Buckle your seatbelts and grab a pint (in an airplane, not in a car, that’s incredibly dangerous and illegal)- we’re headed to Ireland! We’re going to make our way around the country, making a kind of wonky horseshoe. Hopefully one day I’ll have seen enough places to make it a proper circle, but today is not that day! Let’s gooooooooo!
Oh Ireland, how I love thee. But oh Dublin, how I don’t love thee an overwhelming amount. It’s definitely not one of my least favorite cities, but if you’re going to go to Ireland, make sure to get outside of Dublin. That being said, there are a lot of neat things to do here and you’re never left bored. If you are bored in Dublin, you’re doing something wrong. My favorite thing to do in big cities right off the bat is hit up a free walking tour (like Sandeman’s). I’ve done two walking tours in Dublin and both guides have been stellar. That Irish sense of humor gets me every time. The Guinness Storehouse, while touristy of course, is a must-do, if for nothing but enjoying the view from the top with cold Guinness in hand. Speaking of Guinness, drink at least one every day while you’re here—that’s an order. I don’t like Guinness outside of Ireland (and Scotland), but in its home country, it goes down like water. For a bit off the beaten path, hit up St. Michan’s church where you can see some mummies–you used to be able to touch one of them for good luck, but it appears that has stopped, which is a true shame, but still an interesting tour nonetheless. The tour guide I had there was also a character. It will become even more obvious as this tour goes on, but I’m clearly a huge fan of the Irish.
Great, you’ve left Dublin! Things are looking better already. Kilkenny is a quaint little town in the central portion of the southern portion of Ireland (it’s hard to describe I guess, maybe Google it). This part of the tour is less informative than the others, because I don’t really remember what we did in Kilkenny besides go to a pub, whose name I’ve forgotten, and see the castle (maybe I took my Guinness rule too seriously in this neck of the woods, who knows). I came here in 2014 and silly me took very little notes or pictures. What I’m saying is, you can go here and it’s nice. This is going so well.
Now this is a place I remember! Killarney is awesome. Seriously, go here. My first visit to Ireland was filled with complete luck because there were art festivals happening in each city, which happen every summer. Killarney’s was one of my favorites. It is a picturesque Irish town with tons to do in and around the whole area. During the 2014 visit, one of my favorite days was when we rented bikes and rode along the Ring of Kerry, stopping at Muckross Abbey and Muckross House and Gardens. I remember hitting a point on the road that gave us a beautiful view of the vast expanse of trees in the area and it was the greenest landscape I’d ever seen. After a day on the bike, Killarney is the perfect place to wind down as it’s packed with great pubs and bars and nothing but good vibes in the atmosphere.
Beaufort- Gap of Dunloe
My second trip to the area was not spent in downtown Killarney, but instead in a village 15 minutes away called Beaufort. The bed and breakfast was situated in the countryside, which for me was an excellent contrast to my previous trip spent in the middle of Killarney; I’m happy to have experienced both. Staying in Beaufort with a rented car (Ireland by car is a lot more handy than Ireland by bus, but bus is doable) allowed us to explore County Kerry at will. I will never forget the walk through the Gap of Dunloe—one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and a place I hope to traipse through again. I’m also sure that no one thinks of delicious food when they think of Ireland, but we didn’t have a bad meal the entire time and I specifically remember The Heather was delicious as was dinner at Kate Kearney’s (which was packed) after a day of walking the gap. Don’t forget to order your Guinness—remember my rules!
Spending the day riding bikes around the Dingle Peninsula (which you can rent from this place) was one of my favorite days of travel EVER. The views along this coastline can’t be beat— it is these images that bounce around the mind when thinking of Ireland. Bright green hills, deep blue water hitting the cliffs, it is everything one wants to find outside the towns that speckle the country. The town of Dingle itself is a cute, quaint port, with small shops and tasty restaurants. We ate at John Benny’s on the waterfront and yet again the man serving us was, in typical Irish fashion, a character. The Dingle Peninsula is a must, also kudos to whoever named that place.
Ed Sheeran’s song Galway Girl was actually playing on the radio as we headed into Galway last year. It was a sign (putting aside the fact that I’m sure the radio stations had that song on repeat, but let’s not focus on that.). In 2014, like I mentioned above in Killarney, there was a huge arts festival going on; performers of all kinds lined the streets creating an electric atmosphere and a joy that only Ireland can bring. There was a free walking tour here 4 years ago but now I can’t find it, but this one got good reviews so why not. The jury is out on which pub in Ireland is really the oldest (Sean’s Bar in Dublin?), but the King’s Head is up there, in a building that is 800 years old, and it’s worth a pop into for a pint. There are also tours available from here if you aren’t renting a car that will take you to the Cliffs of Moher and beyond, which is a great and informative way of seeing the landscape surrounding Galway. Our tour stopped most notably at Dunguaire Castle and Poulnabrone, a neolithic tomb, which was super cool (and some of Harry Potter was filmed here, for all you fellow Potterheads out there!).
In 2017, we only spent an afternoon in Galway, on the day that happened to be my birthday. We had a delicious lunch/dinner thing at McSwiggans (fun name) followed by a stroll through the town’s maze of streets and shops—it was the perfect way to celebrate a birthday. I find wandering through streets to be a good time in many cities, but in Ireland this is particularly true. There is just a liveliness in the summer months that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. Maybe it’s the music or maybe it’s the copious amounts of beer, but whatever it is, Galway is a shimmering example of this Irish glee.
I wrote about Westport in My Favorite European Destinations Off the Beaten Path, but I’ll gladly write about it again because Westport is great and also in Ireland, which is what this post is about (if you haven’t picked that up by now, that’s amazing, well done). Once again, we are greeted with Irish charm and that quaintness that runs rampant in small Irish towns. It’s pretty clear by now that one of my favorite ways to see the countryside is by renting a bike, and that’s exactly what my family and I did last year on our visit to my Great-great-grandfather Higgins’ old stomping grounds. The rolling green hills never get old and the route along the Great Western Greenway is a stunning treat. The pubs at night are filled with live music and jovial locals and tourists alike. That’s why I love this place so much—it’s not overly touristy, so you really get the sense that you are in the thick of Ireland (unlike Temple Bar in Dublin, which is like Ireland’s version of Disneyland only it’s not Disneyland. Just to bring this post full-circle. I don’t hate Dublin, I swear.). It’s the perfect combination.
And there you have it, folks! Ireland is one of my favorite places I have ever been. There is simply no other place like it. It is everything one imagines it to be, where the laughter flows as easily as the beer, where the music floats through the streets, and where somehow even the rain adds to the charm of the place. Go to Ireland and then go some more and if you hit up Kilkenny, let me know what you did there (what the heck did I do there??).
*If I had to, I would live in Dublin. Really, it’s not that bad. It’s fun. I’ll stop now. Go there. I feel like I’m gonna get in trouble, just not sure by whom.