Category : Ireland
Ireland may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think “Riviera;” however, Dún Laoghaire is waiting to change your perspective. It lines the pristine waters of Dublin Bay, just a short journey from the main city and County Wicklow. Easy to reach by bus or car, the Riviera is the ideal destination for a day trip. Filled with colorful markets and historical sites, the charming towns of Dún Laoghaire provide many things to see and do.
A leisurely drive will take you through bright-green countryside, bordered by a broad expanse of sparkling blue. The landscape is dotted with old villas and gardens, while the placid waters are flecked with the white sails of boats. See the best view of Dublin Bay from Dalkey, or venture to one of the region’s most famous cultural sites. The number of golf courses here is quite impressive, and the area is also known for its busy open-air markets. Water sports, including scuba diving, fishing and sailing, are quite popular—and then, there are these fascinating historical sites:
Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre
The aforementioned town of Dalkey is brimming with Tudor-style charm and lore. Its focal point is, however, undoubtedly Dalkey Castle. The fortified townhouse-turned-castle from the 15th century is open to the public, and it remains one of the most popular landmarks on the Riviera. Climb the battlements to enjoy spectacular views of the sea and mountains, and do not miss the chance to tour the 10th-century graveyard and church of St. Begnet’s. There are also guided walks and “Living History” reenactments, interesting models of Dalkey Quarry and the railways, and a gift shop on the premises.
James Joyce Tower & Museum
One of a series of old Martello towers originally built to withstand an invasion by Napoleon, the James Joyce Tower serves another purpose today: It houses a museum devoted to the life and works of one of Ireland’s greatest writers, James Joyce. While the location may at first seem strange, it is actually quite appropriate—the tower is the setting for the first chapter of Joyce’s legendary masterpiece, Ulysses. Admire the panoramic view from the gun platform, and examine the impressive collection of letters, photographs, first and rare book editions, and even personal possessions.
The National Maritime Museum
Built in 1837, the historic Mariners’ Church has been re-purposed as the National Maritime Museum. Its beautiful stained glass windows now filter light onto popular exhibits, rather than church pews. Among the most interesting are the museum’s 38-metre-long officers’ barge, captured during the failed French invasion of 1796; the Baily Optic, a working light from a lighthouse in Howth; the Great Eastern, which was the largest ship in the world when it was built in 1857; the Naval Display; and the Kerlogue, an Irish merchant vessel from World War II.
Although it is currently closed for renovations, the National Maritime Museum will soon be re-opened.
Recommended hotels in Dún Laoghaire: the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, the Kingston Hotel
When I started researching “Europe’s Best Hostels, Part I,” I found so many amazing hostels that I was unable to choose the best five. Narrowing it down to 10 was a little easier, but there are many other hostels that didn’t make the list which you can find for yourself on eurobookings.com. In the meantime, here are five more hostels worth visiting.
Hostel Villa Saint Exupéry Gardens, Nice
Ah, the French Riviera. Not the place to go on a budget, right? Wrong! The beach is free. So is wandering through the crooked alleyways of the old city and climbing to the top of Mount Boron. And when it’s time to bed down for the night, you’ll find that the Hostel Villa Saint Exupéry has been voted the Number One Hostel in France and has been the Author’s Choice in Lonely Planet and Top Ten Worldwide 5 times in 5 years! Set in a former monastery, this friendly accommodation starts you with a complimentary all-you-can-eat breakfast. You can gaze at the beautiful stained stained-glass windows of the chapel as you sip your €1 drink in what is now the hostel’s bar, and you can enjoy complimentary 24-hour internet access on 12 computers, along with complimentary wireless Internet access everywhere. You can also enjoy homemade pizza and Provencal cuisine in the glass atrium kitchen. The Hostel Villa Saint Exupéry even has a second location on the beach.
Sunflower Beach Hostel, Rimini
Would you rather spend your time in Rimini partying? Or chilling out on its famous beaches? Known as the “Best Party Hostel on the Beach,” the Sunflower Beach Backpacker Hostel makes it easy to do both. Just 200 metres from the surf and sand, this Adriatic residence is also right in the centre of all the restaurants, pubs, cafés and night clubs, and the historic city centre with its landmarks, train and bus station are only a short bus ride away. This allows you to explore both the vibrant city and its surrounding medieval towns. Here you can enjoy private bathrooms, a 24-front desk and showers, a big communal kitchen, a free continental buffet breakfast, free Internet, both wired and wireless, a pool table, ping pong, a 24-hour bar… and of course the big funky parties which put the Sunflower on the map! Pizza parties, pasta parties and beach parties are what you get, along with a TV Room with a MAXI Screen, satellite and sports programming and DVDs. The hostel even offers language classes in both Italian and English.
Avalon House, Dublin
How many hostels can claim George Bernard Shaw as a past resident? I’m guessing one. The Avalon House occupies a classic 19th century school building that boasted the playwright as a student. Now famous for its friendly international staff and its warm and homely atmosphere, the Avalon House puts you within easy walking distance of Temple Bar, Grafton St, the beautiful park at St Stephens Green, Dublin Castle, Trinity College and the National Museum and Gallery. Your day begins with a complimentary continental breakfast and continues with such amenities as bicycle rental (and storage), a games room, Internet access, ticket sales for all major tours and bus services and a complimentary hostel booking service for that sad day that you’re ready to move on. There’s also a fully equipped kitchen and a reception desk that never closes.
