I’ve decided to break up my Ireland posts somewhat. We saw and experienced a lot and if I gave you a chronological play by play I’d be exhausted as a writer, and you’d be bored ot death as a reader.
This first post is a basic itinerary of where we went, where we stayed, what websites were helpful, and a map to follow along. Hopefully you find it helpful for those of you who catch the Ireland bug. My later posts will go into more detail. They’ll be in list format, as I found that the easiest way to organize the millions of thoughts and ideas I had (and am still having) on Ireland. They’ll be broken up as follows:
- My Top Ten Favorite Places: The places we went that I’d recommend to others in a heartbeat.
- My Top Ten Favorite Aspects of Irish Culture: Irish culture definitely has some major deviations from our culture here in the states (as they’d say). I’ll go through the ones I thoroughly enjoyed.
- Top Five Overrated Irish Moments: While there wasn’t necessarily anything terrible about the trip, there were a few things I didn’t love or that I’d recommend people skip (especially the part where I got mugged).
- My Irish Wish List: A list of the things I’m planning to do on my return, which will be sooner than later.
Map of Ireland:
- I started my Irish escapades in Dublin. We stayed at Barnacles Temple Bar Hostel. It was in a great central location next to Dublin’s famed Temple Bar. The room was a bit cramped, but I’d stay there again because of its locale and because the people working the front desk were always friendly and helpful (even dealing with buzzed up chatty American tourists at early hours in the morning). Dublin’s a fun city to visit and there’s a lot to do. I’d recommend purchasing a Dublin City Pass. We got plenty of use out of ours. Even though it sat within fifteen feet of our hostel entrance, I neglected to check out the Temple Bar itself. However, I made it to plenty other Dublin pubs. Two of my favorites were The Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub, and O’Neills. The Brazen Head had a nice courtyard outside the bar, and reminded me more than a little of Philly’s McGillin’s. O’Neills had a great traditional Irish band the night we were there. Both were within easy walking distance of the hostel.
- The next phase of our trip was a six day, five night Paddy Wagon bus tour, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The tour allowed us to see a large part of southwestern Ireland without having to worry about finding accommodations, driving, directions, and put us together with a group of like-minded travelers. Now, there are plenty of Irish tours to choose from, but Paddy Wagon seems to have monopolized the market pretty well. It wasn’t rare to run into other Kelly green buses from their fleet, and many of the Irish people we talked to were aware of the company. Our two tour guides were helpful, and more importantly amusing, and didn’t waste our time with a lot of useless trivia (for example, I’m sure some people would like to know what year EVERY castle we passed was built…I’m just not one of them). The trip was $462.00 and included transportation, admission to some sites (Blarney Castle, Guinness Storehouse, Cliffs of Moher) as well as hostel accommodations for the five nights. The hostels supply breakfast, however you’ll see in my post later about European portions, that I ended up purchasing my own most of the time. Not a complaint, though.
- On the first day, we drove straight across Ireland from Dublin to Cong, a small town whose claim to fame is that the John Wayne film A Quiet Man (which I’ve never seen) was filmed. We spent the rest of the day driving through Connemara, which is gorgeous in a wild and unsettled way. That night we stayed in Galway. A highlight of this day was that the bus driver played Fields of Athenry while driving through Athenry and Galway Girl when approaching Galway.
- The second day was one of my favorites. We drove along the western County Clare Coast stopping in the village of Doolin for lunch and the Cliffs of Moher later that day. We had a long drive that night and stayed in the tiny village of Annascaul on the Dingle Peninsula. Paddy Wagon has a small hostel here connected to their very own pub, The Randy Leprechaun, which conveniently was the only place in town to get dinner. Well played Paddy Wagon. The bar had a few locals, but was mainly made up of people from the tour. After a late dinner, a few two many Guinnesses and some Irish Car Bombs (in Ireland!), I did an ill-advised performance of Will Smith’s “Miami” for karaoke. Not a pretty sight.
- Our third day started out a tad depressing. Paddy Wagon offers two day, three day, and six day tour options and we had made some friends who were on the three-day tour. We left them here, as they were going back to Dublin and embarked on a tour of the Dingle Peninsula. This was my other favorite day of the trip. We ate breakfast and lunch in the town of Dingle, made a loop around the Dingle Peninsula, on what’s known as Slea Head drive, and ended the day with a pit stop at Inch Beach. That night we stayed in Killarney in County Kerry. Killarney knows how to throw down. Their Sunday night reminded my of a Friday night at home.
- Day four was the Ring of Kerry, a scenic loop through the Kerry countryside. We ended the day in Killarney National Park’s Torc Waterfall with the option of hiking back to Killarney, a distance of approximately 5 miles. It somehow took us 3 hours and we ended with another night at Killarney’s Killarney Grand, staying out much later than I wanted. Once again, Killarney knows how to throw down.
- Day five started in Blarney , where we got to first base with the famed stone. We stopped in the port town of Cobh, last port of call for the Titanic and off whose coast the Lusitania were sunk (morale of the story…stay away if you’re an antiquated passenger liner) before settling for the night in Ireland’s second largest city, Cork.
- Our last day of the tour, we made a pit stop in Kilkenny, Ireland’s medieval capital before taking “the motorway” back to Dublin. We ended with a trip to the Guinness Storehouse. The higlight of this is enjoying a free pint of “the black stuff” at the Gravity Bar, 8 stories up, with 360 degree views of Dublin. Immediately after embarking the bus, we walked the two blocks fo Connolley Station and caught a train to Belfast.
- In Belfast we stayed at Paddy’s Palace Belfast. It was the least nice of all the Paddy Palace accommodations we stayed at (Killarney and Cork were the nicest) but it was doable. If I had to recommend one thing to do in Belfast, it would be a Belfast Black Cab Tour, which I’ll get into in greater depth in another post. I’ll be honest, I liked Belfast, but if I went back I’d only spend a day there. I’d also recommend a hike to Cave Hill County park and if I went again, I’d try the Hilden Brewery Bike Tour.
- The next part involved renting a car. I was pretty terrified as I’m an ok driver at best here at home. It proved surprisingly easy. I might be a better driver on the wrong side of the road than on the right. Who knew. The roads are marked impeccably in Northern Ireland and dare I say I gained a new appreciation for traffic circles. We drove from Antrim (where the Belfast Airport is located) to Derry, one of Ireland’s oldest cities. We stayed at yet another Paddy’s Palace in Derry, which had a very homey feel and cool courtyard in the back to hang out in. Our night in Derry was topped off with some great live music at Peadar O’Donnell’s.
- The final leg of our Irish journey, after learning about “The Troubles” in Derry, was a drive along the Causeway Coastal Route along Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast back to the Belfast airport. The link there is an excellent resource for what to see and do ont his drive, which I highly recommend.
This concluded my first Irish tour. Writing this conclusion is just about as depressing as the plane ride back to Newark (it was a double slap in the face that Newark was what welcomed us back to the US of A).