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Few countries offer nature lovers, hikers, painters, sailors, and everyday tourists so much to do.
My husband and I went for our 20th wedding anniversary for an entire week, kid free!It was truly a 2nd honeymoon in Ireland! We wandered through old castles, walked through gardens older than my grandparents, hiked through national parks, caught a cold (only me), and ate wonderful meals.
Truth be told I had already been to Ireland a decade earlier with my parents and siblings and my two oldest kids. We had a wonderful visit and stayed in a thatched cottage in County Laois, and I have wonderful memories of chasing my oldest around while he played with a neighborhood dog. The pastoral views and crumbling castles had captured my imagination, and I was so excited to return.
Dublin is a great place to kick off a trip to Ireland. It is near the airport, offers affordable accommodations, and is the capital city. But if you limit your visit to Dublin you are missing the majority of things that make Ireland a great destination. We stayed a day and a night in Dublin and really enjoyed our time. If you go be sure to visit:
Take a student-led tour of the oldest college in Ireland. You will learn about the architecture and use of the college and be able to take a peek at the Book of Kells–a beautifully intricate version of the first 4 books of the New Testament. If you are a fan of Maeve Binchy, Trinity College figures prominently into many of her books.
Christ Church Cathedral-
This Cathedral is almost a thousand years old and has played a large part in the history of Dublin. It is currently the seat of the archbishop of Dublin. The garden surrounding Christ Church is extensive and was being well used by Dubliners who were eating, biking, and strolling. We did not go in to Christ Church as the entrance fee was fairly high. But even if you don’t go in, the exterior is worth seeing.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral-
This is the largest church in Ireland, and in it you could spend hours and hours looking at artifacts. The cathedral itself is a feast for the eyes with the ceiling of domes and the mosaic floors. If you are lucky enough to be there when the choir school has a performance, tell me all about it!
The River Liffey runs through Dublin, and numerous pedestrian bridges cross over the river today. The Ha’penny bridge was built as an option to the ferries that used to take people across, and it was named for the price of the toll. A ha’penny is half a penny. Today the Ha’penny bridge is used by thousands of pedestrians a day. Take a picture at the top or bring along an old lock to add to the bridge!
The rest of Ireland-
We stayed the majority of our trip in a cottage just north of Cork in the town of Castlelyons and made that our base for our explorations. We did drive a lot but were able to see most of the things on our checklist from our home base. If you don’t enjoy driving, I would recommend staying in Killkenny and just doing that area of the country, but we always want to see as much as we can, so we stayed more south central to make it easy to get all the way west to Dingle.
The city of Cork was my favorite city in Ireland. It is cosmopolitan like Dublin but seemed to have more charm. More cobblestone streets, more pedestrians, and older buildings. If you go be sure to stop at The English Market. This is Cork’s oldest food market and there are lots of delightful sights and smells.
Walk down the pedestrian street at sunset to see the sun gleaming off the sails and making the whole town look magical.
Eat at Market Lane, and eat outside if the weather permits. We had such a delicious dinner that we went back to the same restaurant the next night! The highlight for both of us was the pork leg with mustard sauce.
To me this castle was a highlight of our trip. As you drive through Ireland you see ruined castles, partially rebuilt castles, and variations on the two all over. But Bunratty has been painstakingly rebuilt to show you what this castle would have looked like in its prime. Its prime is the 15th century to be exact. Enjoy the tour of the castle with its narrow staircases, hidden rooms, and glorious views. The castle alone is worth exploring, but the grounds of Bunratty make this an all day adventure.
A village has been reconstructed on the grounds to show life in the 19th century. We visited an Irish school, a potter, and numerous homes. There is even a working pub.
Costumed guides are available to answer questions and teach you about the village.
If you have the evening, stay for the medieval feast. The main hall is filled with banquet tables, and renaissance music is sung and played, candlelight dances off the armour. The life of Bunratty in the 15th century truly comes alive with the costumed waiters and musicians.
I always feel that the things you find unexpectedly turn out to be your favorite spots. Lismore gardens was unexpected and lovely.
