Ireland wasn’t high on our bucket list until we moved to London and heard from so many people about how much they loved it. We were lucky that our friends Jeff and Rachel wanted to come visit us in Europe, and they were also interested in visiting Ireland. We spent five days driving around the west coast, enjoying the beautiful scenery, delicious food and live music culture. It was a great trip to do with friends and we had such a fun time. We would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the outdoors, lively pubs and a good pint! Special thanks to Rachel for contributing photos to this post!
Friday 19 May
Rachel and Jeff had a couple of days to explore Dublin before we arrived. We rented a car in Dublin and hit a little traffic on our drive out of the city in the mid-afternoon. We wanted to cut down on the driving for the next day, so we stayed over in a random town about ninety minutes outside Dublin. There wasn’t too much going on there, but it was a good way to break up the drive and we were all tired from the travel and the week.
We picked this hotel since it was just off the highway and the price was right. The rooms were clean and modern, and while breakfast was underwhelming, overall it did the job.
Kelly’s Steak House
There weren’t too many restaurants to choose from for dinner, but this one had a bigger menu than most. We were pleasantly surprised at how good the fajitas were, and we also shared a delicious pastrami bruschetta appetizer which was fantastic.
Saturday 20 May
Killarney National Park
In the morning we got an early start and drove two hours to Killarney National Park. The park is free to enter, and we picked up a map at the Muckross House. We had planned to do a 6 mile hike around the lake, but it was raining on and off, so instead we opted for a shorter hike to the Torc Waterfall. The park was beautiful, and we really enjoyed walking around and seeing the varied scenery.
We were all pretty hungry by the time we left the park, and stumbled upon this gem of a restaurant that had hundreds of types of whiskey. The highlight of the meal was the onion soup and Irish soda bread, but everything we ate was really delicious and fresh.
From Killarney, we made our way towards Dingle, where we would spend the night. We had planned to drive around the entire Dingle Peninsula, but it was getting late and we had already done quite a bit of driving. We did see a fair amount of the peninsula and enjoyed the coastal scenery and beaches along the way to Dingle Town. The Ring of Kerry is also nearby and is supposed to be a great drive as well, but Rick Steves (and our friends) had recommended Dingle as a great alternative, which we thought was great.
Dinner at the Chart House was fantastic – we had a delicious salad with vegetables from the owners’ garden, and the fish and meat were fresh and flavorful. The service and ambiance were great too, and we left feeling way too full for dessert (although we were very tempted!).
Dingle Pub Hop
After dinner, we bounced around to a couple of different pubs that John, our B&B host had recommended for live music, which started around 9/9:30pm in many of the pubs in town. We first went into An Droichead Beag, which was more casual and relaxed, and then to O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub where the crowd was more serious about listening to the music. We had a fun time taking in the atmosphere and enjoying the live music.
Upper John St, Farraneesteenig, Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Our B&B for that night had amazing views of Dingle Bay, which was a real highlight. It had a warm, homey feel, and the rooms were clean, updated and very comfortable. John, then owner, was friendly and an amazing chef. We ate breakfast overlooking the bay, and the home-cooked pancakes, eggs, scones and breads were excellent.
Sunday May 21
Drive from Dingle to Doolin
We got an early start to make the three-hour drive to Doolin in time for our Arin Islands ferry trip. On the way, we considered taking the Tarbert-Killimer Ferry to break up the drive, but it only runs once an hour and the timing didn’t work out. We were worried the drive would take longer than expected, but we made great time and got there by noon.
The Aran Islands are three small islands off the coast of Ireland. They are well-preserved, traditional Irish settlements, and make for a great trip from Doolin. Some people choose to stay overnight, but we felt an afternoon as plenty of time to explore Inis Oirr, the closest of the three islands. The 30-minute crossing from Doolin pier to Inis Oirr was pretty rocky and is not for the faint of heart.
When we arrived in Inis Oirr, we went to Tigh Ned for lunch (there were only a few places to choose from). Our waiter told us he caught the fish himself, so we all got fish’n’chips, and we were not disappointed. We also got to experience some true Irish drinking culture, as there was a rowdy, drunken rugby team near us at the pub.
After lunch we rented bikes and to explore the island and saw some interesting rock formations, a lighthouse and a shipwreck. It was a big accomplishment for Becca to get back on a bike after a bunch of years, and it ended up being a great way to see the island. We also got some local fudge from the shop by the pier, which was delicious.
