Okay, so technically it was 6 nights and 7 days, but any Reckless Kelly fans will appreciate that this song became our anthem for the entire trip.
With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, I figured it was a perfect time to write about my Ireland trip. Two years ago, my cousin and I (who still has the last name Kelly, my mom’s maiden name) decided it was time these two Irish girls had an Irish adventure. From the moment we first mentioned it, to the time we booked our flights, was only a few days – we were that excited. We booked our flights into Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, and planned to rent a car and explore the Irish countryside!
We stepped off the plane in Dublin and before we began the task of figuring out how to get to our hotel, we sat down at the airport bar, ordered a Guinness, and cheers’d to the fact that we were in f***ing Ireland.
Travel Tip: I recommend always booking an airport transport when you land in a new country. It can be very nerve-wracking trying to figure out who to travel with and how to give directions to your hotel (especially if you are not in an English-speaking country). I’ve always felt it is worth the money and peace of mind to do this ahead of time.
Our first couple days in Dublin were jam-packed. We visited the Guinness storehouse, toured the city on a sight-seeing bus, and of course took part in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and festivities.
The Guinness storehouse was a blast – it was also perfect for us as we were slightly jet-lagged and had a bit of a low-energy first day. There are seven stories to explore, as you start at the bottom of a giant pint glass and climb your way to the top. There was live music, dancing, tastings, a rooftop bar and of course some shops to bring home Guinness trinkets to everyone you know.
Travel Tip: If possible, try to allow an extra day to help adjust to the new time zone. You may be so jet-lagged that you’re only able to sleep your first day, and you don’t want to miss out if that was time you intended to spend exploring.
From there, we jumped on the sightseeing bus. If you’ve traveled to other countries, I’m sure you’ve seen these – they are huge, sometimes double-decker buses that have people constantly pouring on and off them, usually with the words “Sightseeing Tour” splashed across the sides in bright colors. Typically, I tend to avoid anything too “touristy” when I travel, but these can actually come in really handy. For about $20, you can purchase an all-day bus ticket, which means you can jump on and off the bus at any of their drop-off points. If you are trying to save money, but want to cover a lot of the city, this can be a fantastic way to do it. For the cost of one taxi, you can ride around the city all day, and stop at all the main attractions. If you don’t want to go to the next destination, you just stay on the bus until you get to your next location (we also used this in Italy, and the bus literally stopped at every location we wanted to explore that day).
We also hit up the Trinity College Library. It is the largest library in Ireland and was pretty spectacular to walk through.
The next day was St. Patrick’s Day. We dressed in as much green as we brought with us and headed down to O’Connell Bridge, near the city centre, and started following the crowds. It wasn’t hard to find the parade route – everyone was lining up hours early.
The parade itself was fantastic. There were some amazingly intricate floats and performers. We were also pretty surprised at how many Americans were in the parade – police officers, firefighters, marching bands and even cheerleaders had traveled from the states to be a part of the Dublin parade.
So this entire trip we kept hearing about The Temple Bar. Everywhere we went, we were asked if we had been yet and if we were going – so after the parade, we headed a few blocks over to the bar! Americans. Americans everywhere. So many people told us before this trip how many more Americans we would see in Dublin, and this was the perfect example. It was a pretty cool bar, but on that day, I felt like it could have been any Irish pub in the U.S. on St. Patrick’s Day. We did, however, meet a ton of really great people, all having the same experience together in Ireland, which was pretty cool.
On our last morning in Dublin, we decided to tour Kilmainham Gaol on the way out of town (gaol=jail). It is a former prison, now a museum, that imprisoned many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. Typically, when you think of the people imprisoned in a jail, you think of criminals. But the Irish revolutionaries were fighting for their freedom from British rule – a lot of ordinary people fighting for what they thought was right. It’s an interesting piece of history to be able to walk through – you even get to tour the cells. Like many prisons, it is said to be haunted and there’s a stillness that comes over you when you step into the courtyard where they used to perform the executions.
Renting a Car
We decided to rent a car so we could travel around the country and, oh man, was that an adventure all by itself. In Ireland, they drive on the opposite side of the road, and they also drive a manual transmission. Now both of us actually drive a manual transmission in the states, but we decided that driving on the opposite side of the road and turning the opposite way into traffic was enough of a challenge for one day – we didn’t want to also have to be thinking about now shifting with our left hand in the opposite direction. We spent a solid 60 seconds circling the car debating who was going to drive first, as we decided “No I’ll drive. Oh you want to? Okay”. We must have looked incredibly silly outside the car rental place. We finally decided that I would drive, at which point my cousin went around to the right hand side of the car, sat down, looked at the wheel and went “oh crap”.
We became each other’s support group as we took turns driving. Every time we’d make a turn, the other one would repeat “left side, left side, left side!” The hardest part was probably the rotaries – it was so natural for us to go into those wanting to turn right, but having to go left instead took some focus. Overall, renting a car was amazing and once you got on the open road, there really wasn’t much to think about. It was such a cool adventure and an amazing story to tell. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way.
The Blarney Stone
Getting to the Blarney Stone may have been my favorite part of the entire trip! We took a few hour detour just to visit this, and I’m so glad we did. Our Irish grandfather talked a lot about the Blarney Stone, and it was a really cool experience to visit the castle.
Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give you the gift of eloquence. It is located at the top of a castle, in a strange spot hanging over the outside. In older times, you had to be held by your feet and lowered down backwards to kiss it. It really builds anticipation as you climb the round, stone stairwell of the castle and get higher and higher until you’re eventually on the roof. You can see out over the green countryside and know that you’re about to be hanging upside down over it. These days, they’ve made it a bit easier by installing iron rails for you to hold onto, while someone still holds onto your legs and lowers you down, but it’s still exhilarating!
The Blarney Stone is located at the Blarney Castle and Gardens, so there’s actually more to explore than just the stone.
The sweet old Irish man that helped us kiss the stone was later waving and blowing kisses to us from the top of the castle as we left the gardens.
Travel Tip: Make sure you check the times they are open!
We arrived later than we thought and just had time to kiss the stone and do a little exploring.
Upon leaving the Blarney Stone, we headed to our hotel in Killarney. We decided take the side roads, instead of the freeway, in order to see more of the countryside, and we were so glad we did. It was stunning. The roads are very narrow (and full of tractors and large vehicles!), so keep that in mind if you set out on your own adventure!
We decided to stay at the Killarney Plaza Hotel, and we were so excited to find it was in the middle of an adorable, quaint little town! We checked into our room, put our stuff down, and immediately headed out. The first place we found had a one-man band playing Irish songs – we sat down with our glass of whiskey and could not have been happier. From there, we wandered down to another pub, where we met some really fun locals. In our experience, everyone that we ran into was so nice. Especially when they hear you’re from America, they’re just so excited to have a conversation with you.
Right outside Killarney is Ross Castle, a 15th century tower house. The tour lets you see the entire inside of the castle, as well as explaining its features and why they exist, which is fascinating. Even the rounded stairwell intentionally winds up one direction instead of the other, as it would have been easier to defend from intruders.
Outside at the waterside, you have the opportunity to take a ride with a local in their boat out to the neighboring Innisfallen Island to see the ruins of the old abbey. The monastery was founded in 640, and much of the structures are still standing. We were able to explore the island, almost entirely alone, and revel in the quiet.
And now, my favorite part of the trip. This little harbor city on Ireland’s West Coast was magical. It was everything I was hoping for in a true Irish experience.
We stayed at the Jurys Inn Galway, which was right at the entrance to Quay Street. The location was perfect, however, we were extremely glad at this point that we went with the automatic transmission! The parking garage was impossible to get up without having to stop, reverse, and try the tight corner again. But once we were in there, we were set!
Quay Street is a pedestrian street with tons of pubs, restaurants and shops. We had probably the best night of the entire trip in a bar called Quays Bar. There are about 4 different bars within its walls, and just as many levels and different rooms to explore. Seeing as they are a coastal fishing town, we had to try the oysters there as well!
After we had drank, danced and mingled all night, they started closing down the bar and we assumed it was time to go. However, then they opened yet another room upstairs where the band started. Listening to an Irish band play in a pub in Galway and dancing and singing to Galway Girl until we were hoarse, was one of the coolest experiences ever.
Cliffs of Moher
If you travel to Ireland, you have to check these out. I remember thinking that we would go see them, but that they were probably overrated. I was so wrong. The cliffs are absolutely breathtaking.
The visitor centre has a wall set up, but right on the edge is a walking trail that canvases miles of the cliffs. Of course, there is a sign warning you that you’re on your own, basically, so be careful. Getting to walk the cliffs and creep up to the edge is terrifying and amazing at the same time. We stayed for hours just checking out the landscape and trying not to drop our phones into the abyss while we took pictures.
On the way back to Galway, you have to stop at Hazel Mountain Chocolate. It’s a fantastic little chocolate shop out in the middle of the Irish countryside. They are unique in that they completely make their own chocolate – from bean to bar. It’s award-winning and rightfully so. We stocked up on a few sampler packs for the rest of the trip.
This was the cherry on top of the trip. We decided that if we came this far to see Ireland, we were going to stay one night in an actual castle. This place was absolutely incredible. I felt like a princess the entire time I was there.
First, you are met at the gate by a dapper man who asks your name, and then assures you his colleague will meet you at the front of the castle. You are escorted in and offered a glass of champagne while you check in. While the staff is checking you in, they give you a chance to review the activities you can sign up for. Most of these make me feel like I’m living in Ireland in the olden days and it was so cool – they offer falconry, equestrian, fishing, golf, tennis, clay shooting, lake cruises and more. I do recommend that if you visit, book these before you get to the castle, as they do fill up.
We set off to explore the castle and see what all it had to offer. There was a billiards room, wine cellars, multiple bars, afternoon tea, a spa and multiple other buildings around the estate that we were free to explore. We also were able to borrow bikes to ride down to the equestrian center and through the grounds.
That night, we got dressed up and ate the most amazing 5-course dinner I’ve ever had in the George V Dining Room. After dinner, just outside in the sitting area where two Irish gentleman playing piano and guitar and serenading the group of about eight that had gathered. They were incredibly talented, and we sang and danced for hours with them.
If you travel to Galway and have the time and budget to include Ashford Castle, you absolutely will not regret it.
The Trip of a Lifetime
Ireland was hands-down my favorite travel destination to date. The nicest people, the most amazing sights and destinations, and the liberty to adventure on our own terms. I would highly suggest to anyone to travel the island, and not just to Dublin. There is so much to see along the way to really get a feel for Ireland, and renting your own car allows you to do it at your leisure. I fully intend on revisiting in the next couple of years and adding even more destinations.
Have you been to Ireland or planning a trip? Let me know your favorite destinations and can’t-miss spots!