OMG, Ireland!
February 23, 2020 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Hello Hivemind! Thanks to AskMe for suggesting Scott's Cheap Flights, because, OH HOLY COW, we found a round trip to Ireland from Texas for roughly the same as flying from Texas to the East Coast! Now that the plane is booked, a happily married couple of ~15 years is wondering what we should do to maximize this experience. We will be there for about a week in late September.

Where should we stay? (B&B is preferred over chain hotels)
Where should we go?
a: pubs will definitely be on the list
b: breweries/distilleries maybe?
d: anything nature and remote would be awesome
e: a small jaunt for something faerie related would be cool.
f: should we even think about going to northern ireland, england, scotland, wales?

Thank you all in advance. I've only asked once before (and OMG it made our trip to the Caddo Lake area of TX/LA literally 10 times better than I could have planned alone), but read here enough that I get great advice by osmosis. I try and comment when I can, but usually 20 people have already said what I would have said and more eloquently.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Hello from Ireland! End of September is a great time to visit, well done.

Just a word to the wise: I've always been happy with travel accommodation I've booked reading reviews on Trip Advisor, but read carefully. Both the UK and Ireland have a very literal interpretation of "bed and breakfast" and 70% of the market is not what you're looking for.

Please do not book an AirBnB in urban Ireland. It's fueling a housing crisis here. If you happen to wish to stay in a rural location, that's fine.

Meanwhile: destinations depend on whether you are planning to travel by rental car or by train. The roads here are very narrow and you'll be driving on the wrong side of the car and the wrong side of the road in a stick-shift so think that over carefully!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:43 AM on February 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

Highly recommend making time for the Slea Head Drive in Dingle (I believe you can bike it as well).
posted by sallybrown at 8:37 AM on February 23, 2020

First things first. Assume it will rain and plan and pack accordingly. If it's dry and sunny it will be even more beautiful, but you need to have the clothes for wet weather and plans that involve the indoors as options.

In a week, I would focus on Ireland. Spend 2-3 days in Dublin first to get over the jetlag and get your bearings. There are many (relatively) inexpensive hotels in the city centre. In Dublin, you could do the Guinness brewery (touristy but interesting if you've not been to a big brewery before). There's also plenty to learn about Irish history in the various museums, plus the beautiful library at TCD.

Then perhaps hire a car, take the motorway to the west coast and spend several days touring there. Motorway driving is very easy and Ireland is not that big. I would probably drive to Galway, and do Co. Galway and Co. Clare, perhaps including the Shannon and the Connemara as well as the coast. The Wild Atlantic Way is much recommended by my Irish relatives.
posted by plonkee at 8:46 AM on February 23, 2020

Are you flying into Shannon or Dublin? You don't need a car for your time in Dublin, but you will want one for the rest of the time. In Dublin itself, I would recommend the Jameson distillery over the Guiness tour unless you really like Guiness and also the Kilmainham Gaol tour (book ahead and print out your tickets).

For nature, the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula in the southwest are both strikingly beautiful and best done clockwise. We got up to Belfast (take a black cab tour) and saw the Giant's Causeway. That would be about two days or your trip, so consider if you have time for that.
posted by soelo at 9:13 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Flying into Dublin.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 9:23 AM on February 23, 2020

d: anything nature and remote would be awesome

Dublin is nice, but you have to get to the absolutely stunning west of the country and spend as much time there as you can. I've been all over the world and it's hard to capture what the light is like through the infinite incarnations of cloud and sun and sea. I've never breathed cleaner air and if I'm honest, short of absolutely inaccessible places I'd have to spend thousands to reach, I don't know if I'll ever be anywhere prettier. Also, I would skip Britain and spend the whole time in Ireland.

