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Northern Norway is now on our bucket list!  Is it on yours? When David Nikel, author of travel guide Moon Norway, reached out to us with his article Why You Should Visit Northern Norway we were delighted to publish it on our website.  We have been talking about visiting Norway for ages and now that we have some great insider tips from David it has given us a boost to start planning a visit during our next European adventure.

Moon Guide Norway by David Nikel
Experience magnificent fjords, historical cities, and magical northern lights with Moon Norway.
Why You Should Visit Northern Norway

The West Norwegian fjords might steal the headlines, but they’re also suffering from record numbers of visitors. Good luck squeezing on a fjord sightseeing trip at the height of summer! While the fjords are absolutely well worth visiting, you can see just as much of Norway’s spectacular scenery with a lot less people in the way by looking to the north.

It’s not cheap, but there is value

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room right away. Norway is an expensive country to visit, but that doesn’t mean everything is bad value for money.

Self Catering Cabins

If you hire a small car and choose to stay in well-equipped self-catering cabins on campsites, you can explore the best of the country for much less than you might expect. Perhaps more so than any other region, enjoying the north is about experiences. Grazing over a picnic on a secluded hillside with the midnight sun as your backdrop is a memory that will stay with you for a lifetime but cost almost nothing.

A coastal cruise

Hurtigruten Ferry

One option is to take the famous Hurtigruten coastal ferry. Although advertised as a cruise, it serves dual-purpose as a daily liner service for much of the remote Norwegian coastline.

The full route from Bergen to Kirkenes and back takes 12 days, but you could start and finish in Trondheim or Bodø to cut costs and focus on the north. This method covers your food and accommodation costs, with optional excursions if you want to see what lies beyond the beautiful coastline.

But if sleeping on a boat isn’t your thing, hire a car and create your own itinerary from these recommendations.

Tromsø: The Paris of the North

Nobody’s quite sure who first gave Tromsø its nickname, but spend a couple days in Arctic Norway’s biggest city and you’ll soon find yourself agreeing with it. As a regional capital, it punches way above its weight in cultural attractions.

The Artic Cathedral

The Arctic Cathedral (actually a church, but who ever let facts get in the way of marketing) is their Eiffel Tower. If you visit at the height of summer, try to catch one of the Midnight Sun concerts, which start at 11pm every evening.

A trip up the recently renovated cable car is a must for a spectacular view back across the city’s gorgeous island setting. Stick around to watch planes land, or see ships come and go. During the summer the service runs until 1am to allow for midnight sun snaps.

Tromsø also offers northern Norway’s cheapest accommodation thanks to the recent arrival of budget chains. Book up a room at the Comfort Hotel Xpress, Viking Hotel, or Smart Hotel while they’re still available.

Dreamy Lofoten


An alternative main destination is the eye-wateringly beautiful Lofoten, which has drawn artists, fishermen and hikers from across Europe for generations.

The best option to reach the archipelago is the ferry from Bodø to either Svolvær or Moskenes. The crossing across open ocean can be rough, but you’ll be rewarded with the sight of Lofoten’s dramatic granite mountains looming on the horizon.

Once on the islands, head to the westernmost villages Å and Reine for some of Scandinavia’s most iconic views, or pick a side road to find your own slice of paradise on a quiet secluded beach.

Lofoten is increasingly popular during the Norwegian holiday month of July, so book up accommodation well in advance, or plan a trip in May or September when the campsites – and the hiking trails – are much quieter.

Rock carvings in Alta

Alta Rock Carvings

Although there’s not much to keep the curious traveller occupied in Alta for more than a day or so, the city has one major thing going for it. The UNESCO listed rock art centre is a must see for anyone passing through.

The carvings – many of which have been coloured red to make them easier to see – depict scenes from days long gone, specifically hunting and gathering, fishing, rituals, and social occasions, harking back to a time when people believed nature possessed a soul. A wooden pathway of several miles leads visitors around the otherwise boggy ground, and is split into two loops, making a shorter visit possible if time is tight.

Meet the Sami

Alta also serves as a base to explore the fascinating culture of the Sami, northern Scandinavia’s indigenous people. Within a few hours’ drive are the small communities of Karasjok and Kautokeino.

Here, around four in five people speak Sami as their primary language of everyday life, and throughout Finnmark county you will find road signs and place names listed in Norwegian, Sami, and possibly a local dialect too. One in three Kautokeino residents work in the reindeer business, which has sustained the Sami people for years and continues to do so today.

The road to Nordkapp


When people ask me if it’s worth the journey to Nordkapp, mainland Europe’s northernmost point, I’m never quite sure how to respond.

For me, the journey there is fascinating. I stayed in remote communities and met all sorts of interesting people who somehow manage to make a living up here. But the North Cape itself is rather underwhelming. It is after all just a very expensive car park. The visitor centre has some items of interest including a giant gift shop, but you absolutely don’t need to go here just to see the midnight sun. That’s available for free across the entire region!

If you have time to spare then sure, go ahead, especially if you plan to stay in Honningsvåg, the closest town to Nordkapp, or one of the remote campsites on the barren Magerøya island. But if you want to spend days driving to Nordkapp and back just to say you’ve been, there’s far better things you can do with your time.

Lesser known stories of World War II

Finnmark, Norway’s north-eastern county, suffered greatly in the latter days of the Second World War. When the Nazis push against Leningrad failed, they retreated and any place that could offer shelter to what the Nazis thought would be the pursuing Red Army was destroyed.


Much of Finnmark was reduced to rubble. Thousands of buildings were burned, Hammerfest was reduced to ashes, bridges and ports were destroyed. The rebuilt Hammerfest is now home to the Museum of Reconstruction, which tells the story of how the community recovered from the tragedy.

Other wartime reminders in the region include the Tirpitz museum outside Alta, where you’ll find one of the largest collections of photos and artefacts from the battleship Tirpitz, which was anchored in the waters of Alta during the war. There’s also a small war museum in Svolvær on Lofoten, which tends to only open for Hurtigruten arrivals.

Chase the northern lights

If you can stand the cold, a visit to northern Norway in the winter is worth it for one truly spectacular reason: a chance to see nature’s own one-of-a-kind light show.

The northern lights come out to play at their strongest from mid-September to mid-November and from mid-January to mid-March. Cloudless, dark skies are required, which means heading as far away from built-up areas as possible.

Even if you don’t catch the lights, there’s plenty more activities to keep you busy and make your trip a success. From dog sledding to snow-shoeing and even whale watching, winter in northern Norway is guaranteed to be a memorable experience, whether the tricky lady makes an appearance or not.

Something for everyone

Whether you prefer active experiences, or you’d rather spend your time indoors in galleries and museums, there’s something for you in northern Norway.

You won’t be able to fit all of this into your Arctic adventure without spending several weeks in the region. Distances are vast and you’ll need a big budget. Instead, use this list as a starter for your research and pick the area you’d most like to focus on. Wherever you choose, I guarantee you a good time!

About David Nikel

Our Guest Writer – David Nikel

British writer David Nikel moved to Norway in 2011, and now calls Trondheim his home. He is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, and runs a popular website all about living and travelling in Norway.

Why not PIN it for later

The post Why You Should Visit Northern Norway appeared first on To Travel Too.

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To Travel Too by Totraveltoo - 3w ago

Were we nervous? Actually, yes! We had just arrived at Kochi Airport, Kerala after spending 10 days in Dubai.  Our first trip to this enormous country with the 2nd largest population in the world and we had nothing planned but the first 3 nights at the Waterfront Granary Hotel in Mattancherry, Kochi.  What were we thinking?  Who arrives in an unknown country like India at 7 pm at night with no plans at all? Guess we do, would we do the same again? Yes, of course. We would like to share with you what to do in Kochi Kerala when you have no plans or even when you have plans you will find lots of tips and recommendations here.

A few years ago we were chatting with a fellow travel blogger who had started running tours to India and we never forgot his words of wisdom – “spend a month at a time in India and start in the more relaxed states of Kerala and Goa”.  Boy, are we glad we took his advice.

Kerala Map

Kerala, India

Where is Kerala, India

Kerala is situated on the Malabar Coast of Southern India.  To the North and North East, it is bordered by Karnataka, to the East and South the state of Tamil Nadu and to the West the Lakshadweep Sea.  The South of India which includes Kerala and Tamil Nadu is situated between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Kerala is the 13th largest state of India and its Capital is Thiruvananthapuram.  Malayalam is the official language spoken in Kerala.

The state of Kerala has been described as a ‘palm-fringed paradise’.  A small Indian state full of silvery white beaches, breathtaking views, lush green valleys and mountains, stunning tea plantations and calming backwaters to relax on in rustic old rice boats.  A state that offers innovative and delectable cuisines, friendly and warm people, and a range of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.  Kerala is a ‘dry state’, but you can purchase alcohol at Government shops and some restaurants, bars and hotels.

It is worth doing some research before you visit Kerala and what better than a Lonely Planet Guide Book.

Lonely Planet South India & Kerala Guide Book
The Lonely Planet Guide has 82 maps to help you plan your itinerary around the State of Kerala, India.
Where is Kochi

Map of Kochi

Map of  Kochi

Cochin or Kochi? You will see two different types of spelling, the official spelling is Kochi as declared in the 90s.  Cochin was the name the British used for Kochi. Kochi is one of the most popular destinations in India.

Kochi is an island linked by bridges to Willingdon Island and then onto Ernakulam on the mainland.

Kochi was an important centre for spice trading and was known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea from the 14th century onwards.  It is the commercial, financial and industrial capital of the state of Kerala.

Places to Visit in Kochi: St Francis Church

The St Francis Church is located at St Francis Church Road and has 2 claims of fame.  It is the oldest church in India built by the Europeans in 1503 and the famous explorer Vasco de Gama was buried there for 14 years before his body was removed and reburied in his homeland.

Chinese Fishing Nets

Chinese Fishing Nets at Sunset

Sunset near Chinese Fishing Nets

Located between Vasco de Gama Square and the local ferry to Vipin you will find the Chinese Fishing Nets.  The best time to visit is at sunset. It will be busy as it is a major tourist attraction and don’t be surprised about the amount of rubbish lying around, it is just India.

Fishing nets are fixed to bamboo and teak poles.  A mechanism lowers the nets into the sea for approximately 4 -5 minutes, then they are raised with the meagre catch of fish.  The number of Chinese Fishing Nets has diminished over the years and so have the fish.

Check out our Youtube video.

Kathakali Cultural Dance

Kathakali – Make Up Application

A visit to Kochi would not be complete without attending a Kathakali dance performance at Greenix Village located on Calvathy Road.  Kathakali is a cultural dance based on the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Kathakali Performance

The evening starts at 5.00pm where you can watch the actors apply their makeup, which is a very detailed process and well worth attending.  We are really not sure what they must be thinking as we take photos and videos of their hour-long process, but it does assist in the understanding of the dance.  The performance starts at 6pm with some time spent learning the intricate facial and hand expressions and how they are played out in the dramatic performance.  It finishes at 7.00pm.

Current cost as of 2018 for two people for the 2 hours INR700 (USD11.00).

