When you think of Ireland, what comes to mind? Sheep and green hills? Potatoes? Home of your great-great-grandparents? Well sure it has all those things plus SO MUCH MORE! On our most recent trip to Europe, Ireland was next on our “to-see” list.
First things first, contrary to common misconception, Ireland is NOT part of the United Kingdom, they won their independence from the British Empire back in 1921 and became the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The Republic of Ireland is part of the EU and uses the euro. Don’t confuse the Republic of Ireland with their upstairs neighbor, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, so if you plan to go up north, take your pounds with you! With that little geo-political clarification out of the way, we can continue 😉
Ireland is a gorgeous country that is best seen by road trip. While Dublin is the capital city and you should absolutely plan time to enjoy it, to experience Ireland you have to get out of the city. So pack your rain boots and warm layers, buckle up and remember to drive on the left!
DAY 1 – Jet Lag & Scenery
For this trip El & I met Sean on the tail end of his business trip to the UK. After meeting up inside the Dublin airport, we picked up our rental car and cleared out of the city. Side note: I’ve been told that even if you drive stick, you should stick to automatic due to the twisty nature of Irish roads.
Since El & I had been on an overnight flight, we knew that we weren’t going to be up for a strenuous day of activities, so we planned a very light day of activities that would lead us straight to our overnight stop. We spent the afternoon driving through Wicklow National Park and enjoying the gorgeous rugged landscape. We stopped at Glendalough, which is famous for its monastic ruins and trails. Once we had our fill of exploring, we drove on to Kilkenny where we would be staying for the night.
DAY 2 – Abbeys, Castles, & Hiking
With a good night sleep under our belt, we were ready for our first full day! We started with a visit to Jerpoint Abbey which was about 20 minutes from our hotel. Getting there as soon as it opened was key…we had the ENTIRE abbey 100% to ourselves!
500 pictures later, we packed back into the car and began the drive to our next stop, The Rock of Cashel. Cashel is a small town that houses the remains of a castle perched at the top of a craggy hill. After grabbing some coffee to warm our hands, we walked up the hill to the castle. There are great views and wonderfully shabby ruins! It’s well worth the visit, just be sure to catch the free tour.
Once we had our fill of the castle, we drove on to our night stop in Killarney. Once we had checked into the hotel, we decided to check out part of Killarney National Park. The loop that we did (The Demesne) was within walking distance of our hotel, had well kept trails. The paths were gorgeous and we were even rewarded with a breathtaking view of Lough Leane!
After making the trek back to our hotel, we were ready for a hot meal, a beer, and local music. Most pubs offer music at least once per week, so check your travel guide or with the front desk at your hotel! We were lucky and the pub inside our hotel was offering music that night!
DAY 3 – Ring of Kerry
One of the things that everyone says is a “must-do” in Ireland is driving the Ring of Kerry, which is a coastal road that offers gorgeous and ever-changing scenery. With a large driving day ahead of us, we knew that we had to get an early start to avoid tons of traffic so we grabbed breakfast locally before checking out.
I would suggest finding a Ring of Kerry driving guide to give some sort of direction of where to go and information on what you are actually looking at. We used Rick Steves’ guide and it gave us tons of advice and info! There are TONS of great picture opportunities on this drive…TAKE THEM!!!!! One of our favorite stops was to visit Kerry Cliffs. Also if you are a fan of the new Star Wars movies, be sure to keep a lookout for Skellig Michal!
Once we had completed our Ring of Kerry drive we went on to our overnight stop near Dingle. A bit of advice…if you plan to visit in Dingle book early, pay the extra money, and stay IN Dingle town. We waited too long and had to stay a half hour outside it, meaning we missed out on really getting to explore the charming town.
DAY 4 – Dingle, Wild Atlantic Way, & Cliffs of Moher
After a stroll around the gorgeously colorful town of Dingle we grabbed breakfast from the local grocery store and drove to the beach in Ventry (about a 10 minute drive) to enjoy the sunny morning air…even if it was super chilly!
Driving the Slea Head Loop on the Wild Atlantic Way proved to be a breathtakingly gorgeous and white knuckled trip with sweeping landscapes, abandoned famine fields, rocky cliffs, crashing waves and the very edge of the continent.
After completing the loop we made our way to our night stop in Doolin, near the Cliffs of Moher. When we looked at the weather for the next day (Cliffs of Moher’s original date), it looked like a very wet forecast. We still had several hours of daylight left and the Cliffs were only about 15 minutes away from our B&B, so we decided to make the most out of good weather. The Cliffs of Moher are ranked as one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and its not hard to see why. Wear proper footwear and keep an eye on the conditions of the erm…non-official path (it sounds bad to say dangerous or slippery). Do this and you will be rewarded with amazing views!
DAY 5 – Cong & Return to Dublin
The next morning brought torrential downpour, making us SO glad we had visited the Cliffs the day before. Our entire agenda for the day was to go and visit the tiny town of Cong. The town and it’s castle were made famous by an old John Wayne movie called The Quiet Man. However, that was not why we visited. Our purpose was for catching a glimpse at the charming “Fisher’s cottage” and exploring the gorgeous surrounding area. Foot paths, ruins, and adorable cottages made the peaceful little down oh so enjoyable!
With the final leg under our belt, we began our trek back to the city. More on Dublin to come!
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