European DestinationsIreland

Not Another Perfect Ireland Itinerary! Our Ireland Highlights

Dingle harbor, on many ireland highlights, and on our Ireland itinerary.

A Perfect Ireland Itinerary?  Everybody Has One!

Ireland is a perfect travel destination, with it’s gorgeous and verdant landscape, steeped in myth and mystery. On top of that, millions of people around the world have some Irish heritage, and yearn to see their “homeland.”  It is a country with a unique religious, and political history, and has the cathedrals, castles, and ruins to go with that history.  What is more, the country embraces tourism, which is a main source of the economy.  Locals welcome visitors into their communities with warmth and gusto.   Ireland is a traveler’s dream, and half of the travel sites on the web seems to have has some version of their “Perfect Ireland Itinerary.”

But to deem any trip around the country perfect Irish itinerary, starts the article on false premises.  There is no such thing, because there is no Ireland itinerary that is imperfect!  Everywhere you turn there is something amazing, both to see or do.  Just driving the countryside is often a beautiful and enchanting treat, which we share in our next story.  COMING SOON.

Ireland was the first European country I visited when I finally made the flight across the pond.  Perhaps I was already in love before my arrival, but that love became intrinsic during our visit.  We planned and put together our entire route ourselves.  It was very important to us to see and do what we wanted, rather than what someone else thought would be best.  We used some resources which we include at the bottom, including several versions of the “Perfect Ireland Itinerary,” from different websites.  We were not disappointed!

We were excited about almost every place we visited.  Ireland truly is so stunning, and the history so intriguing, we could have doubled our time.  I am sure we would have certainly still loved every place we visited, and still had several many other places we would have liked to have seen.    You really cannot go wrong on the Emerald Isle.  

If you experienced with travel and organizing a plan, we highly recommend putting together your own Ireland route.   You can hone in on the types of experiences you want to have.   Planning your own trip and route allows you to do that.  I promise that all  the tools and information you need are freely available.   

Our Ireland Route

We hope you will start with our information - our route, and the places we visited.  We share our Ireland highlights and photos, and how we felt about some of the places we visited.  We feature a few locations you will not find on a lot of other websites too.  

Dublin, Galway, Cliffs of Moher, Dingle, Portmagee, the Rock of Cashel, and Kildare are all found below, with some surrounding attractions. 

If you want more information about a specific location, look for the links!  They will take you to articles with more details or photos about that specific location. We also share logistics and lodging information near the end.  

So, nope, it is not a  “Perfect Ireland Itinerary.”  But it is a good starting point for you to create your own perfect Ireland Route!

 

Our Ireland Route - First Stop, Dublin

What can we say about Dublin. Obviously, as the capital of Ireland, and the largest city, it is a must visit destination for most travelers. We spent 4 days in Dublin, with some good experiences, and some not quite as good. I guess the most honest assessment is that we had a few misconceptions about the city that led to some challenges, and ultimately that resulted in sort of a love/hate relationship with Dublin, for us.

Let me point out, travel writers and photographers are typically experts at their craft.  They can make most any site destination appear appealing, and to have certain characteristics.  At the time of our visit I didn’t really understand this truth, until visiting Dublin. Perhaps I was naive, but based on all of the photos I had seen, I actually had an image of a quaint, casual, slow-paced town.  Quaint it was, casual and slow-paced, it was not!

Dublin Street Market, part of our Perfect Ireland Itinerary, Ireland Highlights.
Street Market in Dublin. It gives no indication of how busy it is!

Dublin is a metropolis of about 1,200,000 residents in the city proper, and just under 2,000,000 for the urban area. No, it is not crowded like New York City, or the Amsterdam’s Dom Square, but it is very busy.  But there are bustling groups of people walking at every turn, and they walk fast. There are also bicyclists everywhere. They are not the upright riders seen in the Netherlands or northern Germany. They are more akin to racing bicyclists, who claim the right of way, and sometimes become a tad angry when it is not given.

We had some difficulty driving in Dublin. Not only is driving in the left lane, but the streets are narrow, and the traffic is heavy.  Top that off with an abundance of one way streets, and getting around in a car can become a serious challenge. We made the mistake of trying to use a hard copy map, rather than gps for two days.  Silly, silly, silly.  We got lost several times, and missed a couple of sites that we had purchased tickets for in advance.

We learned our lesson.  We used public transportation in the city, until we could get GPS  I realize few travelers are so old-school now, but do not attempt to rely upon a printed map to get around in Dublin!

