What should we do for our adventure in Ireland
March 22, 2009 5:15 PM   Subscribe

We're flying into Shannon Airport on a Monday morning in late June, and flying out of Dublin the following Sunday. Help us come up with a plan.

We're at the very beginning stages of starting to plan an itinerary for Ireland, and it's all a bit overwhelming ...

I think that we'd like to stay put as much as possible so that we're not just checking in/out of places the whole time. We do want to do some exploring, though, and I'm up for the challenge of renting a car and braving the roads.

We'd really love to spend time outdoors - biking, walking, maybe swimming, and so on. Romance, scenery, food, shopping, and music are also things that we're interested in -- all on a budget.

From googling around and poking through Lonely Planet, it seems like Killarney might be a neat little place to explore on bike. I found a hostel that rents bikes: http://www.killarneysuganhostel.com/accommodation.php. The "Gap Of Dunloe" looks awesome, and I think that we should be able to bike (or bike to a boat) from that hostel.

The only drawback that I can see from what I've been reading is that Killarney might be a little bit too touristy. I'm not adverse to a certain degree of cheesiness, but I'd like to feel like I'm in Ireland and not in Disney World.

I think that we can mostly avoid cities for most of the week, since our trip is likely to end with a night or two in Dublin.

So where should we go to stay, bike, and explore? To be clear: we don't want to carry much gear on our bikes, and we'd like to avoid busy roads as much as possible. Ideally, we'd spend a day or two riding an easy, scenic 20 or 30 miles tops.

Thoughts on this stuff? Anything that we absolutely shouldn't miss? We'd love some specific advice about where to go, where to stay, where to rent bikes, and so on. Thanks so much!
posted by TurkishGolds to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Since you're starting in Clare, you really shouldn't miss the Cliffs of Moher.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:28 PM on March 22, 2009

Seconding the Cliffs of Moher, and suggesting Glendalough as just inexpressibly lovely stop on your way into Dublin. Also agreeing the Killarney is rather ridiculously manufactured-for-tourists. I was there last year, and it was a warren of not-so-great knick-knack shops and manufactured pubs.

As to what is pretty and scenic, just about all of rural Ireland was absolutely gorgeous to my city-living American eyes. Limerick was green and like a shot-in-the-arm of anti-SAD. If you can afford it, I recommend staying in a country manor house. We stayed in this one, which despite the fairly awful website, was the highlight of our trip. We rambled all around the grounds, tracked down the old family cemetery, all overgrown and hidden from the road, watched the sunset from the gables, listened to the sheep chew grass, admired the gardens and the fancy old-school decor, chatted with some locals that we met on our pre-dinner walk, had a good dinner, went to bed in the nice rooms, and woke up to eat a truly stupendous breakfast.

The caveat, though, is that I'm not sure biking is the best way to see the country. The roads are narrow, windy, and frequently fenced in by rough stonework/hedges with branches. There are a ridiculous number of blind turns. And we went at the end of February, before the start of tourist season, in a tiny little car that would sway when the North Atlantic wind hit it, but we still had a couple of narrow squeaks with oncoming traffic. There are going to be a lot more people/cars/tour buses around in June, from what I understand.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:04 PM on March 22, 2009

Tragically, Killarney town is pretty much Irish Disneyland, and in the summer, it's Irish Disneyland packed to the rafters with tourists. I would go to Kilarney, rent bikes, have lunch, look at some thatch, and keep driving to the Beara Penninsula.

