"Have you driven on the correct side of the road before?" the customs official asked as we passed through customs at the Dublin airport. As we prepared to pick up our rental car, I was gripped with anxiety. We would be driving a vehicle on the opposite side of the road, on the opposite side of the car, with the stick in the opposite hand.
Read on to see our Ireland Travel Guide, complete with Itineraries, and suggestions on cities to visit and sites to see.
We started and ended our Ireland road trip in Dublin, and, though we had a rocky start with trouble renting a car, a less-than-great first hotel, and annoying parking costs, Dublin grew on us as we wandered the streets, taking in the views of ancient churches and castles, sculptures and hanging flower pots.
Things to See
1. Molly Malone
A popular figure in Irish lore, Molly Malone, according to a popular Irish song, was a street vendor who sold her cockels and mussels along the streets of Dublin. The statue commemorating Miss Malone was created by Jeanne Rynhart and erected in 1988.
3. Christchurch Cathedral
One of the most popular churches in Dublin is Christchurch Cathedral on Christchurch Place. We opted to not pay the 7 euro entry fee, but walked around the exterior, and it is an impressive structure, with great features, including the 207-foot spire.
4. Any of the other Beautiful Old Churches of Dublin
Some of our favorites were St Patrick's Cathedral, the Church of Saints Augustine and John the Baptist, St Audoen's Church of Ireland, St Catherine's Cathedral, and the Church of St James.
Places to Go
5. Kilmainham Goal (Jail)
Sadly, when we arrived at Kilmainham Jail, they were on a 3-hour wait (if you can make reservations ahead of time, do s0), but we were able to tour the three-floor museum. We found the stories both extremely pitiful and incredibly informative.
6. Chester Beatty Library
As a bibliophile, this museum library was probably my favorite place in all of Dublin. Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was born in New York in 1875. After making a name for himself in mining in the US, he moved to London in 1911. In 1913, he and his wife began traveling, spending many winters in Egypt, then continuing eastward to Asia. A collector at heart, he collected manuscripts and scrolls, from Europe, Egypt, and Asia, both for the beauty of the writings and bindings, and for the historical content. In 1950, he moved to Ireland and built a library. At his death in 1968, he imparted the library to a trust so that his collection could be enjoyed by the public.
8. The River Liffey
Walk along the River Liffey, at least from Westmoreland to Patrick, taking in the sights along the river. Stroll across Ha'penny Bridge to take photos from the middle of the river.
Our second major stop in Ireland was the rowdy town of Galway on the western coast. Though it is known for its love of a good party, Galway also has its fair share of history and culture.
Things to See
9. Galway Cathedral
Though not nearly as old as many of the churches we visited in Ireland, the Galway Cathedral is one of the most beautiful we saw. Its impressive stained glass windows feature some standard themes, as well as some unique themes and colors.
10. St Nicholas' Church
Opened in 1320, St Nicholas' Collegiate Church boasts remarkable medieval architecture and many relics from the Middle Ages. Its namesake is the St Nicholas, patron saint of children, who graces us with his presence each Christmas. A street market also takes place just outside the church, so be sure to pick up some fresh cheese or hand made souvenirs.
12. the River Corrib
From downtown Galway, you can walk north up to the Salmon Weir Bridge, where you'll find the Galway Cathedral. Or you can walk south, through the Spanish Arch, past the Galway Museum, down the Long Walk to Dock Street.
13. Claddagh Quay
The former fishing village of Claddagh is best known for its jewelry, particularly the Claddagh Ring. But the walk along the quay should be popular in its own right. It offers great views of the colorful houses across the river, as well as close looks at the old fishing boats and stone walls along the quay.
Places to Go
14. St Mary's Church
As you walk along the Claddagh Quay, stop into the beautiful St Mary's Dominican Church, built in 1890.
Cliffs of Moher Peninsula
15. Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The world-renowned cliffs absolutely live up to their reputation, but for a little while, we weren't sure we would even be able to see them.
