Bruges’ Best Photo Spots

bruges Belgium brugge

Bruges is the ultimate photographers’ dream. At almost every corner, there’s a chance to uncover a picturesque little scene that will make you want to grab your camera. It is one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe and as such its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. It is a treasure trove of Renaissance and gothic architecture.
I recently spent an afternoon in the ‘Venice of the North’ and these were the 5 most instagrammable spots I found, but of course there are many more. I’m only really scratching the surface with this post.

bruges belgium

Generally, my favourite thing to photograph was the cobbled streets, not one in particular but I especially loved the ones lined with rows of houses with crow-stepped gables, typical of Dutch and Belgian architecture.
The one pictured above is called Sint-Jakobstraat and it’s quite magical really. First you’re met with an old-looking well, next to it there’s this cute homeware shop ‘Serendipity’, doors and windows are painted in a vibrant blue and just behind the bend, you’ll be met quite unexpectedly with the majestic St James Church. Now onto the 5 best photo spots in Bruges.

bruges markt belgium
1. MARKT

Located in the heart of Bruges, Markt is the city’s main square. It is surrounded by colourful guild houses that have now all been converted to restaurants. There’s also the West Flanders Provincial Court, the Belfry and its courtyard called the Cloth Hall, the statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck who fought in the Flemish resistance, frietkotten (chipper stalls) and horse carts.
On Wednesdays, it is market day, a function the square has taken since 958.

bruges belgium
2. THE TOP OF THE BELFRY

This medieval bell tower was once an observation post to spot fires and other dangers but today, you can climb the 366 steps to access the best view of Bruges. At 83m (272 feet) high, the views over the city and around will take your breath away. I especially loved seeing all the colourful houses on Markt from above.
Please note that the staircase is really quite narrow so best keep the climb for off-peak times.

rozenhoedkaai bruges belgium
3. ROZENHOEDKAAI

This cinematic corner where the Groenerei and Dijver canals meet is one of the most photographed spots in Bruges. Rozenhoedkaai, meaning ‘Quay of the Rosary’, refers to a time where the rosary sellers would set up shop here, back in the 15th century. Before this quay was a port for salt traders who would come here to moor their ship and unload their merchandise.
Today, this is the starting point of many boat trips and a view that tourists from all over the world come to capture.

st bonifacius bruges belgium
4. BONIFACIUS BRIDGE

Located in the peaceful Arents courtyard, Bonifacius bridge is one romantic-looking little bridge. It spans over a murmuring canal lined with overhanging half-timbered houses with tudor-like windows. The scene couldn’t be more idyllic. Overlooking the bridge is Church of Our Lady which is the tallest building in Bruges.
Don’t let this bridge’s old-worldly charms fool you, it is actually one of the youngest bridges in the city as it only dates back to the early 20th century.

blinde ezelstraat bruges belgium
5. BLINDE EZEL-STRAAT

Blinde Ezel-straat, or ‘Blind Donkey Alley’, is the narrow street that joins Burg Square to the Fish Market. With your back to the Fish Market, you’ll see the gorgeous baroque archway that connects the City Hall to the Old Courthouse. Those types of bridges always evoke hushed secret meetings to me.
If you wonder where the name of this street comes from, there’s a legend attached to it. The story says that when people from Ghent came to steal Bruges’ dragon, they transported it on a cart pulled by a donkey. To stop their escape, the people from Bruges decided to blind the poor animal and this is where they rescued the dragon.
Another explanation, a bit more sensible this one, could stem from the name of the inn that once was located on this street. Its name, The Blind Donkey you might have guessed it, was a reference to the donkeys that were working at the treadmill of the malt house. It was custom to blindfold them so they don’t get bored.

 

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A Day of Romance in Dublin

saint valentine's day dublin chez max dublin castle

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to come up with a walkable day itinerary of sweet little activities in Dublin to do with your boo, tailored for all you lovers out there (with map included at the end of this post). If you picked the Irish capital for a romantic getaway, I’d argue you’ve actually come to the right place. Not only does the city’s architecture lend itself perfectly for a romantic stroll but it’s also a city that inspired countless love stories, passionate (James Joyce and Nora Barnacle), hopeless (W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne), tragic (Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford) or fictional (Guy and Girl in the Oscar-winner film, Once). And lastly, you might be surprised to learn that Dublin is one of the resting places of Valentine, saint patron of lovers. If that’s not a sign you should come to Dublin to celebrate your love, I don’t know what is!

whitefriar church dublin valentine's day

Start the day by a visit to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church on Aungier Street. You might wonder why I’m pointing you in the direction of a place of worship first thing in the morning on your fun-filled day together. Well here’s the surprising bit of trivia for you, good ole Saint Valentine is actually resting here. Well some of him…

FIND OUT HOW THE REMAINS OF SAINT VALENTINE ENDED UP IN THIS DUBLIN CHURCH

On Valentine’s Day, the box holding his remains is displayed on the church’s altar and couples flock here to have their rings blessed. If your love is unrequited, you can also write your wishes in the guestbook, just under Valentine statue’s benevolent gaze.
The church itself is quite an interesting place too, the moody dark byzantine architecture is quite unexpected in the Dublin’s landscape.

If you’re visiting on a Saturday or a Sunday, go to Whitefriar Grill, located just across the street for your first meal of the day. It is a bit of a weekend brunch institution in Dublin.

avoca shop dublin valentine's day

Then let’s do a spot of shopping! In keeping with Valentine’s gifting traditions, your first port of call is Parfumarija. This beautiful boutique, located in the Westbury mall, specialises in niche perfumery. This will make for the perfect opportunity to get close to each other while maybe picking a very special scent that will truly be unique to your partner.

From there, you can go to Avoca, the iconic Irish homeware shop on Suffolk Street. Every item there is pretty much a dream but their classic wool throws are a must-buy. Those cold February nights when you ‘Netflix and Chill‘ on the sofa will never be the same again.

national gallery of ireland valentine's day dublin

For a bit of balance, let’s make our next stop cultural. In the National Gallery of Ireland, you can see one of the most emotionally-charged encounters painted on canvas. Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs. Incidentally, it is also Ireland’s favourite painting. You can view it all day on Valentine’s Day. Click here for other viewing times (it is free).

The museum has a cute and bright cafe that serves good simple food if your bellies are grumbling at this point.

saint stephen's green dublin valentine's day

Afterwards you can head to Grafton Street. This pedestrian street is great for a bit of arm-in-arm window-shopping. February can be brutal in Ireland so stop by Bewley’s Cafe for a hot chocolate to warm-up.
Coming at the end of the street, you’ll spot the recognisable Fusiliers Arch that marks the entrance of St Stephen’s Green.
This for me is the most romantic place in Dublin city centre. More precisely the little stone bridge in the middle of the park. It gives a beautiful vista on the lake and its resident swans, the Victorian gazebo and the trees. You’ll see this is a popular spot, many people stop for selfies so give in to this little cheesy tradition and ask a stranger to take a picture of you two just there.

sophie's bar dean hotel valentine's day dublin

From there, you can walk to Harcourt Street where the Dean Hotel is located. On the top floor is the uber swanky Sophie’s, a bar and restaurant with 360° panoramic views over the fair city. This place is the perfect spot for romantic dates as it has cushy booths and rooftop views. Perfect place to snuggle up with a cocktail (or a mocktail) in hand. If you were to be tired and done for the day, the restaurant also serves attractive food and you can book a room in the beautifully designed Dean Hotel downstairs.

love lane temple bar valentine's day dublin

For those who are still full of beans and ready to hit the town, walk (15 min) or bus back to the city centre. Off Dame Street, there’s a secret courtyard which you can access from the passage under Brogan’s pub. There you’ll find the Love Lane, a charming art installation designed by artist Anna Doran. Inspect it while you’re waiting for your dinner reservation. On the pink wall, tiles are inscribed with love messages, lyrics and poems such as ‘you’re a smasher, 2 eggs and a rasher‘.

