In the world’s great cities, it’s not difficult for tourists to find grand architecture, tantalizing food, historic art, and lively nightlife – the most valued aspects of a destination for most people. I see, however, a more important aspect in judging a destination’s attractiveness or value; its people. Choosing destinations for their people as much or more than other aspects of a place can be very rewarding. People make all the difference in a travel experience. It’s the local people - the local culture - that ultimately determines the quality of your experience as a visitor. The service at your hotel and at restaurants, your interaction with people on the streets and in the cafes, your cultural and historical learning, and your safety and security are all a product of the local people. For me, people are the most important aspect of a place when the usual attractions and amenities are present, or even when they’re not present.
Ireland has been voted the friendliest country in the world twice since 2009 by readers of Lonely Planet. A recent stay in the Irish capital, Dublin, was my test of their high ranking in friendliness. Within five minutes of stepping off the airport bus, Dubliners provided proof of their most friendly ranking. Stopping a couple to ask for directions to our hotel resulted in an eager and caring response to ensure we knew exactly where our hotel was located. Two days later, Dubliners provided higher proof. Standing on a Dublin street corner studying a city map was all the invitation that two locals on separate occasions needed to approach me, offer help, and depart with a warm handshake. Of all the cities in the twenty countries I’ve visited, Dublin is the only place where a local person offered me help without my asking. Naturally, I’ve experienced friendly hospitality in many countries, but the Irish do represent a more outgoing level of warm welcome. And the expatriates living and working in Dublin share this happy, friendly nature – I suppose friendly attracts friendly. Workers in pubs and stores are eager to please – the festive (party) atmosphere of Dublin helps in this regard. The community club feel of Irish pubs also reflects the joyful, easy going attitude of the Irish. Their easy going nature was also on display when a government employee at the tourist office allowed me to check my email on her computer and print a document I needed.
But tourists cannot live on goodwill alone. How satisfying was the food and drink being served by the contented ambassadors? Firstly, Guinness beer tastes far better in Ireland than it does in the U.S. Freshly crafted at the Guinness brewery in Dublin, the iconic beer is not pasteurized for the Irish market. Leaving the brewery, I met a tourist from Philadelphia who visits Dublin twice per year. “At home, Guinness tastes bitter…but here, it’s like cream,” he said. I readily agreed.
Historically, Ireland is not known for its food. Fortunately, we live in a time when many cultures around the world have refined their traditional food dishes and developed their own tasteful fusion of continental cuisine. Dublin is no exception as much is offered in delectable European cuisine. Avoca Cafe was a standout food destination during my visit. Casual, yet refined, Avoca is a wonderful deli/bakery/café with many tantalizing dishes that make it difficult to choose. I enjoyed a salmon pie with creamy mashed potatoes that I followed with a superb chocolate cake. It’s no surprise that Avoca has been listed in the Bridgestone 100 Best Restaurants every year since 1997. Looking for something completely different, I also visited The Mongolian Barbeque restaurant in the famous Temple Bar area. Customers create their meals by choosing vegetables, meats, noodles, and spices for a personalized dish that is cooked in front of you. It was an interesting alternative to pub food, which I also enjoyed in several historic pubs in Dublin.
As warm and accommodating ambassadors of their merry metropolis, Dubliners simply want you to join the party. They are a festive people lacking pretention. They are authentic, which helps you have an authentic travel experience. Dubliners waste little energy on maintaining a certain cosmopolitan image - instead, they spend their energy being most gracious hosts of their city and nation.
The supreme friendliness of the Irish is a natural product of their culture, which contains a strong love of their country. It’s a love shared by a growing number of visitors looking for that ultimate travel destination attraction; genuine friendliness and hospitality.
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