Ah, Ireland. Where the land is green, the whiskey free-flowing, the people are spirited and the music lively. Or, Oh Ireland…where it pours down on you in buckets, the roads are dangerously twisty-windy and the tourist spots ye dreamt of visiting are hokey, crowded and overpriced.
It’s all how you look at it. To date, I’ve been to Ireland five times. Lucky, lucky me. I have friends who moved back there, so I’ve been seeing it through the eyes of locals for the most part (I did partake in some of the aforementioned touristy stuff on the first visit). And hey, some people love all that touristy stuff, but if you want to travel like I do (good food/booze, get to know the locals and learn/try something new) then read on.
First things first, do NOT try to see all of Ireland in one trip. Especially if you’re taking a 10 day or less trip. I’ve spent a month there in one go and barely scratched the surface. Time moves slower there, so maybe at home you can get to 10 things in a day, but Ireland runs at a much easier going pace. This is where you go to re-learn how to savor. Remember this before even embarking on your first visit; Ireland will make it easy to return, so start with your top three places you want to see/experience and let the rest of the adventure unfold as you go along. Just a few years ago I would’ve advised you that some airports are much cheaper to fly into, but these days they all seem to be competing for travelers, so pick you destination and go for it~
For your first trip, I’d recommend the following route.
Dublin ( 2 nights)
Dublin is considered “the big city” in Ireland. It’s cool. I prefer the smaller towns. Less touristy and more of chance to get to know locals, but it def worth a visit.
- The Post Office – history
- Stephen’s Green – beautiful stroll
- Guinness Warehouse Tour – touristy goodness
- Jameson Distillery Tour – touristy goodness
- Cobblestone pub – traditional music (right by Jameson)
- Restaurants – Check TripAdvisor.com. Too many to list here
Spiddal (2 nights or 1 week)
Spiddal is a small, coastal town with amazing food/music and homeland of filmmaker John Ford-The Quiet Man. I could spend weeks here and just get lost in it. Quiet, but magical kind of town and close enough to other destinations (20 minutes north of Galway) to make it a great base camp.
- Galway City (smaller and easier to navigate than Dublin – great day to evening outing)
- Sheridan’s cheesemongers – upstairs wine n cheese bar with great people watching windows
- Penneys – cheap and cheerful department store with great souvenirs and rain gear
- Tig Coili (prod. chi koley) – very popular pub with live music
- Tigh Nichtains (pron. tee nocktins) – very popular pub
- Kumars – some of the best indian food you’ll ever taste
- the Aran Islands (famed for their wool sweaters and landscape for such films as The Matchmaker, Leap Year and the Father Ted series) – flights daily near Spiddal.
- Inishmore is biggest of the three and overnight suggested – horse carriage ride is worthwhile and historical treks.
- Inisheer is smallest, but stunning beauty with swimming (brrr) beach and great pub (Tigh Ned) for lunch
- Inishmaan is the middle one. Dull in comparison. a post office, a pub and the pub is the only public toilet so hope it’s open~
- Tigh Giblin – Brilliant pub with artisan foods and great, nightly music – you’ll want to go back again and again…
- Spiddal Pier – great stroll from town and film location for The Guard
- Vacation Rental: Tigh Lal Hotel:
- Hotel: An Cruiscin Lan – quirky, but right across from Tigh Giblin, so you can easily stumble across after a night of great food and music.
Lahinch (2 nights or 1 week) (coastal surfing town with great food and live music)
- Cliffs of Moher (famous landmark and respected tourist destination. Movies filmed here: Princess Bride and Hear my Song)
- Kennys bar– great food, live music from up and comers (try the lamb taco. One word: addictive
- Raviolo Verde: excellent Italian dine in or take out
- Activities: beach walking, surfing, kayaking, nature walks
- Joe’s Cafe – great breakfast and lunch spot with fresh ingredients and solid wifi.
- St. Brigid’s well – ask the locals…
- the Aran Islands (if you don’t want to fly out of Spiddal there’s a nearby ferry in Doolin that’ll take you there
- Moher Hill Open Farm – cool petting farm
- Ennistymon – reality check. Read the signs around town spelling out the bloody history, stop in at Byrnes restaurant for lunch by the river then walk over to the Fall’s hotel to visit the Donkey sanctuary.
If you love to drive just for the sake of it, the the Ring of Kerry is a beautiful drive, but to me, just about everywhere I’ve driven in Ireland is beautiful, so don’t think you’ve missed out on a chance of a lifetime if you decide to give it a skip on the first trip and just stick around other places long enough to get to know ’em better.
If Ring of Kerry is a must-do on your list then I’d suggest, either driving down to Dingle Bay (2 hour) or Killarney (1 hour) for the night before or driving straight to from Lahinch (3 hour) and stopping in Cork (2 hour) after for an over night stay. From Cork, your last stop would be either 2 or 3 hours drive.