Once you’re done, head back out to Dame Street and right in front of you is the Dublin Castle entrance where stands a French bistro called Chez Max (pictured at the top of this post). There’s a reason why romance rhymes with France. This cosy little place serves an informal French fare with no airs but a lot of charm.

peter's pub dublin valentine's day

Finally what would be a trip to Ireland without a visit to the pub? And the perfect way to find romance in an Irish pub is to get comfy in a snug. Some period pubs still feature this private booth which historically was used for patrons who wanted to stay discrete such a policemen, priests, women and you guessed it, lovers. You’ll generally find them in Victorian pubs but check out @DublinSnugs‘s reviews on Instagram to pick one you like the look of.

Rainy Day Alternative
But what if it rains? That’s a valid concern, this is Dublin after all but do not fret, I have a relatively dry afternoon plan for you. Hop on the Vintage Tea Tours Bus at the CHQ. From the comfort of a double decker, you’ll tour the city and its attractions while enjoying afternoon tea. After the tour, head to the Stella, the most glamorous cinema in the city. You’ll love the comfort of their plush red sofas. You can order drinks and snacks from the comfort of your seats and they also have a fancy diner should you be peckish afterwards. Note that Slatterys, the pub two doors down, has a nice snug!

A Miraculous Sunny Day?
On the off chance that the sun shows its face, make the most of it and either head to Phoenix Park to hire a tandem to see the deer. Or even better, hike up Killiney Hill (coincidentally a film location for Once). The goosebump-inducing views over the Dublin Bay is as a romantic setting as they go (And if you were about to pop the question, I don’t think you’d find a better spot. Wink wink nudge nudge)

Best in Travel 2018

2018 was slow and quiet when it came to travel. For the past few years, I’ve kept my wanderlust locally. It feels like dreams of big adventures faraway are behind me. Give me a road trip around Dorset against backpacking in Vietnam any day. I don’t know if it’s my eco-consciousness weighing heavier or if it is a desire for simpler things that comes with age, but this year my travelling footprint has been kept on an even tighter leash. While 2017 brought me to new horizons, 2018’s explorations were strictly confined to the limits of my two ‘homes’, Ireland and Belgium.
And I’ve zero regret about that. I discovered some fantastic new places (to me) in Dublin but also gave a second chance to Belfast which had previously left me indifferent and saw it with complete different eyes!
Keep reading to find out my 5 favourite travel discoveries of 2018!

howth castle dublin ireland

HOWTH CASTLE DEMESNE (DUBLIN, IRELAND)

Back in June, during the rhododendron season, I went to Howth Castle for the very first time. The Howth peninsula located on the coastline of Dublin has always been one of my favourite haunts. This little seaside village has charm by the bucketload but up until recently I had no idea that the rows of trees at the back of the port were hiding the splendid Howth Castle Demesne.
My favourite part in the estate was the ancient rhododendron garden. The jungle of bright bushes of flowers and their tangled roots is not something you’d expect to find in Ireland. It certainly has quite an exotic look about it. At the top of the rhododendron hill is one of the most magnificent views you’ll find in Dublin. From the Ireland’s Eye to the Poolbeg Chimneys, Dublin felt it was completely mine from up there that afternoon.

Click here to read my post on Howth Castle.

june blake garden wicklow gardens ireland

TWO GARDENS IN WICKLOW (IRELAND)

In September, I didn’t want to let Summer go. Despite being the longest I’ve known since living in Ireland, it still wasn’t enough and I was feeling the Autumn anxiety settling in. Now, I think the best way to hold on to Summer a little longer is to visit a beautiful garden. So I visited two that day, in my favourite county: Wicklow.
They’re located just outside Blessington and they belong to two siblings: June Blake’s Garden and Jim’s Hunting Brook Gardens. They were absolutely delightful in very different ways. I was extremely happy to catch the dahlia season and see those glorious pompoms featured heavily in both gardens. This flower is so nostalgic to me and seeing all the beautifully jewel-toned varieties June and Jim picked for their gardens made the transition to Autumn just that little smoother.

14 henrietta street dublin museum ireland

14 HENRIETTA STREET (DUBLIN, IRELAND)

Last year saw the opening of a rather exciting new museum in Dublin. 14 Henrietta Street tells the story of tenement housing in the Irish capital city. I was so eager to see it that I booked a ticket for the museum’s pre-launch tours. Henrietta Street is one of the most beautiful streets here, it features in many English and Irish films as it makes for the perfect period drama set. I was really intrigued to finally see the inside of one of these tall Georgian houses that tower over this cinematic cobbled street. The restoration of 14 Henrietta Street is absolutely brilliant and it was edifying to learn about its many residents. The story the museum tells resonated with me as it echoes so acutely the devastating housing crisis Dublin is experiencing at the moment.

Click here to read my post on 14 Henrietta Street

ghent gand gent canal belgium belgie belgique

GHENT (BELGIUM)

Whenever I’m visiting home, I always make a point to explore something new (to me) whether it is a quarter in Brussels or a whole new city. This time, it was lovely Ghent in the Flanders region. I think it lives a bit in the shadow of Bruges, unjustly so as it really oozes pizzazz. I only spent a quick afternoon there in the Autumn and although the city is tiny, it definitely wasn’t enough time. I was truly mesmerised by the charmed life unfolding along the canals.

belfast cathedral quarter duke of york pub northern ireland

BELFAST (NORTHERN IRELAND, UNITED KINGDOM)

In December, I really embraced the festive spirit and visited lots of lovely Christmas markets. I was especially looking forward to checking out the Belfast one. It is the Rolls Royce of the Irish festive calendar, after all. Unfortunately the market was a bit of a let-down for me (it was so crowded that it became impossible to really enjoy what the stalls had to offer) but I discovered that I actually really like Belfast! It came as a complete surprise as I had previously visited the Northern Irish capital and it had always left me rather cold. But with a few recommendations sent by some of my very kind instagram subscribers, I felt the city finally opening itself to me. I can’t wait to go back and explore it on a warmer day!

 

For 2019, I hope to continue to keep my travels very locally. My heart does not long for exotic horizons at the minute. Ireland, Belgium and the UK sound just right for me. I do want to spend more time near the sea so I’d love to do some kind of road trip along the coastline in the South of England. I’m also toying with the idea of cycling the Waterford Greenway in Ireland in the Spring. Finally, as mentioned above, another trip up to Belfast will hopefully be on the cards! That’s the extent of my travel wishes for 2019 but I’m very conscious of the looming Brexit cloud and I’m really not sure how it will affect travelling to the UK from Ireland. Tell me, do you have any exciting trip(s) planned for 2019?

14 Henrietta Street | Dublin

14 Henrietta Street Museum

There’s a new museum in town and it’s a good one. It is also an important one in the context of Dublin’s current homelessness crisis. 14 Henrietta Street tells the story of housing in Dublin from the 1750s to the 1970s. In the span of these 200 years, number 14 saw its residents drastically change from when it was a wealthy family’s townhouse to a tenement dwelling accommodating up to a 100 people.
Now you can step in 14 Henrietta Street and listen to its walls talking.

