Touring Ireland
April 26, 2007 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Three of us (sister & sister with husband) are going to Ireland in mid September for 10 days. Would be most appreciative of any advice for 3 Americans who’ve never set foot in Ireland before and want to avoid the usual tourist traps and tourists.

We are interested in Galway, Connemara, County Clare, An Daingean Peninsula, Killarney National Park, Kenmare, Kilkenney, and Dublin.

1. We’re flying in and out of Gatwick so we’ll have a day and a half in London tacked on to the start and end of the trip. I’ve heard that Ryanair sucks, but is Aer Lingus a good option from London to Ireland?

2. Would you fly to Dublin first and make the circuit, flying back to London from Shannon or fly to Shannon first and leave Dublin for last? We’re planning to rent a car.

3. What’s a good place to stop between Galway and An Daingean for the night?

4. Since we only have 10 days (including flight days) what would you definitely see and what would you skip (keeping in mind that we’re all between 42 and 52, like walking and nature, pubs but not clubs, sacred sites and places off the tourist track)?
posted by jabo to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
guiness brewery of course.

and stags in dublin.
posted by goldism at 7:59 AM on April 26, 2007

Plan a day each for the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. If you can only pick one go with Dingle. The Dingle Peninsula was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Taking the whole day will give you plenty of time to stop and see the sites along the way. Also, driving can be very slow (not to mention terrifying) as the roads are very narrow. The busses all go counter-clockwise along the route (I believe… or maybe I have that backwards) so you need to decide if you want to deal with on-coming busses or getting stuck behind the busses. I went clockwise and faced them head-on. It was… exciting. Just plan on stopping whenever you see one, and take the corners slowly.

If you’ve never driven on the “wrong” side of the road it’s not as bad as you might think it will be. My main problem was I kept putting the wipers on whenever I went to use the turn signal. I also paid extra for an automatic, which was worth it.

Don’t plan on seeing everything as the roads aren’t like they are in America. It takes a while to get from point A to point B.

Everything is very laid back there, don’t expect anyone to rush. A proper pint of Guinness takes a long time to “cook”, so be patient. Find out where the locals are having a “session” and go listen.

The Gap of Dunloe was gorgeous but the jaunting cart was cramped and a huge rip-off

People are amazingly friendly, everyone has a cousin in America (more specifically, Boston, it seems) and they’ll be happy to help you out.

If you go to the grocery store, bring some change with you. You need to rent the carts.

Bring rain gear.
posted by bondcliff at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2007

On my first trip to Ireland I flew to Shannon, took a bus up to Ennis, and hiked around the coast and across the Burrans to Galway, and it was good.
posted by nicwolff at 8:12 AM on April 26, 2007

I don't know how touristy it is now (haven't been there in years), but I've never forgotten my visit to Cape Clear Island, which is off the coast near Cork.
posted by rtha at 8:12 AM on April 26, 2007

Go to the Burren. It is one of the craziest things I've ever seen. Imagine an utter lunar desolation right here on earth and right next to some of the greenest hills. Its beautiful (and a large expanse of land so you likely won't run into many tourists.)

Obligatory quote about the Burren:
"It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him."

Also, you'll run into tourists at the Cliffs of Mohr (which we saw in the same day as the Burren), but it was totally worth it.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 8:13 AM on April 26, 2007

Oh, man, I want to go back to Ireland.

Two years ago I spent 8 days there with my husband. We flew into Dublin, stayed there one night, rented a car, and thought we would be able to drive all the way around the island, back to Dublin, becuase, you know, Ireland is the size of Ohio. This is not true. The roads are windy and narrow and sometimes have sheep in them. Buy the extra collision insurance.

We drove the southern coast until we got to Conemara, then cut back across the middle. We didn't have a plan - we just drove until we saw something interesting, or found a postcard with something pretty on it and said "oh, lets go there." The only time this was almost a problem was in Kenmare, where we got the last room in town, above a restaurant. Kenmare was where we had the most fun - great pubs, lots of singing along, not as many (american) tourists when we were there ("before the season").