AthenStyle Hostel, Athens
The AthenStyle Hostel is perfectly located for you to make the most of modern and historical Athens. With the ancient Monastiraki at your doorstop and the traditional tavernas, sophisticated chill out bars and lively clubs of Psyrri right around the corner, you won’t have to go far to see either. The hostel itself is a blend of old and new, as it opened in June 2008 in a recently renovated historical building. The eclectic atmosphere is due to the fact that the rooms and apartments were decorated by a variety of artists from around the globe. And that view of the Acropolis from the rooftop bar is something you’ll never forget. While the Parthenon and museums are nearby, AthenStyle introduces you to a whole other side of Athens by working in cooperation with the Athens Art & Culture Association to give you the scoop on all the music, art, street culture, events and exhibitions going on in the city.
Seven Hostel SantAgnello
If you thought you had to stay in a five-star luxury hotel to enjoy breathtaking views of the Bay Naples, think again. The Seven Hostel SantAgnello provides the same views while leaving you with money to enjoy the city. Set in a gorgeous building from the 19th century, the sophisticated surroundings and light and airy atmosphere are not what you would associate with a hostel. Yet here it is. In the daytime, excursions can be booked through the hostel to nearby Pompeii, Capri and Herculaneum. Then as the sun dips into the Mediterranean, you can take advantage of the panoramic views from the terrace bar. Or take in the love music at the café bar. Both places provide a friendly and fun atmosphere to meet your fellow travelers. If you’d like the privacy of a hotel at the prices of a hostel, the top floor is set aside for double bedrooms. A partial list of services: 24-hour reception, wireless Internet, CD and DVD burning facilities, a games room, a common room, a solarium with loungers, air conditioning. You get the picture.
Whiskey and Coke. Whiskey Sour. Whiskey Old Fashioned. Though these are all words that go great together, nothing goes as great together as the words, “Whiskey and Ireland.” The Emerald Isle is where whiskey was invented and it still boasts the best whiskey pubs and bars, the finest whiskey shops, the most historic whiskey distilleries and many top class hotels and golf courses, where whiskey is an important component. Ireland’s Whiskey Trail includes dozens of such places. It’s not just for people interested in whiskey – it is also for anyone who wants to enjoy some of the very best traditional Irish pubs in the country, who is looking to buy that special bottle of Irish whiskey or who’s interested in the history and culture of Ireland.
The Temple Bar
47 Temple Bar, Dublin
+353 (0)1 672 5287
Ireland’s most famous city is home to Ireland’s most famous Irish pub; the Temple Bar. This is the prototype of every Irish pub on the planet, which explains why people who have never been here feel like they have. The pub was established in 1840, when it distilled its own whiskey, and is still going strong 170 years later. Over 410 different bottles of Irish, Scotch and Bourbons make the Temple Bar home to the country’s largest selection of whiskey. Live traditional Irish music is also on hand, and it’s no surprise that the Temple Bar Pub was voted Irish Music Pub of the Year from 2002 to 2007. And then there’s the food. In addition to the great sandwiches served throughout the day, the Temple Bar is famous for their Dublin Bay Oysters and Guinness. If you want to take a little bit of the place home with you (including a bottle of the brown stuff), there’s a souvenir shop right next door. And if you want to stay in a hotel that’s close to the pub and the rest of the Temple Bar neighborhood, try the three-star Temple Bar Hotel.
Kilbeggan Distillery and Locke’s Museum
Lower Main Street, Kilbeggan,
+353 (0) 57 933 2134
Opened in 1757 by the McManus family and closed in 1954, this historical gem’s fires were rekindled on March 19, 2007, 54 years to the day of its closing. Nowhere else in Ireland can you experience such a link to the world of whiskey in centuries past than at the Kilbeggan Distillery. Located in the wee town of Kilbeggan, 90 kilometres west of Dublin, the distillery is open to visitors all year round and is the oldest continually licensed distillery in the world. Daily guided tours with multi-lingual guides and self-guided tours show you many artifacts, from the 19th century water wheel (which is still in use) to the steam engine. This is the only distillery in Ireland where you can still see coopers at work repairing casks. To celebrate its 250th birthday, an ancient pot still last used in the 19th century was painstakingly refurbished and fired up and is now believed to be the oldest operational pot still in the world. If you’d like to linger in the Irish countryside rather than return to Dublin, a few kilometres to the south is the four-star Tullamore Court Hotel.
Freeney’s Pub, Off-Licence and Tackle Shop
19 High Street, Galway
+353 (0)91 562 609
Located in the pedestrian area of Galway’s High Street, there’s nothing pretentious about Freeney’s Pub, Off-Licence and Tackle Shop. Where else can you get fishing bait at one end of the store and a shot of whiskey at the other? A grocery store for local fisherman until 1976, Freeney’s Pub is famous today for its pub window with its extensive display of different Irish whiskeys as it is for being the best fishing shop in Galway. Here you’ll find 50 different Irish whiskeys, and if you’re lucky enough to stop by when Tony Freeney himself is there, he’ll probably recommend you start with a Greenspot Irish Whiskey, followed by a Powers 12 YO or a peated Connemara Single Malt. The roaring coal fire to the back of the pub is the perfect place to hunker down with a Jameson Irish Coffee, and speaking of hunkering down, there are many great Galway hotels.
