We’ve been back for a month and a half now and I am slowly settling back into life stateside. Bret was thrown back to the wolves a couple weeks ago and is forging the path for the next year of his postdoc back here while still finishing up the work he started in Ireland.
We wanted to close the blog with a suggested itinerary. Since we could not agree on an itinerary less than 10 days… you are stuck with that length. However, if you wish to go for longer, I’ll add a few of the other highlights you could tack on. I will also add the caveat that we are not city people. While we don’t mind a day or two in a big city, we vacation in the country. We want incredible views, nice walks or hikes, and some quiet when we go on vacation.
The general aim of this itinerary is to maximize the time you get to spend in a couple of places that we really loved, the Beara Penninsula and Connemara. We loved so many places, but ultimately the combination of incredible views and low tourist density made these two places really stand out for us. For this itinerary, we recommend that you fly in to Cork and out of Shannon (or a round trip to one or the other, but it will add a couple hours of driving time on one end or the other). There are a few notable exceptions, but a lot of the standout scenic destinations in Ireland are located on the west side of the country, so unless you want to spend a day in Dublin and a few extra hours driving, we recommend flying straight to the source! Also driving in Ireland can be an adventure… we highly recommend minimizing the amount of car travel and alternating longer days in the car with days that you stay in one place and explore locally. There are also plenty of trains and buses, but it is difficult to access the out of way places if you use mass transport and you are going to add a ton of travel time as there are not a lot of direct routes,
Alright, on to the route
Day 1: Cork City/ Kinsale
Fly into Cork city and spend a few hours walking around the city and along the River Lee. There are huge churches everywhere and a few museums and galleries. Most of the stores in the downtown area are big chain stores, so save your shopping for later. Then jump in the car and head to Kinsale. It is about a 40 minute drive to this small and incredibly scenic seaside town.
Things to do in/ near Cork City and Kinsale
- English Market! If all you do is walk around and take in the smells and the people watching it is worth it. If you are planning on doing some picnicking on your trip (which I highly recommend), pick up some supplies here (the smoked salmon from Frank Hederman is super yummy).
- Charles Fort. Even if you are not into 17th Century military architecture, this fort is pretty amazing. It is a fairly long walk from Kinsale, but the views of Kinsale harbor along the way are really lovely and there is a pub along the route where you can stop and refresh if you need.
- Harbor Tour by boat. The tour is relatively inexpensive and especially after you have seen the fort from the inside, it is cool to see the fort from the water.
- Accomodations. We only spent one night in Kinsale (after we took the long bike road there), as it was pretty close to our home. We stayed at Tierney’s Guesthouse and it was an affordable and comfortable spot. The breakfast is pretty good. In fact, I would recommend the Lemon Leaf Cafe for lunch if you are looking for a spot. For dinner, the Fishy Fishy cafe was a standout for us. The fish was fresh and delicious! You’ll definitely want to make a reservation, but here are a ton of good restaurants in Kinsale if you don’t get in.
If you have an extra day…
- Ballymaloe. This is actually about a 40 minute drive from Cork City, but if you have an extra night (and some $$$. It is spendy), it is worth the drive. The farm is a pretty renown foodie destination. An early adopter of the locavore movement, the food is delicious and it is worth an extra hour or two to explore the manor. Also, drop by the nearby town of Ballycotton. It is a lovely seaside town and if you don’t want to stay at Ballymaloe overnight, there are several hotels and b&bs in Ballycotton.
Day 2: Drive to Glengariff
The drive along the south coast of Cork is very scenic. There are several small towns that dot the way and a few places you’ll want to stop and take in rural Ireland.
- Definitely stop at Drombeg Circle. It is a neolithic stone circle that is pretty amazing.
- Glengariff is nice little town at the base of the Beara peninsula with a few hotels and several Irish sweater shops. If you are thinking about taking an Irish Knit sweater home, this is a good place to look— but be sure to read the tags, many things are made in Ireland, but they also slip in some items that are not made in Ireland. We never stayed in Glengariff, so I can’t recommend a spot, but it would be a convenient jumping off place for exploring the Beara. We did stay at this hostel that is a little further out. It was inexpensive and the hosts are so nice! Also, Airbnb probably has some nice options if you take our recommendation and stay a few days here.
Day 3 and 4: Take in the Beara Penninsula!
We highly recommend spending a couple days. Take one day to circumnavigate the peninsula.
- Be sure to give yourself time to take the tram over to Dursey Island at the tip on the peninsula. You’ll want to check the timetable and make sure it is open when you arrive. If you are adventurous, do the loop hike around the island (3-4 hours hike with a little elevation gain/loss) and have a picnic.
- Go for a day hike on the Beara Way. DO IT! It is worth a little planning, the views are so amazing. There are several places that you can access it. We were able to shuttle cars, to we did a stretch from just outside of Glengariff to Adrigole.
- Have a walk or a picnic at the Glengariff Nature Reserve. Take the walk up to Lady Bantry’s Lookout, the view is really amazing.
- Bike around the peninsula. I wish that we had been able to do this, but we just ran out of time… next trip 🙂 You can rent a bike (and grab lunch) here.
Day 5: Drive through Killarney National Park to Adare.
