We've been to a few places during our time in Europe. And for some reason, Ireland just comes out on top. Maybe it's the hearty food, or the friendly people, or the colorful buildings or the lush countryside — I mean, it's probably a combination of all those factors. But Ireland proved to be one of our favorite trips from our four years here.
I've been to Ireland before. In college, I cut a week out of time set aside to work on my final project in my Danish journalism program (which maybe was irresponsible?) and decided to go to Ireland by myself. Now, I'm not really a solo traveller — some people are great at it, but I discovered during this trip that it just wasn't for me. So even though I went to some awesome places and saw beautiful things, my Irish trip was sort of a bust. So I was determined to do it again — with company!
And thank goodness I did. Tyler and I went to Ireland in June and rented a car (left side driving, hey!) and had a blast. If you're a road trip lover, and we totally are, Ireland is a must-do. The Wild Atlantic Way is simply legendary driving, and is absolutely gorgeous.
I was definitely worried about the fact that we only had four days to explore the country. Because we're coming down to the end of our time in Europe (we'll be out of here in February — wahh!), we're basically trying to squeeze everything in before time is up. So, we took Tyler's two-week vacation period and decided to do the British Isles, fitting in London, Scotland and Ireland. We had to cut out some places we really wanted to see, like the Giant's Causeway and where my family's bar, Currid's Lounge, allegedly is in Sligo, but we totally killed this four-day itinerary. If you're short on time in Ireland, here are my tips — and a helpful map that you can save!
WHAT WE DID IN DUBLIN (DAY 1):
Honestly, we weren't super keen on exploring Dublin. We tend to not really enjoy cities — so nothing against Dublin, that's just our preference! But since we flew in there, I figured we might as well scoop the loop a bit. We decided to just spend the afternoon there (we had an early flight), so we picked up our rental car and drove straight to the Trinity College area to explore the library and Temple Bar. After lunch, it was off to Galway!.
- Got awestruck at Trinity Library: If you do nothing else in Dublin, Trinity Library is definitely worth a stop — especially if you're a book nerd. The library is absolutely impressive, and though you can't really do much but gawk unless you have special permission, it's seriously gorgeous. We had to walk through the Book of Kells exhibition to get there (and buy tickets), which was a little annoying — we honestly tried to be interested but, having no preparation for what we were looking at, it kind of went over our heads. But we were happy to pay the price of admission to check out the library.
- Grabbed lunch in Temple Bar: After checking out the library, we walked over to the Temple Bar area. Temple Bar is actually a neighborhood, and it's a little touristy, but it's mostly bars and restaurants and is largely pedestrian. It's along the river and is a good place to get a trendy Irish vibe — there are a lot of colorful building facades and street art, so I loved it for picture-taking! My husband loves oysters, and Ireland is a great place for them, so we got lunch at a place called Klaw, which had a pretty impressive oyster tasting menu. I'm not super keen on seafood, so I just got crab mac & cheese. It was a bit pricey, but it was our splurge lunch. Afterwards, we grabbed an assortment of pies from The Pieman across the street — because Ireland is also known for their pies, and I'm all about some pie.
- Got to driving!: So yeah, we were definitely nervous about driving on the opposite side of the road, but since we had driven in Scotland beforehand, Tyler was a pro at it by the time we got to Ireland (jk, it was my job to constantly remind him to stay on the left). We forked over the money for an automatic because, well, if you get a manual, you get to shift on the left and hit the clutch on the left, which apparently can be a little confusing. We actually had a terrible time renting a car in Ireland, as they wanted a 5000€ deposit to get a car without the rental company's insurance. Sooooo, we got their rental insurance. If you have full coverage on your vehicle (we don't! Because Italy is crazy!) make sure you call and get everything squared away before you rent a car in Ireland to avoid extra fees or paying more than you planned to, like us.
WHAT WE DID IN GALWAY (DAYS 1-2):
After lunch in Dublin, we got on the road to Galway, which is about a 2.5 hour drive. We arrived in time to drop our bags at our Airbnb, rest a little and then get dinner, shop and walk around Galway. Though our plan was to get breakfast in Galway the next morning and explore it a little longer (it definitely deserves a full day!) we decided we'd rather leisurely drive the Wild Atlantic Way so we'd have more times for stops.
- Bought Claddaughs + wool in Galway: I'd been to Ireland before in college, and Galway is definitely a cool little town, with colorful shops, pedestrian streets, a harbor to walk around and lots of street musicians. I highly recommend stopping there if you're doing western/northern Ireland, just because it's such a cool little vibe-y town. It's also the birthplace of the Claddaugh, the traditional Irish ring/symbol with the hands, heart and crown, so if you have family members with Irish heritage, it's a great place for a meaningful souvenir. My husband also has a weird obsession with wool fabric, so we grabbed a few wool items at a shop after dinner.
- Ate anything crust-related at The Pie Maker: I got a hot tip to stop at The Pie Maker in Galway, and because pie is like, one of my favorite foods (savory or sweet!), I knew this would be our dinner. All the entrees come with either a side salad or mashed potatoes + mushy peas. I made the mistake of getting the salad with my chicken + mushroom pie, while Tyler got the superior beef and Galway stout pie with the mashed potatoes — definitely go for the taters. We got dessert pie to go, and I couldn't decide between the banoffee (a traditional Irish pie with bananas and toffee — aka, one of my faves) or the rhubarb and ginger root, so uh, I got both. The place is super small, so maybe not the best for big parties, but it's a really eclectic place with fun music and it's vegetarian friendly.
