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Our Ireland Road Trip: Itinerary and Recommendations
Posted By Audrey Scott On December 4, 2013 @ 9:33 am In Europe,Ireland,Travel | 10 Comments
Here it is. All that’s fit to print.
Day by day, we give the complete Ireland itinerary that took us all the way around the circumference of the island. We also share recommendations of places to linger, eat, grab a pint, and stay overnight, and we point out places or activities we would have added to our road trip had we more time.
Admittedly, we covered a lot of ground in a week, in retrospect moving a bit too quickly for our taste. This brings us to planning an Ireland itinerary and properly estimating the amount of time it actually takes between Ireland destinations, and incorporating time to get lost and make random stops. Our recommendation is to take a similar itinerary and spread it out over two weeks. Alternatively, if you have a week or less, consider focusing on only one segment or region in the itinerary.
We’d like to thank everyone from our blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram communities who provided us with recommendations along our Ireland road trip, many of which we wouldn’t have found on our own.
Dublin Recommendations: Before you begin to ask for Dublin advice, we have to admit that we sadly cannot give much. We were in Dublin to speak at TBEX, a travel blogging conference, and unfortunately didn’t have much time to explore outside of the conference events. However, we can recommend:
Newgrange / Bru na Boinne
Of the two ancient burial sites found in the area, Newgrange and Knowth, we only visited Newgrange. It was surprisingly impressive! An estimated 200 tons of stones, some carried from 40-50 km away, were used to construct this 5,000 year-old ritual and burial site. Even more impressive is the corbelled staggered stone roof and sun entrance, perfectly placed on a rise above the main door to allow a stream of light to shine through the tunnel all the way to the ritual chamber — only at sunrise on the Winter Solstice. During the tour, our guide performed a simulation of this and it was still remarkable. Must be incredible to see the real deal on December 21.
Recommended spots near Newgrange:
Northern Ireland and Belfast: There’s no border crossing to enter Northern Ireland, but you’ll know you’ve crossed once you begin seeing Union Jack signs and flags flying. That, and all prices have turned to British pounds. We had limited time to stop in Belfast. So upon return, we’ll book a Black Taxi Tour (recommended by a friend in Dublin) for a closer and grittier look at Belfast past and present.
Giant’s Causeway: We drove north through inland Northern Ireland until we hit Ballycastle (where there’s a cute little church and cemetery), then west along the Coastal Causeway route, stopping at lookout spots and villages along the way until we hit Giant’s Causeway. While we only walked along the upper route to look down on Giant’s Causeway from above, but we would recommend beginning with the lower route and also paying a visit to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Giant’s Causeway Entrance Tickets: £8.50 (including parking fees).
Dunluce Castle (near Bushmills): This is an almost too perfectly placed rubbled seaside castle from the 15th-16th centuries. Definitely worth at least a photo stop and to walk through the fields for another gander at the island’s rugged northern coast.
If we had more time:
- Port Rush: Recommended to get a drink or coffee by the harbor
- Derry: Walk the walled medieval town
Donegal, Harvey’s Point Hotel: Our stopping point for the night along Lough Eske outside of Donegal town. Get away from it all and enjoy local big bottle Kinnegar microbrews (try the Scraggy Bay IPA!) in front of the fire. Then tuck into a meal that will wind you down for good. We enjoyed an artfully prepared venison loin and some local monkfish fillet. Finish your evening leather chair-bound in front of the fire with a Connemara or Bushmills Irish whiskey sip.
Donegal Town recommendations:
On the drive between Donegal and Westport our suggestion is to turn down a few of the side roads that don’t appear anywhere on your map. Head to the coast and take a walk. This was where we began our journey along the Wild Atlantic Way, a driving route that follows the Atlantic coast from North to South. Also, the stretch of road through Sligo County is filled with stone farm houses – some still active and many abandoned lush fields and landscape. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a rainbow like we did.
Louisburgh: Following advice from the bartender at The Porter House in Westport, we took a few turns outside Louisburgh aiming to get lost along the coast. Louisburgh itself is worth as stop. It’s a cute little town — a tidy town perhaps — with its share of coffee houses, butchers, surf shops and pubs.
Kylemore Benedictine Abbey: Somewhere between Louisburgh and Clifden, you’ll see this incredible building – like something out of a Harry Potter movie – across a lake. Resist the urge to pull over into the forest to take photos as there will be a proper parking lot a few hundred meters away. We admired the Benedictine Abbey and its gardens from afar, but if you have time, friends tell us it’s worth paying the entrance fee to get up close.
Connemara: It’s a beautiful drive between Clifden and Galway through Ireland’s Connemara region. This area features moody weather, green hills, wooly sheep dotting those same green hills, lakes, and more. Time permitting, head into Connemara National Park for a hike.
