Wherever you may go whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you.
Day 1: Dublin
My parents and I arrived absolutely exhausted from our red-eye flight in Dublin! We had talked about traveling to Ireland for a while since we have Irish heritage and my parents love their beer. I can’t lie; I love a good beer too! As we get older and our lives get busier, I decided we needed some quality family time. So, on Christmas morning I surprised my parents with a trip to Ireland as their gift in September. Fast forward 9 months and it had finally arrived!
I originally thought the red-eye was a fantastic idea since we only were going for seven days. Unfortunately, we hardly slept on the plane and then did not have a hotel room ready until later in the afternoon. So unless you are one of the lucky ones who can sleep just about anywhere, you may reconsider this flight option. We flew Aer Lingus direct from NYC, and it was an affordable and pleasant flight.
While we waited for our room we opted to do the Hop On, Hop Off City Sightseeing Tour. This took little to no effort on our part, and was an ideal way to see the city since we were tired. I’d also recommend it for those who are only spending a day in Dublin. It takes you by all the “must see” stops and takes about an hour and 45 minutes, but you can get off at any stop you’d like to walk around and explore. There are 24 stops and they offer a map for your reference.
Since we were feeling accomplished once we finished the bus tour, we decided to get some rest so we could enjoy the evening. We went to dinner at Bull & Castle per the recommendation of a local. While we waited for our table, we had beers in the Temple Bar area at The Porterhouse. This area is known for its lively nightlife. With so many craft beers to choose from, we opted for the tasting flights so we could start to get a taste of all the varieties of beers Ireland has to offer. When in doubt, just go for the Guinness! Locals say you will never taste the real Guinness unless you’re in Ireland because it’s made with the local water from the mountains.
After about two hours, we finally received a call that our table was ready, so we headed back to the restaurant which was only about a 10-minute walk. We started with veal marrow which was buttery sweet, and then my dad and I split the porterhouse for two.
Make dinner reservations in advance, especially for any restaurant you’ve wanted to visit. We found that almost all restaurants had a wait (not just in Dublin, but in every town we visited throughout Ireland). I am assuming this is especially the case during their busy tourist season. Also serving dinner is usually done by 9:30 p.m. and most shops in the country close by 6 p.m.
Day 2: Dublin
We reserved the Guinness Storehouse factory tour online for 10: 45 a.m.—rates are cheaper in the morning if you’re up to it. Make sure to go to the lookout bar at the top for 360 degree views of Dublin. Some people do the “Guinness Connoisseur Experience Tour” for a more in-depth guided tour, but it was sold out. We then chose the self-guided option, which comes with a pint of Guinness at the end. The original Guinness gate that you see in their commercials is around the corner down the street (you also go by this on the Hop On, Hop Off City Sightseeing bus).
As with my tip on restaurants above, once you have an idea of tours you’d like to do and an approximate time, I’d book in advance online. Not only is it usually a little cheaper because the websites offer discounts, but most available time slots get booked quickly. I’d recommend at least booking a day in advance unless you feel like testing your luck. We tried to reserve spots to tour the Kilmainham Gaol Museum (prison) for either same day or following, but it was already fully booked (the Philadelphia couple sitting next to us at Guinness actually ordered the last tickets available online just as I was about to attempt purchasing for the following day—this was around 11:45 a.m.). In hopes of it not actually being sold out, I decided to call the museum to ask if there was any chance tickets would be available if we showed up. The woman from the information desk said every morning around 9 a.m. when they open, they sell a limited number of tickets for any tour slot that isn’t already fully booked but that was the only option if not booked in advance. In addition, the time you were given would not be known which makes it difficult if you are planning to leave Dublin that day.
After the Guinness tour, we had fish & chips at the original Leo Burdocks on Werburgh Street in the Christchurch area for lunch (right around the corner from Bull and Castle). Some locals claim it to be the best, but we weren’t that impressed. The food was very bland, but nothing malt vinegar can’t fix. After talking to a few other locals we were told that the ownership recently changed and many are franchised, so quality at each location varies.
We ended our mini walking tour at Trinity College with a longer stop at the library which is home to the Book of Keels. It’s a historic double story library; you really feel taken back in time the minute you walk in. From the high wooded ceilings, long narrow corridor in alphabetical order with continuous brown book shelves, and the ladders sprawling upwards to reach the farthest books; it truly was an experience I didn’t expect to have from a library.