The Creamery Bar & Restaurant Bunratty
Bunratty Fair Green, Bunratty,
+353 (0)61 364114
History pours from the Creamery Bar & Restaurant Bunratty, just as heavily as the whiskey and the great food. Just a 15 minute drive from Shannon Airport, this place has been accommodating travelers since it was a stop for the Bianconi coach service in the 1800’s. It became a creamery in 1927, and you can still see the old creamery’s original steam generator and pipes, as well as many old local photographs on the walls. The Creamery Bar is where you’ll find over 25 different whiskeys, as well as an excellent pint of Guinness served in your own commemorative pint glass which can be taken home. History is available in liquid form as well, with whiskey distilled when the place was still a creamery (1976). The owners also have a cask of Bushmills Millennium Malt in 2000 that they reserve for customers they think will truly appreciate this exceptional 25 year old Single Malt. The Creamery is located directly across from Bunratty Castle Folk Park, giving you a great after-meal stroll, and there are also some great Bunratty hotels nearby.
Castlemartyr Hotel & Golf Resort
Co. Cork, Castlemartyr
If you’d prefer to enjoy your whiskey surrounded by unspoiled rolling countryside of Castlemartyr in East Cork and the luxury of a five-star hotel, then welcome to the Castlemartyr Hotel & Golf Resort. This 18th century classic Manor House lies adjacent to the ruins of a castle dating from 1210 and once owned by Maurice Fitzgerald, who landed in Ireland with Henry II and was one of the founders of the Knights’ Templar. Sir Walter Raleigh was another owner of the estate. Of course, if history isn’t your thing, you can just sit back and enjoy the tranquility of the 220 acre estate. The Knights’ Bar, in the heart of the Manor was originally an 18th century ballroom. Beneath its magnificent rococo ceiling is one of Ireland’s very best whiskey collections, with a full range of whiskeys produced in Midleton and rarities like the Willie Nappier, a 44 year old whiskey from the old Tullamore Distillery and Ireland’s oldest bottled whiskey. In addition to golf, the estate grounds offer clay pigeon shooting, archery, croquet, hiking and boating on the tranquil swan-filled lake. All this just 25 kilometres from Cork Airport.
While we tend to picture Ireland as a place with gray skies unleashing rain onto soggy green turf, there is one time of the year when the island is a bit dryer and the skies a bit bluer. That’s the summertime, and Ireland likes to celebrate the good weather with festivals. And though summer is well under way, August is just starting, and the festivals abound.
Birr Vintage Week and Arts Festival
The County Offaly village of Birr has been celebrating the Birr Vintage Week and Arts Festival for 43 years now. They must be doing something right, as this is one of the longest running and most successful festivals in the country. From the spectacular opening parade to the entertaining busking competition, to the magical candlelit nights, this is a memorable festival set in a charming village. It’s also a great choice for family fun, as it features free children’s events, and the whole town gets involved, especially at night when there’s entertainment in the local pubs. Sporting and musical events round out the festival, along with lunch time theatre performances and art exhibitions. And don’t miss the Donkey Derby! You’ll want to stick around at night for the fireworks display as well, which is easy to do if you book a Birr hotel room.
Duncannon Sand Sculpting Festival
When was the last time you made a sand castle? We thought so. Time to head down to County Wexford on Ireland’s beautiful sandy south coast for the Duncannon Sand Sculpting Festival. You may not have time to get your hands sandy as you’ll be too busy gazing in awe at the castles, animals and the wide range of other objects sculpted by the professional sand sculptors. But if you do want to take part in the fun, the amateur sand sculpting competitions are open to the whole family. There’s also a beach party with live entertainment, and the setting of the sun means fireworks. Smaller kids can indulge in storytelling in Duncannon’s Historic fort, and there are also fancy dress competitions. And don’t forget the climbing wall and the tug o war. If you want to see a real castle, Waterford Castle isn’t far away, and Waterford itself, just 19 kilometres distant, offers many hotels whose showers are perfect for washing off the sand.
Terryglass Arts Festival
Heading north to County Tipperary, the Terryglass Arts Festival adds beauty to the already beautiful shoreline of Lough Derg. The Terryglass Arts Festival Committee has been busy through the winter planning a fresh and vibrant festival, and you can see it reflected in the visual arts, dance, theatre, music, poetry, film, storytelling and other performances on display for five days. There’s a gala concert in the Church with Tommy Fleming and many events happening in the pop-up marquee. Local food and drinks and the local shops and people of Terryglass add to the fun. This is simply rural Ireland at its best. The organizers advise you to take advantage of the on-line event booking, as the festival has become quite popular. You may also want to book your hotel room early in one of the many rural villages in the area.
National Heritage Week 2011
If you’re in Ireland the week of August 20-28, you are truly blessed with the luck of the Irish because the whole country will be celebrating! Chances are, no matter what part of the country you’re in, you’ll be near some event marking National Heritage Week, which is basically a country-wide week-long party. Hundreds of events take place in every county. The events run the gamut, from medieval fairs, night time bat walks, classical music, poetry, theatre, traditional music, storytelling, historical re-enactments, local history walks and talks, maritime and coastal events, food fairs, traditional skills workshops and archaeological digs. Most events are free, and many heritage sites and stately homes offer free admission. Just Ireland’s way of sharing its heritage Lucky you. See the website for details, and once you choose your event, you can choose your hotel.
Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival
Thousands of miles from Hollywood and hundreds of miles from London and Switzerland, you wouldn’t think that the County Kerry village of Waterville would have much of a connection with the great Charlie Chaplin. But the truth is that the Little Tramp just loved visiting this quaint seaside village, which has resulted in the first-ever Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival. Josephine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter, is a patron to the event, giving it a further air of authenticity. The aim is for the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival to quickly become an international fixture that will bring a smile to Kerry, Ireland and the World. Expect premieres, screenings, parades, talks, workshops, award ceremonies and lots of 1920s-style parties Filmmakers, particularly those working in comedy, are welcome to compete in the festival’s competition, and when the Tramp walks off into the sunset at the end of the night, your comfy bed in your Waterville hotel will be waiting.
The closest most get to fishing on the islands of England and Ireland is ordering fish and chips. But fishing offers the chance to get out and experience nature in some of the islands’ most beautiful places. Unlike the United States where a fishing hole or river can be hundreds of miles from the nearest city, fishing in the denser countries of England and Ireland usually puts you close to some charming and historic small towns and some cosy accommodations. And if you decide to spend your time camping, these accommodations become even more welcoming on your return to civilization.
Kyle of Sutherland, Scotland
Looking for trout? Looking for salmon? You’ll find both in the Kyle of Sutherland. Remote, wild and achingly beautiful, the Kyle of Sutherland is a large tidal area which extends about 25 miles from the confluence of the rivers Oykel and Cassley to the Dornoch Firth. The Kyle of Sutherland Angling Club taking in the region of 400 salmon and 200 sea trout per season. Handa Island, Scourie Beach and Sandwood Bay Beach are nearby attractions, and one of the quaintest communities in the area is the village of Lairg. This is where you’ll find comfort along with a hearty breakfast at the two-star Rhiconich Hotel. Here you’ll find permits available for the 11,500 acres of the Rhiconich Estate.
Lough Corrib, Connemara, Ireland
Heading across the watery divide between Scotland and Ireland, we find the vast beauty of the 44,000-acre Lough Corrib. This lovely lake stretches 35 miles from the city of Galway to Maam Bridge and is one of the best game fisheries in the world. Game angling at the Lough is complimented by the warm hospitality of the locals, which can be found in abundance at any one of the hotels around Lough Corrib. As the lake is difficult to navigate, a guide is recommended your first time out. This is also a great way to take advantage of a local’s knowledge of where to find the best fishing. May is the best month for the red-fleshed Corrib trout. In fact fishing is so popular in the area that the local schools finally declared an official holiday at this time of year, as the schools were empty anyway. If you’re looking for a more urban accommodation experience, Galway accommodations are not far away. http://www.eurobookings.com/ireland-ie/reservations-galway-hotels.html?q=rmcnf:1[2,0];dsti:1409;dstt:1;dsts:Galway;cur:USD;frm:1;sort:0_desc;
River Moyola, Northern Ireland
Heading to Northern Ireland, we find the River Moyola, whose meandering path brings it just 40 miles from Belfast. Though the secluded world of moors and meadows surrounded the Moyola would have you believe that you’re a thousand miles away from any city. And isn’t that what fishing is all about? The river starts in the rolling Sperrin Mountains and boasts a large collection of wee brown trout and local dollaghan as it makes its way past the villages of Tobermore, and Castledawson before entering Lough Neagh. It starts in the mountains with fast flowing streams and deep pools then slows in speed and swells in size, aided by 130 miles if tributaries making it a mighty river indeed. Migrating salmon can be found along its 27 mile path, as well as many miles of spawning beds. When it’s time for you to find your own bed, you can find one in a nearby Belfast hotel. Or stay closer to the action at the two-star Walsh’s Hotel in the charming village of Maghera.
River Wye, Monsal Head, Derbyshire
Whether you’re there to fish or just to commune with nature, the Peak District is one of the most beautiful areas in the United Kingdom. It’s also where you’ll find the River Wye and Monsal Head; one of the most scenic fishing spots in the country. Fly fishing is the thing to do here in this river that threads its way through a deep and narrow gorge. In fact, the Wye is world famous as the historic home of fly fishing, and has been fished by countless thousands since the days when Izzac Walton and Charles Cotton roamed these parts – and before. Other local rivers, like the Dove, the Lathkill the Derwent and the Trent are also worth checking out, but the deceptively short (15 miles) Wye passes through some of the finest scenery in the Peak District. It also boasts both rainbow and brown trout, and in its lower reaches, grayling. There’s no end to the opportunities to stay in traditional old hotels in the nearby towns of Bakewell, Matlock, Baslow and Buxton.