The fog was so thick when we arrived, we couldn't see the parking lot from the entrance or the visitor's center from the parking lot. It was cold and rainy and very windy. So we had an early lunch at the cafe and hoped the fog would lift. When we finished we walked outside and, though the fog was still heavy, the rain had stopped and the wind had died down so we decided to take a chance. My heart sank when we arrived at the first viewing platform and we could see nothing.
But we waited. And the fog rolled out. And the cliffs came into view.
And they. Were. Spectacular!
Make sure you walk out to O'Brien's Tower, and if you are brave, for better views of the cliffs, continue further out the pathway outside the park. Then walk back toward Goat Island and out the other side to the south viewing platform. If you are fortunate, you might even see puffins!
Thomas Fitzgerald, the great-grandfather of John F. Kennedy, was born in Bruff, just east of Limerick. Caroline Kennedy Sclossberg, JFK's daughter, and her family visited Limerick to connect with their family's roots.
Things to See
16. St John's Cathedral
Designed by English architect Thomas Hardwick, the foundation stone for St John's Cathedral was laid in 1856. The tower, standing 308 feet tall, was completed in 1882. This stunning cathedral is well worth a visit.
17. St Mary's Cathedral
The Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin was built in 1168 on a hill on King's Island. With over 800 years of history, the church features some magnificent architectural elements, like the monk's walk, and contains a plethora of historical artifacts, including the 15th-century mercy seats and gorgeous stained glass windows. The 5 euro entrance fee goes toward maintenance of this ancient structure, and is absolutely worth every cent.
18. King John's Castle
With limited time to tour Limerick, we opted not to enter King John's Castle, but the views from the outside are breath-taking. The castle lies on King's Island on the River Shannon. Built in the 13th century, the castle cuts an imposing figure along the river.
Places to Go
20. The Hunt Museum
With over 2000 works of art, the Hunt Museum should definitely be on your list of places to visit during your time in Limerick. The collection includes, among other things, a lovely display of jewelry, as well as an impressive compilation of religious art and artifacts.
21. Katie Dalys
After exploring King John's Castle, stop for a pint at Katie Dalys Heritage Pub and Kitchen. Opened in 1789, Katie Dalys boasts the title "oldest public house in Limerick."
Things to See
23. Rose of Tralee Rose Garden
Tralee is a perfectly adorable little town full of boutique shops, mom and pop pubs, and charming restaurants. But the crown jewel of Tralee is the Rose of Tralee garden.
With names like Champagne Cocktail, Iceberg, Hot Chocolate, and Faust, the roses are stunning!
24. St John's Roman Catholic Church
This 19th century Gothic-Revival church stands taller that all of its surrounding buildings, giving it a prominent place in the Tralee skyline. The interior features typical stained glass windows, but my favorite feature was the pair of angels facing one another at the entrance.
Places to Go
From Blennerville, continue down the peninsula to Fenit. The drive itself is gorgeous, and Fenit also boasts a small beach area. With its statues, memorials, beehive huts, and plaques describing historical events, St Brendan's Heritage Park is also worth a visit.
The Irish version of "Fenit" is "Fhianait" and it means "The Wild Place." I like the name and the idea of wildness so much that I pitched Marvin the idea of "Fenit" as the middle name for our son. He vetoed that idea immediately, but I still like it!
27. Siamsa Tire
If you have a chance to catch a show at Siamsa Tire in downtown Tralee, do it! We had the fortune to watch Fadó Fadó, a precursor to Riverdance. It was energetic and magical, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Of course, all of Dingle Peninsula is scenic, but some roads are not quite as well-known as others. Driving along the water is gorgeous, but driving through the mountains offers fantastic views as well.
28. Connor Pass
Make sure you take the R560 south through the mountains across Connor Pass and down to the city of Dingle. You'll find a number of places where you can pull over to take in the views of the valleys below. Some sections of the road have enough space for only one vehicle, so watch for oncoming traffic.
Tip: Though you can drive south to north on the R560, north to south is recommended, as that is the direction most traffic takes, so you will face fewer oncoming cars.
29. Mountain Road Between Aughills and Camp
From Inch Beach, drive 8 km east and turn left. Google calls this an unnamed road, though the locals probably have a name for it. Most of the road is one lane, some of which is rather overgrown, and all of which is through the mountains, so the 8.2 km you'll drive before reaching the town of Camp will be one fabulous adventure. You should have the road mostly to yourself, meeting far more sheep in the road than vehicles.
