Advice, Tips and Itinierary for Traveling to Dublin & the Isle of Man

So I said about, oh, ten weeks ago, that I was thinking about posting some of my American traveler’s observations and advice for Dublin and the Isle of Man. Well, I finally lit a fire under my own ass and compiled my thoughts and advice. Here's hoping it is helpful to someone planning their own trip...


Advice, Tips and Itinierary for Traveling to Dublin & the Isle of Man

Some general observations about Ireland and the Isle of Man:

  • The people we met were very friendly. I was a little worried that people would consider us annoying ’murricans, but that didn’t happen at all. They’ll say hi to you and gladly give your totally lost tourist self directions without being annoyed. I think I’ve just lived in the northeast for too long, and since my first thought when someone approaches me on the street is that they’re going to try and scam me, I figured everyone else in the world had the same mindset. Not true.
  • Restaurant service is VERY relaxed. As a former waitress who always strove to pass potential secret server tests with flying colors, this took a little bit of getting used to. It’s not that service was bad—far from it—but it was more laid back. Like they wanted you to actually relax and enjoy the meal that you were paying for at your own pace, without breathing down your neck about your happiness with the food preparation or whether you require condiments for your mushy peas. (?!?!) What a concept. It was actually quite nice, and we definitely lingered at meals longer than we normal would have. In the U.S., servers are supposed to drop the check right after dessert is declined, or if dessert is ordered, within minutes of it being served. When we were in Europe, we always had to ask for the check when we were ready to go. 
  • Pubs don’t always serve food. I never really thought about it, but in the U.S., it’s rare to find a bar that doesn’t serve at least your basic microwaved chicken wings and potato skins. On our trip, we found quite a few pubs that only served alcohol. This isn’t too big of a deal as long as you don’t wait until you become hungry to try and find a place to eat. Then, of course, it will seem like you can only find pubs that serve booze. Which, alternately, can work to take the edge off the hanger, but only briefly. 
  • Many pubs that do serve food sequester the eaters from the drinkers in separate rooms. I guess the thinking is that the drinkers can get boisterous and the eaters might want to enjoy a peaceful meal. And often times, if you’re ordering food, you don’t have a server—you have to belly up to the bar and order the food for your table there. 
  • This may be my strangest observation, but the public bathroom situation was pretty great. As in, they are very private, often times with walls and doors from floor to ceiling so you’re in your own enclosed room. I once read this list on Thought Catalog about things non-Americans find weird about America, and more than one bemoaned the lack of privacy in American public restrooms. I really didn’t understand what they meant when I read that, but now I do. 
  • Europeans are a lot more energy conscious than we are (f*cking up again, America!) Almost all of their toilets were low flow and they used hand dryers instead of paper towels in the bathrooms. All outlets have an on/off switch, so if you leave your phone charger plugged in, you can turn it off without unplugging. The strangest energy difference we encountered was in our Dublin hotel room, where the electricity in our room would not work. We almost got to the point of calling the front desk when we realized that we had to leave our key card in a slot by the door in order to activate the electricity. So if we weren’t in the room, the electricity wasn’t on, thereby wasting lots of money and energy. Smart, huh? Luckily, Ireland doesn’t get disgustingly hot like it does here. 

Things that are really helpful to know about traveling to Ireland and the Isle of Man:

  • If you sign up for international data and roaming, you’ll probably need to restart your phone so that it can find the local network. Since you can now leave your phone on in airplane mode during the flight, plus the fact that you’ll be jet lagged, sometimes you forget this basic IT advice. It took me several hours to figure this one out. Duh.
  • On a related note, make sure you bring a real map of the city you are in. Google maps is a lifesaver, but in case your data isn’t working, a paper map is really helpful. We did not think to do this. (All of the people over age of 40 reading this are like, “Wow, you’re a moron!”)
  • Make sure you have a credit or debit card that has a chip in it, along with a traditional magnetic strip card option. In Dublin, we didn’t have problems with our typical magnetic strip cards. In the Isle of Man though, they pretty much only took cards with chips in them, which have a completely different reader. We had no idea this could be an issue and just got lucky that Scott has a chip card (I didn’t). Some of our family members had issues withdrawing from the ATM too, since their cards didn’t have a chip. You definitely don’t want to be overseas without access to cash. 
  • Make sure you're staying someplace with WiFi. Again, this may seem a bit obvious, but some of the nicer hotels in Dublin charged a daily fee for internet access, and our cottage in the Isle of Man had NO wifi. It is nice to unplug, but let's be honest, it's also nice to upload photos to Facebook to make your friends jealous, and this will gobble up your data faster than you think. 
  • Don't take any nite-nite medicine on the plane. The best thing is to try and sleep on your own (you won't, but try anyway) and stay up for the entire first day of your trip, then crash hard that night. Then you'll be rested and skip most of the jet lag. Also, when you take Advil PM it makes going through customs much more stressful because you're all foggy and afraid of saying the wrong thing. It's not worth it. 