Check out our 2 Youtube videos of the performance:

The Dutch Palace

The Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese in 1545 AD and gifted to the Rajah of Cochin. The Palace was later known as the Dutch Palace due to the renovations by the Dutch in 1663.  The building is famous for the murals inside on the walls depicting the great Indian stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Open 10.00 – 17.00 every day except Friday.

Jewish Synagogue 

The Jewish Synagogue that we visited recently in Barbados whilst on a walking tour has a similar history to the Jewish Synagogue in Kochi.  Both are the oldest in their countries and both built around the same time.  Kerala’s Jewish Synagogue houses the great scrolls of the old testament.

Bazaar Road

Life on Bazaar Road

Be prepared for the hustle and the bustle and the strong aromas of spices as you walk down the 2km Bazaar Road of Kochi.  Here you will find old warehouses selling wholesale spices such as cinnamon, peppers, chillies, bay leaves, cardamom and cloves.  The aroma is intoxicating, the area teeming with sellers, buyers and trucks unloading their goods.

Local goats wander the street

Everyone is happy and smiling, even the goats that wander around in the shops and stop the traffic on the very busy dusty road.

The Gunnery

The Gunnery

Enjoy a wander around the foreshore

As you wander around Fort Kochi beach you will come across an old Gunnery which was part of Fort Emmanuel which was built in 1503 to protect the port of Kochi from attack.

Kochi Sightseeing

If you would like to take a tour of Kochi here are some suggestions for you:

Fort Kochi and Mattancherry 3 Hour Walking Tour

Kochi 6 Hour City Tour

Kathakali Evening Performance with Dinner and Transfers

Athirapally Waterfall Day Trip

Alleppey Day Tour & Houseboat Cruise with Lunch

Fort Kochi Restaurants: Waterfront Granary

Entrance to Waterfront Granary

Our large bedroom

The Waterfront Granary is also a Museum

We stayed at the Waterfront Granary at 641 Bazaar Road, Mattancherry and enjoyed our breakfasts and dinners at the restaurant that looks over Vembanad Lake.  The food was excellent, the staff warm, friendly and efficient and the location perfect for an escape from the hustle and bustle outside.  The Waterfront Granary is not only a hotel but a museum with some interesting antiques and Indian pieces of art, part of the owner’s personal collection.

Happy Hour at Killian Hotel

After a busy day sightseeing, happy hour at the Killian Hotel is a great way to spend a few hours before heading off to dinner.

Address: River Road, Fort Kochi, Kerala

Celestial Cafe

Breakfast at the Celestial Cafe

A special find is the Celestial Cafe located at 481 Calvathy Road Fort Kochi.  The Celestial Cafe is excellent for breakfast, lunch and an early dinner and includes a great variety of vegan organic dishes on their menu.  It is closed on Fridays and closes at 6.30pm.  Their cakes are to die for.

Seagull Restaurant

Hotel Seagull – restaurant over the harbour

Our favourite starter – onion bhaji

The waterfront Seagull Restaurant is worth a visit, not only for the water views but their food as well.  It is one of the few restaurants and bars in Fort Kochi that sells alcohol.

Address: 8 Calvathy Road, Fort Kochi, Kerala

Loafer Cafe

Yummy cakes at the Loafer Cafe


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What can you see and do with one week in Cuba?  After spending a whole month in Cuba we realized it is not a country to rush, but a country to travel slowly through and enjoy the people and the culture. Cuba is changing rapidly and if you want to experience the real Cuba now is the time to travel there.  It is unlike any other country we have visited. It tickles all your five senses.

We get a lot of questions on ‘where should we go and stay in Cuba?’ so we have put together a Cuba itinerary which will cover 1 week in Cuba, other posts will cover  2 weeks and 3 weeks and a mega post on 4 weeks in Cuba. They will cover the best places to visit in Cuba, where to stay, where to eat, information on wifi and money changing and how to travel around safely.

Another question we get asked all the time:  “is it safe to travel to Cuba?”  From spending 1 month travelling around we can say it is a safe destination, not once did we feel insecure.  The people are lovely and incredibly helpful. Even when our bus broke down on the way to Bayamo, the locals on board who were also heading that way, took us under their wings, arranged a private taxi for all of us to go to Bayamo and another taxi to take us to our accommodation at 8 pm at night.

Our top tip is to research, research and research before you go.  This is one destination where we would recommend that you take a hard copy guide on Cuba.  The internet is still not widely available and most of the time you will be sitting in parks, open to all types of weather, just trying to login.

What Travel Guide Should I Take to Cuba?
We highly recommend the Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Cuba.
Map of Cuba

Destinations for One Week in Cuba – map courtesy of Google Maps

How long is Cuba?

Cuba is 1,250 km in length and at its widest point 191km.

One Week in Cuba – Havana and Vinales

Spending one week in Havana and Vinales will certainly give you a taste of city and country life. Don’t rush either of them that is why we are suggesting one week covering both.


Havana Map courtesy of bestcubaguide.com

Visa to Cuba

We found it was cheaper to fly to Cuba from Mexico, and we flew with Interjet from Cancun. Not only was it a short flight and good value but the visa cost was only USD20 which was issued to us when we were checking in.  Visa costs in the USA at the time of travelling was USD120.

 On arrival Havana Airport

When changing your  Mexican Pesos, British Pounds, Euros or Canadian Dollars at the Airport you may experience quite a queue.  These four currencies are the easiest ones to bring into Cuba.  US Dollars carry a 10% tax on them whilst all currencies carry a 3% tax when changing.

It is quite easy to change your currency at a Cadeca (money changer) your accommodation hosts usually know the closest one for you.  Check with your accommodation hosts first as they may change your currency for you.  Hotels normally have currency exchange services.

Getting from the Airport to Your Accommodation

Our Airbnb hosts arranged a taxi service for us, this is the easiest way to arrive at your destination. There is an information desk at the Arrivals Hall on Level 2 check with them for an approximate price for your journey to Havana if you are going to use a local taxi.  It takes about 30 minutes to get to downtown Cuba which can cost anywhere between USD25 – USD30 (CUC25 – CUC30).

Our Recommended One Week in Cuba Itinerary – 7 nights/8days Day One

Arrival into Havana and check into your accommodation.

Day Two

Havana (see below for recommended activities)

Day Three

Havana (see below for recommended activities)

Day Four

Bus from Havana to Vinales with Viazul Buses.

There are 2 journeys a day both costing USD12 per person

Depart 09.00 Arrive: 12.40

Depart 14.30 arrive 18.20

Day Five

Vinales – we recommend the horse riding tour to the tobacco fields (see below for more activities)

Day Six

Bus from Vinales to Havana with Viazul Buses USD12.00 per person

Depart 08.00 Arrive 11.20

Depart 14.00 Arrive 17.30

Day Seven

Havana (see below for recommended activities)

Day Eight

Depart Havana

Places To Visit in Havana Cuba

We stayed in the Vedado area and walked into Old Havana via the Hotel Nacional and Central Havana. Vedado is a lot less touristy than Old Havana and positioned well for being able to walk everywhere. Vedado has some of the most beautiful architecture in Havana.  Old colonial mansions that have been restored to their former glory and others that are crumbling and falling down crying out to be renovated and given a new lease of life.  There are long leafy boulevards leading down to the Malecon, with cafes and restaurants in the most unlikely places.  To walk this area gives you a feel of what Havana was like in its heyday.  Don’t rush it.

Hotel Nacional

A visit to Havana’s Hotel Nacional should be on your ‘what to do in Cuba’ list.  The Hotel Nacional is Havana’s 5-star luxury hotel with history and stunning views over the Malecon in the Vedado area. When you arrive at the front entrance of the hotels and check around the doors and you can still see bullet holes from the battle on October 2, 1933, known as the Battle of the Hotel Nacional.  The battle took place between the non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Cuban army who supported Batista and the Cuban army.

In December 1946 the Mafia held their Havana Conference there.  If you have seen The Godfather II Movie, the Havana Conference was reenacted in one of its scenes.

Nat King Cole was due to sing in the Hotel Nacional in 1956, but because he was black he was turned away.  Many famous people have stayed in the hotel over the years including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jimmy Carter, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill to name a few.

Central Havana

A photographers delight – Central Havana

Central Havana is a photographer’s dream for those location shots you see everywhere of Havana.  Dusty dirty streets, crumbling old buildings, washing hanging outside, classic cars and kids playing in the street whilst adults are chatting, drinking or smoking pungent cigars keeping an eye on them.

We walked through Central Havana three times and still did not have time to wander down all the back streets.  We felt that we were in an old 50’s film set and we were the extras, (unpaid of course).

Old Havana

You will need a day or two to explore this area. Here are some of the ‘must sees’:

Cathedral de San Cristobal

In Old Havana you cannot miss the Cathedral

The stunning Italian Baroque Cathedral completed in 1787 by  Francesco Borromini, an Italian architect.

The Cathedral faces the busy touristy square – Plaza de la Cathedral.  The front doors are impressive as you enter but take note of the two towers outside? Are they equal in size?

Apparently, Christoper Columbus’s remains were brought to the church and housed there until 1898 where they were moved to Seville’s Cathedral in Spain.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas is one of the oldest 4 plazas in Havana dating back to 1520.  There are is a lot to see especially museums in the Plaza:

  • City Museum
  • Template Museum
  • Natural History Museum
  • Maritime Museum
  • Castle of the Royal Force
  • Automobile Museum
  • Statue of Carlos Manuel Cespedes – a Cuban revolutionary and who claimed independence for Cuba in 1868
  • 2nd hand book market
  • restaurants
Plaza Vieja

Plaza Vieja also was known as Old Square and was originally called Plaza Nueva where bullfights, executions took place as well as processions and celebrations.  You can enjoy an artisanal beer at La Factoria whilst enjoying the local music in the Plaza.

El Capitolio

The Capitol Building in Havana

The Capitol Building reminds us of Washington’s Capitol building but in fact, it is modelled on Paris’s Pantheon. It was the seat of Cuba’s Congress up until 1959 when it became the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the National Library of Science and Technology till 2013.  As of 2017, it was still under reconstruction with a completion date of 2018 to be the home of the National Assembly of Cuba.

Ernest Hemingway’s Two Famous Bars

La Bodeguita del Medio

La Bodeguita del Medio at Empedrado #207 is one of Havana’s most popular bars.  The mojitos are ok but very expensive, you can get better mojitos elsewhere.  At times it is very hard to even get to the bar!

A famous saying of Hemingway is “my mojito in La Bodeguita and my daiquiri in El Floridita”.

El Floridita

El Floridita at Obispo #557 is another one of Hemingway’s haunts.  We attempted twice to squeeze in but it was just too packed.  Hopefully, you will have better luck than us.

El Malecon

The Malecon stretches from 8km from the harbour at Old Havana to Vedado. Sunsets are incredible from here at night!

El Morro Castle

El Morro Castle sits proudly at the entrance to the bay of Havana.  Construction was completed in 1630 and it was used to protect the city from attack.  Opposite El Morro is La Punta Castle.  An iron chain would be raised between the two forts if an attack was imminent preventing ships from entering the bay.  Today you can visit the Fort’s museum for a small fee.  There are great views to be had over Havana.

