This describes our 13 day trip to Ireland with another couple who have been our friends for many years. I cannot thank enough everyone who has posted here for the help they’ve provided. We have been to Europe many times and traveled elsewhere, but this was our first time in Ireland.
1. I booked everything myself online or by e-mailing the hotels and restaurants directly. I primarily used Trip Advisor and the Rick Steves and Fodors guidebooks and got considerable help from both, primarily on planning our time (RS) and booking hotels and restaurants (TA/Fodors). All gave advice with which we were quite pleased.
2. Our flights were Miami-Charlotte-Dublin on US Airways. Both coming and going, the flights were on time and reasonably pleasant. Terminal 2 at the Dublin airport is very modern and nice. Getting and returning our Hertz rental car (booked through Easy Tour to get its deal on insurance) at the airport was quick and well marked each time.
3. We must be unbelievably lucky—it did not rain a drop the whole time we were in Ireland, and it was generally warm to hot during the day and cool to warm at night. It was sunny every day but one. Ireland was in “drought” status because more than 15 days had passed with no rain. Most people we spoke with said that they hadn’t had a stretch of weather like that in many years. Between the weather and staying light out until after 10:00 PM, it made touring even better. Unlike our usual get up early and rush vacations, unless we had long drives scheduled for a particular day, we generally got up well after the crack of dawn, took our time getting around the entire trip and actually relaxed.
Day 1--Dublin Airport to Kilkenny (2 nights) with stops at Powerscourt House and Glendalough—both were very worthwhile. Our early morning arrival in Dublin allowed us to arrive at Powerscourt just as it opened. Skip the side trip to the unimpressive Powerscourt waterfall—it wasn't really worth the detour and cost. Dinner at Langton's pub—very good food and drink and good Irish music. Hotel was the Kilkenny Pembroke—very nice, well located to sights, A/C and a good breakfast buffet.
Day 2—Kilkenny—a very nice medieval town. We started with the walking tour from the TI, which was a good introduction. Lunch at the Kilkenny Design Centre (cafeteria style, not cheap but good), then a tour of Kilkenny Castle. It was a nice, easy day to recover from the tiring previous day. Dinner at Kyteler’s Inn—our only below average meal of the whole trip—avoid the steak sandwich and the seafood, only the chips were really good.
Day 3—Kilkenny to Kenmare (2 nights) via the Rock Of Cashel—we greatly enjoyed our tour of the latter, and our onsite guide was excellent. We then had enough time to explore Kenmare, a very nice little town, and do some shopping. In Kenmare we stayed at the Brook Lane Hotel, which had very nice rooms, was a short walk into town, a very good restaurant for the evening meal and a good breakfast. No A/C however, and it was hot while we were there. As the Deluxe Rooms we had booked face the front of the hotel and the busy Ring of Kerry road we downgraded our rooms to ones that were still quite nice but faced the back of the hotel so that we could leave the window open without road noise and make it cool enough to sleep (I’m a rather light sleeper). I doubt that normal cool Ireland weather would make the front-facing rooms a noise problem very often through just closing the window.
Day 4—Ring of Kerry road north to Ladies View, the Torc waterfall, Muckross House and Gardens, then Killarney to get picnic supplies from a local supermarket for a feast back in a nice grassy area in the Muckross parking lot. Dinner at the Lime Tree in Kenmare (had made a reservation by e-mail)—very good, especially the seafood dishes and the chowder. We had a nice conversation with the very friendly chef.
Day 5—Ring of Kerry road west to the Skelligs Chocolate Factory and the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre (very worthwhile stops), Valentia Island, the Knightstown ferry, and then on the Ring of Kerry road and beyond to Dingle (3 nights). We followed Rick Steves’ ROK driving instructions, and by doing so avoided all of the tour buses coming our way, which was especially great after a harrowing experience with an oncoming bus on the previous day. Hotel was Heaton’s Guesthouse—one of the finest places we have ever stayed, with very nice rooms (we had a junior suite—huge and luxurious) and by far the best breakfast we have ever had in a hotel with a huge selection—delicious pancakes, waffles, fish dishes, bread pudding, and the usual Irish breakfast with a large cold buffet as well. Dinner this evening was at the Chart House. We love seafood. We live in South Florida. This was one of the best seafood dinners we have ever enjoyed—the scallops (better than any we’ve ever had) were particularly outstanding. Dingle has amazing seafood!
Day 6—we took the eco tour boat ride from the Ventry pier to the Blasket Islands and back. The ocean was like glass, the coast is beautiful, and we saw lots of birds and seals that the guide identified and discussed. We saw a beach and other landmarks from the Ryan’s Daughter 1970 movie. We didn’t get off at the island (we would have, but our traveling companions didn’t want to), but a few did. Interestingly, as soon as the boat left the island, the island became totally engulfed in clouds. The boat trip was a good way to relax after the long car drive the day before. We then shopped in Dingle. Dinner at Out of the Blue—another excellent seafood meal..
