How exciting to be planning a trip to Ireland for anybody, but especially so for those with Irish Ancestry. After 11 trips, spanning 10 months here, with about half of that walking village to village I may have a bit of knowledge you can benefit from. For more on Ireland; Global Pilgrim Website.
Table of Contents:
- Ireland Highlights:
- Day Trips From Dublin
- Cork and Kerry
- Galway and Mayo
- The North of Ireland including Donegal
- Pre-Trip Preparation
- Eating in Ireland
- Walking in Ireland
- Walking the streets of Dublin. Visiting Trinity College, Book of Kells and the Old Library, The Guinness Factory, Temple Bar, etc. Pick a pub to enjoy a pint of Guinness.
- Start your exploration of the 1916 Rebellion by visiting The General Post Office (GPO) and Museum.
- Enjoy Irish Music at a pub or on Grafton Street. Doolin, Clare is a great spot for local for Irish music.
- Get out of Dublin; The Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Mayo, Donegal all part of the Wild Atlantic Way Drive from Cork to Derry to view some of the most spectacular scenery of Ireland.
- Walk for a day or a week or longer on one of the great trails around Ireland; Wicklow Way, Kerry Way, Dingle Way, Beara Way, Croagh Patrick, Burren Way, etal.. Best Long Walk in Ireland
- For beach people, Ireland has hundreds of beaches amidst spectacular scenery. Just be aware the water is always a bit chilly.
- Enjoy a pint of Guinness. They say the closer to Dublin the better is the Guinness and I think there is some truth to that.
- Enjoy a warm fire out in the country with a piping hot pot of Barry’s Tea. Along with a freshly baked scone.
- Savor a full Irish Breakfast though I wouldn’t have too many.
- Like millions around the world you may have Irish heritage. Explore where your ancestors came from.
ARRIVING IN IRELAND:
Most likely you will begin your trip flying into Dublin, one of the liveliest cities in Europe and unfortunately most expensive. Possibly you could be flying into Shannon or Cork but easy enough to adjust this itinerary around that.
DUBLIN SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES:
Top things to do in Dublin include; Trinity College and The Book of Kells along with the Old Library. The Guinness Factory Tour, The Jameson’s Tour or Irish Whiskey Museum Tour for fun. A stroll down Grafton Street to enjoy the local street musicians and plethora of shops. By all means stop and observe and listen as these musicians can be incredibly talented. There are plenty of Museums if it starts raining. Be sure to take a walk through St. Stephen’s Green just south of Grafton Street. For a splurge, afternoon High Tea at the famous Shelbourne Hotel on The Green. If you are more budget minded, a tea or coffee at Bewley’s is pleasant enough. There are lots of places for lunch but if you are an Irish Literature Fan and definitely if a James Joyce fan then a stop at Davy Byrnes is a great choice. It is featured in Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, considered to be one of the top novels of all time. Temple Bar is a worth a stroll albeit a bit touristy.
Dublin Castle, the seat of British Power in Ireland and the nearby Chester Beatty Museum are worth a stop. Take a walk from Temple Bar through Merchant’s Arch and cross The Liffey River over The Half Penny Bridge and then head east for the Famine Memorial on the north side of the river.
If you have an extra day, Dublin has plenty of groups offering free Walking Tours, usually starting at City Hall not far from Trinity College. Particularly good when you get a local guide who adds Irish “color”. Ask to be sure your guide is a true Dubliner.
1916 REBELLION SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES:
If you have extra time, the story of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin which led to Independence in 1922, is most interesting. Lorcan Collins has written a few books on the Rebellion and offers an excellent walking tour. The General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street is the most iconic building in Ireland as it is where the rebellion started. They have an excellent museum on The Easter Rising. Also recommended is a trip to Kilmainham Jail where 14 of the leaders were executed by the British. And Glasnevin Cemetery to see the graves of Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Parnell and others is an excellent way to relive Irish History. For serious Rebellion fans, plan to be there at 2:30 PM. A professional actor dressed in an Irish Brotherhood uniform recreates Padraic Pearse’s 1915 call to rebellion to all Irishmen at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa. It is powerful. And free. It is included in the 2:30 tour but one can just time their visit for the speech. After walking through the Cemetery, walk out the side gate to Kavanagh’s Gravediggers Pub for one of the best Guinness pours in all of Dublin.
