Virtuoso hotels and resorts’ Gregg Nielsen recently traveled to Ireland to explore Dublin, Killarney, Kildare, and the countryside in between. What he loved the most about the Emerald Isle?  “The electricity of Dublin, the rolling green hills, majestic mountains, beautiful lakes, and of course, amazing hotels,” Nielsen says.

Memorable Irish experiences:

  • Explore the Guinness Storehouse, with several floors of Guinness artifacts, interactive exhibits, and a panoramic bar on the top floor overlooking the Dublin skyline.
  • A great way to learn about Jameson and meet new friends is to take the Whiskey Shakers cocktail class at the Jameson Distillery in Dublin. Learn how to make whiskey sours with egg whites, old fashioned cocktails with fresh orange peels and aromatic bitters, and hot whiskey with spices.
  • Don’t miss afternoon tea at The Merrion Hotel. I loved the delicious scones, pastries, and finger sandwiches, and especially the encyclopedic tea menu. And it wouldn’t be complete without a glass of Champagne. The pièces de résistance are the specialty pastries at the end, paired with an edible replica of one of the hotel’s artworks. It’s even better if you take The Merrion’s complimentary art history tour. You may just find the piece of art you ate.
Nielsen and friends enjoying tea at The Merrion Hotel.
  • Start one of your nights with a drink at The Shelbourne hotel’s refined and classic Horseshoe Bar. They specialize in delicious craft cocktails.
  • Local favorite: O’Donoghue’s Bar sits between The Shelbourne and The Merrion. People from all walks of life gather in this pub and you never know who you may meet. Strike up a conversation with a local, as I did.
  • The views are incredible at Killarney National Park. It’s the epitome of what most people envision when they think of Ireland – lush, green fields and snow-capped mountains rising above serene lakes. Try horseback riding here if you want to do something active; otherwise, you can hop on a horse-drawn carriage. It poured buckets when I visited (it’s Ireland, after all), but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Visit Ross Castle just outside the town of Killarney on the same day, and head into the town for a pint at The Shire, a Lord of the Rings-themed pub.

Cool souvenir:

Look for Newbridge silverware throughout Ireland – they’ve been making jewelry, flatware, and other home goods since 1934.

Great hotels:

The K Club is a sprawling 134-room property about 40 minutes from Dublin in the town of Kildare with beautiful grounds and two championship golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer – one of which hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup. Afternoon tea in the Chinese Drawing Room provided a front-row seat to watch the weather change from snow to sun over the course of two hours. They have an outdoor hot tub to enjoy before spa treatments, and great food, such as traditional Irish stew and prawns in garlic butter.

The K Club.

Occupying a row of Georgian townhouses in the heart of Dublin, the 142-room Merrion Hotel feels like you’re staying at someone’s home, and the staff is so warm and welcoming. The Cellar Bar downstairs has a typical Irish pub feel. There’s also a lovely courtyard, and you can sit in the new Garden Room restaurant and enjoy the fresh air.

For a livelier experience, stay at the 265-room Shelbourne, Dublin, directly across from Saint Stephens Green (Dublin’s version of NYC’s Central Park). The hotel’s two bars, including the Horseshoe Bar, are the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights. The Saddle Room restaurant is an exquisite dining experience with attentive staff and a knowledgeable sommelier. I ordered the chateaubriand for two with delicious parmesan fries on the side. The hotel is steeped in history, which the staff is happy to recount.

In Killarney, you’d be remiss not to spend a couple of days at the 74-room Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa. The spa’s Thermal Suite is especially memorable and features NASA-designed stone loungers that cradle your body and radiate heat. I fell asleep in one for two hours before getting a facial. Enjoying the sun setting over the mountains with a cocktail and live piano music – grab a high-top chair in the lounge right next to the piano.

Nielsen at Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa.

Photos courtesy of Gregg Nielsen. Top photo: Irish landscape, by Annie Fitzsimmons.