At this point this day may sound like a bit of walking, but my dad has a bad back and he did it (with some minor complaints of aches) so I assure you, it’s do-able!
We then went to the Grafton Street area (next to Trinity College), which is a shopaholic’s dream. We bought wool sweaters (a “must” souvenir as sheep are everywhere throughout Ireland) and even found a wool “Whelan clan” scarf, which is my family name. All items in the store are made within Ireland and of Aran wool (check tags) which is the local sheep. If you’re worried about not having room in your luggage because you always over pack like me, they usually ship internationally for a set rate of 35 USD regardless of how much you buy which is worth it for the convenience.
Make sure to get a tax receipt for every store you made a purchase from so you get your VAT (Value-Added Tax) refund before leaving the country at the airport. Even small purchases can quickly add up.
We then had a beer at O’Donoghues Pub off Grafton St and then walked for drinks at Whelan’s pub on Wexford Street! If you have Irish heritage like my parents and I with a last name to prove it, I’m sure you will understand the excitement of finding a bar with your last name on it. The movie P.S. I Love You was filmed here for one scene so it draws a crowd for that reason alone. We asked the bartender to take a picture of us and he rolled his eyes and said, “Let me guess, you love the movie too?” He was pleasantly surprised when we told him our family name and gave us shots! Aside from the movie fans that stop by to have a drink, they have live bands daily in the back hall which also seemed to be a crowd pleaser.
For dinner, every restaurant next to Whelan’s pub had at least an hour wait so we walked a bit and ended up stumbling across a French-inspired bistro on a side road called L’Gueuleton. It was definitely a locals’ spot, as we were the only tourists. You can never go wrong with filling your belly with meat, cheeses, and escargot!
Quick note for those traveling and hoping to see Jameson Factory in Dublin, the tour is closed until March 2017 for renovations. More details to follow below once I get to Day 4, Cork.
As far as hotel location, I’d recommend staying within the St Stephen’s Green area; it’s near all the top attractions. We stayed a bit out of downtown near Aviva Stadium. This would’ve been a great site if you were looking to catch a rugby match. The cabs are easily accessible and Uber is an option, but the cost adds up and traffic can be annoying. If you choose “Uber Taxi” then expect a taxi—it’s not like the United States where you get a variety of cars. If that’s what you’re looking for, request Uber Black. There were three of us, plus three large suitcases and we barely fit in all the cabs.
It’s not customary to tip in Ireland, and you won’t ever get the option to do so when charging to your credit card. That being said, tips are always appreciated. We gave tips (EUR or sometimes USD when I was out of EUR) when we received good table service. Many of the servers are happy to share details of where to visit, best routes for getting to places, etc. so when they helped us, we would leave a tip at the end of our meal. Same goes for taxis: sometimes they were very helpful, but otherwise tipping isn’t necessary. Everyone in Ireland is extremely friendly, so I’d recommend chatting them up a bit. You could end up finding out about a local hidden gem you wouldn’t have otherwise known about!
In case you didn’t know, the currency in Ireland is EUR but almost all places accept credit cards. A big plus for those whose credit cards charge international fees is that most ask you how to charge your purchase, via USD or EUR. Choose USD! It helps you get around the international fee.
Day 3: Head to Cork
We picked up our rental early so we could begin our driving to see the rest of Ireland! Keep in mind, you are driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of car. When booking travel arrangements, they often give you the option of a manual car because it is cheaper. My dad knows how to drive a manual, so we originally opted for it but then ended up switching to an automatic since; A.) there were already enough things for us to focus on while driving in a foreign Country and B.) then no one else would be able to drive the manual car if my dad got tired.
Now this is my opinion, and a local mentioned it as well, but for roads that are narrow (which are most) I’d recommend driving more in the middle of the road when there is no oncoming traffic (obviously this means you have to pay attention while driving even more!). I found this smart since as the driver you tend to hug the left side of road since you’re not used to the driving but you can’t see how close you are to the curb, edge of a cliff, wall, bushes, etc. This does two things: 1.) drives your passengers absolutely mad because they constantly think you’re going to hit something; therefore everyone in the car usually ends up bickering and 2.) prevents you from accidentally inevitably hitting something.