DUBLIN AT NIGHT:
A highlight of any visit to Dublin is stopping in a pub to sample a pint of the iconic stout of Ireland. Be patient as a proper pour takes 3 minutes more or less. First the pint should be filled about 3/4 full and placed in your view to allow the creamy black beer to settle. After at least 2 minutes, it should be filled to the brim. When presented to you the Guinness Brand should be facing you. Observe the top foam. It should not be too little or too much. Then savor your first pint in Ireland. For Americans, Sir Arthur Guinness started brewing in 1759, a good 17 years before our Declaration of Independence. By all means, try 3 or 4 more pubs to find your favorite watering hole. This practice also will endear you to the locals who will often engage with you to tell a story or two. Soon you will be experiencing good crack. Actually, it’s “craic” which is an Irish word for fun. In Dublin, there are so many pubs to try, but you can’t go wrong at Stags Head, The Old Stand, Nearys, The Long Hall or my favorite; Gravediggers outside Glasnevin Cemetery. Or design your own Pub Crawl based on other recommendations you may receive.
If you want something more organized at night there are any number of guided group Pub Crawls. The Irish Literature Pub Crawl is highly recommended for folks interested in the likes of James Joyce, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, Yeats and other great Irish Authors.
At night in addition to pub hopping, check out local listings for a play. The Irish are natural born story tellers and actors. Every play I have attended has been good to excellent. Check out The Abbey Theatre and Gaity Theatre to name a few. Galway is also a good place for theatre. Keep your eyes and ears open for one of John B. Keane’s Plays for a dive into rural Ireland in the mid-20th Century.
There are several hostels in Dublin for those seeking budget accommodations. Abbey Court, The Times Hostel, and The Kinlay House are all decent and centrally located. There are also a good range of Marriott properties. The Moxy is usually the cheapest and in a nice location close to the GPO. The Aloft Hotel is more spacious and offers a nice rooftop bar and view. On the high end, The Westin at Trinity College is excellent and ideally located. Though stay at the historic Shelbourne on St. Stephen’s Green for a luxurious stay in an iconic Dublin hotel. If you get tired of the pace of Dublin, a couple nights at the luxury Powerscourt Hotel is wonderful splurge. The next door Powerscourt Gardens is rated by National Geographic as one of the top 10 Gardens in the World. The Powerscourt Waterfall nearby is gorgeous and offers some great walking.
DAY TRIPS FROM DUBLIN:
I would recommend any of 3, day trip options out of Dublin depending upon your interest. First, Newgrange, which includes some 5,000 year old tombs, older than the Pyramids. Every year on the winter solstice, Newgrange’s inner tomb is lit up from the rising sun through an opening above the eastern doorway. You could also include the nearby Hill of Tara to explore the old home of past Irish Kings. Both are in County Meath.
The second option is Howth, a peninsula jutting out into the Irish Sea and just a 45 minute train from City Centre. There is a great walk around the peninsula and plenty of pubs and restaurants to enjoy a pint or meal and cozy up to a warm turf fire.
The 3rd option and my personal preference for obvious reason, is a day at St. Kevin’s Monastery in Glendalough, County Wicklow, about an hour drive south of Dublin. The ruins of the 6th century Monastery amidst the background of The 2 Lakes is breathtaking. The walk around the 2 lakes takes about 3 hours and is one of the best day hikes in Ireland. For hikers, a night in Glendalough followed by a walk on The Wicklow Way to Glenmalure and a night at the Glenmalure Lodge is wonderful.
After Dublin there are two options for the remainder of your trip;
- West and North. Galway, The Cliffs of Moher, Donegal and the North of Ireland.
- South and West. Cork, County Kerry, and Clare’s The Cliffs of Moher, and Galway.
CORK & KERRY:
1. Heading south from Dublin, Cork is Ireland’s second largest city but has a nice small feel to it. The downtown has a lively shopping, pub, and dining scene. A few hours at The English Market is a wonderful experience with some opportunity to sample some delicious Irish Fare.