If the problem of getting around easily and efficiently is solved, Dublin really is a beautiful city, with a vast and rich history.  When lodging right in the city,  there will be a number of desirable sites within walking distance. However,  the blocks are a bit longer than they appear to be on Google Maps!  Our regular readers know that we are history nerds, so taking a walk to the National Museum and the National Gallery was one of our outings.

The National Museum houses artifacts from Irish history and the national treasures. Among those are the famed Tara Brooch and the Shrine Bell of St. Patrick. The National Gallery is a world-class art museum housing European art spanning the 1400s to modern-day, including such renowned artists as Rodin, Renoir and Monet.

The Cross of Kong, at the National Gallery, part of our Perfect Ireland Itinerary, Ireland Highlights, an Ireland route.
St. Patrick's Bell Shrine, part of our Perfect Ireland Itinerary, Ireland Highlights, an Ireland route.
Jameson's Disttillery, part of our Perfect Ireland Itinerary, Ireland Highlights, an Ireland route.

We also toured Christ Church Cathedral and Dublinia. Christ Church dates back to at least to the year 1030, as a Viking church, and its long history includes many other significant events, such as the premier performance of Handel’s Messiah. It houses the largest crypt in Ireland, with some unusual mummified remains, and the period costumes used for production of the television series The Tudors. A guided tour is very educational, AND also includes a climb to the bell tower, where visitors can actually ring the bell for all of Dublin to hear!  f you know me, you know I chimed that bell a few times!!

Just across the street is Dublinia, a youth oriented museum experience that tells the story of Dublin’s founding, the period of Norman rule, and life in medieval times. The museum is laid out as a family friendly setting, with life-size replicas and hands-on exhibits. It was more history than either of us could ever retain, but we learned a lot. I had a general knowledge of Irish history back to the days of Henry the 8th, but knew nothing of the period of Norman rule.

A few other stops included the Spire, perhaps the pride and bane of Dubliners, and Jameson Distillery, both pictured above.  We also explored the open air market, some historic parks and cemeteries, and made it out to the clubs. 

One of Our Ireland Highlights - Galway

Ask a regular visitor to Ireland about their favorite places to spend time, and many of them will immediately say Galway. Galway is the 4th largest city in Ireland, with a whopping 80,000 residents. It is smaller than my town in the US, although it has far more traffic, and tourists.

Galway is a university city, and being from a university city in the US, I recognize the unique characteristics the constant influx of students from around the country and around the world, bestows upon a city, such as the additional cultural options and the aura of relaxation and having a good time. There is an eternal essence of youth, forever being on the cutting edge of what is new and trendy. Somehow Galway manages to intermingle this youthful zest with a solid base of history and traditions, and intriguing inter-weaving that results in a quirky, comfortable feeling.

Galway Spanish Arch, one of our Ireland Highlights on the Ireland route that could be a perfect Ireland Itinerary.
The Spanish Arch, Remains of the Norman wall.

Galway has a fascinating history, which is a bit more torrid than many other cities in Ireland.  Remains of the wall built by the Normans in the 12th century still stand, protecting the oldest part of the city, what is now known as the Latin Quarter. Galway was major trading port with all of Europe in the following centuries, and was known for the constant influx of Spanish ships, and galleons in the bay. In the 16th century, the Ceann an Bhalla, or the head of the wall, was built by prominent citizens, to protect the merchant ships from looting. Over time, it became known as the Spanish Arch, which still stands.

The center of Galway is Eyre Square, presented to the city in 1710 by Mayor Edward Eyre. Eyre Square is known for many things, among them the visit and speech by President John Kennedy, on his last international rip before his assassination. Today the square has a park-like atmosphere, which includes a playground, and is a gathering place for visitors and locals alike.

One more odd bit of history that may come as a surprise to many Americans, is that Galway is the source of the terms Lynch Law, and the spinoffs Lynching and Lynch Mob. The Lynches were a prominent family in Galway history, and many held public offices, including mayor. James Lynch Fitzstephen, mayor in 1493, has become infamous for convicting his son of murder, and hanging him publicly, on his own, because members of the community refused to participate.

We spent a couple of days in Galway, staying in the Latin Quarter, which is a hub of activity. Traditional pubs, restaurants and small shops line the streets, and from early afternoon on, street performers line the cobbled roads. Walking the streets is an experience in itself, and unlike any other.  There were people from all over the world.  We found ourselves doing one of the silly things we do, which is try to guess nationalities by body language and dress.  

The River Corrib, one of our Ireland Highlights on the Ireland route that could be a perfect Ireland Itinerary.
Residents line both shores of the River Corrib.

