Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any brand or company mentioned in this post. Any external links provided are to allow my readers the option to read further into places/services I experienced on this adventure, should they choose.
Oh Ireland, you sure made us fall in love with you! The idea first struck us to plan a visit in late 2015. It began as wishful thinking, but gradually morphed into concrete plans the more Chris and I mentioned the idea.
I had never planned a trip overseas on my own and Chris had barely left the state, let alone the country.
I scoured tour companies in my spare time – searching for the perfect one for us! It was overwhelming at first because we had no solid idea of which places we wanted to visit. Finally, we settled on a self-drive tour around Ireland and Northern Ireland.
(Bonus: We got Kooks tickets in Chicago for the tail end of our trip, so got to make an extra pit stop on the way home! Read about the most recent time we saw them there and visited the windy city. )
I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP...
Sometimes planning a trip of these proportions requires assistance from someone who better knows what they are doing. Our help came in the form of Love Irish Tours.
Love Irish Tours booked our accommodations, rental car, and planned out our overnight locations along the route. I worked with Mary via email for the entirety of planning and she was wonderful! She worked with us easily when we needed to change our dates and always responded to my questions/concerns in a timely fashion. We were able to pay an initial deposit and make payments during the time period leading up to the trip.
Part of the reason we chose a self-guided tour was for the freedom. We wanted to be able to stop at cool places that caught our eye and to be able to do everything on our own time. We did have an outline of our road trip based on our accommodations. Here are all of the cities/towns we stayed in!
Killarney (two days)
Galway (two days)
Of course we found more areas and had places we wish we had been able to spend more time in. All the more to help us plan our trip back some day!
Guys, it feels so expensive to fly anywhere from Missouri. So, we opted to save $1000 by taking the Amtrak to Chicago. The train takes from five to six hours from St. Louis to Chicago and is inexpensive. Had we flown, we would have had a seven hour layover in Chicago regardless, so it didn’t take any extra time to travel this way.
Once we arrived in Chicago, we hopped on the “L” to O’Hare Airport. I’ve heard horror stories about this airport, but we experienced no issues and made it through quickly!
Our flight was through Aer Lingus (and Chris’s first ever flight). It took just under eight hours to land in Dublin. Aer Lingus was hands-down the most enjoyable flight that I have ever been on. The seats were comfortable and had plenty of room. We were given two meals, a snack, and ice cream. Boarding and the flight itself went by without a hitch! I 100% recommend flying with them.
You can’t exactly have a self-drive tour without a rental car! We got around primarily by our sweet ride, a Skoda Citigo! It took some getting used to driving from the opposite side of the car(and road) as well as on the more narrow, winding roads. Chris caught on quickly and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. I think he got somewhat attached to our little Skoda by the end of it. Our longest driving day was just over four hours!
Aside from the rental car, we of course walked anywhere that we could. In Dublin, we had to take the bus a couple of times once we returned the car. The bus was straightforward and got us where we needed to go without issue!
BRAVING THE ELEMENTS…
We visited towards the end of May. Every piece of online advice told us to plan for fickle weather and prepare for cooler, rainy days. We packed up our waterproof jackets, sweaters, pants, boots–you name it. Well, it ended up being sunny and mid-upper 70’s nearly every day. I even got sunburned in Galway! Many locals informed us that it was hotter than the norm that year. Perhaps we brought the Missouri heat with us.
Our only rainy day was at Killarney National Park. It made for some stunning, moody scenery so I couldn’t complain! In fact, I was hoping for more rainy days.
A PLACE TO REST…
Love Irish Tours gave us the option to stay in either hotels, B&Bs, castle stays, or a combination of the three. We wanted a variety and chose the latter. Buckle up, we stayed at quite a few places!
After circling around several times due to one way streets and missed turns (and a minor restroom emergency), we arrived at Brooks Hotel in Dublin- our first overnight destination. I loved the look of the entryway and the front desk staff was super friendly.
The room was modern and comfortable-perfect for our long jet lag recovery nap. Breakfast was included and we were excited to discover that this entailed BOTH the pastry buffet and the menu. It is often either/or at hotels here in the states. Location was close enough to walk to nearby attractions!
Upon arrival to this spot that felt a bit off the beaten path (but with beautiful views), we learned that our host had upgraded our room! This was a lovely surprise and it turned out being one of our favorite stays.
The bed was unbelievably soft with views of the sea out the window. To this day I dream about going back and sleeping in it again. The bathroom was big and even had a large bathtub (my favorite). Breakfast was made to order and served in a cute little dining area.
The White House Kinsale
We had a hiccup with this accommodation. We showed up to the wrong one due to a missed change in our itinerary. I would have preferred the original B&B, but you couldn’t beat the location of this one. No frills, but right in walking distance. I loved the vibe of the attached pub where our breakfast was served.
