Ireland has been on my bucket list for ages, so when Air Transat invited me on a trip there, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming! Before I could even respond to the email, I had visions of twirling around in the countryside, rolling green hills that went on for miles and miles, sitting at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher…ahhhhh, how lucky could I be?! Well, some might call it the luck of the Irish, I guess 😉
We hopped on a red-eye (I’ve always wanted to say that!) to Dublin with Air Transat. Transat has several direct flights going to Dublin from Toronto (and back) every week. The flights only take about 6.5 hours going (and about 7.5 on the return).
Knowing we’d be arriving early in the morning with a full day’s worth of activities, I quickly got comfortable in my very spacious Club Class seat and enjoyed my free welcome sparkling wine (okay, maybe I had a couple, since they are all free in Club Class), all before catching some much needed sleep. In just a few hours, I was awakened by the smell of my spinach and basil omelette from Chef Daniel Vezina’s gourmet menu, which is free for all Club Class flights!
My first experience flying Club Class was such a treat, and it made an already easy flight even easier! Apart from the larger seats, we also got essentials like a blanket and pillow, and a Comfort Kit filled with goodies, like an inflatable neck pillow, eye mask, and ear buds. Like my previous experiences flying Option Plus with Air Transat, Club Class enables you to have priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling, plus you’re allowed 2 pieces of checked baggage for free.
What to do in Ireland in One Week
So, the visions I described above of the rolling green hills were TOTALLY bang on, and the scenery just kept getting better and better during our one week stay in Ireland. In fact, Ireland exceeded my expectations in every way possible! The mild weather makes it a great place to visit anytime of the year and the bright grey skies make it a photographer’s dream! But apart from the scenery, what I didn’t expect was to be so blown away by the food, the culture, and the friendliness of the people!
When visiting Ireland, renting a car is recommended, so you can explore many parts of the country. If you don’t want to do it on your own, Air Transat makes touring Ireland easy by putting together a number of multi-city packages and guided tours on its website HERE.
The itinerary that Air Transat, Tourism Ireland, and Discover Northern Ireland created for us was amazing, and I couldn’t have planned the trip better myself! Before getting the itinerary, I was almost positive we wouldn’t be visiting Northern Ireland because a lot of the one-week Ireland itineraries I found online didn’t make time for it. So, I was elated when we received our itinerary shortly before the trip, because Northern Ireland was actually our first stop!
While it’s not possible to explore all of the country in just one week, I’ll share how to spend 7 days in Ireland based on what we did – everything from where to stay, where to eat and drink, and what to do.
Days 1 & 2: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Technically part of the UK and not part of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is a must. We took a coach straight to Belfast after arriving in Dublin, which was the perfect introduction to Ireland. The best way to describe Belfast is a place with a lot of grit and soul, and a city that punches well above its weight! They don’t shy away from speaking about their tormented past due to the Troubles here, but they are prouder about how far they’ve come and what the future holds. It’s also here that we first got a taste of the Irish charm. It seemed that everyone knew everybody, and each interaction we witnessed was good-natured and genuine.
We spent a comfortable first 2 nights at Bullitt Hotel, a modern boutique hotel in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. It has a beautiful rooftop bar and restaurant, and might I add there is one of the best burger joints a couple doors down from this place (more on that in the food section below). You can grab your breakfast and coffee downstairs from their café. But even better, you can have it delivered right to your door in a cute brown paper bag each day!
We had a lovely stroll through Queen’s University (one of the oldest universities in the UK) – getting a peak inside the Great Hall and passing through the Botanic Gardens en route to the Ulster Museum. For Game of Thrones fans, the Ulster Museum houses the Game of Thrones Tapestry – a 77-metre hand-woven, hand-embroidered linen depicting each episode of all 7 seasons of Game of Thrones. The show has become an important part of the heritage and culture in Northern Ireland (since about 80% of the show has been filmed there over 7 years).
Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast? I didn’t either. Right next to the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was built, is the Titanic Belfast exhibition, where you can learn all about the history of one of the most famous ships of all time.
Street Art Walking Tour
It’s no accident that you see spray-painted murals literally everywhere in Belfast. Each has been specially commissioned by talented artists from all over the globe, and the best way to learn about the unique story that each tells is by doing a walking tour. We did ours with Seedhead Arts and it was a fun experience that included a live mural painting demonstration, 3D glasses, and ended at an iconic pub in Belfast!
Eat & Drink
Before this trip, all of us erroneously assumed Ireland’s cuisine was all meat and potatoes. But we quickly discovered that there is so much more to the gastronomy scene in Ireland!
As its name suggests, Curated Kitchen has a curated and ever-changing menu that takes its inspiration from different cookbooks. Emphasizing global food culture and community, they aim to tell a story with each dish. Many of the cookbooks can be found on shelves in the restaurant, and there is an open policy, where you can borrow and return the cookbooks at any time.
Belfast Bites Food Tour
A food walking tour is not only a great way to get a taste for the local cuisine in a short period of time, but it’s also a great way to burn off some of the calories you consume along the way! Our Belfast Bites Tour with Taste and Tour was really a tour after this foodie’s own heart! It seems that the gastronomy scene in Northern Ireland is having a moment and Belfast is at the epi-centre. Who’d have thought that Northern Ireland produces top quality beef, seafood, produce, chocolate and cheese.
I also would have never guessed there is a big gin scene here. We had a proper gin tasting at Muriels Cafe Bar, where we learned the best way to drink a selection of Ireland’s finest gins. Do yourself a BIG favour and the next time you have a glass of gin, cut yourself a chunk of fresh ginger and rub the rim of your glass with it before dropping the whole chunk straight into your glass. Gin will never taste the same to you again!
And, if you’d have told me before this trip that I’d have one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten in my life in Belfast, I would have laughed in your face! If you visit Belfast, you must (and I repeat, MUST) have a burger from Pablos (beneath Muriels for convenient snacking after your gin!). The beef in their burgers is Hannan’s Glenarm Shorthorn Beef—the most premium beef in Ireland—which is salt-aged for 28 days in a Himalayan salt chamber. Yeah, process that for a second and just imagine the taste (mmmm…). My only regret in Northern Ireland? Not having another one of these burgers!
Aesthetics and food on point. The Titanic Hotel (right next door to the Titanic Exhibition and shipyard), is a luxury hotel with restaurants and a bar on-site, serving everything from afternoon tea and Sunday lunch to dinner. You’ll be amazed, like we were, by the beautiful white 3-storey barrel-vaulted ceilings.
Day 3: County Antrim, Northern Ireland (Causeway Coastal Route, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, Dark Hedges)
Once we left Belfast, we drove further north to County Antrim. The sites in County Antrim are probably some of the most iconic in all of Ireland and the landscapes in the countryside are second to none.
Stay & Eat
Okay, so, we slept in a castle… A HAUNTED CASTLE! Ballygally Castle is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in all of Ulster. Apparently, it hosts a number of ghosts, including former lady of the house Lady Isobel Shaw (whose husband locked her away in the castle and starved her until she finally jumped to her death). Needless to say, I was SCARED. I didn’t want to go back to my room after dinner, and once I did, I slept with the night light on! Thankfully, none of us experienced any ghost sightings (not even Isabelle and Joëlle, who slept in the ghost tower), but definitely a stay for the books! Their Garden Restaurant serves up some pretty delicious food and a mean breakfast (including whisky and porridge).
Another Game of Thrones landmark, go here (hopefully avoiding hoards of people) for a quick pit stop to see (and maybe twirl around on?) an avenue lined with over 150 beech trees that form an ominous-looking tunnel.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Whatever you do, DO NOT sit down on, turn around and overtake someone else, or look down (if you’re afraid of heights) on this bridge!!! Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a 20 m long, 30 m high rope bridge that connects the mainland to Carrickarede island. Just keeping moving forward and you’ll be fine because once you get over to the island, the views are spectacular!
