ireland travel guide
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day this past weekend, here are a few highlights from our trip to Ireland! Stevie and I flew from Naples, Italy to Dublin, Ireland and met my mom and grandmother for a 6-day road trip around the Emerald Isle.
In doing some initial research, most recommended if you only have a week to explore to cut the country in half and either do the top half or the bottom half. While I would love to go to Northern Ireland, we opted to save that part of the country for a future trip where we could combine Scotland. So this time around we started in Dublin and went south from there, following the coast line all the way to the Cliff’s of Moher and Galway. (From Galway it’s a straight shot across the middle of the island back to Dublin if you’re flying in and out of the same airport.)
We started our trip with two nights in Dublin. We stayed near St. Stephen’s Green, which was a great hub for walkable restaurants and access to the sites.
We ate at an Irish pub for our first meal, and simply asked the waitress to bring us something she loves on the menu. She came out with fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. I will say, Irish food can get heavy fast, so if I had done it over again I would have had more international cuisine in the multicultural Dublin and stuck to the local fare along the rest of our road trip. (It ended up being a lot of days in a row of fried fish, heavy stews, and meat pies…)
The weather in Dublin was rainy and a bit cold when we arrived, but the hop-on-hop-off buses ended up being a great option to explore the city without trudging through the rain. It gave us a great lay of the land and exposed us to the areas that we knew we’d want to return to.
I think my highlight from Dublin would have to be the Trinity College Long Room and Book of Kells. (Be still my English major heart!) Be prepared for a long line to enter—but honestly, when else will you be able to peek into a library as breathtaking as this one? Worth the wait? Check.
We rented a car and drove about 2 hours south to the town of Waterford. It’s the home of Waterford Crystal, and of course we had to swing by The House of Waterford Crystal while we were in town.
It was my mom’s birthday, so we splurged a bit and stayed at the gorgeous Waterford Castle just on the outskirts of town. (The castle is on a little island all by itself—how cool is that?!) Rooms in the castle itself were sold out, but we stayed in a beautiful, modern townhouse along the golf course, which ended up being perfect for us. We enjoyed afternoon tea at the castle (#drool) and explored the walking paths along the grounds. It was a short but memorable stay!
From Waterford, it was about three hours to our next stop: the town of Killarney in County Kerry. Killarney itself was a bit lacking in charm, but it was a convenient hub for us to explore the Gap of Dunloe, Muckross Castle and the Ring of Kerry.
muckross House and gardends
Muckross House and Gardens ended up being a great stop along our way. It’s an old estate that dates back to the 17th Century, and I loved knowing that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert paid a visit here back in the day! It’s crazy to think that the owners had the entire house redesigned in anticipation of the royal visit. Talk about a good host…
Ring of Kerry
We took a full day to drive the Ring of Kerry, and we leveraged Rick Steve’s Ireland travel guide along our way. It was a great resource throughout the trip, but it was especially helpful during drives like this one and the Dingle Peninsula!
skellig Michael boat tour
Along the Ring of Kerry, you’ll pass views of Skellig Michael, a rocky island jutting up against the horizon that the Irish used to believe marked the edge of the world. (For you Star Wars fans, it’s also where Luke Skywalker’s been hiding out from the Resistance...) Centuries ago, a handful of monks jumped in a rowboat and made their way to the island. They set up stairways along the ragged terrain and lived in small huts, completely divorced from society.
A select number of boats go to the island each day, but the trip is weather-dependent. Often the sea can be too rough to risk the trip. We were one of the lucky ones!
Dingle peninsula & Shannon
We had a lot of driving on our last full day in Ireland, completing the entire Dingle Peninsula and making our way up to Shannon to see the Cliffs of Moher. If you find yourself driving along the Dingle Peninsula on a beautiful day, definitely stop at Inch Beach and dip your toes in the Irish sea. If nothing else, it’s a great way to stretch your legs after so much time in the car! We leveraged the Rick Steves travel guide again for this stretch of the journey, which was a great resource for the different stops you can make along the way.
We stayed at a little Airbnb cottage by the sea near Shannon with easy access to the Cliffs of Moher. And seriously, the Cliffs are so spectacular. It’s hard to put into words, but trust me—just go. It feels like you’ve found the edge of the world.
For our last night, we found a cozy little pub in the town of Doolin. It’s a colorful, cozy village near the Cliffs of Moher and is considered the traditional music capital of Ireland. Step into any of its quaint pubs any night of the week and you’re sure to hear some fantastic live folk music. And we found just that. It was a great bookend to our little Irish road trip!
What we missed
Stevie and I flew back to Newark from the Shannon International Airport for our college reunion, but my mom and grandmother continued on to Galway for a couple of days and then cut back across to Dublin to return the car and fly home themselves. We would have loved to have explored Galway and more of the Connemara region of Ireland, but alas, we’ll have to save that for a future trip!
There are also so many places on my bucket list in Northern Ireland, but, again, we figured it would be ideal to pair Northern Ireland and Scotland together. A few spots on my bucket list:
The Dark Hedges
Lagavulin Distillery (Ok, technically in Scotland but you’d take a boat from Northern Ireland to the island of Islay.) For you Parks & Rec fans, this is the distillery that Leslie Knope sends Ron Swanson on a European scavenger hunt to find! As Ron so eloquently puts it:
“All my life I’ve avoided Europe and it’s multitudes of terribleness, but it turns out, much to my surprise there is actually one place in Europe that is worth seeing. These tiny islands off the coast of Scotland where God’s chosen elixirs are distilled, barreled and prepared for consumption. This is worth the trip.”
So that’s that! Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day! Raising a Guinness in spirit to you, my friend!