Guest post by Carrie
Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
Day 1: Northern Ireland
- Titanic Belfast
- The Dark Hedges
- Ballintoy Harbour
- The Red Door Cottage Tea Room & Bistro
- Valley View Bed and Breakfast
- Giant’s Causeway
We arrived at the Dublin airport around 5:30 AM, immediately picked up our rental car, and began heading north to Belfast (the drive was very easy, since the Dublin airport is already located north of the city center). The drive up to Belfast was absolutely beautiful, with lots of little cottages, sheep and cows, and flowers and hedgerows (it didn’t hurt that it was a gloriously sunny morning). We arrived at Titanic Belfast a little before it opened at 9 AM and were the first people through the doors (which was great, because the museum was pretty busy by the time we left around noon). The museum, which is relatively new (opened in 2012), was amazing – beautifully done, with lots of high-tech, interactive exhibits (including a short ride!) Admission was a little expensive, but I thought it was absolutely worth it. We had lunch at one of the museum’s cafes and then headed back out on the road. We stopped for a 1/2 hour nap at a roadside gas station, then continued toward the Dark Hedges (side note – we rented a GPS along with our rental car and it was extremely accurate and helpful in getting us everywhere on our itinerary – including the Dark Hedges, which didn’t have an exact address!) We stopped at the Dark Hedges for about 30 minutes to take pictures and walk up and down the road. Then we continued to the charming little town of Ballintoy, where we had a delicious early dinner at the Red Door cafe and tea room (highly recommended) and then walked along the picturesque coast by the harbor. We checked into our B & B (Valley View Country House – also very highly recommended!) and then, at our host’s recommendation, went to visit Giant’s Causeway at about 7:30 PM. Sunset in mid-May isn’t until about 9:30 so we had plenty of good daylight left to spend at the causeway. There weren’t many visitors there and it was beautiful to visit in the late evening light.
- Dunluce Castle
- Bunratty Castle Mews B&B
- Durty Nelly’s
After breakfast we headed to Dunluce Castle, which was our favorite castle of the entire trip. The ruins are extremely atmospheric and steeped in history that’s well explained by plaques around the site. There’s also a very nice one-room exhibit on the castle grounds where you can learn about recent excavations in the area. We preferred the ruins of Dunluce Castle to the other more polished, restored castles that we visited on our trip – Dunluce felt more authentic and historic somehow.
After about an hour at Dunluce, we headed south to Bunratty, a 5.5 hour drive that took up most of the day (but was well worth it, since it delivered us from the very northern coast of Ireland to the far west, setting the scene for the rest of our trip). We checked into our B & B (Bunratty Castle Mews, which was perfectly nice), then walked about 10 minutes down the road to the pub next to Bunratty Castle (Durty Nelly’s) for dinner.
- Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
We spent the whole morning – about 4 hours – at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park. Again, we were glad to arrive early, since the tour buses started filing in in the late morning and the place began filling up. It was interesting to see inside the restored castle (built c. 1425), which is filled with authentic furniture and decor that’s hundreds of years old, as well as the surrounding village huts, which have been styled to look like farmers’ and fishers’ homes from the time. The “folk park” is actually quite big, and the farther you travel back, the more modern the homes become (ending with the 19th-century Bunratty House and beautiful regency walled garden at the back of the park). “Folk park” sounds like you’re in for a cheesy amusement park, but it’s actually all quite historic and peaceful. We had read that the park was populated by costumed actors, but we didn’t run into any – instead we led ourselves on a quiet, private tour of the place.
We stopped in the park’s tea room for a snack before heading out, then drove about 2.5 hours down to Dingle (on our way out of Bunratty, we first drove through the small village of Adare, which our guide book called one of the prettiest towns in Ireland – though it can get quite crowded with tourists, so we were happy to just drive slowly through and not actually stop). The drive into Dingle was incredibly mountainous, winding, and beautifully scenic, though the steep, narrow roads stressed my husband (the driver) out quite a bit. We stayed at a wonderful Airbnb about 2 minutes outside the center of Dingle. There’s a car park right on the Dingle harbor (next to the tourist office) that’s free after 6 PM, so we parked there after checking into our Airbnb and explored the city, stopping for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant.
Day 4: Biking the Dingle Peninsula
- Paddy’s Bike Shop
- Slea Head Drive
In the late morning, we rented bicycles from Paddy’s Bike Shop in Dingle and headed out on the Slea Head coastal drive/road that goes around the Dingle Peninsula. We only biked part of the 25-mile route – it would have probably taken a full (exhausting) day to do the whole thing. It was pretty uphill for our outward leg, but extremely beautiful. We stopped a few times to get water, take pictures along the cliffs, visit ancient “beehive huts” (for a small entrance fee), and have lunch at the Stonehouse Restaurant along the side of the road. We made it all the way to the cross at Slea Head and then turned around and biked back to town (gloriously downhill).
We returned our bikes in the mid-afternoon and then stopped for ice cream in town (it was another beautifully sunny and warm day). We rested at the B & B for a few hours, then headed back out into town for dinner at a local pub.
