Thanks for tuning into Part II of Myles’ and I’s latest adventure. We finished off last time with all of the must-see sites in Ireland and North Ireland, and in this post we’ll cover all the best places to eat, and everything I recommend doing in Scotland. Without any further ado…
where/what to eat:
- Mannings Bakery + Cafe in Dublin
Myles and I happened upon Mannings one early weekday morning (utterly jetlagged and wide awake at 7 am). Being naively unaware of “Irish Time” and thinking we would be able to pop in any cafe for a quick brekkie, we learned that nothing opens until at least 10 am, because, hello, the Irish like to drink. The earliest place to open was Mannings, and although it was quite a walk from our Airbnb, we had no regrets the second we walked in. The place is bright and has a refreshing, slightly French and utterly welcoming atmosphere. The food is quite inexpensive for its obvious quality, and it will probably be the freshest breakfast you’ll eat your whole trip. Their coffee is also fantastic, and they have some gorgeous pastries and breads, baked right there, that you can take with you to much on as you walk around town.
- Murray’s Bar in Dublin
Full honesty here: the food is not that great. Also, it’s pretty expensive. And they messed up our drink order three times. Three. Why do I recommend them? The entertainment! I ended up eating there because it was one of the only places with a kitchen that was still open at 11:00, and I was hungry (edit: I’m always hungry). I will give it props for its late hours, but you should eat somewhere else if you can help it. Get a great meal elsewhere (probably the Brazen Head) and then go to Murray’s for a few beers and a great show of both traditional Irish music and incredible step dancers. You’ll want to look at their schedule though, because the dancers do not perform all day and you do not want to miss them!
- The Brazen Head in Dublin
This place is famous, but on the off chance no one else tells you to go there, I will. Rather than one large room of tables, the Brazen Head is more like a cluster of little, connected bars with a small courtyard where you can find a spot to fit your needs. We spend most of our time in one of the more relaxed rooms, where servers casually float in and out to see if you’re hungry or too lazy to get up and get your own drink. Because this place is a Dublin Staple, it is going to be busy during the dinner rush, but don’t skip it. The atmosphere is cozy, old, and very traditional. I imagine everyone from royals to writers to beggars have had a drink sitting on those well-worn wooden benches, and you should too.
- The Boar’s Head (bar) in Dublin
This place does not serve food, but I’m throwing it in the list because Temple Bar is crazy. Anyone who visits Dublin will go to the Temple Bar district for food, entertainment and drinks, and I think you should too. But it is loud and crowded. If you want a quiet place where you can actually have a conversation with your partner/friends/travel buddies, The Boar’s Head is a wonderful oasis just a short walk from Temple Bar; and the drinks are cheaper than anything you’ll get in the heart of downtown anyway.
- Four Winds in Charleville
Right on the N20, perfectly centered between Cork and Limerick is the town of Charleville. Myles and I had been driving much too long and we were starving, but Yelp provided us exactly 0 options for nearby restaurants. We parked the car and wandered around helplessly, nearly settling on grocery store food before we ran into the Four Winds. I now believe in fate. Or good karma. Or something. The portions were HUGE, and the prices were cheap, and the burgers were so, so good.
- Hickies Bar in Kilkee
When you go to the cliffs of Kilkee, as you will, if you love yourself… there won’t be a lot of options for food. But I’ll make it easy for you. Go to Hickies. While most of the food in Ireland is pretty “local”, this place was literally attached to the butcher shop where it sourced its meat (from the farm just outside of town), and was just blocks away from the coast where it sourced its seafood. The chef had obvious passion for what he or she did, because the pork roast special was pure culinary art. Not just fancy plating or crazy prices, but honestly some of the very best food I’ve had, and definitely not the most expensive. Do yourself a favor and order from the specials menu, because whatever it may be, a chef like that is going to enjoy making it for you and you’ll taste the difference.
- Brogans Bar and Restaurant in Trim
After a long day of wandering Trim castle and the surrounding area, you’ll want a big meal, and Brogans has got you more than covered. The portions are huge, the prices are good, and they feature some very craft beer from some local brewers just a few miles away.
Pro Tip: When traveling in and between small towns and villages, you’ll often find yourself hungry, with no pubs that serve food. Be prepared and buy groceries before going to any small towns and try to book yourself a place where you can cook your own food. If no kitchens are available, be sure to buy things that don’t need any cooking. I highly, highly suggest trying to cook at least a few times while you’re there, though. While Irish cuisine may not be the most exotic, the ingredients at the local grocery stores are a much, much higher quality than what Myles and I were used to, and you can have a lot of fun with them.
SCOTLAND/ NORTHERN ENGLAND
When to go
Mid-Late June, Early July
As I mentioned in my last post, Ireland was in full, fragrant bloom during early June. Scotland is significantly further north, so if you plant to make a trip out of both countries, and you should, I suggest going to Scotland second, in late June or early July. Just as the flowers start to die in Ireland, they’ll be popping up all over Scotland and you won’t want to miss it. Should you end up in Scotland any earlier, bring a coat!