We made a point to walk along the banks of the River Corrib.  It was clear this is a focal point in the city, and residents appeared really enjoy their river front.  It is a swift moving river, and had a powerful feeling to it, probably since we were so closed to the Atlantic.  Young and old alike lined both shores.  From there we were able to walk to the Galway City Museum and stroll through the Spanish Arch.  

We also made a visit to St. Nicholas Cathedral, which has stood in the Latin Quarter since 1320, and is named for the one and only St. Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of children, and mariners. Yes, that is the same St. Nicholas of Christmas fame. The Church holds a large number of artifacts and historical items. It is said that Christopher Columbus prayed at St. Nicholas before embarking on one of his journeys in 1477.  The troops of Oliver Cromwell used the church as a stable, during the siege of Galway. There is also a monument to local resident Jane Eyre inside, who is said to be the real life person Charlotte Bronte used as the model for her character in the world-renowned novel.

St. Nicholas Cathedral, Galway, Ireland Highlights, on an Ireland Route, part of an Ireland Itinerary.
St Nicholas Cathedral
St. Nicholas Cathedral, Galway, Ireland Highlights, on an Ireland Route, part of an Ireland Itinerary.
Travis examining the stained glass in St Nicholas Cathedral

Galway is also a good base for day trips.  We took a trip to the Portumna Workhouse Center, which was personally very important for me.  My father’s family emigrated from Ireland in the mid 1800s, after a long period of suffering, and a tenure in the workhouses.  Anyone with Irish ancestry in Canada, Australia, or the US, probably has some relationship to the workhouses, and owes it to themselves to learn about the workhouses, and visit one to gain a full understanding of their families hardships.  I wrote a full length article on my experience at the Portumna Workhouse Center as a guest post for the website Culture Trekking. 

Portumna Workhouse, on our Ireland Route, one of our Ireland Highlights, and part of the Ireland Itinerary.
The condition of Portumna Workhouse before repairs.

We also made a day trip north,  to visit Connemara Marble and St. Brigid's Garden.  Connemara marble is a rare form of green marble, featuring the veins of soapstone and quartz, resulting in a deep gray-green marble.  It is said it is one of the rarest marbles in the world, due to the limited quantity ultimately available.  While in Galway, a stunning example can be seen in the Galway Cathedral (which we did not visit.)  Connemara marble was used to build the support pillars in the chapel.  For a glimpse across the pond, the Senate Chamber of the State building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania are formed of Connemara Marble.  The namesake company has a visitors center, near the quarries and Moycullen.  There is a museum, a gift shop, and an opportunity to watch the craftsmen creating their unique pieces from the raw marble slabs.  We perused the museum and shop, and picked up a few gifts there.

St. Brigihds Garden, on our Ireland Route, one of our Ireland highlights, on the Ireland itinerary.
St Brigids Gardens

St. Brigid is the second patron saint of Ireland, after St. Patrick.  Although her influence and story are not widely known throughout the rest of the world, it is renowned in Ireland.  The remnants of her influence still stand throughout the country, and live in the  myths and legends as well.  St. Brigid’s Gardens is unusual in that it is not an actual location from Brigid’s life, nor a historical monument.  Rather, it is a planned garden environment which relays her story and myths, through horticultural art, and replication.   There are separate sections of the garden themed for each season, and the aspects of Brigid that are related.   It is both a peaceful and spiritual place, in a lovely setting.  

Along the Ireland Route - The Burren and the Cliffs

After leaving Galway, we headed toward Dingle. This drive would normally take just a few hours, but rather than drive direct, we made it a sightseeing day, and skirted the coast. What a day of sights it was.  We share the entire experience and a couple dozen pictures, in our article The Cliffs of Moher and O'Brien's Tower.

We started by driving through the Burren. The Burren is one of those incredibly unique landscapes that is not found anywhere else on the planet. The ecosystem formed there has been classified as a UNESCO Geological Park, to ensure it’s protection.

The Burren, our Ireland highlights on the Ireland route, the ireland itinerary.
Cows grazing in the Burren, along the coast.

There numerous things to see and do in the area of the Burren, and looking back, it would have been good to spend a night in the area to see more. Had we have taken that option, I would have also taken a ferry out to the Aran Islands. That will definitely be in the plan for any future visit to the area. However, we had a single day, and already had tickets for certain activities pre-purchased.

We visited the Cliffs of Moher in the morning. It was an overcast and somewhat chilly day, so it was not overly crowded. It may not have made a difference on the particular day of our visit, but as another hindsight, I would choose to visit in the early evening, to experience one of the beautiful sunsets the area is known for.