The drive from the Beara to Killarney along the N71 is a little harrowing. Very large tourist buses and very skinny , curvy roads. However, the views of the Macgillycuddy Reeks are amazing. Killarney National Park is the oldest national park in Ireland and it has been largely untouched. There are old forest, mountains, lakes. It is really pretty. You’ll want to take your time with the drive and get out of the car and take in the views at least a few times. Muckross House is a nice place to take a walk and/or have a picnic. Adare is a nice town that is about halfway from the Beara to Galway. We only actually stopped there once, for a nice lunch, but if you are going to check the Cliff of Moher and the Burren on day 6, you’ll need a break from driving along the way. I have also heard good things about Adare from friends that spent more time passing through. You could also stop in Limerick or have a long day in the car and try to get closer the Cliffs of Moher. There is also a ferry that cuts a chunk of the drive out if you want to skip Adare.
Day 6: The Cliff of Moher and the Burren
It is pretty hard not to include the Cliffs or Moher as a must-see. It is VERY touristy so expect some crowds, but the reason for its popularity is apparent as soon as you take your first peak over the edge of the cliffs. Perhaps better known as the Cliffs of Insanity, from the Princess Bride, they are a pretty amazing sight.
The Burren is a really unique landscape in Ireland. It is a rocky limestone landscape that is teeming with endemic species (75% of Ireland flora are found in the Burren). It is worth at least driving through (maybe stop at this Chocolate Factory en route). If you are interested in hiking, there is a great 2-3 hour hike, Mullaghmore-Blue-Loop-Walk, that takes you through the heart of the Burren. It was a little difficult to find the trail and appropriate parking, but it is definitely worth the effort. I think as long as you are not blocking access to the road, you’ll be good to go even if you don’t get a spot in the designated parking area.
Stay the night in the Kinvarra or Galway. Kinvarra is a small town about 30 minutes south of Galway. There is good food and several decent spots to stay the night. Including this crazy hostel you can find through Airbnb and this B&B. Both are walking distance to town. There is great pizza at the Tide Full Inn if you are starting to crave something other than fish and chips or beef and Guinness stew. If you are ready for some city time, stay in Galway. It is compact, but the downtown area is nice to wonder around and people watch. There are also plenty of restaurants and places to stay.
Day 7, 8, and 9 Connemara, Westport, and Achill Island
Drive west from Galway along Galway Bay through the town of Spiddal into Connemara and get yourself a little lost. This area is so quiet and scenic. I can’t even express how much I loved the landscape and the general vibe in this area. We stopped in Clifton to stretch our legs and wonder around, but it would have been really nice to stay the night there and linger longer in this area. The Twelve Bens offer some impressive vistas and would be great to hike around. We did not get a chance to do so, but if I could go back that would top the list. Wesport is the largest town you’ll pass through between Connemara and Mayo and it is definitely worth a stop. While Mayo is not quite as scenically impressive as Connemara in general, Achill Island is worth the trip a little further north.
- Westport is a really nice small town. There are a bunch of nice pubs and we had a couple of notably delicious dinners there (here and here). We also found some really unique handmade gifts at the Craft House. There are several pubs in town that sell locally made beers that are definitely worth trying.
- We had a really lovely stay at the Elephant Guest house in Westport.
- The Bervie Guest house in Keel on Achill Island was SOOOOOO LOVELY. I only got to stay a night there, but it was definitely on my list of places to get back to. It is a quaint inn with very sweet and kind owners and an incredible restaurant. You won’t regret a night or two at this place.
Day 10: Drive back to Shannon or Cork.
Other notable destinations
If you have more than 10 days to go visit Ireland. Here are some other places we really loved!
- Schull- If you want to spend an extra day on the south coast of Cork, go to Schull and stay at the Grove house. It is a very quaint little town that is a bit out of the way. We went there on several recommendations from local Corkers. Grove House is a beautiful B&B, the owner is so nice, and the food was delicious.
- Cahersiveen/ Valencia Island. Rent bikes and ride around Valencia Island (visit this crazy candle maker he is super nice, but don’t try to take his picture). There are two pretty amazing old dwellings in different states of disarray, Ballycarbery Castle and Cahergall circle fort.
- Dingle- We visited Dingle three times. It was fairly convenient to get to from Cork and had a good variety of fun things to do. We hiked the tallest peak outside of the Macgillycuddy Reeks, we biked, we took a boat tour to the Blasket Islands, we listened to wonderful traditional music at a local music shop (and at a lot of the pubs if you can stay up past 10pm). It is a little more on the beaten track, so expect things to book out. If you go, get dinner at the Goat Street Bistro and/or An Canteen.
- Giant’s Causeway- And the North coast of Antrim (Northern Ireland). The Giant’s Causeway is a pretty cool geologic formation- definitely worth and afternoon of exploration and hiking about. We stayed in Bushmills both visits, once at a hostel, which was a little dirty, but otherwise ok and once at a Pub which was great. Save some time to do the Bushmills tour and have dinner at Tartine, it was very nice. The drive north from Belfast to Bushmills is pretty great, the views get more scenic around each corner.
- Donegal- I LOVED Donegal, the Slieve League mountains and Glenveagh National park are excellent places to hike, and there is plenty more to do. The ONLY reason Donegal didn’t make the list is because it is a little further out and should be a destination on its own (maybe combined with Northern Ireland flying in/ out of Dublin).
- The Wicklow mountains. if you are going to fly in/out of Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains are nearby and really accessible for hiking, waterfalls, etc. Definitely worth checking out.
- Dublin- Speaking of which, if you are going to go there, make a reservation and have dinner at the Winding Stair… super yummy. We loved it and everyone we sent there had excellent meals.
So, this is it. The final post. We’ll be archiving this site to ireland.bretandemily.com in a couple weeks if you ever want to relive all this excitement. Don’t worry, we’ll keep you up to date on our adventures. After all, Oregon isn’t too shabby either and now there is Oval to entertain us 🙂