They have some interesting sights including Fort Elizabeth which has an interesting exhibit on the plight of women during the Famine, a Butter Museum, and St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. Afterwards, if you are looking for an authentic Irish Pub experience and a well poured pint seek out Eugene’s Pub in Shandon just across the River Lee. There are usually some friendly local characters about for some good craic. But what I really like about Eugene’s for Ireland visitors is that it is one of the few establishments in Ireland where you can sample all 3 of the main Irish stouts; Guinness, Murphys, and Beamish. I leave it to you to determine which is best. The Jurys Inn is a centrally located, reasonably priced hotel. The Kinlay House is a budget hostel option.
Outside of Cork, is the small harbor town of Cobh (pronounced Cove) where they have a small Titanic Museum at the original office of White Star Line. Cobh was the last port of call before the fateful sinking. The coolest part is you actually get a ticket of an actual passenger at the beginning of the one hour tour and find out at the end whether you lived or died. I much prefer it to the Titanic Experience in Belfast, though that would probably be a better option for kids. Also outside of Cork is The Blarney Castle and Gardens is nearby if kissing the Blarney Stone strikes your fancy.
From Cork you can visit Kinsale, which is a beautiful harbor town, with an old Irish Fortress, James Fort, built in 1602. The town is loaded with pubs, restaurants, and shops. Leaving Kinsale, you will be entering the Wild Atlantic Way which extends all the way from Cork, 2,500 kms. to County Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula. If you have the time, a wonderful way to spend a few weeks or longer.
For Michael Collins fans, you are in his home County and there are a couple of museums heading west along the coast to Clonakilty. Further west still in Cork you come to the Beara Peninsula, which is worth a drive. That said, you then have the Kerry Peninsula and Dingle Peninsulas further to the west. The Ring of Kerry is probably the most popular road trip in Ireland. Probably best to limit your drive to 1 or 2 of the 3 peninsulas, but by all means all 3 are worth a day or more. Better yet if you have the time, walk one of them. Click on The Best Long Walk in Ireland to get a comparison of the 3 famous Irish walks.
Each of the Peninsulas has a nearby island worth a visit. Beara’s is Dursey Island which requires access via the last remaining cable car in Ireland. Kerry has the Skellig Islands which are famed for being in the past 2 Stars Wars movies as the retirement home of Luke Skywalker. There are tour boats leaving Portmagee daily in season, weather permitting. Ideally visit between April and July when there are hundreds of migrating Puffin birds.
Last is The Great Blasket Island off the west coast of Dingle, in Dunquin. This one doesn’t have a cable car or Star Wars fame but it has an interesting history with several well known writers telling tales of the hard life on the island, before it was vacated in the 1950’s. Plus this is the only one of the three that has accommodations for an overnight stay. There are several interesting books about life on the Blaskets. You will impress locals by reading ‘Peig’ a book by Peig Sayers on life on the island. “The Islandman” by Tomas O’Crohan is a better read.
Wherever you choose to walk in Ireland, there is something quite special about meandering from village to village on any of the various walks. A few hours to a few days to a few weeks. There is no better way to experience the countryside, and you will be sure to encounter many locals who will engage you and tell you a story or two. The Irish are among the friendliest people in the world so be aware and you will have many grand encounters; in the countryside, at local pubs, asking for directions, etc.. But don’t fret if you are not a walker, you can still experience the wonderful Irish while biking or driving if you slow down a bit and make an effort.
Killarney is the gateway city to the Kerry Peninsula and a good stopping point for exploring the 3 Peninsulas by car. It’s loaded with pubs, restaurants, shops and accommodations. Very much a tourist town. The Black Sheep is a cozy hostel, though more expensive than Paddy’s Palace. The International Hotel is better for an upscale stay and has a fine pub and Restaurant, Hannigan’s. A few hours or a day in Killarney National Park is a wonderful respite from the busy Killarney town scene. Torc Waterfall makes for a great stop on the Kerry Way walk.
