Travel

Ireland Travel Guide

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It’s hard to believe that its been two months since we were coming home from Ireland; the holidays are sure taking their toll on Father Time!

We spent a total of nine days in Ireland, making a loop around the island from Dublin to Galway to Killarney to Cork to Kilkenny and back up to Dublin – with all kinds of stops in between! It was a roller coaster from day one (technically day 0 because we spent most of our departure flight day driving to the airport), but we had a blast. Ireland is a gorgeous country with so much history, we couldn’t possibly do it all. But try, we did. πŸ™‚

We ended up driving ourselves – and by that I mean my dear, sweet husband tried his hardest to keep calm driving through roundabouts three times while I’m holding onto my seat, praying we make it – and we’d totally do it again. Honestly, it really wasn’t that bad. I think our saving grace was that we picked up the car in Dublin at the airport and immediately got out of the city and on our way to Galway and then we turned the car in when we got back to Dublin. Driving through the majority of Ireland is a piece of cake. Dublin, not so much.

And as much I’d love to tell you all that I wore so many cute outfits and got to show them off, that is not the case. It was so cold I ended up looking the exact same every day – jeans, walking shoes, sweater or tee and coat. Even with my plans of going to the hotel and changing into a nice dinner outfit were thwarted almost every night because we ran out of time or it was too complicated to get back or I didn’t want to walk a mile one way to the restaurant in heels. Reality, people. (The photo below is basically what I looked like the entire trip. πŸ™‚ )

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Islands’ View Beach

Galway
This was my favorite city by far and one of my husbands’ favorites as well. This is closer to what we both envisioned Dublin to be like and honestly wished we had spent more time here than in Dublin.

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Bohermore’s Victorian Cemetery

Things To Do

  • Quay Street
    Aside from being totally lost and relatively irate at the bathroom situation, this was the cutest little street! The shops were all quaint and the restaurants all looked so good! we ended up eating at the Quay Street Kitchen and had dessert at Gino’s Gelato – both of which I highly recommend. We also (somehow) managed to find our way to the Galway Market and picked up a handmade bell for my husbands’ mother.
  • Eyre Square Shopping Centre
    Getting lost seemed to be what we were best at and inside the mall was no exception. There were so many shops and places to eat; we ended up getting coffee at Insomnia and just people watching until the mall started to close. The real reason behind going to the mall was to see the Medieval City Walls. Yes, INSIDE the mall. Pretty cool.
  • Bohermore’s Victorian Cemetery
    I know you’re thinking, “she’s recommending a cemetery on vacation”. Yes. Yes, I am. The headstones alone are worth the trip; they are just simply magnificent and when you combine it with a rare sunny day (which we were lucky to have) and the hustle and bustle of the city around it, it is just unreal to be there.

Restaurants

  • Quay Street Kitchen
    First impression: super small and slightly uncomfortable. Second impression: cozy, quaint and totally different than what we’re used to (hello, B Dubs!). Joking aside, the food was really varied and really fantastic. My husband ordered a chicken burger which he said was the best chicken burger he’s ever had and I ordered a vegetable curry with grilled chicken and ate it all! (Eating my entire meal is not usually something I can accomplish. πŸ™‚ )
  • Gino’s Gelato
    Words. Can. Not. Describe. I mean, I am literally just staring at my computer trying to figure out what to write here. Let me start off by saying, if you have a Ferrero Rocher gelato, you are gold on my list. Gino’s IS gold. We only had gelato at this location, but we did track one down in Dublin to have a waffle. The plot thickens…
  • Insomnia
    After this first visit where they made my hot chocolate with a vat of molten chocolate we were obviously coming back. In Dublin we had Insomnia coffee every morning and it was just as fantastic as that first cup.

Killarney
Killarney is where we saw a lot of evidence of Ophelia and Brian. The national park was flooded and there were areas that were completely inaccessible. We did, however, get to see all that we wanted in Killarney without being affected by it.

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Muckross Abbey

Things To Do

  • Ross Castle
    Being right on the edge of the Killarney Lakes, this is where we saw most of the flooding – the roadways were underwater and I’m pretty sure the bathrooms were totally out of order, but the castle itself was peachy keen sitting on top of its’ hill. This was one of my favorite castles – not for the size or the style, mind you – but for our guide. He was so incredibly engaging and informative that we actually learned most of everything we learned about how and why castles were built a certain way and the lives that would have taken place in them.
  • Muckross House and Abbey
    If you walk to the house, you pass the abbey so these two are just going to be lumped together. The abbey itself is incredible – totally open to the elements, totally free and 100% slippery. You can basically just wander around wherever you want here and really get a feel for what it would have been like living in it. The house is also incredible, but I was a little frustrated that there were no pictures allowed inside. We walked over a mile one way to get there (in the rain), we paid something like 10 or 15 Euro each to get in and not allowed to take a single photo inside. As opposed to its’ counterpart (the abbey) which was a 10 minute walk, totally free and I could snap to my hearts’ content. Regardless, both are worth the trip.