Almost everyone I’ve talked to has had a flat tire there, and if you look at the vehicles in the rental lots, almost all have some sort of damage. In the event a car is approaching, most people’s’ gut instinct is to quickly jerk the steering wheel to the left but this is very dangerous. Take it easy and slow down, or say bye-bye to your passenger side mirror! Slightly pull your car to the left and stop, so the other car can slowly pass you if they are the one attempting to pass.
From Dublin we were making our way to our hotel in Cork, but made stops along the way.
We first stopped in Kilkenny which was such a precious town that you are first greeted by the stunning Kilkenny Castle.
Kilkenny is home to Smithwick’s Brewey (pronounce: Smiddicks, they don’t pronounce the W) so we did a tour and tasting. I liked this tour more than Guinness because while it does still have videos shown throughout it, you also have a guide. The guide walks through it with you and gives you the history along the way. The guide with our group had been giving tours daily for seven years and his dad used to work at the brewery, so he was passionate about you understanding why their beer is unique to others.
At the end you get a pint of beer of your choice or for a minimal extra three euro you can sample all three flavors, which is worth it. They include the Superior Irish Ale which tastes clean and delicate with hints of caramel, biscuit and campfire smoke. This one is a ruby-red color. The second is the Pale Ale which has piney, grassy notes balanced with floral flutters and a long finish. This is a clear, deep golden color. The last option was Long Summer and that had a citrus aroma, hints of caramel, tropical fruits and green tea. This one is dark gold color. The options you are offered may vary based on availability.
From there we walked through a small, cobblestone side street and ate at Kyteler’s Inn which was established in 1324 and offers delicious homemade local foods such as Irish stew. It was the perfect combination of hearty broth, evenly cooked veggies and tender meat. There also is a unique story behind the Inn. They say the woman it is named after was a witch, but the locals helped her get to England instead of being burned at the stake.
We then took off and continued to ride through Waterford, which is the oldest town in Ireland. I wish we’d stopped at Waterford Crystal to see a tour of them making the crystal glasses and vases, but we didn’t have enough time in the day. Locals and tourists raved about it through, for those who have time to stop. On our way to our next destination, we passed mountains and I saw a waterfall, so we detoured to check it out. We found out it is Mahon Falls and it ended up being a great decision because we got to see the views from the mountains; green lush land and herds of sheep sprawling over the landscape and on the edges of the mountain cliffs.
Day 4: On to Killarney
By the time we arrived in Cork it was late and time for bed, and we were checking out the next morning. We didn’t end up exploring downtown Cork as we were told it can be crowded due to the college, but I have heard good things. For us, we just had other priorities. We headed to the Blarney Castle and of course kissed the Blarney stone so we now can say we officially have the gift of gab. It was a narrow walk up the stairs to get to the top of the castle where the stone is located. If you forgot your camera don’t worry, they have one there to take one for you (for a fee) and you can preview the picture before you leave.
We then went to the Jameson Distillery in Middleton which is a must do and one of my favorite stops!! Especially if you love whiskey. My understanding is the one in Dublin is only a museum, but here you can view all the old grounds. They moved the factory from Dublin in 1975 but the Old Middleton Distillery dates back to 1794. All of the Jameson Whiskey sold through the world is still made there today. At the end, you get to compare Irish whiskey to two other varieties to truly get an idea of why Jameson is simply the best (my biased opinion). You are then honored as a whiskey tasting connoisseur with a certificate to prove it (woohoo!) and given a complimentary drink (on the rocks or with ginger).
We then moved on to Kinsale. I recommend putting the Charles Fort in your GPS so you drive into the colorful Oceanside town from the fort as it offers stunning panoramic views from above the town. We stopped to walk around the fort for a bit to take in the surroundings. It cost a couple euros to enter and there was a free tour if you wanted to wait for the next one to start.
On our way out, we were starving and noticed a crowded restaurant given it was the lunch hour so we stopped and ate at The Bulman. It was a pleasant surprise not only because how the interior was decorated with a lot of art, but the food was divine. There were so many locally caught fresh seafood options! We had hot oysters with leek & Gruyère, calamari, tuna, and sea bass. Each taste was absolutely mouth-watering, down to the very last drop. A local also recommend Man Friday which was close to The Bulman but it didn’t open until 5 p.m.
