My husband and I hadn’t take a big trip in a few years. We were craving an adventure and new experiences, and we honed in on Ireland for a few reasons: friends and family had visited and returned home raving about the friendly people and the lush landscape, and my grandfather was from Skibereen in County Cork; while we lived in England for 4 years when I was growing up, and traveled much of the U.K., Ireland had alluded our travels. A bonus was that the dollar was very strong at the time, so we could do our trip pretty economically.
We already had a family trip planned to West Virginia for my dad’s 80th birthday. And since we live in LA, we thought, why head home, we’re a 6 hour flight closer to Ireland… let’s go! So we combined the two trips. Which meant 18 long days away from our dog, George (but that was the only down side.)
We had a lot to pack into 10 days in Ireland. I think 2 weeks or more is the ideal time to see Ireland (based on my research), but we set our priorities in order to plan our itinerary.
- Crucial tourist sites
- Great Food!
Dublin – 2 nights
Kinsale – 1 night
Killarney – 2 nights
Dingle – 1 night
Galway – 2 nights
Dublin – 1 night
In Dublin we used Starwood Points to stay at the Westin. It was a beautiful hotel, with all the creature comforts, and it was very quiet for such a great central location. (For the rest of our Ireland trip we stayed at B&B’s – all were less than $120/night).
After settling in at the Westin, we ventured to the Temple Bar area which is known for it’s cobblestone streets, colorful urban art, bars and music. We had a great lunch at Boxty House: they specialize in a potato type pancake that is a wrap for meat or vegetarian dishes (the owner is known as an expert on potatoes, seriously, who knew there was such a title.)
After wandering the Temple Bar area for a while, we headed over to Trinity College to check out the Library and Book of Kells, a spot not to be missed when visiting Dublin.
Later in the day we crossed over the River Liffy for dinner at Ely’s Wine Bar. Ely’s is housed in a 200 year old former wine vault. It was very cool and the menu/wine list were top notch.
After Ely’s we ventured on to Murray’s to experience some authentic Irish music. It felt like more of a locals place, versus tourists, which we loved.
The next day was our full day in Dublin. Rested and jet lag free, we headed out early for Phoenix Park. I read about Phoenix Park before our trip – it is the largest public park in Europe, and boasts the Dublin Zoo, Victorian gardens, and the home of the President of Ireland (the U.S. White House was modeled after his home). Plus, there is a herd of wild deer that reside in the park. Seriously? In the middle of a large urban city? The deer have been living in the park since the 17th century. Phoenix Park was about an hour’s walk from the hotel, along the way we passed such sites as the Samuel Beckett Bridge and the Ha’Penny Bridge.
We arrived at Phoenix Park but couldn’t find the deer, so we stopped at the Dublin Zoo and asked where they were. “Oh, they can be anywhere, but they are usually gathered at the lower pasture, just cross the road and look to the right”. We headed that way and soon found them. A large buck was sharpening his rack on a tree in the distance. I had seen photos of tourists up close and personal with the herd and wanted one of Jeff. He got as close as he was comfortable (after seeing the rack being sharpened). He said “I didn’t come to Ireland to be impaled by a deer!” LOL – I guess I could understand his perspective.
That night we had dinner at Coppinger Row, and drinks at Farrier & Draper. The surrounding area had a very sophisticated vibe. We’d love to explore this area a little more on our next trip to Ireland.
The morning we left Dublin we were well prepared: Starbucks in hand (check), GPS set (check), Irish tunes playlist (check), gas (check). Still, driving on the “wrong side of the road” had us both a little anxious. The kindly Westin doorman, who was so helpful in loading our luggage into our car, offered directions to the freeway: we both listened intently…I turned to Jeff “all clear?” Jeff: “yes”. We thanked him for his help and got into the car, I turned to Jeff “did you understand any of that?” he said “not a word.” Me neither. I love a strong Irish accent! GPS was a godsend.
We set off for the 3 1/2 hour drive to Kinsale. Not super long in “road trip” terms. The traffic was pretty light, and we made good time. Along the way we stopped to see a few sites: the Jameson Brewery and Cahir Castle. No trip to Ireland is complete without a visit to the Jameson Brewery (according to Jeff.)