Restaurants

  • The Porterhouse Gastropub
    We ended up walking a mile each way from our hotel to get to this little gem – we didn’t have to, but that’s what we did and I would even go as far to recommend it. We got to walk down Plunkett street which had a similar feel to Quay Street in Galway and it was really fun to feel like we were part of the local culture. My husband ordered some sort of steak burger with onions – it was definitely one of the best things we ate in Ireland – and I ordered the traditional lamb stew which was good, but I ended up wishing I had done the steak burger as well.


Cork

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St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral

Things To Do

  • Old English Market
    We most likely looked like goofy Americans as we walked through this little market, but it was just so unlike anything we have in America. There were butchers and bakers and stalls selling local produce – it just seemed as though we stepped back in time to, well, an old english market. The only thing we ended up buying were two desserts from a bakery that we ate the next morning for breakfast. πŸ™‚
  • St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
    Full disclosure: I almost had a melt down when I realized I left my camera in the car almost a mile away-this cathedral is the most beautiful church I have ever been in and it still makes me mad when I look at my sub par iPhone photos from that day. Just walking into the cathedral feels like you are stepping into history. It’s just the most unexplainable, surreal feeling – I literally had tears in my eyes as we were leaving, I was that moved. If you’re going to see a cathedral, this is the one you want.
  • The Everyman Theater
    This was probably the most stressed I was during our entire trip. We were literally driving around and around the (if I remember correctly) Merchants’ Quay area trying to find parking. (When you are used to rural American parking, Ireland – and my best guess is most of Europe – parking is a NIGHTMARE.) We ended up picking a direction from the parking deck, praying it was the right way, somehow miraculously finding the theater and getting to our seats with maybe five minutes to spare. Totally stressed. However, since it was around Halloween we were lucky enough to see The Addams Family and the theater itself is just gorgeous. Even if you don’t see a play – just go to see the theater. Seriously.
  • Blarney Castle
    Not technically in Cork, but close enough. We got here literally at the last moment – last admission was 5pm I believe and we got there at 4:50. We did have enough time to see the castle and some of the gardens and to do the most important thing – kiss the Blarney stone! The castle itself is not renovated so it has that dark, castley feel to it – I just happen to love that, by the way – but it is slippery so you have to be super careful walking around. My husband is afraid of heights so kissing the stone for him was a big deal and he got a bit concerned when it was my turn; I was about 8 weeks pregnant at the time, so he was understandably a little agitated. πŸ™‚ But we kissed the stone and are now blessed with the gift of eloquence! We even got our pictures done and received a little certificate. πŸ™‚

Restaurants

  • Gourmet Burger Bistro
    Adding to the stress of the night we went to see The Addams Family, we hadn’t eaten since lunch we were 100% positive that by the time we got out of the theater we wouldn’t have enough time to make it to the restaurant we had picked. However, as soon as the lights went up, we booked it out of there and (again, fingers crossed) picked a direction and walked. We ended up getting to the restaurant maybe a half hour before closing and we were the only people there. Regardless of the fact they were obviously tidying up and closing down for the night, our waitress was friendly, the food was fresh and absolutely perfect. I believe my husband had a lamb burger that was on special and I had the pulled pork burger. Oh my, it was incredible! If we ever go to Ireland again, we definitely be eating here. πŸ™‚


Kilkenny
We did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked in Kilkenny. I honestly would have opted for a second day here over having three in Dublin. We didn’t get to everything on our list, but we did see the big things we were most interested in. Bonus points for the fact that it feels like I (and probably most Americans) think Ireland should feel. Lively and quaint, old and beautiful. πŸ™‚

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Jerpoint Park

Things to Do

  • Kilkenny Castle
    Everywhere we went around Kilkenny we were asked “have you seen the castle” and told “make sure you go to the castle”. Yes, it is impressive and a bit of a shock when you come down a bustling street into shops and restaurants and there’s this huge, looming castle right smack in the middle of it. Truth be told, it was my least favorite of the trip. It just wasn’t very engaging – I much prefer the tours with guides who tell you obscure little details and keep you guessing than just wandering around reading facts. However, it is a beautiful castle, both inside and out and I’m glad we made the stop.
  • Jerpoint Park
    It’s out of the way. It’s wet. (The guide actually gave us little “waterproof” slippers to cover our shoes and they still ended up totally soaked.) And oddly, we were told by our guide that he was the “foreign language” tour guide and he hadn’t done a tour in English in well over a year. But it is 100% worth it. If you have the opportunity to go, it is an absolute gem. For those of you who don’t know, Jerpoint Park was a medieval town that is home to the grave of St. Nicholas. (Our tour guide told us he tells people he watches over Santa Claus’ grave. πŸ™‚ ) It’s steeped in history and still has a lot of the original buildings that were part of the town. Through the years it has been neglected and forgotten, but it now under the ownership of people who are really proud of it and treat it with the utmost respect.

