CANT. STOP. TAKING. PICTURES.
This was the thought that was racing through my brain for almost our entire trip in Ireland. From the moment Riley pulled over to let me take my 32nd picture of a sheep (only 2 hours and 46 minutes into our first leg drive to Galway from Dublin) I knew it was that can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars, over the fence World Series kinda stuff the Olsen twins knew so much about.
It really IS as green as they say. And the people really are just as friendly. And the butter really is THAT good. Ireland is what all mystical, magical fairy tale dreams are made of (with some craic, for good measure) and here is why the Emerald Isle needs to move considerably up your travel bucket list.
As a note, this post is only the very tiny tip of the iceberg for Ireland – an overview of highlights, if you will. We jam-packed so much stuff into our trip that one post can’t possibly do it justice. So stay tuned for the rest of the series, including a deep dive into Galway, The Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty, how to plan a driving itinerary and an in-depth packing guide! Plus, I’ll be diving into more detail of each city on this list; where to stay, what to see and where to eat. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a wild ride.
In a nutshell, our 9 day trip boiled down to this: Dublin >> Galway >> Bunratty >> Dingle >> Kenmare >> Kinsale >> Dublin. In order to plan our itinerary (which involved a LOT of Word documents, screen shots and wine) we (okay, pretty much just me) made a list of the absolutely essential must-sees, including sights, landmarks and cities. After that, we mapped them out (Google Maps FTW!), which gave us a loose driving plan and showed us where our home bases would be each night.
We then booked our rental car (life pro tip: do this as soon as humanly possible to better your chances of getting an automatic car, unless you were really, really good at the Cruisn’ USA arcade game and like to live on the edge) and lodging for each city. Finally, as the trip drew nearer, we expanded the agenda for each of our stops a little bit to include other activities and restaurants, but tried to leave as much room as possible for suggestions from the locals and, ya know, goin’ with the flow. Below is a list of the highlights of some of our favorite cities which includes our favorite places to stay, things to see and places to eat!
Galway & Bunratty
Galway and Bunratty were the perfect places to spend our first two nights in Ireland. After flying into Dublin (we arrived around 10 AM) we immediately hopped in a rental car, and after a quick pit stop to Micky D’s (full tummy = happy Riley and happy Riley = more opportunities to stop and take sheep selfies, aka shelpies) we drove straight to Galway.
What a city! If you head to Galway, you absolutely have to stop in Taaffes Pub – it’s one of the oldest and liveliest in the city. We headed here after our 3-something hour drive from Dublin to begin our cultural immersion (which also included lots of beer and cider, of course). We opted to eat at The Dáil Bar – which again, was another excellent authentic Irish pub with really great food. Since we were jetlagged (and didn’t have our luggage… more on that in another post), we decided to get to bed early so we could get a decent start.
The Moher of All Cliffs
Hands down, the Cliffs of Moher was one of my most favorite stops on our whole trip. Sure, people say it’s super touristy and you are better off doing Coumeenoole Beach in Dingle, but if you have the time and can make the cliffs, do it every time. They. Are. Epic. Nowhere else in the world are you going to feel so much exhilaration (okay, maybe that was the sea breeze literally b!tc# slapping me in the face, but I digress) and awe. There’s a reason why these were featured in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and are one of the most popular sightseeing destinations in the country. Want to know more about the cliffs? Head over to this post!
After the cliffs, we drove to Bunratty for our second overnight stay at the Bunratty Castle Hotel. We ate dinner at Durty Nellies – which was one of my favorite points of interest. It has been said that this is one of the oldest pubs in Ireland, dating back to the 1600’s – created for the guards of Bunratty Castle. If you make a stop, you absolutely cannot miss Durty Nellie’s. We listened to a LOT of traditional Irish music during our trip and my favorite was this place; make sure to grab one of the few seats in the “Snug” when the band starts to play. But don’t worry if you don’t have somewhere to sit – you’ll be dancing in no time!
The Dingle Peninsula
If I were going to bring parts of Ireland to a desert island (okay, that sounds weird, but you know what I mean), and could only bring a few, I would say that Dingle is among them – it’s an absolute can’t miss. Just like the Cliffs of Moher, there is literally nothing like it that I’ve ever seen in my life. Dingle (we got in trouble for how much we giggled about the name of this town) is everything you think of when you think of Ireland – moody, jagged sea cliffs, misty hills dotted with cows, and 50 shades of green patchwork fields.
After we arrived at the Dingle Skellig Hotel, we looked up a few reviews on TripAdvisor and opted for a seafood restaurant (because when in Rome) and ended up at the James G. Ashe Pub and Restaurant. Holy seafood chowder, Batman. I ordered the crab 3 ways along with the scallops (which were all amazing), but I think Riley won the ordering game – I tasted his seafood chowder and I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like it in my life. Had we stayed in Dingle 2 nights, I would’ve gone back for the chowder. And if you know me, you’ll know that me going back to the same place twice is like lightning striking a pot of gold next to the Loch Ness monster.
Coumeenoole Beach, Connor Pass and the Gap of Dunloe
After heading out of Dingle, we opted to head to the furthest point of the Dingle Peninsula, and stop at Coomenoole Beach, which was totally worth the drive. Much like the Cliffs of Moher, but different in its own way, the beach was full of awe-inspiring rock formations, sea breeze and stunning landscapes.
