Ireland is a pretty amazing place. I had the chance to visit for 2 weeks in 2015. I went in October, as it's the off season and that usually means cheaper everything. The people were great, the pubs were great, the landscapes were great, and the weather was... well... the weather wasn't TOO rainy. Hey, that much green grass doesn't grow from nothing. So here was my itinerary; what I saw and what I'd recommend.
Aside from a design conference I was attending in Dublin, the major items on my agenda were exploring Dublin, seeing the Cliffs of Moher, and touring the Ring of Kerry. Ireland, while not a large country, has a lot to see. However, many of their natural attractions require travel - driving to all different parts of the country. I hope to get a chance to go back and return to some of my favorite spots as well as explore locations I didn't get to visit during this trip.
Dublin is a fairly large city with a bunch of different neighborhoods. I was here 6 days and there was so much I didn't see. I also spent 3 days at a conference, so I was only working with 3 full days to explore. I decided that the places that I needed to see, largely due to interest and proximity, were Phoenix Park, Trinity College, and the Guinness Storehouse.
I actually ended up staying in a place right outside the park. Later I heard that the park wasn't exactly the safest place at night, but I was there during the day and never saw or encountered any issues. The park is huge and contains the Dublin Zoo, the Áras an Uachtaráin (the residence of the President of Ireland), the U.S. Ambassador's Residence, as well as many green hills, fish ponds, people playing rugby, and all sorts of other great people-watching experiences. It's fairly easy to spend hours walking around the park enjoying the scenery.
For me, Trinity College came in as a close second for my best experience in Dublin (the number one spot is an evening I spent in a pub talking about football, politics, graphic design, and a number of other things with people from all over Europe). Trinity College is a wonderful mashup of old and new. It was founded in 1592 but is a living, breathing piece of history. It houses ancient manuscripts and one of my favorite science museums.
When I arrived, I opted for student-led tour. There's a small fee for the tour, but it also comes with a pass to the old library, which you'll need to buy anyways if you want to see the Book of Kells. Our tour guide was witty, self-deprecating, and had a morbid sense of humor. Which, in my mind, made him very Irish. The tour is brief, covering the history of Trinity College, some of its famous graduates/attendees, as well as the founders and leaders it's had throughout its extensive history.
Book of Kells
After my tour, I went to The Old Library, which houses the Book of Kells and a number of other manuscripts and busts. The library and its book shelves are a gorgeous wood design, the manuscript is beautiful, and there is no flash photography. The exhibit is small and quick to get through. I purchased a Trinity College umbrella from the gift shop (because it was, of course, raining) and made my way to the Science Gallery.
For me, the Science Gallery sets a standard for what I want all technology/science museums to be. Though the place is small, each exhibit is staffed with people to talk to you about the exhibit - to explain the information, answer questions, and walk you through understanding what you're seeing and experiencing. I visited during an exhibit named "Secret" which had a hands-on feature where you got an introductory guide into lock-picking. I got the 3 pin lock to open, but never quite cracked the 4 pin.
So, at this point I should confess that I'm not a big fan of beer. I'm especially not a fan of thick, dark beers like Guinness. However, the Guinness Storehouse has a pretty interesting tour and a more interesting view from the top of the tower. I decided to walk myself through the tour area reading up on the history of company, how it makes it's product, and some of the strangest marketing campaigns that include characters that I still see when I close my eyes at night. The main pull for me, though, was the tower with its glass walls that give you a great view of Dublin in all directions. I stayed here for quite a while, just watching the clouds roll over the city below. It's a great place to relax, even if it is a fairly crowded place.
Leaving Dublin, I rented a car and drove west to Doolin. A lot of people may use Galway as their base of operations for Ireland's west coast, but a friend recommended Doolin for a small-town feel and good Trad music at the pubs, so I decided to stay at a B&B in town. I only stayed a couple of nights, but Doolin is a quiet town with cow and horse pastures, a couple of pubs with good food, good drink (I prefer the cider), and good music - the nights are particularly lively. There's also a small shopping street that sells local products. I bought some of the fudge and ate most of it over the next few days.
Cliffs of Moher
One of the benefits of staying in Doolin is its proximity to the Cliffs of Moher, one of the larger tourist attractions in the area. Around 2014, a walking path between the cliffs and the town was created, and there's a guided tour that leaves pretty early in the morning to trek your way up to the cliffs. The path is about 7km (or 4.3 miles for us Americans) and goes right along the ocean for pretty much the entire trip. I'm not a morning person, so I woke up a bit later and took the bus up and then deciding walking back would be a great way to spend a few hours in the afternoon. Along the way, I ended up losing the trail and trespassing into someone's horse pasture. The owner met me at the gate and didn't mention that I was cutting across his property - I only later realized I was trespassing when I finally had to admit to myself that I had gone off the trail. It cost me a pair of shoes at a particularly muddy part of the pasture, but I got my favorite shot of the trip from this little detour.
The cliffs themselves make for a stunning view. The drama of the sheer cliff is enhanced by the fact that you can walk up right to the edge, since there's a large portion of the cliffs that aren't walled or fenced off. The signage, of course, recommends this as falling from the cliffs is basically certain death and the land can be slippery and unstable. Despite that, there are always a number of dare-devils who want to get as close to the edge as possible.
I chose to stay in Killarney for my tour of the Ring of Kerry. Partly because it was fairly easy to get to from Doolin (despite the Garmin GPS trying to kill me with its selection of back roads to drive through); partly because there's a huge national park right outside of town, and partly because it made it easy to return to Dublin. I stayed at a B&B near the park entrance and booked a bus tour for the ring. Since I got into town early, I had a lot of time in the afternoon to walk around the city and explore some of the park.
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is fairly large. There's a ton of area, a lake, wild animals, and a castle. The walkways a paved, making it easy to walk through. Given my limited time in the area, I stuck to just the north-eastern section of the park. It was a nice way to spend a fairly lazy afternoon. I took the tour of Ross Castle, located within the park, but the castle wasn't too much to look at - this is one of the few things from my trip that I'd rate as a "pass" if you're thinking of going. But the rest of the park was nice and serene. I watched some deer eating grass nearby, strolled alongside a creek and watched the ducks, and then started to head back to my lodging as sunset approached and the park was beginning to close.
Ring of Kerry
The B&B owner actually scheduled the bus tour for me, so he organized for the guide to pick me up at the house. Actually, I want to give a quick shout-out to Woodlands B&B - my stay was relaxing and the Irish breakfast they serve was great. Anyways, the guide picked me up in a small van and took my into the city center where we met up with a larger group of people and a larger bus. The bus tour was fairly standard - it took us to a number of destinations along the ring to take pictures, we stopped in a couple of towns for food, and history and commentary were given by the guide; it was a good tour, but nothing amazing. If I were more confident with my "left-side-of-the-road" driving skills, I probably would have opted do the tour at my own pace. I consider the day I went to be a standard Irish day - the grass was very green, the sky was very grey.
- if heading to a small town, stay in a local B&B - they're comfortable and serve decent breakfast
- if going outside of Dublin, rent a car - I found a great deal on a car that came out to under $20/day
- bring or quickly buy and umbrella - you will likely need it if your stay is any longer than a couple of days
- eat at pubs - they don't just serve alcohol; they have great food, music, and work as local gathering spots
View the full gallery here.