Restaurants

  • Kyteler’s Inn
    Founded in 1263 by an accused witch, we were obviously eating there! It’s a bit difficult to find – I would have walked right by the little alley leading to it had it not been for my husband – but well worth the adventure. My husband had some sort of a steak burger that he really liked and I had the vol au vent. My meal deserves its’ own blog post, I swear to you it was that good. It was literally the best thing I ate in Ireland and that’s saying a lot because, well, I ate A LOT.


Dublin
Dublin was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, spending a total of three days here for our grand finale. By day two, I was telling my husband that I hated Dublin. That may have been an exaggeration brought on by pregnancy hormones, but in all honesty we were both pretty disappointed with Dublin. We still had tons of fun and we don’t regret it, but in hindsight we’d have only spent a day or two here.

As many things as there are to do in Dublin, there were a lot of complications. Unknown to us, we happened to be in Dublin for some huge marathon weekend and were told that there were an additional 20,000 people in the city for it. Holy crap. We had so much issue getting around that we wasted a load of time just travelling to where we wanted to be. And half the time when we got to where we wanted to be, it was closed or sold out. (And when I say closed, I mean we literally checked the hours on the website the night before and when we got there, they had a paper on the front gate with new hours – I’m looking right at you, Botanical Gardens.)

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Library at Trinity College

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St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre

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on the Butler’s Chocolate Factory tour! πŸ™‚

Things to Do

  • National Museum of Ireland – Archeaology
    This was one of our favorites and we wished we had had more time to spend here but we were on a schedule that day and could not miss a tour we had already paid for. This was the only museum we visited in Dublin and it’s a miracle we even made it to this one by accident – all we knew is that we were headed for the National Museum (there’s a couple different ones right next to each other and we happened to fall into this one). There are tons of artifacts from jewelry to swords to skeletons – really something for everyone here. Bonus points: it’s FREE!
  • Book of Kells
    This was extremely packed – marathon, holiday weekend, add in the fact that it’s a functioning college and you have yourself a can of sardines. The exhibit was neat – a bit overpriced in my very honest opinion – but I actually ended up loving the library more than the Book of Kells. It was just incredible.
  • St. Patrick’s Cathedral
    Also extremely packed; there was a line of probably 100 people waiting to get in. It just really took away from the whole experience and that’s probably why I had such a crappy time in Dublin. Too many people. Everywhere. In everything. There was just no escape. The church itself is beautiful and unique, but St. Fin Barre’s was just a whole different experience. Being able to walk around in silence and be the only two in a cathedral is just magical.
  • Butler’s Chocolate Factory
    One of my favorite parts of Dublin! This Butler’s chocolate factory is the only one in the world. How cool is that? So even when you see Butler’s chocolate in America,Β  this is where it came from. I have actually never been on a chocolate factory tour, so it was all really interesting for me. There were a bunch of samples and we even got to decorate our own chocolate pumpkins to take home. I highly recommend it!
  • Grafton Street andΒ St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Center
    People overload. The shopping is great if you’re looking for fashionable clothes. There does seem to be an over abundance of Irish souvenir shops everywhere, but not much else. We were really looking forward to have our caricatures done in St. Stephen’s Green, but he wasn’t there. So there really wasn’t much else for us to do than finish up our gift shopping.
  • Dublin Hell Fire Club
    We were lucky enough to be in Dublin close to Halloween, giving us the opportunity to attend the more frequent ghost tours. We chose the Hell Fire Club in the Dublin mountains. Our guide took us up to the mountains after dark and the entire group hiked up to the structure and were able to go inside and hear about all the macabre happenings that are said to have taken place here. This was absolutely my favorite thing we did in Dublin.

