Cue the piccolo players, the pints of Guinness, and the vast, lush greenery. The speedy 26 minute flight from Glasgow, Scotland, to Dublin, Ireland, went by as quickly as you’d expect. Before we knew it, we’d crossed the sea and found ourselves on the bus to the city center of Dublin.
Instead of doing a recap of each city like I do with my other blogs, I’m going to walk you through each day in Ireland. It was quite the ride.
We dropped off our luggage at our hostel and took a walk around town. We decided to start by visiting Trinity College. It’s a well-known university because it’s where the Book of Kells is, which is one of the oldest books in the world that’s a Latin version of the Gospels. They only turn one page each year. But it cost about €14 for the tour and to see the book, which we felt was a little to steep, so we passed.
We walked through the Temple Bar area and stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral before heading back to our hostel for a nap. We’d been up since before 6 am and needed to lay down.
We’re quickly learning the importance of rest. Andi is really good at making us take down time to read or watch Netflix or nap, because realistically we can’t be on the go for all of the weeks we’re traveling. To fully enjoy it, we have to be well-rested and ready to go. So to prepare for our awesome week in Ireland, we did just that — took it easy for the rest of the day, slept for a lot of hours that night, and woke up ready to handle what came next.
Never have I wanted to be 25 so badly.
We really wanted to rent a car while in Ireland. It would allow us to see a lot more and go at our own pace and stop at the random towns and beaches along the way. And it’d be easier than doing the buses all week. It took us awhile to find an affordable rental car online, but we did. Still, we dropped a pretty penny on this part of our trip. I’m just going to be completely transparent about prices here. Originally, we were finding rental cars that were $500-$700 for the week. We knew there’d be extra fees once we got there, so there was no way we could swing that price. But somehow, we found a car that would only be about $300 for the whole week. We were thrilled, but it turned into extreme anxiety when we got to the rental car company.
As we expected, there was a young driver fee — what we didn’t realize was that it was almost as much as renting the car itself. The fees ended up adding up to $224. And because we couldn’t get anywhere without a GPS, we had to rent one (we were originally told there would be one in the car). That was $70. So the total amount for renting the car was $600, or $300 each. Needless to say, we were shocked and pretty stressed out after that encounter.
Now picture this: Traffic as busy as Chicago. Pouring rain. Steering wheel on the right side. The car on the left side. Honking. A slow-working GPS.
After going through getting the car, these were the conditions I drove through in Dublin to get us out. The first couple of hours in the car were stressful, but we eventually got used to the backwards conditions.
We arrived in Cork in the early afternoon and went to Blarney Castle to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. We expected it to just be a castle and a stone, but it was so much more. I’m talking 60 acres of much more. There were waterfalls, nature paths, the Blarney House, a fern garden, a lime kiln, a poison garden, and other sights we didn’t even have time to get to.
Though we didn’t spend much time in Cork, it seemed like a cool college town. We made the drive to Tralee (pronounced Tr-lee, with emphasis on the second syllable), a cute small town in Southwest Ireland, after leaving Cork and arrived in time for dinner. This part is definitely a highlight of our trip to Ireland: Our airbnb hosts in Tralee. A sweet couple named James and Kerry welcomed us warmly and offered us tea and biscuits. We also got to know their dog, Daisy, and their bird, Tweety. They showed us our room and chatted with us about the rest of our trip, helping us plan bits and pieces. After we settled us in, they dropped us off at the pubs in town where we ended the day as it should always end in Ireland: With beer.
James and Kerry went above and beyond as our hosts. They provided us with breakfast and chatted with us when we woke up the next morning. They told us about an inexpensive supermarket down the road and happily sent us on our way (after grilling me about my wedding plans and talking delightedly about how I’m such a cute, young bride!). We stopped by the supermarket and grabbed — get this — €.45 pasta noodles and €.69 pasta sauce. Dinner for the next week, all for less than €1 each! After the rental car fiasco, we were thrilled with our food choices.
We hit the road, and instead of heading for Limerick as we originally planned, we headed for Tarbert at James and Kerry’s recommendation. Taking the ferry from Tarbert to Killimer would shave two and a half hours off our driving time, and it didn’t seem like Limerick was really worth our time, so we decided to go for it. It was Andi’s first experience on a ferry, so she was thrilled. It was a quick, 10-minute ride to the other side of the inlet.
Along our drive, we ran into a cute and empty beach that we absolutely had to explore. It gave us a moment of clarity and happiness — THIS was why we got the rental car: The random pit stops! Not only was it a great chance to stretch our legs, but it was a fun little adventure.
