Beer, Boys & Best Buds: Road Tripping in IrelandIreland, Road Trips — By Lost Girls on June 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm
Five of my girlfriends and I scrunched into a left-side-of-the-road minivan on a whirlwind, weeklong tour of Ireland—for beer, cute boys with accents, and even more beer. We found plenty of all of the above as we braved obscenely narrow roads, endured close quarters with crazy friends, and battled daily hangovers on the best road trip we’ve ever taken. Renting a car is truly the greatest way to see Ireland—there’s beautiful scenery everywhere, the most friendly people to help guide you around, and enough Jameson to make you wish you could ride co-pilot all week. Here’s how to recreate our perfect DIY tour:
Start in Dublin. Flying there was the cheapest option for us, and since it’s Ireland’s largest airport, Dublin will probably be the cheapest for you, too. Pick up your rental car at the airport, and drive to dump your bags at your hotel or hostel. Chances are you’ll arrive at the crack of dawn, but resist the urge to nap! Power through with an espresso at Queen of Tarts on Cow’s Lane in Temple Bar. If you’re hungry from the trip, grab a few of their baked goodies. If you’re lucky enough to arrive on a Saturday, hit up the street market right outside on Cow’s Lane, for scones, cheese, and butter—yum!
Some can’t-miss sights around town: North of the Liffey: O’Connell Street and The General Post Office; South of the Liffey: Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and Saint Stephen’s Green
If you’re short on time or aren’t particularly interested in Jameson, skip the Jameson Distillery. But if whiskey’s your thing, make sure to raise your hand to volunteer for a special event at the tour’s end. Take nighttime pictures on Ha’Penny Bridge before heading to Temple Bar to explore the Dublin nightlife. There are so many great places to choose from whether you’re looking to throw back a few or dance your heart out.
Set an alarm and get an early start toward Kilkenny. The waterfall at Powerscourt Estate is on the way. It’s beautiful but not a must-see—don’t feel bad if you skip it. We didn’t make it to Glendalough, but if you have time, we’ve heard it’s worth a stop. Grab lunch at Johnnie Fox’s as you pass through Glencullen. It’s a bit off the beaten path but well worth it! Road signs will direct you there; sit in the back room that’s like a traditional beer garden with live music, and try the Irish stew—to die for!
If you do nothing else in Kilkenny, climb the tower at Saint Canice’s Cathedral. This is not for the faint at heart, but you’ll be so glad you did it when you get to the top. Other great sights to take in are Kilkenny Castle, The Rothe House, and The Black Abbey. Meander your way back to Saint Kieran’s Street, and relax in the beer garden at Kyteler’s Inn.
Pack up the car and move on toward Kinsale. Stop at the Rock of Cashel on the way, but plan your time carefully: Visitors won’t be admitted 45 minutes prior to closing. If you do miss it, hop the “fence,” and take a walk around—it’s the least you can do if you went all the way there!
Continue on to Kinsale, a cute, small town on the water. The White Lady is a great spot for a nice, relaxed dinner, and save Fishy Fishy for lunch tomorrow—rumor has it they have the best fish and chips in the world! Brian at The Tad Tavern serves a mean Guinness, and he’ll be happy to take your picture behind the bar. If you’re looking for live music, check out The Wharf Tavern.
Before leaving, shop around for a bit in the cute shops for souvenirs. If you’re looking for interesting jewelry, go see Dominic at Kinsale Silver. After the best fish and chips and tarter sauce you’ve ever had in your life (Fishy Fishy), jump back in the minivan and head to Charles Fort. It’s a short drive from town, but learn from our mistake and ask for directions—you don’t want to get stuck driving down a pedestrian street and having to reverse 500 feet!
From there, we hit Blarney Castle and found the grounds to be beautiful. Yes, we did kiss the Blarney Stone—if you plan to also, take your own pictures to skip buying one there. Explore the grounds further, and find your way to Rock Close and the Wishing Steps. Make a wish at the steps by following the instructions on the nearby sign. If you have time, mosey around some more then head towards Killarney.