A good number of restaurants in many of the towns don’t open until 5 p.m., so keep this in mind. If they do open for lunch, it’s only for a short window then they close to prep for the dinner crowd which as stated above stops serving food by 9:30 p.m.
By the time we arrived to Kinsale, we only had opportunity to walk around, window shop, and admire the colorful buildings and sailboats as we got there around 5:45 p.m. and the shops were closing.
Ireland is five hours ahead from EST and they use military time.
Day 5: Killarney
We arrived in Killarney late the previous evening. I’ll be honest; at this point we were exhausted from the constant driving. While it has been by far one of the most scenic car rides, the driving on the opposite side of the road and narrow streets can ware on you. We wanted to do the Ring of Kerry which is a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland’s County Kerry. It’s a circular route takes in rugged and verdant coastal landscapes and rural seaside villages. Since we heard it’s a very strenuous ride, we opted to enjoy it via a bus tour (also highly recommended to do it this way by friends I’ve talked to along with the hotel staff). For 27 EUR per person, I think it was worth every penny. We were all able to sit back, relax, and take in the sights. You get a nice history lesson as you’re driving along by the bus driver, so you’re more knowledgeable and actually understand what you’re viewing as opposed to if you’d driven on your own.
Also when you’re driving yourself, you tend to want to stop at every possible view point since it’s so picturesque, but the drivers make sure they take you to all the best locations. After a 30-minute drive, we stopped at a rest stop and had an Irish coffee— yum! They are made of sugar, whiskey, and coffee. It’s certainly a nice and different way to wake up compared to your regular cup of Joe.
From there, the bus tour included a quick tour of a local man’s farm where he told us about all of his sheep (the varieties you’ll see, where they are from, what they are used for, etc.) as well as see a “show” where he had his two dogs perform how they go about herding the sheep. This was so interesting to not only see how he communicates with the dogs and how well the dogs are trained, but also how the sheep react to the movements of the dogs in terms of going the direction desired of the farmer.
After this, we continued along the Ring of Kerry and observed in awe the stunning landscapes with some traditional Irish music playing during parts of the journey to truly make you feel like you’re in Ireland. We stopped for lunch, which was buffet style and finally were able to have one of my favorites—shepherds pie! Who doesn’t love meat & potatoes?! We dined with a view of the Dingle Peninsula across the water.
Once we completed the Ring of Kerry we were grateful to have not driven ourselves because the end was very narrow!
If you do opt to drive yourself I’d suggest driving the bus route so you are driving in their same direction, not driving at them (so basically don’t start the Ring of Kerry entering at the Muckross House/Torc waterfall area if you can). I suggest this because having to squeeze by the buses can be a nightmare and result in lost side mirrors.
There are very tight squeezes where only a car can fit through at a time. FYI, the tour went from about 10:15 a.m.–5:15 p.m. (including pickup from hotel and drop-off in city center).
Once back in town, my parents opted to do the Killarney Brewery, but I needed to get a quick shopping fix, so I headed to the downtown area. We then had dinner at The Failte Bar, followed by beers at the Killarney Grand, which had a traditional Irish band playing. You must listen to traditional Irish music at the bars that offer it! It is so interesting to see how the music brings the crowd to life and gives you that true authentic Ireland experience.
They play between 730 p.m. – 11 p.m. but pending the place it could vary so I would check with the staff to confirm. The pubs also have signs outside of them to showcase the times as well. Although we didn’t make it to them, I’d also suggest trying Courtneys Bar, Murphy’s, The Porterhouse, and O’Connors since they were all highly recommended by locals.
We stayed at the Randles Hotel which on the inside had a cozy antique theme. The staff was great and friendly and it’s across from Killarney Brewery with a six-minute walk to downtown and a 15-minute car ride to the Killarney National Park.
Killarney is known as the best spa town of Ireland, so if you have time plan and book an appointment for some self-indulgence. I’d recommend checking out Espa at the Europe, The Spa at Aghdoe Heights, or The Spa at Muckross. They are all highly rated with endless treatment options and each will leave you feeling glamorous just by their architecture alone. You can see for yourself via the above included links to make a choice since they all have a gallery of images.
Day 6: On to Galway
We checked out of our Killarney hotel and quickly stopped at the Muckross House which is nineteenth century Victorian mansion set against the stunning beauty of Killarney National Park. The Torc Waterfall is also there, but we wanted to get on the road since we were heading to Galway. From Killarney it is three to four hours away without traffic and depending how fast you drive.
