Back in April of 2018, Matt and I took a trip to Ireland and we had an amazing time!! Ireland is a beautiful country filled with breathtaking natural landscapes, kind people, lots of culture, and good food.
Before going, I spent months reading travel blogs, reviews, travel books etc to plan out exactly where we wanted to go, stay and do. I have a spreadsheet with all of this written out, but I'll save you the trouble of looking at that ;) So without further ado, here are some of the highlights from our trip!
We first flew to Dublin from Chicago using Wow airlines and I was thoroughly impressed with them! I mean they charge you for everything (including water) but they are very organized and all of our flights were on time. Also, tickets are super cheap. We had a short layover in Iceland and then we were on our way to Dublin! Once we arrived in Dublin (around 10 in the morning) we took a bus to our bed and breakfast and were able to relax for a little bit before going out and exploring. The first place we stayed was called Adare House. It was the house of a retired couple, slightly outside of Dublin city center. A lot of people stay in the Temple Bar area when they go to Dublin which is right in the heart of the city. We opted to stay outside of the city a little bit just because it was a little quieter. We really enjoyed our stay at Adare House though! The breakfast was always good and the place was clean and nice. I enjoyed exploring a more quaint part of the city in the evenings as well. It did make it a little more difficult to access Dublin city center though for dinner and things like that, but overall we enjoyed it! If (when) we go back I might consider staying in the city itself just for a change.
On our first day there though we took a bus into the city and explored Dublin. We walked around the city and went to Trinity College and the Guinness Storehouse. I highly recommend both of those sights! Trinity College has a beautiful old library and the campus itself is also beautiful to see. The Guinness storehouse is just super cool! It's 4 or 5 stories of a building and each floor describes the history of Guinness, how to make beer, old marketing campaigns etc. It was a lot of fun and you get to pour your own Guinness as well. Dublin is such a cool city- a mix of old and new and so much character and art throughout the city. Some people say skip it, but I wouldn't- I really liked it. Definitely worth a visit!
Day 2 in Dublin consisted of visiting Kilmainham Gaol, an old jail in Dublin that was super important in the Irish revolution. It was FASCINATING. Definitely recommend going there! Also, if anyone's seen Paddington Bear 2, that's where they filmed some of the movie ;) The jail is super interesting. It was created in such a way that the guards could stand in the middle and see all the inmates. This was based on the theory of the time of Foucault called the panopticon (Yea, you're doing some learning now!) which basically considers ideas of power and surveillance. We started there and then went and got a rental car from the airport to go to Newgrange. Now, when I was planning this trip almost every online board, blog, etc said YOU HAVE TO GO TO NEWGRANGE. But after going, I'd say skip it unless you're super into history. There were some pretty views, but the main attraction was basically a man made hill that people used to use for ceremonial purposes. You can go in it back to the little room they used to use for those purposes and they artificially demonstrate how during a specific day of the year light from the sunrise shone into that room. It was fineeee. Going out to Newgrange was also our first time driving in Ireland...on the left side of the road (AHHH). You get used to it after a while but I will say going out of Dublin was a bit scary, especially until you figure our the roundabouts. But otherwise driving through Ireland is actually really nice! You are often surrounded by cows and greenery. We definitely recommend it.
On the third day we went out on another little day trip to the Wicklow Mountains just outside of Dublin. We went on the recommendation of a friend and I'm so glad we went because it was beautiful! If you enjoy light hikes and beautiful views this is the place for you! It was about an hours drive outside of Dublin and it was a fairly easy drive. There were some twists and turns but it was really pretty. Definitely recommend a trip out here.
It literally looked like a fairytale land
The following day we woke up said goodbye to Dublin and drove to Galway! Galway is on the other side of the country so it was about a four hour drive. It was an easy drive though and we had great weather. When we were in Galway we also stayed slightly out of the city at Oranhill Lodge in Oranmore, a small town outside of Galway. I cannot say enough good things about this place! It is owned by a sweet family who treats you like one of their own while you're staying there. They make a warm breakfast to order daily and are so attentive to what you need. I definitely would come back here. It was easy enough to get a bus to Galway. The bus stop was about a 3 minute walk from the house and it took you straight to the city center. That first day was a bit blustery and we arrived in the afternoon, but we decided to go into the city anyway. It was a great call! Galway is a beautiful costal city with so much character. It definitely appeals to tourists with a definite "Irish" looking vibe (or whatever you'd imagine that to mean). I really enjoyed visiting here and would enjoy coming back! A few cool things we got to see: we went to a bar and they had a band playing traditional Irish music live- it was super cool! We didn't plan for this, we just saw the sign and went in for a Guinness and some music. We also saw a guy on the street doing a traditional Irish step dance which was really cool too! After a late lunch/early dinner at Ard Bia we headed back to the BnB. Ard Bia was delicious and I would definitely recommend going. It's right next to the water too which is really cool! If you go, the fish dishes are good (duh, you're right next to the ocean) but the meat in Ireland is also crazy good. I'm guessing it's all grass fed meat if all the grazing cows we saw were any indication.
