TOP IRELAND ROAD TRIP TIPS:
- Sixt rental cars will rent to you if you are under the age of 25 (like us), making this road trip possible!
- Fly a budget airline because a few hours of an uncomfortable seat is well worth the $500+ you will save. We flew WOW Air, which is now baknkrupt but other cheap options exist! They have cheap flights because they charge a base fare price that does not include anything other than your seat. If you pack light, you won’t have many add on fees.
- Pack light! To avoid luggage fees, Connor and I each packed a school sized backpack and we shared a carry on. We were able to fit 10 days of clothes for each of us, my camera and equipment, and snacks in just those bags.
Day 1 & 2: Dublin
Connor and I arrived in Dublin – excited and exhausted – at 10 AM after being awake since 2 AM. But being in a country we both have dreamed about visiting for years, we went straight to town. We took a bus from the airport to our Airbnb in Camden. We did not know this at the time, but Camden is the neighborhood on the outskirts of Dublin’s city center that has all of the new restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs. We were in our heaven. Here are some restaurants that we loved!
- The Brazen Head The Brazen Head claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland, which my history major husband points out is not the case (Sean’s Bar in Westmeath most likely is), but it definitely is the oldest pub in Dublin. It dates back to 1198 and it is rumored that Robin Hood himself with there. The pub has several cozy rooms, each with its own bar, and serves traditional Irish food. The staff were so friendly and served us our first glass of Irish Guiness. BIG FANS! http://www.brazenhead.com/
- The Boxty House Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake, similar to crepe, filled with meat and veggies and let me tell you, you need to try it. You need to. The Boxty House is in the heart of Temple Bar, so make sure you grab a window seat for some people watching! http://boxtyhouse.ie/
- The Fumbally I am obsessed with this coffee shop and I wish I could go back a million times. It is in the heart of Camden in a bit of a residential area, which means you will most likely be the only tourist there. The walls are lined with shelves of homemade pickled goods, canned fruits, fresh produce, jams, and flour and sugar in jars. It has eclectic art in fames and tons of natural light. They serve a delicious cappachino and their drip coffee comes with a tiny pitcher of half and half. Go there. https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-fumbally-dublin?osq=coffee
Connor is a history nerd and as our last name declares, he is very Irish, so being in the center of all things Irish history was very much up his ally. Here are some must see sights!
- Dublin Castle It is gorgeous, it is huge, it is in the middle of the city.
- EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin This museum details the plight of the Irish people and the mass emigrations that define their people. At the end of the tour, you can speak with a genealogist to trace back your Irish roots.
- Guinness Store House Everyone recommends the Guinness Store House, the huge Guiness factory and museum, and it might be for you, but it wasn’t our favorite. I enjoyed learning how to pour the perfect pint, but I think we could have learned that from a local bartender. It seemed like a long commercial for the brand, which I found a little boring. If you have to skip it, don’t feel bad. If you choose to do it, enjoy the pint and the excellent view from the sky deck!
Day 3 – Castle sight seeing! Dublin – County Cork
On Day 3, we rented a car through Sixt Rental Company. We drove south with the goal of making as many stops along the way as possible and eventually ending up in the small town of Castlemartyr. It took as a little bit to figure out the whole driving on the other side of the road thing and we made a few wrong turns, but we eventually made it to Dunamaise. Dunamaise is beautiful castle ruins that you can walk right up to and walk through. There were at most 5 other people there the whole time we visited.
Our next stop was the Rock of Cashel. Surrounded by a cute tiny town, the Rock of Cashel, a giant cathedral on a hill, protrudes against the quaint landscape. We grabbed a scone with fresh butter and jam from a local breakfast shop, then hiked up the hill to see the view. The Rock of Cashel offers a guided tour, but we opted for exploring by ourselves.
We finally made it to our Airbnb castle in Castlemartyr to finish up our day. The rental is a 3-story towerhouse complete with a narrow flight of stairs, roof access overlooking the pastures, slats in the wall for arrows, a suit of armor, and creaky floors.
Day 4-6 – Dingle Penninsula
We woke up that morning and ate scones with tea and cream, from our Airbnb host’s husband who is a dairy farmer, on the roof. We packed up the car and headed towards the Dingle Peninsula, again making several stops along the way.
While researching our trip to Ireland, my husband stumbled upon the Rick Steves Ireland Travel Podcast. That is where we learned that the Ring of Kerry is equal parts beautiful and hectic, with tourists flocking to the coast in the summer months. Since our trip was in the peak of travel season, we wanted to stay away from cramped roads and tour busses as much as possible, but didn’t want to skimp out on the views.