Restaurants

  • Golden Palace
    We ate here on a whim the first night in Dublin – it was late, we were starving and we did not want to navigate our way into Dublin to try and find food in the dark. It was actually one of our favorites of the whole trip! It’s an all you can eat Chinese place were you can order whatever you want from the menu and it’s made fresh as you order it. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in my life. Between the two of us we ordered the Cantonese duck (twice), sweet and sour chicken, Thai noodles, another chicken dish of some sort, fried rice and two orders of fries (I was newly pregnant – don’t judge πŸ™‚ ). For the price, it was a welcome dinner for two (and a half!) very hungry travellers.
  • Boojum
    Basically a Chipotle. Service was fast and friendly and the food was fresh and tasty. What more could you possibly ask for?
  • Bleecker Street Cafe
    Another late night dinner. We both ordered the special which happened to be beer battered cod and fries. It was our first and only fish and chips. We are just not big fish people, but had to do the traditional dishes. I really enjoyed mine, where my husband said it was okay and that it just “tasted like a big fish stick”. Which is fine by me, because I really like fish sticks. πŸ™‚ All in all, a good place; we’re just not fish people.
  • Bunsen
    One of the best burgers I have ever eaten. From a fast food place. Incredible. The menu is really simple: single or double, cheese or no, add pickle, lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup, mustard, mayo or not, hand cut, shoe string or sweet potato fries or not and soda, milkshake or beer. Best idea ever. They’re also cooked as requested and my husband was super impressed that his medium rare was actually medium rare.
  • The Old Storehouse Bar & Restaurant
    This was a spur of the moment option when we realized we wouldn’t be able to eat where we had planned. The moment we walked in we were greeted with a band and the entire pub singing along – it was sort of a moment where we both looked at each other and thought “this really doesn’t happen”. But it does and continued to do so most of our dinner. My husband ordered the lamb chops and I ordered the cottage pie – they were both absolutely perfect and my husband could not stop raving about the gravy.


Other Stops

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Charleville CastleOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Cliffs of Moher

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Dingle Peninsula

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Kilmacdaugh Tower

  • Cliffs of Moher
    The Cliffs of Insanity! At least that’s what it feels like. Considering Ireland had just received two massive blows from Mother Nature – Ophelia and Brian – everything was wet, so my intentions to hike along the cliffs was thwarted. It was just a muddy mess and the path is so close to the edge, we just did not feel like risking it. The cliffs themselves are incredibly beautiful and you get a real sense of just how small you really are compared to nature.
  • Holy Cross Abbey
    This was a really neat little side trip for us. The abbey itself is beautiful and houses the oldest bell in Ireland. It is also home to a relic of the true cross. This was our main purpose for stopping – even if you’re rolling your eyes and saying “everyone claims they have one”, we have never seen one and it was a neat little artifact.
  • Dingle Peninsula
    This should be on the top of your Ireland to do list. On the top of your bucket list, in fact. We did not do the Ring of Kerry or the Ring of Skellig (we wanted to do Skellig island, but the boat tours to it were closed for the season – I just wanted to be a Jedi!). We instead, opted to do the Dingle Peninsula. It is hands down one of the highlights of the trip and one of the most beautiful places we have ever been.
  • Rock of Cashel
    Another one of my favorites. I just really love old, crumbling walls and cemeteries. The guided tour was fascinating and quite sad, hearing about the attacks on the fortress and how a family is letting a grave go to ruin.
  • Kilmacdaugh Tower
    The tallest tower in Ireland and, apparently, little known. It’s completely free and there was no one else there with us. There’s not a lot in the way of historical information available at the site, but it is an incredible place to visit and see the old graves and buildings. I preferred this to Glendalough.
  • Glendalough
    Sort of the same as Kilmacdaugh in that it’s an old monastery site, also free. The biggest difference is the location. Although it’s in a beautiful, mountainous area, it’s so close to Dublin and that means more people. There were about 50 other people all wandering around the site with us and it just takes away from the awe. Especially when those people are letting their children run around screaming and jumping off the laid down headstones.
  • Charleville Castle
    This was our first real stop in Ireland and it was such a great first impression. I think it actually spoiled us a little as we were the only people on the tour so we really got to interact with our guide (who was an absolute blast!) and we could really take our time in the parts of the castle we were most interested in. Bonus points for no people in our photos! This is off the beaten path, but 100% worth it – on the way there we saw our first and only fairy tree the entire trip.
  • House of Waterford
    This was an interesting little tour. Again, we were the only ones on the tour so we really got to ask lots of questions and hang back in the spots we were most interested in. My husband went into this thinking “why is this stuff so expensive” and came out saying “now I understand why this stuff is so expensive”. He actually enjoyed it more than I expected him to and now we’re on the look out for a piece of Waterford crystal we can display in our house.
  • King John’s Castle
    Not my personal favorite, but an education little stop. The coolest part of the castle is the view from the walls; we stood up there for probably twenty minutes looking at the river and the surrounding town. The second coolest part of this castle is that you can actually walk underneath it to see the foundation and where the sieges took place all those years ago.

All in all, we had a blast! I 100% recommend Ireland if you ever have the chance to go, but keeping Dublin a short stop instead of the main event. You’ll meet wonderful people, eat incredible food and experience beautiful places.

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