Barred in Portugal – Trip Report

Ponta de Piedade near Lagos, Portugal

Portugal is awesome. After spending 8 nights traveling with Mrs. Barred in DC and our third-wheel buddy in mid August, I highly recommend making a visit to the small, beautiful, relaxing, affordable country on the Iberian Peninsula. We hadn’t been expecting to make it to Portugal any time soon, but couldn’t pass up a $430 flight deal courtesy of The Flight Deal (DCA via PHL on American Airlines). Eschewing a car, we instead relied on bus, train, Uber, and day tours to check out Lagos in the southern region of Algarve, Porto in the north and, of course, Lisbon. The Portuguese are incredibly friendly and proud of their country. English is spoken everywhere, though it’s nice to learn “obrigado” or “obridga” (thank you, depending on whether you are a man or woman). A quick dive into food and drinking culture and a detailed itinerary, with recommendations, follows.

Food and Drinking in Portugal

Credit cards not accepted at many bars. Amazing ubiquitous sign

The food is terrific and cheap in Portugal. We ate tons of fish and seafood (grilled whole sardines in Lagos, octopus everywhere, cod fritters, tinned fish), pork, and potatoes. We usually ate at nice restaurants and entrees were usually in the low teens and never more than 17 or 18 euros. For lunch, sandwiches could be had for 2-3 euros often.

We drank a ton of beer and wine in Portugal as they were also dirt cheap and hit the spot. Most bars only had one or two options on draft, almost always Super Bock (refreshing) or Sagres (trash). These beers (around ~5% ABV) were generally offered in 20 cl (6.8 oz) mini bottles/draft pours, 35 cl (11.8 oz)-most common, or 50 CL (16.9 oz) sizes. Craft beer connoisseurs may feel differently, but we took a shine to Super Bock (light-flavored, refreshing in the heat) beer and drank gallons of it (you can get 33 CL $5.25 bottles at Nando’s around DC, though it’s not quite the same). In a few spots in Porto, the 1927 selections from Super Bock were offered in great glassware on draft, which I highly recommend (IPA, Dunkel, Lager, and a Weiss beer). Beer was never more than 2 or 3 euros, so those went down smooth. Wine-wise–Tasty vinho verde (“green wine”; a bit fizzy), along with reds, whites, and ports, were ubiquitous. Even at nice restaurants, half bottles of wine were usually the standard way to order and were only 7-8 euros (at one restaurant we ordered a full bottle of wine that was 22 euros and we were legitimately upset at the price like the terrible Americans we are).

Cocktail-wise, we found nice cocktail bars (craft cocktails for 9-10 euros usually). Even if kind of trashy, almost all bars had the following on the menu: mojitos, caipirinhas, caipiroskas, sangria, and something called the morangoska (basically a strawberry daiquiri). These cocktails were usually fairly sweet and  cheap (5-6 euros). Simple highballs like gin & tonics, bourbon & cokes, etc. were often the priciest things on the menu so they were rarely ordered. I do recommend getting a “Portotonico” cocktail which is great and refreshing even if you don’t like port (made with white port).

Because open container laws are not really a thing in Europe, particularly Portugal, it was common at many bars for the bartender ask if we wanted a drink for “take away”; if we said yes, they would pour in a plastic cup so we could drink on the street (even when there’s no sidewalk patio) or walk to the next spot. This was helpful as unfortunately smoking in bars isn’t prohibited (note this is not true for restaurants) by law so in some spots it was better to be outside. Of note, although credit cards were accepted at most restaurants and businesses, it was hit or miss whether they could be used at bars (you’ll see a “No Multibanco” sign or, more amusingly, a graphic with a picture of Visa and Mastercard with a big X on them). Many restaurants didn’t actually have bars with seats; just service bars to serve drinks for seated diners. Bars close at 2a generally, but many seem to be allowed to be open until 4a (unclear why).

Super Bock. We drank a ton of these (slightly larger size usually).
Baked octopus at A Grade in Porto

Itinerary

Lagos/Algarve

View of beach from water near Lagos, Portugal

After arriving on the red-eye in Lisbon, we took the subway (just a few escalators down at the airport exit) 3 stops to the Oriente stop (you can also take an Uber, which are plentiful in Portugal, to there or the Sete Rios bus station). From there, we grabbed a 19 euro Rede Expressos bus (allow about 2 hours from arrival and the bus time) down to Lagos in the Algarve region off the Atlantic Ocean. A little over 4 hours later, we arrived in the beautiful, relaxing, mostly pedestrianized town of Lagos. If you make it there, I highly recommend booking a flat with Cosy Flats (via booking.com), which offers spacious apartments with A/C in a building just steps from main square.

Food: Lagos itself is just a relaxing spot to stroll around town, eat/drink at cafes, etc. Highly recommend grabbing dinner at Casa do Prego; the place does not take reservations, but sends you upstairs to their peaceful roof deck patio which is exclusively for those waiting for tables for dinner. Servers come around to take cocktail orders, which are then added to your dinner tab. Al-Bravo is a solid spot for a healthy lunch (with a couple craft beers offered as well from the Cerveja Bolina).