River Teifi, Wales
Time was that the rivers of Wales were known mostly for their pollution. Well, the rivers are back and so are the fish, and nowhere is that more evident than in the River Teifi. Though today’s Teifi even boasts fish within sight of Millennium Stadium, you’ll be wanting to head away from the city towards the more remote Welsh villages of Lampeter and Llandysul to discover what the region is famous for; sea trout. And lots of it. The river positively boils with them. Though the challenge of catching them is that they only come out in the dead of night, which makes casting a whole new experience. This 75 mile-long river starts 2,000 feet above sea level in the Cambrian Mountains and if you happen to be fishing in the daytime, you’re going to see some of the most scenic bits of Welsh countryside. Whether you come home from fishing at sunset or sunrise, you’ll feel most welcome at the historic estate housing the Falcondale Mansion Hotel in Lampeter, which provides a hot breakfast whether you’re coming in or going out.
What do William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Bram Stoker all have in common? Yes, these are all names of famous writers. However, what really connects these legendary figures is their connection to—and deep love of—the city of Dublin. In 2010, Dublin was officially declared a UNESCO City of Literature. Surely, no one who has ever visited the Irish capital was surprised. Dublin has never hidden its literary legacy; there are statues of Oscar Wilde and Patrick Kavanagh in the city centre, and a museum entirely dedicated to the works of James Joyce. If you would like to explore the literary side of Dublin, definitely check out the following attractions.
The Dublin Writers Museum
Obviously, the Dublin Writers Museum is a prominent literary landmark in the city. It is located on the north side of the Liffey, just past the end of O’Connell Street. Throughout the museum, you will find fascinating exhibits honoring the city’s most renowned writers—as well as many who were lesser known. Along with permanent displays, the Dublin Writers Museum routinely hosts special events and celebrations. Writers workshops, speaker series and unique events like the Trim Swift Festival (which focuses on satirical works from Ireland) and the Lismore Festival of Travel Writing fill the annual calendar. After touring the museum, be sure to check out The Children of Lir statue nearby.
The Yeats Exhibit at the National Library of Ireland
Close to Leinster House and the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland is easy to find in the city centre. While a tour of a library may not sound exciting at first, you must keep in mind that this is Dublin, the UNESCO 2010 City of Literature! Locals and tourists alike are welcome to tour the library. To enter the reading room, you must first apply for a reader’s ticket. However, a ticket is not needed to see the landmark library’s most popular attraction: its impressive interactive exhibit dedicated entirely to William Butler Yeats. Afterwards, check out the bookstore or refuel at the library’s signature café.
The Bookstores along Dawson Street
Literary Dublin is, of course, home to many great bookstores. One of the most famous is The Winding Stair, near the Four Courts. However, the highest concentration of fantastic bookstores can be found south of the river, along Dawson Street and its neighbors. The museum district’s offerings tend to change with the times, and bookstores are constantly opening and closing. One that has managed to remain successful over the passing years is Hodges Figgis; there you will find a wonderful collection of books on Irish history, Irish authors, and the Irish language. It’s definitely a great place in which to pick up a souvenir.
The Book of Kells
No trip to Dublin would be complete without a visit to the Book of Kells. One of the city’s more unusual tourist attractions, this actual book is also one of the most visited. The illuminated manuscript of the four gospels was originally started by 8th-century monks on the island of Iona in Scotland. It was eventually finished by monks at the monastery in Kells (hence the name) in County Meath, stolen by Vikings, buried in a bog, restored to Kells, and then finally taken to Dublin. Today, it is on display at Trinity College, which has been the book’s home since the 1660’s. Only two pages at a time can be seen—and lines tend to be long, so get there early.
Pubs With Literary History
What better way to unwind after a day of sightseeing in Dublin than by enjoying a beer or two in a traditional Irish pub? Continue your immersion in the city’s literary history by patronizing one of many world-famous pubs. McDaid’s on Henry Street and Davy Byrne’s on Duke Street are both known for their literary significance. There is also Toner’s on Lower Baggott Street, which was supposedly the only pub that Yeats ever visited. To sample an array of bar scenes and brews in literary Dublin, take part in the city’s literary pub crawl tour. Trained actors will take you from a starting point in trendy Temple Bar to the favorite watering holes of many well-known authors. Plan your accommodations wisely, and you will not need to travel far to lay your head at the end of the fun- and alcohol-filled night. The pubs on tour are close to many great Dublin hotels. We recommend the Isaacs Hotel and the Temple Bar Hotel.
With Minnesota’s 390,000 square-metre Mall of America and the 570,000 square-metre West Edmonton Mall in Alberta Canada, not to mention such iconic malls as the Sherman Oaks Galleria, you would think that the world’s best malls would be found west of the Atlantic. But the Old Country still has some tricks up its sleeve, and whether you’re looking to find that one special bargain or you just want to shop till you drop, Europe boasts some awesome shopping venues. European malls not only provide you with the full spectrum of shopping and dining options, but many also boast some unusual attractions for the non-shopper. As we will see…
Madrid Xanadú, Arroyomolinos, Spain
A fine example of a mall offering more than shopping can be found 30 kilometres from the centre of Madrid in the countryside just outside of the town of Arroyomolinos. In addition to offering over 222 shops and restaurants and the 15-screen Cinesa Movie Theatre, Madrid Xanadú is also one of Spain’s most popular places to go skiing and snowboarding. How, you may ask? Simple. The mall plays host to Madrid SnowZone, a huge covered ski slope with artificial snow. The mall, which is anchored by Spain’s famous mega-store, El Corté Inglés, along with its Hipercor at El Corté Inglés, was built in 2002 with the SnowZone opening in 2006. Most Madrid hotels will be able to help you find easy transportation to the mall.
Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin, Ireland
Though its 80,000 square metres makes it smaller than the Mall of America, Dundrum Town Centre is Ireland’s biggest mall, featuring over 160 tenants. These include Tesco Ireland, Marks and Spencer, House of Fraser, Next, Karen Millen, Harvey Nichols, GAP, Timberland and Penney’s, as well as its own petrol station at the shopping centre. A full list of tenants is available on the shopping centre’s website. Dundrum Town Centre’s claim to fame indirectly derives from its origin as a Pye television factory. It may be the only mall that has its own TV and radio stations. Dundrum South FM 93.9 is a local community-based radio station for South Dublin, which predates the mall by nine years, and the TV station, Dundrum Television is operated by RTE. Students from local schools get involved in the action, gaining valuable media experience. Dundrum Town Centre may also be one of the only malls to be blessed upon opening by the local clergy. Fifteen minutes from the heart of the Irish capital, the mall can be easily reached from your Dublin hotel.
Il Vulcano Buono, Nola, Italy
Though Il Vulcano Buono offers a choice of 155 shops, along with some restaurants and bars, the shopping is not what makes this 2007 shopping mall unique. Can you guess looking at the photo? Set right near Mount Vesuvius, the unique design by architect Renzo Piano is meant to represent a volcano itself. Its gently grass-covered slope blends harmoniously with the surrounding environment as it pays homage to the area’s most prevalent natural feature. There’s also a multiplex theatre and a gallery here, and its 160-metre circular centre, which is modeled on the Naples Piazza del Plebiscito, is used for concerts and events. The open sky allows light to enter through the “rim” of the volcano, and there are also skylights fitted with solar double-pane glass. The entire establishment occupies an area of approximately 450,000 square metres. Your best accommodation bet is to stay in the charming town of Nola.
Gasometer City, Vienna, Austria
Another unique mall that is more than a mall is Gasometer City, a community that boasts a 3,000 person music hall, a movie theatre, a student dormitory, 800 apartments and a shopping mall. All within a series of four brick gas tanks dating from the 1890s. Used until 1984 to store gas and then natural gas, Gasometer City is one of the most creative re-use projects in the world. Completed in 2001, this is a city within a city, featuring offices as well as residences and shopping, providing residents with everything they need without every stepping outside. Many theses and dissertations in psychology, urban planning, journalism and architecture have been written about the place, and even if you’re not in the mood to shop, it’s still an interesting Vienna attraction and not far from most Vienna hotels.
Mall of Sofia, Sofia, Bulgaria
Though the Mall of Sofia located at the central intersection of Aleksandar Stamboliyski Boulevard and Opalchenska Street would not draw much attention if it was located in any western European or American city, it is an indication of just how far capitalism has come in formerly communist Eastern Europe. This modern glass and steel shopping centre opened its doors in 2006 and also boasts distinctive office space in its attached Sofia Tower. Four-stories tall and taking up 70,000 square metres, the mall and office complex offers up a lot of shopping. There are 130 stores, a supermarket, pharmacies, a beauty salon, an Internet café and DVD and video rentals. And to drive herald even further the arrival of the west, just look at some of the food options. McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut are all there, along with Cinema City, a 12-screen multiplex cinema featuring the first 3-D IMAX theatre in Southeastern Europe. Set prominently in the city centre, the mall can be easily reached from most Sofia hotels.
The site of many festivals and home to countless attractions, Galway is an exciting and interesting holiday destination. It is also the fastest-growing city in Ireland. So consider that a warning: Once you visit, you may just wish to stay! Depending upon the time of year, Galway has a number of fun events and activities going on. Here are the top five landmarks that are open all year-round:
1. Lynch’s Castle
Once the formal residence of one of Galway’s fourteen tribes, Lynch’s Castle now contains something quite mundane: the headquarters of Allied Irish Bank. Despite its current occupation, however, the building remains impressive—and one of the city’s most visited-attractions. The façade features the castle’s original coats of arms, and authentic stone fireplaces may be found inside. A special exhibition room filled with artifacts from the Lynch family’s reign is open from Monday to Wednesday and on Fridays. Take the informative tour to learn how the family’s legacy influenced Galway’s history—and even how unfortunate events led to the coining of the term “Lynch Law.”
2. Galway Cathedral
Among the largest and most beautiful buildings in the city, Galway Cathedral is nearly impossible to miss. The imposing structure stands on Nun’s Island, on the west bank of the River Corrib near Salmon Weir Bridge. It was built from 1958 to 1965, on the site of the former city jail. Its signature octagonal dome, an integral and iconic component of the urban skyline, reaches a soaring height of 145 feet. Beneath it, you will find a stunning interior complete with rose windows and colorful wall paintings. As the last large church in Ireland to be made of stone, Galway Cathedral is of great importance to its patrons.
3. St. Nicholas’ Church
Another place of worship in the heart of Galway, St. Nicholas’ Church is important for another reason. It is the largest medieval parish church in continuous use in all of Ireland. Its oldest sections date back to 1320, but the building has been renovated and expanded since then. Today, the architecture reflects a long legacy—and legend has it that the church was built upon the ruins of an older structure, whose remains were incorporated into the church’s construction. Another story says that Christopher Columbus prayed here in 1477 before sailing off to discover the New World.