This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Ireland, and rightfully so! It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of over 40,000 interlocking hexagonal columns formed more than 60 million years ago. Legend has it that it was formed by a mythical giant (hence the name). Or, you could just take the scientific explanation at face value and chalk it up to volcanic eruption. Either way, it’s a marvel!
Day 4: Galway City
After Northern Ireland, it was time to head into the Republic of Ireland. We first drove to Galway, on the west coast. Our time in Galway City was short and sweet (and I could not stop singing Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl” in my head the whole time). Galwegians are said to be characterized for their distinctive look of olive skin, dark eyes and dark hair, which either happened as a result of the Spanish Armada or Viking invaders centuries ago. Nowadays, Galway is the place to go for a good time. In fact, we arrived on the Sunday of a Bank Holiday in the UK and there were so many people out and about – roaming the streets or sitting down by the water drinking their ales and lagers! We had a nice stay at the House Hotel, located smack dab in the middle of the Galway City centre. The location made it perfect to stumble (err…walk) back to our hotel after a night out on the town! Make sure to experience the Galway nightlife and have a good ‘craic’ (lots of fun) when here – that’s what it’s known for!
Ard Bia at Nimmos
We had one of my favourite meals in Ireland at Ard Bia at Nimmos. It’s a tiny restaurant with a beautiful aesthetic and great ambience, which probably deserves its own Michelin star! The menu is small (as all restaurant menus should be) and is focused on traditional Irish dishes with a touch of Middle Eastern inspiration.
Day 5: Around County Galway & County Clare (The Burren, Dunguaire Castle, Cliffs of Moher)
When castle spotting becomes a part of your activities, then you know you’re in a pretty magical place! We spent a full day touring around County Galway and County Clare, where you can find castles, limestone landscapes and the majestic Cliffs of Moher.
A national park with fields of limestone rocks and pavement, wild orchids, and home to the Poulnabrone Dolmen rock formation. Watch your step!
The Cliffs of Moher
I’m pretty sure when you think of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher immediately come to mind. Even more breathtaking in person, the Cliffs of Moher interestingly aren’t even the tallest cliffs in Ireland (they’re the second tallest, after Slieve League’s Cliffs). They stretch on for about 14 km and rise to 214 m above the Atlantic Ocean at their tallest point. The Cliffs attract about 1.5 million tourists per year. Mostly fenced off (for VERY good reason), there are some areas where you can climb over and go closer to the edge. I chose to stay at a healthy and reasonable distance away, while others in our group (i.e. Isabelle) were a lot more daring!
Eat & Drink
Roadside Tavern/Burren Smokehouse
One of the oldest pubs in County Clare with a micro-brewery serving some of the finest craft beer around, go to the Roadside Tavern for a hearty Irish meal with generous portions. Once you’re done, you can walk next door to the Burren Smokehouse to get a lesson in and sample some of the best quality cold and hot-smoked organic Irish Atlantic salmon.
Talk about a photo opportunity at every corner, this luxury hotel was my favourite in Ireland! The Glenlo Abbey Hotel sits on a golf course, has acres of green fields, a garden, and there is an old Pullman car from the Orient Express where you can have a gourmet dinner. The rooms were large and beautifully decorated with spectacular views, the service here was unparalleled, and the breakfast spread in the morning is enough to make your mouth water!
Days 6 & 7: Dublin
Last, but certainly not least, was Dublin on our one-week Ireland itinerary. I’d like to say we saved the best for last, but really, Dublin was the cherry on top of an already amazing adventure! A world-class city with something for everyone, you’ll want to spend at least a few days in Dublin to really take it all in.
This funky boutique hotel with retro accents goes far beyond just the aesthetic. Although recently completely overhauled, The Alex has a long history in Dublin. We met with the designer, John-Henry Boyle of 21 Spaces, who explained that the materials and furniture used in the design were sourced locally in Ireland. The hotel has a great restaurant and café on-site and is within walking distance of lots of many of the landmarks in Dublin.