If you’re flying out of Shannon then, last stop should be: Bunratty (1 night)
- Bunratty Castle (the good kind of touristy offering themed dinners, tours and nice hotel and shops just across the road)
- Hotel: Bunratty Castle Hotel
If you’re flying out of Dublin, then your last stop should be: Dun Laoghaire (1-2 nights) (pron. dun leary). It’s a quaint harbor town about 40 minutes from Dublin airport and perfect spot to wind down and recap.
- Walk along the pier, read the memorial sign.
- Hotel: Haddington House. Recently remodeled, really cool place and right by the harbor with excellent restaurant and outdoor picnic area.
You can get by without a car by using a combination of public transport and Uber (in cities), but I find driving in Ireland part of the adventure.
If you’re heading straight to Galway, both airports (DUB or SNN) offer the same great bus service (most with with Wifi, outlets and toilet) into Galway City and drop you off right in the heart, next to Eyre (Air) square, running about every half hour in Dublin (3 hr trip) and every hour in Shannon (2 hr trip) and costing about 25 euro each way. Rome2Rio is a great site for mapping out your travels showing you transportation options in detail. The Trip Advisor app is a great tool for finding nearby restaurants worth stopping at and hotels worth staying in while on the road.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Ireland is not big on WIFI. Oh yes, you’ll see signs that say “We have Wifi” but that doesn’t mean it works. It’s often spotty at best. Some will even turn it off if you’re taking up a valuable table during peak service times. Go easy. They don’t get our obsession with it. “If I’m lost, I just ask someone the way.” People there are conversational and always happy to help.
- It’s easy to get lost. Check with your cell phone provider and get international coverage if you can. Google maps has saved me on more occasions than I care to admit. Also, texting your friends makes it easier to wander off, but find each other easily. Though it’s true. You can ask anyone directions and they’ll be happy to help. They are a naturally curious and friendly people.
- Renting a car can be an obnoxiously expensive and frustrating experience. Sure, they offer $12/day rentals, but then they’ll insist you get “super coverage” which adds as much as 40 euro/day to your bill. On short needs like 3 day rental, going over terrain you’re not comfortable with, go for the super coverage. Otherwise, use a cc that has rental car coverage and get proof of coverage you can hand them when they start their schpeel or you’ll hear “We have no way of knowing if you are covered or not which means we’ll have to place a 2,000 euro hold on your card.” They’re highly adept at convincing you to go for the coverage with tales of poor dears who lost all their holiday money because of little fender bender. Be confident, be soft spoken (nothing they hate worse than you boasting to the others in line that you’ve caught onto their act) get your car and go. If you do rent a car, know that manuals are far cheaper and to stay on the correct side of the road repeat this mantra “keep the white on the right” (meaning the white line in the center of the road should be to the right of you).
- It rains. A lot. You can spend an hour there and get rain, hail and sunshine in that hour, so pack a light rain jacket that you can bunch up into a ball and keep on your person or better yet, buy one there as a personal memento of the trip.
- Unless you were born in Ireland or parents were, you are NOT, I repeat NOT Irish. You are of Irish descent, but that doesn’t give you license to suddenly don an Irish accent. They’re just as interested in the accent you naturally have (and are probably unaware of) as you are in theirs. Same goes for “Scotch-Irish.” You may think it mean you’re both Irish and Scottish, but it actually refers to Scots who came over by order of an English king to basically sit on Irish land (previously owned by their new and unwelcoming neighbors).
- Pack light (with room for newly acquired stuff). Ireland is full of shops and well priced goods. No need throwing your back out lugging half your closet there. Launderettes are incredibly scarce though, but most vacation rentals have washer/dryers and are much cheaper than hotels (live like a local). A well traveled friend once told me, “All you need is a passport a credit card and your phone to travel well.”
- If you’re staying anywhere more than 3 nights, go for a vacation rental. Also, many of them rent strictly from Saturday to Saturday, so be sure to ask, but even a week’s rate is often cheaper than a 3 night stay at a hotel. Plus, they have washer/dryers. Hotels don’t and most towns don’t have launderettes either.
- Make sure your passport is up to date. Nothing ruins a holiday faster than an expired passport and there’s no such thing as a quick fix to that. Also, apply for Global Entry (which includes TSA Pre-check). It’s only $100, but will save you frustratingly long Immigration lines getting back from your destinations and it’s good for 5 years. Takes about 8-10 weeks to get so plan ahead.
- Information is currency there. The Irish love a good story. If you’re in one town, looking up family history, you can expect your friends in the neighboring town will have heard about it by nightfall. Be open about your own stories, but let others tell their own stories. That’s the best motto.
- If you’re a walker or cyclist please be aware there are very, very few roads that have side walks or even bike paths, so wear reflective gear at night or during grey days. Even a stick on reflector to your windbreaker will help.
- You can throw a stone and hit a castle in Ireland. They are all beautiful and rich in history, with some offering the touristy (but still pretty cool) themed dinner. Pick one, enjoy it, then check “see a castle” and move on. There’s so much more to Ireland dan dis~