4. The Spanish Arch and the Galway City Museum
Undoubtedly one of the most famous landmarks in Galway, the Spanish Arch welcomes visitors to the left bank of the Corrib. It is located where the river meets the sea, and it has stood on the same spot since the 16th century. Once a bastion to protect merchant ships from looting, the arch was originally called the “Ceann an Bhalla” (Head of the Wall.) The name was eventually changed in honor of the Spanish merchant galleons that docked near it. Today, the Spanish Arch acts as the gateway to the Galway City Museum. The museum’s galleries focus on the medieval town, the Claddagh village and Galway from 1800 to 1950. There are also temporary exhibitions and special events. Spectacular views of the Claddagh, the River Corrib, Galway Bay and (of course) the Spanish Arch act as additional displays.
5. Salmon Weir Bridge
Crossing the Corrib from the Cathedral to the city’s courthouse, Salmon Weir Bridge beautifully showcases the historical city. People flock here to admire panoramic views that extend as far down as Wolfe Tone Bridge. Salmon Weir was originally granted by Henry III to the Earl of Ulster, and the historical site changed hands several times before it eventually became the property of the state. During the summertime, locals gather to see the shoals of salmon make their way up the Corrib to spawn, and also to watch anglers fish in the waters below. Throughout the year, however, Salmon Weir Bridge remains one of Galway’s most popular and beloved pieces of architecture.
Recommended Hotels in Galway: Flannery’s Hotel Galway, the Glenlo Abbey Hotel
Nowhere is the Emerald Isle of Ireland more emerald than in its gardens. Though often overshadowed by England’s more famous gardens, Ireland has its share of them itself which come in all sizes, shapes and terrains. Visiting an Irish garden can be a way to experience history, a way to commune with nature and can provide a wonderful way to get away from it all for prices ranging from inexpensive to free. Here are five Irish gardens that truly stand out.
Kylemore Abbey, County Galway
Though Kylemore Abbey is known more the splendor of the Abbey itself, it also boasts one of the most beautiful walled gardens in Ireland. The six acre garden was created at the same time of the Abbey’s construction in 1867 by Mitchell Henry. The only Irish garden built in a bog, the Kylemore Abbey Gardens also provide wonderful panoramic views out over the water. In addition to its original Victorian plant species, the gardens, still tended by the Benedictine community, boast both herbs and vegetables that end up in the kitchen of the Abbey. Beyond the gardens, the 1,000 acre estate allows you to take many beautiful strolls along the shores of the Lakes of Pollacappul and Maladrolaun, as well as offering some great mountain biking. Otters and foxes can be spied, along with bats. The closest accommodation can be found in the charming village of Letterfrack, just five kilometres to the west and also overlooking the water.
Mount Usher, County Wicklow
Also overlooking water, this time the banks of the River Vartry, Mount Usher boasts plant life from around the planet, designed to provide a spectacular show all year round. Something’s always blooming at Mount Usher, and the crystal river waters are always there to add to the beauty. It will come as no surprise that the gardens were voted “The Most Romantic Garden to Visit in the Republic of Ireland” by the BBC’s Gardener’s World Magazine in 2010, among other accolades. Rusty-red Japanese Maple, a petite Wedding Cake Tree and Himalayan Magnolia are just several of the fascinating species you’ll see. And if viewing all this beauty has worked up an appetite, head to the Avoca Garden Café. When it’s time to look for nearby lodgings, you’ll find them in Wicklow.
Irish National Stud, County Kildare
Thought most visitors to the Irish National Stud are there for the horses, garden enthusiasts can use the horses as a romantic backdrop to some pretty spectacular gardens. Established in 1946, the Stud offers two separate gardens that are quite different in nature. First there are the 20 stops of the Zen-like Japanese Gardens. From the Tunnel of Ignorance to the Hill of Ambition, these lovely gardens feature 200 year-old bonsai trees and rocks from Mount Vesuvius. Then there’s the wilder St. Fiachra’s Garden, named for the patron saint of Irish gardeners and much less manicured. Here, beyond the underground stone entrance, you can explore four acres of a wild Irish landscape full of lakes and monastic beehive huts. While you’re there, be sure to stop in at the Horse Museum. For an extra treat, you can stay at the nearby Lord Edward Hotel in Kildare.
Garinish, County Cork
If you’d like your green surrounded by blue, Garinish Island is set out in Glengarriff Harbour, making it one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets. Created over 80 years ago by Edwardian garden designer Harold Peto, on this tiny island of 37 acres, Garinish’s gardens boasts a strangely subtropical micro-climate which allows plants from around the planet to survive and thrive. The self-guided tour takes you by some stunning rhododendrons and azaleas, and there’s also a cozy coffee shop. Also known by its Irish name, Ilnacullin (island of holly), the island belongs to the Office of Public Works and is open from March 1 to October 31. Though there are no accommodations on the island itself, you can find some nice hotels on shore in the town of Glengarriff.