We then drove down to Doolin in the early afternoon. Doolin is a small town, known for it’s fantastic traditional music, often referred to as Trad Music.  Doolin also has tourist gift shops and lodging options, as well as some very well reputed pubs. From there, we took the Cliffs cruise, which we had scheduled prior to our trip. For me, the cruise was essential to the Cliffs of Moher experience, and may have been my favorite part.

O'Brien's Tower and the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland highlights on an Ireland itinerary.
O'Brien's Tower, tiny in the distance, as we head back to Doolin.

After leaving the Cliffs, we made a stop at St Brigid’s well, near Liscannor. As I briefly explained above, St Brigid is the second of Ireland’s patron saints. The holy well at Liscannor is one of the most popular holy wells in Ireland, and it is certainly one of the most well-known wells of St. Brigid. The current location is close to the original, but not exact. The shelter and alter that now stand were actually built by Cornelius O’Brien, who owned much of the area, and who also built the tower and flagstone railing at the Cliffs of Moher. In the 150 years since this shelter was built, the well has become a shrine to the Saint, and is frequented by locals and tourists alike. 

Cloughtie trees at St. Brigihd's holy well, liscannor, one of our Ireland highlights on our Ireland route.
Offerings at St. Brigihd's holy well, liscannor, one of our Ireland highlights on our Ireland route.

We briefly explored the cemetery, and the grounds surrounding the well. The area above the well is decorated by the Cloughtie Trees, or rag trees as some call them, which are trees with strips of cloth tied to the branches by believers who pray for healing. The grotto and shrine area are filled with votive offerings- photos and mementos of loved ones for whom prayers have been given.  This is one of the more fascinating of the holy wells we visited, which we share in our gallery, In Search of St. Brigid.  COMING SOON.

This holy well in honor of St Brigid near Liscannor is worth a stop for all travelers passing through the area, even those with no interest in religion. It reveals a very important part of Irish religions and traditions that have continued for centuries, and have also been embraced by visitors to the area. From there, we made our way to the Dingle Peninsula.

On Almost Every Ireland Itinerary - The Dingle Peninsula

Dingle is one of those hot and cold locations in Ireland. Some people insist it is the best town on the west coast, and a must visit. Others claim it is not worth drive down the peninsula, and to spend the time elsewhere. But most travel writers include Dingle it among their Ireland highlights.  We opted to make the drive because some of our closest traveling friends strongly recommended the small town along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Yes, getting to Dingle is a bit out-of-the-way. However, while the scenery in Ireland is amazing everywhere, but the Slea Head Drive, which is at the furthest end of the Dingle Peninsula, is almost beyond imagination. It truly is jaw-dropping.  We loved it so much that we will post an entire gallery of Dingle Peninsula photos.  COMING SOON.

Slea Head Drive, Dingle peninsula, on every ireland itinerary, and Ireland highlights.
Intermittent beaches and cliffs line sections of the Dingle Peninsula, which can be seen from Slea Head Drive.

We spent 2 nights in Dingle. One day was devoted to driving the Slea Head. The entire route is full of interesting and gorgeous stops, with differing origins and significance. Rick Steves Ireland Guide actually gives a km by km driving tour of Slea Head Drive, where each of the stops is designated to the exact number of km from the starting point in Dingle, and explained in detail.

For movie buffs, the film Far and Away begins on the Dingle Peninsula. Some of the film locations are popular tourist sights along the route. Lord Ventry, who is depicted in the movie, was a real historical figure, who owned much of the Dingle Peninsula. His former estate still stands, and is surrounded by the tropical plants he imported. Much of the west coast of Ireland is at the tail end of the Gulf Stream, so the climate is mild, enabling these tropical plants to thrive.

Further down the drive,  the Fahan Beehive Huts can be explored. The exact dates of these forts are difficult for scientist to determine, but it is speculated to be sometime in the 12th century.  

Fahan Beehive Huts, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland itinerary, Ireland Highlights.
Exploring the Fahan Beehive huts along the Slea Head Drive.

Across the road the remains of the Iron Age Dunbeg Fort can be visited. The fort is an important historical and archaeological site, enlightening scholars about life on the island during prehistoric times.  There is a small visitor's center across the street, where an interesting educational video about the fort is shown, to help visitors understand the true significance of the rooms they are about to walk through.

Dunberg Fort, one of Ireland highlights, on Ireland route.
The entrance of Dunberg Fort, damaged by Atlantic storms.

Standing on the very edge of the coast, the fort suffers the brunt of Atlantic weather, and portions of the foundation were seriously damaged by weather in 2014. Unsafe areas have been cordoned off, but visitors can explore the remaining areas.  

