So. What do you do when you’ve been wearing the same jeans since the previous Friday morning at work and you’ve been through an international flight and you have a 3.5 hour drive to Galway ahead of you and all you want to do is take a nap and stuff your face with a traditional Irish breakfast and perhaps some morning Guinness (it tastes like coffee, right?) and you find out you are one of about 8 people who’s bags didn’t happen to make it onto the [direct] flight from Chicago to Dublin??
You pick up the rental car, hit up Micky D’s (because hanger) and you keep on truckin’. Er, driving.
Yep, this is a true story. I don’t dwell on it because after all we were in Ireland and so incredibly lucky to be there, but you could say emotions were running a little high for our official first 6 hours on the Emerald Isle. I’ll save the whole story for my later post on the ins and outs of packing, but if you’re wondering, yes – I have sworn off checking a bag. Anyway, I chalk it all up to what ended up being some of the most awesomely eventful first few days of Moher of All Roadtrips through Ireland. Check out this guide to everything you need to see, do and eat in Galway, Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty!
The Drive to Galway
Quick note on our itinerary – I have been asked a number of times why we chose to pick up the car and then beeline all the way across the island to Galway instead of doing a clockwise loop. We figured we would have the most energy (and be carried the most by excitement through exhaustion) during the first leg of our trip. Thus, we peeled the band aid off right quick and headed 3.5 hours over to the upper western side. (If you can’t wait to know more and want to read my overview of Ireland in its entirety (but much less detail), head over here!).
This did, however, make things somewhat complicated because we had planned 3 single-night stays…. which was exactly how long our luggage was missing. I laughed like a hyena for a good long while at the irony of the fact that it seemed we did NOT, in fact, get any luck of the Irish whatsoever – but oh well! It all ended up turning out absolutely fine.
The Overview: Galway
As I mentioned, we were jetlagged, hangry and stressed out due to not knowing if our luggage had been sent somewhere else, let alone even departed from ORD (spoiler alert, it had not) due to the technology limitations at the airport. So I would love to someday go back to Galway because I don’t know that it got the full attention it deserved. But for our first stop, it was pretty darn great.
We stayed at the Harbour Hotel Galway which wasn’t necessarily in the heart of the city, but it was only a quick walk away and it was a great rate. The Irish breakfast (included – can I get a heck yeah?) the next morning was hearty and delicious and just what we needed to fuel us through the Cliffs of Moher. They were super understanding of our luggage situation and helpfully took down all our contact information.
After we had dropped off our meager belongings (which, in retrospect, made me feel like a dumb idiot when we finally got all our stuff back because who really needs more than 2 different colored tshirts?) we headed out to explore. We made our way to the main thoroughfare of the city, best known and loved for street performers, merchants, lively music and lots of trinkets, toward Taaffe’s.
After making a pit stop so I could touch all 6,534 Irish wool sweaters in one of the shops and buy a pair of Celtic trinity earrings, we felt it would be best to drown our sorrows a bit, so we made it over to the pub. An olllllldddd establishment, yet still somehow light and airy, Taaffe’s took our training wheels off and immediately immersed us in loud, rowdy Irish culture.
The Front Door and Dáil Bar
After hangin’ with the locals and quite a few hen parties (aka bachelorette parties – but FYI it’s way more fun to yell “are you girls having a hen party?!” in an accent than “bachelorette party”), we headed back to the hotel to take a nap and attempt to freshen up. I had gotten new socks and other essentials, so I was pretty excited.
After that, in an attempt to quell our creeping hanger, we checked out a few possible dinner contenders on Yelp and ended up at the Dáil Bar – which was awesome. It was the perfect lively and welcoming atmosphere with traditional Irish comfort food dishes we were looking for. If you’re in the mood for a spot where you can grab a bite to eat, and then enjoy hours of conversation (or craic) – this is it!
Cliffs of Moher
After a great night’s sleep and the aforementioned hearty breakfast, we jumped in our ride toward the Cliffs of Moher – about a two and a half hour drive via the Wild Atlantic Way. Seriously, I know I keep saying this, but there is absolutely nothing like this drive in the whole world. Craggy hills, rocky tunnels, valley dips, sea cliffs, horses, sheep, cows – you’ve got to see it to believe it (or, ya know, just check out my pictures). I know people say the cliffs can get kind of touristy, but if you have the time in your itinerary, you can’t afford to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
When you get there, you’ll park and walk about 10-15 minutes to the start of the pathways. If you have the whole day, you could definitely do both sides – there are also tons of artifacts and ruins to see along the way. According to Google Maps, it’s a 2 and a half hour walk on major roads from Doolin in the North to Liscannor in the South, which is what the Cliffs Coastal Trail connects. If you add an hour or two considering the narrow walkways and crowds on the cliff paths, you could probably do the whole thing in half a day.
We actually opted for the north trail – the Burren Way – on the right (if you are looking toward the sea from the visitor center) – which is the path toward Doolin. This gives you, in my opinion, the best view of the actual cliffs, rather than walking on them. Be sure to stop at O’Briens Tower if you want to get to the highest viewing point of the cliffs (but honestly, there wasn’t much to see up here that you couldn’t already from on the ground. And the wind was INSANITY.)
