How we’re squeezing in a weekend trip to Dublin

The-Temple-Bar-Dublin

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Sorry about the exclamation — I’m just really, really excited! This summer, I’ll be spending a week in London with my travel pal, Sarah. And in our planning, we figured that we might as well plan a trip to Dublin while we’re in the U.K. We both have a love for pubs and Irish jigs and figured we could spare a couple of days stepping away from England and exploring the Emerald Isle. And going to Ireland means I get to check something off my bucket list!

When we’re going

While Sarah will be in London for nine days, I will only have six days there before I leave for my Contiki tour. So we’re taking a short weekend trip to Dublin — leaving Friday morning and returning Sunday afternoon. Yes, we know we should avoid weekend travel when we’re on a budget, but a weekend trip was the only option that worked for our schedule.

How we’re getting there

Sarah discovered a transportation company that is perfect for our schedule and budget. Called RailEasy, the company lets us find and book a train ride from London to the west coast of England and a ferry from England to Ireland. We booked a train ride from Euston to Holyhead, where we will then hop on a ferry to Dublin Port. The journey takes about eight hours — six by train and two by ferry.Though the ride will be long, it’ll be totally worth it because of the stunning views of the countryside we’ll see along the way.

Here’s a short video of the highlight of the London-to-Dublin journey:

Where we’re staying

We used Hostelworld (as usual) to search for places to stay in Dublin. There are other accommodation options featured on the site than hostels — such as budget hotels and bed and breakfasts — but Sarah and I prefer hostels because they allow us to meet and hang out with other travelers. And we love making friends. We searched Dublin hostels based on price, ratings and location and found several that fit our criteria, such as Isaac’s Hostel and Backpacker’s Citi Hostel.

But the one that caught our attention most was Abigail’s Budget Accommodation. With an 98 percent location rating and a Hostelworld recommendation, Abigail’s stood out as the best place to stay if we want to be centrally located to Dublin’s main attractions. It’s located on Aston Quay overlooking the River Liffey with Temple Bar only footsteps away from the doorstep.

abigails

Since we’ll be tight on time, we need somewhere that is within walking distance of most sites we want to visit, and a few minutes’ car ride away from the rest. Not only is Abigail’s centrally located to all the historical sites we want to see, but the hostel offers free 3-hour walking tours every day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. This bonus means we’ll have to do way less planning for where to go and what to see.

Nightly bar crawls are another prized feature for the hostel, one that we will happily take advantage of. Have I mentioned that I’m obsessed with Irish pubs? We’ll be visiting the Guinness Brewery and the Jameson Distillery while we’re there, of course, we’ll be sure to salute the local spirits on our night(s) out.

In my next post, I’ll share our tentative itinerary for the trip!

Have you been to Dublin? How did you get there and where did you stay? Comment below!

Toronto in 30 Hours — How I Did it and You Can Do It Too

Toronto_skyline_tommythompsonpark_cropped

TORONTO, CANADA spans 2,751 square miles and has a population of more than 5,580,000. It boasts more than 100 attractions, from museums and historic sites to restaurants and markets. With so much going on, it seems nearly impossible to truly explore the city in 30 hours. But my friend Sarah and I managed to do it — and here’s how:

OVERVIEW:

DAY 1
Getting Acquainted to the City (1 HR)
Checking into the Hostel (.5 HRS)
Buying a CityPASS (.5 HRS)
Climbing to the Top of the CN Tower (3 HRS)
Exploring Downtown Toronto (2 HRS)
Getting Dinner in Greektown (2 HRS)
Going Out at the Hostel (4 HRS)
Sleep (5 HRS)

DAY 2
Going to Casa Loma (4 HRS)
Stopping for Lunch (2 HRS)
Exploring the Royal Ontario Museum (3 HRS)
Grabbing a Quick Sushi Dinner (1 HR)
Picking up our bags at the Hostel and Heading to the Bus Terminal (2 HRS)