From Kerry, if you have time, a stop in Tralee is worth a few hours or a day. For walkers and Camino de Santiago aficionados there is a Kerry Camino which is a 3 day walk from Tralee to Dingle Town with a credential and stamps just like the Spanish Camino. A nice off the beaten track stop is a visit to the smaller, lesser known village of Listowel. Listowel is the home of one of Ireland’s most famed writers, John B Keane. He lived here most of his life and ran a pub with his name called “John B” by the locals. His son, Billy, is the second generation Publican offering a great story and a well poured pint on a daily basis. Once a year, Listowel, comes alive with its annual Writers Faire in early June. Ballybunion is also a nice coastal town to visit with a beach and some beautiful rock formations.
Heading north from Listowel, you can save a few hours by taking the hourly ferry from Tarbert to Kilrush bypassing Limerick. While most people, once crossing the ferry, head straight to the Cliffs of Moher for a quick look before continuing on to Galway, Clare is worth more time. Crossing the Shannon take a few hours to explore the Loop Head Peninsula, which is one of the most beautiful remote spots in Ireland with an old lighthouse at the tip of the Peninsula. Stop in the wee village of Carrigaholt for a dolphin cruise in season, but don’t miss having lunch at The Long Dock. I think it is one of the finest restaurants in Ireland. Imelda the owner serves up fabulous traditional Irish Fare and pours a pretty darn good pint. Her brown soda bread may be one of the finest in Ireland. Make sure by loading on her rich creamy butter just like the locals.
Driving north now you will go through Kilkee, a pretty little beach town with a fabulous sunset. But don’t forget to stop at The Cliffs of Kilkee for a short walk with some views every bit as spectacular as the Cliffs of Moher with way fewer tourists.
An hour north then you will come to the Cliffs of Moher and it is fabulous. That said most people stop at the visitors center and spend a half hour to an hour near the most crowded spot. Ideally, arrange to get dropped off at Hags Point on the far south side of the Cliffs and walk north to Doolin for one of the most spectacular day walks in Ireland. The first 1 ½ and last 1 ½ hours are the best as you will likely not have too many other tourists around Furthermore, one thing about the Cliffs is you are so high up that it is difficult to get a feel for the sea below. That said, as you approach Doolin town, the Cliffs descend into the sea and you get close enough to hear and smell the sea.
Doolin is one of the best places in all of Ireland to experience local music. They have 3 great pubs; O’Connors, McCanns, and McDermotts. They are all appealing in their own way with great pub food, good music at night, and craic anytime. The Rainbow Hostel and Aille River Hostel offer good budget accommodations including both dorms and private rooms. And there are plenty of good B&B’s as well.
For another great island experience, Doolin Ferries offers a boat ride to any of the 3 Aran Islands where Irish is still spoken and you’ll see some great Celtic ruins. Most head for the big island, Innishmore, for it’s prehistoric forts and cliffs. Though the other two islands are great as well. Make sure to take the late afternoon return boat that veers south a bit to give you a view of the sunset lighting up the dark Cliffs of Moher. If you are lucky you might even spot a Puffin.
If you still have time, east of Doolin, is The Burren, which offers one of the most unusual and interesting landscapes in Ireland. It is rocky, rounded mountains of porous limestone carved over the millennia An excellent hiking venue for a day or a few days walking the Burren Way from Corofin to Liscannor via the Cliffs.
The M6 highway north of Clare, allows for a quick return trip to Dublin. Or postpone your flight and do Option 2.
Option 2. The North and West.
GALWAY & MAYO:
Ideally you have time to include Clare and at least the Cliffs of Moher in this option. Afterwards a visit to Galway City is recommended with its lively pub, restaurant shopping scene. Ferries are also available here to the Aran Islands. It is also the gateway to County Galway and the beautiful Connemara region to the north.
North of Galway, as you are driving into the beautiful Connemara Mountains, if you are a Quiet Man Fan, there are lots of sights from the famous 1951 John Ford classic, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. It requires a slight detour into Mayo to Cong, but I never tire of a day in Cong, reliving the scenes from the movie. Pat Cohan’s Pub is where it always was but now houses an upscale pub. The old Monastery is still intact, The Reverend Playfair’s house, Will Danahers House, The Dying Man’s House. Walking around you will recognise many of the outdoor shots in town. Taking the bridge across the Cong River you can go through the forest to the chapel where Mary Kate and Sean played pattycakes in the holy water. Then go on a few hundred meters to the luxurious Ashford Castle, one of the finest accommodations in all of Ireland subject. For the budget minded, Ryan’s Hotel has comfortable rooms and a cozy pub and restaurant with some delicious grub.