The Dingle Peninsula is a perfect trade-off to see those beautiful views without the crowds. We soon learned that the Dingle Peninsula is well worth the drive and just as beautiful as the Ring Of Kerry without the traffic! The Dingle Peninsula is home to farms with grazing sheep, stone wall lined roads, the friendliest locals who speak Irish, amazing dairy products, and most notably, Slea Head Drive. We loved every second of it and our visit here turned out to be the best part of the trip!
Our first stop on the way to Dingle was in the cutest city Cobh. We wish we had more time here! It reminded me of a Mediterranean oasis because of its pastel apartment complexes and bakeries.
We stopped in the coastal town of Ventry for a dip in the water! The orangish red lifeguard tower contrasted the green hills that rolled in every direction.
We then headed to Dingle and were greeted by rows of colorful storefronts and people scattered throughout the streets. By this time, we were starving and ordered two plates of fish and chips and of course a Murphy’s Ice Cream for dessert.
- Murphy’s Ice Cream – Everyone on planet earth deserves a bite of this stuff. All of the ingredients are local and they are all delicious. I highly suggest a scoop of buttercream with a scoop of a seasonal fruit flavor. Do it. You can find Murphy’s all around Ireland, but originated in Dingle.
Slea Head Drive – The second day we woke up bright and early, scrambled eggs from a local farm that our Airbnb host left for us in the fridge, made Irish breakfast tea, and started on our way! Slea Head drive is a circular route that most people start and end in the town of Dingle. The route is almost entirely along the coast which makes for amazing views the whole way. The road, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, is known for dramatic cliffs, historic sights, light blue ocean water, and quaint, isolated towns with locals that speak primarily in Irish. Historic sights are marked with signs visible from the road and usually cost between 2 and 3 Euro for entry. Connor and I stopped to see beehive huts from the 1400s, a maze created by monasteries in the year 800, and one of the first churches in Ireland.
The nature was equally as impressive. The cliffs towered high above the sea and sheep grazed with real estate far better than I will ever be able to afford. A note for the wise: definitely bring snacks! We did not pack nearly enough and since the towns are few and far between, we were hungry! I recommend stopping to talk to locals whenever you can because they know great hidden gems and are most knowledgeable about the area. We completed the drive in about 8 hours but could have spent the whole day there if we weren’t eager to get back to hear an Irish music session at a local pub in Dingle.
We spent the next morning hanging out at the beach near our cute Airbnb that overlooked Skellig Michael, the island that the most recent Star Wars was filmed on, before driving to Galway.
Day 6-8 – Cliffs of Moher and Galway
Sometimes places are touristy and obnoxious and sometimes places are touristy because they are so breathtaking that a trip without going would be incomplete. The Cliffs of Moher is the latter. We left the Dingle Peninsula en route to the cliffs, with the hopes of a clear day and a unhindered view of the expansive beauty beneath us. When we arrived, the overcast sky laid a blanket of clouds above us and the fog lifted beneath us, opening up to a perfect view of the cliffs. Words can’t do this place justice. Also, I saw puffins. Were they far away? Yes. Does it still count? Definitely.
Galway – We arrived in Galway and were immediately welcomed with the reality of our Airbnb being far from expectations. The listing had bright airy photos, but we were met with a dingy smoky house with a drunk host. My first thought was to find somewhere else to stay, but remembering how much we paid for it, we decided to stay. That turned out to be the best decision! Our host gave us great recommendations and we had an amazing view from our room. We ended up staying up until the early morning talking to our hosts and their friend. All in all, a great time.
Recommendations for Galway:
- Quay Street is where its at! Home of T.D. Original jewelers, the first jeweler to make Claddaugh rings, the main street with bars, lined with flags criss-crossing the street, you can’t miss it!
- The Pie Maker
Our Airbnb host helps clean up the shop in exchange for the best damn hand pies you will ever have! These aren’t your All-American pies, these are savory and just one hand pie will fill you up! https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-pie-maker-galway
- Coffeewerk and Press – I CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS PLACE ENOUGH. It is a 3 story, narrow, white building with yellow trim. The bottom floor has a barista bar and local goods, the next floor has seating and art, and the third floor is an art gallery. Get a cappachino and peruse your little heart out. https://www.yelp.com/biz/coffeewerk-and-press-galway-3?osq=coffeewerk+and+press
Day 8-9 – Northern Ireland and return to Dublin
On our way back to Dublin, we took a detour up to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland to see the town that Connor’s grandpa lived in. Once you cross over into Northern Ireland, the pubs, restaurants, and currency, all become very British. We only stayed for a few hours before heading back down to Dublin before our flight the next morning.