Ireland Day Tours in Pictures

Day tours are a fantastic way to see a wide area in a limited amount of time. An Ireland day tour will offer you the opportunity to see just about anything. We personally took tours that visited the Wicklow Mountains (near Dublin), Inishmore in the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher (both near Galway).  

Modern vacations often include high-stress moments and frantic running as tourists flock from place to place to see every destination in their tour book. There really isn’t anything in this world that compares to the spectacle of 60 people clawing to be the first one off of a coach bus.

Ireland Day Tour of Inishmore, Aran Islands

I realized that the reason people rush is that they want to spend as much time as possible looking at sights like this:

Inishmoor - the largest Aran Island

Inishmore – the largest Aran Island

Inishmore is the largest of the Aran Islands and is located just a few miles off the West Coast of Ireland. It is by no means a populous island with only 800 human inhabitants. There are also a few cows and sheep scattered on the landscape.

Molly with a particularly friendly cow. There are more cows than people in Ireland.

Molly with a particularly friendly cow. There are more cows than people in Ireland.

Fewer travelers take the ferry ride to the island than head to most other big Irish tour destinations so you can take advantage and enjoy peaceful vistas. It is hard to believe that the photogenic island of Inishmore looks out upon another impressive Ireland landmark; the Cliffs of Moher.

Ireland Day Tour of The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are a huge tourist attraction for good reason. They are both giant and beautiful. I discovered the ‘panorama’ function on our Lumix DMC-ZS19 just in time to sufficiently capture the Cliffs in digital format. The only cameras that can capture all 8km of the Cliffs in one frame are likely located in a well-positioned helicopter. You really could spend an entire day walking the trail along the coast. Watch out for strong winds!

Extreme Danger at Cliffs of Moher

Extreme Danger at Cliffs of Moher

More cliffs of Moher

More cliffs of Moher

I can see why the color green is so closely associated with Ireland after traveling here for a week. The glacial valley of Glendalough in Wicklow Mountains National Park is one of countless examples of Ireland’s dynamic landscape.

Ireland Day Tour of Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough and Kilkenny

Wicklow Gap, Wicklow Mountains National Park

Wicklow Gap, Wicklow Mountains National Park

There are an astounding amount of archaeological sights in addition to the glacial lakes in the Wicklow Mountains. Glendalough is a long abandoned monastery overlooking the lake which remains remarkably preserved.

Glendalough Monastery

Glendalough Monastery

The monastery was once was a thriving town and the tower in the distance has held up quite well for a 30 meter structure built in the 11th century.

We booked out tour through Collins Day Tours which also included a stop in Kilkenny after the Wicklow Gap and Glendalough. The tour also included a stop in Kilkenny for lunch. The big draw in Kilkenny? A giant castle!

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

The Kilkenny Castle is a structure worth seeing. It has been beautifully restored piece by piece for about the past 40 years. Sadly, photographs are not allowed inside. Admission to the castle is €6.00 for adults and only €2.50 for students. The Collins tour is a great deal at €30 (€20 for students) to see Wicklow. The stop at Kilkenny is simply a bonus. It covers a significant amount of ground for a day trip out of Dublin and really helps to drive home the diverse landscape of the country.

Day tours cover a lot of ground in a small amount of time but the constant motion will leave you exhausted. We completed three different day tours to the  major sights above over the course of five days. If you choose to travel on day tours in Ireland make sure that you space them out or include lighter days in between. Otherwise, you may need a vacation from your vacation!

Stay tuned for more updates from Ireland. Make sure you check out Molly’s post about affordable sights to see in Dublin!

Molly likes living on the edge

Molly likes living on the edge at Inishmore

London Eye Alternatives: Tower Bridge and ‘The Monument’

If you have ever visited (or have considered visiting) London, you have likely heard of the London Eye. If you haven’t heard of it, imagine a well-funded science project including a 27-story bicycle wheel with a line longer and more aggravating than LA freeway traffic. Or just look at the picture below.