Aniar Restaurant in Galway: If food is important to you and you have a little room to splurge on a Michelin-starred restaurant, this is the place. Terrific, thoughtful flavors, outdone only by the presentation and further outdone by careful culinary explanations. The menu is all based around what is fresh that day at the market, sometimes changing within the day. We each enjoyed the tasting menu and shared a wine pairing for taste (65€ for 5 course tasting menu, €95 with wine pairing).
We spent the night at Gregan’s Castle Hotel just outside of Ballyvaughan and in the heart of The Burren. A really warm and pleasant property. We have to admit that it was difficult to leave in the morning. After a late evening arrival, we awoke to a beautiful view over the gardens and fields that reach to the coast. Breakfast is also lovely here, as the menu gives the name of the farmers from whom all the food is locally sourced. Some nearby farmers also offer walking tours so you can learn more about the living and natural history of the area. If you are looking to splurge on accommodation for a night, this would be a great place to do so. Be sure to check out their “Things to do nearby” menu. A terrific list if you want to sample The Burren experience.
The Burren Coast Drive: The drive along the coast from Ballyvaughan to Doolin through The Burren was one of our favorite drives in the country. Harsh, rocky landscapes shaped by brisk winds from the coast.
Cliffs of Moher: The Cliffs of Moher is one of the most visited sites in Ireland, so expect to see the big tour buses and groups here. Don’t let the crowds put you off. Enjoy the view of the cliffs and appreciate the remarkably strong gusts of wind. If you are a photographer (or photography is important to you), consider timing your visit to the Cliffs of Moher in the morning. When we arrived mid-afternoon we were shooting into the sun, which was a bit tough. Entrance fee: €6/person
Shannon Ferry, Killimer to Tarbert: From the Cliffs of Moher to Killarney, you have two options. Take the ferry from Killimer to Tarbert (what we did) or take the highway through Limerick. We didn’t intend for our ferry ride to be a sunset trip, but timing made it so.And it was really pleasant to get out of the car and enjoy the 30-45 minute ride as the sun set over the Atlantic ocean. Shannon Ferry Cost: €18/car
Dingle Peninsula: On your way from Killarney to Dingle you’ll want to pull over repeatedly to take photos of the almost too perfect sheep farms overlooking the coast. There aren’t as many pull-offs as there ought to be, so it is best to drive slowly and enjoy. Break up your drive at Inch and take a walk along the beach (Inch Beach is two miles long, by the way!). If you go in summer and you’re brave, you can take surf lessons. At the end of the peninsula, Dingle town is absurdly cute, loaded with colorfully painted shopfronts and pubs. If you have time, we’d recommend spending the night here.
Cliffs of Kerry: As you approach Portmagee, you’ll begin seeing small brown signs on the side of the road for “The most spectacular cliffs in Kerry.” We admit that the marketing worked. We followed the signs all the way past Portmagee to a small driveway with a cafe. Go inside and buy a ticket (€4/person) and walk out to the cliffs. You won’t be disappointed. And we had the cliffs all to ourselves – we were the only people there. Spectacularly beautiful. We can recommend visiting around sunset.
Skellig Rocks: If the weather is good and the seas aren’t too rough, book a boat trip out to the Skellig Rocks. This was one of the highlights of our entire trip. Boats leave from the Portmagee marina around 10:00AM and will get you back around 2:15 PM. You’ll be dropped off at Skellig Michael and have around 2- 2.5 hours explore the island and the medieval monastery. That might sound like a lot of time, but it will go by very quickly, particularly if the weather is nice. Take a picnic or snacks with you to eat on the island.
Ring of Kerry (East): We wish we had more time for this section of the trip as there are several small towns (Sneem, Templenoe, etc.) along the way between Portmagee and Kenmare that looked like fun places to roam, get lost and have a pint. If you’re going to take the boat ride out to Skellig Rocks in the morning, consider spending the night in one of these towns that evening, instead of going all the way to Cork.
Cork at night:
Cork English Market: I have to admit that I had my doubts about the English Market. We figured it to be really touristy and full of overpriced gourmet foods as it appears at the top of every “What to do in Cork” list. But to our surprise, the English Market on a Saturday morning was filled mainly with locals going about their weekend shopping at the butcher, fishmonger, vegetable stands and other local and international food shops. Some of the butcher shops go back over a hundred years and get passed down through the family. If our experience is any measure, the Irish certainly know their meat and value a good butcher.
It was impossible to cover everything in Ireland in the course of a week, but this itinerary gave us a good overview of the island and an idea of where we’d like to go deeper. We look forward to a return trip.
Where do you recommend we go next visit to Ireland?
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