Before I get going here, I just wanted to say that after all the research we did for this trip, we didn't come across many articles telling us just how stunningly beautiful the west coast of Ireland is. So if you're planning a trip to Ireland, let me be the first to tell you (if you haven't read it before) spend extra time on the west coast, especially if rugged mountains meeting deep blue waters really tilt your harp. Okay, here we go!
In May of 2023, my wife, mom, and I took a family vacation to Ireland. We skipped out on visiting anything north of Doolin along the west coast and south of Belmullet which felt like a misstep immediately following the trip, but lent itself quite nicely for a future revisit. There are a ton of amazing beaches and jagged coastline in the aforementioned area. If you only have seven days in Ireland, exploring this area could easily take up your entire vacation.
Tip. One to two months before your trip, order the heritage card. This little lovely gets you into all of the Ireland owned historic sites. We’re talking castles people.
We flew into Dublin, and hopped into the rental car, heading west to knock out the Cliffs of Moher. If you’ve never seen a sunset over the ocean, here’s your chance. Tip dose- rent the GPS and pay extra to make sure it doubles as a hotspot. If you like using google maps (and lets be honest, who doesn't?) plan on using your personal phone and make sure you’ve got the right holder for your phone. The magnetic holder that came with the GPS wasn’t strong enough to keep our personal phones from falling off it.
There is a ton of walking that can be done along the Cliffs of Moher. It was also the busiest tourist spot we did while there and the narrow walking paths could get a little tight with fellow pedestrians. Speaking of tight, the roads in Ireland are narrow when driving through the country, so just take your time when you encounter another driver coming from the opposite direction. Chances are if they are locals, they will whiz right by you hauling a horse trailer (seriously, I counted a dozen Mazda sedans pulling single stall horse trailers while vacationing).
One thing that helped me not slam the passenger side of the car into the numerous stone walls that hug the narrow country roads was to remind myself I need to almost ride the center line. Also, remember that oncoming traffic at T intersections comes from your right. So, look right, then left and then right again before pulling into traffic. Watch YouTube videos on driving in Ireland. They help a lot.
Next, we headed to Dingle. Take the Conor Pass if you want to see incredible views and be a little scared doing it. The west coast of Ireland has some of the best seafood in the entire country. We had the best raw oysters of my life in Killarney along with the best lightly fried calamari. (Kitty O’Se’s BABY!! [BABY’s not part of the restaurant’s name but that's what you'll scream when you try their oysters!] Also, the whole fish and chips thing...worth it. Especially on the west coast. The white fish was probably hauled out of the Atlantic that day depending on when you have your meal, and the chunky chips (French Fries for those of us that put the month before the day) are never more than an out stretched hand away from the malt vinegar and salt shaker (eat em’ right ferts).
Don’t skip the Muckross House and Gardens if you’re in Killarney. The grounds themselves are immaculate coupled with a bright sunny day. Mid-May has flowers in bloom and the backdrop of Killarney National Park makes for princess fairytale motion picture feels. Fancy a pint of Ireland's most famous beer? Well meet the man who made your quaffing possible, Arthur Edward Guinness.
The Ring of Kerry is pretty to drive but a day driving the route is be better spent exploring Killarney National Park. Afterall, a lot of exploring Ireland is driving. So, if you’re like me and need to stretch the legs every now and again, maybe save driving the ring when you have time to spend several days to do so.
Cobh! Cobh (pronounced Cobe) is where all the big cruise ships come into town to check out the impressive cathedral on the hilltop, St. Colman’s, and tour the Titanic Museum. We did both and one was certainly aesthetically more impressive than the other. (St. Colman’s is jaw dropping, as you can see.) Not to say the museum isn’t extremely informative and the tour guides aren’t gregariously captivating (they are). But the museum wasn’t on my list of things I had to see and continues not to. Also, don’t skip the Blarney Castle and (possibly more beautifully impressive) the grounds of Blarney Castle!
Blarney is LARGE. We could have easily spent half a day just exploring the grounds here. And again, because we went right before the start of tourist season, the place wasn’t crawling with people, and yet the foliage was in full bloom. Not to mention the trees and shrubs they have are from all over the world!
Next, we took in another castle at the Rock of Cashel. These guides do a great job of showcasing the grounds and you can join a new tour group every half hour or there abouts. If you’re in the area and are up for two donjons, check out Cahir, just a 10 minute drive south of the Rock of Cashel. Again, be sure to take the free castle tour that runs every half hour or so and use your camera phone as there are so many information boards to read you’ll be thankful you’re taking pictures of the lengthy paragraphs (dive into those pics on the 7 hour plane ride home). Nobody tells you the staircase to the top of Blarney Castle (where the stone is) looks like this! If you're claustrophobic, take your happy pills before going up.
We saved Dublin for the last day as we were told (and I can verify now that it is true) driving in Ireland’s biggest city will be your biggest challenge. Having 5 or 6 days to get used to driving on the left side of the road was ample time to tackle Dublin's traffic. Be ready to have three Euros to go through the underground tunnel to get into the city. The machines don’t take paper cash (only coins as the Euro comes in One’s and Two’s. You’ll be going through the tunnel again on your way back to the airport so really make sure you’ve got 6 euros. I know it might sound silly but it’s a moment of panic on your last day of vacation and all you have is paper money. The machines do take credit card but the bins make it so easy to literally throw your coins in and go that the regulars behind you will beep (only time we were beeped at in Ireland) if you’re too slow. It’s also a very long tunnel, so just know that going in.
If you decide to tour the famous Trinity College, make sure you get a ticket before hand to join a designated tour group so you can get inside the Long Room and to catch a glimpse of a book containing four gospels of the New Testament written in the 8th or 9th century…the Book of Kells.
Stuff we wanted to do but ran out of time include:
1. Dublin Castle
2. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
3. The English Market in Cork
4. Kilkenny Castle
5. Dunmore Head
P.S. If you see an Irish rainbow land on a cow, you found a pot of treasure, because real gold in the Emerald Isle goes best with soda bread...butter baby!