In Dingle town, we visited the Sea Life Aquarium. My son Travis, who was my traveling companion on this trip, particularly loves aquariums. Personally, I find most aquariums around the world very similar, and could bypass most. But he followed my lead 90% of the time, so it was the least I could do.  We also visited several shops, and an "American style" cafe.  We always try to visit one when we travel, just to satiate our curiosity about what others cultures think of ours.  

Dingle harbor, on many ireland highlights, and on our Ireland itinerary.
Looking across Dingle Harbor.

We walked around the quaint town a couple times, and along the docks.  Harbor towns are particularly fascinating for me.  I am in love with the colors and contrasts, and I have a strange fascination with a fisherman's lifestyle.  So watching the fishermen return to port in the afternoon in any port, is a guilty pleasure for me. 

 

Along the Ireland Route- The Road to Kerry

Torc Waterfall, Muckross Estate, County Kerry Ireland, one of our Ireland Highlights on our Ireland itinerary.
Torc Waterfall, in Killarney National Park, near the Muckross House.

We left Dingle early in the morning, and made our way to the Muckross House and Gardens, amidst the stunning Killarney National Park, and near the onset of the Ring of Kerry. Muckross House is a large Victorian mansion built-in the mid 1800s by the wealthy Herbert family. 

In 1860 the family spent over a year renovating and upgrading the house for a visit from Queen Victoria. The story is that after all of the time and money spent preparing the home, the queen then spent only one night, and cancelled the rest of her stay.

Despite the disappointment to the family at the time, the renovations were lovely, and the room where the queen did spend her one night, is still intact, as it was at that time. The entire house is remarkable example of how the wealthier classes lived during the 19th century. Entrance into the house is available by guided tour.

Muckross is also known for the gardens, and the historical working farms, which can all be visited. Outside of the home, horse-drawn carriages, known as jaunting cars, are available for hire. Although there is a standard, the prices for these rides are sort of bartered at the time of hire. Be sure to negotiate your exact price, and route, to ensure you are getting what you expect. Most tours will include a stop at the Torc Waterfall, and allow time for visitors to climb to the top, for the best view.

 

More Favorite Ireland Highlights- Kissane Sheep Farm

We made a special stop at the Kissane sheep farm. I learned about the farm again, from the Rick Steves Ireland Guide.  I had planned this stop secretly, because I knew it would be very moving to Travis.  If you have never planned a special, secret, stop on a trip to surprise someone, you should try it.  You will feel great!

Sheep are a part of daily life in Ireland, all across the country, and they are seen everywhere. But seeing them up close, and being able to assist with feeding the young is quite a treat.  Visitors get to spend quite a while with the lambs.  

A sheep dog show is also performed, where the intricacies of dog training and signals are demonstrated.  The collies are extremely inteligent, and are essential to the survival of the sheep on the farm.   Instructions are given from the corral, and the dog herds the sheep from far across the grazing land, and into the safe haven of their farm.  We share more details about Kissane in our gallery.  COMING SOON.

This visit was the absolute highlight of our entire trip for Travis.  

Kissane Sheep Farm, our Ireland highlights, on our Ireland route and Ireland itinerary.
One of the Kissane Sheep Farm lambs begins to warm up to Travis.

Back on the Ireland Route - On to Portmagee

We then made our way to Kenmare, where we visited the stone circle. There are a number of stone circles around Ireland, and the UK, with Stonehenge obviously being the most well-known. Although there are still speculations about the purposes and meanings behind the circles, it is widely accepted that they were part of ancient druidry and worship. The one in Kenmare is the largest in southwest Ireland.

We also drove through Moll’s Gap, and stopped at the Ladies View. The Ladies View is known for being one of the stops that Queen Victoria made during her visit to Muckross, where she and her ladies in waiting stopped to get a glimpse of the view over the valley. It has been known as The Ladies View ever since.  We ended this day at Portmagee, on the bottom of the Skellig Ring, which is at the bottom of the Ring of Kerry.  

Portmagee is a tiny village on the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula, known for its unique New Years Eve celebrations, and a number of legends involving piracy and shipwrecks, that are intriguing.  It is also the location of the only bridge to Valencia Island, and the  primary launching location to Skellig Michael, which is several kilometers offshore.

View of the bay, in Portmagee, Ireland.
Looking across the harbor to Valentia Island.

There is a bridge at Portmagee, leading across the channel to Valentia Island.  Valentia is worth of day of exploration or more, in itself.  It is the sit of the first Transatlantic telephone station, a point of interest to many visitors.  There is also a remarkable lighthouse on the island, a reserve where tetrapod tracks can be seen, and a historic slate mine which can be toured.  Perhaps a highlight is farm fresh ice cream, made on site.  

