Pub tours aren’t something I usually sign up for. On the previous pub tours I’ve done, the pubs ending up being clubs or moderately crummy dive bars without any character. These places are usually playing the lyrically moving song “shots” and filled with (*trying to think of the nicer way to say douchebags*) people I have no interest in being around. While these pubs have their place in this world, it’s not exactly what I want to do when visiting a new country.
When looking up things to do in Ireland, I wasn’t searching for a pub tour, but when I came across the Rural Nights Pub Tour in Dublin, I knew I had to give it a try.
A night in the Wicklow Mountains traveling to local pubs with traditional music sounds pretty perfect.
Our pick up was at 3:00 pm in Dublin and 14 of us packed into the van to begin our evening. Our guide Shane was a blast right from the start, and started telling us about the different drinks in Ireland, what to order, what you definitely shouldn’t order, and the specialties in each of our 6 pending pub visits. The group was a good mix, some fellow Americans, Germans, Australians, and Canadians.
I’ve attempted to document each of the pubs, and you’ll notice the photo quality & subjects decline sharply as the night continues.
First Stop: The Blue Light
Fun fact: The name came about because in the 1800’s they had an old blue light which would shine down to the bay letting smugglers know the coast was clear to bring their goods to shore.
Shane’s recommendation: The best pint of Guinness around
The pub is small but very charming, and we talked with a few of the locals who were starting their evening out a bit early. A low-key stag party was in the small courtyard out front. I didn’t realize it at first, but then saw the long blond wigs. To be fair, the first wigged man was wearing short brown curly hair and I did think it was his own hair for a while. Most of our group ordered Guinness on Shane’s recommendation. I’m not an a connoisseur to speak to it being the best, but the view certainly does help.
Second Stop: Johnnie Fox’s
Fun fact: There are ashes in the wall of a man named Patrick Gaffney who always wanted to visit Ireland and never did. His family took his ashes around the country and then asked the pub if they could leave them. You can see them on display in one of the rooms.
Shane’s Recommendation: Craft Cider
This pub is full of Irish charm, and when we arrived there was live music in the main room. There’s a lot to see in this pub as nearly every inch is covered in historical artifacts. Another great traditional pub, and the interior reminds me a lot of another favorite in Ireland – O’Conner’s in Galway.
The drive from Johnnie Fox’s to the next stop was particularly beautiful as we climbed through the Wicklow Mountains. Shane led everyone in versus of the popular Irish favorites.
Third Stop: Tochar House
Fun fact: located in the highest village in Ireland
Shane’s Recommendation: Smithwicks
The third stop was short & sweet, and a few of us watched the Gaelic football game which was playing while Shane tried to explain the rules to us. I’ve never been to a game, but it’s on my to-do list when I return to Ireland.
Fourth Stop: Glenmalure Lodge
Fun Fact: Located in the longest glacial valley in Ireland
We stopped for dinner at pub #4. Shane placed our dinner orders in advance, so we were served almost as soon as we arrived. Great food and a great atmosphere, but the best part of this pub is heading outside and taking in the spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. The pub was bustling and busy which was hard to imagine as on our drive out to it seemed fairly remote. We were clearly the only tourists.
Fifth Stop: Phelan Licensed Grocer
Fun Fact: Part pub, part grocery store.
Shane’s Pick: Redcross Craft Beer
Another traditional pub. The main bar area isn’t large, but the locals were friendly and chatted with us, one of whom lived next door and was the local mechanic. This is when I found out that Ireland doesn’t yet use post codes. Really guys? Everywhere else does! The pub is nestled in beautiful Irish countryside
Sixth Stop: Mickey Finn’s Pub
Fun Fact: Also a brewery!
Shane’s Recommendation: The Wicklow Weiss
Our last stop was also the stop for live music. The band started out a little somber, but soon kicked it up and the place was quite lively. This stop didn’t have the same small pub feel, and much of the building seemed newer as they’ve added on in an expansion.
The Rural Nights Pub Tour is definitely my favorite pub tour I’ve done. Sure you could visit these places on your own, but having a local guide you through the must-sees and best parts really makes the experience more enjoyable. I was also lucky to have fun, friendly tour mates. If staying in Dublin this tour really is a must, and an amazing time. I’ll definitely be back!