One of our favorite meals was at Barca in Lismore, which we just happened upon. We stopped to look at some old churches and walk along the park.

Another favorite place was Dingle, which is probably "touristy", but was so beautiful we didn't care. We were there in May and it wasn't crowded. We ate dinner in a family's backyard overlooking the ocean. Their daughter, who seemed about six, sat and talked with us about cala lillies and the next door neighbor's horse. The food was all homemade -- awsome. I truly wish I could somehow direct you there, but I cannot -- it had no name, and googling is unhelpful.

When we go back, we will stay at the Screebe House. We saw it while driving around in Conemara, and stopped -- too late for dinner, but the couple who ran it were so nice, and the food looked amazing. The surroundings are beautiful. Try it for dinner, even if not for staying.

Beware that the signs can be confusing when you're outside the main drag. We spent the better part of an afternoon looking for the Drombeg Stone Circles - definitly off the tourist track, sort of neat to see, but really, there are lots of stone circles to be had. But the chase to find them led us on some really neat paths.

Killarney National Park is beautiful -- when we were there, the place was absolutely glowing with green and purple. The waterfall is neat. I wish we had spent more time there. For walking and nature, it's hard to beat.

Oh, man, I'm jealous.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:15 AM on April 26, 2007

Take a drive through the Doo Lough Valley, probably the most beautiful place I've ever been.

On my trip I used Rick Steve's book and it turned out great.
posted by beowulf573 at 8:35 AM on April 26, 2007

Glendalough is a beautiful sacred spot. When I was there, there were tourists and pilgrims on the short trails but not on the longer trails (closer to the hermitage).
posted by Jorus at 8:39 AM on April 26, 2007

I've been 3 times in the past couple of years, so have some thoughts.
First: Ask Pat is a web forum where you can run your itinerary by a woman who writes Ireland guide books. She helped me so much on my first trip. I had some crazy schedule that was impossible and she helped me sort it out.

From my experience, RyanAir is a little wacky. We flew London to Dublin and the trip over went ok, but on the way back the flight was many hours delayed which I later found out was typical. We almost missed our connecting flight back to the U.S.

I adore Clare and second what everyone has said about the Cliffs and Burren. Doolin is a wonderful small town filled with traditional music. Have a pint at Gus O'Connor's Pub.

Perhaps that's even a good place to stop in between Dingle and Galway. Take the Killimer - Tarbert ferry to save time on that trip with your car.

I found Killarney touristy, but still enjoyed it. Honestly even the most touristy places in Ireland are beautiful and made me happy. Kilkenny is great -- I really enjoyed the arts center (can't recall the name) across from the Castle in town. If you can swing it try to see the Rock of Cashel - it's breathtaking.

And finally Galway is great as you can walk along the city streets where no cars can drive and in 5 minutes be along the water and 5 more minutes on a sandy beach.

Oh one more thing - if you're in Connemara drive to Kylemore Abbey, it is stunning.
posted by jdl at 9:28 AM on April 26, 2007

Whilst I'd second Cape Clear (and West Cork) I can't really see how you could fit it in - the travel time from there to Shannon isn't what you might expect from looking at the map...
posted by muteh at 9:38 AM on April 26, 2007

My ex and I spent 4 weeks traveling around Ireland a few years ago. It was fantastic. Others have given you most of the advice you were looking for, but let me add this:
- Kinsail is a very cute village right by Cork with very tasty seafood and a nice fort. I've been twice and enjoyed it very much both times.
- Cork has (or at least used to have) an indoor market every Saturday - if you are into that, it's a great one, not to be missed. I still remember the 'savoury' stall - barrels upon barrels of different kinds of cured/pickled vegetables and olives. I wouldn't go to Cork for that specifically, but if you're there already, well worth a browse.
- The Cliffs of Moher, located close to Galway, are spectacular - a must.
posted by widdershins at 9:39 AM on April 26, 2007

My brothers and I went to Ireland last month and visited many of the places you have on your itinerary already.