Drinks wise-Lagos is full of outdoor patios and bars full of young Brits and other Europeans. Peppers, with a cool roof deck a block or two off the main strip, was a highlight, and we enjoyed the live music at Myst. Spots with a slightly older crowd are focused on Rua 25 de Abril, with a few more local spots a block behind on Rua da Sra. Da Graca, and the younger crowd up the hill (The Tavern had a crazy crowd outside). We bar hopped over the course of two nights at least 7 more bars.

The real reason to goto Lagos is check out the beautiful cliff-laden beaches within a mile or two south of town. It’s walkable, but we took a 7 euro taxi to Ponta da Piedade. From there, we walked down a couple hundred steps to a gorgeous area on the water with crazy rocks and waves. From there, we walked 10 minutes back towards town to a ridiculous scenic beach-Praia do Camilo (there are a couple more around that we didn’t make it to) A couple beautiful beaches are right next to the city center and also recommended (though crowded)-Praia da Batata and Praia dos Estudiantes. All the beaches have walkways through rock formations-really cool. We also took a 20 euro 75 minute boat ride along and through some of the grottos/caves that are off the coast; it was pretty hairy due to the waves but unforgettable (just walk along the promenade and book something near the marina (we used Bom Dia, which was great)

Porto

View of Porto from Duoro River

After Lagos, we took a 44 euro 7 hour train (well two, a change in Tunes from a slow to a high-speed train; book when tickets go on sale-6-7 weeks out-to get a good rate) from one end of the country to the other to Porto (pronounced “por-too”) in the north. In Porto, we stayed in a great Airbnb in a highly recommended area 10 minute walk west of the Sao Bento train station. We loved Porto, despite it being hilly as hell.

To explore the town, we walked downhill from where we were staying, took a peek inside the stunning interior of the Sao Bento train station, checked out the impressive cathedral, explored  the waterfront Ribeira district, and grabbed a quick shuttle boat across the Duoro River to the other side (technically another town called Vila Nova de Gaia). The other side is replete with what Porto is famous for – port wine lodges/cellars. Most (unless they have a separate bar/restaurant) seemed to require you to take a tour to have tastings; we stopped by Calem (get the 15 euro 3 port tasting premium) for a 30 minute tour followed by tastings and the bar at the prolific Sandeman port house. Port, for those of you unfamiliar, is a type of wine fortified with brandy; it’s generally pretty sweet and an after-dinner drink. We tried ports of the tawny, ruby, vintage, white, and the derided “pink” style. For years, port could not be called “port” unless it was actually finished in Vila Nova de Gaia. If you’re meh on port, if you’re also doing a tour to the Duoro Valley (see below), it’s OK to skip a tour of a wine lodge if you’re pressed on time.

Worker slicing the cachorrinho sandwich at the Gazela Snack bar

Food: Our best meal of the trip was in Porto – tascö near where we were staying. Traditional food served in a hipster-modern style and atmosphere. Get reservations (you can stop by and ask) or you’ll have a 4 hour wait. Dinner for 3 with drinks was about 40 euros. A Grade (heavy emphasis on seafood, get the baked octopus) was a nice cozy spot near the riverfront where we had dinner as well. For lunch, I recommend hiking up to Praça da Batalha and checking out the Gazela snack bar (Cervejaria Gazela) and the famous cachorrinho sandwich (sort of fancy hot dogs on grilled bread chopped into several pieces; there are now two locations across the square from one another.

Literally a cocktain in a plastic bag at Royal Cocktail Club in Porto

Drink: Aside from the port lodges, we avoided the touristy bars near the water and focused on checking out the Rua de Cândido dos Reis (and the parallel R. de Galeria de Paris) lined with late night spots and a lively, younger scene (befitting the nearby University of Porto). A couple notable spots on the strip include Pão Que Ladra, the Royal Cocktail Club, and the Bierhaus. A couple blocks away, on top of an elevated park (Passeio dos Clerigos) built a top some business was one of the coolest open-air bars I’ve ever visited-Base-a sprawling bar on a lawn with olive trees, and little cushioned benches and tables. Hiking further north, we found great cocktails at Mundo, a chill café-type vibe at Café Candelabro (bless the bartender who sighed heavily when a dude ordered a mojito late night), and a cozy patio at Aduela Taberna around the corner (great beers and cocktails).

Port tasting at Calem in Porto

Duoro Valley

Duoro Valley from a winery

If you make it to Porto, I highly recommend taking a tour to the Duoro Valley. You can try to make your own tour by taking the train, but the times are kind of awkward so we booked a van tour. We took Cool Tour Oporto, booking the 100 euro excursion (including the suggested boat cruise). The tour includes an informative 90 minute van ride (each way) with a driver and 8 passengers out to the northeast part of the country, the beautiful Duoro Valley, the premier wine-making region of Portugal. On our trip (sometimes the order changes due to weather), we trekked to the small town of Pinhão, where we embarked on a relaxing hour-long cruise of the Duoro River (great vistas), explored the town a bit, and hit up two fantastic wineries with tastings of red and white wine, port, olive oil, and honey (lunch sandwiched in between).