I think you will find Beara much more the kind of thing you're looking for. You can stay in any of the villages on the ring or in Castletownbere, which is a large, working port town and harbour with lots of restaurants and pubs. The Beara Ring is very, very geared toward biking and hiking, plus there is a Ireland's only cable car - to Dursey. (Warning: cable car may have sheep, and I am not even making that up.)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:06 PM on March 22, 2009

shannon to dublin - most american tourists do the southern loop . there is some cool stuff on that route - county clare, kerry, cork, wicklow.

most people and most tour books will talk about this route, looping the southern edge of the island. but you should think about the northern loop too.

galway and mayo are both amazing. then go into northern ireland. derry is an interesting place. and the giants causeway is one fo the coolest things ever. bringing tourist dollars to the north is a good thing for the peace process.
posted by Flood at 6:18 PM on March 22, 2009

Thirding Cliffs of Moher: impressive and great photo ops. I haven't yet had the opportunity to visit the Burren, but will when I visit Clare again.
posted by Morrigan at 7:08 PM on March 22, 2009

DarlingBri is on target--as one who has lived and traveled in Ireland the Beara Peninsula has it all--biking,hiking, mountain passes, rivers, cliffs, lush green, all the sheep you can count and many wonderful pubs/restaurants. If you wish more information please feel free to write me. You will want a car.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:25 PM on March 22, 2009

nthing the Beara and Sheep's Head peninsula's.
posted by Wilder at 1:00 AM on March 23, 2009

Don't miss the Aran Islands--beautiful views, great biking, interesting culture (people still speak Gaelic).
posted by j1950 at 2:40 AM on March 23, 2009

When i was in Dublin I really enjoyed the Guiness and Jameson tours. Also there are a bunch of cathedrals that you can take tours of. Dublin was one of the better (imo) cities in Europe to just walk around and meet people.
posted by nuke3ae at 3:04 AM on March 23, 2009

Be careful on when you visit Cliff's of Moher, I was greatly dissapointed when going as it was a drizzly & foggy day, and you couldn't see 10 feet in front of yourself.
posted by jazzman at 7:45 AM on March 23, 2009

Response by poster: Ok, I think that you've sold us on The Beara Peninsula. Any specific advice about where to stay, where to rent bikes, where to ride, where to eat, where to see music, etc?
posted by TurkishGolds at 7:51 AM on March 23, 2009

Killarney Rent a Bike in Killarney or in Kenmare if you're skipping Killarney all together, Finnegan's Souvenir Shop and Bike Hire (again, not making that up.) You'll have to call them to get prices, or I can call them for you if you want: +353 64-664-1083.

In terms of accommodation, are you looking for something in Castletownbere, something in a small village, or something on a semi-remote clifftop? In Castletownbere you can stay on Main Street over one of the restaurants; in Eyeries, you can stay at the post office! Do you want the cheapest possible hostel or a B&B?

One thing to consider is that if you're touring the local pubs, you do not want to have to drive home and the Beara is not exactly replete with taxis, so staying in a town or village may be important in that regard.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:46 AM on March 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the info DalingBri! I'll be good to drive, but we'd rather stay in a place where we can walk to stuff. A little town with lots of shops, restaurants, pubs, and music that we can explore on foot would be perfect. We don't have to stay in the cheapest possible hostel or B&B, but inexpensive is best. I think that proximity of bike rentals to where we are staying is important. We won't exactly be able to throw them on the back of our rented Nissan Micra, I don't think.
posted by TurkishGolds at 9:03 AM on March 23, 2009

I stayed at that hostel in, uh, 1992, and it was OK. Good vegetarian food, if not not a meatavore like me. We passed it on my honeymoom in 1996, and it was...still there? (I didn't go in.) The castle nearby is pretty cool, and now they're finished rebuilding it you should go check it out.

Anyway, plenty of B&Bs are as cheap as a hostel and also quite cool. We always let our current B&B hosts suggest and book our next hostel, and most of them did us proud.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:10 AM on March 23, 2009

Ok then honestly, I would stay in Castletownbere. There's a bike rental shop, and there is a nice spread of shops, restaurants and pubs. It is impossible to describe how small some of the small villages on the Ring are - they are really small. I don't think that a village with a post office across from the only pub is really what you're looking for, although those are nice to stop in for lunch.

Err, Knocknaroe House would be my first choice. You're going to pay about €35 per person per night all over because it's tourist season. If that's no good, than call the Castletownbere Restaurant and B&B listed on that site I linked to on +353 (27) 70244 or I can call for you; that should be cheaper. I think you can also stay over the butcher's :)
posted by DarlingBri at 9:23 AM on March 23, 2009

Castletownbere Restaurant and B&B is €27 per person per night, FYI.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:45 AM on March 23, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, DarlingBri, thanks so much for the inside info and the offer to call on our behalf. That place looks wonderful.