Calle Mercaderes

Calle Mercaderes (Merchant Street) is a busy touristy cobblestoned street in Old Havana that has been restored by the city since 1980.  Today it houses cafes, hotels, boutique stores and museums.  It is definitely worth a visit.

Revolution Square

Revolution Square

Revolution Square is the site of the major political and social events held in Cuba, it is also the seat of justice.

Classic Car Ride

What a fun way to sightsee around Havana

Holidays in Cuba should include a Classic Car Ride around Old Havana.  Make sure you opt for an open top ride!  You will feel like royalty!  We negotiated our ride for 45 minutes for USD30.00 from outside the Melia Cobiha Hotel at Avenida Paseo entre Calles y 3ra, Vedado dropping us off in Old Havana.

Habana Bus Tour – Hop on Hop off

Havana is quite spread out from Old Havana to Vedado and to the Miramar district where most of the embassies are located as well as luxury hotels.  This is a great inexpensive way to see the sights and use the bus to get you from A to B.  We boarded the bus in the Vedado district just outside The Presidente Hotel in Avenida de Los Presidentes.  We travelled through the Miramar district and got off in Old Havana.  In the late afternoon, we picked the bus back up from Old Havana and headed back to the Hotel Presidente.

Cost per person: CUC 10

Other recommended tours:

6 Hour Tour of Havana by Night

Havana City Tour

On The Trail of Ernest Hemingway

Learning the Ritual of Cuban Cigars in Cuba



Vinales is 180km from Havana. Vinales is a couple of hours drive from Havana and you can do a day trip with certain tour companies.  We would recommend staying 2 nights in Vinales if you only have one week in Cuba. Vinales was definitely one of our favourite places in Cuba.  The landscape with impressive mountains, lush green valleys, stunning sunsets over the mountains and the opportunity to go horseriding through the tobacco fields early in the morning.  The town can be very busy with tourists.

How to get to Vinales

We travelled by Viazul Bus from Havana.  Our Airbnb host purchased the tickets for us for a handling fee of CUC10.  It is worth it.  The Viazul Bus Station is always busy and queues are the norm when purchasing tickets.  The cost for a return ticket CUC24 per person.  The journey takes about 3.5 hours each way and the bus drops you off right in the middle of Vinales outside the main church in the square.  If your accommodation is close by it is easy to walk, our Airbnb host picked us up in a small tractor and trailer.

What to see in Vinales Horseriding through the Tobacco Fields and Cave Visit

There are many operators running the Horse Riding Tour.  Check with your accommodation hosts who are the best companies to go with.  Our hosts organized our tour for us.

Early morning ride through the tobacco fields of Vinales

It was an early start at 7.30am when the Tour Leader walked to our accommodation, collected us and we walked to where the horses were tethered.  There was just the two of us on the tour, nothing better than your own private tour.  We noted with other tours there were larger groups. The horses looked well cared for and happy, which is important for us as we have seen some tours (not here in Vinales) where the horses were not treated well.

The ride takes you through small villages, down paths through the lush green tobacco fields until you reach the cave.  A guide was there waiting for us and we headed down into the cave.  Luckily we had torches, it was cool and damp and it could be a little slippery in some areas, but it was worth it.

By now we needed a caffeine hit, lucky this was our next stop.  After a good explanation on the local coffee grown in the area, we got to have our ‘caffeine hit’ and a cake just to get us through the next hour or so.

Duncan enjoying a hand made cigar in Vinales

Riding through more tobacco fields we arrived at our final destination.  We had to wait about 20 minutes for the group before us to finish and then we had a private tour of the tobacco shed and a chance to roll your own cigar.  You can purchase cigars here if you would like, these are naturally rolled using natural ingredients and are a lot less expensive than shop bought ones.

We arrived back into Vinales around 12.  Cost for the tour CUC25.00 per person.

Hop on Hop off Bus

Vinales runs a Hop on Hop off Bus for CUC 5 per person.  The departure point is from the main Square in town.  There are many stops along the way the most popular being Hotel Los Jazmines for the views and you can also swim for a small fee of CUC 3.  There are 19 stops in total where you can visit the Cave de Indio, Mural de la Prehistoria and other stops along the way.

Cayo Jutias
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Jumping on and off planes, boats, trains and buses, walking many kilometres daily exploring a new city as well as coping with the different time zones can be tiring and even detrimental to your health if you are not fit enough.  Our health and fitness levels are paramount for us travelling on the road long term, even more so now that we are both in our early 60s. You need to be fit to travel!  Even if you are a business traveller you can keep fit on the road. A travel workout routine is a way to go!

When we are back home in Sydney, albeit for only a few months, I (Jane) work out at Virgin Active where I enjoy Body Pump, Zumba and Yoga classes but it is difficult to join a gym on the road when you are constantly on the move.

Our Top Tips For Staying Fit Whilst Travelling. # 1 Eat Well

Eating well is paramount to staying fit whilst travelling

Keeping to a healthy balanced diet is important.  We try to stay in accommodation where breakfast is included, a healthy breakfast can keep us going all day until dinner time.

Rum baba in Naples!

At times we can be tempted by local delicacies such as rum babas in Naples Italy and pastel de nata in Madeira but the word here is everything in ‘moderation’.

Green Market in Split

Shop in local green markets, some of our favourites have been in:

La Boqueria Barcelona

In most countries around the world, this is easy and we experience local foods that we cannot get back in our home country, Australia. We love street food in Mexico and Thailand, tapas in Spain and Portugal, freshly caught grilled fish in Mexico, Laos and Turkey and curries in India, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore.

In Tepoztlan Mexico where we were house sitting a young boy would come around every few days and sell us 3 avocados for USD1.  The green market in the centre of town offered not only the freshest fruit and vegetables but stalls selling locally prepared cooked vegetable dishes as well.  At the weekend, the market doubles in size and the queues form outside the food truck selling freshly made fish tacos with homemade chilli sauce, but be prepared to wait a bit!  Natural ice cream is also a favourite in Tepoztlan at the weekend market, our favourite is coconut, so refreshing.

The Friday organic market was a tradition for locals and expats alike.  Fruit, vegetables, locally grown wine, artisan loaves of bread and cakes, cooked dishes, jams and honey.

In Barcelona, La Boqueria is the most famous market, our favourite is the freshly squeezed juices and fresh fruit all for a couple of euros.

What if you are a Vegetarian

I (Jane, one half of the To Travel Too team) am a vegetarian and there are only a few countries that I have struggled in – Argentina and just recently Cuba. Argentina is definitely for the meat eater and I managed to live on a tomato pasta dish every night for the time we spent there. Cuba was a different matter. Havana was fine with many choices available but as we travelled further into the country the choices were limited – pizza or very oily pizza. In some of the towns if we came across a restaurant that served grilled fish or a good vegetarian option we tended to eat there every night.

After spending a month recently in the states of Kerala and Goa in India, I was in heaven.  So many choices on the menu for vegetarian food I was spoilt for choice.  I even participated in a cooking class in Thekkady Kerala and created some amazing curries e.g. pineapple curry, okra and beans!

Thailand and the rest of the South East Asian countries are great for vegetarian options on all their regional dishes.  If it does not mention on the menu a vegetarian option I have always asked and most establishments have been able to provide it.  My favourite is Pad Thai and Cashew and Vegetable stir fry in Thailand, and if you are ever in Chiang Mai their unique dish is Koh Soi, a great vegetarian option can be ordered.

In Bophut Koh Samui Thailand on a Friday Night, there is a walking street market that sells the best Pad Thai for around 50 baht (USD1.50).

To Travel Too Tip

Always wash your fruit and vegetables in clean filtered water, in some countries especially in South America and Asia you can buy solutions to soak your produce in.

# 2 Drink Plenty of Water

The latest article in January 2018 states that women should drink 2.7 litres of water a day whilst men should be drinking at least 3.7 litres.  You can read the article here.

We also recommend that you have your own water bottle.  We are all for reducing the amount of plastic on the earth.

Here are some of our top choices:

To Travel Too Tip

If you buy water, beer or soft drinks that are in a bottle it is highly recommended to wipe the top before drinking straight from the bottle.  In most cases the bottles have been sitting outside warehouses, shops, gathering dust and are open to the elements etc.

#3 Walk, Walk and then Walk Some More

Walking is the cheapest exercise around, all you need is time, a good map and a good pair of walking shoes.  The latest news states that 10,000 steps (equal to 5 miles or 8km) are required to lose weight and maintain a reasonable fitness level. If you stay a while in a city you can plan your routes to get the most out of your visit.

It is easy for us when we arrive at a new destination to reach the 10,000 steps as we hit the pavement as soon as we arrive and explore.

You may want to consider purchasing a Fitbit or a pedometer to help you reach your 10,000 steps a day.

Since 2013 we have travelled continuously and the only shoes that have been able to keep us with us is our Merrell Walking Shoes, they have covered thousands of miles and they are the most comfortable.

#4 Travel Lightly

We travel lightly with our Osprey Carry on Luggage and Osprey Day Pack.  Travelling light also saves us money, not only on baggage fees but where possible we save money by not using taxis or public transport at the same time exercising.

#5 Why not take a Free Walking Tour?

Waking Tour – Taste Porto Food Walking Tour in Porto Portugal

We have undertaken quite a few over the years and it is one way that we can learn about a city from a local and walk some of the back streets that we would not normally find on our own.  Just recently we have also experienced some food walking tours, combining what we love best – food and walking.  Some of our best walking tours have been:

Walking through Welchman Gully in Barbados

#6 How about taking your walking to the next level – Trekking?

We made it! Day 4 of our Machu Picchu trek!

A 4-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.  In our first year of travel we completed the trek, it definitely was a challenge but well worth it.  You can read about our daily experiences here:

#7 Horse Riding

Sunset Horse Ride in the Andes Mountains of Argentina

Travel brings with it the most amazing experiences and horse riding is one of those.  To date, we have ridden into the Andes Mountain at Sunset in Argentina with a Gaucho and ridden through the tobacco fields in Vinales, Cuba.

#8 Raise Your Fitness Level by Climbing Ancient Monuments

Lost count on how many steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun just outside Mexico City

If there is one type of exercise that increases your heart rate, increases your core muscle strength and gives you a cardio workout at the same time is climbing Mayan or Aztec temples throughout South America.  Just remember to take lots of water with you and use sunscreen and wear a hat.

Petra, Jordan – a long way to the top!

We burnt a few calories climbing:

#9 Travel workout no equipment:

There is really no excuse for not being able to work out even when you are in a hotel room.  Here are some examples of a 30-minute hotel room:

  • Tricep workouts – tricep dips use the side of the bed or a chair
  • Body weight squats
  • Push-ups
  • Planks
  • Side Planks
  • Sit-ups
  • Push-ups against the wall
  • Lunges
  • Dip and Leg Lifts
  • Jumping Jacks

There are 10 different type of exercise movements, aim to spend 3 minutes on each, 1 minute each round of 3.

Travel exercise bands are great for workouts in your hotel room as well.

Hotels that have gyms are perfect for your full body hotel gym workout.  Most have the equipment you will need such as treadmills, rowing machines, weights, cycle etc.  Two of our favourite gyms whilst we were on the road was Nizuc Resort & Spa in Cancun Mexico and in Dubrovnik Croatia the Sun Gardens Radisson Resort & Spa. 