_________________________________________________________________________

1. GETTING TO TORONTO (16 HRS)
Sarah and I both live in the Washington, D.C. metro area, so we took the Megabus from Union Station to Toronto. We left at 8 p.m. Thursday night, anticipating our arrival in Toronto at 10 .m. Friday. We passed through Philadelphia, Penn. and Buffalo, N.Y., making stops at both before finally crossing the border. Once in Canada, we of course had to go through customs, but that was quick and painless. By that point, getting off the bus and stretching our legs was extremely welcome. Two hours after we left customs, we were in Toronto. ($73/each, round trip)

 

2. GETTING ACQUAINTED TO THE CITY (1 HR)
Having some bus troubles along the way, we finally arrived at the Toronto Bus Terminal at 12 p.m. on Friday. Famished, we first stopped to grab a bite at Druxy’s Deli. Then we headed to the ATM to take out some Canadian money and found a subway station. The Toronto subway, officially known as the Toronto Transit Commission, is refreshingly easy to navigate; there are only three lines and the stops are clearly labeled, both on the maps and at the stations. It took us about 15 minutes to get from St. Patrick’s Station to Donlands Station, which is less than a minute’s walk from the hostel. ($11/day for a 2-person subway pass)

 

3. CHECKING IN TO THE HOSTEL (.5 HRS)
We had a fantastic experience at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, which is located just on the outskirts of downtown Toronto. We stayed in a six-person mixed dorm (I could have sworn I booked an all-female dorm! It wasn’t too bad though, we didn’t see the guys much, and we kept our valuables locked in a safe). The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating and they made us feel right at home. We stayed long enough to get our bags settled in and freshen up, and then we were off on our adventure. ($25/each for one night)


 
4. BUYING A CITYPASS (.5 HRS)
In doing our pre-trip research, Sarah found that it was highly recommended to buy a  $61 CityPASS for Toronto. The Toronto CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to 5 must-see tourist attractions in Toronto that saved us 43% compared to combined regular box office prices:

  1.  CN Tower: A Wonder of the Modern World (Reg. $32/each)
  2. Royal Ontario Museum: Engage the World (Reg. $12.50/each)
  3. Casa Loma: Toronto’s Majestic Castle (Reg. $24/each)
  4. Toronto Zoo: Canada’s Premier Zoo (Reg. $23/each)
  5. Ontario Science Centre: Canada’s Leading Science Center (Reg. $22/each)

The passes were valid for nine consecutive days and allowed us to skip ticket lines. We bought ours at the Royal Ontario Museum, but decided to wait until the next day to explore the museum. Instead, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and headed to the CN Tower. ($61/each)

 

5. CLIMBING TO THE TOP OF THE CN TOWER (3 HRS)
I still get chills thinking about it – what a thrill. According to the tower’s website, the American Society of Civil Engineers classified the CN Tower as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World (the others being the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Panama Canal, the Chunnel under the English Channel, the North Sea Protection Works off the European coast and the Empire State Building).

After skipping the ticket lines, Sarah and I went through a brief security check and got in line for the evaluator. We queued for an hour and finally rode the glass elevator up 1,136 ft (346 m) to the LookOut Level. The views of the cityscape, the Toronto Islands and the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Lake Ontario were breathtaking. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a light lunch and some red rosé at Horizon’s Restaurant.  We ended our visit with a stop at the CN Tower gift shop. (Tower cost covered by CityPass, $15/each for lunch, $15/each at the gift shop)

 
6. EXPLORING DOWNTOWN TORONTO (2 HRS)
After the tower, we had some spectacular maple lattés at Second Cup Café. With our fresh energy boost, we walked around for a while taking pictures and searching for souvenirs. Finally we made our trek back to the hostel. (About $30/each)

 