The museum is located on Henrietta Street, the first Georgian street in Dublin. It’s an atmospheric cul-de-sac which you can find in the North inner city. The houses are uncharacteristically tall, the road is still covered in cobblestones and at the end, you’ll find King’s Inns, the oldest school of law in Ireland.
It’s one of my favourite streets in Dublin, it has a striking old-world charm and for that reason it features in many films and tv shows.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

The street was built by architect Luke Gardiner in the 1720s. The houses here were to welcome Dublin’s high society.
In 1748, 14 Henrietta Street was ready and Lord Viscount Molesworth moved in with his family. It’s in these Georgian times that the museum tour starts.
As soon as our group opens the front door we are met with the reconstructed grand staircase. It’s easy looking at it to imagine how this family would receive and entertain their guests here. At the top of the stairs, we admire the place’s original features as well as the view on the street from the first floor’s window. It’s almost hard to believe it’s late Summer, the towering houses on the opposite side of the street cast such a cold shadow in the room.
We walk in the music room which original purpose is given away by the delicate instruments carved in the ceiling’s plasterwork. As we go through the period rooms, we learn of the Molesworth’s fate.
Following the 1800 Act of Union which joined Ireland to the United Kingdom, Dublin’s aristocracy left the city en masse for London. This plunged the city in a deep economic crisis. Landlords had now on their hands these big beautiful townhouses that no one could afford and they decided to cut them in flats.
Thus was born the era of Dublin’s tenement housing.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

This radical change of pace of the house hits us in the face as we open the blue bedroom’s back door to the service stairs. Here starts the tenement part of the museum. The walls are crumbling, it’s cold, dark and dingy. Our tour guide Tracey tells us that some visitors who used to live here can still smell the disinfectant that covered the walls. It’s undetectable to me but the walls indeed still bear the bleach-laced paints of Raddle Red and Reckitt’s Blue.
In 1877, Thomas Vance bought number 14 and divided it in 17 flats with only 2 toilets available. By 1911, 100 people were living in these dwellings. The poorest families were squeezed in into single rooms. You’d typically find these lower-rent rooms in the basement and this is where the tour continues after we carefully go down the rickety stairs.
The room is dark but for a sliver of light coming from the street above. The furnishing is minimalistic: a metal bed, some enamel wash-bowls, a couple of chairs, clothes hanging and holes in the wall that pass as a hearth.
The scene is directly inspired by the work of social photographer John Cooke. Back in 1913, he documented the state of Dublin’s slums. His pictures served as a base for the Dublin Housing Inquiry upon which actions were to be taken to improve the living conditions of the poor. Unfortunately, World War I broke out and the issue was swept under the carpet.
On the walls of the basement flat, we are shown John Cooke’s photographs depicting these living conditions and it’s absolutely heart-wrenching. It’s hard to believe that once a family of 13 had slept right here.

The tour continues upstairs, in a room where vintage toys and prams are gathered in a corner. As black and white pictures of children playing on Henrietta street are projected on the wall, we listen to Peter Brannigan, a former resident. He tells us what it was like growing up here in the 1940s.
Nursery Rhymes appear on the door and some visitors start singing along, bringing in the room the ghosts of their own memories of a distant Dublin.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

Next door, we learn of the end of tenement living. Low-income families were moved to new flat blocks and suburban cottage houses. This process started in the 1930s and went on until the 1970s. Of course, it was a blessing for these families. It meant safer living conditions, more room and also new hobbies for the wives like gardening or cooking. But there was a price to pay, it was lonely. They felt like they lost their community they had been relying on every day. The cost of life was higher too as the suburb shops tended to be pricier.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

The tour ends in a colourful explosion of knick-knacks in the last room. This is the recreation of Mrs Lily Dowling’s flat which would have looked like a typical tenement flat in the 1960s. It’s a lovely surprise in contrast of the previous rooms that were looking a bit bare.
The room is partitioned in three: there’s a tiny galley kitchen, a living room with a bed, a piano, there’s even a telly, and finally a small bedroom. The floor linoleum and wallpaper are striking replicas of scraps that were found during the building’s renovation.
Some visitors are enchanted to see the kitchen stocked with staples from another era. Tracey passes a carbolic soap that we gather around to sniff. It has an unpleasant smell of petroleum to my non-Dubliner nose but it seems to delight the woman next to me. ‘You can still buy them on Thomas Street!’, she exclaims. Her nostalgia is contagious and I feel myself warming up to the weird pink soap smell.

14 Henrietta Street Museum14 Henrietta Street Museum

14 Henrietta Street lifts the veil off an unpleasant part of Dublin’s history but don’t be put off by the idea as I think you’ll find yourself uplifted by the tour. Yes, you’ll feel anger towards landlords whose greed seem to know no limits and the feeling is certainly amplified in the current housing climate. But what stays with you is the strong community spirit the people of Dublin demonstrate by the bucket load in the presence of adversity.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

14 Henrietta Street, Townhouse and Tenement Museum – website
14 Henrietta Street
Inns Quay

Dublin 1

Opening Hours
10am – 4pm, tours are on the hour with the last tour at 4pm (Wednesday – Saturday)
12pm-4pm (Sunday)
Closed on Monday and Tuesday
Booking your ticket online is advised. 

Admission
General €9 / Concessions €6 / Family €20

Bus
1, 4, 9, 11, 13, 16, 38, 38A, 40, 46A, 83, 122, 140

Luas
Dominick Street Stop or Broadstone Stop (Green Line)

Howth Castle | Dublin

Howth Castle

Up until recently, I had never heard of Howth Castle, despite going to Howth Village more times than I can remember. Judging from the reactions I had from some Dubliners, I was definitely not the only one oblivious to its presence. This 700 year old castle is literally hiding in plain sight on the peninsula of Howth.
You see, when you exit Howth Dart Station, you instinctively take a left, in the direction of the harbour. Next time go against your instinct and take a right until you reach the estate’s impressive stone gate entrance. It would be a shame to miss this estate, scene of a pirate legend and of one of the most famous monologues in Irish Literature.

Howth Castle

From the time you pass under the entrance gate, it’s a good 10 minute uphill walk until you see the castle. It’s an impressive sight.  Notice the layers of history in all the parts that were successively added to the structure through the ages.
There has been a Howth Castle since 1180 on the edge of Howth village but nothing is left from that original timber building. The oldest parts you can see today date back from the mid-15th century.

What’s fascinating is that the same family has been living here since 1180 thus making Howth Castle one of the oldest residential castles in Ireland, if not Europe. The Lawrence Family has been carrying all sorts of stories and traditions over 35 generations. One in particular involves a lady pirate, Grace O’Malley. Back in 1576, she wished to visit the castle but when she knocked on the doors, she found them shut tight. The Lawrence Family was too busy having dinner to receive her. Strongly offended, she orchestrated the kidnapping of the family’s young heir in retaliation. After much discussion, Grace and the Lawrence came to an agreement. She was to bring the boy safe home on the condition that the castle doors must always be open and that an extra seat must be set at the table for any unexpected guests. It is said that the family still honours their promise even to this day. Do you reckon I could show up tonight for a bite?

Howth Castle

If you’re interested to know more about the castle and the Lawrence family, you can take part to a tour between the months of April and September, on Sundays.
To be found also inside the castle is the National Transport Museum of Ireland as well as the cosiest cafe I ever did see. It is located in the courtyard. As soon as I stepped inside the Castle Cafe, I felt like I had been transported to someone’s private garden, albeit with a grandiose castle background. Little white cast iron tables and chairs are scattered on the lawn and there’s also seating available in the adorable conservatory. I heard they make scones everyday fresh out of their aga. It sounds absolutely heavenly, I’m dying to try them out with some yummy jam. They also serve afternoon tea in this idyllic setting.