I posted about my trip extensively at my blog and have some pictures up at flickr, so grab my url from my profile and go have a look.

Overall, we had a pretty good time.
posted by briank at 10:11 AM on April 26, 2007

When I did Ireland I did Shannon to Dublin. I wished I had flew in AND out of Shannon. I really enjoyed the towns. I hit Doolin, Dingle, Kinsale, Kilkenny and another D town and another K town. That probably doesnt help you too much. But I loved all the towns I mentioned.

If I could I would have hit the Islands off Doolin (Aran??)
but it was off season.
posted by beccaj at 10:52 AM on April 26, 2007

No one seems to have mentioned the Ryanair/Aer Lingus thing, but it's worth noting that Aer Lingus flies to Dublin from Heathrow only, while Ryanair flies from Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton. Check their route maps on their websites to see where they fly. Other airlines flying the London-Ireland route include Aer Arran, BMI, British Airways, and CityJet.

I've flown Ryanair once, from Poland to Scotland, and while it was a very tight squeeze, full of advertisements, and there wasn't a free seat to be seen, it was like $30 or something and was the only option within two hundred miles of where I wanted to go. It probably most closely compares with Southwest - not something I'd want to take across an ocean, but fine for a few hours.
posted by mdonley at 11:10 AM on April 26, 2007

Killarney was clogged with old people on tour buses when I was there 6 or 7 years ago. The national park was amazing though.
posted by jaysus chris at 11:12 AM on April 26, 2007

What’s a good place to stop between Galway and An Daingean for the night?

We stopped at a B&B in Limerick between Dingle and Galway. But this was towards the end of our journey so the complete lack of much going on in the city (it was like a DC suburb, really) didn't bother us much.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:18 AM on April 26, 2007

I would second or third Doolin as a good midway point between Dingle and Galway - and also the ferry as a method of cutting your travel time. We did both last October with my folks, and it seemed to work well. Also, as someone else mentioned, use the Rick Steve's book - great info and maps.

Just going by your description of interests, I would say maybe skip Dublin, except to head down to Glendalough, as a previous poster mentioned. Sacred sites and walking are pretty much everywhere here. . .and on foot is definitely the best way to approach Ireland. This country encourages a relaxed pace, so slow down and enjoy it!

I've flown both Aer Lingus and Ryanair quite a bit recently. Ryanair is way cheaper, no frills, and takeoffs and landings are a bit, shall we say, aggressive. Other than that, I have no qualms about flying with them - especially because they are half the price, usually. Also, in Ireland they won't fly you into an airport a million miles away from where you want to be (something to watch out for with European discount airlines.)

Keep in mind that all distances in Ireland take longer than you think to drive. Dublin to Galway is 2:30-3 hours, Dublin to Dingle is more like 5:30-6. The roads are fine, there just aren't many motorways, so you have to slow down a bit. Might be another reason to cut down on the number of things you do and focus on spending quality time instead. . .

(side note:)If you decide to head down to Killarney, definitely go to the park - try to go on the weekend so you can tour their working 1930's farm - we just did it last weekend, and it was fabulous. Skip Killarney town proper and stay in Kenmare - it's a bit swank price-wise, but a very accessible town not overrun with tour buses.
posted by dirtmonster at 1:52 PM on April 26, 2007

This sounds a lot like what my wife and I did for our honeymoon. We flew into Dublin, and stayed a couple of days doing the tourist sights there. We then spent about 7 days driving to the west coast and then looped down around the coast from west to east back to Dublin.

If we had it to do over again, we would have tried to pick a few choice places and spend more than one day in each, rather than spending a good chunk of each day driving from one B&B to the next.

As for things to see, most of our favorites have been mentioned already; the Cliffs of Mohr, the Burren, and Dingle Peninsula. The other that leaps to mind is Powerscourt Gardens, just south of Dublin.