London Eye

London Eye on a cloudy day 

It is beautiful to see the view of London from the top but the cost of £19.20 (about $30 US dollars – or a dollar a minute) may be too much for some.  Thankfully there are a number of alternatives that give you a similar experience with fewer tour groups.

Enter: The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

“The Monument” is the tallest free-standing column in the world.  This was enough of a draw for me and the gorgeous 360° view of the city was simply a bonus.

Buyer beware: there is no elevator. You will need to walk up the series of 311 stairs pictured below. It’s not so bad.  There are periodic windows along the way which make the trip slightly more interesting than the stairwell experience of your friends’ Manhattan walk-up apartment.

The Monument, Stairs

Molly climbing ‘The Monument’ stairs

When you do make it you should expect to see views similar to those pictures below.

** London skyline spoiler alert**

View from The Monument, "Walkie Talkie Building" under construction

View from The Monument, “Walkie Talkie Building” under construction

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Overall, The Monument is a unique experience which many tourists seem to be blissfully unaware of.  It only costs a few dollars (Adults £3; Student £2) and you can take your time and quietly enjoy the view.  We went early in the morning and there were only between 2 and 6 other patrons at the top while we were there.  Upon our exit there was a small line beginning to form.

Our next stop was the iconic and much-ballyhooed Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge, London

The Tower Bridge Exhibition includes a couple of interesting videos on its construction.  The exhibit also highlights the evolution of bridge construction techniques over time and has information on famous bridges from around the globe.  If structural engineering and bridge history don’t interest you, perhaps the scenery will.

** Another London skyline spoiler alert**

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

While notably more crowded than The Monument, the Tower Bridge was a lovely stop for beautiful views directly over the River Thames. At only £8.00 for regular admission it is a real bargain, since you can stay for as long as you like. As an added bonus, your admission grants you access to the engine rooms to the draw bridge.

Tower Bridge engine room

Tower Bridge engine room

Is the view of the city from either The Monument or the Tower Bridge better than the London Eye? You aren’t as high up and you are substantially farther East, but you still have an excellent vantage point.  Are the lines and price much better? Absolutely.  At either location you can ask about getting a ‘joint ticket’ which will allow you to visit both sights for a discount. It is well worth it to package both sites together.  They are within a short walk of one another and will take you directly past The Tower of London as you go from one to another.  Make sure you check out All Hallows by the Tower on your way. This is the oldest church in the City of London and has a a historic crypt and a number of historical artifacts. Admission is free and you might even get to hear the organ being played.

2013 Pricing Information for Tower Bridge and The Monument

The Monument and Tower Bridge joint tickets: Adults £9; Students £6.20

Monument Only: Adults £3; Student £2

Tower Bridge Only: Adults £8.00, Students £5.60  

Picture of the Day: Stairs from within the Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

The Big London Vegan Food Post, #1

While walking the streets of London I came across some postings with ‘flats’ for rent. I curiously stopped to read and came to the conclusion that the cost of living in London compared favorably to living in New York City. I was subsequently horrified when Molly pointed out to me that rent in London is posted at a weekly rate as opposed to monthly.

I kept my calm and carried on – thankful that we were spending our money on vegan food instead.

After shoving our way through an unspeakably busy West End and SOHO districts (the London one), we approached The Coach and Horses vegetarian pub with a sense of caution. Would it too be overrun with tour buses, tour guides and *gasp* tourists?

The Coach and Horses Vegetarian Pub, London

The Coach and Horses Vegetarian Pub, London

Spoiler Alert: No! Just lots of locals looking for some good food/drink and a way to escape probing questions on how to find the British National Gallery. For a Sunday lunch in a central tourist district it had a quiet and pleasant atmosphere. While trying to blend in with the Locals, a certain dish caught my eye on the menu. Tofush and chips.

Vegan Fish and Chips, The Coach and Horses, London

Tofush and Chips, The Coach and Horses, London

From what Molly and I can tell, this is perhaps the only such option available in London. The actual ‘fish’ was in fact tofu rolled in nori, battered and beautifully deep fried.  The avocado tarter sauce was the perfect compliment. The deep fryer clearly had its A-game going on and also produced some excellent chips (read: fries). Those green things are English peas which will easily surprise you if you are used to other less-stellar pea products.  Our second dish was a little more vegetable-friendly – one of the highly touted ‘SUNDAY ROAST’ options as the sign outside read.