Fairview hotel is in the heart of Killarney, making it an incredibly accessible base. The room was spacious and comfortable. The modern lobby was a great place to sit and relax when you needed a change of scenery. Breakfast here was another delicious one with a huge spread and a menu to order from. It was also where Chris and I discovered our love for Eggs Benedict. Also, those croissants! We even spotted some fellow St. Louisans staying here wearing their Cards gear.
This was another one of our favorite stays, particularly due to the host! She was such a pleasant woman and treated us like family from the second we walked through the door. She even gave us a map of interesting points to check out on the next leg of our journey, complete with restaurant recommendations! We also got hugs goodbye, which felt completely natural (that’s saying a lot coming from my introverted self).
The room was small, but suited our needs. Breakfast was great as well! It was a ways down from the main road, so we did have to use our car to drive a short distance for any activities. I would come back and visit any time for the lovely hospitality alone 🙂
Seashore Lodge Galway
This one was our least favorite stay. It was not bad, by any means, but did not hold a candle to all of the other lovely accommodations we stayed in. It was tough to follow up after our awesome Bunratty stay!
I was excited about this location. It was one of our “castle” stays, despite being a hotel now. This building was many things prior and was first built in 1474. It began as a castle, then a mansion (1860’s), and a hotel (1930s). A fire in 1939 destroyed the building and it wasn’t built again as a hotel until 2007. The appearance of the original facade was restored and expanded.
We enjoyed our stay here. We rented bikes to ride around the grounds, walked along the lake, listened to live music in the bar, and played pool in the billiard style room. The grounds were beautiful, and the rooms were spacious! I would be happy to stay here again.
City Hotel Derry
This was the first place we stopped on our stretch in Northern Ireland. I enjoyed the styling of our hotel room and our breakfast ended up being delivered right to our room the next morning! It was within walking distance to some neat spots (even though we didn’t find them until it was almost too late).
Stormont Hotel Belfast
I don’t remember much about this hotel, if I’m being honest. It was your average nice hotel room and we had no complaints about it! I do remember it being a ways out of town, however, which made exploring more difficult since we had to drive in to do so.
Location, location, location! This hotel was right across the street from Trim Castle and provided great views from the rooftop bar area. It was great walking distance for our explorations around town. The room was small, but comfortable and suited our needs!
Final Night in Dublin – Airbnb stay
We added an extra night in Dublin for the last day of our trip and got an Airbnb to stay in. It was a spare room in a shared flat. We had a bit of a mishap getting into the gate of the complex, but the hosts were friendly for the small bit of interaction we had.
LET’S EAT! (AND DRINK)
The included breakfasts were so often the highlight of my meals, that I don’t remember many of the places we ate. I may have stuffed myself with pastries on a daily basis.
Here are a few places we stopped by that I recalled the name of!
This restaurant was a recommendation from our host at Bunratty Castle Mews and it did not disappoint. I ordered crab claws that were pure melt in your mouth buttery deliciousness. My mouth still waters thinking about them.
The Local Pub
We came here to listen to traditional music during our night in Dungarvan. It was very clear we were outsiders, but we had a great time listening to the music from our prime seats. We felt incredibly welcome and had an awesome evening!
Murphy’s Ice Cream
I know this is a chain, but the Irish Coffee flavor was so good I came back the next day and got another cone while we were in Galway.
In Trim, we grew tired of the constant pub fare and decided to branch out and have some Chinese food. It was just the palate cleanser we needed! Chinese food can be hit or miss, but this place was a hit.
SOOO, WHAT WE GONNA DO?!
We enjoy all kinds of activities, so we did a little bit of everything! Some of which just included exploring, but here are some of the bigger activities we did.
This wasn’t what we were expecting, which is our fault for not doing the research. We were expecting to witness the process of Guinness being made, but it was more of a museum/display you walked through. The “Perfect Pint” pouring at the end was fun (even though I poured mine horribly). I would have preferred going to the Jameson distillery and found this spot overrated.
If anyone knows about the Smithwick’s Storehouse, let me know. Chris is a fan!
Belfast Titanic Museum
In the US, they have Titanic museums everywhere and I’m not confident in their legitimacy. This one, however, was fascinating! I had no idea of Belfast’s history with the Titanic or that it launched there. We spent a few hours here and it wasn’t too crowded!
The museum was in the old Harland and Wolff shipyard area, which I found pretty neat! Oh, and a little show called Game of Thrones had a lot of filming done in the studio nearby.
This was an absolute highlight for Chris and I. I loved seeing all the sheep in Ireland and decided to go see a herding demonstration on a whim. We originally planned on a different farm and I’m so glad that didn’t pan out, because this place was wonderful! You could tell Tom loves what he does and genuinely cares for his animals. Not to mention, the views overlooking Killary Fjord alone were breathtaking.
