Last month we headed north to celebrate the beginning of a new decade as I said “tschüß” to my 20s and finally turned the big 3-0.
Probably everything you’ve heard about Ireland is true. It’s a gorgeous country, colored with vivid greens and deep deep blues. The friendliness of the Irish pairs well with both the lively atmosphere of the cities and the slow contentedness of the countryside. From Dublin to Galway to the southwestern coast and back again, we drove through the twisty winding roads of the countryside, explored ancient ruins, enjoyed live music on a nightly basis and drank enough cider to get us through until our next Irish adventure.
Here’s a short list of must-sees and to-dos on the Emerald Isle:
Dublin: you want to sleep on the southside of the river, shop on Grafton street and drink in the Temple Bar district. It’s worth seeing the Book of Kells and the Long Hall above it - we booked tickets online for the first time slot of the day, and were the first ones through the exhibit, meaning we had that glorious library all to ourselves for about 3 minutes. We also really enjoyed the Kilmainhaim Goal (prison) tour - it was guided by a passionate Irishman beaming with pride. If the season is right, definitely check out a game of Gaelic Football - a crazy sport that looks like a mix of soccer, American football, and basketball - the rules are few, the fans are many and it’s exciting enough to entertain even the sport non-enthusiasts.
Galway: stay in the city center, eat at all the restaurants and enjoy the authentic pub experience. The Spanish Arch is the number one attraction but I found it underwhelming. Have a quick look at it, then head back into town where you can enjoy enormously talented street musicians, delicious food and friendly locals who gather in the many pubs. Definitely eat lunch at McCambridges and head to Sheridan’s Cheesemongers for wine and cheese.
Counties Clare and Kerry: from Galway, drive through The Burren, a massive area of limestone formations that’ll make you feel like you’re on another planet. Keep driving south until you reach the Cliffs of Moher and plan an hour or two to take in the gorgeous views - but be safe! The cliffs are one of the deadliest tourist spots and I’ve heard stories of people falling off.
The Dingle Peninsula: the best way to reach Dingle Town is via Conor Pass - the highest drivable point in Ireland. But bring your courage because at 456m high, it’s not for the faint of heart. Gorgeous views though, and when I say gorgeous I mean there are no words. Definitely take a day to do the Slea Head Drive, a 47km loop that takes you along the western most point of the country, by ancient ruins and coastal views that compete with the Cliffs of Moher. Leave the peninsula on the southside via Inch Beach and plan to spend a few minutes walking along the water.
Killarney: the Killarney national park is not to be missed. If you’re a fan of fishing, rent some tackle and head to one of the many lakes in the park. Bring your hiking boots for the trails and don’t forget to check out the Torc Waterfall. Take a few hours before leaving to check out Ross Castle and the Muckross Abbey.
Cashel: you definitely want to use a few hours to detour through Cashel. In addition to the Rock of Cashel, which has excellent guided tours and a 900 year old building, Cashel is also home to the Hore Abbey, a 13th century magical monastery ruin.
Kilkenny: this is a nice stop on your way back to Dublin. The city itself is lovely and home of the Medieval Mile which you can explore on foot. There’s also a castle, lots of food and, yes, you guessed it, pubs on every block. Have dinner at Paris Texas, a roadhouse with Mexican food so good it’ll satisfy the pickiest of Tex-Mex connoisseurs.
Of course, there is a lot more to do in this beautiful country. We skipped Cork and Limerick and everything north of Galway, including Belfast which I’ve heard is a must. With that said, however, there’s something special about slow travel, and I’m glad we stretched our 10-days out the way we did.
Have you been to Ireland? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!