Out There: Dublin and the Irish Coast

AAA associate marketing specialist Zach Duhamel talks Irish food, history and more.
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We know because we’ve been: “Out There” is a series of inspiring travel spotlights from AAA Travel advisors and employees.

Dublin – the small and historic capital of a country that’s contributed so much to the rest of the world. Between mountains, rivers and the Atlantic, Dublin’s heart is that of openness, geniality and having simple, good times.

The city’s streets are so lively with art, both traditional and hip restaurants, buskers, festivals, and pubs, that you understand why so many poets, writers, and the like have made Dublin their home.

My name is Zach Duhamel and I am the associate marketing specialist in travel at AAA Northeast. I recently visited Dublin and the Irish coast with my girlfriend, Phoebe, and wanted to share my experience.

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About Me

I love travel, cooking, photography, outdoor adventures, and music. And on my own time, I run a New England travel website. I love to tell people about travel and I want to encourage as many people as possible to make their travel dreams come true.

I consider myself a fairly experienced traveler. I have now been to 10 different countries, most of them in Europe.

I’m also an avid proponent of solo and minimal travel. Solo traveling, for me, is the way to go. It lets you see exactly what you want, when you want and how you want! Plus, you don’t have to worry about the hassle of planning a trip concurrently with others.

Some of my favorite travel memories have been with other solo traveling friends. When you go solo, you are bound to find other people who have shared interests.

Dublin!

I traveled to the UK to meet my girlfriend Phoebe. We spent a few days in London and wrapped up our trip with a visit to Dublin.

I have always wanted to visit Ireland, especially growing up in New England where so much Irish influence exists. My family says we are at least a tiny bit Irish, and Phoebe is Irish on her father’s side, so we figured it would make a perfect place to visit.

Plus, as a travel bug, I wanted to give Phoebe a taste of some of my favorite types of travel experiences by having the both of us visit an entirely new place to us, stay in a hostel, make friends and go on adventures.

Our home base was the Jacobs Inn, which is a hostel located downtown along the River Liffey and a scenic moments’ walk from the famous Temple Bar district.

The Temple Bar itself dressed up for Christmas. This is one of the more touristy areas in Dublin.

Our time in Dublin was strikingly calmer and slower placed than London. This probably had to do with the exhaustion of the previous days, but also in part to the small, cozy and laid-back feeling Dublin imparts.

History

Ireland’s history has everything to do with this. Despite their geographic similarities, the story of England and Ireland could not be more different; Britain, once the greatest empire the world has ever seen, has a history of successful global conquest and incalculable cultural, political and economic contributions, while Ireland … well, they have pretty much lost every war they have ever been in, so we learned.

That’s not to mention the famines and periods of tyranny. It’s no wonder that Ireland is known for emigration. Therefore, the Irish people have a different way of looking at the achievements of their countrymen. Rather than look to their island, they look abroad.

This is highlighted by the EPIC Irish Immigration Museum. There, they celebrate the “epic” contributions emigrants have made as Irish people outside of their homeland, as well as recognize their struggles via several interactive exhibits.

I think it is an incredibly special thing to be able to look at your nation this way, with such humility and positivity as to see that perhaps Ireland’s greatest gifts and achievements lay not within her own borders, but around the globe instead.

This is a highly recommended museum that has been praised by many other visitors over the years.

Not far beyond the city borders of Dublin are the country’s stunning coasts. In fact, a couple of euros and a 40-minute ride on Dublin’s public transport bus will bring you to the coastal peninsula town of Howth.

This tiny town is known the world over for its stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. The bus brings you right to the Howth Cliff Walk – a gentle hiking route that gives you the best views of both ocean and mountains, as well as a historic lighthouse. If you have the time to visit, it makes a great change of pace.

Pub Fare and Libations

A great culinary stop in Howth is O’Connell’s Pub and Restaurant, where I enjoyed an Irish classic: Irish fisherman’s pie cooked beyond perfection, with tender and melt-in-your-mouth pieces of fish.

Of course, Ireland is known for its whiskeys, ales, porters and stouts, but one reigns above them all. Phoebe and I heard the Guinness in Dublin is fresher and tastes better than anywhere in the world, which I can now confirm!

If you are a fan of Guinness, a trip to the Guinness Storehouse is an absolute must. It is a giant and stunning museum that walks through the creation of Guinness today, as well as the origins of the legendary libation and a chance to see the brewing equipment of years past.

A Feeling of Home

This was my first time visiting Ireland. I think what made this trip different was recognizing the echoes in my home in New England. With so many Irish having lived in New England throughout its history, it makes sense that the feel of Dublin reminded me of so many places in Boston and the rest of New England.

Even Howth, with its cliff-adorned coastlines, walking paths, and views of the horizon called me back to the famous Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive in Newport, Rhode Island.

Highlights

One of my favorite parts of our trip was the free independent walking tour we booked. I think these types of tours are key for a great travel experience, especially when I am visiting a place I don’t know much about.

I have always noticed a greater sense of excitement, enthusiasm, appreciation and understanding for a place I’m visiting after a tour. It makes a difference when you actually know which historic buildings, parks, museums and landmarks you’re looking at!

Free walking tours are given by independent tour guides, which means you often get a unique, down-to-earth tour of your destination, with off-the-beaten-path sites and advice from a local. I have even gone to lunch with some of them after! They are tip based, so you are not obligated to pay anything; rather, they ask that you tip based on how good/how much you thought the tour was worth.

Another highlight of our tour was a stop at The Celt, a traditional Irish pub just outside of our hostel. Earlier in the day, our tour guide John advised us that the most Irish experience we could have was to go to a pub like this, have a pint or two of Guinness, make new friends, sing, dance and repeat!

Pleasant Surprises

The people were incredibly friendly, polite and had the kind of social skills and jovialness to talk to you about anything.

The food was also a nice surprise, especially the seafood. Ireland is rarely touted for its food, but I found it to have some of best seafood I’ve ever tasted. That means a lot coming from a lifelong Rhode Islander!

If I had to pick a favorite meal, it was our stop at The Fish Shop, which specializes in fish and chips. They were serving two kinds of fish, both cooked perfectly. The oysters also blew me away.

Lessons and Advice

Ireland and Dublin might seem small, but don’t underestimate them! There is plenty to do and history to learn about. My advice would be to come hungry and plan for more time than you think you will need on this tiny island nation.

After having been to so many places all over the world with histories and monuments to great successes and achievements, I think Ireland taught me to always remember to make the most of your situation, to constantly celebrate, and that friendliness to strangers, some good food, and good music will take you far.

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