From Cong head back into Connemara and explore the mountains and lakes. In the wonderful village of Leenane on the shores of Killary Harbour is one of the coziest hotels in all of Ireland, Leenane Hotel. They have a nice pub and restaurant with perhaps the best mussels in Ireland getting them a stones throw away in Killary Harbour. Their large sitting room with sofas and windows overlooking the harbor is as cozy as it gets. But it is the big old roaring turf fire that makes it so special. Every time I visit here I extend my stay.
There are some gorgeous walks nearby including the Western Way heading back up the Harbor. Then veering off the trail following the harbor to the sea. You can also take the Western Trail east and north following the Erriff River.
Westport is a great town to spend a few hours or a few days exploring the area. Matt Molloy’s, of The Chieftans, is a wonderful pub with regular Irish Music sessions. From here you are just a 10 minute drive to Croagh Patrick which is one of the top day hikes in Ireland. It’s not too difficult or long though the last stretch has lots of loose rocks so be careful.
Northwest of Westport are the rugged mountains of Achill Island. Driving to the far western side, reaching Keem Beach you will pass herds of sheep and plenty of turf fields enjoying spectacular views of the hills and the sea. And there is some great walking around Keem up in the hills on ridge trails. Though there is fine walking all over the island. The Beehive Craft and Coffee Shop in Keel makes for a pleasant stop for a hot drink, delicious hearty food and perhaps some local crafts. Make sure and stop at Lynott’s on the main road for a pint at what is claimed to be the smallest pub in Ireland. And they surely do pour a grand pint.
THE NORTH OF IRELAND:
For those who prefer the outdoors, County Donegal offers some of the finest scenery in all of Ireland. This is the far northern section of the Wild Atlantic Way. Taking the ferry to Tory Island is not to be missed. Leaving Donegal you head into The North of Ireland and the top scenic stops of Giant’s Causeway which is quite spectacular and the overrated Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge but you should be the judge of that.
Belfast is an interesting stop. At peace now, but so much sad history. The Black Taxi Tour offers a most interesting telling of The Troubles that have plagued Ireland since 1916. If you are into the Titanic, the Titanic Experience is worthwhile though be aware it’s got the feel of an amusement park.
If you have a flight to catch the Dublin Airport is just 160 kilometers from Belfast and under 2 hours to drive.
PREPARING FOR YOUR TRIP:
PACKAGES & ACCOMMODATIONS:
I have stayed in a range of accommodations from budget hostels to luxury hotels. I have a few recommendations but better to use booking.com, hosteworld.com, and Ireland B&B’s to find what suits you best. Last if you are visiting Ireland for just a few days to 2 weeks, Aer Lingus Vacations offers some excellent package deals including car, hotels, castles, and or B&B’s.
GETTING AROUND IN IRELAND:
Most likely you will begin your trip flying into Dublin, one of the liveliest cities in Europe. Upon arrival at Dublin Airport you can just exit and out front there is an Express Bus 782 to City Centre(€6). A taxi is about €25.
You don’t need a car when in Dublin and you would have to pay a high parking fee as well. Better to rent a car in Dublin when ready to explore the rest of Ireland or return to the airport from Dublin and then rent if you will fly home after the rental. If you are renting a car be aware that Ireland Rental Companies charge a huge fee for insurance coverage. You can avoid this fee by using a credit card such as Visa Signature which will provide coverage at no charge, though you may have to print out a letter confirming the coverage to present at the Car Rental Desk. Check with your own card companies to verify this coverage.
Once you are ready to leave Dublin, there are decent trains and a very good bus system if you are on a budget. That said, if you are wanting to explore the countryside a car is the best alternative unless you have the time to walk.