What to pack for Ireland and Isle of Man (in the spring):

Some tips on what to pack for a trip to Ireland and the Isle of Man

I can't speak for the rest of the year, but I think this would probably a pretty solid list for any point. When we were in the Isle of Man, we read somewhere that the hottest recorded temperature on the island was 84 degrees. Ha. Hahaha! 

  • Lots of layers. I brought several jackets with different levels of "American Touristy-ness": a wool blazer, a peacoat rain jacket, a sporty rain jacket, a fleece. I would also recommend gloves and a hat for the Isle of Man—it can be windy and cold. The weather in both places tends to be cool and damp, and it can change quickly in the Isle of Man.
  • Definitely a rain hat or something with a hood and an umbrella. You never know when it will start raining, but you can bet that it will at some point.
  • A dressy scarf. This worked double and triple time for me as an accessory that distracted that I'd already worn the outfit before on the trip, as a practical neck warmer, and as a sleeping mask on the airplane. OK, it was more like a bobushka than a sleeping mask. Either way, it worked. 
  • Really comfortable shoes. I was trying to avoid 1) packing too many pairs of shoes and 2) looking really touristy, so I packed a really comfortable pair of boots that I wouldn't mind walking in, and my most toned down pair of sneakers (ie, not my neon orange running shoes). I was really proud that I managed to bring only two pairs of shoes for the entire trip. This was an accomplishment for me. 

Our Dublin Itinerary

What to do in Dublin when you only have two days!

Here's what we did in Dublin that I would highly recommend. We only had two days there, but managed to fit in a lot:

  1. The Book of Kells and Library at Trinity College
  2. Jam Art Factory in Temple Bar (print from Yellowhammer Illustration)
  3. Temple Bar neighborhood  
  4. We did a historical walking tour of Dublin which was probably the most awesome part of our trip. I can't recommend it enough!
  5. Christ Church in Dublin
  6. The Jameson tour (it's not the actual factory anymore, but it's still fun. Plus, they let you drink. When in Dublin...)
  7. The Cobblestone was recommended to us by a few people for a great place to catch traditional Irish music. When we arrived, the musicians were on a break and it was very quiet with a few people drinking at the bar. We felt a little out of place, but I'd check it out again—I think we just went in at a weird time.
  8. Farrington's had really good food (not pictured, but also in Temple Bar)

Our Isle of Man Itinerary

What to do in the Isle of Man: our favorites.

  1. The Manx Museum is a good starting point. It is very thorough, so I wouldn't recommend trying to see the whole thing unless you're a die-hard museum lover.
  2. Pony trekking. This was amazing
  3. The Liverpool Arms had realllllly good food. 
  4. The church at Kirkmichael. I mean, if you want to see the lambie lawnmowers
  5. Niarbyl, for the amazing sunsets.
  6. The Calf of Man, for the wildlife, hiking, and seals.
  7. Castle Rushen. The setups were a bit cheesy, but it was still cool to see an OUBLIETTE.
  8. The Boatyard Restaurant in Peel. This place had really good food and was cutesy in a fun way. The kind where the salt is in a sardine tin and your bill is served rolled up in a glass bottle.
  9. Peel Castle was more run down than Castle Rushen, but left a lot to the imagination and I really enjoyed it
  10. The Manx Electric Railway, which we took to...
  11.  Snaefel, the highest point on the Isle of Man.
  12. Checking out the night sky, but do it in the boonies if you can. We laid in the middle of the road at midnight and the sky was amazing.
  13. The Laxey Woolen Mills have all the tartan and sheepskin you could ever want
  14. The church and crosses at Maughold were really awesome.
  15. Tynwald for the history.
  16. The Royal George in Ramsey had great food and good beer selection.
  17. We wanted to go to Okells, but they weren't giving tours when we were there because they were busy brewing for the TT crowd. But I bet it would be fun to visit. PS: it's pronounced "oakles," not "oh-kehls" as we learned!
  18. The Point of Ayre and its amazing views. Plus lots of rocks.
  19. Port Cornaa for the hidden beauty.