#10 Yoga

Just recently I have added yoga to my workouts to stay in shape. Yoga is easy to do anywhere, in hotels, on the beach or in parks. I find that when we are caring for dogs whilst in our house sits they end up joining in with me. Our new four-legged friends have joined me in Mexico and Panama even getting underneath me whilst doing ‘downward dogs’. I have even had one ‘pee’ with excitement in one session in Mexico. They seem to be calmed by the movements and as soon as my yoga mat comes out they are eager to get outside and just be beside me.

There are so many online yoga classes these days that it can be quite confusing.  After working out with various yoga apps and online courses my favourite is the Gentle Yoga video series from Sixty and me.

Yoga mats are easily transportable, here are some examples to consider.

#11 You Can Still Maintain Your Weight Whilst Cruising

Pullmantur Monarch 15 night sailing from Bilbao Spain to Colon Panama

Just recently we undertook a Repositioning Cruise from Bilbao in Spain to Colon in Panama with Pullmantour. It was easy to keep in shape with their 24-hour gym and daily yoga, dance and stretch classes. Of course, you could also just walk the decks, don’t take the lift and use the stairs daily.

Cruising offers great buffet selections catering well for vegetarians and meat eaters. Just stay away from the “carbo” laden cakes, bread, biscuits and desserts and opt for healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners.  Watch your calorie intake with the irresistible cocktails on offer.

#12 Dance and Body Combat

I (Jane) am an ex-Zumba teacher and still use my class songs to have a good workout and I add a few body combat numbers as well. Not only does this keep me fit but also keeps my brain ticking over, having to remember every move.

Youtube is the best resource for online Zumba dance tracks – click here for examples.

You can find Les Mills Body Combat Tracks here on Youtube.

#13 We Are Not Runners But If You Are:

There are many tours available for travellers who are runners in all parts of the world. If you are new to a city what a great way to see the city and to meet new fellow runners. How about joining a running tour in:

#14 How about a game of Golf:

You should be able to walk your 10,000 steps in an 18 hole game of golf.

#15 You can’t beat a good work out in the hotel swimming pool!
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We would like to introduce our Guest Writer Vanessa Anderson.  Vanessa with her partner Ian Usher,  are full-time international house sitters and publishers of House Sitting – The Ultimate Lifestyle Magazine. Vanessa and Ian have been travelling the world continuously since 2013. Having sold most of their possessions, they prefer the freedom to explore the world, living as locals for extended periods in different countries.

International House Sitting

Vanessa house sitting in the U.K.

Why is it that we spend so much of our time, working hard to create a secure existence, and then crave those one or two-week vacations where we can escape? It seems that security is limiting, and “the escape” is when we feel free, relaxed and energized!

What a contradiction!

I know I spent much of my working life aspiring to “escape the rat race” so that I could travel the world, and experience different cultures and experiences.

But I never dreamed that I would be able to do this full-time before retirement, and work remotely to fund this adventure – without a win on the lottery!

So when I first discovered international house sitting, I couldn’t quite believe that this would be my ticket to a freedom lifestyle.

Bocas del Toro in Panama

I’d already started the process of breaking ties by selling my house at the end of a long-term relationship. Then I gave up my job to go and live with my new partner Ian, on a small island in Panama. I hadn’t thought much beyond living on the proceeds of my property sale and had pushed into the background the reality that this money wouldn’t sustain me indefinitely.

It seemed I had escaped one trap but put myself in a new one. The only difference being that it was a much nicer environment- a small island in the Panamanian archipelago of Bocas del Toro. I guess I’d become an expat, but I still needed to find a way to create an income or to learn how to travel inexpensively.

This became more of a necessity after Ian and I decided we really wanted to travel the world while we were still young and fit enough to actually enjoy the experience.

House sitting enabled this to happen.

We’d used house sitters to look after the island home when we left on visa renewal runs, so the concept wasn’t new to us. It just took a while for us to realize the amazing opportunity it could offer us too if we used it as a way to travel less expensively.

Cutting out accommodation costs can really have a very positive effect on your travel budget! And it’s not just the lodgings, it’s the gas, electric, and wifi. I was surprised to discover that sometimes even a car is provided!

At this point, it’s important to say that the primary purpose of house sitting isn’t to get free accommodation!

We’d used house sitters to look after our home and our jungle dog, Campesino – who while being Head of Island Security, in reality, wouldn’t have been very effective at all! So we knew the benefits of using house sitters to oversee the property and pet care.

So we knew that house sitting came with responsibilities and we were prepared for that part of the exchange. We considered it a very fair swap and understood the win-win-win nature of this trust-based agreement. Great for the homeowners, ideal for us, and the best ever result for the pets!

We also thought it would be a wonderful way to help other homeowners trapped by their homes and pets. It would allow them to go off on their own travel adventures, while we got to live in their homes, with their pets (we needed our cuddles), experiencing the locality like a resident – essentially living like a local.

Vanessa and Ian Hiking the Grand Canyon

So that’s how we started out. We became full-time international house sitters and worked out ways to minimize our travel costs by staying in one continent, or an area for a substantial length of time. In Central America for instance, we were able to visit 5 different countries, and house sit in 3 of them, travelling inexpensively between locations by bus.

Our money now goes much further, and we’ve had the time and space to work on other ways of supplementing our income.


House Sitting in Australia

In four years we’ve travelled to the USA, China, India, Australia, Abu Dhabi, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Botswana and Barbados. We experienced our first extreme weather event, a devastating Cyclone in Fiji; we hiked back and forth across the Grand Canyon; and spent a month travelling around Cuba. We’ve dived with sharks, climbed numerous mountains, been to the Victoria Falls and experienced a once in a lifetime mobile safari in the Okavango Delta.

Our lives are full of travel opportunities and experiences, and we don’t expect that to stop anytime soon. That’s because international house sitting is becoming more and more popular, with more homeowners in new and interesting locations, recognizing the benefits of using house and pet sitters to look after their homes.

Mobile Safari Set up – Botswana

House sitting truly does open a world of possibility and opportunity. I would never have expected that for three months this year, we’d be house sitting on the edge of a river in Botswana, watching hippos just a few meters away for our evening entertainment.

Elephant watching in Botswana

We would never have been able to afford to travel to Botswana, the luxury safari capital of the world. But house sitting made it possible!

More about Vanessa and Ian

As well as the magazine, Vanessa and Ian have created an online video course – Become a House Sitting Pro – which will take you through all the stages of becoming a successful house sitter, and provide valuable templates and checklists needed when applying for and managing sits.

They also work remotely as TEFL English teachers, helping others get started on a similar path.

Check out more here: Download House Sitting Magazine: https://HouseSittingMagazine.com/read 35% Discount TEFL 120 Hour Course – use code HSM35:              https://housesittingmagazine.com/myTEFL Connect with other house sitters:


We thank Vanessa and Ian for a great article on House Sitting and the opportunities it can present for you to live an exciting life full of adventures.  Have you tried House Sitting?

The post International House Sitting – A World of Opportunity appeared first on To Travel Too.

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Why you should spend a full day at the Guinness Storehouse, let us count away the hours for you:

  • view the world’s largest glass beer pint that can hold 14.3 million pints
  • Gravity Bar Dublin – enjoy a free pint of the best Guinness in Dublin whilst enjoying 360-degree views of Dublin
  • 7 floors of fun, history and information
  • 3 restaurants, 2 bars, 1 cafe
  • Guinness Storehouse shop
  • Guinness Connoisseur Experience
  • Guinness Academy
  • Guinness Advertising over the years – believe us they have some of the best beer ads we have seen

If you think that you can get all this done in 2 hours, just like we thought we could, think again, allow a full day and take it easy.  Also plan your check-in time as well.  When you purchase your tickets online you can nominate a time.  We thought 12.00 would be perfect so that we could enjoy our free pint of Guinness around 1.30 to 2.00.  Wrong!  You enjoy your free pint at the Gravity Bar and the busiest time is from 2.00 onwards.  We would recommend that you select a check-in time around 9.30 – 10 when they first open.

Entrance to Guinness Storehouse Dublin

The Guinness Storehouse attraction is #1 in Dublin, and the Guinness experience was our #1 must-see on our visit after visiting the Banks Beer Brewery Tour and the Mount Gay Rum Tour in Barbados a few months before.

A Little Bit of Irish Background on Guinness

Portrait of Arthur Guinness

In 1756 Arthur Guinness inherited 100 pounds from his godfather, Arthur Price, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel and invested in a small brewery outside Dublin.  In 1759 Arthur signed the Guinness  9000-year lease on St James Gate Brewery paying 45 pounds a year for the privilege.  St James Gate was a derelict 4-acre brewery site.

In 1751 Arthur married Olivia Whitmore and had 21 children, sadly only 10 survived to adulthood.

Arthur Guinness was known as a man of vision.  In 1833 St James Gate Brewery was the largest in Ireland and in the 1880s it was the largest in the world.  Arthur Guinness built 8 miles of railroad tracks and had his own barges to deliver the beer. As part of the lease on St James Gate, Arthur negotiated rights to the city watercourse, these days 8 million litres of water flow into the brewery daily.

The Bell from Lady Miranda on display and can be rung at the Guinness Storehouse

The original bell from the ship “Lady Miranda”  that used to deliver beer from Dublin to Liverpool is located in the Storehouse and is rung after you have had your sample tasting.

This is Why You  Spend a Full Day at the Guinness Storehouse (Enjoy a bit of ‘craic’) Guinness Storehouse Ticket Options: Priority Entrance: Guinness Storehouse With Free Pint From Euros 25

Skip The Line Guinness Storehouse Package from Euros 32.75

Guinness Storehouse Connoisseur Experience from Euros 57.53

On arrival at the Guinness Storehouse, you check-in on the entrance level, we would recommend at least 10-15 minutes before your allocated time, and then make your way up the escalator where you will wait. There are audio guides available for 1 Euro.

The escalator to the meeting point on the first floor at the Guinness Storehouse

The Guinness Storehouse Shop is on your left and it is so tempting to start your shopping there and then, but wait! remember you have allowed all day!

Slainte! The word for ‘cheers and to your good health’ in the Irish Gaelic language! Practice saying it before you enter!

The famous 9000-year lease

Also look down at where you are standing, you may just be standing on Arthur’s famous signature on the 9000-year lease, his signature appears on all Guinness!

Now look up, you are at the bottom of the world’s largest Guinness glass that holds 14.3 million pints of Guinness which is 3 times the population of Ireland.

View of the levels inside the Guinness Storehouse

The Guinness Storehouse has been opened since 2000 at St James Gate and in 2016 16.5 million visited the complex.  That is also a lot of Guinness pints that were pulled in that year.

If you think that is a high number, let us share this one with you!

15 million pints of Guinness are pulled every day in over 150 countries. Phew! That’s a lot of Guinness!

What’s All The Hype About Guinness

One of the many ads for Guinness

Liquid Gold its has been called! Why? Apparently the flawless favour of the brew and its profitability! We would add great advertising!

Guinness Advertising over the years

Home of the Black Stuff – actually believe it or not that Guinness is not black but a deep dark ruby red colour.

198 calories per pint – which is less than an average pint of beer.