Lisbon

Lisbon (view from Alfalma)

After a few nights in Porto, we took the train (about 3 hours, 12.50 euros) back to Lisbon (Santa Apolonia) station to check out Portugal’s capital and largest city. Our Airbnb straddled the recommended Bairro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods overlooking the Praça Luís de Camões (lots of folks will tell you stay in the older Alfalma neighborhood or nearby, but it’s apparently not as fun late night). Lisbon is an incredibly lively place, wither people and hills everywhere.

After getting situated, we Ubered over to the São Jorge Castle (a taxi may be a better idea since the Uber dropped us off several blocks downhill from the castle since it’s a restricted area). We actually didn’t go inside the castle proper, but walked inside the walls of the surrounding village and explored. We then walked down through the Alfalma (check out the Miradouro de Santa Luzia viewpoint) neighborhood; very narrow streets and old ladies selling 1 euro shots of the popular sour cherry liquor (Ginjinha, try it in a chocolate cup). Afterwards we Ubered over to the Rossio square, where we took a great 3 hour (45 euro) Inside Lisbon Food & Wine Walk, which took us through the Baixa (downtown) and Bairro Alto neighborhoods with tastes of the ubiquitous cod fritters, vino verde (green wine), tapas, red/white wine, port, ginjinha, chorizo, and bread with a fun group and tour guide.

You’ll notice that Portugal has a lot of beautiful tiles; great replicas can be found at Fábrica Sant’Anna in Chiado. We also headed over to regal neighborhood of Belem, and checked out the grand Jerónimos Monastery, the Monument to the Discoveries (kind of a pro-colonial massive monument with great lookout), and the famous Pasteis de Belém which cranks out these delicious legendary custard pastries.

Time Out Market

Food: Lisbon has great food. You’ll find it hard to resist making multiple trips to the hipsterish Time Out Market, a great food hall in the Cais do Sodre neighborhood (good place to grab lunch before taking the cheap train to Belem). There are tons of options; including one side that features famous Portuguese chefs. We had a terrific suckling pork sandwich and salmon tataki at the Henrique sa Pessoa stand. We also had a great dinners at Cantinho do Avillez in Chiado (José Avillez seems like a Jose Andres type restauranteur with several concepts around town), L-Bistro in Cais do Sodre, and Carmo.  Try to grab a bifana sandwich while you’re in Lisbon-a simple cheap sandwich with thin slices of pork tenderloin (O Trevo has solid ones in a spartan snack bar setting). Late night, old dudes carrying boxes of freshly baked pão com Chouriço (literally rolls baked with Portugese sausage) roam Bairro Alto to sell to revelers; these are awesome and remind me of my beloved WV pepperoni rolls.

Ubiquitous old-school streetcar in Lisbon

Drink: Lisbon is a great party town. The Bairro Alto neighborhood has tons of bars in their narrow streets. When the weather is warm, folks just goto any spot and grab a cheap drink and take it outside. There’s a very popular folk style of music in Lisbon called “fado”; most tourists will go to a pricey dinner that includes music and sit for a couple hours. We weren’t as patient and found a spot called Tasca Do Chico in Bairro ALto and lined up until folks left after the previous set and heard some great music. Another wild nightlife area is the so-called “Pink Street” down the hill in Cais do Sodre. Lots of locals and guys and gals from Portugal and the UK on their bachelor/bachelorette parties there. A few blocks west of Bairro Alto is one of the cooler bars I checked out in Portugal: PARK, which is a rooftop bar on top of a parking garage with a tremendous atmosphere playing old school hip hop.

Sintra/Cascais

 

Pena Palace in Sintra

A common day trip from Lisbon is the charming town of Sintra. Most people take a cheap train, but since there was 3 of us and got a late start, we took an Uber which was only about 25 euros for the 45 minute ride. Half the time was spent navigating the bumper-to-bumper traffic to top of the hill upon which the Pena Palace is situated. The Palace, which was built with his own money by a German dude who married the Portuguese queen in mid 19th century, evokes German castles and looks like Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Highly recommend buying tickets in advance, and pony up 3 euros for the round trip bus ride from the ticket entrance to the palace itself to save time and energy. The place is ridiculous with jaw-dropping views. Afterwards, we hiked down 10 minutes to the Moorish Castle, a classic castle that dates over 1000 years and explored the ramparts. If we had more time we would have explored the Quinta da Regaleira and the town of Sintra itself. Instead, we took another 20 euro Uber to the charming seaside beach town of Cascais and explored a bit before heading back to Lisbon (cheap 45 minute train or 25 euro Uber).

Moorish Castle
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Barred in Portland Maine

A lone sailboat in Casco Bay, Portland, Maine

Mrs. Barred in DC and I recently spent an amazing couple days over the July 4th holiday in the other Portland, the one in Maine. Hopping a $200 non-stop flight from DCA on American Airlines (you can also drive there in 10 hours or so from DC), we found a more blue-collar/hipster town (lots of tattoos and cigarette smoke-smelling Uber/Lyfts) than expected with fantastic food and beer, beautiful views, and friendly locals. Here are some recommendations/thoughts:

Breweries

There are a ton of breweries in Maine, many of them in the Portland area. The breweries not only focus on the now ubiquitous hazy New England IPA but also lots of Belgian-style ales (saisons, farmhouse ales and the like).

