The green is like no other green you’ve ever seen. There are more sheep than people. There are endless winding roads with one spectacular vista after the next and a cozy pub at the end of them all.
Every bit as beautiful and magical as I knew you would be.
The overview below is from a driving tour I did in June of 2016.
There are three main airports in Ireland. Most people fly in and out of Dublin, but do your research because you may want to fly directly to a more rural region and work your way back to Dublin like I did. Or vice versa, start in the city and work your way into more and more rural pastures. Then fly home from a closer airport.
On my 2016 trip, I flew into Belfast (I was coming from Scotland) and rented a car. The following itinerary is based heavily on Rick Steves guide books and audio tours. Don’t know about Rick yet? Click the image below to learn more. You can also click here to buy “Rick Steves Ireland” on Amazon.
Day 1 – Belfast to Portrush
Many people skip the north coast of Ireland on their first trip simply due to its distance from Dublin and other popular destinations being priority.
I decided to include it so I flew into Belfast on the northeast side of Ireland and rented a car. The drive up the coastline was beautiful. I stayed for one night in the summer town of Portrush.
The north coast of Ireland is best known for the Giant’s Causeway. I had seen the “other end” of the causeway in Scotland (see my Scotland page) and so I had to round it out.
Whiskey fans will also want to stop at Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey distillery, the oldest whiskey distillery in the world.
I’d seen a few scotch distilleries on my Scotland tour so I skipped Bushmill’s and went to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge and then castle shopping instead.
The Carrick-a-Rede bridge was a major trip highlight courtesy of Rick Steves guide books. This rope bridge, erected by salmon fisherman in the 1700’s, is suspended 100ft above sea level. It was an incredible first day in Ireland – a cloudless sky, the green grass growing on the jagged cliffs and views for miles. You buy a ticket and take a walk to the bridge, cross it and then have the clifftop to explore. Each side gives a surprise view of either the rocks or ocean below. Amazing! Takes about an hour or so.
Saw the signs for this on my way back to Portrush. Stopped and got out for a little self-guided walking tour. It’s free. This 15th century castle is being restored – or at least maintained from crumbling further into the sea.
I returned at sundown to my room (Adelphi Portrush). Freshened up and then went out to find dinner and explore the town. Portrush reminded me of the mom-n-pop beach towns I grew up visiting in coastal Maine. Found a charming arcade an discovered the “banofee” which is some kind of banana toffee pie that was delish!
Day 2 – Cong/Galway
Rose early and hit the road for another breathtaking country drive to County Cong. I had planned way in advance to stay at the iconic Ashford Castle in County Cong. Won’t review the details but let’s just say I took my time and money elsewhere within a hour of arrival.
What now? Visited the town of Cong and the abbey ruins before deciding to drive a little further and get closer to my next destination. I picked Galway, a college party town and found a cheap room.
That night, wandering Galway, I had one of those unplanned experiences that defines a trip. Galway was awesome! Visited their Latin Quarter – so lively and charming, lots to see and a great vibe. Had a great meal at the King’s Head pub. Next thing I know, they announce that “the live Irish dancing is about to begin”. I had scored a prime table and didn’t even realize I was stage front for what turned out to be a local group of Irish dancers. Like Riverdance, but the real thing being performed by good looking young irishmen 🙂 Incredible performance that was somehow free other than dinner.
Day 3 – Cliffs of Moher
County Clare’s most famous sight – the sea cliffs of Moher. This is a must-do. Try to get their early to have less crowds. You pay the entrance fee and then walk south along the cliffs to various vantage points. It’s so windy you can lean forward and not fall down.
Really gorgeous, even on an overcast day which makes the pictures even more stunning.
And their were cows 🙂
Day 3 & 4 – Dingle Peninsula
My favorite part of the trip for sure. A quaint little fishing village tucked into the southwest side of Ireland. Definitely plan to spend 2 nights here minimum.
I was in a pub that afternoon when I heard the unmistakable sound of bag pipes. A children’s marching bag pipe band marched into the pub, played two songs and marched out. That’s Ireland!
Found locally made ice cream at Murphy’s. Had a fabulous dinner at Out of the Blue where the locals gave me the tip of the trip – skip the Ring of Kerry and do the Dingle Peninsula drive instead. More on that below.
After dinner I found the bar that your husband will love. A hardware store by day, watering hole by night (Foxy John’s?).
Day 5 – Slea Head Drive/Dingle Peninsula
Rick had this drive in his guidebook so make sure you have it with you. I had planned to skip it and head straight from Dingle to the Ring of Kerry. I was sort of dreading it – 3 or more hours of driving in tour-bus thick traffic. The tip from the locals at the restaurant the night before was seconded by my hotel owner. The locals always know! Happy to say I drove all of Ireland and skipped the Ring of Kerry.
The Slea Head drive was a highlight of the trip. So many different things to see and to experience thanks to the mile by mile tour in Ricks book. Even taking your time this is about a half day commitment. I wish I’d planned one more night in Dingle….
From beaches to craggy, grassy cliffs to ancient thatched huts to beehive huts to snuggling sheep…this drive had all the makings of a perfect Irish day.
Day 5 – Arrival in Kinsale
Skipping Ring of Kerry after Dingle will land you in Kinsale, a sleepy harbor town. Took a lazy walk around the cobblestone village after a hearty irish lunch.
I don’t remember the restaurant or bar, but I saw a very intense man performing on an accordion with his family joining in. Live local music is great no matter where you are.
Day 6 & 7- Kilkenny and Rock of Cashel
A pleasant drive takes you north to Kilkenny and the Rock of Cashel. This is the most impressive cluster of medieval buildings in all of Ireland including a cathedral, chapel and other buildings. Legend has it that St. Patrick once came here. This is a worthwhile stop on your way to Dublin from the south counties.
Stayed one night in Kilkenny – a medieval town full of charm and irish nightlife. We happened into a pub in the middle of a high-tension Irish soccer match. Went in search of the Hole in the wall Pub on suggestion of Rick and finally found it.
Day 8 – Arriving in Dublin
Dublin was just fantastic. The people, the spirit. You could feel it in the air everywhere you went.
Took in the historic Book of Kells which was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen behind glass. This is a religious text written in Latin but it’s the intricate and precise writing and artwork that makes it so unique. It is located in a viewing room at Trinity College.
There is an old library here as well, check that out too as it was really cool.
I did the Guinness Storehouse the next day – somehow lost 4 hours in Disney-World-meets-beer-brewery but it was fun and I got an official certificate that says I know how to pour a proper pint.
Dublin – The Spirit of the Irish People
Final Stop – St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral and took time to be thankful for a safe journey and to be grateful that the spirit of Ireland was now part of me.
I can’t wait to go back to this incredible place of beauty as there is much more to see and experience.
The essence of Ireland..you can’t see it, but you can feel it.
Where to go next?
If you’ve got the time, it’s easy to combine a trip to Ireland with Scotland and London!