Is Guinness good for you? Oh yeah! Guinness was the perfect pint after giving blood it replenishes the electrolytes.  The 1929 tagline – “Guinness is good for you” was an actual fact.  We were also told that Guinness was good for you if you were pregnant, it provided the iron that your body needed.

How to Pour The Perfect Pint

The perfectly pulled pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar

There is a knack in pouring the perfect pint of Guinness and it also has something to do with the harp emblem that you will see on all Guinness advertising.  The 14th-century Irish harp that the logo was modelled on can be seen in the library at Trinity College.

1.  The Guinness Pint Glass is held at an angle of 45 degrees tilted away from you

A copy of the Golden Harp

2.  The tap handle is pulled towards you to the full horizontal position without the glass being touched and it is filled up to 3/4 at the golden harp emblem

3.  The pint needs to rest for exactly 119.5 seconds

4.  To create the famous Guinness head you need to push the tap away from you, pour the Guinness slower than before, let it rest slightly, and then enjoy. The head should be between 12-18mm in height.

The Guinness should be cold to touch and served chilled at between 4-5 degrees centigrade.

Water from the Wicklow Mountains

Everyone says ‘Guinness tastes better in Ireland’ and it is true, we have done our research.  We think it must be the water from the Wicklow Mountains.

How to Drink Your Perfect Pint of Guinness

Pints of Guinness at the Gravity Bar

This is ‘how to unlock the magic for yourself’ is what we were told when we went to enjoy our small sample test.

  1.  Take a deep breath
  2.  Take a large mouthful ensuring that you are pulling through the head of beer
  3.  Let it develop on your palate for 3 – 4 seconds
  4.  Swallow
  5.  Exhale through the nose and enjoy its smooth velvet texture
The Guinness Process

Guinness is made from 4 ingredients, water, barley, hops and yeast all special in their own right but when mixed together according to Guinness’s special recipe the result is pure black gold which we all love – Guinness is brewed exclusively in Dublin and then sent to their international Guinness breweries.

Can you imagine – 30 million bubbles in every pint that you are drinking

There are 30 million bubbles in every pint of Guinness.

  1. Water fresh from the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland
  2. Barley – Guinness purchases 2/3 of the malting barley that is grown in Ireland every year – approximately 100,000 tonnes.  The Guinness Brewery at St. James Gate is the only brewery in the world that roasts the barley on site at 232 degrees centigrade for 2.5 hours.  Any higher than 232 degrees the barley will catch on fire and any lower it can’t create its unique character. Barley is roasted on site 365 days per year.
  3. Hops – the plants grow to 15 feet and are grown in 35-55 degrees north and south of the equator in countries such as Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, UK, USA and New Zealand.
  4. Yeast – Guinness Yeast is used in all their beers

Brewhouse 4 is the most technological advances sustainable breweries in the world.

Tasting every morning at 10 am by the Scientists

The brew is tasted 23 times and is analysed 251 times by Guinness’s team of scientists.

Guinness Storehouse Tour Length

Guinness Storehouse is a self-guided tour.  To get the most of out of your Guinness Tour Dublin you will need to spend more time on the first 2 floors where you will learn all about the ingredients and the process.  You can enjoy the interactive touch screens and video presentations.

The 3rd floor displays all the Guinness advertising – it is also a photographers delight.

Guinness Storehouse Restaurants, Cafes and Bars

One of the captivating 360 deg views from the Gravity Bar

  • The Gravity Bar
  • The Connoisseur Bar
  • Brewer’s Dining Hall
  • 1837 Bar & Brasserie
  • Arthur’s Bar
  • The Cooperage Cafe

We hear that Guinness pie is on the menu as well as other delectable items made from Guinness of course!

Guinness Storehouse hours

Opening Hours: 0930 – 1900 (with last entrance at 1700)

July and August longer opening hours – 0900 – 2000 (with last entrance at 1800)

Closed Good Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day.

Guinness Storehouse Parking

The Guinness Storehouse has a free car park around the corner next to the old Hopstore, on Crane Street, but spaces are limited.

Guinness Brewery Tours

For health and safety reasons a visit to the Guinness Brewery Dublin itself is not available.

Guinness Trivia

The Guinness Book of Records was created by the Managing Director of Guinness, Sir Hugh Beaver, in 1954.  The very first edition of the Guinness Book of World Records hit the stands in 1955.  It was actually invented so that Guinness Bartenders could relate fun bits of information and trivia to entertain their patrons at the bar!

Guinness Storehouse Dublin Contact Details Address:

St.James Gate Dublin 8


+353 1408 4800




Guinness Storehouse

Recommended Hotels Dublin

Ashling Hotel

RIU Plaza The Gresham Hotel

The Morrison Dublin – a Double Tree Hilton Property

The Westbury Hotel

The Westin Dublin

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To Travel Too by Totraveltoo - 2M ago

So, you are wondering what to do in Dublin, you love delicious Irish food, you love walking, why not combine the two and enjoy a Food Walking Tour of Dublin.  We are ‘sort of’ becoming addicted to food walking tours by locals after our first one in Cusco Peru, then subsequent others Lickrish Tours in Barbados, and Taste Porto in Porto Portugal. We feel the excitement of being let into the secrets of the locals on where the best places are to eat and drink that are not tourist traps, and especially where the best pubs in Dublin are.

Checking out Tripadvisor, for best things to do in Dublin Ireland,  Fab Food Trails came up tops so we reached out to Eveleen Coyle who is the founder and lead guide and luckily she had two spaces left for the tour on the next Saturday with their guide Chris.

Our Experiences of our Food Walking Tour of Dublin

The meeting place at the Woollen Mills near H’apenny Bridge was easy to find.  We even had some time to explore this side of the river before meeting Chris at 10.15.  We were surprised but pleased to find that local Dubliners outnumbered tourists and were exploring their own city- that was a good sign!

Chris, an author and a trained Chef, whom later we found out to be Maeve Binchy’s (famous Irish author) nephew painted a picture of the history and culture of Ireland and its food from the 11th century onwards to the present day. Some of the highlights from Chris’s introduction:

The diet of the Irish people up until the introduction of the potato was bland and monotonous, to say the least. Their main source of protein was from milk, they grew onions, carrots, parsnips, oats, barley, fruits and berries and ate very little meat.  Honey from their bees was used as sweeteners,  and they brewed their own beer.  For those living in the coastal areas, shellfish was a part of their diet.

Sometime between 1586 and 1600, the potato arrived in Ireland, the exact date remains still unclear.  Farmers could produce a good crop even if their land was of poor quality.  The male diet during this time would consist of 10lbs of potatoes a day with some milk and green vegetables, now that is a lot of potatoes!  Potatoes would be best cooked in the embers of their fires preserving vitamin C.

Disaster struck in 1845 when a fungus attacked the potato crop and half was lost during that first year. By the end of the famine in 1852, over one million had died from starvation and another million had left the country.

Jump a hundred years or so to the 1970s and 80s Ireland was still mainly rural.  The Irish Diet was mostly bacon, cabbage and potatoes on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, fish on Fridays, bacon and cabbage on Saturdays and a roast chicken on Sundays.

Ryanair began operations in 1985 which gave the Irish people the opportunity to travel abroad and this, in turn, changed the food scene in Dublin and Ireland.  Discerning travellers longed for the cuisines that they were enjoying abroad.

When the recession hit Ireland in 2008, the sale and rental of retail properties plummeted, devasting news for some but for others, a bonus as opportunities presented themselves in the availability of smaller shops which were perfect for coffee shops, small lunchtime cafes etc.

Fab Foods Trails #1 – WigWam Dublin

#1 tasting Espresso

Let our journey into Dublin’s fabulous foods begin with coffee, of course, it was that time of the morning and we all needed a bit of a heart starter to get us going.

Wigwam is a live music venue as well as a cafe/bar selling over 100+ rums and cocktails and great coffee.  Our single shot espresso hit the spot, Wigwam takes pride in their coffee blends and this morning we enjoyed a combination of beans from Guatemala and Costa Rica. Apparently one of the secret ingredients is the water, well we all know that coffee contains water, but not all coffee has the privilege of being made with the great water from the Wicklow Mountains.  Yes, water does have a major impact on how coffee tastes, that was news to us!

“piccolo’ latte

Next up was a ‘piccolo’ a baby latte. Wigwam uses local organic dairy milk from 2 dairy farmers based in  Carlow, about 90km from Dublin. Steaming the milk to between 60-65 degrees increases the sweetness making a perfect ‘piccolo’, certainly by the sounds of the group, the coffees went down very well and we were well prepped for our next tasting.  There is always a little of the unknown in food walking tours as you don’t really know what is next until you arrive at the front of the next venue.

Address: 54 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1

Website: Wigwam

Fab Food Trails # 2 – Camerino

A visit to Camerino is a must when in Dublin

We love a good story and Caryna Camerino has a great one to tell, although she was not available to tell her tale herself that day.  A backpacker who only was supposed to stay in Ireland for 2 days has now been in Ireland for 14 years.  Working in HR in Dubin when the recession hit resulted in her having to lay people off Caryna started to bake to help relieve the pressure she was feeling. She opened a stall in a local market and added a delivery business for her brownies that she baked throughout the night.  In 2014 Caryna opened up Camerino in Capel Street and has never looked back. Her earnings have doubled each year since opening and she now runs courses and is open on Sundays. Caryna now employs 10 people and has 2 bakeries.  Here at Camerino the staff start their working day at 7 am and bake everything in the small oven on the premises.

Freshly baked scones and jam yum!

There was an enticing aroma of freshly baked scones as we entered the shop and by the look of anticipation on everyone’s face, we were hoping they were coming our way!  We were not wrong! Absolutely fabulous with their homemade jam and cream! Everything is mixed by hand.

Address: 158 Capel Street North City Dublin 1

Website: Camerino

Chris explains to us that the North side of the River Liffey has always been an urban working class area.  New eateries are popping up everywhere, he pointed out Klaw Poke beside Camerino,  a cross between Japanese sushi and Peruvian ceviche. There are now high-end cafes, Korean, Chinese and Lebanese cuisines just to name a few, Capel Street has a new lease on life offering some of the best places to eat in Dublin.

Fab Food Trails #3 Visiting Broughgammon & #4 The Oyster Bar at Temple Bar Market

The enticing bakery at Dollard & Co

Heading over the Grattan Bridge over the River Liffey to our next stop Chris took us through Dublin’s newest food store – Dollard & Co at Wellington Quay.  Dollard & Co will make a mark on the Dublin food scene with its bakery, butcher, food court selling wood fire pizza and numerous restaurants. The displays of fruit and vegetables caught our eye as we wandered through.  Definitely one of those stores that you could spend hours in.

Cheeses at Temple Bar Market

One of the best Dublin tourist attractions is Temple Bar.  Temple Bar is always a fun part of the city to wander through and on that Saturday morning little did we know but we were headed through an archway into Meeting House Square for the Temple Bar Food Market that is held on Saturdays.  Who doesn’t love a food market especially one that showcases the best of typical Irish food.


Broughgammon at Temple Bar Market

We passed stalls with all types of bread, cheeses, fruit and vegetables, food until we reached Broughgammon.