It was amazing watching the bond between owner, dog, and sheep. We were also lucky enough to bottle feed and hold some of the babies. How cute is that?
Killarney National Park
It was the only rainy day when we visited, but I liked it best that way! It created some moody scenery around the park that is exactly my cup of tea. We went on a hike around the lake and ended up feeling a bit lost as it wasn’t a big straightforward loop like we thought. Seeing the grounds of Muckross House and its exterior is another bonus when visiting the park. Overall, we likely only saw a small fraction here and I would love to return one day!
Torc Waterfall + Ross Castle
Both of these attractions were just outside of Killarney National Park. We opted not to enter Ross castle, but it was neat to see in person and a great photo op. Torc Waterfall was a windy drive and a short hike down, but completely worth seeing if you have the extra time 🙂
Trim Castle Tour
Trim was such a fun little town! (In fact, I plan on writing a whole separate post). If you’re familiar with the film Braveheart, then chances are you’ve seen this castle. It happens to be the largest Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland, and the overall tour was cheap and informative. We were able to go inside the keep and climb all the way up the narrow winding stairs to the top with great views of the town. If you’re a big fan of castles and history like me, you will enjoy a visit here!
Kilclooney Wood/Commeragh Hike
I don’t recall how I heard of this hike, but it ended up being a great day for us! You park at the wood and walk through until you reach beautiful rolling hills. We climbed higher up in search of a lake and enjoyed every bit of the views. (We never ended up finding the lake). It was the first time encountering the sheep up close and they were entirely unfazed by us. If you enjoy hiking and are in this area, I’d say it’s worth the detour!
Cliffs of Moher
The first views that often pop into people’s minds when they think of Ireland are of the Cliffs of Moher (after a pint of Guinness, of course). It was crowded when we arrived and difficult to get photos without hordes of people in them, but the views were still incredible! They also had walled paths for anyone who is more afraid of heights and wanted to keep a safe distance back. This is a staple stop in Ireland- I’d just try to go at a time when you can beat the crowds.
Slieve League (Sliabh Liag)
Prior to visiting, I’d read that this was the more rugged alternative to Cliffs of Moher. In fact, these sea cliffs are almost three times higher. Both Chris and I agreed that we liked it more. It was a windy day and I was also winded as we climbed to the top. Foggy clouds draped over the peaks with views of the sea and even small lakes. Not to mention, there were far less people there. If you don’t mind heights and hiking at an incline, this is a must do in my opinion!
Dublin castle is an Irish government complex and was the seat of British Rule in Ireland. On the tour you visit the excavation site for Viking and Medieval Dublin, the gothic chapel, and state apartments. I loved seeing the architecture in the Chapel Royal and standing in the courtyard before we began our tour. The tour itself was informative and I learned plenty of new things about Irish government and history. We sat in the castle gardens and watched some fat pigeons afterwards!
Charles Fort is a late 17th century star-shaped fortress. It was visible across Kinsale harbor while we were visiting, so we decided to go check it out. This was one of the more interesting forts that I have visited with much of its old structures intact and a lovely view of the harbor.
Bunratty Folk Night
Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to go inside Bunratty Castle. We were still able to get into the folk night that evening in the folk park. The evening consisted of Irish music, storytelling, and dancing, along with a four course meal. Chris and I both opted for the lamb stew. I wasn’t certain what to expect, but it turned out being a fun evening. I’m clumsy and uncoordinated by nature, so the dancing never cease to amaze me.
Giant’s Causeway is an area of basalt columns formed by volcanic fissure eruptions. This was another spot which attracted a lot of tourists and was crowded. I don’t feel like I got the full visual effect with all the people, but it certainly brings you back to your childhood days climbing on things! I’m happy we visited, but I wish we’d gone earlier in the day to beat some of the crowd.
To all you Game of Thrones fans out there, this location might be better known as the Kingsroad. This was the location they used when filming. Dark Hedges are an avenue of beech trees that were planted in the 18th century. Unfortunately, they are not at the glory they once were due to the popularity of visiting vehicles causing damage. Now the road is only open to local and foot traffic. There were a handful of others here and it’s a quick stop for a photo op if you are a fan of the show!
I frequently wish that I could relive so many moments of this trip. If you haven’t been to Ireland yet, I recommend going and renting a car! Chris and I can’t wait to adventure there again in the future.
In the future, I plan to make more posts that go more in depth about certain towns or activities from this trip. So, if you’d like to hear more about something in particular, let me know!
Have you ever road-tripped in another country? What places should we see next time we go? If you’ve been to Ireland, what was your favorite? Where would you like to go when traveling becomes the norm again?