Vegan lentil-stuffed 'Sunday Roast' at The Coach and Horses, London

Vegan lentil-stuffed ‘Sunday Roast’ at The Coach and Horses, London

This stuffed eggplant roast included lentils, tomato, spices and (presumably) eggplant roasted together.  It was served a little dry but the ample gravy on the plate corrected this. The vegan fish and chips were the real star here and will be receiving my vote for food MVP in London barring some unforeseen future discovery.

Next up on our tour was the Vegan Cross store – home to the Secret Society of Vegans.  

Vegan Cross, Secret Society of Vegans, London

Vegan Cross, Secret Society of Vegans, London

Below is a picture of what we found inside.

Interior of Vegan Cross, Secret Society of Vegans, London

Interior of Vegan Cross, Secret Society of Vegans, London

That is about half of the actual store seen here and the majority of the food-related items. The remainder of the store was devoted to vegan apparel and books. For a quick sandwich (made at the back of the store) or some vegan candy or food products it is ideal. The store seems best situated to serve the local vegan population by virtue of its meeting space downstairs.  As Molly pointed out, Ryan Gosling did make an appearance on the door frame!

Hey girl, you are the vegan cupcake who took over my world. Ryan Gosling.

Hey girl, you are the vegan cupcake who took over my world. Ryan Gosling.

Hidden Jewel: I suppose if I said ‘Twinings Tea’ and ‘Hidden Jewel’ to you together you might be a little confused.  The ubiquitous Twinings Tea can be found just about everywhere.  A quick stop in the Twinings Tea original location was quite pleasant and informative. Did you know that you are likely drinking a weaker ‘export’ varieties and not the stronger blends distributed in the UK?

Twinings Tea original location, London

Twinings Tea original location, London

I have been known to enjoy a cup of tea from time to time but I was blown away by these ‘real’ blends.  Our tea expert was incredibly knowledgeable and quite friendly (and, oddly, from Boston).  I highly recommend stopping in to the Twinings original location if you find yourself strolling along the River Thames.

We had made plans to meet up with a friend who also happened to be in London at the same time as us. We tried out some vegan sweets at Cookies and Scream vegan and gluten-free bakery located at the Camden Market.

Cookies and Scream vegan bakery, London

Cookies and Scream vegan bakery, London

The hours listed online indicated that it was open until 6PM each day.  When we ordered shortly after 5:15PM it seemed that some of the options (namely, coffee and milkshakes) were unavailable as those machines had already been cleaned out.  The entire store was closed-up by 5:50PM.  The cookies and brownies we had were all very tasty, particularly for gluten-free baked goods.  If you go, just make sure you make it there early! Camden market had lots of other vegan options as well. There was Ha-Ha Veggie Bar, a falafel stand, Chaboba a bubble tea stand, and right across the canal, inSpiral Lounge. inSpiral Lounge had some delicious looking food, but we were too stuffed to get any real food at that point. We just had a few drinks, which we consumed sitting along the canal. It was great.

We had high expectations for Amico Bio – a vegetarian Italian restaurant in London. Our friend who is in London now, too, had already eaten there and loved it. She gave us great recommendations!  We visited the location in Barbican, but there is also a second restaurant in Holborn.  The food was universally great – so much so that I am posting five pictures.