We arrived in Kinsale in the late afternoon and settled into our B&B, the Rivermount House, which was about 10 minutes outside of Kinsale, owned by a warm and friendly woman named Claire. When we walked into Rivermount House, she was baking muffins in the kitchen. I felt like I had just stepped into an aunt’s home for a family visit, rather than a B&B I’d never been to before. Claire was heading in to town and offered to drop us off to explore before our dinner reservations. She whisked down the winding country roads in full chat mode without a care in the world. We were still getting used to the narrow roads at this point: we were a little in awe at her ease.
So, a little about Kinsale – it is a fishing village that is surprisingly sophisticated given its size, and has become a foodie destination, known as the gourmet capital of Ireland with reknowned restaurants like Fishy Fishy.
Claire suggested we check out Granny’s Bottom Drawer. It was a great shop with top quality irish linens, wool, hats and various other items. We met the owner, Clodagh Murray, who told us she had lived in the U.S. for a while, and we had a funny exchange with her about the movie Talledega Nights. I loved this shop. I didn’t buy anything, thinking I could buy from the website when I got home (they do not have a website I was bummed to discover.)
We asked Clodagh to suggest a place for a before dinner glass of wine and she recommended the Black Pig Wine Bar, where her daughter works. We asked her “what’s your daughter’s name?” she said, “oh, you’ll know which one she is”. As we made our way to the Black Pig we passed the Giles Norman photo gallery (I love his images, and they are available for purchase from his website.)
Finally at the Black Pig – what a spot. Leonard Cohen crooning in the background, with images of Samuel Beckett gracing the walls. Coincidentally, the owners got their start at Ely’s in Dublin, which we also loved. And we recognized Clodagh’s daughter immediately, she was her spitting image. The Black Pig had a great wine selection with over 80 different vintages. I think we could have spent our entire evening here (they serve food too) but we had reservations at Fishy Fishy. Fishy Fishy was delicious too, it is considered by many to be the best seafood restaurant in Ireland.
The next morning we were off to drive through County Cork and experience the coast. I wanted to see Skibereen, where my grandfather was from. It was a beautiful Saturday, which unbeknownst to us meant many of the local bicycling clubs would be on the same narrow country roads (note: do the County Cork scenic drive during the week, or this will likely be your view!)
Here are the highlights of our County Cork excursion:
Glandore – we loved this tiny, peaceful village. We would never have taken the short diversion off the main road had we not asked a local woman in an antique store for recommendations on under-the-radar County Cork sites.
Clonakilty – have you seen the 1954 movie “Brigadoon” with Gene Kelly? It’s the story of two service men who wander into a magical village where everyone is happy and life is perfect. That is what Clonakilty felt like: In the same afternoon, in this tiny village, there was a food fair, a fair celebrating Special Olympics (with dancing in the square), and children having a foam fight in a local park.
We headed on to Skibereen and along the way noticed a ton of congratulatory banners celebrating Gary and Paul O’Donovan who won Silver at the Olympics last August, (Ireland won 2 silvers in the Summer Olympics, and our trip was in September, so the O’Donovans win was still fresh).
After Skibereen, we drove on to Killarney, where we would be staying for a couple of nights. Our sole intention in Killarney was to hike the Gap of Dunloe, which is a narrow mountain pass created by glaciers thousands of years ago. We decided to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant (we stayed at the Victoria House Hotel) and settled in at the bar among a few locals. To our left were John and Seamus (we soon learned Seamus was the Irish name equivalent of John). I’ve never seen two men drink beer more quickly! To our right was a nice couple in their 60’s celebrating their anniversary, Sean and Christine. Before the evening was over, after a few glasses of wine, Sean was serenading us with a song by his favorite Irish singer Paul Brady. As we were ready to head up to bed, we passed the front desk and the manager told us a huge storm was heading in the next day, and asked were we planning to hike the Gap? We said yes – she said the storm was expected around lunchtime, so we decided to get up at the crack of dawn, determined not to let a little rain stop our hike.
The upside of hiking when a storm is clearly heading your way is that there aren’t any crowds. We passed a few people but not many. It was beautiful, I’m so glad we didn’t skip it, rain, wind and all. We made it about halfway before the torrential rains started (no more pics during the onslaught!).