Allagash Brewing
Allagash Brewing
  • Allagash -You’ve surely drunk their famous Belgian White. Stop by the brewery about at 15 minute ($12 Uber/Lyft) ride out from downtown to sample the other popular saisons, sours, farmhouse ales and other Belgian-style beers in pretty fancy digs. The free 1-hour long tour is popular and available daily.  We got the $5 pre-set flight (changes regularly but likely always comes with the White)-4 3 oz. pours. $4 pours of all beers are available (6 oz-10 oz. usually) with $2.50 half pours.
Bunker Brewing

  • Bunker – In isolated area in Libbytown west of downtown (about 10 min/$8 Uber/Lyft). Located in 1920s-era garage (no A/C so sweltering when we went). Ping pong table is nice.
Shipyard Brewing

  • Shipyard – A few blocks east of downtown. Not necessarily a “cool” brewery but we had the most fun there at Maine’s #1 by volume brewery. Lots of fun merchandise, several sodas on tap for the kids, and a mix of NE IPAs and fruited beers (the latter from Sea Dog Brewing which it owns and brews).
Oxbow

  • Oxbow Blending and Bottling – Best beer we had in Portland. Technically brewed about an hour away with some finishing done at the location. Great farmhouse stuff. In the heart of the Munjoy Hill neighborhood, walkable from downtown or $6 Uber/Lyft. 4 oz. pours $2-3, 8 oz. pours $3.50-5, 12 oz. pours $5-7.
  • Sebago – Local brewery chain in the bottom of a Hampton Inn. ($3.50 pints available on Wednesdays) Spot to wait while waiting for seats at Eventide (see below)
Gritty McDuff’s
  • Gritty McDuff’s: Brewpub in heart of downtown. Mugs adorned on the wall. Beer isn’t remarkable but convenient location $5 pints at HH.

Spots we didn’t visit:

Note that across the street from Allagash are a number of microbreweries (Definitive, Battery Steele, Foundation) and a distillery (New England Distillery). Geary is also walking distance from Allagahs. None of these were open when we visited (we went on the 4th) but I’ve heard several are great.

Walking distance from downtown (in addition to Shipyard, Seabago, and Gritty’s mentioned above). Next door to Oxbow is Maine Mead Works and Hardshore Distilling and less than 10 minute walk away is Rising Tide Brewery and Maine Craft Distilling. A bit further are Urban Farm Fermentory (Gruitt), Lone Pine, and Goodfire. Also right in heart of downtown is Liquid Riot Bottling, which serves its own beer and liquor. Elsewhere in the greater Portland area are the acclaimed Bissell Brothers and many other breweries (see map)

Restaurants/Eats

Portland has incredible food. Although there are tons of options, most spots don’t accept reservations and we had to wait for tables on a random Thursday afternoon (albeit July 4th week) at 2pm.

  • Eventide Oyster Bar – Cool, tiny spot east of downtown. Fantastic famous brown butter lobster roll and incredible selection of oysters. Great cocktails as well. Super popular – we had a 90 minute wait on July 3rd at 8:30pm
  • Central Provisions – Recent James Beard nominee for Best New Restaurant, inventive spot in heart of downtown. We had an awesome fried pork special.
  • High Roller Lobster Co. – Recently a food cart, now a popular brick and mortar spot. Very popular, sort of decked out a dinner. Great $19 lobster roll
  • Duckfat – Amazing duckfat-fried frites available at original location near downtown or in patio area of Oxbow. Recommend the donut holes as well. More substantial meals available at old location.
  • Holy Donut – Super popular (20 minute wait in line when I went) spot cranking out tasty potato donuts until they sell out in early afternoon. Honestly, I would say a bit overrated, we enjoyed Duckfat’s donut holes better.
  • The Gelato Fiasco – Gelato spot right with tons of varieties.

Spots We Didn’t Visit But Were Recommended: Hot Suppa!, Empire Chinese, Petite Jacqueline, Fore Street, Scales, Bayside American, Bite into Maine, Miyake, Street & Co., Hugos, Slab, Otto Pizza, Walters, Bao Bao

Bars

Get started early, as bars have to close at 1a every night.

  • Novare Res Bier Cafe – hidden off alley/parking lot in downtown, spot sports a huge beer list and large beer gardne
  • Union – Restaurant with great cocktails in the stylish Press Hotel.
  • Amigo’s – Although this is your typical trashy kind of scuzzy meat market bar, the deck out back is perfect for live music (most nights/week during summer). Had a ton of fun.
  • Pearl – nightclub downtown. Entertaining late night.
  • RiRa – bar right off water, good spot for pre-cruise beer (local Portland breweries on tap)

Bars We Didn’t Visit But Were Recommended: The North Point, Bull Feeney’s, The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, Petite Jacqueline, Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box, The Snug

Things to Do

Since we were there over the 4th, we took a booze cruise on the Casco Bay Lines ferry. $30 for a 3.5 hour cruise, cash bar (cash only but $6 pints of Allagash White and $5 rails), and the legendary(?) DJ HAUNT (also known as “Dave”) who entertained the mostly 40s/50s somethings with 70s music and other not-so-fresh hits. Amazing fireworks though (the Portland show off the East Promenade is over a half hour long followed by another 10-15 minute show closer to downtown). We also sailed with the Portland Schooner Co.; $45 for a relaxing 2 hour sail the next morning. The Casco Bay is beautiful with a couple forts, other islands, and lighthouses to see.