7. SITTING DOWN FOR DINNER IN GREEKTOWN (2 HRS)
Our hostel was in a part of Toronto called Greektown. The streets were lined with Greek restaurants and shops, and naturally, Greek people. We stumbled upon Pan, a magnificent, candle-lit restaurant featuring authentic, gourmet Greek food and walls lined with wine bottles. The food was exquisite and there was even a live band and a belly dancer. I have to say it was one of the best meals I’ve had. ($35/each)

 
8. GOING OUT AT THE HOSTEL (4 HRS)
Back at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, we relaxed a bit and hung out in the common area with the other young, broke travelers. Then we all went downstairs to The Only Cafe, an awesome local bar on the below the hostel with over 200 beers from around the world. I’ll spare the details of the night, but let’s just say we had a rootin’ tootin’ good time. Cheers to the Maple Leaf.

 

9. SLEEEEEEEEEEEEP (6 HRS)



10. GOING TO CASA LOMA (4 HRS)
We had an incredible breakfast at the hostel, then headed north via the subway to Casa Loma, Toronto’s majestic castle. The castle allows you to “step back in time to a period of European elegance and splendour.” As Canada’s foremost castle, it is the former home of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt and complete with decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables and a garden that we weren’t able to see because it is winter. Both the inside and outside we simply stunning and, as a princess in training, I felt right at home. (Cost covered by CityPass)

 
11. STOPPING FOR LUNCH (2 HRS)
When in Canada, one must eat at least once at Tim Horton’s. So we did. Then we went to Starbucks for some more maple coffee and to charge our iPhones.

 

12. EXPLORING THE ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM (3 HRS)
Last stop on the trip was the Royal Ontario Museum. Again, we got to skip the lines and go straight to the entrance. The museum has four floors of world history and cultural exhibits, divided into eight categories: fashion and textiles, Earth and space, ancient cultures, biodiversity, fossils and evolution, contemporary culture, Canada, and world art and culture. Tired from the previous day’s events, we only stayed a few hours, though I’m sure anyone could spend the entire day there. We still had a chance to see hundreds of ancient artifacts, fossils and works of art from around the world.

 

13. GRABBING A QUICK SUSHI DINNER (1HR)
We seriously ate well during this trip. After we left the museum, we headed back to Greektown for our last meal in Toronto. Craving sushi, we stopped at Casa Sushi, a nifty sushi place with more than 100 items on the menu. Sarah got several different rolls, and I got a huge vegetarian platter and a mojito for less than $16. The food was fantastic, the service was eh, but overall great bang for our buck. (about $20/each)


 

14. PICKING UP OUR BAGS AT THE HOSTEL AND HEADING TO THE BUS TERMINAL (2 HRS)
We headed back to the hostel after dinner to pick up our bags and be on our way. Having about an hour to spare, though, we decided to grab one last drink at The Only Cafe. It was the best possible way the end our amazing trip. Afterward, we headed to the terminal and were (kind of) first ones in line, destined for the front seats of the double-decker bus. The ride home went a little more smoothly since we were too exhausted to care about the tight space, and after 14 hours, we were back in D.C.

REVIEW

There ya have it: Toronto in 30 hours, excluding travel time to and from the City. Though we didn’t hit all of the attractions covered by the CityPASS, we still saved a few bucks with it.  If I could have done anything differently, I would have tried to squeeze in the Science Center on the second day, but we were just too tired for that. Oh well, it’s just an incentive to go back.

*Updated 3/35/2014

Planning my weekend trip to Toronto

Toronto-Branch

So I have a confession: I am teensy bit obsessed with Canada. When I was a kid, I visited Nova Scotia with my parents and fell in love with the adorable, quaint town and the alarmingly polite people. My trip to Niagara Falls two years later left me with the same impression. Fast-forward 10 years, and I’m ready to experience it again. I think it was the Winter Olympics and rooting for the Canadian hockey team (don’t hate me!) that finally reignited my love for the country. I finally told myself enough is enough — I’m going. 