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Outside the castle, you still have plenty to explore in the 250 acre gardens so hold on to your boots. First you’ll stumble upon the Deer Park Golf. At the time of my visit (early June), it was completely covered with buttercups which was ever so cheerful. I immediately had the urge to cross the field and walk towards the sea until I reached the park’s edge. Through the trees, I was surprised to see spreading in front of me Howth harbour and its tiny seafood restaurants. It’s a crazy thought, Howth Castle demesne had been here all along, only hidden by a handful of trees. I could see below the streets I had trodden, oblivious to the amazing treasure that was lying so close.
This sudden change of perspective made me feel a bit dizzy. What else have I not noticed around me? I had missed a bloody castle, after all!

Howth CastleHowth Castle

After spying on the village like a creepy puppet master for a while, I set off in the direction of the golf club’s bar. Near the parking lot, I watched a lone golfer practising his swing. Surely, he must have felt like the luckiest golfer alive facing the epic view over the peninsula’s entrance.

Behind the building is the start to the Rhododendron Walk. It goes through a forest of, you guessed it, rhododendrons. It looks so out of place, almost jungle-like, you would not necessarily expect to find a setting like this in Ireland.  The forest paths are covered with the trees’ exposed twisting roots, I felt like I had just been transported in the film Legend. I don’t think it would have totally surprise me to catch a glimpse of a unicorn in between the foliage.
Note that the rhododendron trees bloom from May to June so make sure to plan your visit around that time to experience the place to its full potential.

Howth Castle
At the start of the walk, you can go straight and climb steep steps that will lead you to the top of the Rhododendron hill. It might take a little effort but believe me the pay-off is worth every steps. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that there you will find one of the most stunning views in Dublin. In my opinion, it ranks as high as the view from Killiney Hill. It sweeps over Howth Castle, Howth Harbour and the Ireland’s Eye. You can even see the Poolbeg Chimneys on the left!

Click here to read my post on Killiney Hill

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Now if you’d rather not climb any steps, you can take the path on your right to explore the forest grounds. There you’ll find an impressive dolmen, the 2nd heaviest in Ireland. It’s nicknamed Aideen’s Grave after a young widow who died of a broken heart following her husband’s death at the battle of Gabhra (AD 184). Unfortunately as romantic as this legend sounds, it can’t be true as the stone was dated at least 300 years older than the historic battle.

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Another fictitious love story was set among these trees. Indeed, it is here that Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly in James Joyce’s Ulysses. This is the scene of the most recognisable monologue in the book. Amongst these striking trees, she said yes she will yes. Who wouldn’t really?

See also: Drimnagh Castle, if you’re looking to visit another castle in Dublin

Howth Castle

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Howth Castle – website 
Howth Demesne
co. Dublin

Opening Hours
Tours of the castle are available on Sunday afternoon from April to September, you can book your ticket here.

Admission
The demesne is free to roam while the entrance fee to the castle starts at €50

Dart
Howth Station

The 10 Prettiest Pubs in Dublin

The 10 Prettiest Pubs in Dublin
Whether you come to Dublin for the pubs or not, you’re going to see a lot of them. They’re the most important feature of the cityscape’s fabric. Chances are you’ll want to photograph a few, so I thought I’d compile here a list of the pubs I think would look really cute on your Instagram feed. For me, Irish pubs are at their handsomest in Summer when they’re covered in flowers. Mind you, they do look rather cosy too when all their halls are decked for the festive season.
This is a very shallow list, we’ll only judge these pubs by their exterior looks here although some of the pubs below are really worth a visit too!
Keep scrolling to read my top 10 most instagrammable pubs in Dublin (there’s a map at the end of this post to help you on your ‘photo pub crawl’). Happy snapping!

The 10 Prettiest Pubs in Dublin

1. TEMPLE BAR PUB

This is the pub everyone wants to see when they come to Dublin. In the heart of Temple Bar, the Temple Bar Pub attracts the eye with its shiny red facade. What I love about this one is that the owners don’t go half way with the decoration. You can bet that come Summer it’ll be covered from top to bottom with geraniums. And at Christmas, it’ll twinkle with a thousand fairy lights.

47-48, Temple Bar
Dublin 2

2. M.J. O’NEILL’S

O’Neill’s is one beast of a pub that spreads on the corner of Suffolk Street and Church Lane. It dominates the street with its four floors of red brick and Tudor-style windows. I never tire of its jolly green facade, especially when it’s covered with flowers in the warmer months. The facade features lots of interesting details among which a rather attractive three-dial clock.

2 Suffolk Street
Dublin 2

The 10 Prettiest Pubs in Dublin

3. THE BANK BAR

Another imposing building is the Bank Bar on College Green. It’s huge, it even has a turret! Its grandiose allure comes from the fact that it used to be a bank, as you may have guessed it. Of course the inside matches the glorious outside. What I love the most about this pub is the warm tone of the sandstone covering its exterior. It changes with the lighting of the seasons. It is unique in the Dublin’s cityscape and it absolutely pops out.

20 College Green
Dublin 2

The 10 Prettiest Pubs in Dublin

4. THE LONG HALL

This pub is a shining landmark on George’s Street. You definitely can’t miss it with its enchanting red and white canopies. It almost looks like an ice-cream parlour of a bygone era. It’s not all about the look as you’ll know if you step inside, The Long Hall is one of the most spectacular examples of a preserved Victorian pub in Dublin. Well worth a pit stop!

51 South Great George’s Street
Dublin 2

5. THE STAG’S HEAD

It seems I have a thing for clocks adorning pubs. This one is painted in a vibrant Tiffany Blue. On it, you can read the name of the pub’s original owner, Mr. Tyson, back in the 1890’s. Like the Long Hall, the Stag’s Head is another beautiful Victorian slice of life frozen in time. You’ll find it on the corner of Dame Lane and Dame Court which is one of the liveliest areas on weekend nights. On days of celebration or football match, the whole court is covered in bunting which makes the Stag’s Head look even more special.

1 Dame Court
Dublin 2
Prettiest Pubs in Dublin

6. THE OLIVER ST. JOHN GOGARTY

If you’re looking for an understated or subtle pub facade then you probably want to look away now. Located in Temple Bar’s oldest buildings, the Oliver St. John Gogarty is a sight for sore eyes. Half green, half yellow, its front counts more flags than an Embassy quarter. The pub takes its name from the Irish poet which you can see several incarnations of around the building in the shape of portraits and statues.

18-21 Anglesea Street
Dublin 2

The Prettiest Pubs in Dublin

7. BRUXELLES

Bruxelles is that red brick castle-like building just off Grafton Street. Its gothic style gives it a gloomy, melancholic air but don’t be deceived by its looks, Bruxelles has known many wild nights. Just outside is a statue of Phyl Lynott who used to come and perform here.

8 Harry Street
Dublin 2

8. THE QUAYS

On Temple Bar Square, the tiled corner of The Quays is rather eye-catching. I think it’s the Seventies colour combination of green, mustard and brown that does it for me. Besides, it’s not that often that you see a tiled pub front in Dublin. Pretty unique, I think!