Broughgammon, back in 2011, saw an opportunity in the goat industry.  Male kid goats were put down at birth whilst female goats were used for milk production.  It seemed a shame as goat meat is a healthier alternative to red meat, it is low in cholesterol and saturated fat as well as high in protein and iron.

Broughgammon also specialises in free-range rose veal and seasonal wild game. They also run cookery classes, butchery and wild game classes, an artisan on-site butchery and a farm shop.  Their meat can be delivered all over Ireland and the UK.

In 2016 at the British Street Food Awards their goat tacos with chorizo and bacon crumb won the award for Best Snack Food.

Billy Kid Goat Burgers

The tasting today was goat burgers, and from those who were not vegetarians, they were given the thumbs up.

Address of Broughgammon Farm:  50 Straid Road, Ballycastle, Co.Antrim, BT54 6NP.

Website: Broughgammon Farm

The Oyster Bar

Oyster Bar Temple Bar Market

Oysters were a primary food source in Ireland for over 5,000 years confirmed by the finding of oyster shell fossils dating back to that time.

Oyster Bar Temple Bar Market

You either love them or hate them! The Oyster Bar is a busy venue on a Saturday and at times you can expect to queue.  On offer today was oysters with a shallot vinaigrette or tabasco and lemon with a glass of chilled white wine. For those of us who were not too keen on oysters, we relaxed with our glass of white wine and enjoyed the ambience of the market.

Oyster Bar at Temple Bar Market

Marine biologist Stephen Kavanagh owns the Oyster Bar and loves chatting about the health benefits of oysters.  They are low in calories and low in fat, a good source of protein and high in  vitamins A, E, and C, zinc, iron, calcium, selenium, and vitamin B12.

There are many food options to enjoy whilst at the Temple Bar Market.  We will certainly return.

Address: Temple Bar Food Market, Meeting House Square, Dublin Southside, Dublin, Ireland

Open: Saturdays from 10.00 to 16.30

Website: www.marinehealthfoods.com

Fab Food Trails #5 Pepperpot Cafe at the Powerscourt Centre

Waiting to taste our bagels

Just off Grafton Street is one of Dublin’s finest examples of classic Georgian architecture – Powerscourt Townhouse once the property of Viscount Richard Wingfield and his wife during the 18th century. Powerscourt took over 3 years to build at a cost of Euros 80,000 and was designed by Robert Mack.

We were visiting the Pepperpot Cafe opened by two women Dervla James & Marian Kilcoyne who were students of the famous Irish cooking school – Ballymaloe.  Opening up in the middle of the Irish recession would have daunted the best of us, but these 2 gutsy women did and are extremely successful.  Their focus is on traditional Irish Farmhouse baking offering the customer soda bread, victoria sponges, scones and bagels that are made from scratch.


It was the bagels that we were tasting today with smoked salmon, lemon and chive cream cheese.  They went down a treat! Do yourself a favour and check their menu out, you can even take home jams and chutneys and homemade bread (n.b. all bread must be ordered 1 day in advance).

Address: Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, 59 William Street South Dublin 2, Ireland

Website: Pepperpot Cafe

Fab Food Trails #6 Sheridans Cheesemongers

Sheridans Cheesemongers

After coffee, scones, goat burgers, oysters, smoked salmon bagels what ones craves next is cheese! We love Lonely Planets take on Sheridan’s “If heaven were a cheese shop, this would be it.” We totally agree. The oohs and aahs from our group as we entered Sheridans in South Anne Street just off Grafton Road was enough to know that this was something special.

Sheridans Cheesemongers

We were guided out to the back and an impressive display of cheese for us to taste.  We were delighted to see the presence of and to have another tasting of Durrus Cheese, from Durrus Cheese in West Cork, which we had visited the week before on a West Cork Tour when attending the travel blogging conference TBEX

Heaven is Sheridans Cheesemongers

Cheese tasting at Sheridans

Sheridan’s is a great find for those who love cheese, with cheeses from Ireland, United Kingdom and Europe there is so much choice. Sheridans was..

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As I sit here and write about things to do in West Cork my mind goes back to that day when 8 of us headed out from the INEC in Killarney with guide extraordinaire Jessie McDonald to visit West Cork on our TBEX Pre-Bex Tour. I remember thinking at that time could “Ireland get any better?” We had just completed a road trip from Dublin to Celbridge, Limerick, Ballingarry, Dingle, Killorglin, Kenmare to Killarney and we were blown away by the scenery, landscapes and traditional Irish villages and of course the Irish hospitality (and the Guinness!).

Well, West Cork, you exceeded our expectations!  You see, Jessie our Guide is a West Cork lass, our coach driver Charlie from Kerry, and there seems to be a bit of rivalry between the 2 counties ‘which is more scenic’ and in turn a bit of fun rivalry rubbed off between the two of them during the day.  Sorry, Charlie, we are siding with Jessie on this one! West Cork is definitely more scenic and we only saw a small part of it.

As we drove through lush green fields full where sheep and cattle were grazing, over old stone bridges and around tight bends in the road where traditional Irish cottages clung to the sides Jessie regaled us with history and stories of life in Ireland. We could listen to Jessie all day, so passionate and so informative, the perfect guide for our day out.

We learnt about the Irish language.  If you or I were to move to Ireland we would be called ‘blow ins’ – a person who was not born in the town, even if you had moved there 30 years ago you would still be called a ‘blow in’.

Have you heard the expression ‘craic’ to us non-Irish it can be a little confusing?  There is no exact English translation but as Jessie explained ‘having the craic’ means having fun.

We learnt about stone circles (a monument of stones arranged in a circle), ring forts (enclosed farmsteads in the early medieval period), fairies and Irish bogs as we travelled around. Now, did we believe in leprechauns? Do you?

Things to do in West Cork #1 A Visit to Durrus Cheese in Coomkeen Durrus

View over Sheeps Head Peninsula

The journey from Killarney took us over the Sheep’s Head Peninsula and a photo opportunity at Faite Boulteenagh located between Bantry and Durrus.  Visiting Ireland during Autumn is a spectacular time to visit where leaves of verdant green change colour to vivid red, gold and orange. It is cooler, can be wet at times but less congested, but perfect to enjoy the Irish cuisine.

We were greeted by Sarah Hennessy as we arrived, the daughter of Jeffa Gill, who started the family business over 40 years ago. Back in 1979, Jeffa bought the tumbled down farmhouse in Coomkeen near Durrus, apart from renovating the farmhouse, creating a vegetable garden she purchased a herd of milking cows.

The farm

Jeffa with her friend the late Veronica Steele of Milleens experimented in cheese making in the farmhouse kitchen.  By 1991 the cheese making moved from the farmhouse kitchen to the converted outbuildings.

In 1984 their efforts were rewarded with Durrus Cheese winning gold at the Clones Agricultural Show, this was to be the first of many awards.

After explaining the history of Durrus Cheese Sarah took us over to the small factory to show us the process and to wave a hello to Jeffa herself and her team who were busy making the next batch of cheese.  We witnessed how labour intensive cheese making could be.  During our visit, one of the local farmers took away the whey (the liquid remaining after the milk has been curdled and strained) for fattening up their pigs.

Tasting time at Durrus Cheese with Sarah

Now, what we were all waiting for – taste testing the end product.  Back in the showroom, we sampled:

Durrus Rind Washed Classic Cheese

A semi-soft washed rind cheese which we not only enjoyed here in Durrus but at Dublin’s famous cheese shop – Sheridan’s Cheesemongers on a recent Fab Food Trail Tour in Dublin.

Recent awards:

  • Gold Medal, Irish Food Awards, 2017
  • Gold Medal, British Cheese Awards, 2017
  • 2 Gold Stars, Great Taste Awards, UK, 2016
  • Bronze Medal, British Cheese Awards, 2016
  • Gold Medal, British Cheese Awards, 2013
Durrus Og

A soft cheese young cheese that is perfect for the cheese board and can be melted in pasta dishes and baked pies and tarts.

Recent awards:

  • Best Irish Cheese, British Cheese Awards, 2017
  • 3 Gold Stars, Great Taste Awards, UK, 2016
Dunmanus Matured Farmhouse Cheese

Dunmanus is made from raw cows milk and aged for 6 months. Dunmanus is perfect for the cheeseboard or in a Ploughman’s Lunch.

Recent awards:

  • Silver Medal, Irish Cheese Awards, 2015

If we were not on a tour certainly one or even all 3 of the cheeses would be coming home with us.

Contact Details for Durrus Cheese

Address: Durrus Cheese, Coomkeen, Durrus, Bantry, County Cork Ireland P75 PN81
Co. Cork, Ireland P75 PN81

Email:Durrus Cheese

Telephone: +353 (0) 27 61100

Website: Durrus Cheese

If you want to visit Durrus Cheese:

Visits to Durrus Cheese are by prior arrangement.

If you wish to purchase their cheese the showroom is open Monday through Friday between 09.00 and 14.00.

Cheese Recipes

Durrus Cheese has recipes available on their website for their cheeses.

Location of Durrus Cheese in Durrus West Cork

Things to do in West Cork #2 A Visit to Victor Daly Master Stone Carver in Ahakista

Just a short 20-minute drive away through stunning West Cork scenery we arrived at Ahakista to meet charismatic Victor Daly, Master Stone Carver.

Victor, originally from Midleton, has made Ahakista his home with his wife, and whom both now try to live a sustainable life growing vegetables, raising pigs, lambs and goats, recycling wherever and whatever they can. Victor has worked in the US and Scotland in castles and cathedrals, he explained to us that ‘he could have spent his life working at Edinburgh Cathedral’.

Victor has a busy schedule, working on his commissions from Monday through to Friday and running 2-day weekend Stone Carving Courses on Saturdays and Sundays.

He overcomes his busy work schedule by stretching, tai-chi, ensuring that he bends his knees whilst working on his pieces, eating well, drinking lots of water and taking a short break every 2 hours.  Stone carving is heavy work and time consuming,  you need to have a lot of patience. He states “on my course if you are able to cut one good letter in 2 days you are doing well! We start with the letter ‘i’ and spelling is vital”.

The concrete floor of his workshop can be cold especially in winter when Victor runs his courses he comes down early and starts the fire so it is cozy and warm for the students.

Victor’s commissions range from headstones for graves,  house name plaques, abstract sculptures and Christmas gifts just to name a few.  Stone carvings are ideal for interior and exterior use. When creating a headstone he talks to the relatives to find more out about the deceased, their passions etc so that he can create a headstone accordingly.

Victor told us that he has a lot of retired people coming to his course, they tend to do well as they have the time and the patience to work on their chosen pieces.  “One of them”, he laughed, was so good that he had better watch himself, he has new competition!”

If you are considering learning how to carve Victor even has an Airbnb property that he rents out! When his students are not learning the art they are enjoying the fresh air and the walks through the countryside of Ahakista.

Is there a technique to stone carving?

Victor at work

Victor explained that you need to hold the chisel lightly and loosely if you hold it too tight your hand will get tired.  It is like writing with 2 hands.  Some of us had a go working on a piece if local slate, moving the chisel lightly from left to right at an angle. It is not easy.  There are different types of chisels that Victor works with and each makes their unique sound.  When conducting a class he can tell which of his students ‘have got it’ just by the sound of the chisel.