On a Portland Schooner Co. sailboat

Visitors to Portland also visit the Portland Museum of Art and the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum (admission includes a train ride), walk along the Eastern Promenade, find a beach, and take a ferry to the islands.

Lodging

We stayed at Hyatt Place Old Port due to its convenience and fact it only cost 12,000 Hyatt points a night. (transfer from your Chase Sapphire card). Free hotel airport shuttle saved us about $15/each way. Would recommend.

We just had a drink there, but the Press Hotel near the Portland City Hall in downtown is awesome. The hotel used to be the offices of the local newspaper and they went all out with the theme. If you are really into newspapers, highly recommend staying there or stopping by.

If you want to stay closer to all the close-in breweries, the Hampton Inn and Residence Inn are good bets.

Barred in Ireland (No-Car Version)

Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher

We recently spent a week in the amazing country of Ireland (thanks to a $316 roundtrip flight deal). Unlike most people who travel to the Emerald Isle, Mrs. Barred in DC and I decided not to rent a car, instead taking public transportation to travel to the west of Ireland (Galway and the nearby Burren and the Cliffs of Moher), Kinsale in the south, and back to Dublin. Amazing it didn’t rain the whole time we were there until the morning we left Ireland. We’ll be back, soon. Here’s an overview of bar culture in Ireland, a recommended itinerary for a weeklong car-free Ireland adventure, and a ranking of the pubs we visited.

Ireland Pub Culture

Tremendous Irish Coffees at Bulman Bar in Kinsale
Tremendous Irish Coffees at Bulman Bar in Kinsale

 

For many, Irish pubs are the best part about the beautiful country. It certainly was for us. We spent 7 nights and 8 days in Ireland, imbibing at 34 pubs along the way. Pubs in Ireland are incredibly warm and friendly places; we made new friends-both locals and visitors from around the world. Acoustic music (a guy on a guitar or larger groups playing together) was heard in most spots we visited, with musicians playing a mix of popular “Irish” folk songs (favorite: Dirty Old Town) as well as covers you would hear at any frat party in America. Pubgoers would frequently join in the action to sing and sometimes even play an instrument. Most bars had steady crowds all day, but only a handful really went full tilt late night. Sometimes we could start a tab if you sat at the bar when it was not that busy (chatting with the uniformly friendly bartenders), but we usually paid for drinks  as you ordered them (even those covered by credit card). Tips weren’t standard; sometimes we left a few coins if we paid in cash.

Beer was the drink of choice most of the time. If you order a “beer” in Ireland, you’ll typically get a full pint (570 mL, about 19 oz.) of Guinness. A “glass” (which Barred in DC unabashedly ordered; glasses were supposedly originally devised so women could drink at pubs) is a half pint. Pints ran about 4-5 euros usually. Beer taps were adorned with brightly lit tap handle facades, much larger than here in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, nearly every single pub we went to had Guinness on tap, and most patrons would drink that. Other beers on tap in most spots included Irish products like Smithwick’s (Irish red ale), Murphy’s Irish Stout, and Bulman’s Irish Cider (if you can find Beamish on tap, get that, so good), and terrible European macro-like beers like Carlsberg and Heineken. Surprisingly, most bars we had served Budweiser and Coors Light (bartender said that pubs were required to serve them to get the other more desired beers) though I rarely saw anyone drank that. Beer is quite sessionable in Ireland-hoppy high ABV IPAs are fairly rare-you could down pint after pint and still be in decent shape.

Aside from beer, bars offered lots and lots of Irish whiskey. The more common varieties of whiskey and other types of liquor are hung upside down behind most bars, with a spout so the bartender can precisely measure out the 35.5 mL (1.2 oz.) standard pour for a single liquor drink. We consumed a ton of Jameson, easily the most common variety of Irish whiskey, and saw plenty of promotional signs encouraging mixing with ginger ale. pubs rarely have the drink guns behind the bar; mixers for drinks are usually an extra cost (couple euro), and come in mini-glass bottles that can cover 2-3 mixed drinks (There were some mixers (“white lemonade”) that were poured out of plastic liter bottles to top off liquor).

Suggested Car-Free Itinerary

Galway (The Burren/Cliffs of Moher)
We flew into Dublin’s International Airport after taking an overnight United redeye from Dulles, and, after picking up our bags, grabbed a seat on the Irish Citylink bus (around 20 euros; allow about an hour to get through security and baggage) for a comfortable 3 hour ride across the country to Galway. Staying at the affordable (though a nearby loud club kept us up later than ideal) Skeffington Arms Hotel right on Eyre Square (JFK gave a speech here while president) in the center of Galway, we spent 2 nights in the youthful city. Galway itself is worth just strolling around and enjoying the pubs and medieval atmosphere-there’s not much in the way of sights. Instead, we took a well-organized 8-hour bus tour from Galway Tour Company (25 euro), taking us south through the Country Clare and many cool sites including The Burren (desolate landscape with unique flora and fauna), a lunch/pub stop in the wonderful village of Doolin, and the dramatic and beautiful Cliffs of Moher. Back in Galway, we joined the cheap Shamrock Pub Crawl with a group of Brazilian guys (learning English on a student visa-not the only Brazilians we ran into on the trip) with a fun American-Irish student tour guide. Our stay in Galway included incredible fish & chips (and some enormous local oysters) at McDonagh’s, right on the main drag. It would have been nice to have another night in Galway (taking a bus tour to the wild region of Connemara); we’ll do it again someday.

