Travel Stories

40s Traveller: 7 Tips for Surviving Day-long Rail Tours

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Dublin, Ireland. The rain welcomed us in as our overnight flight landed Midmorning in Dublin. My first reaction was “argh!”, but then the passenger beside me assured me that it wouldn’t last for long. She was right.  Be prepared for lots of photos!

Where we stayed: The Sandymount Hotel

The Sandymount Hotel in Ballsbridge, just a 20-minute taxi ride from the Dublin airport and a convenient  10-minute train ride to central Dublin.

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The staff at the hotel were, very friendly, helpful and a very diverse group, which made the experience that much more enjoyable. Staff seemed to be from across the globe! Some places I discovered were from Spain, Portugal, Mauritius, and Japan. It was awesome. The service, the food, the interior lounge areas and the efficiency with rich we were served was awesome. 

There is also the quaint Sandymount village and a waterfront that we didn’t get the chance to explore would have loved to if we had more time.

DAY 1 – DUBLIN: FISH & CHIPS AND REALLY REALLY OLD BOOKS

After checking into our hotel, we set out to the nearby train station to head into central Dublin by noon. We had only 2.5 days of sightseeing after all and we wanted to kick things off fast. We also had to be up at 6:00am for our tour,

We started with lunch at The Bank on College Green for its proximity to the Hop-on-Hop-Off City tour stop. We decided on taking the CityTour bus because we felt that was the best way to get around the city quickly and to the major sites within a relatively short period of time.

What we saw: 

Impressive Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells.  Dublin Castle grounds – not really a castle as we expected and we opted to walk the grounds instead of spending our limited time going inside.

Inside of the Trinity College Library in Dublin, with rows of old books

Few minutes in very busy Temple Bar area. Wish we had more time walk along this street and explore the area. More importantly, to sit and listen to some impressive live music (what little we heard made us want to hear more). That was one of the few downsides to this quick trip. 

Guinness Store House (Exterior Only)  – This was a highly recommended tour – from my online research and the passenger in the seat next to me! But we didn’t think to buy tickets online and by the time we made our way there, later in the afternoon, the queue was very long and we were very tired! We decided the weather wasn’t great for getting a good panoramic view of the city and a pint of Guinness, while jet-lagged with a 6:00am wake-up time, did not seem smart. We vetoed that tour and headed back to the hotel for dinner.

Quick Tip: If that’s a tour on your list try to buy tickets online or perhaps go earlier and make that one of the first places – and not the last to visit as we did. There is a separate queue for online ticket holders.

DAYS 2 & 3: IRELAND BY RAIL AND COACH TOURS 

We booked Royal Irish Tours for the two full days we would be in Ireland (would use them again!). This was a good plan in terms of getting around and seeing as much of the countryside as we could while learning a bit of history (and not having to navigate driving on the other side and relying on GPS). Downside? It meant we would have to be up at 6:00am and 5:00am respectively. On the bright side, that left very little room for jetlag of any kind to set in!! 

DAY 2: ALL THE PRETTY SHINY THINGS 

First just a shout out to Tour Guide Paddie McArdle with the RailTours Ireland Guided Tours! I mean, come on! with a name like that, that almost guarantees a great time, right?! Having a friendly, knowledgeable and, very funny, Tour Guide made the world of difference for us.

(Tour deets: Waterford Crystal, Kilkenny City & The Suir Valley – this last part was more of a view from the train and not an actual stop)

photo of the showroom with table settings and large crystal chandeliers hanging from a mirrored ceiling
Photo credit: N. Calabro

 

The House of Waterford Crystal tour surprised me. I didn’t know what I expected but it wasn’t that I would enjoy it so much. But then again, shiny pretty things and an actual behind-the-scenes “how it’s made” tour, well that’s just perfection, really. Seriously tho, the designs were delicate, beautiful and intricate. You couldn’t help but be fascinated by the craftsmanship and how it was all made (and then buying a little something to take home with you! Because, it’s a little piece of history and it’s pretty and shiny! 😊). This was my favourite part of my Ireland stay.

On to Kilkenny

We visited Kilkenny and the exterior of a castle before going a bit of souvenir shopping in a local store. I wished I had the chance to walk around and pop into some of the shops and just soak up the vibe of the place. Sadly, this was not to be and we simply did a bit of a scenic tour, by foot and a bit of a guided mini-trolley thing that felt like we were at an amusement park and asked to sit on one of those small trains.