I was lucky enough to spend an unusually sunny spell last April and drove with a friend along this route over 4 days:

- from Cork via Killarney (castle!) to Caragh River Lodge wayyyy up the incredibly remote Bridia Valley, stayed the night at that lovely (but yes, quite literal) bed and breakfast; we wanted to see the Gap of Dunloe but didn't have time

- drove the next day via the windy (both pronunciations) Ballaghisheen Pass to St Finian's Bay, up to the Kerry Cliffs and stayed in Cahersiveen, where we stayed with people we knew

- spent the next day on Valentia Island and saw the lighthouse and arranged a boat trip with Pat Joe Murphy of Portmagee (no website but phone number on the page here) to the incredible Skellig Michael

- had a long but lovely final day: a very early start from Cahersiveen to Dingle via Inch Beach, met friends for lunch, then a long 4.5-hour drive back to Dublin via the so-weird-it's-amazing Barack Obama Plaza roadside services in Moneygall. Dropped the car off at the airport at 10 pm for a 1 am flight out.

My GPS on my phone worked great and I ordered an Irish SIM in advance that worked fine; it was great to have a local number as in rural places the act of calling a landline telephone may be the only way to reach an establishment.

Good luck! Lots to explore out in Kerry in particular.
posted by mdonley at 9:57 AM on February 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

For our journey around Ireland we rented a car, allowing us to see the beautiful country at our own pace. (And we were very lucky - despite visiting in November, it only rained ONE DAY during our weeklong stay!)

After landing in Dublin, we drove to Kilkenny, our home base for the first leg. Kilkenny is highly walkable with a castle and several interesting churches and the Smithwicks brewery. From Kilkenny we drove to the Mount Juliet Estate (in tiny Thomastown) and had a fabulous afternoon tea overlooking the lush green countryside.

Next we drove to Killarney and drove the Ring of Kerry, stopping in Kenmare for lodging. (We found a great off-season rate at the fabulous Park Hotel. In Killarney, visit Muckross (grand home and grounds). The drive from Killarney into Kenmare was breathtaking.

We next went to the west, stopping at the Cliffs of Moher before making an adventurous drive through Connemara where we literally encountered sheep on the road (as we had hoped!). We stayed at Renvyle House Hotel and joked that we felt as if we were staying at the edge of the world - remote and cold and incredible. (Also, dinner at the Renvyle House was an upscale, multi-course treat!) Nearby, we visited Kylemoore Abbey, a gorgeous monastery set amid lakes and mountains.

We then drove all the way across the country back to Dublin and returned the rental car, opting to explore Dublin on foot (or taxi when needed). In Dublin, we did the typically things, but we also managed to find two great restaurants - Richmond and Delahunt.

We can't wait to return and explore even more!
posted by tmharris65 at 10:27 AM on February 23, 2020

You are about to fall in love.

I was very happy with our first trip to Ireland. Spent 2 nights in Dublin, then 3 nights in Galway, 1 on Inis Mor (nature and remote), and back to Dublin for a final night. It's just a teaser, but you can get in both east and west and an island, all on public transit.

A lot of people both Irish and tourists slag on Dublin, but we looooved it. Great museums, especially Kilmainham Gaol, the Hugh Lane, Little Museum of Dublin, Museum of Archeology, etc. Wherever possible reserve your museum tix in advance. They do sell out. Great shops, pubs, coffee. Mostly avoid Temple Bar for pubs but do take a walk through to see the Irish version of Bourbon Street. From Dublin you can also do any number of day trips by tourist bus or rail to hiking, ancient sites, coastal towns, etc.

Galway is an incredibly fun city, by day and night. The city museum is good. Downtown strolling, store browsing and pubs can keep you busy all day. Make time for the Crane Bar for live music and craic. We had a great time staying at the Forge B&B which is also, of course, a recording studio. It is within very easy walking of downtown but also really quiet, and has wonderful street cats.

From Galway you can take an easy day trip or overnight to the Aran Islands. We chose to spend a night on Inis Mór. Take special care booking ferry tickets - you have to be sure you have it all down because it's multi-step and if you miss it, you're SOL. When we went, we had to check in at a hostel front desk a half hour early, then meet at a specific time to board the shuttle bus to the ferry dock which was about half an hour away. You also need to be punctual for the return trip. But it all worked seamlessly - just pay attention to the arrangements.

