Chad and I decided to start our fourth leg in Ireland for a very simple reason: Dublin was the cheapest round trip flight to Europe in the period we decided to book the flight. That’s become our general strategy for the more far-flung continents – just get to the continent as inexpensively as possible and then use the cheap regional carriers to get around. I’m writing this post on a flight via Romania’s Blue Air as we travel on to our intended first destination of this leg, Bucharest.
Ireland proved to be a great choice for us, spending 6 nights here and seeing a ton while celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary (and the 20th anniversary of our first date!). In order to maximize our time, we rented a car that Chad gamely drove on the left side of the road. I’ll put some car renting insider tips down below – I did a fair bit of research to prepare us. Here are the highlights of our week in Ireland.
Killarney National Park and Ross Castle
We landed from America at 7:30 in the morning and, after border control and an airport coffee, picked up our rental car to head straight to the small southwestern town of Killarney. Though the town itself is pretty small, it is a main tourist hub of Ireland as the gateway to the Ring of Kerry. It is a pretty easy four-drive and we stopped for a roadside lunch at the Barack Obama travel plaza to break it up. Killarney is a really adorable little town, though we arrived pretty exhausted. Luckily after a short wait, we were met by our B&B hosts who allowed us to check in 90 minutes early to give Chad a well-deserved nap after all the driving (B&B review below).
In the late afternoon, we walked through the town to the National Park, where we had a lovely walk to Ross Castle, a 15th-century tower within the park. We chose not to tour inside the castle and instead take a longer waterside path back to town. Luckily, since it is August, it remains full daylight in Ireland well into the evening. We stopped at a charming pub for Chad’s first (of many!) real Guinness of the trip (and a tasty local microbrew for me). People say Guinness tastes better in Ireland and that is certainly true. The bartender explained it has to do with how they’re taught to pour (or pull) the draft Guinness, allowing for settling time and topping off, etc. After drinks, we went to another pub closer to our B&B for some traditional (though slightly overpriced in a tourist town) Irish food.
Ring of Kerry
The next morning we woke up bright and early to enjoy the breakfast provided by the B&B. It was awesome and hearty and made by the host herself, a charming older Irish lady who asserted to us in every conversation that the warmer summers they now experience in Ireland must be caused by the climate change. The breakfast fueled us through our entire 6-hour drive around the Ring of Kerry (well, the drive isn’t 6 hours, that is just how long it took us with various picturesque stops).
We made sure to depart early (by 9:15) to get out ahead of the tour busses and decided to skip stopping in most of the little towns that dot the ring, instead focusing on nature. Our first stop was the beach at the Bay of Kells, which was pretty but probably not worth the one-lane road driving it took to reach it. From there we headed on to Cahergall and Leacanabuaile Stone Forts, slightly off the beaten path. We really enjoyed walking around the ruins and got some wonderful photos. We then rejoined and immediately departed from the Ring of Kerry onto the Ring of Skellig to drive over the bridge to Veneta Island to do a little walking and take in the view of Skellig Island (made more famous by its appearance in the latest Star Wars movie – it is the place where Luke Skywalker trains Rae; there were corny Star Wars references everywhere). We went straight to Geokaun mountain and Fogher Cliffs, which was the highlight of our day touring the Ring of Kerry. There is a slight charge to visit them, but you get very handy parking and beautiful views. After some time walking in nature and enjoying the wonderful cliff views, we finished the remainder of the Ring of Kerry drive with few stops but a lot of admiration for the beautiful landscape, especially the last bit as approached and drove through Killarney National Park (it is recommended that everyone do the drive counterclockwise due to the narrowness of the roads). We’d considered taking a tour of Muckross House at that point, but we were pretty tired and a quick scoping showed it to be bursting with people and so no fun for us (August, of course, is high season in Ireland). After a rest, we walked back down to town to enjoy pad thai at a pan-Asian restaurant.
Burren National Park & the Cliffs of Moher
We’d thought we’d get up early the next day to hike the Gap of Dunloe, but knowing it would be long day ending at the Cliffs of Moher in the evening I made an executive decision to allow Chad to sleep in and scouted out a great hike at Burren National Park closer to our destination instead. So, we enjoyed another great breakfast by Mary before hopping in the car around 10 to head north. In three short hours we were in “The Burren” as this part of Ireland was called and though the crossroads at the heart of Burren National Park was crowded with cars, we managed to find parking and hiked first the Orange Route, which was beautiful and lush (I joked it should have been the Green Route), followed by the White Arrow Route, which featured great views of the unique Burren landscape and Mullaghmore, a really unique mountain. We’d had no idea Ireland could look like this and I highly recommend a stop to hike in The Burren if you’re going to be in the area for the Cliffs of Moher. Their excellent website with walking trail maps is here.