Stay the night at Sunny Bank in Killarney. When you arrive, drop your bags, and head to The Laurels Pub. The owners of these two places are related and extremely friendly. Continue your evening with some live music at Sheehan’s or O’Connor’s.
Say goodbye to Killarney, and make your way north toward Galway. This will be your longest drive yet, but there will be some great stops along the way.
Killarney National Park has The Mockross House and Gardens (among other beautiful sights) if that is your cup of tea. Kylemore Abbey and Gardens will take a few hours, and if you’re lucky, you may catch the local fire department mid-drill! From there, you can head to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. If you do, stop in at Durty Nelly’s for lunch. Whichever you choose or don’t choose, the next is a must…
The road to Cliffs of Moher is a hair-raising experience on narrow, winding roads. Take in the view from numerous vantage points—just don’t cross the fence. I don’t care if Hulk Hogan is holding your legs! And don’t forget to bundle up—it’s windy at the edge of Ireland.
When you pile back into the minivan, your drive through The Burren will probably be unlike anything you’ve seen before. Watch out for cows and sheep that block the roads. When you get to Galway, find The Spanish Arch, a typical European hotel located right on Quay (pronounced key) Street. It’s pedestrian-only, so park at the Jury’s Inn garage (get your ticket validated, and pay at the booth before trying to leave). We didn’t have a lot of daytime hours here, but it turned out okay—Galway’s a great night city. Try the Guinness stew at The Front Door for dinner before heading to The King’s Head or The Quays for some live music.
Breakfast isn’t included at The Arch, but Revive Café is a nice spot for your full range of coffee needs. Order downstairs and take a seat upstairs where your food—like a yummy crepe or scone—will be brought to you.
Croagh Patrick is often on tourist’s must-see lists, but do a little more research than we did. We got a little sidetracked by a herd of sheep and our GPS wasn’t much help… Needless to say, we never made it.
Next stop: Westport, small town with a big heart. Try to stay at The Boulevard Guesthouse on South Mall. Sadie and her pet ducks will take care of you, just be sure to ask for extra keys when you check in and delicious porridge for breakfast in the morning.
There are plenty of places to choose from for dinner, but make sure you have a drink (or three!) at Matt Malloy’s. Live music in the back room begins around 9:30 p.m. You can even ask to take a picture with one of Matt’s—of Chieftains fame—Grammys. Cozy Joe’s is also a good spot if you want to hang late into the night.
Grab souvenirs for those working hard at home at Thomas Moran (corner of Bridge and Shop streets) which has a good selection of crapola on the cheap. Everyone needs a shot glass with a sheep on it, right?
In the car, backtrack a little bit, and make your way to the village of Cong, population 150. If you haven’t seen The Quiet Man (1952), you’ll want to after seeing th
Before heading into the town of Cong, you will almost drive into Ashford Castle. Just drive through the arch like you know where you are going to avoid questioning and payment. Park and take a walk around the grounds. You maybe even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a falcon from the falconry school.
At this point, rather than head right back to Dublin, we stayed a night in Longford area. Skelly’s in Ballymahon has a fun pub (Ask for your beer in a beer stein!) and doubles as a guesthouse, which made the trip home much easier. Just be sure to get up and out—you still have a lot to do in Dublin!
Stop at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange and Kowth) on the way—just make sure to head to the Brú na Bóinne Visitors’ Center.
Once you’re back in Dublin, go see the Book of Kells at Trinity College and grab a pint around the corner at The Bankers on Trinity Street. Hotfoot it to The Guinness Storehouse as the views at the top are well worth the price of admission (book online for a 10-percent discount), although it gets very crowded. Try to get there earlier in the day as things start to close around 5 or 6 p.m. (extended hours in July and August).
End your night—your last in Ireland!—at The Brazen Head, which is said to be the country’s oldest pub. And if you’re haven’t found Harp yet in all of Ireland, look no further! Not to mention the deep-fried brie—yummy!
Photo credits: Betty Fennell, Alexondra Purnomo, Charissa Gorman
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