Prior to the beach, each time we had talked to anyone who seemed to be local and mentioned that we were going to be headed to Kenmare from Dingle, they told us to be sure to drive the Connor Pass. It is NOT for the faint of heart. Essentially, it is a winding mountain road that turns into a single lane in some spots that is mostly covered in mist (because you are literally INSIDE a cloud) with very, very little visibility. On one side of the car you are extremely close to the face of a mountain, on the other – very close to a 400-600 foot drop into nothing. Riley was a trooper and handled it like a pro. It’s something you need to see to believe, but if you have the opportunity to drive it, you should (just be careful!)
Before arriving in Kenmare for the evening, we opted to see the Gap of Dunloe, since we were already up that way anyway. If you have the time, this is another must-see spot. Though this is a post consisting of just the highlights, each of these 3 spots deserves a mention because of how stunning they are. One thing I never knew about Ireland – though the entire country can fit inside of the state of Texas, it consists of so many different topographies (rocky mountains, rolling hills, sea cliffs, bogs, rivers and valleys, flat fields filled with cows – the list goes on and on) you would think you had traveled to 5 different continents. The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass that was created by glacial flows, and left a gorgeous valley full of natural wonders in its wake. We opted to walk (and didn’t make it the whole way) rather than take a horse and buggie but still saw an amazing variety of flora and fauna.
Kenmare and Kinsale
Just like almost everything else on this list (sorry, I have trouble making decisions!) Kenmare was another one of our favorite stops – a quintessential sleepy town (but big enough that there were semi-major retailers and renowned restaurants) filled with bed and breakfasts, live music, street food (you bet I ate fish and chips) and also happened to be the perfect launchpad to drive the Ring of Kerry. If you make it to Kenmare, even if you don’t stay at the O’Donnabhain’s Bed and Breakfast – which I do highly recommend – you should still stop into the pub (yes, we stayed above a bar) for a bite to eat, a pint and some live music. Be sure to visit Crowleys, if you can – it’s one of the older bars (and very authentic) in town.
Pro tip: though it’s illegal to serve after midnight, when the drinks stop flowing, there may or may not be some places to continue the night, if you know the right people. Want to know more? Shoot me an email!
After spending 2 nights in Kenmare, we headed down to County Cork to see Courtmacsherry and the area my family is from, and on to the picturesque fishing village of Kinsale. Kinsale was another one of our favorite cities (okay, okay, basically 50% of the trip was our favorite city). We stayed at the Old Bank Town House – a GORGEOUS hotel straight out of the past and an adorable bakery and restaurant downstairs – and spent the day exploring the city, capping everything off with dinner at Man Friday.
If you make it to Man Friday, you should definitely ask to be seated outside (as it gets later into the evening, they’re less likely to let you sit outside, but if you ask, they might be able to accommodate you!) so that you can enjoy the sunset while you sip your wine. We weren’t sure if we were in Ireland or on the Amalfi Coast!
The next day, on the way out of Kinsale, we made a detour (aided by a carefully calculated Big Mac bribe) to Blarney Castle so I could kiss the Blarney Stone. Yes, it is a little touristy (and a little gross, when you think about it) but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if we drove past and didn’t stop. So I did indeed kiss the Blarney Stone (and then I drank a gallon of hand sanitizer afterward). And I am happy to report I didn’t end up getting sick!
The City of Dublin, Ireland
Ah, Dublin. After spending 6 days, mostly in a different city and hotel each night, driving through the Irish countryside, we were looking forward to staying in one place for the last leg of our trip. And also eating something potentially besides fish and chips or beef and Guinness stew. If you’ve read my guide to Barcelona or Florence, you know that as much as I love indulging in the local food culture, sometimes it’s easy to get tired of it. That’s when you’ve gotta have done your research.
One of our favorite places ended up being a Chinese dim sum restaurant called Ka Shing (if you go, you MUST get the deep-fried sesame balls)! We also had excellent tapas at The Market Bar and I can confidently say I had the best ramen I’ve ever eaten in my life (and we eat a LOT of ramen) at a place called The Ramen Bar, hidden inside Kokoro Bento. Yes, Butter Miso Ramen is as sinful as it sounds. And you can’t go to Ireland and not get ice cream; their cows make the best dairy products – trust me when I say you NEED to go to Murphy’s Ice Cream. Handmade in Dingle (and no, we sadly didn’t get it while we were actually IN Dingle), they have a flavor of ice cream that includes caramelized brown bread pieces. YAS x infinity.
As far as sights to see goes, you can’t miss the Book of Kells, the Long Room, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Guinness Storehouse. The Storehouse has been recently revamped and is part factory, part museum, and part bar/restaurant. Be sure to enjoy your complimentary pint up in the Gravity Bar, and learn how to properly taste the brew in the tasting rooms, which are totally worth the wait and look like something straight out of Willy Wonka!
Summing It Up
As you can see, we did a LOT of stuff in a very short amount of time. Stay tuned and check back frequently for links to each post of the series – not to mention, more of my 3292 pictures. Have a question about a restaurant, sight or place to stay? Leave a comment below or visit my Contact Me page and send me a note! Sláinte!