The Burren
The Burren

Kinsale
Our journey took us on yet another Citylink bus (22 euro), cutting south and east just over 3 hours to Cork Airport; from there, instead of flying out of the modern airport, we waited about 40 minutes until the local Bus Eireann (#226; 7 euros, bring exact change0) came by to take us the final 30 minutes to the beautiful harbor/coastal town of Kinsale. Colorful and charming Kinsale (the buildings are all painted different colors) treated us to incredible food, particularly fresh and inventive seafood (have a traditional meal at Jim Edwards , and although it’s a bit over-priced and touristy, definitely go to the famous Fishy Fish by the habro). We stayed at the highly-recommended Old Bank House. The elegant rooms (with chandelier) overlooked the town and the harbor; an amazing breakfast (incredible omelets made with farm fresh eggs, Irish cheddar, and Irish ham) awaited us each morning. As guests, we were also able to get a night cap after closing time at the affiliated Blue Haven hotel down the street.

Sightseeing in Kinsale includes strolling around at atmospheric streets, hopping into boutiques and other cute shops,  and walking by the harbor, but no trip would be complete without heading to the 350-year old star-shaped Charles Fort (4 euro). We were rewarded with stunning views of the Kinsale harbor, as well as the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Although we took a 9 euro taxi to the fort, on the way back to Kinsale town, we stopped by the famous Bulman Bar and leisurely walked along the harbor on the famous Scilly Walk (about 2 miles one way). We grabbed nosh and fluids at our favorite Kinsale pub, The Spaniard, (with some colorful characters0 before heading back to town.

Colorful Kinsale
Colorful Kinsale
View from Charles Fort, Atlantic Ocean in background
View from Charles Fort, Atlantic Ocean in background

Dublin

Although we could have spent many more days in Kinsale, alas, after 2 nights, we got back on the #226 bus, this time (around 7 euro again) taking it to Cork Bus Station about 50 minutes away. A couple hours later, we were on the incredibly comfortable Irish Rail for a 3 hour train ride to Dublin (40 euro). In the Dublin, Ireland’s largest city and capital, we stayed at the uber-stylish The Morgan (get a cheap rate anywhere in area using Hotwire secret rate hotels). The Temple Bar is the main nightlife area of Dublin, full of men and women on stag and hen parties. Although local Dubliners seem to despise the neighborhood’s high prices (pint’s were one euro more than other areas) and crowds, this is basically the main area for late night drinking. Pubs, though not particularly Irish/authentic, in Temple Bar are fun, lively, and often crowded, and most feature live music. We recommend the 13 euro Irish Musical Pub Crawl, which takes listeners to 3 different pubs (both in Temple Bar and near O’Connell Street across the river); it features a superb overview of Irish music offered by 2 funny Irish musicians (Mrs. Barred in DC even played a country music song to the 50 other people that joined the crawl).

Worthwhile tourist activities in Dublin include touring the pretentious Trinity College grounds (the Book of Kells-an ancient illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament-and the college’s library are a must) strolling through Merion Square and St. Stephen’s Green (beautiful examples of Dublin’s famous doors are nearby), walking down the shop-filled Grafton Street area, and visting the atmospheric and historic Kilanmain Gaol (make sure you buy tickets in advance). This jail housed prisoners, including many key figures in the rebellion against the U.K. and others in the tragic Irish Civil War that followed. The emotional tour is a must for any visitor to Ireland; the Gaol is best paired with a walk by/through the courtyard of the Royal Hospital (now the Irish Museum of Modern Art) down to the Guinness Brewery.

The Guinness Storehouse is worth a visit if you like Guinness at all, even accounting for its steep 20 euro cost (14 euro for certain advance purchases). The Storehouse is like a beer amusement park devoted to the history and production of Guinness (it’s actually made elsewhere on the sprawling grounds), and includes a fun Guinness Academy where you learn how to pour a proper pint from a tap after learning how to drink the beer in a Victorian library-type room. The tour concludes with a visit to the Gravity Bar high above the storehouse; spectacular 360 degree views of Dublin and the surrounding area abound.