Inis Mór was a great intro to the Aran Islands. We stayed at An Realog which was absolutely beautiful and comfortable with a great host. You can book a 'round the island van tour with a local guide for about $40EU, which is worth it. They stop at key locations so you can hike around and then return to the van to get farther than you can on foot. But it's also a fabulous place to rent bikes so I'd recommend that if the weather's nice. Don't miss Dún Aonghasa.

The hard part is going to be choosing how to spend your time. We went back the year after our first trip because we were so thirsty for more. Now planning to go again this fall! Think about what you'll enjoy the most, and prioritize that.

Also, important note: - typically flights from the US arrive at the crack of dawn. That makes for a really loooong first day. That can be good because you can do a lot, but you'll also be all kinds of jet lagged. There are bag storage businesses in Dublin, but if you can go right to your B&B and dump bags that is much better - your room probably won't be ready but you can drop the heavy stuff. This is another reason not to use AirBnB (please don't use AirBnB) since you typically can't get into them in advance to leave bags. Don't plan too much that first day since you're likely to have powerful napping urges at midday and in the afternoon. Try to keep out and about and get fresh air and daylight, plan an early night to get caught up with the local time. The first day seems to pass in a haze of exhaustion and adrenaline no matter what, so don't make that your big day.
posted by Miko at 10:38 AM on February 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thanks, Miko. We'll be in Dublin for only a few short days in mid-June and you have added a few items to my (already) very long list.
posted by terrapin at 1:43 PM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Actual castles to consider staying at, are Dromoland or Ashford Castle.
Really beautiful actual castles. Ashford is bigger and better known and has more activities, from falconry to horseback riding. Dromoland is smaller and less well known, but really beautiful as well.
posted by mmf at 4:38 PM on February 23, 2020

It's worth keeping in mind that it's five times faster to cross Ireland than Texas. There's literally nothing, including the North coast, that's more than a few hours away from anything else. My first visit was often filled with, "Oh. We're already there? What are we going to do this afternoon then?'

The Giants Causeway, the crinkly bits of the west coast, and central Dublin are all as lovely as the guidebooks say. (Nthing the Kilmainham Gaol.) The two rural castles I saw were pretty uninspiring and full of kind of lame touristy hucksters, but perhaps we didn't choose well.
posted by eotvos at 6:26 PM on February 23, 2020

N'thing the west coast, Dingle peninsula, Giants Causeway, and the cliffs of Moher. Incredible, stunning scenery.

We loved the music in Galway, and there are some awesome Mesolithic tombs near there.

Really wanted to get to the UNESCO site of the passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowle, about 45 mins of Dublin, but we didn't make it. Note that you book times tickets in advance.
posted by foodmapper at 9:20 PM on February 23, 2020

Miko's suggested itinerary sounds good to me - though make sure to book early if you want to stay on the Aran Islands. It can be very difficult to get accomodation there, though September may not be that bad.

The weather in Ireland is very unpredictable, so that it is hard to say what the weather might be like. It will be cold in any case, particularly if you are coming from Texas. It's also a wet and windy cold, which means that it can feel colder than the temperature seems to indicate. The landscape is beautiful, but it can be pretty unpleasant if it's raining.

Even if you decide to rent a car, I'd recommend staying in larger towns, rather than in more remote areas, as it means that there is more likely something to do if it's raining. (I'm completely biased against Connemara, and in particular the Renvyle House Hotel, thanks to childhood holidays which were rained out. Hotels in the middle of the countryside are wonderful if it's sunny, otherwise they are miserable.)

I'd also advise against trying to do too much. Yes, Ireland is small, but it's normally nicer to see one or two places completely rather than crisscrossing the country to try and see everything. I also wouldn't try to schedule everything too much in detail, so that you have the opportunity to change your mind based on the weather/mood.

Castle-wise, my favorites are probably Trim and Cahir. I'd also recommend Cashel, which is not a castle but a monastic site, but is fairly castle-ish. Cahir and Cashel are fairly close together.
posted by scorbet at 3:32 AM on February 24, 2020

If you're in the Shannon area, you might consider visiting Bunratty
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:16 PM on February 25, 2020

All y'all are super amazing and wonderful people. Thank you for all the great ideas.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 5:53 AM on February 29, 2020

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