Places to Stop
30. The Lios
This ancient ring fort dates back to pre Celtic times. It features traces of huts and commands beautiful 360-degree views. Though the Lios may have been home to the Druids for a time, now it is home to a petting zoo with a number of goats and sheep, and a gorgeous, friendly horse. Purchase goat food from the gate attendant and prepare for am ambush by the eager recipients.
31. Any number of pull-Offs along the water
Dingle offers a number of scenic pull-offs along the coast. We stopped at as many as we could while still avoiding the tour buses.
32. Inch Beach
Inch Beach is a beautiful beach with silky soft sand. Though we can't recommend the food at the restaurant on the beach, we can recommend a stroll along the beach.
33. Ceann Sraithe
Scenes from Star Wars: the Last Jedi (2017) were filmed at this majestic spot with its crystal clear, deep blue water and rocky shoreline.
34. Dingle Town
If you don't mind crowds, stop in Dingle and walk along the Marina to see the bay, the boats, and the various sculptures along the way. With a large selection of restaurants to choose from, Dingle is a great place to stop for lunch.
Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is full of photogenic scenery, but there are definitely some don't-miss places you need to see.
Places to go
35. Killarney National Park and Ross Castle
As you begin your tour of the Ring of Kerry, take the time to amble through Killarney National Park. Walk along the river, stop by the banks of Loch Lein (Lough Leane), and make your way to Ross Castle, the 15th-century ancestral home of the O'Donoghue clan. You'll see a number of birds, and if you're lucky, you may even see deer. If you're not up for the walk, indulge in a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride.
36. St Mary's Cathedral
Just outside Killarney National Park lies the beautiful St Mary's Cathedral. This Gothic-Revival church was built in the mid-1800's. Standing majestically above the town of Killarney, St Mary's is definitely worth a stop.
Places to Stop
37. Kerry Cliffs
Though not as tall as the Cliffs of Moher, the Cliffs of Kerry are still mind-blowingly beautiful and definitely worth the stop.
38. Skellig Chocolate
As a chocoholic, I was overjoyed to learn that the Ring of Kerry has its very own chocolate factory. You'll find this little treasure in Ballinskelligs. Stop by, enjoy a chocolate tasting, and take your favorites home with you.
We ended our drive around the Ring of Kerry in Kenmare, an adorable little town with a number of high end restaurants.
40. Kenmare Ice Cream
While in Kenmare, treat yo'self to an ice cream cone at Kenmare Ice Cream.
Ring of Beara
As with Dingle and Kerry, the Beara Peninsula offers great water views, but the Ring of Beara is lesser-known, making it quieter and easier to navigate.
Places to Go
41. cable Car to Dursey Island
With limited time and a line for the Dursey Island Cable Car, we opted to pass on the cable car, but the views are still quite nice.
Though a bit crowded for our taste, Castletownbere has a large selection of restaurants to choose from, making it a great place to stop for lunch.
Cobh / Midleton
Places to Go
43. St Colman's Cathedral
Situated on a hill midway between the water of Cork Harbor and the top of the hill, St Colman's Cathedral creates one of the most gorgeous views of any city we entered during our entire 15 days in Ireland. As we entered Cobh on Hilltop Park and looked down at the cathedral and the water beyond, the scene was breath-taking. After getting settled into our hotel, we walked to the cathedral and took a look around. Opened in 1879, 33 years before the devastating loss of the passengers and crew members on board the Titanic, St Colman's Cathedral is the crown jewel of Cobh.
44. Titanic Experience
The last port of call of the ill-fated Titanic was Cobh, then called Queenstown. The ship actually laid anchor a few miles away, at the mouth of Cork Harbor, and ferried the passengers who were embarking, plus a few that were disembarking, to and from the ship. The Titanic was opulent and was supposed to be the safest ship of her time. Sadly, a huge iceberg was her undoing. They had enough lifeboats for only about a third of the passengers, but even then, the crew had not been properly trained to use the lifeboats, and many of them were left only partially filled. Over 1500 people perished in the icy waters. The Titanic Experience offers all this information, plus much more. We saw two of the typical cabins and "became" an actual passenger, finding out at the end of the tour whether we lived or died.