Adventures in the Motherland(s): Dublin, Day 2

After our first day in Dublin, we had a really, really, REALLY great sleep. Being up for 36 hours straight generally ensures that. So we were rested and ready for our second day in Dublin. We'd booked a walking tour, but walked back to Temple Bar first to get breakfast.

If you recall, my sister had warned us about the Temple Bar area. In her own words:

My sister's sage advice for the Temple Bar area of Dublin.

Thanks for the practical advice, sis. We had gotten out of Temple Bar unscathed the night before, but as we were trying to find a breakfast place, a very drunk dude wandered out on the street in front of us (because he was getting kicked out of a bar) and screamed at the top of his lungs, “I'M NUTS!” He then proceeded to befriend Scott and talk his ear off about everything and anything (something about how Scott looks like a famous footballer). It was a little unnerving, but he eventually left us alone. He didn't want money, he didn't want booze, he just wanted to talk. Definitely different than being accosted by a drunk person in the States (generally speaking, anyway). 

The walking tour we booked through Historical Walking Tours of Dublin was absolutely fantastic. I will freely admit that despite my Irish heritage, I know little about Irish history aside from the potato blight and what Tom Branson has taught me on Downton Abbey. So really, hardly anything. The walking tour gave us lots of background and fun historical tidbits, among them being....

The Palace Bar, which has been the go-to pub for Dublin journalists for a very long time. Our tour guide had a great sense of humor, and I was totally taking notes on his one-liners. One of my favorites was: “Locals don't let facts get in the way of a good story.” It seems to be the motto in my family as well.

The Palace Bar in Dublin.

Murals in Temple Bar. Don't be alarmed by the semi-decapitated people, it's just what iPhone panoramas do.

He also took us to some of the famous sites of the Easter Uprising, including this statue on O'Connell street, which has bullet holes from the revolution in it. 

And then there was Lady Justice at Dublin castle, who was facing the castle and not the city. Or as our tour guide put it, “She's got her face to the castle and her arse to the city.”

The unfortunately situated Lady Justice at Dublin Castle.

We ended our walking tour at Christ Church, originally built in the 1100s, which had been “restored” in the late 1800s. The renovations were financed by Guinness competitor Henry Roe, as the Guinness family simultaneously financed the renovation of St. Patrick's Cathedral nearby. The renovations to Christ Church were so costly that it ended up forcing Roe into bankruptcy. And I say "restored" because apparently, the architect in charge added on all kinds of extra flying buttresses and such—things that were more Victorian than medieval. 

Christ Church in Dublin.

After a quick tour of the church and a pit stop (“Where are the bathrooms located?” “Oh, those are in the crypts”) we decided to check out the Jameson distillery. It was pretty cool—Scott was disappointed because the distillery is no longer in Dublin (they moved it to Cork) so it's really more of a tour of a museum kind of setup. I still enjoyed it. Mostly because you could have a Jameson drink during the tour and a complimentary drink afterward. I think we both discovered new favorites: whiskey sour for Scott, Jameson and ginger for me. Also, there was lots and lots of hand type (design geek time).

Well, I mean...when in Dublin...!

Jameson & Ginger: my new favorite drink.

Jameson & Ginger: my new favorite drink.

Good old fashioned hand type at the Jameson distillery.

By this time it was well into the afternoon and instead of eating lunch like sensible people, we decided to check out a nearby pub that had been recommended to us by our tour guide and our AirBNB host. This particular pub (The Cobblestone) is well known for having live, traditional Irish music going pretty much all the time. I should also back up about the lunch part and say that we thought we would grab some lunch at this pub, but one of the lessons we learned as we stepped in and ordered a pint of Smithwicks is that unlike in the U.S., pubs abroad frequently do not serve food. We quickly realized this pub did not serve food, and although the musicians were playing when we arrived, they stopped a few minutes later and it got dead quiet. The locals stared. We downed our drinks (on really empty stomachs) and headed off to find lunch, which turned into trying to find dinner as we tried a few other pubs that had no menus and didn't serve food. Not to sound typically American, but I was confused and hangry—you don't even serve fries? I mean, chips? Agghhh! We eventually found dinner and were spared gnawing off our appendages for sustenance. Am I being too dramatic? Ah well.

After two whirlwind days in Dublin, it was time to pack up and head to the Isle of Man. I really enjoyed Dublin, but I was also ready for a more relaxing pace that we were able to get into on the Isle of Man. More to come on that leg of the trip...

If you missed part of our vacation recap and want to catch up:

Dublin Day 1

Adventures in the Motherland(s): Dublin, Day 1

As I mentioned last week, we recently went on vacation—to our respective motherlands, Ireland and the Isle of Man, and I'd like to take you along as I recount our adventures here on the Bloggy Blog...

