I have to say, I didn't know the slightest thing about Ireland before I went. (I had to watch some youtube videos to learn about how it's a different country than Northern Ireland, which lead me down a rabbit hole trying to understand what countries make up the UK.)
The Irish are a friendly, loud, and energetic bunch. It was quite refreshing to be in a place where people smile and say "good day" when you walk by instead of trying to avoid eye contact with you like people do in U.S. cities. People there remain very close (emotionally and spatially) to their families, another nice change from the U.S. They never seem to be in a rush, they don't blare car horns, and they drink A LOT... A LOT A LOT!!!
Suffice to say they are fun people and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. :)
10 Days on the Emerald Isle
It would have been wonderful to stay a bit longer, but 10 days was what I got, and I won't complain about that. Here's a quick glance at where we went during our trip :
As you can see by the map, we visited 7 different towns, starting in Dublin and going south through Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains, through Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Killarney, around the Ring of Kerry (and Skellig's Ring), up and around to the Aran Islands, back to Galway, and then returning to fly out of Dublin.
So, let's jump right in!
The Journey Begins in Dublin
When we arrived into downtown Dublin Saturday night at 11pm after our flight, we got a first-hand look at Irish partying and drinking. Evidently we arrived on the day where they had just had a gay pride parade, and people were still celebrating, so there were people drinking all over the place, singing, and having a jolly time in bars and on the streets. The legal drinking age is only 18, and drinking outdoors in public is perfectly legal. So I don't know if it was because it was a special event or it was just the weekend... but either way, It seemed like the Irish really knew how to have a good time.
The next day we explored all the touristy things like the Dublin Castle, Trinity College and the Book of Kells,
We had to wait in a fairly long line to view the Book of Kells, but when in Rome, right? The Library that you get to see while seeing the book is very neat as well.
Nothing too, too exciting. Although Dublin is the capital, I had read online that it isn't necessarily the most interesting or beautiful Irish city, so I was glad we only gave it one day of exploring.
The next day, we got a rental car and headed south towards the Wicklow Mountains. Next stop was Glendalough!
The Drive to Wexford - Short Stop in Glendalough
The drive through the Wicklow Mountains was our first taste of the tiny, one lane roads we kept hearing about. Luckily people pay attention when they drive so as long as you slow down a bit when oncoming cars approach, it's no big deal to pass around each other.
Don't get me wrong, I love cities, but this is the Ireland I was really excited about seeing!
Glendalough was also very lovely! There seemed to be some nice trails in the area too, but since we were on our way to meet some relatives we didn't want to linger for too long.
There's something so appealing about these old, stone structures.
After Glendalough we carried on to Wexford, where we met up with some Irish relatives!
Besides the Aran Islands, I think Wexford was probably one of the least touristy places we visited.
Our hosts were gracious enough to give us a wonderful tour of the nearby sights, including a trip to the Hook lighthouse, where the phrase "by hook or by crook" originated. (There's a neighboring lighthouse in nearby Waterford called the Crook lighthouse.)
After dinner we got an amazing view of the sunset! Mind you since Ireland is so far North, in the summer the sun sets after 9:30pm.
It was pretty awesome having light until almost 11 at night.
Next up, just a short 1 hour drive west of Wexford was Waterford, our next destination and oldest city in Ireland.
Again our Irish hosts took us on a field trip to see some gorgeous cliff-side views at Dunmore East.
The next day we explored another coastal town called Tramore.
Ireland (or maybe just Wateford) loved their viking history, They even had a little VR experience that ran through the history of vikings in Ireland, complete with giant, intricately carved sword outside.
Next up was Cork!
Since we were only staying one overnight in Cork, we headed off to see Blarney Castle shortly after checking into our lodging.
The admission price is a bit much, but the park is pretty big. You could definitely spend most of the day there.
There are garden walks, more buildings, caves, lots of neat things to see.
The queue leading into the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone was almost 2 hours long. I think it's typical for people to head straight to the castle when they arrive at the park, so we decided to go exploring for a bit and then come back once the park was almost closed. When we came back later, the line was significantly shorter (though still took around 30 min to get through).