45. Cobh Museum
Housed in a former Presbyterian church, the collection includes fascinating stories of the Titanic, the Lusitania, emigrants, and soldiers. They also have original features from the church still on display. Though small, the Cobh Museum is definitely worth a look around.
46. Fota house & Gardens
Though more known for its wildlife park containing over a thousand animals, the Fota Arboretum and Gardens contains 27 acres of trees and flowers from all over the world. Fota House is a 19th-century home featuring Regency period architecture. Wander the gardens, take photos, and enjoy a picnic lunch on the grounds.
47. Jameson Distillery
Tour an Irish whiskey museum at the Jameson Experience in Midleton, roughly 12 miles from Cobh. Smell the casks, learn the history of the Jameson brand, and enjoy a taste of one of Ireland's favorite whiskeys.
Things to See
48. Annie Moore Statue
49. Views of Cork Harbor
Walk along Westbourne Place to enjoy views of the bay. You could even relish a nice, relaxing dinner on the patio at The Quays Restaurant.
Cork / Mallow
Places to Go
50. Blarney Castle and Grounds
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, Blarney Castle is most known for the Blarney Stone, which visitors can kiss for good luck. And though we made our obligatory trek through the castle to the top to kiss the stone, we found that the grounds of Blarney Castle has so much more to offer. After exiting the castle, we ambled through the Poison Garden, a garden of plants with various harmful or hallucinogenic effects, past the Blarney House, which was built in 1874, and over to the Rock Close, where we discovered "evidence" of fairies and druids, and observed waterfalls and caves. The Blarney Castle Grounds are full of wonderful eye candy, so don't leave after seeing only the castle.
51. Mallow Castle
From Blarney Castle, you can drive just 16 miles up the road to Mallow Castle. Though called a museum, very little information about the history of Mallow Castle is actually located on site. This, however, was one of our favorite castles, as we were able to see it in all its ruined glory, with almost nobody else around. The grounds are well-kept and quiet. We nibbled our picnic lunch on the lawn and imagined how Mallow Castle looked back its in original grandeur.
Cahir / Cashel / Thurles
Places to Go
52. Cahir Castle
One of the largest castles in Ireland, Cahir Castle sits on an island in the middle of the River Suir. We had a lovely guided tour of the castle, learning of its history and various defense mechanisms built into the castle.
53. Rock of Cashel
Various portions of the Rock of Cashel were built at different times - the round tower in 1101, the cathedral in the middle of the 1200's, and the Hall of the Vicars Choral in the 1400's - but the finished work offers an imposing view from the valley below. We arrived shortly before they would be closing, so we opted not to go inside, but we thoroughly enjoyed the view of the exterior of this massive castle.
54. HolyCross Abbey
Originally a Cistercian Monastery, the 12th-century Holycross Abbey is one of Ireland's National Monuments. See the cloisters, the ruins of the oldest buildings, and, if you are there while they are open, the interior of the restored church.
Places to Go
55. Kilkenny Castle
Standing on the River Nore, the Kilkenny Castle grounds feature a garden and fountain. Watch their movie, detailing the history of the castle and its inhabitants, and take a picnic to eat on the large lawn!
56. St Patrick's Parish Church
St Patrick's was built in 1899. A modest little parish church, this Gothic-Revival church features beautiful stained glass windows and fabulous reliefs.
57. Smithwick's Brewery
58. St Canice's Cathedral
St Canice's Cathedral, also known as Kilkenny Cathedral, is a 13th-century catholic church with a 9th-century tower. Explore the grounds and cemetery, and if you have time, climb the 121 stairs to the top of the tower for views of Kilkenny below.
During our 15 days in Ireland, we saw castles and churches, pubs and breweries, birds and deer, mountains and valleys, rivers and harbors, beaches and flowers and so much more. We hope we have inspired you to see Ireland by road and have given you some insight on how to do it. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask!
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