The next day was another day trip! We drove to Connemara, about an hour drive north of Galway. Another easy and beautiful drive. The freeways in Ireland are really quite excellent. It was the first day that it was a little rainy but it was still one of my favorite days! We went to Kylemore Abbey, an abbey where nuns live now but which used to be a school, and then did a short hike in Connemara National Park. When we go back to Ireland I want to spend more time in Connemara- it was BEAUTIFUL. Seriously. Kylemore Abbey grounds were gorgeous and it truly was, once again, like a fairy tale. If you are religious or spiritual in any way I also feel like it's a great place to reconnect with what you believe in, it's so quiet and peaceful. Connemara National park is straight up gorgeous! We didn't do a long hike because it was very windy but it was still super pretty! And we saw some sheep too which is always fun.
On the left: Part of the church on the grounds. On the right: The entrance to the Abbey
Making a wish at this rock...there's some legend behind it, but I can't remember
This day we got up early and took a trip to the Aran Islands! There is a port that goes from Galway to the Aran Islands so we took a trip over to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. You can buy a ticket in Galway and then take a bus to the ports. There are a few ways to explore the island: you can bike around the island or take a tour van that a local drives as they tell you about the island and it's history. We took the second option, mostly because I don't like biking...let's be real guys, I'm not that in shape. I definitely think that's a good option because it allows you to decide your schedule and how much time you want to spend at each place. However, I also really liked hearing our guide's perspective and we got to hear history that people on the bikes didn't hear. The island itself is gorgeous but definitely definitely make time for Dun Aengus. This is an old fort at the top of cliff but it has the MOST AMAZING VIEWS. Truly, everyone says go to the Cliffs of Moher and we went, and they were were really nice, but Dun Aengus was my favoriteeee. The views are amazing, it truly is spectacular. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves though.
DOOLIN/CLIFFS OF MOHER
The next day we left Galway and drove down to Doolin where we quickly dropped off our stuff at the BnB (which I won't mention here because I didn't really like it) and then headed over to see the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs were truly fascinating, but like I said before, I honestly did prefer Dun Aengus. The views were just more impressive! Seriously though, the Cliffs were still gorgeous, pictures can't do them justice and I definitely still recommend going! That same day we also took a boat trip to see the cliffs from sea level rather than from up above. I felt a little sea sick, but it was an amazing view and if there are any Harry Potter fans, this is where they filmed a scene of the half blood prince! Pretty cool stuff. At the end of the day, we went to a little local pub and ate with a pair of strangers who were traveling because there wasn't enough space in the restaurant so we had to share a table. This was actually a lot of fun! While we were there we also got to listen to some local music which we enjoyed. I will always recommend live Irish music :)
Oh man you guys, I've been waiting this whole post to tell you about this part of the trip. Dingle was one of my favorite parts of the trip and honestly, it was due in large part to where we stayed. I can't say enough praise about the Pax House. This place was a little bit of a splurge for us but still very affordable and SO WORTH IT. Jon is the owner of the BnB and he treats you like family (royal family) while you're there. The breakfasts are ahhhmazing and the rooms are so nice too! Every night when people are generally out getting dinner Jon pops into your room to leave a night cap and some chocolate. Seriously this place is the best and has the most AMAZING views. The living room area looks out on open water and it is beautiful. I didn't take any pictures but just go look at his website he's got some good pictures on there. He also has a really adorable cat named Molly who I love and miss. And I don't even like cats!
So some background on our decision to go to Dingle. When people go to Ireland, they generally go to either Dingle or the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is slightly larger and more touristy and from what I read the roads can be a little bit more difficult. For our first time we decided on Dingle because we only had one full day there and we thought we could drive around the whole peninsula without being rushed versus the Ring of Kerry which is a much longer drive. Also I had seen Pax House online and knew we had to stay there. For us it was definitely the right decision. We loooveed Dingle. We had one day to drive around the peninsula and we followed Rick Steve's instructions when driving, which I thought worked out really well. Check his book out, it was super helpful! While driving we got to stop at beautiful views, we stopped at a museum about life on the Aran Islands before mainland culture had really influenced it much, and a really old church among other things! It was super cool and we really enjoyed it. The first thing we did on our drive was a hike up a mountain to see some pretty views. We hiked NEXT to sheep and our shoes were super muddy (and covered in sheep poop, to be honest) by the time we got to the top. Worth it though. We had incredible views and we were the only ones, other than another young couple, at the top. And at the bottom, a nice Irish lady who was the owner of the land helped us wash off our shoes so it was all good.
Back to Dublin
At this point, we just went back to Dublin and spent the night since the next day we were leaving to go back to Chicago. We stayed in a castle hotel which was pretty cool but I honestly preferred the BnBs. So that's it! I hope this helped you if you're planning on going to Ireland and if not, I hope you enjoyed the read and the pretty pictures. I'm just going to give you some general tips now which may help you on your trip.
Buy and wear waterproof boots. If you're planning on hiking or anything like that, you'll need them.
Prepare for the weather. Get yourself a good rain jacket. I had one with a warm lining and it was perfect.
Don't worry so much about the roads, you'll figure it out. Freeways are the same as the U.S.A. basically and when we got back to Chicago we almost got in on opposite sides of the car we were so used to it. Plus Irish drivers are super nice for the most part, it turns out.
Stay at Bed and Breakfasts. These are the heart of traveling in Ireland! You get to meet local people and stay at great places with often great food.
Get lots of fish and meat because its super fresh there. Also their soups are great!
Listen to live music if you have the opportunity.
Overall, just enjoy and reconnect with yourself and the land!
All the best,