On the return trip, we were supposed to see the Cliffs of Moher, but the water was way too rough and we had to go straight back to the pier. It was a big disappointment, but the ride was rocky enough that spending any more time on the boat would have been a disaster. The company offered us a free trip the next day, or some money back on our tickets, which we appreciated.
After we checked into our B&B, we went to McDermott's Bar for a drink and to recover from the tumultuous boat trip back. We saw our friends from the rugby team again and couldn’t believe they were still standing from all that they’d been drinking. Dinner was at the Roadford Restaurant, which is run by a husband-wife team. Again we were so impressed with the quality and quantity of the food and left very satisfied.
Our boat captain and B&B host both recommended we go see the Foolin Doolin play live at McGann’s that night. The pub was packed with locals and tourists alike (including our rugby friends!), and we really enjoyed the lively atmosphere and upbeat music.
Twin Peaks was another great B&B experience. It was about 25 minutes from the center of Doolin, and the rooms were clean and comfortable. The husband-wife team cooked us a great breakfast in the morning, and had great recommendations for our time in Doolin.
Monday May 22
Cliffs of Moher
We considered trying another boat trip to see the Cliffs of Moher from the water, but the first boat wasn’t until noon and the weather wasn’t great. We instead drove to the top, where there is a visitors’ center and walkways to see the cliffs from the top. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty bad and visibility was poor, which was again a real disappointment. It was still beautiful, and we could see how the cliffs would be amazing on a clear day.
Before leaving Doolin, we stopped at one of the craft shops for some souvenir shopping. On our way to Galway we drove through Burren National Park and we got out to walk around at Poulnabrone Dolmen, which is a fairly unimpressive rock formation. It was cool to see the landscape in the area, and a good place to stretch our legs but nothing amazing.
The Quay Street Kitchen
When we got to Galway, we walked into the center of town and had lunch. This was our first disappointing meal – it wasn’t terrible, but also not amazing. It was a cute atmosphere and a good alternative to the pubs that line the rest of the main street in Galway.
Galway Pub Hop
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Latin Quarter of Galway, exploring the shops and bouncing from bar to bar. It’s a really cute town and has a great atmosphere, with tons of street musicians and people drinking outside. We started at the King’s Head, which is in a 400-year-old building and has some interesting history. We also went to Tigh Nora, a gin bar, and The Quays. We ate dinner at John Keogh’s, a pub across the river, which got mixed reviews from the group. After dinner we went back to the King’s Head to hear Frank and John, an awesome cover band duo who played a real range of music. The place was pretty packed, and we were happy that we got there early to get a seat.
Our hotel was conveniently located and the rooms were clean, modern and spacious. Breakfast was disappointing, but overall it was a great place to stay in Galway.
Tuesday May 23
Guinness Factory Tour
108 James's St, Dublin 8, Ireland
We got up and drove the 2 hours back to Dublin, returned the rental car and took a cab to the Guinness Factory for a tour. We were all a bit underwhelmed with the tour, but the building is cool and we had fun with some of the gimmicky activities they have there, like learning how to pour the perfect pint. After Guinness, we made our way to the airport for a quick flight back to London.
On every trip we share our rose (highlight), thorn (lowlight), and bud (what we're looking forward to).
Rose- Dingle views (Rachel and Jeff), live music in the pubs (Becca), dingleberry pancakes (Josh)
Thorn- boat ride back (Rachel), Guiness Factory (Jeff), no ice cream (Josh), weather negatively impacting Cliffs of Moher (Becca)
Bud- London (Rachel and Jeff), America (Josh), being in London with Jeff and Rachel (Becca)
If you go, things to know…
How long? Four nights was a good amount of time for our itinerary. If we had an extra day, we would have spent more time driving around the Dingle Peninsula and Ring of Kerry. We also skipped most of Dublin, which Jeff and Rachel enjoyed. There are obviously plenty of other parts of Ireland to visit, but four nights was perfect for the places we wanted to go.
When to go? Ireland isn't known for good weather, so we knew it would likely rain whenever we went. We chose May with the hopes that it would be a bit warmer than other times of year. We did get some sun, but most days had on-and-off rain and lots of clouds.
What to pack? Definitely be prepared with good rain gear and proper shoes for when it gets muddy. All the places we went were pretty casual, so we didn't need anything too fancy.
Is it all just pub food? No! We were pleasantly surprised at how good the food was and how much variety there was. Most of the food we ate was fresh, local, and delicious.
Do you need to rent a car? There are definitely guided tours that follow a similar route, but we enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of having our own car. We didn't look into whether there are public transit options to get from one place to another, but we didn't come across anything that seemed like it.