Ireland

Ireland Day 4: Dingle & Limerick

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:

DINGLE PENINSULA

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.

The view from Inch Beach on the Dingle Peninsula
The view from Inch Beach on the Dingle Peninsula
A few brave souls on Inch Beach
A few brave souls on Inch Beach

SEE/DO

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.

Colorful buildings in Dingle
Colorful buildings in Dingle

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.

Can't get enough of the sheep and the green grass
Can't get enough of the sheep and the green grass
These sheep must pay a lot for their oceanfront property.....
These sheep must pay a lot for their oceanfront property.....

EAT/DRINK

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)

 

LIMERICK

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.

SEE/DO

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)

EAT/DRINK

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)

Warming up by the fire with a whiskey
Warming up by the fire with a whiskey

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)

STAY

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!

Ireland Day 3: Beara Peninsula & Killarney

Day 3 of the Ireland Adventure is all about nature. I didn't know I could be that outdoorsy, but the great thing about traveling is that you can surprise yourself sometimes. On our 3rd day in the Emerald Isle we left Cork (read about it in my last post) and headed west towards County Kerry and discovered the natural beauty the area has to offer, which is some of the best in all of Ireland. I've heard many people say if there is only one part of Ireland you can visit, this would be the one. After seeing it, I can understand why. This is the Ireland on postcards.

BEARA PENINSULA

One of 4ish peninsulas in Southwest Ireland, the Beara Peninsula is the bit of land between Kenmare and Bantry that juts out into the Atlantic. It is where County Cork meets County Kerry.

SEE/DO

Ring of Beara - A scenic route along the coast of the Beara Peninsula offering stunning views and some of the prettiest nature around. This drive is a little less known and therefore less touristy than the famous Ring of Kerry on the neighboring Iveragh Peninsula. For this reason alone I recommend it, but it's also a good choice if you don't have a full day to dedicate to the Ring of Kerry or if you're like us traveling when daylight hours are limited and you want to see as much as possible before it gets dark.

NOTE: If you do decide to stick with the Ring of Kerry, beware that in summer months it can become extremely congested with tourist traffic from buses, cars, cyclists, etc. especially on the narrow parts. If you're going by car, consider starting later in the morning, giving the buses a head start. Check its website before you go to make sure you are driving in the right direction around the peninsula (clockwise or counterclockwise). It helps manage traffic flow and stress levels because 2-way traffic on some parts is a real tight fit, especially with large tourist buses. 

Healy Pass - The BEST part of the Ring of Beara and a highlight of our entire trip. It is a MUST whether you're short on time like we were or if you have all the time in the world. The Healy Pass (also known as R574 on the maps) is a road (barely) which runs North/South and intersects the Beara Peninsula cutting it down the middle. The drive brings you on windy narrow roads up through the sheep-speckled mountains where you actually have to brake for sheep crossing the road. There is everything from grassy hills and rocks to waterfalls and rainbows. It's truly beautiful, so much that it seems fake. Prepare to be in awe the entire drive! It takes under an hour, but make sure to factor in time for staring at the majestic views and for picture-taking. And for chatting with the sheep. If you're lucky, like us, you will be the only ones on the entire road (besides the sheep). It felt like we had this beautiful, undiscovered land all to ourselves. YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS THIS! 

Sheep-speckled mountains in Healy Pass, Beara Peninsula, Ireland
Sheep-speckled mountains in Healy Pass, Beara Peninsula, Ireland
Waterfalls everywhere in Healy Pass
Waterfalls everywhere in Healy Pass
Coming down from the mountains
Coming down from the mountains
Very photogenic sheep and a background that ain't so bad either
Very photogenic sheep and a background that ain't so bad either
The view never gets old
The view never gets old

EAT/DRINK

PF McCarthy's - A lovely traditional pub located in the quaint town of Kenmare, this place is a great place to stop for a bite and a pint at the end of the Ring of Beara drive. There's a warm fire going, local beers on tap, and a tasty menu with healthy (even vegetarian) options. The town of Kenmare is really cute (and small), which is perfect for stretching those legs after a long drive. NOTE: In the off-season there are not a lot of options for dining on the Beara Peninsula for lunch as many businesses close for the season, so plan accordingly. This is a great place to stop though, in or off-season. (14 Main St, Kenmare)

The Purple Heather Bistro - Also located in Kenmare, this restaurant is a good option for lunch if you're looking for sandwiches and soup or a salad rather than "pub grub." (Henry St, Kenmare)

KILLARNEY

This mid-size town is best known as the jumping off point for the Ring of Kerry but offers some fun pub life, cute shops and good restaurants. It has a true Irish feel and Christmastime is especially festive here.