We took an overnight flight to Dublin from Philadelphia on Friday night. While we were waiting, our flight got delayed and then some dude near our gate lost his shit and ended up being escorted to the secret holding tank in our terminal. He was later wheeled out on a stretcher with restraints (I don't think there was anything wrong with him other than being way too drunk and belligerent in the really wrong place). So that was a nice start to our trip. When we finally got on the plane, Scott and I were about 16 rows apart, in separate sections of the plane, so we said goodbye and promised to meet up again when in Dublin!

Thankfully, the drunk guy in the airport wasn't a bad omen for the rest of the flight. I was sitting near a loud kid who yelled at his mom to shut up for most of the trip (alternating with asking if we were there yet) but it was otherwise uneventful. I tried to sleep and failed miserably. It was a little weird, because they served two meals during our flight (even though it was midnight and 3 AM, respectively). So even if I had wanted to sleep, I would have probably been awakened for my warm muffin and coffee anyway. 

We arrived in Dublin at 9 AM their time, 4 AM EDT. I was feeling pretty chipper at this point, but Scott had taken some Advil PM and was a wreck. We made it through customs somehow, and grabbed a taxi to our AirBNB apartment. We had planned to shower and freshen up a little at our rental before venturing out into the city, but the owners were still cleaning it, so—DENIED. We could at least drop our bags and our host gave us a map and some good pointers on what to check out. Despite feeling grubby and tired, we knew that we would have to stay up all day to not have the jet lag follow us around all week. 

I should also mention that at this point, the 3G on our phones wasn't working. I was starting to get really annoyed, because I had signed up for the international data plan and we only had a tourist map—and also, streets in Dublin aren't particularly well labeled, and if they are, it seemed to be with numbers and not names. Not helpful. I am dependent on GPS and the blinking blue dot—what of it? So we wandered toward the city (we were about a half an hour walk from city center) and decided to grab breakfast. And coffee to wake us up. Here's our "dead tired in Dublin" pose. Sexy, right?

Once we were full of Irish breakfast we found our way to Trinity College (spoiler alert: Ireland is not known for its food. Nothing was bad, but there were odd elements—baked beans, stewed tomatoes, bacon that is thick and not crispy). Since we were only in Dublin for two days, I kept our "must do" list very short, and a visit to see the Book of Kells and the Trinity College Library was first on our list. 

In front of Trinity College. The grass is always Ireland.

We couldn't take photos of the Book itself, but the display graphics were pretty cool on their own.

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript that is around 1200 years old. I have hazy memories of learning about it long ago in my design history classes. It did not disappoint. It was beautifully done, and so detailed. Those monks were mighty fine with their brushes! I would definitely recommend checking it out if you ever get a chance, even if you aren't a designer or art geek. 

One of the other great things about Trinity College is their library, which looks like something out of a movie set. It's got two stories of old books and lots of marble busts of famous philosophers. I kinda wanted to pull down a book and curl up in a corner and read while we were there. Alas, I understand that is generally frowned upon. It is not part of the admission price. 

I cropped out all of the heads of people wandering around to make this photo prettier.

After checking out the wondrous Trinity College, we went to a coffee shop to re-up on caffeine, kill time, and use Wifi. At this point, we still had no service and I was not happy about it. Because hello, I needed to post a picture of Homer's bust on Facebook (priorities!) Then it finally dawned on me that I had never turned my phone off and on again—because of the new FAA rules about leaving it in airplane mode—and wouldn't you know, once I rebooted my phone the miracle of 3G was back. So if the same thing ever happens to you, now you know. 

We were in the Temple Bar area of Dublin, which my sister had warned me about. Her words of advice: 

We walked through Temple Bar but we didn't hang out there. It is not really your scene either. It's a bunch of younger people getting really wasted, peeing and vomiting all over the street. It's gross. But if you're in for a spectacle or you can get in and out of there by 10 pm I'd say it's safe. 

But we had a great time there. We found this awesome little art and design shop, Jam Art Factory, where I bought an art print from Yellowhammer Illustration. I think a huge part of our success in the Temple Bar area is that it was 4 PM and there was never any chance of us staying there late enough to witness the drunk shenanigans. We ended up grabbing dinner at Farringtons, which actually had really awesome traditional food, and no, I'm not being sarcastic at all. The food was really tasty. Of course, we were deliriously tired by that point, so perhaps we weren't the best judges...

Strolling through Temple Bar.

More on Dublin soon. It was a jam-packed whirlwind of two days, so I'm breaking it up for easy reading!