- Walked the Long Walk: For a stroll, there's a great walk along the harbor, on a road that's actually called "the Long Walk." It's a stretch along the water that goes through the ancient Spanish Arch. It's really pretty at sunset and you'll find young people drinking and hanging out for a cool vibe.
- Hopped on the Wild Atlantic Way: We left Galway on day two, unfortunately not after grabbing breakfast in the city again (my leftover banoffee pie served me well — I mean, it included bananas). Our plan was to take the Wild Atlantic Way through a scenic rocky area called The Burren until we got to Limerick, and then take highways to Killarney and nearby. If you don't know much about the Wild Atlantic Way, it's a highly scenic route that goes along the coast of Ireland, and it circles the entire country. The Western part is the most famous portion for its super gorgeous drive. It was one of the best times we had during our time, and if you're into road trips, it's definitely a must. After leaving Galway, we stopped about an hour in at Dunguaire Castle for a photo op, but actually enjoyed the thatched roof houses across the street a little more! To check out other stops around the route, we found this website about the Wild Atlantic Way super helpful!
- Stopped at the Cliffs of Moher: After driving the Wild Atlantic Way south through the Burren, we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher, one of the most famous attractions in Ireland. If you're short on time and can't make it to Killarney or Dingle, the Cliffs of Moher is definitely a must – it's a gorgeous view of these lush green mounds, and you may recognize it from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when (spoiler alert?) Dumbledore and Harry sneak into one of Voldemort's horcrux haunts. It's a good afternoon stop, or a good end to an excursion out of Galway if you're not planning on driving. However, if you're headed to Dingle Peninsula, I thought the Cliffs of Moher sort of paled in comparison to everything in County Kerry (which all looks a lot like the cliffs), so I'd skip it if you're headed straight for that area.
WHAT WE DID IN COUNTY KERRY (DAYS 2-4):
- Got the cottage treatment at our Airbnb: We're usually into rural stays for our Airbnbs, and my favorite is definitely when there are animals involved. Our Airbnb in Killarney didn't disappoint — cows greeted us next door, it was well-located near Killarney National Park, and was less than an hour from Dingle (which was a scenic drive that didn't feel long at all). Our host was totally adorable and even brought us brown bread that I still dream about to this day! If you haven't used Airbnb before, it's one of our favorite parts of traveling, and we love staying in places where locals live. If it's your first time, feel free to sign up using this coupon for $25 off your first night!
- Marveled at Puck the goat in Killorglin: Our Airbnb was just outside of the city of Killorglin, a small city in county Kerry. It's a typical small Irish town, except it has a unique legend involving Puck the goat that has inspired "Puck Fair" to happen every year. Legend has it that a wild goat warned the townspeople of the advancing British army of Oliver Cromwell and saved the city. To celebrate this, every year, a goat is captured from the countryside and crowned king Puck for a few days in August. The whole thing seems totally insane and hilarious, but Tyler and I enjoyed reading about Puck Fair. So if you're in Ireland from the 10-12 of August, make sure you visit Killorglin for Puck Fair!
- Drove the Dingle Peninsula: This was hands down our favorite day in basically our entire British Isles trip, and definitely our favorite part of Ireland. We knew we didn't have time for both Killarney National Park and Dingle Peninsula, and we're so glad we chose to drive the peninsula. We started out with a coffee and a walk on the sand at Inch Beach, which would totally deserve a day of relaxing by the water during good weather. After that, stopped in the town of Dingle for lunch and some shopping. It's super colorful and on the ocean — definitely touristy, but in a cute way. Once we hopped back in the car, we drove by Dingle Distillery, a whiskey distillery, which I wish we could've done a tour of, but we missed it by a few minutes and my pregnancy kind of made it less appealing. One of my favorite parts of the peninsula was all the ring forts and fairy rings that you could stop at to check out old Druid architecture. While Tyler marveled at the past, I fed sheep — it was a total win-win. We stopped at this fairy circle where it was like 1€ per person to enter, and it was worth every penny. You can also stop to see the Famine Cottages, which are old 19th century cottages said to be well-preserved because they were left abandoned during the potato famine. There are a ton of these little touristy stops along the Dingle Peninsula though, and you could spend all day stopping in to see little huts — we decided to skip this one. We definitely enjoyed the views around Coumeenoole Beach, where you can also see Slea Head Island, and again, wished we would've had more time for a beach day — the water was so blue! Our favorite scenic point, though, was Dunquin Harbor, which I've seen basically all over Pinterest and struggled to find the actual name of the lookout point — so here it is! The entire peninsula is ridiculously gorgeous and definitely a roadtripper's dream.
- Ate all the pub food: If you're into hearty, filling food, Ireland's the place for you. My husband is such a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and he could not get enough of Irish cuisine. We ate our fill of Guinness lamb stew, mashed potatoes, mushy peas, fish & chips and all of the pies. I also have a new obsession with their brown bread, which was sweet and hearty at the same time.
Photos and text © copyright Katie Currid, 2017. All rights reserved.