel and Jury’s on Western Road between UCC and city centre.
Outside of Cork City Centre there are options like Ballymaloe House near Cloyne or a selection of boutique hotels and B&Bs in Kinsale. Look for a B&B and odds are they will take good care of you and have a nice breakfast. Though most hotels have lovely breakfasts as well.

What is the name of the new highway connecting Dublin and Cork?

You want to get on the M7 then switch to the M8. If you drive on the M50, you need to pay a toll (€3) by phone or online by 8pm the day after you drive on it. The M50 is like Dublin’s beltway but the ocean gets in the way on the eastern side.
 
Assuming there are no major events, how long should it take roundtrip?  Are there peak traffic times on specific days of the week to beware of?
 
Driving to or from Dublin from Cork takes 2.5 hours. I’d say maybe Sunday nights, Monday mornings, Friday evenings would be the busy times for anyone who works in Dublin but wants to spend a weekend in West Cork since it will be ‘summer’ here.
 
All-Ireland GAA senior men’s hurling or football. Getting a ticket to an All-Ireland GAA Final is like getting a Super Bowl ticket. I got two a few years back and felt like I’d won the lottery, which I think is how tickets are acquired for fairness in the regions competing. You DO NOT want to be on any road leading to/from Dublin on the day of an All-Ireland match.
 
Where do you recommend stopping along the way, if at all?
 
I made you a map of the three places I would most recommend stopping along the drive. Choose A or B, not both (I recommend A then C). A = Avoca (an Irish store with hand-crafted and inspiring items in delicious colors, there’s also a store in Dublin city but the one on the highway is MUCH bigger with a cafe AND a restaurant). B = Kildare Outlets (it won’t be cheap even with outlet prices but there is a Starbucks and a Dunne & Crecenzi). C = Cashel (Rock of Cashel is an old religious destination which may be tough for mobility challenged but the town is darling and the view is lovely from the pubs or cafes plus it has a little touristy vibe so it has a nice energy to it in the summer). All of those places have parking near a place to sit and have a cup of tea or bite to eat. Check for pay parking any time you park anywhere that isn’t a shopping mall. Here’s the map link: http://goo.gl/maps/Cx30
 
 What is it like to travel between Kinsale and Cork by car?

The roads are small but do-able. I did it on our honeymoon and just took it slow in the afternoon on a weekday when it wasn’t too busy. There is a paid parking lot in the centre of town in Kinsale which is central. I recommend going to lunch at Fishy Fishy (I like their monkfish or their chicken green salad) then stroll around the shops.

Where do you recommend we eat (keeping in mind that I will likely be the only one in the group who likes to experiment with food – the rest are meat-eating Americans through and through)?
 
In Kinsale,… Jim Edwards, Fishy Fishy and Blue Haven are good. Almost anywhere will have a steak or chicken goujons (aka fingers) on the menu and you can ask for chips or salad on the side as filler. I’ve found that many places undercook their meat more than in the States (probably because in the States they have to reach a minimum before serving or have you sign a waiver, at least some of the spots I’ve gone to) so Medium is more like Medium-Rare. The hamburgers will be different and not as good because of the technique to grind the meat. It is more of a minced texture.
 
In Cork,…
 
My favorite place to eat real food in town is Fenns Quay. I love the fresh Irish ingredients and the fact that the specials change daily. They have one of two burgers in Ireland we’ll eat. The steak that is out of this world. They are open 8:30a-10p Monday through Saturday which is also why it’s a fave because I can get an early breakfast. I couldn’t stomach eggs or beef while pregnant last year but their chef/owner Kate managed to always make the perfect eggs Florentine that went down like butter. They are in the running for Best Scone in Ireland (Goodalls competition).
 

I highly recommend Electric for tea/coffee, soda/beer, or sandwich/soup lunch. They have WiFi and great natural light. It’s two blocks from the Imperial Hotel on the South Mall. I go there twice a week with my Twitter meetup group and my knitting friends because it has a nice relaxed feel with great light so even on rainy days I feel like I’ve gotten some sunlight. You can have a real restaurant meal upstairs (reservations through Facebook). Grab the tables in the far back on the ground level for a view of the River Lee. They are in the running for Best Scone in Ireland (Goodalls competition).

