My husband and I have been navigating blended family life for over a year. In celebration of our accomplishment, we decided we needed a drink. Several, in fact! We bought tickets to Dublin, Ireland on an Air Canada seat sale and spent four days eating and drinking our way through the city.

Ireland is a country that is full of surprises. Yes, you can go with nature in mind and explore the coastal villages or visit the many castles that dot the scenic land. Or explore Dublin with one of their Discover Trails and uncover the secrets of this city. The locals are friendly and in fact, the city has been named the “most friendly” in Europe on TripAdvisor, twice!

We asked for tons of recommendations from friends before we left in mid-September and from native Dubliners during the trip. Now, I’m excited to pass on the best of the best. If you’re going to Dublin for a girl’s trip, a guy’s getaway, a family vacation or as a couple, here’s what to eat and drink in Dublin.

BREAKFAST & LIGHT BITES:

The Kilkenny Shop on Nassau St. was perfect for Irish gift ideas—and breakfast. We enjoyed a traditional Irish breakfast early one morning. We chose from their breakfast buffet—a huge selection of items from pastries to Irish oats to eggs. In addition to fresh, hot coffee, we had eggs, bacon, Guinness bread and black and white pudding. (Apparently, you don’t want to know what the pudding is made of but it tasted like bacon.) Site: www.kilkennyshop.com

The National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square W. had a nice cafe called Brambles (www.brambles.ie). I checked out the museum and had a bite to eat at their cafe while my husband took a nap. (We were jet lagged from the overnight flight from Toronto!) The gallery was beautiful and people-watching from the cafe was fun, too! Try a scone and tea, just like the locals! Site: www.nationalgallery.ie

PUBS & RESTAURANTS:

Pubs in Dublin are as ubiquitous as Starbucks in downtown Toronto. There are several on every block! Most of them are cave-like and cozy, offering a warm respite from rainy Dublin weather. They are also hubs for good food, conversation, gin and tonic and the freshest Guinness you’ll ever taste.

Stags Head is one of the oldest pubs in Ireland. You’ll find this traditional Victorian pub tucked away along a narrow passageway off Dame Street. Here’s where I was introduced to a floral gin called Dingle’s—it was recommended by the friendly bartender who served us at our table. My husband enjoyed a fresh pint of Guinness and parmesan truffle fries. We had to save our appetites for the next pub! Site: www.stagshead.ie

Doheny & Nesbitt – Established in 1867, this family-owned pub on Baggot Street is surrounded by several Dublin landmarks–the House of Parliament, Grafton Street, Trinity College and Stephen’s Green. It’s been a social institution for politicians, journalists and travellers alike. We sat in this pub one rainy evening for an early dinner after an entire day of exploring the city. You can’t go wrong with beef and Guinness pie or traditional Irish stew. (We shared both!) I also had to try the cheese board featuring a selection of traditional Irish cheeses. Site: www.dohenyandnesbitts.ie

Foley’s Bar – This was the place to be on Friday night. Fresh off a week of work, locals packed the bar and spilled out onto the street for some drinks and amazing live music. We danced the evening away to Dan Elliott, talented young musician, who could very well be the next Ed Sheeran. There’s live music every Friday and Saturday and bars close at 12:30 am. Sites: www.danelliottmusic.com and www.foleys.ie

Right near our hotel was my husband’s favourite local pub, Napper Tandy’s, on Merrion St. While I wandered through the nearby shops looking for souvenirs, my husband lived like a local and enjoyed a pint at this friendly Irish pub. While quiet by comparison during the day, after work, the tables were packed with colleagues who gathered for a beer before heading home. It was the perfect place to ask for other restaurant recommendations. We chatted with some locals who referred us to an amazing steak house, which just happened to be around the corner. In case you’re wondering, we stayed at a lovely old hotel called the Merrion Hotel Dublin. The walls were rather thin on account of it being old converted townhouses, but it was central and elegant, and we enjoyed a spot of tea (and a beer!) in The Cellar, the cave-like pub in the basement of the hotel. Site: www.merrionhotel.com and www.nappertandys.ie