SEARCHING FOR ANCESTORS:
For those seeking to learn about their Irish roots, the General Register Office in Dublin is a good place to start. So as not to use up precious holiday time you may prefer to go online from home at Roots Ireland. You can also visit your ancestral county, which will have detailed records as well. For example, I am from Clare and visited The Irish Heritage Center in Corofin to learn more. There I was able to commission my own family history. Often the parish where your ancestors come from may have records.
Irish Books and Films:
To get you in the mood and to build excitement for your trip along with getting travel ideas why not read a great book or watch a film. A long 2 volume book set; The Princes of Ireland and The Rebels of Ireland offers an epic tale of the entire history of Ireland from pre-Christian days to the Rebellion. And if I had to pick one movie I would watch The Quiet Man directed by John Ford. One of those few movies you can watch over and over again.
I love Irish cuisine. From Full Irish Breakfasts, to Fish & Chips, to Roasts of the Day. And you are never far from the coast on the Emerald Isle, so if you like mussels, oysters, salmon and any other kind of fresh fish you are in for a treat. There are some great fine dining restaurants as well. There are ample choices to appeal to everyone. Click on Ireland; Eating Out for a whole lot of choices in Dublin and beyond.
WALKING IN IRELAND:
You’ve come to the right place if you have a passion for walking and love Ireland. There are a plethora of short hikes, day hikes, and long distance walks. Ireland has some of the most beautiful trails in the world. Spectacular coastal scenery with deserted beaches and rugged rocky shores. Lush green hills, sometimes forested, rivers, lakes, bogs. And best of, wonderful small villages, where there is always a welcoming pub for a hot tea and perhaps a warm fire on a rainy Irish day. Of course you can always opt for a creamy pint of Guinness or a warm whiskey. And the pub food is usually pretty darn good. Check out the roast of the day for hearty fare or the fish of the day when near the coast. Listed below are some wonderful long distance and day hikes. Also, you can easily do a day or a few days on one of the longer walks:
- The Wicklow Way is a great 7 day, 126 kilometer walk that starts in Marlay Park, Dublin to Clonegal.
- The Kerry Way is a 8-10 day, 230 km. walk alternative to the Ring of Kerry drive. Perhaps the best walk in Ireland
- The Dingle Way is an 7-8 day, 170 km. walk around Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula with spectacular coastal scenery.
- Mount Brandon is a wonderful 4-7 hour hill climb that can be combined with the Dingle Way.
- The Beara Way is a 9 day 200 km. loop trail around the Beara Peninsula in Cork and Kerry.
- The Burren Way is a 4-5 day, 114 km. trail in North Clare that also includes The Cliffs of Moher walk.
- Cliffs of Moher Walk is a one day linear trail from Hags Head to Doolin. Spectacular views.
- Croagh Patrick is a few hour hill climbing pilgrimage in Mayo.
- The Western Way is an 8-10 day, 200 km. linear trail through Galway and Mayo
- Carrick-A-Rede Bridge to Giants Causeway Walk. 6 hours in the North of Ireland. Beautiful coastal scenery
- It’s A Long Way From Tipperary To Santiago. In 2018 I walked 3,000 kms. from my ancestral home in County Clare to Santiago de Compostela. The walk took me from Tipperary and Clare to Dublin before ferrying to France to continue to Spain. The route followed various Clare Ways, The Burren Way, and then south through Clare into Kerry to Listowel and Killarney before picking up The Blackwater Way, The East Munster Way, The South Leinster Way, and then the Wicklow Way to Dublin. While these lesser known walks did not have some of the spectacular scenery of the bigger name Ways, they had their charm and were worth a day or more of walking.
One of the nice things about walking in Ireland you never know what or who is around the corner. One of my dreams was to try my hand at cutting turf by hand. Walking on The Blackwater Way I bumped into friendly Timothy O’Keeffe who gave me a quick lesson on cutting turf the old way with a sleán.
Another time walking from my ancestral home to County Clare on the South Leinster Way in Piltown and stumbled upon the home of Hugh Daniels who I got to chatting with. He soon had me sitting down for a nice hot tea with his homemade honey. Hugh is a third generation beekeeper in addition to being a full time farmer.
Good luck on your holiday in Ireland. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. And last, a few more pictures to give you some additional ideas:
Sunset in Rahona, Clare over the River Shannon