Skellig Michael, several kilometers offshore.  UNESCO world heritage site, and filming location for two of the newer Star Wars movies. It is the home of a former monastery, and a masterpiece of ingenuity.  Boat trips to Skellig Michael run from April through September, but are dependent upon weather.  The Atlantic can be quite dangerous during storms or winds.  Visiting Skellig Michael also requires a certain degree of fitness, as there are well over 600 steps to climb to reach the monastery.  Sadly, our visit to Skellig Michael was cancelled due to weather, but we loved our time in Portmagee, and shared a personal story about it in Skellig Ring, Ireland- Home in my Heart.  

Adjusting the Ireland Route

At this point, we had plans to spend a day at Cork, to visit several places, including the Emigration Museum, the St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral, and the English Market, and then make a jaunt to the Blarney Castle.  However, our car rental fiasco, which we shared on XYU and Beyond, prevented our stop in Cork, as we had to make our way back through the center of the island, toward Dublin.  However, I always look for the silver lining when traveling, so this is entirely what enabled our stop at the Rock of Cashel, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.  

The New Ireland Itinerary -  The Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel is also sometimes referred to as the Cashel of the Kings, and as St. Patrick’s Rock. Once an immense castle, seen from miles around, a clear indication of the power once seated there.  The Rock is still majestic, sitting atop a slab of rock that forms a hill in the midst of flat lands. It is quite a sight when driving toward the town. 

The Rock of Cashel, Ireland higlights, Ireland itinerary, Ireland route.
Front view of the Rock of Cashel, and the surrounding cemetery.

This hill was a source of wonder, unexplainable in the medieval world.  There are several myths surrounding how the hilltop came to be. Was it formed when St. Patrick cast the devil out of the cave at Devil’s Bit?  This is the most popular tale.  Devil's Bit is , a mountain some 20 km north of Cashel, and the nearest source of any similar rock.  Stories surround the castle, as well as the foundation it is built upon.  It is said that this was the site where the kings of Munster were converted to Catholicism by St. Patrick.  

Regardless of how the hill came to be, or why the castle was built, the Rock was the seat of the kings of Munster for centuries before the Norman invasion in 1101.  The remaining structures, the tower, the cathedral, and the Cormac’s Chapel, all date from the 1100 and 1200s.  The structure was sacked in 1647, by English soldiers during the Irish Confederate Wars.  So, what still stands is in a state of ruin, but a remarkable ruin they make.  

We took a guided tour, which includes the interior of the standing Chapel and Cathedral, and the cemetery surrounding.  A lot of historical information is provided, and some amazing viewpoints are also afforded.  

The town of Cashel has several other worthwhile stops, including a the Cashel Heritage Center, the Bru Boru Cultural Center, the Cashel Folk Village with it’s museum highlighting the 1916 Easter Uprising, and the Irish War of Independence, among other things.  We were on a schedule, so we did not see these attractions, but again, they are on our list for future trips.

Surprising Ireland Highlights - Kildare

Kildare is one of those smaller towns that is not widely touted among travel blogs and tourist sites.  I had considered it from the onset, because of my previously mentioned fascination with St. Brigid.  Kildare is where she lived for many years, where she set up her church, and where her true following oroiginated.  Despite not being popular on the tourist sites and routes, it is a popular daytrip from Dublin.  We felt absolutely comfortable in Kildare, and spent 2 nights.

Kildare has a small town square, which is just steps away from St. Brigid's Cathedral, and Tower, which was my initial reason for choosing Kildare as a stop. This is the site of many of the most wides-spread of Brigid legends.  In the square, her Perpetual Flame can be found.  Just outside of town there are also two more holy wells in her honor, also being among the most well-known, and well visited.  Also located in Kildare, is Solas Bhride, a center dedicated to her studies and pilgrimages.

Perhaps the biggest attraction in the town is National Stud, which has even been visited by Queen Elizabeth.  Horse racing is a popular spectator sport in Ireland, and National Stud is a breeding and training ground for some of the country’s finest championship steeds.  The stables and training areas can be toured, and if the time is right, seeing the foals is quite a treat.  National Stud is more than just a horse training facility, though.  

Foal at National Stud, Ireland highlights, Ireland itinerary.
The foals at National Stud were quite adorable.

It is also home to two amazing gardens, the Japanese Garden designed in the early 20th century by Japanese master horticulturist Tassa Elda, and St. Fiachra’s Garden, designed in 1999 by landscape architect Professor Martin Hallinan.  There is also a playground and dining area.  There is enough to enjoy at National Stud that an entire day could be spent.