Amico Bio, Vegetarian Italian restaurant, London

Amico Bio, vegetarian Italian restaurant, London

Brushetta, Amico Bio, Vegetarian Italian restaurant, London

Brushetta, Amico Bio, vegetarian Italian restaurant, London

Cous cous, cabbage and apricot salad, Amico Bio Vegetarian restaurant, London

Cous cous, cabbage and apricot salad, Amico Bio vegetarian restaurant, London

Tortiglioni with tomato, olives and capers, Amico Bio vegetarian restaurant, London

Tortiglioni with tomato, olives and capers, Amico Bio vegetarian restaurant, London

Gnocchi with tomato sauce and vegan mozzarella, Amico Bio vegetarian restaurant, London

Gnocchi with tomato sauce and vegan mozzarella, Amico Bio vegetarian restaurant, London

If you are craving some great Italian food – Amico Bio will not disappoint.  Deep flavors and a beautiful setting across from Saint Bartholomew – a church constructed in 1123. From a value standpoint, they have a lunch special where you receive an appetizer, entree and dessert for only 10 pounds.  It is quite a deal and lets you really explore the menu. The standard menu offers additional options and are priced to move (most in the 7-8 pound range). The restaurant is vegetarian and the many vegan options are clearly marked.

London is exceedingly vegetarian and vegan friendly. Supermarkets even label all products as such directly on packaging. Even the fowl in London are friendly! A particularly trusting pigeon landed directly next to Molly as we crossed the beautiful Millennium Bridge leaving the Tate Modern.

Molly with friendly pigeon, Millennium Bridge, London

Molly with friendly pigeon, Millennium Bridge, London

More food updates to come as our time in London is not yet over. Cheers!

Iceland: The Golden Circle

Molly and I wasted no time diving into Reykjavik and the surrounding countryside after a very uncomfortable and sleepless flight on Iceland Air.  We booked our tour through iCHighland and set out in a 16 passenger van (filled only by Molly, myself and three other Americans) on the highly recommended ‘Golden Circle’ tour.  iCHighland offers tours for around 10 USD cheaper than its competitors and other tours we encountered filled entire charter buses. Contrary to my initial misconceptions of the ‘Golden Circle Tour’ being a Chinese food entree, it is in fact a guided tour of some of Iceland’s most beautiful sights within a few hours’ drive from Reykjavik.

One of the many highlights of the tour was a stop at Golden Falls (if you are working on your Icelandic – ‘Gullfoss’).

Golden Falls – Gullfoss

With an average flow rate of 140 cubic meters per second (which from the looks of it, is a lot) it is an impressive sight to behold.  Such power churned up a chilly mist that helped to cool off an uncharacteristically hot and sunny 70 degree day.  The falls are made all the more impressive by the abundance of mountains that surround the site, containing immense glacier formations.

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Golden Circle – Glaciers

If glaciers don’t float your boat, perhaps geysers launching boiling water into unpredictable winds will do the trick.  The famed and reliable Strokkur geyser (which erupts regularly every 4-8 minutes) was a sight to behold and bephotoed.  I can confirm that the small dots at the bottom of this photo are in fact people.

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Golden Circle, Strokkur Geyser – Who put all of these sights so close together??

Departing the geysers, we ventured to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Þingvellir.  I Þlan to incorÞorate more ‘Þ’ characters into future Þosts. (If you are playing at home, the ‘Þ’ is actually pronounced ‘th’.)  I now understand why UNESCO made this worthy selection.

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Golden Circle – Þingvellir

In addition to being the sight of the first parliament in the history of man, Þingvellir is the home to naturally filtered glacier water with a clarity and cleanliness that would embarrass your kitchen sink.

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Golden Circle – Þingvellir (Yes, our feet are submerged in this photo)

Clean water and a monumental achievements of the human race are both great things.  However, continental plates are much bigger and it just so happens that the split between the Eurasian plate and North American plate run right through the middle of Þingvellir, and are moving apart at a rate of 2 cm per year.

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Golden Circle – Þingvellir (Eurasian and North American plate divide)

In closing, Iceland and its sights are built to last.  Mountains, continental plates, and great plains with hardly a tree in sight.  On our tour we visited a half dozen other sights along the way and each would easily be a  ‘crown jewel’ of tourism if located in most any other city or town worldwide.  The fact that so many of these sights exist so close together is astonishing.  The Golden Circle tour is a must if you find yourself in Iceland, even if it is at the top of your daily budget.

Stay tuned for tomorrow when Molly will break down some of the best vegan food options in Reykjavik!

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Golden Circle – Molly with Alaskan Lupine flowers that grow all over the countryside