TRIP REPORT: A Holiday Romp in Ireland

In Alaska Travelgram by scott

Katie at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. 

SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Katie Pesznecker is a frequent contributor to the Alaska Travelgram. She and her husband, Joe, travel frequently. They’re not afraid to share some cool insight on hot destinations: food, fun and frolic. Recently, they touched down in Ireland for a few days. This is Katie’s report.

We recently kicked off a holiday abroad with a few days in Ireland. It was my husband’s first visit to the Emerald Isle and my second, though I hadn’t visited for a decade; we were eager to explore and make the most of the few days before continuing on to England. 

Christ Church in Dublin. 

Ireland is known for its friendly and chatty people, vibrant pubs, rousing traditional music, and a unique history that is a story of struggle, survival, and ultimately, independence. Dublin makes a convenient home base if you only have a few days to spend on your Irish holiday. The city straddles the River Liffey, a blend of old and new, with long lanes of red brick Georgian-era construction, hundreds-year-old buildings steeped in character, decades-old statues alongside curious modern-art installations, and flashy office complexes housing some of the world’s most prominent companies, drawn by generous corporate tax breaks.

Temple Bar at night.

With a 9 a.m. arrival after an overnight of red-eye traveling, we booked an early-afternoon activity to ensure we kept moving: a guided four-hour tour of the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Storehouse. Booked through Viator, this small-group tour of 12 people was led by a likeable and knowledgeable guide named Antonio who bore a curious resemblance to painter Bob Ross.

Selfie at Jameson!

The trip began at the Jameson Distillery Bow St., on the north bank of the River Liffey, just off Smithfield Square. The square featured open space and several fronting coffee shops where we could top off on caffeine before joining our tour group. 

Inside the Jameson Distillery. 


The Jameson building was transformed after years of neglect to today’s informative center for the whiskey-tippling tourist, including a Jameson-themed bar and gift shop.

A friendly staffer pours Jameson cocktails.

With Jameson cocktails in hand, our tour meandered upstairs to browse an extensive visual timeline of Jameson’s history before being turned over to an employee named Killian who delivered an inspired and animated monologue about the distillery’s Irish roots and today’s outputs, set to a flashy animation.

Joe checks out the Jameson company history. 

Next, we had hands-on time smelling and sifting through malted and un-malted barley and odorous samples from different cask aging processes as he educated us about the whiskey-making process. From there, we progressed into an adjoining room where we had a guided sampling of classic Jameson, Jameson Crested, and Jameson Black Barrel. 

The group is ready to sample some whiskey! 

With Killian walking us through the tasting, we were able to discern the nuances and flavors of each version and better understand how they were influenced by the creative whiskey process.

The nuanced flavors of Jameson.

A few fun facts from the Jameson tour: during aging, some whiskey evaporates. This is called the “angels’ share.” Jameson today is prolific; they distributed 10 million cases worldwide in 2022 and are currently maturing 2 million casks in their warehouses. So in the modern area, this angels’ share means about 50,000 barrels evaporate a day – which is about a bottle gone every two seconds. 

Our tour guide tells us all about Jameson.

Next up: Viator’s Antonio walked across the River Liffey to the south bank and toward the Guinness Storehouse, signaling points of interest along the way and offering recommendations for pubs and restaurants. This local perspective is always so helpful, especially when you only have a few days to make the most of a location.

My goodness, Guinness is big!

Arriving at the Guinness acreage, we took in the sprawling, impressive Dublin institution. Its modern and engaging interpretive center features an upward spiral of floors filled with vibrant displays of the brewery’s origins, social impacts, and modern footprint.

Katie and Joe on the Guinness tour.

The tour ends at the Gravity Bar, floor-to-ceiling windowed rooms with sweeping 360-degree views of all of Dublin, where your museum entry fee gets you a single perfect pint of Guinness.

Pouring pints in the Gravity Bar. 

Another tourist activity we dove into during our Dublin time: the Viking Splash Tour. This silly, upbeat outing includes plastic Viking helmets and an amphibious World War II vessel that lumbers past the town’s significant sights before converting to a water craft and chugging through the River Liffey. 

The Dublin canal and locks as seen during our Viking Splash Tour.

Our swarthy Irish guide wielded a sharp sense of humor and high energy, and had us laughing, singing, and snarling and shouting at pedestrians whose reactions ranged from amused to indifferent.