Contact details

For more information on his courses click here.

Victor’s website details: The Stone Carver

Telephone: +353 (0) 86 051 4116

Email: info@thestonecarver.com

Address: Rossnacaheragh, Ahakista, Durrus, County Cork, Ireland

Accommodation at the Stone Carver’s

Airbnb Property details.

If you have not stayed in an Airbnb property before we have a special offer for you where you can save Euros on your first night’s accommodation.

Map of Ahakista in Durrus County Cork

Location of Victor Daly, The Stone Carver

Things to do in West Cork #3 A Visit to Bantry House and Garden

Main Entrance to Bantry House

Bantry House and Garden is ‘one impressive Irish Georgian stately home’ overlooking Bantry Bay in West Cork.

Example of what is available at the lunch menu in the tea house

As part of our tour, we enjoyed a light lunch at the Tea House, which overlooks the sunken garden, in the West Wing before meeting Sophie Shelswell-White, General Manager, and a descendant of the White Family, who gave us a quick tour and history lesson on Bantry House.

In 1765 Richard White purchased Bantry House, which at that time was known as Blackrock House.  Richard was a local Councillor and had 3 sons.

Richard White, was made a Baron in 1797 and then in 1801 became known as Viscount Berehaven.  At that time Bantry House consisted of 90,000 acres and the family were one of the largest landowners in Cork.

The 2nd Earl of Bantry enlarged the gardens, creating 7 terraces, a parterre and a fountain and the famous hundred steps, a staircase built of local stone, set amidst azaleas and rhododendron.

During this time the 2nd Earl also enlarged the house to its current size around 30,000 square feet. He travelled with his wife extensively throughout Europe even visiting Russia and Poland acquiring a unique collection of furniture, artwork and tapestries.  He died without having any children and the title went to his brother William the 3rd Earl of Bantry who was married to Jane Herbert of Muckross. They had 6 children 5 daughters and 1 son who became the 4th Earl of Bantry. One of their daughters, Olivia married Sir Arthur Guinness 1st Baron of Ardilaun in 1871.

The title became extinct on the death of the 4th Earl and was passed to his eldest sister Elizabeth.

During the Irish Civil War in 1922 Bantry House was used as a hospital for 5 years.

During the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, the house and stables were occupied by the Second Cyclist Squadron of the Irish Army.

Sophie explaining the history of Bantry House

In 1946 the house is open to the public and in 1978 Egerton Shelswell-White inherits the house. When Sophie’s father Egerton Shelswell-White passed away, Sophie returned from Australia to take over the management of Bantry House.

Our favourite room

The cost of upkeeping a substantial Georgian property such as Bantry House is immense.  The family have now the help of the German University of Stuttgart to assist in the restoration of their valuable art collection and artefacts.

Accommodation at Bantry House

Bantry House offers B & B accommodation in the East Wing. Click this special offer

The following information is taken from their website:

“The 6 rooms in the East Wing of the house are all overlooking the glorious 19th century Italianate garden with the fountain and 100 steps leading up to the woodland. All created and designed by the 2nd Earl of Bantry, Sophie’s ancestor.

Rooms are furnished with silk curtains, Irish woollens and some period furniture. All rooms are ensuite with heated floors and towel rails. When the main rooms of the house close to visitors, overnight guests are given access to the grand Library with fires lit and magazines and books available. Help yourself to a drink from the honesty bar or take a fellow guest on in billiards or snooker in the Billiards Room.

Breakfast is served on the ground floor of the wing with a generous buffet of fruits, yogurts, cheeses and scones as well as cooked to order from the kitchen.

You can also book a private tour, some treats ahead of your arrival or afternoon tea served in the Library.”

What a great way to spend a few nights away!

Sadly all good things must come to an end, we could have stayed chatting with Sophie for ages about Bantry House and her family, but we were due back in Killarney and time was against us.

Contact Details for Bantry House & Garden

Bantry House, Bantry, Co.Cork, Ireland

Email: info@bantryhouse.com

Phone: + 353 27 50047

Website: Bantry House

Our Thanks
Our thanks to Failte Ireland, TBEX, Durrus Cheese, Victory Daly, Sophie and her team at Bantry Bay House and Garden, Jessie McDonald our guide and Charlie our driver for our fun day out in the beautiful county of West Cork.

The post Things To Do in West Cork Ireland – Craft and Culture appeared first on To Travel Too.

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If only the walls could talk, Kilkea Castle, Ireland’s longest continually inhabited Castle in County Kildare, could tell tales of witchcraft, a monkey saving a baby from a fire as well as the ghost of the Wizard Earl who is reputed to return on the 7th day of the 7th month of the 7th year on his horse with silver hoofs.  Now, no one knows which is the 7th year!  Who is up for staying the night of the 7th day, of the 7th month for the next 7 years to witness it? We may pass on it! But, if he was to return he would be amazed at the change.

The 12th Century castle does not look like it was when he was mixing his potions.  The new owner American Jay Cashman, has undertaken a major 5-year renovation of the Castle costing a cool $35 million.

We met with enchanting Siofra who guided us through the Castle, explaining the history and showing us the available accommodation. Siofra is very knowledgeable on the Castle and the surrounding area, you can tell that history is her passion.

The History of Kilkea Castle

There are over 30,000 castles and castle ruins throughout Ireland.  During our 3-week road trip, we visited Barberstown Castle, Bunratty Castle, Blarney Castle, Kilkenny Castle and Dublin Castle and we have to say that all are different, full of intrigue and history and all fascinating to visit.  Ireland had no royal family but instead, the castles were built by the powerful and rich Clan Chieftains and interestingly the Anglo-Norman settlers who had their minds set on conquering Ireland.

Main Entrance

Kilkea Castle was built in 1180, by Hugh de Lacy, the Earl of Ulster and who was also the Chief Governor of Ireland, for Sir Walter de Riddlesford. The Noble Earl Strongbow who owned the land gave it to Riddlesford.  The original structures would have been a stone keep and gatehouse.  On Riddlesford’s death in 1244 his two daughters Emelina and Ela were left the Castle.  Emelina married and had a daughter also named Emelina who married Maurice Fitzgerald, the 3rd Baron of Offaly.  The Castle stayed in the Fitzgerald Family for the next 700 years, some of them are buried in the small graveyard at the rear of the castle.

Now, the last 700 years haven’t gone too smoothly for the Fitzgeralds.  Thomas Fitzgerald who was born in England in 1513 was the 10th Earl of Kildare. He was more commonly known as Silken Thomas as he always dressed in fancy clothes made from silk. In June 1534 a rumour was passed that Thomas’s Father Gerald the 9th Earl of Kildare, who had been called to London to answer the charges of disloyalty to Henry VIII, had been beheaded.  Silken Thomas got together a band of his most loyal followers to uprise against the British.  Silken marched to Dublin Castle where the Archbishop of Dublin was holding a meeting, the Archbishop got word and escaped by boat. The Fitzgerald’s were hated by the English as they had power in Ireland and the Archbishop had it in for the Fitzgeralds. Silken’s men caught up with him and brought him to Clontarf Castle in Dublin.  In the meantime, Silken had received word that his Father had not been beheaded and issued an order ‘do not kill’.  The message did not get through in time and the Archbishop was killed by one of his men.

On the 3rd January 1537, Silken and 5 of his uncles were beheaded at Tyburn.

Silken’s half-brother Gerald at the age of 12 was sent to the continent to be educated and fell under the influence of the renaissance period.  He studied medicine, astrology and metallurgy and discovered alchemy.  Upon the death of Henry VIII, land was returned to the Fitzgeralds so Gerald returned from the continent and took up residence in Kilkea Castle.

Haunted Tower

Gerald spent the next few years practising his newfound arts and dabbled in the Occult as well.  He married his wife Mabel Browne, daughter of Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the Horse in the Court of Edward VI.  The local villagers had started to become suspicious of the Wizard Earl with his mad ideas and witchcraft tendencies, even his wife started to pester him about his work with the ‘dark arts’. He set up 3 tests for Mabel, to see if her resolve was strong enough to resist fear.

The first test – The Earl raised the level of the River Greese to flood the banqueting hall of the Castle where his wife was seated, the water level reached to the height of her chin – she showed no fear.

The 2nd test – The Earl bought one of his wife’s friends back to life when they were in the dining room of the castle, he approached and shook her hand and disappeared into a wall – she showed no fear.

The 3rd and last test – The Earl told his wife to close her eyes, he disappeared and turned up as a bird on her shoulder.  A large cat seeing the bird jumped up and attacked, Mabel screamed, showing fear and the Earl was never to be seen again.

7th day, of the 7th month and of the 7th year – the Earl returns to find the love of his life.

A full history of the Castle written by Lord Walter Fitzgerald can be read at this link from the Kildare Archaeology Society.

Kilkea Castle’s Monkey Logo

Monkey carved into the Haunted part of the Castle

Kilkea Castle is full of legends and none more so than the Monkey legend and why it is the logo for the castle.  The Fitzgerald Family had a ‘cheeky’ monkey who used to escape from them and hide in the trees around the grounds, to prevent this happening the Fitzgeralds had to resort to tying him up in chains.

At a family gathering, a fire broke out, the baby John the 1st Earl of Kildare was asleep in his room, the monkey was also tied up in there.  The family were frantic as they could not reach John, suddenly the monkey appeared with John and was saved.  The Earl in appreciation adopted the monkey logo for the family’s crest.

In the haunted section of the castle where the chimney is located, if you look to the right you will see a carving of the monkey.  There has been no fire since in the Castle.

Evil Eye Stone

The Evil Eye

Once again in the haunted section of the Castle as you enter from the Golf Club look up towards the arch and you will see the Evil Eye Stone.  The grotesque image is to warn off evil spirits and dates back to either the 13th or 14th century. Many of the Irish medieval castles had the evil eye stone incorporated into their structures e.g. Malahide Castle.

Kilkea Castle’s Cemetery and Church Ruins

Under a tree at the back of the Castle, you can find the Fitzgerald’s family pet cemetery.

Two finely cut stones one with Jessie 1893 (a rare breed of terrier – Dandi Dinot)and the other stone with Shaun 1891 – 1902, Murtach 1902 – 1913 and Teige 1913.  Teige did not have an end date so it is believed that he outlived Lord Walter Fitzgerald.

Ruins of the Medieval Church


The Fitzgerald Family Plot is located within the ruins of the medieval church.

Our Experience at Kilkea Castle

Our arrival at the Gates of Kilkea Castle made us stop, grab our phone and video the driveway that leads up to what one can only say is ‘one of the most impressive castle hotels in Ireland’. Check out our video.

We checked into the Golf Club with Soifra who led us down to one of the Lodges.

Lounge area at the Lodge Accommodation

Kitchen at the Lodge Accommodation

One of the 3 bedrooms

Opening the door we were astounded at the size, a large lounge area with expansive windows overlooking the grounds, a fully equipped kitchen and washing machine and 3 bedrooms to choose from.  The Lodges are perfect for families or groups of friends, your every need catered for.

Spicy Vegan Thai Red Curry

Blade of Irish Beef

Rich Chocolate Brownie

That evening we dined at Hermione’s Restaurant and enjoyed a Spicy Vegan Thai Red Curry (Jane) and a 24 Hour Braised Feather Blade of Irish Beef (Duncan).  Duncan also enjoyed the rich chocolate brownie.