SEE/DO

Killarney National Park - Located just outside town, this national park is a major highlight and must-see of the area due to its stunning mountains, lakes and woods. There are many viewing points to pull over along the way, but make sure you do not miss Ladies View, Muckross Lake and Torc Waterfall. The short walk through the woods to the Torc Waterfall is so incredibly green with leaves and moss and shamrocks, it's like something out of the Irish Spring soap commercials. The park is technically part of the Ring of Kerry circuit but is also easy to access from the Ring of Beara via the N71.

Ladies' View in Killarney National Park
Ladies' View in Killarney National Park
Walking through the woods
Walking through the woods
Approaching Torc Waterfall
Approaching Torc Waterfall
Looking for the 4-leaf variety
Looking for the 4-leaf variety
Torc Waterfall, this photo does not do it justice
Torc Waterfall, this photo does not do it justice

Ross Castle - Located on the Lough Leane lake in Killarney National Park, stands this old stone tower house. The grounds are exactly what you would picture of Irish countryside-- a castle situated on a lake with swans swimming about, surrounded by green land. The castle itself offers B&B accommodations for those looking for a unique experience.

Ross Castle grounds
Ross Castle grounds
A lovely Irish castle
A lovely Irish castle
One of the old towers
One of the old towers
Love the stone detail
Love the stone detail
The castle standing tall
The castle standing tall

Muckross Estate - Also located in Killarney National Park, this compound consists of the mansion of Muckross House, the farms, and the abbey all of which are situated on the edge of Muckross Lake. Entrance is by guided tour. For a really special experience, hire a jaunting car (horse-drawn carriage) to take you around the grounds.

Gap of Dunloe and Molls Gap - Located slightly outside of Killarney National Park, these passageways through the mountains are beautifully rugged and offer majestic views. Though in the summer they can get extremely crowded and backed up with traffic, especially the Gap of Dunloe, so plan accordingly.

EAT/DRINK

O'Connor's - A traditional, cozy little pub with live trad music nightly. Perfect for a pint by the fire. (7 High St)

Courtney's Bar - A fun pub with an impressive whiskey selection. Fills up for the live bands and is a lively late-night spot. (0 Plunkett St)

Treyvaud's - A good option if you're looking for variety and something other than the usual Irish stew. Food was good and the staff was very attentive. (62 High St)

Petit Delice - An adorable French bakery serving good croissants and espresso. A nice alternative to tea and scones. (42 High St)

STAY

Killarney Royal Hotel - Centrally located, this boutique hotel has simple, comfortable and clean accommodations. It is the sister hotel to the Hayfield Manor in Cork, where we also stayed. Rates from 100eur/nt. (College St)

Killarney Plaza Hotel - Located right on the edge of town and only a 5-minute walk to the action this grand hotel is also a good option. Rates from 90eur/nt. (Kenmare Pl)

If I had to pick, this was my favorite day of the vacation. Seeing the landscapes on the Beara Peninsula and in Killarney National Park was one of the most unique experiences I've had. In my opinion, there's no better way to enjoy Ireland! Next up will be the Dingle Peninsula and Limerick to wrap up the adventure. There's good stuff ahead so stay tuned!

Ireland Day 2: Cork & Kinsale

River Lee, Cork City Ireland
River Lee, Cork City Ireland

I feel like Rick Steves saying this, but thanks for joining! For day 2 of the Ireland adventure, we're headed south to County Cork. Cork city is just shy of about 3 hours from Galway (which, incase you missed it, I covered with County Clare in my last post). It was definitely the largest distance we had to cover on our trip so we did it as efficiently as possible and took the major highways. We chose to see the city of Cork and the little seaside town of Kinsale, which I HIGHLY recommend. Here are the highlights:

CORK

Located on an island in the River Lee, the city of Cork is a lively college town with a youthful vibe. Strolling the major roads I could have sworn I was in an English city by glancing at the shops and buildings (a mini London perhaps), but once I tucked away down some smaller streets and alleys I felt back in Ireland again. The city was decorated for Christmas which made for a festive vibe. It was fun to explore and was a nice city but was not my favorite stop just because the culture didn't feel as rich as other places we visited and I tend to enjoy the smaller towns more than the bigger cities. But to be fair, we did not spend a lot of time here.

SEE/DO

English Market - A large, enclosed market loaded with stalls selling everything from the local catch of the day to fresh produce to baked goods. I'm a sucker for a good food market because you get a taste for local culture so naturally I loved strolling this place. (Princes St)

Fish at English Market Cork
Fish at English Market Cork

Stretch Your Legs - Cork is a wonderful city for walking whether it's along the river banks or down the pedestrian-only streets. In particular, the Paul Street/Emmett Place area, Oliver Plunkett Street and surrounding side streets give you a good feel for the city and are loaded with pubs, shops and restaurants.

Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland

Jameson Distillery - Technically in nearby Midleton, this is mecca for whiskey fans. Take a tour with a tasting at the end or skip the tour altogether and opt for the premium whiskey tasting in which you get to sample some rare reserves. (Old Distillery Walk, Midleton)

Blarney Castle - Located about 15 minutes outside of Cork city, this is the home of the famous Blarney Stone. We decided to skip this because Ireland is full of castles that we were going to see and I really didn't care to kiss a stone that thousands of others laid their lips on! (Blarney)

EAT/DRINK

Farmgate Cafe - Located upstairs in the English Market, this delightful eatery serves up fresh, local food sourced from the market below. Choose a seat along the balcony counter for great people watching. (The English Market, Princes St)

Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub - A craft beer delight, this place brews its own beer and has a beer garden for when the weather is nice. (14 North Mall)

STAY

Hayfield Manor - Located about a mile from the city center and tucked away down a residential street, this lovely 5-star boutique hotel is worth staying slightly outside the city for. It was like we were pulling up to an old mansion in the country. The Christmas decorations and fireplace in the lobby were lovely. Rates from 150eur/nt. (Perrott Ave)

Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland
Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland

Imperial Hotel - This 4-star hotel is a good option if you prefer to stay in the city center. Rates from 100eur/nt. (South Mall)

KINSALE

Located on the coast about 30 minutes south of Cork, is the adorable, charming, little seaside town of Kinsale. The buildings are so colorful and the streets super quaint. We enjoyed how quiet it was when we were there but in the summer it can get pretty packed with tourists, but I don't blame everyone because this town is not to be missed.

SEE/DO

Main Street - The entire town is walkable in 15 minutes or less but be sure to stroll this narrow street which is loaded with cute shops, pubs, and restaurants.

Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland

Market Square - Marked by a museum with an anchor leaning up against its building is this tiny little square full of charm, color and cuteness.

The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum
The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum

EAT/DRINK

Fishy Fishy - Quality seafood restaurant serving up delicious local fare in an upscale setting by the waterfront. The oysters from nearby Oysterhaven were some of the best we've ever tasted and perhaps the oyster world's best kept secret. This is one of the most well-known and highest-regarded restaurants in all of Ireland. Reservations required. (Crowley's Quay)

The Folk House Bar - Perhaps one of my favorite watering holes we visited on the entire trip, this pub had an impressive list of whiskey and craft brews and had a comfy leather couch by the cozy, warm fire. It was more than easy to pass the time here! Also a good spot for live music. Tip: Try anything by Blacks of Kinsale for a taste of what's local. And delicious.(Guardwell)

Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland
Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland

So, to summarize. Kinsale-- get there, you'll love it. It's hard not to. Next time I'd like to stay overnight there. Cork-- a college town but good to experience if you're in this part of Ireland. Next up: day 3 in County Kerry, including some beautiful landscapes in the Beara Peninsula, loads of nature in the Killarney National Park & pub crawling the town of Killarney. Stay tuned and in the words of Rick Steves, "keep on traveling."

Ireland Day 1: County Clare & Galway

Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher

The Emerald Isle is one of those places that I've always wanted to see but kept putting off because it just seems so close and easy to get to compared to the rest of Europe. I also experienced Dublin in college and thought I had seen all of Ireland (ha). Even though the pub scene is prevalent everywhere, I missed out on arguably the most beautiful part of Ireland--the Southwestern corner. So when my husband and I were thinking of an easy international getaway for Thanksgiving that we could do in less than a week, I'm so glad we thought to do this. In less than 6 hours via Aer Lingus we arrived at Shannon International Airport on Ireland's west coast and before we knew it we were off driving down narrow windy roads through the greenest countryside imaginable with sheep crossing the road and castles standing tall in the distance. THIS is Ireland! Being the end of November, the tourists were pretty much gone and the Irish were already decking the halls for Christmas--towns were all lit up, there were decorations in the hotel lobbies and some town squares were taken over by Christmas markets. It made for a cozy, authentic experience, which was so unexpected but nice.

When planning this trip we knew the places we wanted to see and there was a lot. To make it work, we drove in one big circle in the SW corner over the course of 4 days and we slept in a different bed each night. It actually worked out quite nicely and ended up being the perfect way to experience Ireland. After taking the red-eye from Boston, we were exhausted for our first day and had a lot to see. Having no rest for the weary, we fought through it but in return this is the greatness we got to experience:

COUNTY CLARE

From the airport we headed north into County Clare. This is the area known for its coastal beauty, natural landscapes, and traditional Irish music and culture.