 
Nash 19 is on Princes Street and though there is little to no natural light in the place, they make delightful potato cakes (it’s like a scoop of mashed potato in a crispy crumb crust), creamy porridge, and yummy breakfast treats.
 
Definitely you MUST go to Long Valley Pub for lunch one day and have a ‘corned beef salad sandwich’ or ‘toasty’. SOOOOOO good. And very affordable. Long Valley is on Winthrop between Oliver Plunkett and Patrick’s Street. Across from there is the GPO (big city post office) and the Hi-B Bar (a notorious pub where people get thrown out for doing things like talking on mobile phone or wearing a necktie). They are great landmarks too.
 
Spiced Beef is a speciality in Cork so give it a try while you’re here. You can buy a package of it cooked and sliced from Durkins in the English Market (A MUST, even the Queen of England visited there last year). The package is small and costs €4 but get one or two there (by the Fountain that has no water, not the places with all the eggs) then some cheeses from On The Pig’s Back and a loaf of their bread and go across the Grand Parade to have a picnic on the benches in Bishop Lucey Park if the weather is nice. Honestly, I used to travel a lot and my Dad still does and he says that one of the best things after a few days of eating in restaurants is to have a light meal outdoors. I’m sure you’ve found that too in your travels. It kind of allows your brain and stomach to take stock of its adventures and rest up for the next round.
 
There are so many good places in County Cork, including Ballymaloe House, Longueville House, …
 
What are Cork’s “must-sees” and “tourist traps to avoid”? (e.g., I heard everyone pees on the Blarney Stone now, so it’s best not to kiss it.)
 
That rumor about peeing on the Blarney Stone has been going around for ages and is probably not true because anyone going into the Castle grounds must pay so why spend good money to pee at the top of Blarney Castle when they can pee at home, right? Let alone, if they were drunk and breaking in they’d have lots of stairs to climb to get up to it and by then they’d have probably peed themselves laughing. Also, it doesn’t smell like old pee which it would no matter how much you clean it. Having said that, it is touristy.
 
The saddest thing is that most people come to Ireland on tour buses and only see big things like Cashel, Blarney Castle, and Newgrange (near Dublin). They miss the real experience so it’s wonderful you’re driving yourselves! There was an article two summers ago about how businesses in Blarney are in trouble (were and still are) because tour buses come to Blarney and park in the Blarney Woollen Mills parking lot and go only there and to the Castle, missing out on the cute little town. That happens to other towns too. The most important recommendation is one you probably already know from your travels and that is to get off the main street when looking for a place to eat or shop because the pace is slower and more care is often taken with the experience not just the food.
 
Cork Must See List:
St Anne of Shandon is an Anglican church with a stunning view of the city if you climb the bell tower. A ladder is involved so it may not be for everyone.
English Market (on the day you drive back to Dublin, you could pop in there before you go and stock up on food for the car so you can stop someplace interesting instead of out of hunger)
• If you like whiskey, check out Jameson Distillery in Midleton (20 minutes from Cork City Centre, ample parking) for the tour (there’s a post on my blog about it and how to get chosen for the free whiskey tasting after) then repark closer to Farmgate Cafe and go there for lunch. Great spot. It is the sister restaurant to one in the English Market (upstairs) but easier to access since no stairs at this one and more spacious with wider selection.
 
Look in the sidebar of thisblog and there is a map, click through and you can see all the spots I’ve mentioned (or most of them) pinpointed. I made the map myself so it is accurate-ish.
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2 thoughts on “Visiting Ireland: An Extended Q&A Session

  1. kerri says:

    Hi Evin, great post. I’m actually moving to Cork the end of this month and would love to pick your brain on a few topics about life in Cork. Could I e-mail you?

    • Evin says:

      Hi, Kerri! You bet! I’ve just sent you an email to get the conversation started. I hear from many MANY Americans on a daily basis asking about life in Cork, moving to Ireland, and even planning vacations here so I’m happy to help spread the expat love by helping to answer your questions. Considering an international move is a very important decision that is only made easier with information. Email with you soon! – Evin

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