We drove by these gardens while trying to find our Airbnb, and vowed to return. It took some work, but we found them and spent an overcast morning exploring the gardens. The upper garden, which grows the most enormous hydrangea I have ever seen, was built in 1605 and has a variety of flowers and vegetables.
The lower garden is more of a walking garden with flowering trees and shrubs.
If you are a garden lover, this one is not to be missed!
If you have a grandmother (and who doesn’t) chances are you have heard of Waterford crystal. Generally considered to be one of the best makers of crystal in the world, Waterford crystal is based in Waterford, Ireland. There are factories all over the world, but the store in Waterford offers tours and has a retail outlet.
Although I have never been particularly interested in crystal, deeming it old and fuddy-duddy, we were very near Waterford and I thought, “why not?”
The tour is about an hour long and takes you through the middle of an actual working factory. No windows divide you from the workers. In fact you could sneeze and the workers would feel it. I have never been on a tour where you are so in the center of the action. We watched the pouring, designing, and etching of the crystal. The etching is done by hand with a diamond tipped wheel, and it was fascinating. I could have stayed all day watching the etching.
You end up in the gift shop, and suddenly I knew I would never be happy in my life without a piece of Waterford crystal!
Did you know that the ball dropped in New York Time’s Square on New Years’ Eve is made of Waterford crystal? It also takes nearly 20 years of training to become at etcher because any flaw in design keeps the crystal from being sold as Waterford crystal.
Rock of Dunamase-
The castle of Dunamase is another highlight of Ireland. This is the opposite of Bunratty. It is an old, crumbling ruin of a castle. But the location of the castle make this one of the most thrilling spots in Ireland. Built on an outcrop of rock 150 feet above the surrounding fields, Danamase castle was first used as a Christian settlement in the 800’s. A castle was eventually built there in the 12th century and stood until the early 1500’s. It has been a ruin ever since. This ruined castle has one of the most beautiful views in all of Ireland. Standing on top of the ruins the wind whips your hair around, and it seems you can see forever. A must visit!
The Dingle peninsula is otherworldly in the way the land seems to drop off into the sea. Tiny farms are built to use every square inch, and sheep graze haphazardly. I wonder how many unknowing lambs ever drop off with the land.
Although there is much debate about if a tourist should do the ring of Kerry or Dingle, I say it would be hard to miss either one. Both can be done in a single long day and as long as you don’t mind the car, you should do both.
The getting to Dingle is almost as beautiful as the arriving. Connor Pass leads the way into Dingle and the pass is breathtaking. The road becomes a single twisted lane as it passes through the highest mountain pass in Ireland. The green of the mountains and the blue of water and sky are so intense and seem to envelop you as you wind your way through the mountain pass. Although the driving might be a trifle scary, everyone takes the drive very slowly.
The town of Dingle is a good place to begin your exploration of the peninsula. The town is colored brightly and complete with everything and seaside town should have. Murphy’s ice cream for example is a great place to have some ice cream. Fish and chips at Reel Dingle Fish was up there with the best I have ever eaten. You can browse some art galleries and tourists shops, but make sure to walk along the water and look at the colorful boats coming in from sea with their riches.
The Dingle peninsula loop is only around 30 miles long and has arrows pointing the way. Stop at the famine cottages near Slea Head to learn about the great Irish potato famine. Or pull over at Gallarus Oratory to enjoy the view and look at the ancient building.
There have been far too many things written about the ring of Kerry for me to throw my hat into the ring (haha). I will tell you that there is no wrong way to visit the area that incorporates the ring of Kerry. You could drive the whole ring without stopping, pick and choose your favorites, or go to one and really explore. There is enough here to occupy you for weeks if not months, so we chose to pick our must sees and really see them.
We chose the Gap of Dunloe, Killarney, and Kenmare. I suspect we would have done more if I had not been sick, but we soldiered on the best we could.
We had a truly beautiful trip. Ireland is a romantic country that would be a super location for a first honeymoon or a 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th . . . .