We are Vikings! 

After the tour, our guide directed us to Toner’s Pub, a pub dating to 1734 that he insisted poured the best Guinness in town. A local Dubliner also on the Viking Splash Tour concurred. We found Toner’s to be a classic pub packed with locals and plenty of tables, rooms, courtyards, and cozy seating areas called snugs. It was definitely worth a short stroll off the main strip.

Toner’s Pub. 

With only a few days in Ireland, we wanted to get beyond the big city. Many tour companies offer day trips to famous sights like the stunning Cliffs of Moher, or the Blarney Castle in Cork, home of the mythical Blarney Stone. We ventured off on our own and traveled by train to spend a full day in Galway. This colorful, walkable town is on the country’s west coast, teeming with traditional Irish music, friendly pubs and loads of history. 

The train let us off right at Galway’s charming Christmas market in the town’s main Eyre Square. We wandered main streets and popped into woolen wares shops the area is known for, and visited several pubs, of course. Buildings here are old, picturesque, and full of character and history. 

A Galway street scene. 

McDonough’s of Ireland is a Galway highlight. Established in 1902, this casual family-run chippy is beloved by visitors and residents alike. Prices are right and service is efficient and swift. The fried white fish was moist and flavorful with a crispy breading, perfect with thick-cut chips and mushy peas, an Irish favorite, delicious on a cool winter day.

A beautiful old fireplace inside The Quays Pub, Galway. 

Before jumping on the train, we made sure to stop at the Christmas market again. Now in full swing and lit up with holiday cheer, we grabbed Irish coffees from a festive drinks stall, and warmed up with caffeine and whiskey while browsing the crafts. 

Back in Dublin, we once again relied on a (free) Rick Steves audio walking tour to catch promenant sights. We popped in our ear buds and pushed play when we found ourselves with times to spare, letting Rick lead us past some of the city’s most notable locations. The tour included the long, wide central boulevard where prominent families once traveled, the pretty bridges connecting the south and north banks, the raucous Temple Bar district known for late-night pub parties, and the buxom Molly Malone statue. 

Molly Malone with O’Neills pub in the background.

We also visited the exterior of Dublin Castle, where a pretty Christmas market was underway. The castle dates to the 1300s, with some original exterior remaining, and worth a browse for history buffs. 

Joe and Katie pause at Dublin Castle. 

The castle proved an idyllic backdrop to a bustling holiday festival complete with handcrafted goods, roasting chestnuts, and grilled aromatic sausages. A single merry-go-round entertained kids, and the ubiquitous “festive drinks” stands sold mulled wine. 

The Dublin Castle market.

Ireland isn’t necessarily known for its food – traditionally it’s a rich diet of stews, potatoes, roasts, breads, seafood, and other vegetables. But Dublin had expanded its offerings notably since my visit a decade ago, and after some research, we made sure to get a table at Bigfan

Inside Bigfan. 

The award-winning Bigfan is big on inventive bao buns, creative dumplings, and other Chinese nibbles, and is recommended by the Michelin Guide. The space was cozy and energetic, a DJ spinning in one corner, and an open kitchen were chefs were constantly sliding plates of steaming, pillow buns, and twisted knots of spicy noodles on to waiting racks to be delivered. 

Bountiful bao at Bigfan. 

We ordered a bunch of small plates. Standouts included the Wu Ya bao, with slow braised Irish beef, pickled red cabbage, coriander, and Bigfan house seasoning; the Wagu Cheeseburger Jiaozi dumping, with Wagu patty, gherkin, cheese, crispy onion and kewpie burger sauce; and and our favorite, the Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings, with minced Andari pork and pork stock with ginger and black vinegar dip. 

Saint Patrick’s at night.

Like nearly everywhere we went in Dublin, Bigfan was walking distance from our hotel, Aloft Dublin, a Marriot property. We walked home past the shadows of the gorgeous Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, founded in 1191. Though the church has changed over the centuries, it remains a stalwart reminder of Dublin’s identity: a hard-working city that feels more casual than some pretentious European locations, with proud and friendly down-to-earth people, and history tucked around every corner despite an undercurrent of an evolving and dynamic present day. It was an easy place to spend a few days and I already look forward to our someday return. 

Boozy Santa tips a toast for the holiday season. 

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