Japanese Garden at National Stud, Ireland highlights, Ireland itinerary.
The meditation house in the Japanese Gardens of National Stud. Hard to believe it is Ireland.

We drove to the nearby city Naas, we visited Newgrange Silver, and the very fun Silver Screen Museum.  Although it is primarily a store and business, the museum was a surprise for us in Ireland, and really a lot of fun. We definitely did not expect to visit a site featuring American screen icons in Ireland!  The amount of genuine memorabilia on site from some very famous movies, and some very well-known stars, such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Princess Diana, and Michael Jackson, was impressive.  

In the nearby town of Kilcullen there is a stunning historic bridge over the River Liffey with a nearby historic monument.  Along the river in this area there is also another holy well, and the fun Farm and Nature Trail.  The trail and animals are maintained by members of the adjacent Bridge Community, where people with disabilities learn work skills.  We found the Nature trail by accident, and although it was simple, we enjoyed the animals, and the happy clucking of chickens.

Marilyn Monroe, Silver Screen Museum, Naas, Ireland route, Ireland Itinerary.
Michael Jackson, Icons of the Silver Screen, Naas, Ireland itinerary, Ireland route.
The Birds, at Newgbridge Silver, Naas, Ireland highlights, Ireland route.
Kilcullen Nature Trail, Ireland higlights on the Ireland itinerary.

 The End of Our Ireland Route?  

Well, it depends on how you look at it.  Our first morning in Kildare, we had actually made the drive to Dublin to remedy the car rental fiasco.  So, our affairs were back in order.  When we left Kildare, we drove directly from Kildare to Belfast, in Northern Ireland.  Yes, technically that is a different country.  Ask any Irish citizen, and Northern Ireland is truly the state of Ulster in their eyes.  It just happens to still be governed by the United Kingdom.  So technically, when you cross the border, you change laws and currency, but to them, this is nothing more than a technicality.  It is still Ireland.  Nonetheless, when we share our experiences in Belfast, and on the Antrim Coast, it will be in a different article.  COMING SOON.

Getting to Ireland

Obviously since Ireland is an island, most visitors are going to fly into the country.  However, there are ferries possible for those coming from the west side of the UK, for a reasonable price.  

For those coming from other places, there are 3 main international airports in the Republic of Ireland, and 1 in Northern Ireland.  In simplest terms, there is one airport in each section of the country:  Dublin in the east, Cork in the south, Shannon in the west, and Belfast in the north.  If travels will be limited to a particular area, then it might be best to choose the closer airport.  However, getting from one side of the country to the other can be done so quickly, going with the best price option is probably the smartest way to go.  

There are numerous airlines that fly into Ireland’s international airports.  From the Chicago I found the best price with Aer Lingus, going into Dublin.  Our flight was direct from O’Hare to Dublin.  We selected our prefered seats.  Meals were provided.  The tickets, including taxes and fees, were about $800 per round trip.  

Also, if traveling from the US, the two countries have airport agreements.  There is a US customs office in the Dublin and Shannon airports.  Your entrance approval will be done in Ireland.  Upon return to the states, immediate departure from the airport is allowed.  

Our Lodging in Ireland

There is an abundance of lodging choices available in Ireland, including camping parks, if you are on a strict budget, and happen to be traveling with a tent.  You can find the options at Camping in Ireland.  Mobile homes and caravans can be rented at a few locations, and there are glamping sites available, that feature, pods, huts and cabins.   Some of these options can be found at Glamping in Ireland.   Vacation homes can also be rented, from the luxurious, to the authentic Irish cottage.

There are numerous hotels and inns to choose from on Expedia, or Booking.com, and likewise,  many bed and breakfast choices on AirBNB.  It is said that the bed and breakfasts in Ireland are extremely hospitable, although I have not tried this option myself.  The inn option worked very well for us, which is typically a smaller number of rooms, with an authentic pub on the premises. 

Our Dublin choices were made through Expedia, and our other choices were reserved through Booking.   Also, be sure to see the **tips at the bottom.

Where We Stayed

  • Dublin- Day 1-2  Mespil Hotel.  

Mespil Hotel, Dublin, on the Ireland Itinerary, our Ireland Highlights.

Located along the Grand Canal, the Mespil is an upscale hotel popular with business travelers.  We had a free night from Expedia points, which they honored fully.  We paid $140 for the second night.  

Rooms were clean, service was friendly and efficient. Maitre’D provided a lot of useful information.  Breakfast was included.  The Mespil is within walking distance of St. Stephens Green, Trinity, and the National Gallery.