10-12 Temple Bar
Dublin 2
The Prettiest Pubs in Dublin

9. THE PALACE BAR

At the edge of Temple Bar is located the picture-perfect Palace Bar. Its narrow front sports beautiful wood-panelling and inside, you’ll step in another Victorian bubble where the decor has not been changed since the pub’s beginning in 1823.
But the detail that steals my heart is the elegant copper lamp post outside. It looks so old-timey, you’d almost expect it to be gas-powered.

21 Fleet Street
Dublin 2

10. THE BANKERS

The Bankers is an odd-shaped red pub at the entrance of Dame Lane. You could say it’s the ‘Flat Iron’ of Dublin pubs! It looks so jovial and keen like a ship’s bow at the ready for new adventures on the sea. I always like to have a nosey through the small window panes when I walk past it. Especially on cold nights, as the glowing inside often reminds me of a scene you’d find on an Irish Christmas card.

Trinity Street
Dublin 2

So which one you’ll want to photograph first? Do tag me on Instagram @theartofexploring, I would love to see your pictures! Let me know in the comments, do you agree with this list? Is there a pub that you would add here?

Your Ultimate Guide to Glendalough | co. Wicklow

Glendalough
If you ever spend some time in Ireland, chances are that you’ll get recommended a visit to Glendalough a fair few times. It took me the good part of a decade to finally set foot in the old Monastic City so you can imagine how many times I heard the whole Glendalough spiel. Well, now it’s my turn to lay it all on you! Glendalough is one of the most visited attractions in Ireland and for good cause, this natural wonder is positively ravishing. So what are you waiting for? I know I know, I get you, when you don’t drive, it can be a tad tricky (and as I found out even if you do have a car, getting there may come with its own set of hurdles) but fret not, after spending 4 days there, I’m here to help you make the most of your time and organise a hopefully all-round fuss-free trip to Glendalough, car or no car.

1. ABOUT GLENDALOUGH

Glendalough means in gaelic ‘valley of the two lakes’. The two lakes, the Lower Lake and the Upper Lake, were shaped as a result of the thaw following the Ice Age. You can find this awe-inspiring valley in county Wicklow (Dublin’s southern neighbour county). It is part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, the biggest of the 6 national parks in Ireland.
Glendalough is famous worldwide for its grand Monastic City which you can still see in part today. The monastic settlement finds its origin back to the 6th century when Saint Kevin founded the place after falling in love with the beauty of the quiet valley.
For 600 years, the settlement flourished. You’ll have to imagine the place in its heyday, it comprised of farm buildings, guest houses, an infirmary and dwellings for the monks and the local population. The monks organised manuscript workshops and sold oak timber to the Vikings to build their fleet. It all came to an end after multiple raids carried out by the English and the final nail on the coffin came with Glendalough losing its ecclesiastical status to Dublin’s Diocese. It remained a local church and a place of pilgrimage for a while but soon enough the place fell in ruins. The monuments you see today mostly date from the 10th to the 12th century.

The site of Glendalough can be divided in 3 sections and this is what you will find in each of them:

The Lower Lake

This is where you will find the famous Monastic City. Coming from afar, the first thing you’ll probably see is Glendalough’s very recognisable Round Tower, standing tall at 30m. It is said to date back from the 10th century. The Monastic City has many other interesting features so keep an eye out for the grand archway, which has a unique design, St Kevin’s Church, also called ‘the Kitchen’ due to the shape of its chimney, the Priest’s House and the eerie Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. If like me, you enjoy a graveyard full of Celtic crosses, you won’t be disappointed.
Fan of Irish folklore, legends and stories? Locate St Kevin’s Cross and try to wrap your arms around the cross to make your fingertips touch. There, all your wishes will be granted… or that’s what they say! Also don’t miss the Deer Stone which is said to have magical powers. Indeed, legend has it that if you splash your face with the water collected in its hollow, you might just keep your looks forever.
Next to the Monastic City are the Visitor Centre, the Glendalough Hotel and the first car park. In the Visitor Centre, there’s an exhibition and an audio-visual show (there’s an entrance fee of €5). If you want to book a tour guide of the Monastic City, you’ll have to contact the centre first by phone or fax.
Further down is the Lower Lake which you can cross thanks to a boardwalk or simply walk along its sides on a pathway.

GlendaloughGlendalough

The Upper Lake

A good 20 minute walk through a beautiful oak woodland will take you from the Lower Lake to the Upper Lake. There, you will find the Information Centre where you can enquire about Glendalough’s hiking trails and the local flora and fauna. Guided walks are also available. If you are hiking, this is where all the trails start.
Outside, you will find the second car park with food stalls and restroom facilities.
At the bottom of the lake, there’s a makeshift beach and one of the site’s most fantastic view so don’t miss it!
Take the path on the left of the Lake and start your hike along the Poulanass River and Waterfall. On the right, walk through a rather enchanting pine forest for about an hour and you will get to the Miners Village. Keep an eye for Temple-Na-Skellig (the original site of St Kevin’s settlement) and Saint Kevin’s Cave, both of which can be seen on the opposite lakeshore.

Miners Village and Beyond

This was actually my favourite area in Glendalough. There’s something chillingly atmospheric about this village in ruins at the bottom of the valley. If you could go back in time to the 1850s, you’d see here a bustling mine. Lead, zinc and silver were mined by 2000 workers here and in the neighbour valley. Business lasted for a 100 years until the 1950s when the mines were eventually abandoned.
Today, only a few structures are left standing as well as an old piece of machinery. I’m not going to lie when you get here, you feel like you reached the entrance to the Mordor. The hill slopes are covered with discarded stones which feels like they’re about to tumble in a rockslide any minute. Stop for a bit and observe the unfazed, feral goats jump from one rock to another without a sweat. They’re amazing little creatures!
Further up the path, you can ascend along the river which flows into the Upper Lake. At the top, you will be met with the rolling views of the Glenealo Valley where a herd of sika deer generally gently graze. Turn around and here is the spectacular panorama over the Upper Lake.
Now with the Upper Lake in your back, you can either go straight ahead and explore the Glenealo Valley or take a left, cross the makeshift bridge over the river and hike uphill to get to the boardwalk. This will lead you to the Spinc, one of the most sought after scenic view of the region.

GlendaloughGlendaloughGlendalough

2. GETTING THERE

By Public Transport

This is where things get a bit tricky and probably why it took me so long to visit Glendalough. There’s only one private bus company that serves the route between Dublin and Glendalough. Moreover, St Kevin’s Bus provides only two round trips a day (every day). The first one leaves Dublin at 11.30am which gets to Glendalough at 12.50pm and the last bus back to Dublin leaves Glendalough at 4.30pm (check the Summer and Winter timetables here). It is great if you plan to stroll on flat ground around the two Lakes, enjoy the hotel’s terrace, maybe squeeze in a small hike. But it will leave you on a tight schedule if you attempt one of the more challenging hikes (the longest hike on the map is 4 hours). But I personally wouldn’t recommend it as it’s best to allow some extra time in case something unexpected happens during the hike. I’m afraid your best option is to find a nearby accommodation for the night if you intend on fully exploring Glendalough.
One thing to keep in mind if you travel with St Kevin’s bus company is it can get extremely busy during the weekends, holidays and high tourist season. I took the bus from Dublin on a Tuesday in late August and it was so packed people had to stand for a few stops until the company called on an extra bus. I’d advise you to get to the bus stop early so you can get in the front of the queue to get a seat. A return ticket from Dublin is €20 which can be purchased on board (click here for a full list of fares).