Hope you have a great time!
posted by JohnYaYa at 2:39 PM on April 26, 2007

I would second those who suggest that this is a case where less is more--we spend 2-3 months a year in Ireland and would most heartily recommend 2-3 days in the Kenmare area ( Beara Peninsula). It is exquisite in its beauty. Mountains, lakes, valleys, ocean, bays, real villages and working farms. Use Kenmare as your base, have lunch at Mc.Carthys and treat your self to a special dinner at Mulcahy's. Drive over Healy Pass and have a late breakfast at the Copper Kettle in Castletownbere (a favorite of locals) and definitely visit the National Park between Killarney( avoid) and Kenmare. What ever you do--Stay fewer places and experience the people and place.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:58 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Chester Beatty Library is my candidate for a Dublin must-see.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:25 PM on April 26, 2007

Response by poster: My brothers and I went to Ireland last month and visited many of the places you have on your itinerary already. I posted about my trip extensively at my blog and have some pictures up at flickr, so grab my url from my profile and go have a look -briank

I didn't get your blog or flicker url. Can you post it to this thread?
posted by jabo at 10:12 PM on April 26, 2007

Ohhh, I LOVED my trip there and need to go back!

I'm leery about right-hand drive, so I based myself in cities and bought a Bus Eirann pass. I took the bus from Dublin to Kildare (single women should NOT go into the liquor-only pub there) and walked to the National Stud (I used to ride), which also has lovely gardens. On the way, I stopped at St. Brigid's well. Go to the Hill of Tara before they build the highway. I went to the 1798 center in Enniscorthy and climbed Vinegar Hill--there weren't too many others there. I saw a ghost in Shaw's house in Dublin. If you splurge on a Celtic tiger place, most of them won't serve the full menu until after 7:30. Don't bother with the pub across from the tourist office in Dublin . There is a large eastern European presence, but I only saw one Polish restaurant: Gospoda in Cork. In Limerick, most of the places mentioned in Angela's Ashes are no longer there ( a mediocre display was set up in a historic house last September--don't bother), but I enjoyed my walking tour with Mick, the Hunt Museum and King John's castle. I wanted to take the ferry to Inis Oirr from Doolin, but the weather didn't permit. The pubs in Doolin pander a bit to tourists with U2, but go.
posted by brujita at 11:00 PM on April 26, 2007

Zed_Lopez is dead on. Museum-going may not sound exciting, but the Chester Beatty Library has got stuff that nobody else has. Highly, highly recommended.
posted by bokane at 1:32 AM on April 27, 2007

Kerry (i.e. the Dingle Peninsula area) in September has a very high chance of rain for the duration of your visit.

If you get good weather, head North over the Conor Pass from Dingle to Castlegregory and drive north from there up the peninsula between Brandon Bay and Tralee Bay, sticking to the Brandon bay side (they sometimes hold surfing championships there) and you'll find a nice restaurant called Spillane's (I think). Good food, and Brandon Bay provides a nice walk for after you eat.

There are also some excellent pubs in Castlegregory itself. From personal experience, and as an Irishman, you'll find better Guinness there than in Dublin.
posted by knapah at 3:03 AM on April 27, 2007

Oh, and if you do any driving around the Dingle Peninsula you should go and find Brandon Creek, I think it's signposted... although it might be in Irish now, Cuas an Bhodaigh.

Search for Brandon Creek or Cuas an Bhodaigh on Flickr and you'll see why you should go.
posted by knapah at 3:07 AM on April 27, 2007

We’re flying in and out of Gatwick so we’ll have a day and a half in London tacked on to the start and end of the trip. I’ve heard that Ryanair sucks, but is Aer Lingus a good option from London to Ireland?

The main differences between the two are 1) price, and 20 proximity to the city.

I've flown with Ryanair to Gatwick, which was cheap, but made more expensive by the cost of the rail journey to London (which took less than an hour, it has to be said, though I had to change onto the Tube when I got to Victoria).

More recently I've flown with Aer Lingus to Heathrow which, while more expensive, made getting to Central London considerably easier (I literally walked straight from the plane to the Tube, and was in my hotel room within an hour).

So if you don't mind paying an arm and a leg for the train to Gatwick, there isn't too much difference.
posted by macdara at 6:40 AM on April 27, 2007

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