F.X. Buckley was an outstanding Irish steakhouse. Tucked away in another dimly lit cave-like setting, we started off our meal with some cocktails. We had a smoked Old Fashioned (it was literally smoking when it arrived at our table) and a Bloody Mary. Everything else we ordered was delicious, too! We had Kilkeel Harbour seared scallops, Dexter rump tartar served with horseradish and potato chips, traditional Caesar salad, Irish smoked salmon on Guinness and treacle brown bread (my favourite!) and finally we shared a gigantic dry-aged rib eye on the bone. This place has been around since 1930, so they definitely know what they’re doing. We’d recommend making reservations in advance to avoid disappointment. Site: www.fxbuckley.ie

We really enjoyed eating and drinking in pubs, but perhaps the best time on our trip was at P. Mac’s—a hip and lively, candlelit restaurant/bar featuring loud music, hamburger-type fare and board games. I lost in Uno several times and in Connect Four more times than I’d like to share, but I did win the most intense game of Jenga I’ve ever played. It was truly the most fun and memorable afternoon we’ve spent together in ages. The menu wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. Its central location made it within walking distance of our next dinner spot. Site: www.facebook.com/pmacspub

Fade Street Social (on Fade St.) was a light-filled modern tapas restaurant—quite the change from the traditional pub fare we’d been enjoying. We happened to go on a night where it was buy one dish, get another half off, so we tried a lot. Everything from the pork belly to the Irish sirloin and sea bream ceviche was delicious. The best thing on the menu, however, had to be a dessert called Baby banoffi, made with banana purée, caramel jelly, condensed milk caramel and banana sorbet. That alone would be worth a trip back to Dublin! Site: www.fadestreetsocial.com

DISTILLERIES:

A trip to Jameson, the whiskey distillery on Bow Street, is a must. The newly renovated facility is a site to see. There are several tour experiences to choose from. My husband drank straight from a cask (called the Cask Experience), while I sat at a bar and spoke to the bartender. Ok, fine, I had a couple of drinks while I waited. The classic whiskey sour with egg white froth was too good to pass up. This is also a great place to buy souvenirs and alcohol to bring home. Site: www.jamesonwhiskey.com/en-IE/visit-us/jameson-distillery-bow-st

The Guinness Storehouse also a fantastic experience. We bought tickets to tour the facility in advance and it came with a free pint. We learned about the origins of beer making in Ireland and even had the chance to pour a pint—it’s actually a science and an art! As we ascended to the seventh floor of the pint-shaped glass building, we enjoyed our beer overlooking the city. Yes, the upstairs bar has 360-degree views of Dublin. Afterwards, we stocked up on merchandise, including some Guinness milk-chocolate bars. Site: www.guinness-storehouse.com

SNACKS ON THE GO:

Dunnesstores is like our Shopper’s Drug Mart, only better. There are locations everywhere and while products vary, it was the perfect place to stock up on snacks to eat in Dublin and to bring home. Lovely locals helped me pick out some traditional Irish tea cakes (the kids loved them), Cadbury chocolate (also a hit) and Tatos potato chips. Site: www.dunnesstores.com

Murphy’s Ice Cream on Wicklow St. The kids would have loved this place, but we couldn’t resist it either. It was one of the first things we ate when we arrived because the flavours were new and exciting for us Canadians. We sampled Dingle’s Gin, Irish Brown Bread and Irish Coffee before deciding on flavours to fill our cups—and stomachs! Site: www.murphysicecream.ie

A LITTLE OUT OF TOWN:

We made the 30-minute “Dart” train ride to a small seaside town called Malahide. It was a beautiful place to visit. Walk through the gardens and visit Malahide Castle, then enjoy some fresh seafood at a local restaurant. We chose FishShack Cafe. We wanted to try everything so we ordered the FishShack platter for two, which included fried calamari, steamed mussels, shrimp and crayfish sandwich and shrimp piripiri. We also couldn’t resist the fresh local catch of the day. Sites: www.malahidecastleandgardens.ie and www.fishshack.ie/malahide

If you’re planning a trip to Dublin, get ready for a feast you won’t soon forget!