Eat & Drink
Peruke & Periwig
Beeline straight to Peruke & Periwig on any visit to Dublin and you won’t regret it! When we all walked in, our eyes lit up with excitement. It’s truly a hidden gem, where you can get some of the prettiest and most delicious craft cocktails that share names with famous songs, like the “Little Red Corvette” that I had.
Fancy a palette cleanser between each of your courses? Then come to this Michelin star restaurant in the centre of Dublin. L’Ecrivain is known for some of the best fine dining food in Dublin, and we were equally impressed by the quality and taste of the food as we were with the atmosphere.
Well, you really can’t visit the birthplace of Guinness without a stop at the Guinness Storehouse, can you?! Learn all about how Guinness is made, which countries drink the most Guinness in the world and per capita (the answers might surprise you!) and get your very own certificate in pouring the perfect pint of Guinness. While here, stop at 1837 Restaurant for hearty portions of fish and chips or Guinness-braised beef stew, and to sample their craft beer, Hop House 13.
Cool and Creative Walking Tour
Our guide, Orlaith Ross, specially tailored our own Cool and Creative Walking Tour throughout Dublin’s city centre. We stopped at artisanal cheese, leather, and Irish design shops, and visited Powerscourt Centre – an old Georgian home that now has Irish design and boutique stores. Tropical Popical was a clear standout for me on this tour. Not just a nail salon with an awesome vibe (and incidentally, where Saoirse Ronan was getting her nails down when she got the news of her Golden Globe nomination), it’s run by entrepreneur, feminist and abortion-rights activist, Andrea Horan. At the time of our visit, Ireland was preparing to have an abortion referendum (can you believe abortion was constitutionally banned under the 8th amendment?), and Andrea gave us an inspirational talk about women’s rights in Ireland. So, it’s awesome to now be able to share that on May 26, the Irish voted overwhelmingly in favour of repealing the 8th amendment and legalizing abortion in the Republic of Ireland!
The oldest and most prestigious university in Ireland, Trinity College (i.e. the University of Dublin) is absolutely impressive. Apart from the grounds and architecture, walk through the College’s Treasury, where you can find the Long Room library, known for its remarkable ceilings and collection of over 200,000 of Trinity’s oldest books, and the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript dating back to 800 A.D. with the four gospels.
There are loads of museums and art galleries in Dublin (many are free to visit), and a great way to see them is by getting a Hop On Hop Off bus pass. I had time for a quick visit to Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane – even if only to see the beautiful entrance foyer with terrazzo flooring and Corinthian columns!
THE place to have the craic in Dublin, Temple Bar isn’t just one bar, but a whole part of Dublin on the south bank of the city. If you’re looking for pubs, restaurants, live entertainment, and nightlife, this is it. If you can, try to grab a pint and pull up a stool in front of the stage at The Temple Bar Pub, like we did on our last night. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that interested in live music (I’m an electronic music kind of girl), but our night at The Temple Bar Pub really struck a chord with me. It was the perfect ending to our week in Ireland – live Irish folk music, laughter, dancing, and the best company a girl could ask for! The energy in the room was nothing but positive, and certainly enough to give anyone the warm fuzzies.
There’s an anonymous saying that goes “The Irish: be they kings, or poets, or farmers, they’re a people of great worth. They keep company with the angels and bring a bit of heaven here to earth.” This couldn’t better sum up my impression of the Irish and Ireland, in general. Ireland is truly a piece of heaven on earth, with landscapes that are unforgettable and a national culture and spirit that will steal a piece of your heart!
Thanks again to Air Transat, Tourism Ireland and Discover Northern Ireland for hosting me on this trip of a lifetime and showing me the best of Ireland and Northern Ireland! To experience some of the highlights of Ireland on a tailored tour (like we did), make sure to check out Air Transat’s packages and itineraries HERE.here
While this post was done in partnership with Air Transat, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.