Now another option would be to take the train to Rathdrum from Dublin. The trip takes a little more than an hour. From there, the company Wicklow Way Bus can pick you up and drive you directly to Glendalough. Be sure to book with them in advance by phone or email and let them know how many people will be there (you don’t need to be a group) and what time you plan to be at Rathdrum Station. The great thing is that they are available 7 days a week!

Lastly, you can go on a day tour with a private company. I can’t personally comment because I’ve never tried any but recently Wild Wicklow Tours, a family-run business that tours Glendalough and other places in county Wicklow, has been voted the best travel experience in Ireland and 10th in the world by Tripadvisor. It sounds like a safe choice to me!

By Car

The journey by car from Dublin to Glendalough, travelling on the N11, will take you a little more than an hour (it’s well posted, so just follow the signs). That is if you avoid the weekends, bank holidays and school holidays. In high season, Glendalough can get horridly congested and queues to the parking lots can get out of hand. So better plan a trip midweek or in low season if you don’t want to waste precious time on the road instead of enjoying the fresh mountain air.
Glendalough has two parking lots available. The first one in the Lower Valley, next to the Visitor Centre, comes with an entrance fee of €4 on weekends, bank holidays, Holy Week, Easter Week and during the months of June, July and August. It is free otherwise and open 24/7. The second one, next to the Upper Lake, will cost €4 at all times. It opens from 8am to varying times in the evening depending on the season so do check the signs before leaving the car park.
If you want to avoid parking in Glendalough, you can do so in the closest village, Laragh. There’s a parking lot on the main road to Glendalough that will cost you €5 and is open on the weekends and bank holidays.
Little insider tip for you, if you manage to park near the Glendalough Woollen Mills in Laragh, there is a pleasant forest walk starting behind the mills. It’ll take you straight to Glendalough in about 15-20 minutes.
For more information on parking your car in Glendalough, click here.
GlendaloughGlendalough

3. BEST TIME TO VISIT

Glendalough is open all year round, 24/7 but as I mentioned before it can get busy during the weekends, bank holidays and school holidays. Not only the car parks will be congested at these times but you will find the Monastic City and generally the grounds surrounding the two lakes quite crowded at these times. However, you’ll probably find some peace and quiet on your hikes. In summary, a day in the middle of the week and in the low season would be ideal!

Ireland can be touch and go when it comes to the weather… to put it mildly. From my own experience, the most pleasant months are May, June and September, which is great news for you as they’re not quite in the high season bracket.
In terms of seasons, there’s beauty to be found in each and every one of them. Glendalough is bursting with interesting fauna and flora which come and go at different times of the year. The Summers are green and lush, the gorse and heather splash the valley with joyful yellow and purple flowers. Springs come with the bluebells in the oak woodland and the Autumns turn the trees rust and gold. I am not sure I would actually recommend Winters although I’m sure it’s equally beautiful especially as the Wicklow Mountains are often the first area to get hit with snow. But Ireland is pretty much one giant storm from November to March so please bear in mind the weather conditions can be quite drastic. Moreover, if you intend to hike, some of the pathway are boardwalks so it can get quite slippery up there with snow or rain conditions.

4. ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD

You’ll have guessed it by now, if you don’t own or rent a car, your best bet to explore the hiking trails of Glendalough at your leisure is to find an accommodation nearby.
You have several options. On the site of Glendalough, you’ll find a hotel, a hostel and a couple of B&Bs. The closest town is Laragh which is a good 20 minute walk away. There you’ll find a few bed and breakfasts, hotels and airbnbs. But don’t stray too far away if you’re strictly on foot as you’ll need some energy left to hike in Glendalough.
When I visited, I went for a place on Trooper Hill, which is 1.5 hour walk away. It wasn’t the easiest on my legs, especially as you can imagine, my accommodation was located on a steep hill so coming home was rather arduous.
Worth a mention, Laragh Village has a bike hire shop with some fancy e-bikes that will make your exploring a lot easier. It is located next to the hotel Lynhams of Laragh.

When it comes to food, I was told by my host that the Glendalough Hotel has a very nice restaurant and bar. On the parking lot next to the Upper Lake, you’ll find food stalls that sell coffee, ice-cream and the usual chipper fare. I had a veggie burger and chips and you’ll hear absolutely no complaint from me. I thought it was actually a decent portion for the price but then I live in Dublin so most of the time I find everything cheap elsewhere. If you’re looking for a healthier option, you’ll probably have to pack some  food with you. Laragh Village has a few eateries and the cafe/deli The Glendalough Green has a tasty selection of foods that would be great in a picnic. I’d definitely suggest you take plenty of water and snacks (or even a picnic) with you if you intend on hiking. The longest hike is 4 hour long which can be done between meals but you never know!

5. WHAT TO PACK AND WEAR

It’s true what they say about the Irish weather, it is wildly unpredictable. Don’t be surprised if blazing sunshine is immediately followed by thunder and sleet. So the key to dressing here is definitely layers. You’ll want to check the weather cast before leaving and pack a weather-appropriate jacket, good footwear (if it rains or snows, make sure they come with gripping soles as the boardwalks at the top can be slippery). Make sure the clothes you wear are comfortable and breathable (go for natural textiles but avoid jeans as they take too long to dry if you get soaked). If the sun’s out, take your sunglasses and a hat.

In your bag, you’ll need:
– your phone, fully-charged (save the mountain emergency number, 999 or 112)
– rainproof jacket
– flask of water
– snacks (or picnic depending on the length of your hike)
– a map of the trails (you can pick it up for 50 cents at the Information Office, the Visitor Centre or you can download it for free on your phone via this link)
– sunscreen if it’s sunny
– if you plan on going off-track in the neighbouring valleys, take a compass
For more information on hiking responsibly in the Irish mountains, click here.

GlendaloughGlendalough

6. HIKING TRAILS

There are 9 waymarked trails on site. They range from ‘easy’ to more arduous ‘hill walks’. The shortest walk (1km) takes 30 minute to complete while the longest (11km) can be completed in about 4 hours.
All of the trails start at the National Park Information Centre near Upper Lake. If you’re looking for a guided walk, they can be arranged in the centre. Displays of the trail map can be found next to Visitor Centre and the Information Centre (inside, you can buy a map for 50 cents -or download it here for free).
The easiest trails wrap around the two lakes while the most challenging ones will lead you to the Poulanass Waterfall, the Spinc and further in the neighbouring valleys (Lugduff, Glendasan and Glenealo Valley). Some of them link with county Wicklow’s big hiking trails like St Kevin’s Way or the Wicklow Way.

 

I hope this posts answers all your question and you feel ready to explore the Glendalough Valley. If you’re on Instagram, do tag me @theartofexploring, I would love to see your pictures! Let me know in the comments if you think I missed something and I’ll get back to you.

Colourful places in the world

Colourful Places in the World

Today is World Colour Day so I thought it would be fun to look back on my travels and pick the most colourful streets, villages, towns or cities I encountered. Some of these are as bright as bright can be but some other are definitely more pastel.
So here’s a top 10, in no particular order, for your peepers to hopefully brighten up this very grey start of Spring.

Colourful Places in the World

1. PRAIA DA COSTA NOVA IN AVEIRO, PORTUGAL

Costa Nova is one of the beach towns of Aveiro in Portugal. When I went to Porto, I made a point to make the hour and a bit journey to this cheerful little place. I was so curious to see these colourful huts with my own eyes. I’m happy to report the place looks as glorious in real life as in pictures. The candy-striped houses on the promenade gave me so much joy. The whole thing looked like a film set!