After 90 minutes of hiking, we were back in the car driving the rest of the way to the town of Doolin, which several Irish people had told us was a must-visit in the area and a “proper” Irish village. And perhaps it was in the days before mass tourism, but we found Doolin to be a total tourist trap. But, we were committed to hanging around Doolin because of the Cliffs of Moher Ferry Tour tickets I had pre-purchased online. Luckily we were able to find a free parking spot on the road across from the par 3 golf course – there were more cars than the town could handle, even with its two large public lots by the pier. We had a late lunch splitting fish and chips and then waited around to board our ferry. Chad made sure we were second in line to board, which was a great call because it meant we got a seat on the top deck and a great view of the cliffs. The ferry ride far exceeded our expectations and it was really cool to see the cliffs from below and to get an up-close look at many of the interesting seabirds there.
Following the ferry ride, it was time to drive up and walk on the Cliffs themselves. If you’re going late in the day (after 4 p.m.) you can pre-purchase tickets online for 50% off, so of course that’s what I did. We spent about an hour walking up and down the cliffs and taking lots of pictures. It was a very beautiful place and easy to see why it is the most visited natural attraction in Ireland. Even at 6 p.m. it was still crowded with tourists, but the light was lovely and we really enjoyed ourselves. We then just drove on to Limerick, stopping for grocery store snacks to take to the hotel in lieu of dinner because we were tired!
After so much touring the prior two days, we both really needed a little break to get some work done, so that is how we spent most of our full day in Limerick. But, we had plenty of time to walk around the city in the morning before our “full Irish breakfast” provided by the hotel (review below) to see King John’s Castle. We went out again in the early afternoon, splitting a crepe at the Milk Market, which is their farmer’s market and worth a visit. Our main goal for Limerick was to celebrate our wedding anniversary, which we did with wonderful cocktails at a charming bar called House Limerick and a three-course dinner at The French Table. It was a great evening.
We had to get up early in Limerick Sunday morning in order to return the car in time at the Dublin Airport to avoid paying for an extra day. We managed that with little trouble. Then we took the Airlink Express into the city, which I definitely recommend for being easy and affordable with plenty of room for luggage. It is covered by the 3-day Leap Visitor Card which provides 3 days of public transit and roundtrip on this service. I actually bought our cards when we landed 4 days earlier from America (available in Terminal 2 at the Spar just after you exit baggage claim) so we managed to get right on the 9:25 a.m. bus with no hassle.
Our hostel (review below) was near the terminus stop of the Airlink 757 line and we dropped off our luggage and headed out for our main Dublin sightseeing. We walked through St. Stephen’s Green (a lovely park) and then all around the campus of Trinity College. Then we walked up over the main bridge to O’Connell Street, which is the heart of the tourist area of Dublin. We wanted to check out a weird tree Chad found on Atlas Obscura so we hopped on a city bus (highly recommend the Dublin public transit – it is all on Google maps and very easy to navigate) and saw “The Hungry Tree” in King’s Inns Park, though the park itself was closed on Sundays. We decided to go ahead and have lunch while we were outside of the tourist area and found a good burrito chain, Boojum, that fed us well and cheap. We took a tram back east to cross over the pedestrian Ha’ Penny Bridge, walked through the Temple Bar area and then past St. Patrick’s Cathedral (which we couldn’t justify going in with its super-long line and 8 euro ticket charge). We had just enough time at that point to go back to our hostel to check in officially and get our stuff up to the room and then went to a pub to watch Liverpool in the Community Shield (a pre-season friendly match, for those who don’t follow English football). We had a great time even though Liverpool lost in penalty kicks and spent a while talking to some Irish guys there for the match before finding a light dinner and retiring early.
The next day we needed a work day again and even though our hostel room was tiny and had no furniture other than the bed and a stool, we made it work and spent a very productive morning on our laptops. It was a beautiful day so we picked up a picnic lunch at a nearby grocery store and ate it in St. Stephen’s Green. Then we walked up to a DART station (the local train service) and just barely caught the next train to Howth.