Even though the line might take a while, if you're all the way in Ireland, you should still chec it out. Even if you have no interest in kissing this rock that 2 thousand people before you slobbered all over, seeing the inside of a real castle was very cool.
After returning to Cork, we enjoyed a nice evening of eating, strolling, and exploring! I liked Cork a lot and wished we had just a bit more time there.
Killarney and the Ring of Kerry
After Cork we headed to Killarney, where we would drive the ~111 mile loop of the Ring of Kerry! (Which I was very much looking forward to.)
Killarney itself was odd, and to me felt like a sort of 'fake' touristy. You can't help if a place is touristy, but something about it made me think of a caricature of Ireland, rather than the real thing. In fact, looking through my photos, I didn't take any photos of the town itself! It was just a hub where people tend to start when exploring the ring.
We kept hearing about how narrow the roads were going to be along the ring, and how there were cliffs and things, and how buses are required do the loop counter-clockwise. Since we figured it'd be better to go the same direction as the buses rather than run into them, we decided to do the loop counter-clockwise, although I think generally people choose the clockwise route. (In the end we started the loop late enough in the day that we didn't come across a single bus.)
The only bummer about this decision was that the park that's right next to Killarney (KIllarney National Park) would be at the very end, and unfortunately, we ran out of time to explore any of that.
As we went along the loop, we found it wasn't as spectacular as we kept hearing about. I guess the idea is, you pick some branches and you leave the ring. We sort of kept waiting to see something really interesting, and nothing was popping up. So we got half way around when we saw a sign about "THE MOST MAGNIFICENT CLIFFS IN KERRY" or something along those lines. FINALLY, LET'S GO!
That's when we unknowingly entered Skellig's Ring, another loop that's an offshoot of The Ring of Kerry. But I'm glad we did! Although up til that point the Ring of Kerry wasn't blowing us away, we finally got to see something really amazing.
We had arrived at Kerry Cliffs Portmagee, also known as Skellig's viewpoint.
We didn't get a chance to see the Cliffs of Moher during this trip, but we were traveling with someone who has seen them and according to him, these cliffs were even more breathtaking!
Although the rest of Skellig's ring took a very long time to drive through, it was where we got to see some fantastic views.
Because we spent so much time here, however, we did have to rush the latter half, which was very sad. :(
Hopefully someday I'll get to return to Ireland and spend a few days exploring the areas around the Ring. (Yes -- a few days!)
Aran Islands - Inisheer (Inis Oírr)
As recommended by our experienced-in-Ireland friend, we spent one night on a tiny Island southwest of Galway. So we drove a few hours from Killarney to Galway, had lunch, then continued west to a minuscule airport that would take us to this island.
Flight time is around 7 minutes. The check-in process involves weighing yourself so they know how to arrange passengers on the plane.
Our flight was in the evening so we would have time to get there from Killarney, but that ended up meaning most everything on the island was sort of shut down. There were only 3 or so places to eat, and 1 of those required prior reservation. So not a ton of selection obviously, but when I squeezed a night here into my itinerary , I didn't know there would be so little available. Whoops!
There are only around 300 people that live on the island, and apparently that guesstimate is generous. Was still a really unique place to stay! Very relaxing.
Even though our time there was short, I still felt like we were able to see all the sights.
We spent the night strolling around the nearby castle ruins ...
...and checking out Plassy shipwreck!
Remember when I said we didn't see the Cliffs of Moher during this trip? Technically that's not true, we did get to see them, just from a different angle! There they are, in the background across the water.
All the way to Galway!
Final destination of the trip!
Galway was a very energetic place!
I had a ton of fun there! It felt like the most live-able city we visited.
Lots of great musicians performing in the streets.
Lots of scenic walkways and places to relax. (Or drink a Guinness)
Everywhere you went, people seemed to be having a good time. ^^
I mean just look at these rascals! They wanted their photo taken while I had my tripod set up.
As always, I would have loved to spend even more time in Ireland. But I was super pleased with how much we were able to see and do in just 10 short days.
If you've never been to Europe like me, Ireland seems like a real great contender for the first place to go. Fun and friendly people, good food, amazing scenery, slow pace...
And who knows, maybe you actually have relatives there who you've never met :P
Sophie is a video game developer who has a variety of passions including yoga, traveling, and photography.