SEE/DO

Cliffs of Moher - Standing over 700 feet above the Atlantic, these stunning cliffs are the star attraction of County Clare and a must-see. Imagine grassy, green countryside coming to an abrupt halt as big waves crash below, and spectacular views. TIP: Follow the cliffs south for and walk towards Hag's Head to escape the crowds and get the best views. In the summer, if you're lucky, you'll be able to spot adorable puffins that use the grounds for breeding. 

Walking Path along the Cliffs of Moher
Walking Path along the Cliffs of Moher
Jetsetting with Jess at the Cliffs of Moher
Jetsetting with Jess at the Cliffs of Moher
Vibrant Colors, Cliffs of Moher
Vibrant Colors, Cliffs of Moher

The Burren - The exact opposite of the grassy & green Ireland you see on postcards, this landscape is made completely of rocky limestone plateaus but is just as interesting. You can spend hours walking through, spotting old ruins, or you can drive through some of it which is what we did. TIP: From the Cliffs of Moher, follow R478 to Doolin, then continue along the coast on R477 for some amazing views of where the Burren meets the ocean. 

Limestone rocks fill the Burren
Limestone rocks fill the Burren
driving the burren
driving the burren

Aran Islands - About an hour by ferry from Doolin or Galway, these islands offer remote, gorgeous landscapes, traditional Irish culture and lovely sweaters. They are best explored on bike. We did not make it here on this trip but they are on our list for next time.

EAT/DRINK

McGann's Pub - Located a short drive from the Cliffs of Moher is the little town of Doolin. This pub is located right in town and offers traditional pub fare and a warm fire for the colder months. Food is offered all day and live traditional music is played nightly. (Toomullin, Clare Coast)

Food Heaven - Located about 25 minutes north of Shannon Airport is the quaint, colorful town of Ennis. This cute cafe located in town serves casual fare all day but most notably has the best fresh-baked scones I tasted all week. Add a pot of tea, and this was the perfect little morning stop on our way to the cliffs. (21 Lower Market St, Ennis)

GALWAY

Located on the coast where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic, just north of County Clare lies the city of Galway. The vibe is very Irish--streets filled with pubs, locals speaking Gaelic and street performers playing trad music. There is loads to do and its compact size makes it very walkable. After a day of sightseeing in County Clare we decided to spend our night in this lively and charming city.

SEE/DO

Eyre Square - This is the main square in the center of town. While we were there, the space was dedicated to a festive Christmas market all lit up with decorations, carnival rides and food stalls.

Latin Quarter/High Street - An area packed with pubs, restaurants, shops and culture. High Street is pedestrian-only, so enjoy a leisurely stroll and take it all in. At one end is the river and the other is Eyre Square and you can easily walk the entire length in about 10 minutes.

High Street, Latin Quarter, Galway
High Street, Latin Quarter, Galway

EAT/DRINK

Ard Bia at Nimmo's - A cozy, buzzing little restaurant down an unassuming cobblestone street serving up fresh, seasonal fare from local fish to steak to lamb. The food was excellent and the staff was super nice. Reservations recommended. (Spanish Arch, Long Walk)

The Salt House - The craft beer scene is on the rise in Ireland and this bar had all the local brews plus some. The people were super friendly, the fire was warm and the atmosphere cozy. I would definitely go back to Galway just to go to this bar. Tip: Try anything by Galway Bay Brewery for a taste of something local.(Raven Terrace)

The Salt House Galway
The Salt House Galway

Cupan Tae - A lovely little tea room for your afternoon pick-me-up and tray of pastries. They also serve espresso if tea just won't cut it. (8 Quay Ln)

STAY

The House Hotel - This eclectic, boutique-style hotel was perfectly located in the Latin Quarter. For less than 100eur/nt we had a comfortable, stylish place to rest our head and a hearty breakfast was included. Rates from 79eur/nt. (Spanish Parade, Galway City Centre)

Jurys Inn - This would be another good option, located just a block or two from The House Hotel. Rates from 59eur/nt. (Quay St)

NOTE: I highly recommend renting a car (yes they drive on the left side of the road but you can do it, I know you can!) because some of the amazingness we got to see would not have been possible without one. You may luck out with an organized tour in the high season but with that comes crowds and traffic and lots of it.

ALSO TO NOTE: Consider visiting in the off-season. We felt like we had the sights and roads to ourselves and got to experience local culture that you would otherwise not get if you were among the tourist masses. But keep in mind the days are shorter, temps are lower, and some businesses are closed for the season.

Whew, I never realized how much we actually accomplished on our first day, jet-lagged nonetheless, until writing it out. Stay tuned for day 2 because we're headed south to County Cork. Specifically the city of Cork and the lovely town of Kinsale, which may have been my favorite!