I was fortunate to spend nine amazing days exploring Ireland with a group of ten including Chris, my brother-in-law and his wife, and friends.
Day 1: Shannon Airport, Cong, and Galway
We flew into Shannon Airport and rented a Land Rover. It was a really nice car, but I recommend renting something smaller. There were a few times I thought we were going to lose a mirror or two while on the country roads. Other than that, driving on the opposite side of the road was much easier than expected.
Our first stop was the town of Cong where the move Quiet Man was filmed. Some of the group toured the museum while the rest of us walked around town. After lunch, we went to the ruins of Cong Abbey before heading out. One thing I will do when I come back is either stay and/or tour Ashford Castle. It looks amazing.
Our next stop was the Raddison Blu in Galway which would be our base for two nights. The hotel was within walking distance to downtown attractions and restaurants, and I would definitely stay there again.
Our first night in Galway was an amazing experience. We started the night at a pub called The Salt House where we had a great time with the friendly locals. After a few drinks, we headed over to the famous Crane Bar where locals play instruments, sing, and tell stories. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I don’t think any of us will every forget how much fun we had that night.
Day 2: Galway
We spent the day exploring Galway Cathedral, Salthill Promenade, and Quay Street (I highly recommend going to another famous and histoic bar called The Quays). Lunch was at Martine’s Restaurant and Wine Bar where Chris and I had a great table next to the window overlooking Quay Street, and dinner was at Brasserie. What I remember most about Brasserie is that it has a super cozy interior with exposed brick and dark wood – great ambiance and food. Galway is an awesome city and should definitely be on your list of places to see. In addiiton, Galway would be a great home base to do some day trips including Connamera National Park (about an hour and a half from Galway) and the Aran Islands.
Day 3: Cliffs of Moher to Killarney
On our way to Killarney, we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. The scenery was breathtaking, but the pictures do not convey the experience. It is definitely something you have to see for yourself to appreciate.
To break up our drive, we stopped in the town of Adare and had drinks on the outdoor patio of Bill Chawke’s Bar. I had my usual: Jameson on the rocks with a (big) splash of ginger ale. Adare is such a cute village, and I would love to visit again.
Our next destination was The Killarney Plaza Hotel where we spent two nights. It was in a great location and the rooms were very nice, so I would definitely stay there again. Dinner was just a short walk up High Street at a family-owned restaurant called The Laurels.
Killarney is not only a great town to explore, but it is a perfect home base when doing the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. I highly suggest that you give yourself more than two nights because there is so much to do here: take a guided tour of Ross Castle, do Muckross Lake and Dinis Walking and Cycle Loop, or a bike-on-boat tour from Ross Castle then bike through Dunloe Gap (I bet this is amazing). Unfortunately, we had limited time but we were able to take an evening stroll through Killarney National Park (easily accessible from town) and walk the grounds of Ross Castle during sunset.
Day 4: Dingle Peninsula
Driving the Dingle Peninsula was definitely the highlight of the trip. Despite the fact that we almost hit a beer truck, a wall, and a cow with the van, driving the Dingle Peninsula is something that everyone must do when visiting Ireland. Our first stop was at Inch Beach.
There are so many places to stop along the Peninsula, but one should be the quaint town of Dingle. This is a great place to walk around and grab a bite to eat. Out of the Blue Seafood was on my list, but it wasn’t open for lunch.
Day 5: Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is another beautifully scenic drive that you must do if you are in Ireland. One place we stopped at the Derrynane House to explore the surrounding dunes. We did not tour the house, but the landscape alone is worth a stop.
We continued along the Ring of Kerry with some stops along the way including Waterville.
Some of my happiest moments were when we pulled over to see baby animals.
Day 6: Blarney Castle, Lunch in Waterford, and Kilkenny
On our way to Kilkenny, we stopped by Blarney Castle. Touristy? Yes. Did I kiss the stone? Heck no! I’m glad I went, but once was enough. Everyone was hungry, so we stopped in Waterford and had lunch at The Gingerman Bar.
Next stop was Kilkenny, a cool medieval town. We stayed at the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel. It was in a perfect location and within walking distance to everything in town. It was here that I blew an outlet with my straightening iron. Oops! I really enjoyed walking around and looking at the beautiful architecture, but one night was not enough. Some of the sites we enjoyed were the grounds of Kilkenny Castle and St Canice’s Cathedral. If you time it right, you can walk to the top of the cathedral’s Round Tower; unfortunately, we were too late for that. Since we all had a late lunch, we decided to some appetizers and desserts while listening to great Irish music at Kyteller’s Inn. A perfect ending to another great day.
Day 7: Lost on our way to Dublin
Driving through Ireland is awe-inspiring. Just when you think you’ve seen the most beautiful setting, there’s another one right around the corner. After a little bit of confusion (ok, for the first time we were lost), we finally arrived at the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel where we spent two nights.
Day 8: Dublin
While the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel is not in downtown Dublin, it was about a ten-minute walk to the Dart station where the trains were super easy to navigate. Once in Dublin, we walked around a bit and decided not to do Book of Kells because the city was so crowded (next time I go, I’ll make sure it isn’t Easter vacation), so we went on the Green Hop on, Hop Off bus tour. Whenever I can, I take a trolley or bus tour to get myself familiar with a new city, and this was a great way to navigate the bustling streets of Dublin. Our first stop was a tour of the former prison Kilmainham Gaol. This was a fantastic tour with fascinating history of the jail. I highly recommend it.
The next stop was supposed to be the Guinness tour, but the line was wrapped around the building. We opted to go back later in the day. In the meantime, we headed to Ireland’s oldest pub The Brazen Head which dates back to 1198. Once there, we decided to do lunch.
From there we hopped back on the bus and went to the Guinness Storehouse to do the obligatory tour. Honestly, I was not impressed with the tour. It feels like a tourist trap, but for some reason most people feel that you have to do it at least once in your lifetime. Besides, we already had tickets so there was no turning back. The only highlight of the tour was the free tasting at the end (I hate beer, but the Guinness tasted fresh) and the view from The Gravity Bar (when you could actually get to the window). It was wall-to-wall people up there even though we were one of the last tours of the day.
Day 9: Dublin
Took the Dart again into Dublin. Walked the Temple Bar area, Trinity College, St Stephen’s Green Park, and Grafton Street where Chris and I had lunch at Bewley’s with Linda and Paul. Chris and I sadly took the train back to the hotel so we could pack for our flight home. Since it was Easter Sunday and we were flying out the next morning, we made dinner reservations at the fancier Grill restaurant at the hotel with the entire group.
Day 10: Going Home
While going through customs at Galway Airport, the officer told us how lucky we were to have experienced the past week with the most beautiful weather they had every had. He said that it is highly unusual to experience no rain, yet we had nine full days of perfect weather. It wasn’t until then that I really realized how blessed we were. Could we be so lucky the next time around? I can only hope.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip, and I am so glad that Ireland was my first European experience. Nine days was not nearly enough time, but that’s okay. It gives me plenty of reasons to go back. Have you ever been to Ireland? What are some of your favorite things to do?