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DAY 3: OCEAN VIEWS, CASTLES AND FINDING MY WINGS IN GALWAY 

(Tour deets: The Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle, The Burren & Galway Bay)

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Our day started at 7:00 and with a Full Irish Breakfast on the train. We visited Bunratty Castle – great tour, complete with guides in costume and gruesome tales of war. Then the rain started and we worried that by the time we made it to the Cliffs of Moher we might be hit with fog. With our rain jackets on and umbrellas up, we strolled around the quaint village surrounding the castle, hung out with a couple of asses, chickens, goats, and possibly some fairies.

We head to the Cliffs of Moher where the views did not disappoint. It was later in the afternoon and there were lots of people. Should I have the opportunity to make this visit again I will try for first thing in the morning or catch the sunrise with as very little people as possible. I can only imagine the feeling of peace and tranquillity you could experience taking in the vastness of the ocean from atop a cliff.

Tip: be prepared to give your legs a workout as it’s a long hike. Ask the guide which is shorter route before you head out and be prepared to feel the burn along with the incredible view – maybe don’t look down.

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After the Cliffs of Moher, we headed to Galway for traditional Irish pub fare – Bangers and Mash – and the long train raid back to Dublin. I also got my wings in Galway! 🙌🏾

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HERE ARE SEVEN (7) TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR NEXT TOUR:

  1. Tour Bookings: My best tip would be to book your tours in advance as it can take a few days for confirmation I believe and the tours seem to be fairly packed. If you happen to find yourself booking last minute then call directly and speak to someone rather than trying to do it online. Sometimes it’s better to speak to real live humans, as they may be able to help you in a way the good ole’ internet cannot.
  2. Arrive Early: For the tours, I would suggest trying to arrive about a half-hour early to check-in and get sorted. Again there can be quiet a few people so it’s nice not to be rushing.
  3. Eat Breakfast: You may also grab a coffee and a light breakfast before getting on the train or to bring with you. The train did have snacks but I was glad to have grabbed a coffee and muffin beforehand.

    Also, bring some snacks. You can buy snack and beverages on the train but our train didn’t offer a proper breakfast so we bought coffee and muffin in Heuston Station in Dublin before boarding the train and had granola bars in case we got peckish before lunch.

    I would also suggest buying a snack or something light on your way home depending on how long you will be on the train heading back to your destination – if you know you might be in need of snack along the way (a couple of the travellers bought slices of cake to go and I have a sweet tooth so I wished I’d had some with a cup of tea on my nearly 4 hour ride backs to Dublin. 😊

  4. Layer up and be prepared to walk: This is Ireland so the weather is, well, wet and unpredictable. Wearing layers allowed us to be comfortable when it got warm on the train or tour bus and when strong winds hit us on the Cliffs or the sun came out while walking around Kilkenny. To add to this, please wear comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking. My travel buddy said she clocked 12,000 steps on one tour. 🙌🏾
  5. Throw (on) Shades: Bring sunglasses, even if you think you won’t need them. The sun came out and surprised everyone!), a raincoat and umbrella and layers – it was hot on the train but chilly outside, then it began to rain, then the sun came out. The weather is unpredictable. Best to be prepared.
  6. Camera Basics: Bring spare camera batteries and a travel charger. I use both a mirrorless Sony camera and my iPhone to take pics so having extra batteries and a charger (or two) was essential.
  7. Backpack it: I carried a sturdy, Briggs and Riley waterproof travel backpack.  I was able to fit my camera, 2 lenses, extra batteries and charger, wallet, raincoat, cardigan and a small travel umbrella, with room for souvenirs.  It was comfortable on my back for all the walking I knew I would be doing.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The best part of the tours? The weather was shockingly working for us- some rain, but not too much, sunshine and clear skies when we needed it. Honestly, we were stressed out about going to the Cliffs of Moher and to be greeted by fog like the group that went the day before, but the luck of the Irish was on our side. 🙌🏾

The other best parts of the trip:

  1. The people and their sense of humour (the accent was lovely too);
  2. The green grass, grazing animals and picturesque countryside; and
  3. Really great comfort food (stew, chicken pot pie and bangers and mash).

Yes, it was a really short trip but it was still well worth it. We hope to return for a longer stay and take in some more of the sites and Full Irish Breakfasts!

Cheers,

Cassandra McD.

Style loving introvert, a student of life and lover of all things brunch! Hello, French Toast! Oh yeah, I'm also Instagram obsessed! Just learning to practice gratitude and self-love and hoping to inspire other badass babes who are also searching for happiness!

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