Last but not least on the whirlwind tour of Southwestern Ireland is the Dingle Peninsula and the city of Limerick. On our last day, we headed northwest from Killarney (read about it in my last post) and after driving only about a half-hour we were on the must-see Dingle Peninsula. We spent most of the day exploring here but decided to rest our heads closer to Shannon Airport, in Limerick, where we had an early flight home the following day. Here's a recap of these two areas with my recommendations:
Located on the westernmost tip of Ireland, this area is as far as you can get in Europe before reaching the States. On the coast here, the ocean and the beaches, which are great for surfing, are the star attraction rather than cliffs and therefore it has a very seaside-village feel with lots of (green) Irish culture. From Killarney, the R561 brings you along the southern coast of the peninsula where you will find some stunning views of Inch Beach and its strong, rolling waves below. Follow this road until you reach the N86 which will bring you into the town of Dingle.
Dingle Town - The only town on the whole peninsula, Dingle is a colorful, vibrant place chock full of cute shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. It has a fisherman's village feel, and seafood is as fresh as can be. The town is pretty small and you can walk it in 15 minutes or less. From the waterfront stroll along Green Street, which is especially quaint, and follow it until you reach Main Street where most of the action lies.
Slea Head - If you continue heading west past Dingle Town via R559, you will reach this westernmost tip of Ireland marked by a crucifix. Stop along the way to check out the stone beehive huts and old Dunbeg fort. Once you reach the point, admire the beach with its almost-tropical-like water (in color, not temperature!).
Gallarus Castle & Oratory - Keep on R559 all the way around the peninsula and on the northside you will reach one of the few standing castles on the peninsula and its worshiping house.
Connor Pass - Head back down to Dingle Town, where you can pick up Ireland's highest mountain pass. This lovely passageway, like Healy Pass on the Beara Peninsula, connects the north and south coasts cutting the peninsula in half. It only takes about 20 minutes to drive but on a clear day, expect to make stops to admire the views of Dingle Harbor to the south and Mt. Brandon to the north.
Murphy's Pub - A traditional Irish pub located in Dingle Town serving up good pub food. Healthy options available. The fire is warm and the atmosphere inviting. (Strand St)
Bean - A delightful coffee shop serving up delicious espresso and fresh baked goods. Don't say no to a cinnamon roll, they are amazing and baked to perfection. (Green St)
The Little Cheese Shop - Exactly as its name suggests, this is a lovely fromagerie selling local cheeses and chutneys as well as those from mainland Europe. Cheese lovers are not to miss this place. (Grey's Ln)
Out of the Blue - One of the best seafood restaurants in all of Ireland, this is a must for dinner. Everything is so fresh that if they are not pleased with the catch of the day, they don't open. Reservations required to avoid disappointment. (Waterside)
A great gateway to County Clare, the city of Limerick is located about 25 minutes south of Shannon Airport. From Dingle, it is about 2.5 hours north. Similar to Cork, Limerick has a very English feel, the buildings reminding me of something I would find in a (very small) neighborhood of London. It is also much less of a tourist town than the other cities of Ireland and many guidebooks skip over this city, but I am not sure why because I found it to be quite enjoyable and charming. It is where the sport of rugby began so if you can catch a match, even if only on TV at a pub, it's a fun way to get a peek into local culture. If you have an early flight out of Shannon, I recommend spending your last night in this city rather than the city of Shannon which doesn't have a lot going on.
O'Connell Street - The main drag of the city, this is where all the action is. Or a lot of it. You can expect to find the usual shops, restaurants, pubs, etc. On the weekend it seems like everyone is out socializing. It is a very fun, happening scene. During the Christmas season it is all lit up and decorated making for a festive vibe.
King John's Castle - Located a short walk from the city center, this castle overlooks the River Shannon and offers tours for those interested. So easy to get to and doesn't require you to drive through the countryside. (Nicholas St)
Nancy Blake's - A cozy, traditional Irish pub that fills up as the night gets going, on weekends anyway. It has a big outdoor beer garden with heat lamps but I prefer a seat by the fire. (19 Upper Denmark St)
Locke Bar & Restaurant - Closest thing to what we would call a gastropub, this place has a great beer selection and good food. Located on a cute street alongside the canal. It is near the university so the crowd skews younger. (3 George's Quay)
Curragower Pub - A short walk on the other side of the river, this is a traditional Irish pub also with an outdoor beer garden. It is cozy inside and can get packed, especially during a rugby match. Live trad music. (Clancys Strand)
Glen Tavern - Located in the Georgian quarter, this traditional pub offers live music (of all sorts) and a snooker (billiards) table in the back. Makes for some fun people watching. Like the other pubs mentioned, this one also fills up. I think people like to go out and have a good time in this city. (Lower Glentworth Street/ Theatre Lane)
No.1 Pery Square Hotel & Spa - A 4-star hotel overlooking the park in the city's Georgian quarter, this hotel is a lovely place to stay. From heated bathroom floors, modern decor, freshly-baked scones in the morning, you can't go wrong here. The hotel bar is a fun place to grab a drink before heading out for a night on the town or when you return for a night-cap. Staff was so kind and accommodating. Highly recommend. Rates from 150eur/nt. (1 Pery Square)
Overall, Ireland was definitely not a glamorous or luxurious vacation by any stretch of the imagination and we were constantly on the go. The weather wasn't great either, but let's put it this way, we don't go to Ireland for the weather. It's the friendly people and the beautiful surroundings that we go for (and the fun pub culture, of course). It's a place everyone should add to their bucket list especially if you have ancestry there because it's so cool to learn where some of your family traditions come from. And where the names of all the "Irish pubs" in the States come from.
Lastly, just some suggestions. I really encourage you to rent a car and drive because some of my favorite memories I have of the Emerald Isle are those little towns inaccessible by train and those windy roads in the middle of (beautiful) nowhere. You will get the hang of driving on the left quicker than you may think, so don't let that deter you!
Try some Irish whiskey (Jameson, Midleton, Red Breast) because it's loads cheaper in its native land and some of the aged stuff is actually tasty. Also try a stout on draught like Murphy's, Beamish, and yes of course Guinness to name a few. You might surprise yourself and like it-- I know I did! Sláinte my friends!