I seriously think that we're going to book that place! How many nights do you think that we can stay in Castletownbere without getting bored?

Do you think that we should still spend a night in Killarney to do the National Park at Gap of Dunhoe, or will the Beara Peninsula be a better place to spend our time?

If you're ever planning a trip to Western Massachusetts, I will hook you up with anything that you need!
posted by TurkishGolds at 11:19 AM on March 23, 2009

I second a trip to Glendalough. It was a very nice, peaceful and worthwhile daytrip.
posted by deebs at 11:36 AM on March 23, 2009

How many nights do you think that we can stay in Castletownbere without getting bored?

Oh, three or four. It's not like you're going to be spending five days in Castletownbere. After having consulted with my "I help lost American tourists for fun" friend, we agree that Kenmare is vastly superior to Kilarney and well positioned for the gap:

Monday: Shanon to Kenmare. Overnight at O'donnabhain's (O'Donovan's) or the Driftwood, dinner in Kenmare at An Leath Pingeon (The Half Penny.)

Tuesday: Kenmare to the Gap of Dunhoe ("Not the whole national park gig - hell on wheels in June, just a quick trip out to the Gap") and then off to Castletownbere, collect your bikes, etc.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: At Castletownbere, do whatever you want for your stay. Katherine promises she'll get her famous suggested tour for the Beara Peninsula up for you before June, but there's no need to plan all your days there so far in advance.

Friday and Saturday: Drive to and stay in Dublin.

And if you get bored in Castletownbere, it's very easy to just leave on the Thursday and head towards Cork, where we'll buy you a pint, tell you to avoid avoid avoid Blarney Castle, send you to Cobh and Fota Wildlife Park by the world's cutest train, ship you off to Kinsale for dinner, and point you towards Dublin the next morning on a 3 hour stretch of very nearly complete, glorious motorway.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:19 PM on March 23, 2009

We must meet DarlingBri on our next stay in Kenmare. You asked about spending a night in Killarney--there is no good reason to spend a night in Killarney unless: 1) you are on a bus tour, 2)you love tourists, 3) you want to drink to excess with tourists,4) you have a job in Killarney, 5) you want to have a full day to drive the Dingle Peninsula 6) you want to go to a movie or 7) you are attending a conference and want to go a Tesco. Killarney is a fine town for shopping and living but not to enjoy Ireland as a tourist.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:39 PM on March 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks again for mapping out an awesome itinerary for us! This all looks great!

I'm going to looking into booking nights at some of these places.

I'm sure that I'll e-mail you with a million more questions as our trip gets closer.
posted by TurkishGolds at 12:56 PM on March 23, 2009

rmhsinc: "We must meet DarlingBri on our next stay in Kenmare."

You'll be very welcome! Come via Cork, unless you want to give us a lift to and from Kenmare, in which case we'll buy you a pint :)

TurkishGolds: "I'm sure that I'll e-mail you with a million more questions as our trip gets closer."

Sure, but everything you need to know about travel and tourism in Ireland is at Dochara, the excellent site run by my insane friend with the hobby of helping American tourists. Everything except the lost Beara Penninsula tour itinerary, which apparently got left behind when she transitioned the site to a new CMS. Like I said, she'll get it up well before tourist season starts and your trip begins, so that will have a goodly number of pointers, places of interest, places to eat, etc.

For Dublin, she has some nice tips here and here with one and two day "What to Do in Dublin" itineraries you can work from even if you ignore all the bits about kids and passes. And as you will be renting a car, just do what she tells you here. (I always do as Katherine tells me and invariably, she is right.)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:50 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just a note to day the Dochara site mentioned above is truly grand! Very helpful as I finish up our itinerary for next week's travels to Ireland. Thanks!
posted by memewit at 1:57 PM on May 16, 2009

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