We originally planned to drive directly to Galway but ended up deciding to make stops along the way. This was mainly thanks to many suggestions (from both locals and tourists) to explore Dingle, so we couldn’t pass it up. Let me tell you, Dingle & the Dingle Peninsula won my heart. It’s hard for me to pick favorites when I travel since each place is always so unique, but for Ireland, Dingle takes my top pick for scenery.
The drive to Dingle is about 1.5 hours from Killarney, but the ride there is full of the most picturesque landscapes. If you have time, you can do a boat tour and see dolphins, but we walked around town and grabbed lunch at Sheehy’s Anchor Down restaurant. For only being open one year you would never know—it was heavenly. From the locally caught seafood chowder and lemon sole, I almost wanted to lick my plate.
After exploring a little more downtown we then headed for the Dingle Peninsula, specifically Slea Head Drive. It is hard for me to put into words how mesmerizing it was; you have to experience it for yourself! Every twist and turn leads to picture-perfect landscapes, it seemed like a dream. From the rolling bright green hills, and the views of the Atlantic Ocean right from the seat of your car, you will be in constant awe. There’s one spot called Loop Head where there is a lookout to see where Star Wars has been filmed. Fan or not, the view from there was like no other and was my personal favorite.
One of my favorite stops along the Dingle Peninsula. For Star Wars fans it’s also a lookout point for where one of the movies was filmed.
For the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, and anywhere else mentioned while driving through out Ireland, there will almost always be a carve out in the road for quick stops. Trust me, you are constantly going to worry about missing the best picture, but try to hold tight! Every time I thought I missed my chance only a few seconds later we came across a pit stop which is a much safer place to park and get out of your car if you choose.
We were guilty of stopping often on our road trip through the Dingle Peninsula and still needed to get to Galway. We decided to break up the next 3.5 hour drive to Galway with a stop in Adare for dinner.
Adare is known as a “Tidy Town” since it’s recognized as one of the most attractive towns known for their charming and colorful thatched houses. We had drinks at Pat Collins Bar and you could stay to eat as they offer traditional Irish fare, but we wanted to try this doll-like restaurant down the street called the Wild Geese Restaurant. It actually occupies one of the original cottages dating back to 1820.
Day 7: Galway & County Clare
Since the previous day took longer than expected, we saved the Cliffs of Moher for this morning. It was only a 1.5 hour drive from hotel. It was just as I had imagined; what almost seems like never-ending cliffs jetting out to sea. There are a lot of crazy tourists taking risks on the sides of the cliffs looking for that perfect picture which isn’t for the faint of heart. While I loved it and understand why it was so well-regarded, Dingle Peninsula still takes my pick for its scenic views. Nevertheless, I was happy to experience it on my own instead of through someone’s else’s picture or description of it.
From the Cliff you see a beach town called Lahinch and by the recommendation of a friend we decided to stop there for lunch.
Lahinch is a surfer town where tons of people are out trying to catch the waves. It was very pretty and mixes up the usual landscapes by being able enjoy a bowl of seafood chowder while watching people swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of the town’s building were ruined from remnants of a hurricane a few years ago, but has since been rebuilt so some places on the inside seem a bit newer than what you expect in Ireland.
Examples for a quick idea of comparisons to US measurements; 5km = 3.2 miles / 15 Celsius = 60 degrees Fahrenheit / 100kmh = 60 mph / 20:00 = 8 p.m.
We then headed back to Galway to enjoy walking around the downtown and beers for the rest of the afternoon since it was our last day. The streets were packed with people and there were local musicians filling up the streets with music. Our last stop ended with a beer at E. Brún Bar while chatting with the nicest local firefighter.
Day 8: Back to the US
Sadly on this day we departed for the US out of Shannon airport (1.5 hours from Galway). I’d recommend this option if you aren’t looking to do a full loop back to Dublin or have limited time. Aer Lingus offered direct flights back to the New York City area and Boston (where my parents are from) out of Shannon too.
We can certainly say we saw so much of Ireland in only a week and I wouldn’t regret how we planned our days. While for some it may sound exhausting, if you don’t mind fast paced and an always on the go trip it’ll give you a good taste of all the country has to offer. Then you can narrow down where you’d like to visit when you go back!