What to Wear at the Cliffs of Moher
Worried about what to wear? I would 100% recommend bringing comfortable walking shoes that can handle rocky pathways and mud. Due to the luggage fiasco, I knew I would need some good walking shoes (I wore booties on the plane) and got a pair of maroon Chucks. Hallelujah, I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t have walked as far or gotten as amazing pictures as I did without them! Also make sure to bring a warm jacket with a hood to layer and ladies, remember a hair tie – I dubbed these beauties the “Cliffs of Blown Hair” for good reason!
The Overview: Bunratty
We stayed at the Bunratty Castle Hotel and it was GORGEOUS. Not quite a castle, but it still made us feel like royalty. The amenities were fabulous and the lobby area was one of the cutest I’d seen on our trip – gorgeous crown molding, a fireplace and fancay looking high-backed chairs that were perfect for reading my Kindle. Also, apparently it’s one of the top destinations for weddings in the country. On top of all that, you could practically sleep walk to Durty Nelly’s and the Bunratty Castle – which was the whole reason for us staying, so overall, a great location.
Though in retrospect I probably would’ve liked to spend a few days elsewhere rather than a ton of single night stays (anyone want to donate some vacation days?!) I wouldn’t change a thing about what we did for our first trip to Ireland. We planned to stay in Bunratty for a night SPECIFICALLY so I could go to Durty Nelly’s pub. Yes, I am a huge dork.
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago that used to have a Durty Nelly’s fashioned after the original – thatched roofs, low ceilings and live music. So of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the original! I quickly learned, however, that our Nelly’s was not the only one of it’s kind… but again, if you’re in the area, I highly recommend stopping in for dinner and hanging around for the craic.
In addition to the loft restaurant, the main bar, local bar, oyster restaurant and BBQ area, there is also the Snug. When we passed it on our way upstairs it was just a tiny area with some booths for snugging (making that a word) – but when we came downstairs there was an entire 6-piece traditional Irish band playing their fingers off. Out of the 80 spots we visited, two places for good Irish music stood out in my mind over the whole trip – Durty Nelly’s and Kitty O’Se’s in Kinsale.
Lilly Mai’s and the Blarney Woolen Mills
This tiny café and Irish shop deserves a shout out – because who can resist croissants with a side of cashmere? We grabbed a quick breakfast upstairs at Lilly Mai’s (the rest of the food looked amazing, but we had an itinerary to knock out!) and Riley asked if we could check out the store below for some Irish sweaters.
I can count the number of times Riley has asked to go shopping on one hand… so duh. He ended up getting not one but two amazing coats and a cashmere scarf. I ended up getting an Irish wool sweater and a cashmere scarf, because when in Rome. The clerk was extremely helpful and ended up explaining the tax deduction and Horizon tax relief card to us, which ended up saving us a fair amount. She also was the one who told us about the Conor Pass and how to drive it to Dingle from the north.
So I only had a small amount of “castle and culture credit”, as I like to call it, that I could spend on the trip (in order to make things pleasurable for both Riley and I) and I decided to use one of those on Bunratty Castle. The day we visited (a Monday) wasn’t terribly crowded, so we got to do a fair amount of exploring. This also served us really well when it came time to convince the hubs to trek out to the Blarney Castle so I could kiss the stone, because to be honest, once you’ve seen one castle, you’ve kind of seen the majority of them. AND it helped us figure out the layout even faster!
I recommend Bunratty if you can make it because they did a great job of recreating many of the rooms. They actually do dinner shows on a nightly basis (which we unfortunately had to cut out of our itinerary, but there’s always next time!) so I imagine this has something to do with how realistic and well kept the rest of the fortress is. Be careful if you have an injury or are inhibited in moving in some way – the narrow stairwells and nooks and crannies could pose a challenge to some. However, Riley is 6’ 4” and though he had to stoop a lot of the time (and I kept saying, “Look! This doorway is my size!”) he didn’t have an issue getting anywhere.
Bunratty is also famous for its mead (aka honey wine), so we picked some up on the way out. We stopped by a few of the huts in the Folk Park, but we didn’t do a whole ton of exploring, as we were still trying to make it to Dingle in a timely manner.
I Never Say No To “Adare”
Get it?! Sorry, bad puns are my favorite. Anyway, somewhere along the road of my research I was recommended a quaint little town in County Limerick called Adare. Adare has been designated a heritage town by the government of Ireland and is famous for its thatched-roof cottages. I figured since we were driving and it would most likely be many years before we visited the area again, it was probably the perfect place to stop for lunch.
Again, if you can get to it, I highly recommend. You’ll feel like you stepped foot in a time machine – or at least found your way into Hobbiton (yes, I know that’s New Zealand, but I merely felt LIKE I was in Hobbiton, with all the rolling hills and rounded corners). We opted for a quick bite to eat (pizza at Sean Collins & Sons Bar) and wandered around taking pictures and exploring the park in the middle of town.
There you have it – an in-depth guide to Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty and Adare. Stay tuned for my next city guide to the Conor Pass and Dingle (it deserves an entire post because it was one of my favorites). Have questions or want to know more about a spot mentioned in the post? Leave a comment below!