Full Irish Breakfast

Eggs Benedict

Breakfast was also in Hermione’s Restaurant where we ordered the Full Irish Breakfast and Eggs Benedict.

Accommodation To Travel Too Tip

You can hire the whole Castle out for only Euros 6,000 per night! Now that is what we call an experience.

Carriage Rooms

Carriage Rooms

There are downstairs and upstairs carriage rooms available.  Those on the ground floor have their own individual doorways leading out into the courtyard and can also be interconnecting for families. The Carriage Rooms are decorated more like hotel suites, with modern furnishings and colours, ensuite bathrooms, fluffy white towels and crisp white linen, Wifi and TVs.

Castle Rooms

Examples of the Castle Rooms

Example of the Castle Rooms

Example of the Castle Rooms

Example of the Castle Rooms

The Castle has 11 bedrooms – 10 bedrooms and the Fitzgerald Suite which is also the Bridal Suite. There is a lift access to all floors.  The Fitzgerald Suite has 360-degree views, free standing bath and is located at the top of the Castle in the Round Tower.

All the bedrooms have a story and have been named after a historical figure and all are individually decorated and have amazing views over the grounds, the Rose Garden or the River Greese. A full Irish breakfast is included and is served in the Great Banquet Hall that overlooks the Rose Garden.

The rooms are:

Silken Thomas Room

Countess of Kildare

Earl of Kildare

Ernest Shackleton’s Room – he was an Irish Explorer from Kilkea. His bedroom is decorated in rich regal colours.

Lady Elizabeth Gray Room – she was married to one of the Fitzgeralds.  The room looks out over the 18 hole golf course.

Fitzgerald Suite – The Bridal Suite and is located right at the top of the Castle.

Wizard Earl Room – one of the smallest bedrooms

Sir Thomas de Rokeby

Lady Emelina

Sir Walter de Riddlesford

Duke of Leinster


There are 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and 3 bedrooms lodges available that overlook Kilkea’s Castle impressive 180-acre estate. The lodges include:

  • Full kitchen facilities
  • Flatscreen TV’s with built-in radio and alarm
  • Direct dial telephone
  • All bedrooms are ensuite
  • Hairdryer
  • Complimentary toiletries
  • Complimentary Wifi
  • Complimentary designated car parking
  • Select Lodges offer Washing / Dryer facilities.
Dining Options
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A mere 30 minutes by the Dart to Howth train from Dublin is the #1 King Sitric Fish Restaurant and 4-star accommodation in Howth Ireland.  A member of Ireland’s Blue Book for the last 28 years King Sitric is ideally located as an alternative to staying in Dublin, where accommodation can be expensive.

We had originally planned to spend one night before flying to Dubai but Hurricane Ophelia put a stop to that and we had to extend another night allowing us to enjoy more of King Sitric’s hospitality and great food.  King Sitric at Howth, although only 17km from Dublin Airport, is a destination that should not be limited to one night only as a transit stop, there is so much to do and see you will need at least 3 nights we would recommend more.

Where is Howth

Howth Ireland Map

Howth is located 15km from Dublin City Centre on the peninsula of Howth Head in the County of Dublin.

Where is King Sitric Located in Howth

Location of King Sitric

King Sitric is located on East Howth Pier, about a 10-minute walk from the Howth Dart Station with views over Ireland’s Eye and Ireland’s Eye

King Sitric – Accommodation

King Sitric currently has 8 bedrooms all with panoramic views over Balscadden Bay. All the rooms are named after Irish Lighthouses. Bedrooms range from a ground floor standard room, first floor Superior Rooms and a Penthouse.  They are all tastefully decorated with polished wood furniture and a nautical theme throughout.

Our nautical blue bedroom on the first floor

Our room was located on the first floor and decorated in a nautical blue theme.  We had such a great nights sleep, not only was the bed comfortable but we were lulled to sleep by the waves lapping the shore.

A table and 2 chairs positioned at the window allowed me to people watch whilst working.  The WiFi worked well in the room. Tea and coffee making facilities, hot chocolate and shortbread biscuits were a welcome added touch.  We loved the modern large bathrooms and fluffy white towels.

King Sitric – Fish Restaurant

We arrived in time for Sunday Lunch on the first floor of the King Sitric Fish Restaurant.

Chef Aidan MacManus and his wife Joan opened their seafood restaurant back in 1971 sourcing the best local produce possible. Both Aidan and Joan came from a hospitality background and have worked hard over the years to earn the title of Ireland’s Premier Seafood Restaurant winning numerous awards for their efforts.

  • 2010 Dublin Magazine Best Seafood Restaurant
  • March 2010 Bord Bia’s “Just Ask Restaurant for the Month”
  • 2011 BIM Seafood Circle – Most Informative Menu
  • 2011 recommended by Georgina Campbell in her Ireland Guide
  • In 2012 entered the Food & Wine Magazine Hall of Fame
  • 2013 Georgina Campbells – Newcomer of the Year – East Cafe Bar located on the ground floor
  • 2017 Georgina Campbells – Irish Breakfast Award for their homemade soda bread (which we can attest to, we could not stop at just one slice)

Their location close to Howth Pier allows Aidan to source the freshest fish, oysters, mussels and lobsters for the restaurant.  They purchase smoked salmon from Nicky’s Plaice on the West Pier.

Wild game and beef dishes are also included in the King Sitric menu. John sources the beef from the local Bellingham Family farm and free-range chicken comes from the Green Acres Farm Co. Cavan.

With well priced 2 and 3 course menus available, we could not believe what good value the restaurant represents, no wonder reservations are recommended.

Starter – Figs and Goat Cheese

Dublin Bay Prawns

Black Sole Meuniere

Lightly spiced beer battered cod

We dined on Goats Cheese and figs (Jane)  and Dublin Bay Prawns (Duncan) for starters, Black Sole Meuniere (Duncan) and Lightly Spiced Beer Battered Cod (Jane) with a delightful Hugel Pinot Blanc wine.

You must try the award winning soda bread

Don’t forget to try their award-winning bread.

The wicked chocolate meringue explosion

A wicked Chocolate Meringue explosion followed for dessert. Coffee was served with petit fours.

View from our table

Such a memorable lunch and a stunning view over the Bay, a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


Full Irish Breakfast

Breakfast served in the restaurant is another wonderful experience, what with the view, great service and an excellent menu it was hard to leave.  Hurricane Ophelia gave us the opportunity to enjoy 2 breakfasts and a meal at the East Cafe/Bar.

East Cafe/Bar

East Burger and fries and a pint of Guinness of course!

Vegetarian Burger with sweet potato fries

What a buzzy bar and cafe! A fun time was spent enjoying a pint of Guinness and burgers (a Green lentil potato and mushroom vegetarian burger and an East burger with bacon and cheese). When the weather is kind to Howth you can sit outside and enjoy a drink or two and try the delicious offerings on the menu especially during the twilight of summer.

To Travel Too Tip

Check King Sitric’s special offers for either a Bed and Breakfast package or a Dinner Bed and Breakfast. Check out their mid week specials as well.

What to do around Howth

It is always a good idea to chat with a local to find out all about their hometown.  Joan spent an hour of her busy time giving us great tips on what to see and do.

Shane’s Howth Hikes

Shane runs guided coastal cliff hikes and heritage walks in Howth. Shane is passionate about his village and country and shares a lot of history and local knowledge during his walks along Howth Cliffs.

The website for Shane’s Howth Hikes.

Local Walks Around Howth

Stop off at the Tourist Centre in the middle of Howth and pick up their recommended local walks guide.  You can enjoy a 1.5 hour walk up to the summit for great views over Howth and the surrounding countryside or a longer walk up to about 4 hours duration.

Howth Castle

Howth Castle is only open during the weekends in the summer months.  Reservations need to be made in advance. The castle was built between 1250 and 1350 and it has stayed in the same family hands since its construction.

The Back Streets of Howth and the Church and Graveyard

Take a stroll around Howth turning right at the Abbey Tavern, turn right at the Church and Graveyard.  You will note in the graveyard that there are only 5 or 6 families buried there, they are the families of the local fishermen. Around the back streets, there are colourful character cottages on narrow and dead-end laneways.


Howth is very popular for kite surfing and body boarding.

Irelands Eye

Howth Lighthouse with Ireland’s Eye in the background

Irelands Eye is owned by the family from Howth Castle. It is the island that you can see from the shore, it is now a wildlife bird sanctuary which the family lease to the State for 1 guinea a year.

Hurdy Gurdy Museum

The Hurdy Gurdy Museum is ‘quirky’ said Joan and well worth a visit.  The museum is a communications museum based in the Martello Tower, one of the many network towers that were built by the British around Ireland over 150 years ago as lookouts for an expected Napoleonic invasion. There are fine examples of early Morse equipment, valve radios, gramophones, crystal sets and more.

National Transport Museum

The National Transport Museum has over 60 examples of transport on display dating from 1883 to 1984. They have more than 170 items in total under 4 categories  Passenger, Commercial, Fire & Emergency, Military and Utility.

Lambay Island

Skerries Sea Tours run tours to Lambay Island and Rockabill Lighthouse. Lambay Island is home to grey seals, wallabies, fallow deer, seabirds and cattle.  The Island is owned by the Baring Family of Baring Bank fame.

Malahide Castle

Malahide Castle is one of Ireland’s oldest castles and home to over 5,000 species of plants in their botanical garden.

Dublin Bay Prawn Festival

Each year the famous Dublin Bay Prawn Festival is held for 3 days around 17th March – St Patricks Day celebrations.  King Sitric Restaurant and other bars and cafes in the area host a variety of amazing food experiences at the Harbour Festival Food Village.  We highly recommend advance accommodation bookings for this very popular event.

Contact details for King Sitric Address:

East Pier Howth, County Dublin, Ireland.


Tel: (+353 1) 832 5235
Fax: (+353 1) 839 2442

King Sitric email

King Sitric website

King Sitric Howth Accommodation Bookings:

Direct with King Sitric or through Irelands Blue Book

Cost of the Dublin to Howth Dart Train

Return fare as of 2017 Euros 6.15

Our Thanks

Our thanks to Aidan and Joan and their family for our memorable 2-night experience from our peaceful night’s sleep to the best of Irish cuisine and hospitality. It was a pleasure eating at the best restaurants in Howth – King Sitric and East Cafe/Bar and we kindly thank the staff for looking after us so well.

Our two-night stay was a combination of complimentary dinner bed and breakfast and their media rate for bed and breakfast. We will definitely return and explore more of Howth and the surrounding area. We thank Irelands Blue Book for their assistance in our 3 week road trip.

Recommended Reading

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read our other articles on our 3 week road trip around Ireland.

Barberstown Castle

No. 1 Pery Square Limerick

The Mustard Seed Ballingarry

Carrig Country House Killorglin

A Night Out at Killarney Brewing Company

Longueville House Mallow

Ahernes Seafood Restaurant and Luxury Accommodation

Dunbrody House Arthurstown

The post King Sitric Fish Restaurant & Accommodation Howth Ireland appeared first on To Travel Too.

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