We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher in the early afternoon and were surprised by how big the area was. I honestly think we both expected to show up and just see a cliff and move on; I don’t know why, because clearly it’s a big tourist sight. It was packed with people, but there was plenty of space for all of us to explore. It went on for miles, quite literally. Parts of “Harry Potter” and “The Princess Bride” were filmed there, and honestly, the cliffs were quite treacherous. They’re 702 feet above the rocky ocean below and there are plaques up in honor of those who have lost their lives there. We both took a look at the first of many we ran into and said, “Welp, that’s promising.”
Nevertheless, we really enjoyed hiking through the cliffs. There’s a hike that goes all the way around the cliffs and down to the bottom of them, which we both would’ve loved to do if we had more time. We were there for two hours and didn’t even see everything!
So we hopped in our car and headed for our final stop of the day: Galway. A small coastal city, Galway is nestled in the middle of a lot of exciting things and is somewhat known for being an artsy, cultural town. We took a walk around and saw what we could, but after a long day of driving and exploring, we were both ready to pass out. Not before eating some of our pasta, of course.
Northern Ireland is filled with hidden gems, treasures in the form of gorgeous scenery, that we discovered in our over-priced rental car on a long drive. Other things you should know about Northern Ireland: Unlike Ireland, it is apart of the U.K. so it uses the pound instead of the euro.
We hopped in the car and drove five hours to the northernmost coast to get to our first stop, Giant’s Causeway. I think we both expected to only spend 30-45 minutes there, but we were stunned by the natural rock fixtures at the base of the ocean and so we spent nearly two hours exploring them.
The GPS we rented was faulty, so we found a real map to guide us on the rest of our travels. I had planned the day around one specific theme: Game of Thrones. Many of the scenes from the series were filmed in the rural, quaint areas of Northern Ireland — so of course, I had to see them. We stopped by Ballintoy Harbour, Murlough Bay, and the Cushendun Caves. All of them were basically deserted, with few (if any) tourists, but showed a beautiful side of the country that we felt we somehow stumbled upon. Sure, we had to drive winding roads to get there that stressed us both out because somehow they were supposed to fit two cars on them. But the sights were absolutely breathtaking.
It was the best day of our trip — not because we did anything spectacular, but because we saw things that were spectacular. We both felt that if that was all we had done in Ireland, it would’ve been a worthwhile trip.
We made it to Belfast that night, made some pasta (are you surprised?), visited with other travelers and crashed hard after a long day.
The last day of our road trip was a relaxed one (for the most part). We took a slow morning in Belfast, enjoying free breakfast provided by our hostel and loading up our car at a leisurely pace. We walked around for a while and found a cafe to spend some time in before heading back to Dublin. A drive that we thought would take only two hours turned into four — and the reason why is quite the tale.
It was raining buckets, but we still made it to Dublin in good time. The extra two hours came from driving in the city — between the crazy traffic, the lack of gas stations available for us to refill the car, and the construction, it was a tough afternoon. By the time we dropped off the car, we were both ready for the day to be over. So we walked around the city for a while, but ultimately took a night in and prepared for the exciting day ahead.
This is the day the beginning of the European Brewery tours started. We slept in, packed our stuff and stored it at our hostel, and walked 45 minutes to the Guinness Storehouse for our tour. Going in the morning gave us a discount (score!) and we’d heard amazing things about it. Neither of us are big fans of dark beer, but we kept being told that it tasted better at the storehouse. We were not sure that was true, but decided to give it a shot — and we were pleasantly surprised.
The Guinness Storehouse was cool. Hip. Unique. We walked in and were blown away by everything going on. We learned so much about it — that what makes Guinness special is the amount of hops in it and that the location of the storehouse is there because of a 9000 year lease (!!!) and the art of cask-making. We even got to pour our own Guinness and enjoy a flatbread on the roof of the building.
It was the perfect end to our time in Ireland. We spent three hours at the Guinness Factory and loved every second of it. By the time we were finished, we had a few hours to kill before catching our flight to Oslo.
Things I’ve learned
- Driving on the left side of the road is harder than it seems. The best tip we received was to pretend like the line in the middle of the road is coming out of your shoulder.
- Guinness is actually better at the storehouse.
- Irish people are incredibly friendly.
- All pub food is basically the same.
- Renting a car is only ridiculously expensive if you’re not 25.
- In some ways, big cities are all the same. Getting into the small towns is important because it helps you get to know the culture of a country more.
Tips for travel in Ireland
- Renting a car is nice because you can go at your own pace and stop at those random, deserted beaches you find, but coach tours are also a good option. Research both to figure out the best option for you.
- You could spend a month in Ireland and still not see everything there is to see there. Prioritize. You can still see a lot of cool stuff in a day.
- Dublin is a cool city, but make time to see the rest of the country too.
- When I Return: Go to Dingle, do the Ring of Kerry, visit the Aran Islands, go kayaking off the coast of Cork, visit Kinsale (small fishing town), spend a few more days exploring Northern Ireland