Only about the size of Indiana, Ireland packs in kilometers of culture and charm between its shores despite its small stature. Dublin’s bustling streets along the East Coast sit a mere three-hour road trip from the verdant landscapes of Western Ireland—allowing visitors to traverse the country’s urban and pastoral locales with ease.
Begin your journey with a dose of Irish hospitality at the Merrion, a luxury hotel in Dublin’s city center spanning four Georgian-style townhomes, including the residence where former British Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley was born in the late 1700s. Balancing opulence and simplicity, the hotel’s intricate moldings and pastel-hued decor in its common spaces and 142 guest rooms complement its neoclassical exterior.
Galway Street (left). Photo: Cathryn Haight. Merrion’s Art Tea (right). Photo: Robert Ballagh/ Trinity Digital
As if the hotel itself isn’t enough to look at, the Merrion is also home to one of the largest private art collections in Ireland. Guests can arrange for a tour of the masterpieces—led by a guide from the National Gallery of Ireland—before indulging in the Merrion’s Art Tea, featuring a bevy of flaky scones and dainty sandwiches, along with three meticulously crafted pastries that rotate monthly from a repertoire of 12—each inspired by a piece in the hotel’s collection, such as Saurin Elizabeth Leech’s Self Portrait.
To get acquainted with the great urban outdoors, embark on a walking tour with local historian Pat Liddy, who tailors the excursion to your interests. Literature lovers will see spots like the Oscar Wilde statue lounging in Merrion Square Park near his childhood home and hidden gems like Sweny’s Pharmacy, a bygone storefront where not much has changed since its heyday. Colorful vials line the shop’s shelves, while forgotten prescriptions—some predating 1903—sit in drawers. Run by volunteers, the spot hosts group readings of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Participants may even recite the passage in which Sweny’s lemon soap is mentioned, though if not, you can still scoop it up for yourself.
Stop in for a sip at cozy O’Donoghue’s Pub, a favored watering hole for travelers and locals, and you’ll likely find a group of musicians gathered for an impromptu jam session of traditional tunes. After you’ve worked up an appetite, circle back to the Merrion for a meal at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Ireland’s only two-Michelin star eatery. If you’re lucky, your table may get a visit from the eponymous owner or a tour of the spot’s wine cellar, which houses 30,000 bottles.
The next day, drop by the Little Museum of Dublin for a dose of local lore. The museum is comprised of roughly 5,000 items donated entirely by local residents and offers guided tours about the city’s history, as well as themed galleries for participants to explore, including one dedicated to Irish rockers U2. When looking for a libation, make your way to the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street, where the spirit was made from the brand’s inception in 1780 until 1971. Opt for the Bow Street Experience—comprised of a 40-minute hands-on tour delving into the details of how Jameson is made, a comparative tasting and a complimentary cocktail.
DRINK UP: Ashford Castle was previously owned by the Guinness family. Photo: Jack Hardy.
When you’re ready to venture “beyond the pale,” embark on the three-hour drive to Ashford Castle in Cong, a stone stunner situated on 350 acres previously owned by the Guinness family, with one tower dating to 1228. The lobby is decked out in oak paneling and deep reds and golds, a preview of the 82 guest rooms—each bespoke with furniture, decor and sumptuous textiles selected by the owners themselves.
The property boasts a slew of activities—including archery, clay pigeon shooting and morning walks with the estate’s resident wolfhounds—but the most notable is the Hawk Walk, hosted by Ireland’s first School of Falconry. One of the school’s 31 Harris hawks accompanies guests and an instructor on a private stroll across the grounds and through the forest, as the bird soars through the air and lands back on a participant’s gloved hand. The hotel features a handful of dining options—but head down to the Dungeon to keep the medieval theme going with dishes like lamb neck Irish stew.
For the final leg of your journey, travel to bohemian Galway—a 45-minute drive from Ashford and the official cultural capital of Ireland. Book a tour with town crier Liam Silke, who will greet you in historical garb and lead you through the coastal city’s colorful, cobblestoned streets, pointing out sites like the Nora Barnacle house—where James Joyce’s wife grew up—and Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold, a shop and museum celebrating the traditional piece of jewelry, featuring curiosities like the world’s smallest Claddagh ring. Stroll through the Spanish Arch and grab a bite at Ard Bia—a pint-sized spot with white-washed wood, antique candlesticks and views of the River Corrib—where you can nosh on cuisine like beetroot and chickpea cake with basil hummus and halloumi. Cap off your trip with an Irish coffee at Brasserie on the Corner, because adventure—like most things—is best served with a splash of whiskey. ◆
— If you haven’t blown your budget, sample Ashford Castle’s Midleton Very Rare Whiskey. With only 168 bottles aged in a single cask, one pour will run you €155.
— No request is too big for Ashford Castle—guests can ask for anything from Christmas trees in their rooms during the holidays to foraging excursions with pastry chef Paula Stakelum, who gathers botanicals such as pine from the estate to infuse into her chocolates.
Ard Bia, ardbia.com; Ashford Castle, ashfordcastle.com; Brasserie on the Corner; brasseriegalway.com; Jameson Distillery, jamesonwhiskey.com; Little Museum of Dublin, littlemuseum.ie; The Merrion Hotel, merrionhotel.com; O’Donoghue’s Pub, odonoghues.ie;
Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, restaurantpatrickguilbaud.ie; Sweny’s Pharmacy, sweny.ie