1.) Picking the Date

After begging a friend to go with me, I started making a plan. First item on the agenda: pick a date. It honestly stinks that I am still in school and my only time to travel is on weekends. I could go during spring break, but I need that time to work so I can continue to save up for my trip to Europe this summer. Given this, I chose the first weekend of spring break as the optimal time to go — I won’t be missing work, and I won’t have homework to worry about.

2.) Choosing the City

Some may argue that this should be the first step, but I’m a spontaneous gal. I’ll go wherever the wind — and my budget — takes me. My decision really came down to Toronto versus Montreal. I wish I could say I conducted extensive research, carefully weighing the pros and cons of each city and making an educated decision, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I asked a few friends who have visited both places and reached out to some Twitter followers for advice. Essentially, this is what I collected:

  1. Montreal is a vast, dynamic city that demands much longer than a weekend’s visit.
  2. Toronto is bustling and enticing, but is doable in a weekend.

So, off to Toronto it is.

3.) Finding Transportation

Okay, maybe the greatest factor in selecting the city really was the accessibility. Being based in Washington, D.C., I felt like I could find cheaper transportation to Canada than flying. I looked at trains and bus services in the area, but none had direct routes from D.C. to Montreal. A trip there would require transfers and possible delays, which I would not have time for in a short weekend trip. Luckily, my go-to bus service, Megabus, offers direct routes to Toronto at exponentially cheaper rates than airfare: $75 round-trip. This was a huge selling point for Toronto.

I relayed this information to my friend and she and I booked Megabus tickets for that Thursday night. Because it’s a 14-hour drive, we’ll get to Toronto Friday morning.  Then, to be back at work on Monday, we had to choose the return bus that leaves Saturday night in order to be home by Sunday. This gives us the greater portions of two days and one night in Toronto. I mean, it’s something, right?

4.) Hostel, Hostel, Hostel!

I think it was all of the great experiences in European hostels that made me actually prefer to stay in them rather than budget hotels. Naturally, I went to my favorite hostel-finding site, Hostel World, to find a place to stay in Toronto. Since $75 on transportation is already taking away from my Europe fund, I could not spare much more money on accomodations. Using the site, I found a high-rated hostel that will only cost us $25 each for a Saturday night. The Only Backpacker’s Inn is located just on the outskirts of downtown Toronto, and is central to all of the attractions we want to visit. The bonus is that it’s built ontop of The Only Cafe, a supposedly awesome bar with over 200 beers from around the world. As it stands, I’m 20 years old, but the drinking age in Toronto is 19. When in Rome…

5.) Figuring Out What to Do

Ah where to begin. Like I said, Toronto is bustling. I checked out the city’s official tourism website for ideas for what to do, but I was pretty overwhelmed by the possibilities. I wanted to know what are the top must-see attraction in the city than my friend and I could knock out in one day. That’s when I stumbled upon Tripomatic. It’s most likely not the first site of its kind, but it is the first I have found, and I am quite jazzed about it. This website is the ultimate trip-planning helper. It swiftly guides you through its operations making it superbly easy to use. Once I entered my destination and dates,  Tripomatic presented me a map of Toronto with all of the major attractions, restaurants, hotels and public transportation routes pinpointed. All I had to do was choose a spot and a day and Tripomatic would add the attraction to my itinerary as well as show me the travel time from one spot to the next. The site even has filtering options for most popular attractions. I used this positioning software to determine what was sights and activities are nearby our hostel and our bus terminal. After adding a few items to our itinerary, such as the CN Tower and Casa Loma, I think I have devised a plan to get the most out of Toronto in 36 hours.  After I saved the itinerary, Tripomatic generated a personalized travel guide with maps and travel tips, including currency information, where to eat and how to get around, all available online and in a printable PDF form.  Visit my itinerary here.

Tripomatic

6.) Waiting

Somehow, I managed to plan all of this in literally a few hours, and now, I think I am all set. With the trip only two weeks away, all I have left to do is pack and try not to spend money in the meantime. One of those things will be more difficult than the other.