Farmleigh, County Dublin
So say you’re stuck in Dublin with no time to explore outside the city. No problem. Just head to Farmleigh. Purchased from the Guinness family by the Irish Government for €29.2 million, this 1907 sunken walled Dutch-style garden is open to the public, allowing you to journey back to the age of Victoria and Edward. Strolling through the garden, you’ll see a traditional fountain lawn, an apple orchard, a small rose and lavender garden and more. There are also a few glasshouses, a potting shed, and an Arts and Crafts-style gardener’s house and pump house. When you’re through in the garden, you won’t have to go far for a meal, thanks to the Boathouse Café before heading on to tour the rest of the 78 acre grounds and the 19th century mansion in its centre. Returning to the urban surroundings of Dublin, there are plenty of hotels where you can spend the night.
Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing all over Europe. Though Southern California’s Coachella Festival gets all the headlines, the truth is that Europe is full of dozens of music festivals featuring thousands of bands, from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Mediterranean and from the Atlantic to the Adriatic. All music is covered, from heavy metal to jazz and from rap to local folk music, very often at the same festivals. Here’s a list of five of the best music festivals coming up in the summer of 2011.
Roskilde Festival, Denmark
June 30-July 3, Warm-up June 26-29
The Roskilde Festival was created in 1971 by two high school students and it has growing ever since. As the festival is a non-profit organization supporting the development of music and culture, you know your ticket money is going to a good place. Originally a haven for hippies, the musical styles have branched out and its wide range of musical styles can be seen in a sampling of the 2011 line-up. Acts will include MIA, PJ Harvey, Iron Maiden, Killing Joke, Kings of Leon, Big Boi, Bright Eyes, Ice Age, Yemen Blues and hundreds more. In 2007 the festival boasted 80,000 guests who watched 180 bands and enjoyed the work of 3,000 artists. Like most festivals, Roskilde provides the opportunity to camp. But if you’d like to crash in a bed with four walls and a ceiling around you, there are plenty of Roskilde hotels to accommodate you. Though you should be sure to book early.
Oxegen Festival, Ireland
Somewhat newer is the Oxegen Festival, which has become Ireland’s largest, with a 2008 daily attendance of 90,000. Though its previous incarnation, “Witnness” was sponsored by Guinness, the festival is now put on by Heineken. Known as the greenest festival in Europe, Oxegen is a 100% carbon neutral event and takes place at the Punchestown Racecourse in County Kildare, just 32 kilometres from Dublin. As always, 2011 will feature some big names among the 100+ acts, including Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Black-Eyed Peas, Arctic Monkeys, the Strokes, the Script, deadmaus, the National, Weezer, Pendulum, Plan B, Primal Scream and Bright Eyes. If you want to sleep in the open with 80,000 other attendees, there’s camping available. The nearest hotels are just a few kilometres in the town of Naas, and after three nights of camping, a night spent in a Dublin hotel can serve as a nice transition back to civilization.
Benicàssim Festival, Spain
July 14-July 17
What do you get when you mix rock music the blue waters and golden sands of Spain’s Mediterranean coast? The Benicàssim Festival! Known locally as the Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, this four-day party is set in the beachside holiday town of Benicàssim, which is an hour from Valencia in one direction and two hours from Barcelona in the other. Though the festival focuses mostly on pop, rock and electronica music, many other arts are represented as well, from theatre to short film to visual arts and fashion. The 2011 line-up includes The Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Primal Scream, Arcade Fire, Portishead, Jack Beats, The Juan MacLean, Logo, Lori Meyers and The Marzipan Man. Camping is offered here as well, but if you’d like to mix festival-style fun with beach resort luxury, then check out one of the many resort hotels in Benicàssim and in Castellon de la Plana, 16 kilometres away.
Sziget Festival, Budapest
The Isle of Wight Festival isn’t the only one held on an island. Of course what makes the Sziget Festival unique is that the island is right in the middle of the Danube, right in the middle of the Hungarian capital of Budapest. This is the biggest party in Europe, features a whopping 1,000+ bands and artists, performing on 55 different stages. The variety of music is also mind-boggling, allowing you to choose (and with all those stage, choose you must) between pop, rock, metal, hip hop, dance, world music and more. There’s also much non-performance fun to be had, from bungee-jumping to movies to belly dancing and Hungarian lessons to karaoke to swimming and football. Oh, and then there’s the music, which this year will include Amy Winehouse, Deftones, Flogging Molly, Good Charlotte, Judas Priest, Kasabian, Pulp, Smashmouth, The Chemical Brothers… and hundred more. Though camping out on the island is a unique experience, you might want to pencil in one night in a Budapest hotel, many of which offer the unique experience of visiting one of the city’s famed thermal baths.
With fall approaching, the Pukkelpop Festival, one of the season’s last, is getting in full swing. Though the line-up has not yet been announced (you can jot down your requests on the festival website), 2010 featured Placebo, Iron Maiden, Queens of the Stone Age, Snow Patrol, Blink 182, Limp Bizkit, The Flaming Lips, Bad Religion, The Black Motorcycle Club, Fake Blood and 200 more. The festival boasts eight stages, including the unforgettable Chateau Crapule. It’s held in a large enclosure of fields and forests close to the city of Hasselt in a tiny village of Kiewit, whose population increases exponentially once a year when the Pukkelpop crowd of 180,000 descends upon it. If you want to skip the camping or are looking for some post-festival decompression, hotel rooms are available in Hasselt and 40 minutes away in the medieval Dutch river city of Maastricht.