Trinity College and the Book of Kells
Trinity College and the Book of Kells
Guinness Brewery
Guinness Brewery

Pub Ranking

Galway

  1. Barr An Chaladh – tiny pub with great live music
  2. The Quays – sprawling spot with great live music, rocking late
  3. The Salt House – craft beer from around the world across the river from downtown
  4. Tig Coili – cozy, great “trad spot” for traditional Irish music
  5. Monroe’s Live – popular live music spot
  6. Taafe’s Bar – another great “trad spot”
  7. McSwiggans – straight-up pub with solid food
  8. The Kings Head – solid spot
  9. Murty Rabbitt’s – good spot near bus station
  10. The Skeff Bar – party scene, big spot right on Eyre Square
  11. Fibber Maggees – college spot, beer pong upstairs
Dunguaire Castle
Dunguaire Castle south of Galway in County Clare

Doolin

  1. Gus O’Connors – atmospheric spot with solid pub food

    Gus O'Connors
    Gus O’Connors

Kinsale (last call is 11:30 on weekdays, 12:30 on weekends)

  1. The Spaniard – Quaint 350+ year pub around the bend from town. Great food
  2. The Folk House – Great spot for live music, lively crowd. Great whiskey and beer.
  3. Bulman Bar – gastropub near waterfront and Charles Castle. Best Irish coffees ever
  4. Tap Tavern – sorta divey spot on outskirts of downtown. Awesome husband/wife owners
  5. Kitty O’ses – good live music
  6. Silent Banjo – another cozy spot
  7. Blue Haven Bar – can drink here after hours if you’re a guest of hotel or Old Bank Townhouse
  8. Armada Bar – very central
Bulman Bar
Bulman Bar
The Spaniard
The Spaniard

Dublin

  1. Whelan’s – legendary sprawling live music spot sort of off beaten path
  2. The Palace Bar – Victorian bar
  3. The Brazen Head – oldest pub in Ireland, west of Temple Bar area. Lots of cool rooms
  4. Oliver St. John Gogarty – live music on both floors, huge spot, lively late
  5. The Norseman – nice spot with good live music
  6. The Stag’s Head – south of Temple Bar area, quite atmospheric and dark
  7. Guinness Gravity Bar – best view of Dublin high above Guinness Brewery. Requires 20 euro to get into brewery
  8. Porterhouse Central – popular Irish brewpub, makes own beer
  9. Temple Bar – the eponymous bar, usually crowded
  10. Brannigan’s – nice spot off O’Connnell Street north of the River Liffey
  11. Ha’Penny Bridge Inn – good spot for live music
  12. Madigan’s Earl Street – old school spot with old school people off O’Connell north of the river
  13. The Quays Irish – a little bit sloppier spot right in heart of Temple Bar
  14. Lafayette – punk rock vibe
Oliver St. John Gogarty
Oliver St. John Gogarty

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Guinness Storehouse advertising
Guinness Storehouse advertising
Guinness Academy
Guinness Academy
View from the Guinness Brewery Gravity Bar
View from the Guinness Brewery Gravity Bar
The Brazen Head
The Brazen Head

 

Barred in Asheville

Asheville
Asheville

[UPDATED 11/20/16 with another trip]
Asheville
, the western North Carolina city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, lives up to the hype, Barred in DC can safely say after visiting it twice in 2016. The artsy, off-beat community of 80,000 is known for its incredible beer scene, excellent food, and surrounding beauty. Get your own cheap flight (or go on a road trip), find lodging in its walkable and charming downtown, and go. If you have more time, take a $8 Uber to the funky, untouristy West Asheville and check out some cool eateries and bars on West Haywood. Below are suggested activities to do and places to eat/drink. If you’re at a loss for your next step, just chat with any of the friendly locals.

Amazing Pubcycle

Pubcycle
Pubcycle

Sure it’s cheesy, but the 90 minute Amazing Pubcycle tour was worth the $24 to get bearings downtown. Here’s how it works-about 10 people sit and cycle on bike seats around a U shaped contraption while the tour guide/DJ (get on Tyler’s tour) drives the pubcycle (which has a motor to assist) and generally hypes up the pubcyclers as well as passing pedestrians. Drinking BYOB cans of beer or Solo cups of wine is encouraged, and stops at a brewery and a brewpub are good places to fill up. A shorter, cheaper 40 minute ride (no stops) is available, and tours happen all afternoon and evening long.

Breweries

Lot of this being drank in Asheville
Lot of this being drank in Asheville

If you love beer, Asheville is awesome. 40+ breweries are in the area, including a ridiculous amount downtown. For your first trip, I would suggest keeping it simple and just brewery hop on the South Slope a few blocks south of downtown; stopping by the ridiculous Sierra Nevada brewery campus a couple miles from the airport is also well worth it (bocce, mini-farm, firepits, amphitheater, huge restaurant/brewhouse). Every restaurant or bar will also have multiple local breweries on tap, often for less than $5/beer.

Catawba Brewing
Catawba Brewing

Visited:

  • Green Man – original brewery side-by-side to much larger space. Small bar downstairs in newer space and go upstairs to bar and great patio. Loved the Holly King, an American Strong Ale style.
  • Catawba – Pair with amazing Vortex Donuts next door.
  • Wicked Weed – Slickest, biggest place downtown.
  • Twin Leaf – Little more rustic, darker. Flagship beer is an IPA called Juicy Fruit. Amazing Basil Tripel
  • Wicked Weed Funkatorium – Sour beer mecca. Even if you don’t like sours, there’s something for everyone.
  • Burial – a bit off beaten path, great outdoor spaces in front and back. Excellent coconut brown porter
  • Hi-Wire– more of an industrial feel. Get the “Pink Drink” tart wheat ale
  • Asheville Brewing– closer to downtown, good pizza
  • Other Suggestions: Lexington Avenue Brewery, One World, Highland, Pisgah

Restaurants

Curate
Curate

Asheville has a tremendous food scene-great values to be had downtown as well as in West Asheville (Haywood Road area) and in the River Arts District.