On our hike to the Gap, mid rain-and-wind storm, a group of high school runners in only shorts and t-shirts passed us (Seriously, you can see from our pictures that we were bundled up in North Face gear and hats. These thin-blooded Californians were cold!) Here the young runners are, on their way back down from the Gap, after the storm had passed and the sun had re-appeared. Look at them, not a care in the world – nothing stops the Irish.
That evening we explored Killarney, eating dinner at The Smoke House (my least favorite meal on our trip). I think we could have spent just one night in Killarney: beyond the Gap of Dunloe and Killarney Park, it is pretty much a tourist town.
The next morning we headed off to Dingle. We knew we weren’t going to be able to see everything on this trip, so we made some choices. We had read to either drive the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula, if you didn’t have time to do both, with most sources recommending the Dingle Peninsula. Okay, easy decision. Along the way we stopped at Inch Beach. It was a grey foggy morning on the beach but that didn’t stop us from taking a stroll.
We headed on to drive the DP, the Slea Head Loop from Dingle town, and the fog started to clear (we were wondering if our drive was going to be spoiled by low visibility and were so glad the skies cleared.) The DP did not disappoint.
In Dingle we stayed at the Duinin House B&B, which is on the Conor Pass less than 5 minutes from Dingle. Ann and Pat are the owners and they were lovely, greeting us with tea and cake on our arrival. Our room was very comfortable and quiet. Dingle is not very far from where we were staying in Killarney the night before (about 2 hours drive), and we could have driven the Slea Head Loop and headed farther north, but we chose to spend a night in Dingle because we had read about this charming, small fishing village and the many small pubs that featured music almost every night (I guess the pubs/music part could pretty much describe most Irish villages). But as a bonus, Dingle was named Ireland’s first foodie town in 2014. I loved this mellow friendly village!
That night we had a great dinner at John Doyle’s seafood restaurant. We had salmon and it was so good. We had wanted to eat at award winning Global Village restaurant, which we had read rave reviews about, but they were completely booked (next time!). For Irish music, we ducked into John Benny’s, and Foxy Johns. Both were great but John Benny’s was our favorite.
The next morning we headed off towards Galway. This was our longest driving day, about 5 hours. Along the way were the beautiful Cliffs of Mohr. I don’t think a trip to Ireland is complete without seeing the Cliffs – absolutely beautiful!
In Galway we stayed at the Norman Villa, a B & B run by Mark and Dee. The Norman Villa was beautiful, built in the 1850’s and lovingly restored to expose original slate floors, stone walls, and still featuring the original wood window shutters. Before it was a B&B, Mark and Dee ran a contemporary art gallery in the home, and the art collection is still displayed beautifully throughout the villa. This was the absolute favorite place that we stayed at during our trip. Such a unique space.
Mark made several restaurant recommendations and our first night we ate at the Black Cat in Salthill. The Black Cat specializes in tapas, and has live jazz a few nights each week. I had roast chicken stuffed with wild mushrooms in a tarragon a jus sauce. I asked our waitress for the recipe, she asked the chef, and he spilled all the details. I haven’t made it yet, but I will!
We only had one full day in the area, and chose to do a day trip north of Galway to Connemara. Connemara was the most rural region of Ireland that we explored. Connemara highlights include the beautiful Kylemore Abbey, but beyond the Abbey we travelled to visit the Connemara Park and hiked the Diamond Hill trail. The total hike was about 2 hours. The views were amazing, and from the top of Diamond Hill you can see the Aran Islands.
After our day trip to Connemara, we headed back to Galway for dinner at Kai, also recommended by Mark. “Kai” is the Maori word for food, and Kai is helmed by a husband and wife team (David is Irish, Jess is from New Zealand). The restaurant is situated in the shadow of a cathedral, in a modern space. The food was amazing. This was our best meal in Ireland. I had monkfish, which I hadn’t tasted before (with roasted cauliflower, delicious). I looked up monkfish after this meal: it’s quite possibly the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen!
The next morning we headed back to Dublin and our flight home, and to George (I really missed our boy).
We absolutely loved Ireland, the people, the charming villages, the greenery and the food. We look forward to returning again soon!