Day 5: The Ring of Kerry
- Staigue Stone Fort
We drove about an hour from Dingle down to the Ring of Kerry peninsula and then completed almost the whole ring over the course of the day. The ring can take as long as you want it to, depending on how many detours you take off the main road. We did it pretty quickly, stopping only at Killorglin (a small town on the beginning of our route, where we picked up a map of the ring), the Staigue Fort (a giant ring fort at the top of a hill about 20 minutes off the main road – very few people were there when we got there – it was stunning and well worth the detour!), Sneem (a cute little town where we got a late lunch), and a few other viewpoints along the way. The ring was beautiful, but we both thought that our scenic rides/drives in northern Ireland and in Dingle were even better. We ended our day in Kenmare, a very pretty little village along the ring, where we stayed at a B & B just outside of town. In the evening, we caught some live music at a pub in Kenmare while enjoying some drinks and dessert by the fire.
- Muckross House
- Muckross Abbey
- lorge chocolatier
In the morning we drove about 45 minutes from Kenmare to the Muckross House, a pretty drive that took us through the mountains and mossy forests of Killarney National Park. The only way to see the inside of the beautifully restored 19th-century Muckross House is by a paid 50-minute guided tour (with no photography allowed!), which we decided to take. I thought the tour was great – our guide was extremely knowledgeable and added so much color and context to the story of the house and its former occupants.
After our tour ended, we walked about 20 minutes (in light rain) to the ruins of Muckross abbey and cemetery, which is for some reason not heavily promoted by the Muckross staff but is absolutely stunning and very worth the short trip. We walked back to the main Muckross entrance through a scenic forest path and had a snack at the Muckross cafe before heading out. Our guidebook (Frommer’s Ireland 2016, which we consulted heavily before and throughout the trip for itinerary ideas, maps, local history, and travel tips) listed a small chocolate shop called Lorge Chocolatier as one of the best places to shop in Ireland, and as the shop was located only 6 miles south of our home base in Kenmare, we paid them a visit (the shop is VERY small) and picked up chocolates for ourselves and to bring home as presents. We relaxed at our B & B for a few hours, then went into Kenmare for dinner at a pub.
- Kilkenny Castle
- Waterloo House
We spent today making the ~4.5 hour drive to Dublin from Kenmare, with a few big sightseeing stops along the way. Our first stop was Kilkenny Castle, which was located right in the city of Kilkenny. Modestly priced tickets got us into the castle for a self-guided tour. The castle was lovely and well restored, but I’m not sure it was worth the trip – it was a bit of a pain to get into the city and find parking, and we had already seen the stunning ruins of Dunluce Castle, the historic Bunratty Castle, and the beautifully furnished Muckross House. Kilkenny Castle didn’t have too much new to add, though the city around it seemed very lively and fun. After Kilkenny, we continued driving toward Dublin, stopping at the monastic settlement of Glendalough in the Wicklow mountains about an hour south of the city. Glendalough was very beautiful, but as far as historic ruins go, I enjoyed Dunluce Castle, the Staigue Fort, and Muckross abbey more (that may be in part because Glendalough was a little crowded when we got there at about 4 PM on a Saturday). We finished the day by driving to our B & B on the south side of Dublin (Waterloo House – quite nice and the best priced accommodations I could find in the city) and then walking just down the street for dinner.
Day 8: Dublin
- St Stephen’s Green
- Trinity College
- General Post Office
- Chester Beatty Library
- The Gravedigger Bus Tour
We didn’t have too much planned for our day in Dublin, so we headed out in the morning by foot with our guidebook in hand and played the day by ear. The city is quite compact and very walkable. We walked through the small but pretty St. Stephen’s Green park and then continued on to the campus of Trinity College, where we decided to take a student-led tour. At 13 euros each, the tour wasn’t cheap, but it was a fun way to learn a little bit about the historic college and included admission to see the Trinity College library and the Book of Kells, which is 11 euros per person by itself.
After the tour, we stopped for a snack at a nearby cafe, then continued walking north across the River Liffey to the landmark General Post Office to see the bullet holes from the 1916 uprising (an important but slightly underwhelming stop – maybe because there was a lot of construction going on around that area of the city). It was starting to cloud over, so we took refuge in the (free!) Chester Beatty Library, an impressive little museum on the grounds of Dublin Castle with a lovely collection of historic books, prints, paintings, and papers. For those interested in the Book of Kells, the Chester Beatty Library is a perfect complement or even substitute – it’s free, with more to see and fewer crowds.
We stopped at a Thai restaurant for a very early dinner, then relaxed at our B & B for about an hour before heading back into the city to take a ~2 hour “Gravedigger” evening bus tour. This was a little bit cheesy, but fun for us ghost story fans and a nice way to rest our feet after a long day of city walking. The tour took place in a blacked-out bus that made a few stops around the city while our guide/actor told us ghost stories of plague-era Dublin. The tour ended at the “Gravedigger’s pub” outside of Dublin’s Glasnevin cemetery, which our guide told us has been voted the best place for a pint of Guinness in Dublin for several years.
We didn’t have to check out of our B & B until noon, so we had a lazy morning of breakfast and packing before heading to the airport. We arrived at the airport 4 hours early to leave enough time for returning our rental car, going through security, and completing US customs/preclearance (we probably only really needed 2.5/3 hours, but it was great to not feel rushed).
Traveled in May 2016