Now, Myles and I never went to any of the Highland Games that were going on. We had very limited time in Scotland and we were focused mostly on seeing castles and nature; however, if you haven’t ever experienced the games either in the U.S. or abroad, you should. The Cowal Highland Gathering held in Dunoon, Argyle, is the largest in the country (and maybe the world?), but you can find events throughout Scotland all summer long. Featuring dancers, pipes, kilts and incredibly strong people throwing heavy things, there’s fun for everyone, and there’s usually a beer garden around. Just be sure that when planning your trip, you account for highland games among your search for entertainment. It’s worth planning your schedule around.
where to go/ what to do
I loved Dublin, a lot. But Edinburgh was even more striking. Like any large city, there are endless options for food and entertainment. But unlike most cities, you’re looked over by intense, craggy cliffs sporting castles that have more history than we can ever learn. You’re surrounded with medieval buildings of blackened stone and you’ll see so many things that look so old, the sight of office buildings will begin to feel foreign. There is a sort of English oddness to Edinburgh though; you won’t feel like you’re quite in Scotland sometimes. Even going to the large city museum (only for the Scottish history, I might add), felt more like going to a very English retelling of Scotland’s past. No bagpipes, barely any mention of clans or kilts or tartans, and a tiny plaque describing the lives of Robert De Brus and William Wallace in a few short paragraphs. I think we learned more about England in those six floors of exhibits than we did about Scotland. Part of me (probably the Stuart Clan part) was bothered by a sort of hurt Scottish pride, but it’s still absolutely worth going.
- Inverness city
Or rather, the drive to it. Inverness is a lovely city, and a somewhat inevitable stop, but the drive there from Edinburgh was phenomenal. I wanted to stop every ten minutes, and someday when we go back, we will. I still have a tinge of regret when I think about that drive and how few pictures I took. But all the more reason to visit for yourself, right? There’s a certain wildness in Scotland that you just don’t get anywhere in Ireland, and you feel it the moment you enter the Highlands.
- Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness
As a tacky tourist, I did feel the need to see Loch Ness and look for the monster myself. I didn’t realize how large it was, though. There are so many stops along the coast of the lake that you really could spend a few days in the area if you have the time. Urquhart castle is popular, but stunning. Myles and I also enjoyed Achterawe Forest and the superb Airbnb we stayed at (Auchterawe House in Achterawe Forest, hosted by Sara).
- Loch Ness Clay Works
If you fancy a drive up a windy mountain road that lands you at a magical pottery and tea garden in the middle of the woods, Loch Ness Clay Works has you covered. If you go to their website (linked below), you can get more detailed directions than I can give, because Myles and I found this place by mistake. We took a spontaneous turn at a sign that said “Pottery This Way!” and quickly became very off-course in a way that neither of us were really upset about. The picture of those golden flowers (they were everywhere and I’m not at all sure what they are) is from the drive to this place, and it’s one of my favorites from the whole trip.
- Buchanan Castle & Doune Castle
Myles and I didn’t go to either of these castles but I WISH we had. I am including them only to tell anyone who goes to Scotland to visit these places and take pictures for me!
- Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland
Hadrian’s Wall is huge and there are many different places where you can walk along it and read its history. We stayed in Haydon Bridge, visiting Hadrian’s Wall the first day and Bamburgh Castle the next, which I recommend, since the castle can definitely take up a whole day on its own. And if you’re lucky enough to score a stay with Airbnb hosts like ours (John and Tania were incredible in Haydon Bridge were incredibly–stay with them if you get the chance!), it makes the trip even more authentic.
- Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland
If I remember correctly, this castle had parking fees and an entry fee, but it’s absolutely worth it. It’s situated on a rocky cliff overlooking a cool beach with a sort of solemn, intense feel. The entire inside of the castle has been converted into a sort of set-museum, showing period pieces where they would have been, functioning as they would have when the castle was in use. The courtyard of the castle also features an art gallery, a museum of previous owners and significant figures, and a great little cafe, which is a relief. Between the beach, the castle grounds and courtyard, and the museums inside the castle, you’ll can really spend the entire day here, and you will inevitably get hungry. If you do plan on being out on the beach for a while, the cafe offers very inexpensive picnic baskets complete with lunch, dessert and drinks so that you can take your food with you.
where/what to eat
- Makars Gourmet Mash Bar in Edinburgh
If you want to try haggis, but you’re nervous about its haggisness, go to Makar’s. They have traditional Scottish fare, presented in a much more refined manner that will make you forget you’re eating poor Scotman’s food. There’s a bit of an urban vibe in there, but it can actually be refreshing after a day of ancient splendor. Also, they serve Thistly Cross Traditional Draft Cider, Scotland’s favorite, which you must try!
- Maki & Ramen in Edinburgh
Okay, I know. Why would you go all the way to Edinburgh and eat.. ramen? It sounds like a waste of an opportunity. But if you’ve already spent weeks travelling through Ireland (like we did) or anywhere in the UK, you’ll want a break from traditional fare. Trust me. And this ramen is shockingly good. I never expected to find good ramen in scotland of all places, but this place can stand with the best.
- McSorley’s Irish Bar in Edinburgh
Okay. I know I said you get sick of traditional. But that doesn’t apply to beer. We missed Irish pubs the second we got in to Scotland and we had to go to McSorley’s because DUH. The beer selection is pretty standard for an Irish bar, but the real treat is the incredible space, known for it’s great “craic” and the live music that plays every. night. That’s right, no needing to wait till the weekend, these folks have you covered.
I know my recommendations for Scotland are quite limited, since we were a bit rushed. But I solemnly swear to go there again and eat much, much more food out of my selfless desire to provide you the best referrals. You’re welcome in advance.