Tremendous food at Chani Pani
Tremendous food at Chani Pani

Visited:

  • Chai Pani – amazing Indian street food. Rotis are on point.
  • Curate – renowned Spanish tapas spot from former Jose Andres protégé and El Bulli alum. Get reservations or better yet sidle up to bar at 6-6:30 and grab an early dinner.
  • Buxton Hall – Incredible bbq spot with pulled pork, smoked fried chicken, and catfish. Beware of slushies on tap. No reservations so get there early for a table. Adjacent to Catawba Brewing
  • Rhubarb – A little more pricey but tasty modern Southern. RIght in epicenter of downtown. Brunch is affordable with easy reservation availability
  • Bomba – cozy café right in epicenter of downtown. Huge, delicious arepas for lunch.
  • Buffalo Nickel – excellent elevated pub/American food in West Asheville. Easy reservations [closed April 2017]
  • Local Provisions – Great modern American spot right by Wicked Weed brewing (good option for relatively last minute reservation[closed indefinitely Nov 2017]
  • French Broad Chocolate Lounge – fantastic dessert, though with lines all day

Other Suggestions:

  • Downtown: Table, Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge (burgers only), White Duck Taco, Salsas, Limones, Tupelo Honey Cafe
  • River Arts District: 12 Bones
  • West Asheville: The Admiral, Sunny Point Cafe

Bars

Asheville Yacht Club
Asheville Yacht Club

Asheville bars don’t generally get rowdy and are on the whole chill, even late. Folks day-drinking at breweries might have something to do with it. Still, there are a number of worthwhile spots.  The locals seem to gravitate to somewhat more hipstery spots in West Asheville

Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar
Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar
The Double Crown
The Double Crown

Visited:

  • Sovereign Remedies – classy, low-key cocktail bar off the beaten path east of downtown.
  • The Double Crown – funky, divey spot in West Asheville with live music. Solid cocktails and a piano behind the bar. Requires membership (pay at door)
  • Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar – a champagne bar in the middle of a vaguely European labyrinth used book store in the corner of the Grove Arcade
  • Asheville Yacht Club – wild, grungy pirate-themed tiki bar. Get the Painkiller drink. Requires club membership (pay at door; can be just a $1)
  • Foggy Mountain Brew Pub – easygoing brewpub with nice patio on sort of back streets right downtown. Great live music many nights.
  • Desoto Lounge – another West Asheville west divey spot. Foosball, ping pong in back
  • Skybar – unique bar nearly encompassing three floors of glorified fire escape balconies, stairs, and landings. No actual bar, roving servers take orders. Live music from one of the landings. May encounter wait to take tiny elevator to top floor
  • 5 Walnut Wine Bar – tiny wine bar with amazing live music every night
  • The Montford – Hyatt Place’s rooftop bar (mostly enclosed) with amazing views. $1 or $2 more expensive than rest of town but probably best view in town.
  • The Imperial Life – small, swanky 2nd floor cocktail bar
  • The Southern Kitchen and Bar – great patio, standard spot, late night food
  • The Bier Garden – locals spot, quite the scene. Better beer elsewhere despite name
  • Off the Wagon Dueling Piano Bar – get your dueling piano fix here.

Other Stuff to Do

Aside from eating and drinking, Asheville is known for the beautiful surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. If you have a car, get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and go up to Craggy Gardens (quick hike up mountain for amazing vistas) or Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. There are plenty of outdoor activities to do, and there’s some charming places to purchase art, clothing, and other cool stuff. The sprawling Biltmore mansion and grounds are a few miles away, though the price is steep ($60).

Shop – Just wander from artisan to clothing shop to boutique, but some suggestions we visited are below:

  • Grove Arcade – historic commercial building with small shops on edge of downtown
  • Horse + Hero indie art shop, open late
  • Southern Charm – affordable woman’s clothing boutique
  • Kress Emporium – sort of mini-mall with arts & crafts vendors
  • K2 Studio – awesome furniture store underneath Kress Emporium
  • Woolworth Walk – another mini-mall, this time with a soda fountain

How to Get there from DC

Driving takes about 7.5 hours from DC. We flew direct on something called Allegiant; the $75 we paid for a roundtrip flight from BWI was about right considering carry-on bags were extra and on one occasion we were delayed 22 hours due to mechanical issues. Otherwise, a connecting flight through Charlotte or Atlanta on an airline you have heard of can run $250-400.

Where to Stay

The new (opened in March 2016) comfortable Hyatt Place Asheville/Downtown is only a 10 minute walk to the very center of downtown and features free parking. Look for periodic deals or use 12,000 Hyatt points a night (easy to transfer if you have a Chase Sapphire card, which you should).