Howth is a fishing village just 45 minutes by train from Dublin city center. Although it was a Monday, it was also a bank holiday, so there were tons of people there when we arrived. In addition to the seaside town, there are several nice walks you can take of varying distances up the cliff. We chose the shortest one at 6 kilometers and enjoyed a gorgeous walk. We caught the 4:25 train back to Dublin and hit up a pub before dinner at a Japanese Restaurant (Zakura, it was excellent). We had an early night to be up early the next morning to take the Airlink back to the airport to catch our flight onward.
Ireland was a wonderful first stop on our Leg 4 return to Europe. The highlight for us was really all the time spent in nature, so even though summer is the high season, I think that is probably the best time to visit. But we’ll return in November to catch our flight home and get to experience Ireland in less ideal weather. I’ll report back how it is.
Review of Friary View Bed & Breakfast Killarney – Wonderful B&B. Great place! There was parking for our rented car and it was a lovely 10-minute walk into town. The room was very large and comfortable. Good internet. The breakfast provided was phenomenal – made to order from several choices and hearty enough to last us well into the afternoon. The proprietor was very friendly and kind. We’d definitely stay here again.
Review of The Pier Hotel Limerick – Ok hotel, fabulous location. The hotel was clean and you can’t beat the location, but the room didn’t really match the photos on the web. The furniture was very tired and there was quite a lot of wear and tear all around. Though I suppose if they made the investment to upgrade this stuff, it would put the hotel out of my price range! So, as long as you understand you’re getting an older hotel, I’d recommend this property.
Review of Times Hostel Camden Place Dublin – Ok for a hostel but next time we’ll choose to pay more to stay elsewhere. We loved the location of this hostel near St. Stephen’s Green. There are plenty of pubs, interesting restaurants, and food markets nearby. Great access to transit, especially the Airlink bus stop for the 757 line just a few minutes walk away. The room (a double with ensuite bathroom) was very small with no furnishing other than the bed and a stool. We’ve occasionally stayed in hostels before (always in a private room) but never one so sparsely furnished or tiny. There was also a strong self-service aspect to this property that we’ve never experienced before, such as bringing your towels down to the front desk at checkout. Those things are fine, but we concluded that it is worth it to us to pay a little more for greater comfort. We had a second reservation at this property when we return to Dublin in November but decided to cancel it in favor of one of the many other hotels in the area. Also, the hostel is very close to an all-night club playing very loud music (this didn’t bother us much but is important to be aware of for light sleepers).
Car Rental Tips
We rented our car through the budget company Sixt, which we’ve used before (most recently in Iceland, a great experience). However, our experience in Ireland was not as good – we were lied to several times when picking up the car and nearly unfairly charged when we returned it. Luckily I’d done plenty of research and am reasonably organized, so I was able to rebuff these attempts to take advantage of us. First, even if you have a great credit card like we do that provides rental car coverage (Chase Sapphire, if you use my referral code I’ll earn some money, so ask me if you’re interested), it is important to know that Ireland doesn’t accept this without a specific letter stating you’re covered. I called Chase a couple of weeks before we left and obtained this letter. So it was an awesome moment when I was able to produce that as the clerk was giving us the hard sell on expensive insurance. Then, he asked us to pay a far higher amount than the price listed when I reserved on Expedia. The guy tried to insist it was due to VAT and Expedia not including it (even though my reservation stated it was included, which I showed on the printout I brought). I wanted to look at a list of the charges but he said he couldn’t print it out until the contract was finalized after running my card. It turned out that because we were a little early, they tried to charge us for a 5th day. Of course, the clerk didn’t “realize” this until we were already trying to call Expedia to figure out what was up. Then, when I asked about returning the car, the guy tried to insist to us if we didn’t pre-purchase a full tank of gas, we’d be at grave risk of waiting in for an hour to fill up at the only airport gas station with hundreds of other people returning cars. That also proved to be completely untrue when we returned the car 4 days later (at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning). We were in and out in 10 minutes. Lesson: it is important to be firm and prepared.
They don’t actually inspect the car with you when you take it, but there was a yellow carbon copy of a form listing existing damage when we entered the car, which noted some damage to the left bumper. When we returned the car, it was carefully checked over for damage and they wanted to charge us for this. Luckily again I was prepared with the piece of paper to show we weren’t responsible for us and they were forced to check us in without additional charges.
As I mentioned, driving in Ireland was a challenge, but very worthwhile, as we were able to get to some places we wouldn’t have otherwise. But, you have to be very wary of the car companies, especially the budget-priced ones. We’re developing a lot of brand loyalty toward Avis/Budget, which you can find many places, so I think in the future I’ll pay a little more to rent with them.