Day 7—after buying picnic supplies in Dingle, we did the Slea Head/Dingle Peninsula loop drive, stopping at many places including Dunbeg Fort, the nearby “famine houses” and beehive huts (the latter now are under excavation), the Great Blasket Centre (a large, excellent museum with a good bookshop), and the Gallarus Oratory (where we had our picnic). All of this was an easy, very scenic drive which we could do again any time—IMHO, more interesting and scenic than the Ring of Kerry section west of Kenmare. Dinner at John Benny’s pub—a very friendly place with excellent fish and chips. More raves for Dingle seafood.
All in all, Dingle was our favorite stop on the trip. Good shopping, pleasant to walk around, good pubs (with the local Tom Crean beer) and great restaurants.
Day 8—Dingle to Lahinch (2 nights) via the Killimer-Tarbert ferry. This was another effortless, pleasant drive. Unfortunately, it was the only day of the entire trip that was cloudy the whole day, and it was our day to visit the Cliffs of Moher. Very impressive of course, but probably better in sunshine. Hotel was the Vaughn Lodge Hotel, with large lovely rooms, excellent service with lots of helpful information about what to do in the area, a fine restaurant that we wished had been open every night of our stay (closed on Mondays) as the other dining options in town were decent but not memorable, and the second best breakfasts of our trip.
Day 9—we did a circle drive from Lahinch through Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughan and the Burren. Consider using the special green coupon that you find in TIs and hotels that gets you into the Cliffs of Moher parking lot/visitor’s center, the Aillwee Cave/Birds of Prey Centre and the Burren Centre for a discounted rate (we found all of them worthwhile if you have the time). We also stopped for a look at the Caherconnell stone fort and the curious Leamaneh Castle ruin at the R-476/R-480 junction. Note that R-480 in many places is rather narrow with little or no shoulders, but we managed by taking it slowly.
One of the highlights of our entire trip was Tony Kirby’s Heart of Burren walk that leaves from the Burren Centre. Tony led us on a fascinating, relatively easy walk (do wear hiking footwear) through a beautiful area with impressive scenery. He is quite personable and has an amazing wealth of knowledge and provided a fascinating analysis of the local history, flora and fauna, how it all came to be and what may happen to it in the future. Anyone with an interest in the Burren should take Tony's walk.
Day 10—Lahinch to Dublin (3 nights), mostly by motorway. Our hotel was the Dublin Four Seasons. This was a level above our usual hotel choices, but a 3 night stay/pay for 2 nights offer was irresistible. The hotel is as luxurious as you might expect, with giant rooms, impeccable service, a very useful business center and nice bars, but it was a 40 minute walk from the city center (we did it once) and you really need to use the nearby DART train, busses or taxis to get there and back.
Days 11-12—during our 2½ days in Dublin, we took the Historical Walking Tour that leaves from Trinity College (good, prepare for lots of religious history), the Trinity College Old Library and the Book of Kells, Christ Church Cathedral, the National Museum-Archeology (great!), the Jewish Museum, Kilmainham Gaol (eerie), the General Post Office and lots of shopping in and around Grafton Street (the Powerscourt Townhouse and the adjacent Great George’s Arcade were quite enjoyable). We had memorable meals at The Lobster Pot (near the hotel), The Farm and the Bull and Castle (try the craft beer sampler and the big burgers).
To cap off our trip in style, our party enjoyed a spectacular 7 course tasting dinner menu at Dax (table reserved in advance) that was worth every penny.
Day 13--we flew home after a very quick early Saturday morning trip to the Dublin airport with almost no traffic. The huge airport duty-free area is nice—the only tricky part is finding the tax refund are in the far back right corner. There is very little in the way of shopping or food after you leave the duty-free area. If you fill out the information for the tax refund swipe card and the envelope/receipt system (both are now being used, depending upon the retailer) you will save yourself lots of time. Going through pre-clearance for U.S. immigration and customs in Dublin took about 25 minutes for a morning flight—far faster than going through immigration and customs in the U.S., at least in Miami or NY. What a pleasure.
Do arrive 3 hours in advance of your flight to leave enough time for pre-clearance and the tax refund line. Some people didn’t, and a few appeared to possibly miss their flights as a result.
We’re already planning to return—the country is beautiful, the people could not be friendlier or more helpful, the food is far better than you would expect and there’s nothing like Guinness, Murphy’s or Smithwick’s in their native habitat.