  • Galway - Spanish Arch Hotel, in the Latin Quarter.  
The Spanish Arch Hotel, Galway, on our Ireland route, and Ireland itinerary.
The Spanish Arch Hotel sits directly across from the real Spanish Arch.

 

It was an ideal geographic location, but the building is not sound proof, so revelry could be heard until all hours of the morning.  We paid about $90 per night. Breakfast was not included.  

 

Room was minimal, and mattresses definitely needed replaced.  It seemed to be a family run business, so at times, we had to find the attendant, but they were helpful and friendly.  It seemed more in line with student lodgers, than tourists.  The pub downstairs was quaint, and lively, with an outdoor seating area that we enjoyed. 

 

It is within walking distance of the entire Latin Quarter, the River Corrib, the Spanish Arch, the Galway Museum, and St. Nicholas Cathedral.  

 

 

 

  • Dingle- Barr na Sraide Inn.  

Located on upper Main Street, a bit off the main strip, with parking in the back.  We paid about $110 a night.  Traditional Irish breakfast was included.  It also seemed to be family owned, but was run quite efficiently.  

Rooms were simple but very clean, and staff was quite friendly and trusting.  We arrived in the evening, and the hostess gave me my keys without checking id or scanning my credit card.  The pub downstairs was charming and relatively quiet.  

It was within walking distance of most of Dingle-town, including the docks.

  • Portmagee - We stayed at the Moorings.
The Moorings, Portmagee, Ireland Highlights.
By JoachimKohlerBremen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Moorings has one of the most perfect locations that I can imagine, directly across from the docks.  We paid about $110 a night.  Traditional Irish Breakfast was included.  

The rooms were very clean, spacious, and had quite a bit of character and charm to them.  Staff was friendly, and informative.  The restaurant was the best we had in all of Ireland, and the pub was quite lively and pleasant.  Portmagee is a small town, and you could walk throughout.  

  • Kildare - We stayed at Silken Thomas.  

Silken thomas Inn, Kildare, Ireland Route.

Again, this was an ideal location, just off the little town square, with castle ruins in the back.  We paid again, about $110 a night.   Breakfast was available for a small additional room fee. The staff was extremely friendly, helpful, and accomodating.

The rooms were very clean, and although relatively small, had character.  The shower surprised me, with my limited world-wide experiences.  The pub had a more universal feeling, and also served as a restaurant, but there was a more upscale dining option on site as well.  It was within walking distance of the Kildare Visitor’s Center, the Perpetual Flame, and St. Brigihd’s Cathedral and Tower.  

  • Dublin - Day 11-12 Ashling Hotel.

On the other side of the River Liffey, just off O.ConnelO'Connell Street, the Ashling is upscale and classy.  We paid about $155 a night.  Full breakfast was included.  Service was friendly and efficient.

Rooms were clean, with a sophisticated decor.   It within walking distance of the Spire, and the Museum at the General Post Office, the site of the Easter Uprising, that ultimately led to the successful revolution and the founding of Ireland as an independent nation.  

**Tips for Ireland Lodging

**  If you are traveling with someone you prefer not to sleep with, ensure that you select double twin, not just double.  Although US travelers are accustomed to a double being composed of two full size beds, in Ireland that is not the case.  A double is often one full size bed that sleeps two.  It is not that big of a deal, but my adult son and I had to share a bed a couple times.  For us it was no big deal, but it felt odd, since we are both habituated to sleeping alone.  For some people, only one bed might be greatly distressing.  

** Traditional Irish breakfast generally includes both bangers, which are sausage links, and rashers, which is a thick bacon similar to Canadian bacon.  It also includes both black and white puddings, which are thick dry types of sausage formed primarily of pork and oatmeal, eggs, and soda bread.  Usually there are also vegetables included, but they may vary.  Everywhere we had breakfast, tomato slices were included.  In some places mushrooms were included, and once fried potatoes.  It is a great big meal to start your day off!

 

Other Resources to Plan Your Ireland Itinerary

As I said at the onset, our route is NOT a perfect Ireland route.  There are so many choices in Ireland.  If you go, we are sure you will love your time there, wherever you choose to spend it.  

But, our route does include some awesome places!   If you would like to see more photos, or learn more details about any of the places we stopped, be sure to use the links.  They will take you to other stories that give more in-depth information that will help you in deciding if a place is right for you!

Ireland itinerary pin.If you are looking for something different, try the links below.  We are sure you will find something that gets you excited! 

Heritage Ireland.

Ireland Tourism.

National Tourism Development - Failte

Discover Ireland.

Hope you make it to the Emerald Isle soon, and until then, may the luck of the Irish be with you!

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