Colourful Places in the World

2. AZROU, MOROCCO

Morocco has some colourful cities. The blue city of Chefchaouen often comes to mind. But other places have caught on with the limewashed trend. I was told that it was only recent that Azrou had started coating its walls with colourful pigments. While Azrou is not as high-profile as a Marrakesh or a Chefchaouen, I do think it should be on your list if you like colourful places. The old quarter is a delightful mishmash of mint green, marigold yellow and salmon pink. My favourite part was the beautiful street art of fish swimming upstream on those long stretch of stairs.
(The rainbow stairs on the cover of this post also belong to Azrou).

Burano Island

3. BURANO IN VENICE, ITALY

If there was a prize for the most colourful place in the world, let’s face it, Burano would probably win it. Walking in Burano is like being sandwiched between a canal and a rainbow. It’s an oddly pleasant sensation, I would recommend it 100%!

Read my post on Burano here

Colourful Places in the World

4. CATALAN BAY, GIBRALTAR

When I visited Gibraltar, I certainly didn’t expect to find nice beaches. On the east side of the isthmus, you will find a couple of seaside villages. One of them is called Catalan Bay and let me tell you, it is an explosion of eighties colours. I’m pretty sure I had an outfit that looked like that as a kid.

Colourful Places in the World

5. NOTTING HILL IN LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM

Of course, this London’s neighbourhood does not need an introduction. There are fewer places in the world I’d rather be than wandering Portobello’s colourful streets on market days.

Le Puy-en-Velay

6. LE PUY-EN-VELAY, FRANCE

Le Puy is a medieval city in the French volcanic region of Auvergne. It is famous for being one of the starting points of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. It has an old-worldly charm to it, the narrow alley-ways, the pastel-coloured blinds that adorn the windows, the steep streets that lead to the towering cathedral. Le Puy is truly an enchanting place.

Read my Quick Guide to Le Puy-en-Velay here

Colourful Places in the World

7. CASTLE HILL IN BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

The castle district is one of the most touristy area of Budapest. There you will find the Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and of course, the castle. One thing you should also do is walk on the cobblestoned streets of the historical residential area. The baroque houses are so pleasing to the eye.

Colourful Places in the World

8. NIKOLAIVIERTEL IN BERLIN, GERMANY

Nikolaiviertel is the historical heart of Berlin. There, the majestic houses are pastel in colours and feature interesting rococo designs on their facades. They look like a beautiful layered cake out of Mendl’s from The Grand Budapest Hotel. Just dreamy.

Colourful Places in the World

9. DINGLE, IRELAND

In Ireland, where there’s a village, chances there’s a colourful row of houses. Many towns or cities could have made that list but for me, the little port of Dingle in county Kerry shone the brighter! (I do want to give a special mention to Cobh in county Cork though and while I’m here, I’d also like to specify that I haven’t visited Kinsale yet!)

Colourful Places in the World

10. PORTO, PORTUGAL

I know, I hear you saying ‘another Portuguese place?!’. Forgive me, but I couldn’t not mention here Porto and its tetris cube houses bearing proudly the colours of a crayola box set.

Now tell me, what are the most colourful places you’ve visited? Which one should I visit next?

Russborough House & Parklands | co. Wicklow

Russborough House
One golden afternoon in the late Autumn, I took the 65 bus to county Wicklow. I got off at the end of the line, in a town called Blessington. It wasn’t my first time here, actually. I had stayed here for a couple of days in the Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort a few years back. It is a group of self-catered townhouses on the shore of the Blessington Lakes. I have fond memories of the place and I would totally recommend it if you’re looking for a base to explore Wicklow or if you simply want an escape from the city. The lakes are the perfect setting for invigorating country walks.
Coincidentally, the Avon Ri is also the start of the Greenway Walk, where I was headed that morning. This is the trail that leads directly to Russborough House. This Irish Stately House had been on my list of places to see for a really long time. I had read that it was one of Ireland’s most beautiful houses and I was dying to see it for myself.
Greenway Walk
The Blessington Greenway trail is a pleasant one hour and half walk (one way) on flat, well-maintained paths. They follow first the shores of the lakes then they go through wild woodlands. Half-way through, I felt my shrivelled urban lungs expand and fill themselves with the crisp cold Autumn air of the morning. Dry leaves were crunching under my feet and the pine trees wrapped me with their musky silence.
At the end of the trail, a stoned arch marks the entrance to the Russborough demesne. It opens to a long avenue bordered with trees which leads directly to the 18th century house. Its 210 metre-long facade (the longest frontage in Ireland) embraces a phenomenal view of valleys, mountains, lakes and, of course, sheep.
I sat down on a bench to take it all in (and to recover from the previous long walk).
Revived by my surroundings, I then headed to the ticket office and booked a tour inside the house. The tour was to start in an hour which left me a bit of time to explore the house’s grounds.
Russborough House
The courtyard is home to many artisan and craft stalls: a blacksmith, a candle-maker, a woodturner and a ceramicist. There, you will find also Ireland’s Bird of Prey Centre and if you’re lucky you might catch a show of falconry. It was a bit late in the year so I wasn’t. I didn’t feel too lucky either when I found out that the walled gardens were closed that day.
Nonetheless, I continued my exploration, walked by the maze and stumbled upon one of the previous owners’ grave, the 4th Earl of Milltown and the Countess. I also found a fairy trail and admired Lady’s Island where a little red Japanese bridge spans over a delightful brook.
But time was a-ticking and I headed back to the gift shop where the tour was to start. A friendly lady with a mellifluous germanic accent took our small group in the first room of the house. The dining room.
Russborough House
There, the long mahogany table had been laid out with silver candle holders, gilded porcelain plates and tiny crystal glasses for the sherry. Our tour guide set the scene and depicted the lives of those who once called Russborough home. It all started with Jospeh Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown who asked Richard Cassels to design and build the house in 1741. Richard Cassels was one of the most prolific architects in Ireland of the time. He was a master of the Palladian style of which Russborough is a fine example.
The estate stayed in the Leeson family until 1914. It passed in the hands of a couple more owners then was finally acquired by Lord and Lady Beit. They were looking for a place to house their vast art collection.
The couple resided here until their final days (Lord Alfred Beit: 1994, Lady Beit: 2005) but they opened part of the house to the public, in the late seventies.
The life of the Beits at Russborough was eventful, to say the least. They’ve gone through: 4 robberies (one of them was even labelled ‘the biggest art robbery in history’ at the time), 1 forced occupation by the old IRA, 1 fire and 1 ghost. But not everything was gloom and doom, the couple actually had mostly a happy life here. They were renowned socialites and received many illustrious guests. Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, Jackie Kennedy, Fred Astaire and Coco Chanel to name a few.
Having noticed some books on the Mitford Sisters in the gift shop (I used to be obsessed with them!), I asked the tour lady if there was any connections with Russborough, could they have been guests here too?
To my absolute delight, she informed me that the sisters were actually cousins of Lady Clementine Beit!
Russborough House
Russborough House
Russborough House
While learning about the life of the Beits, we had moved from one room to another. We passed the boudoir, the entrance hall, the reception room and my favourite, the library. As it happens, the favourite of the lady of the house too! Lady Clementine was a “mad bibliophile and adored being surrounded by books“. I couldn’t have thought of a better place for that as the walls were covered in books and the sofa near the chimney looked ever so inviting.
One thing that really impressed me throughout the whole visit was the ceiling and the wall plasterwork. The flamboyantly rococo stucco work was a speciality of the Lafranchini Brothers and if you see some in a Palladian house in Ireland, chances are they worked on them.
Russborough House
Russborough House
Russborough House
We climbed the equally ornate staircase to access the second floor. There the rooms are more plain, the showstopper here is undoubtedly the mesmerising view from the bedroom. My eyes got lost on the horizon and I couldn’t help thinking about the person waking up to this, every morning. They must have felt the luckiest human in the world!

Looking for more Wicklow gardens to visit? Head to my Wicklow section 

Russborough House

RUSSBOROUGH HOUSE PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Russborough House & Parklands – website
Blessington
co. Wicklow
Ireland

Opening Hours
see website

Admission
General €12 / Concession €9 / Child €6 / Under 5 Free

Bus
65

BLESSINGTON GREENWAY WALK PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The trail starts at the Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort and ends at Russborough House. Distance one way is 6.5 km which takes about 1.5 hour to complete. The trail’s grade is easy.

Best in Travel 2017

It’s been a while and I’ve been missing writing here. I’ve plenty to tell you about, so many places in Ireland and elsewhere, I want to share with you.
But first, if you don’ mind, I thought we could look back on last year. I’ve made some great travel memories and discoveries at home and on the European continent. I really want to document them here.
Without further ado, let’s jump in my 6 favourite travel moments of 2017!

Best in Travel 2017

CROSSING THE MARGARET BRIDGE AT DUSK

It was a cold January evening in Budapest and I was crossing one of the city’s many bridges to get to the Buda side. I was hoping to get night pictures of the Hungarian Parliament there. I was working against the clock and rapidly losing light so I stepped up my pace, blinded by the cars’ headlights coming my way. It was rush hour, the city people were eager to get home.
Underneath my feet, the Danube was flowing steadily, taking in its stride numerous ice patches. A frozen Danube, an extraordinary sight to behold I was told.
Despite, the traffic noise, I could hear voices coming from under the bridge, I looked over the handrail and to my utter amazement, two locals were having a casual conversation, standing on a giant ice sheet in the middle of the river. Uh?! I waited a few seconds to see if anyone needed help but they carried on talking like they always meant to be there.
I looked up and as the sun just hid behind the horizon, it set the sky ablaze with a thousand pink shades. Despite the biting cold, I removed my gloves and placed them in my faux-fur coat, retrieved my camera from my bag. For each step I took, I snapped a picture of this view for the sky was quickly changing and the parliament buildings were glowing brighter and brighter.
Buda felt like a distant memory, I didn’t care about getting to the other side of the bridge anymore nor about losing any sensation in my fingertips. What mattered was there and then, and that magical pink sky.

Best in Travel 2017

CELEBRATING BLOOMSDAY IN SANDYCOVE

2017 was the year I finally ticked off the big Dublin touristy events. It only took me 9 years, go me. I saw the St Patrick’s Parade in the capital for the first time and in June, I celebrated Bloomsday. Bloomsday, for those of you who never heard it, happens every 16th of June, it’s a day where Dubliners relive the events of the day depicted in James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s a brilliant way to experience the book, even if you’ve never read it, and also get to the very essence of the city.
On that day I took the Dart to the seaside town of Sandycove and Glasthule. This is where the opening of Ulysses takes place, in the Martello Tower. You could argue that taking a train to a Dublin’s seaside neighbourhood could hardly qualify as a travel memory but to me, discovering that a local gem can create wonder in your heart at home is worth a million memories made on the road.
Sandycove is pretty much a postcard village but on Bloomsday, it turns into something quite electrifying. Chairs and tables are laid on the main street, set up for the annual lunch. People of all trade and ages are dressed in early 20th century garbs. Horses dragging carts, are clippety-clopping on the macadam. Ladies are adorned with wide-brimmed hats and Edwardian dresses, men wear tiny round glasses and elegant boaters. It’s astonishing how many true James Joyce doppelgängers roam the streets on that day! My own boater in hand, I ascended the path to the Martello tower, surrounded by a group of women in billowy white dresses. Midway, I stopped at the Forty Foot creek to admire the brave swimmers. Despite being the month of June, it’s nowhere near swimming weather in Ireland.
Once inside the Martello, we all squeezed ourselves at the windy top of the tower, listening to Ulysses read by actors and looking out to ‘the sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea‘.

Best in Travel 2017

WANDERING IN THE EMPTY GARDENS OF THE NEW CASTLE OF ANSEMBOURG

As soon as I walked under the baroque gilded gate and laid my eyes on the rose garden, I knew I was in for something special. It was a humid Summer afternoon and my Dad and I were road-tripping across Luxembourg. On our way to the capital city, we stopped at the New Castle of Ansembourg to stretch our legs. Luxembourg is very much known for its castles and I could not pass up seeing one of them. This 17th century beauty does not allow visitors inside unfortunately but the gardens are free to roam. So many features enchanted us that afternoon: the mysterious hedge tunnel at the back of the land, the golden eagle fountain, the maze, the elegant white-marbled statues standing tall on the garden’s avenue, a bicentenary tree (the tallest in Luxembourg!) and of course, the fragrant rose garden.

Best in Travel 2017

HIKING IN GLENDALOUGH

Another ‘big Irish thing’ I ticked off last year was Glendalough. Despite being one of the most visited Irish sites, this valley in county Wicklow was terra incognita for me. The reason was the sole bus service only does one return trip a day there and I thought it would frame the exploring to a tight schedule. So last Summer, I decided to rent an Airbnb for a few days in the area. Perfect plan, right? Yes perfect plan if it wasn’t for the fact that it was kind of a hike already to get to the starting point of Glendalough’s several hiking trails. I completely believed in my capacity to go from couch to 20km a day. Eh, no. Needless to say that Day 2 was a rest, I-can’t-move-from-the-bed, day. But the following day I was thankfully back on my feet. Even though it took me a few attempts, I finally ascended the climb that starts at the mining village on my last day. This glorious view over the lake (and the fragile sense of achievement for little couch potato me) was of course worth any stiff legs and wobbly knees. I want to do it all over again already!

Best in Travel 2017

ADMIRING LADIES VIEW IN KILLARNEY

Back in September, a friend came to visit from Belgium and we embarked on an epic road-trip across county Kerry. This was truly the nicest surprise! One of the many, MANY, highlights of this trip was to finally see, with my own two eyes, the view that had adorned the walls of my childhood bedroom. Ladies View in Killarney National Park. I had blue-tacked a postcard of this majestic landscape at the foot of my bed and every time I looked at it, it would lift my heart. For me, it encapsulated everything I had hoped to find in Ireland.
Fast forward to last year, the daydream became a reality and it didn’t disappoint. It can get tiring to live in Dublin, what with its constant business, its high cost of living, its grey weather but that such treasures are on my doorstep (or a bit further), it is pretty special. Now could we a have a decent transport system across the country please?

Best in Travel 2017

WATCHING THE SUN SET ON THE DOURO RIVER

Oh Porto… sigh… if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know I’ve got a mad crush on Lisbon. Well, it turns out Porto had a similar effect on me, granted they’re very different cities with different atmospheres. On the first evening of my trip to Porto back in November, I already had stars in my eyes. My feet had naturally carried me to the banks of the Douro River (Douro means Gold in Portuguese… the Golden River, how poetic!). I crossed the Dom Luis I Bridge and sat on a bench on the Vila Nova de Gaia’s side. From there, I watched the sun set on Porto, on its colourful house blocks. The sky lit up in vibrant colours for the last day’s hurrah. The weirdly out-of-place looking local boats were coming back to port. Above them, thousands of seagulls were hovering in a synchronised sway. Apparently, I like a sunset!