I am not really sure how many times one would have to visit Ireland before walking away with a sense of fulfillment. I have been there twice now and I am not yet fulfilled. I crave every ounce of experience even more since I left this beautiful country. Even memories of the misty weather makes my heart ache for a trip back.
This small country holds massive opportunities for discovery, no matter what kind of travel experience you seek. I love that my trips have all started in Dublin, a city I adore, but I am even more grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to venture outside of the city and see another side of the country.
My family and I have talked about planning a road trip through Ireland. My husband often nervously talks about the time his brother and him traveled through the country in a small rental, through the winding narrow roads of coastal Ireland. It’s beautiful, he says, but nerve wrecking. Of course, when I was invited as a media guest (full disclosure) to experience an Insight Vacations Ireland tour, I jumped at the chance. Not only because by now I knew it promised to be a memorable journey, as most trips with Insight are, but because it was an opportunity to experience the many roads my husband so lovingly, yet nervously, often talked about with me actually having to be behind the wheel!
Here are some of the highlights from my trip.
Big City Experience
Dublin is an absolute must. It’s busy and can get a bit congested during rush hour, but you can walk the city or take public transportation. I find it incredibly manageable and I love people watching or just walking around. The first time I went, my husband and I visited Trinity College on our own but nothing beats touring it with a guide. I learned so much more with a guide, not only about the famous Book of Kells but about the college itself.
When I went on the road trip tour I didn’t know everyone there and this will be the case for anyone going. We decided to break the ice by walking to a local pub near our hotel, the newly renovated Double Tree Hilton Burlington, which also happened to be the same hotel I stayed in during my first few days in Ireland on my last trip. I love it because it is so centrally located, has a bus stop right in front that takes you to and from the airport, and you can easily walk to parks, attractions, pubs, and shops. By the end of the night with we had shared a few good laughs and were ready to take on the next week together. By the end of the trip a few of us would become great friends.
The local Irish pub is where I got to bond with the strangers who would become really great friends. It also happens to be one of the oldest pubs in Dublin at almost 100 years old.
Touring the Guinness Storehouse is a touristy thing to do and you might not find a lot of locals there. But it is also a lot of fun. Navigating it via private tour makes it more manageable on extremely crowded days, and we even got a lesson on the perfect pour away from the crowds and in our very own pouring room. I don’t drink much Guinness outside of Ireland, but I assure you it’s because I think it tastes better there, so if for no other reason to go, go to taste the Guinness.
Though at night the city is bustling with life, I have found that waking up early enough in the morning to walk around will give you a more serene experience.
Dublin in the early morning.
The Southwest Journey
Your senses really go wild the minute you venture into the countryside of Ireland. I remember at one point fellow tour-goers started reminiscing about their favorite Irish film (mine are The Matchmaker and Once) that inspired their wanting to travel here, or reminded them why they loved it here so much.
We stopped in the town of Kilkenny and learned about the sport of hurling, which sounded more like a more of a cultural experience than it is a sport but as competitive and as intense as any sport.
And not easy.
What was sweet was how deeply rooted this sport is in among the people there. Walking around town you see kids carrying around their hurling sticks or you see the sticks lined up outside of school buildings. It’s a big deal, a sport that garners no monetary wealth for the players, but tons of street cred and honor for the community.
Kilkenny is fun to walk around in. Tour Kilkenny Castle then make sure to stop into Lanigan’s Bar and Restaurant for a warm stew and some Guinness.
I’ve begun to associate the smells coming out of an Irish kitchen with comfort and warmth.
We arrived to St. Patrick’s Rock of Cashel in Tipperary on a cloudy, chilly day. One would think that this would damper the mood but there’s something so truly mystical and beautiful about it all. I admired the gray limestone, explored the rooms and halls, tried to imagine the lives of royalty here so many, many centuries ago. Even on a day as this was, I felt captivated by the beauty and history of my surroundings.
Never underestimate the value of a good tour guide.
We traveled along fields, past rolling hills, and coastal villages, my love for the country growing deeper and deeper with each stop along the way.
The water was pretty cold, but I wanted to completely take in where I was with every sense of my being.
We would spend the night in Killarney, in the Killarney Plaza Hotel and Spa, located in the center of town within walking distance to all the town had to offer. This would become one of my absolute favorite towns outside of Dublin, though as the trip went on I added a few others.
For a fun night out with friends check out the The Shire Bar, a Lord of The Rings themed bar. They often have a live band but if they don’t most other pubs do too.
A stroll or tour through Killarney National Park, the first national park established in Ireland, is the most perfect way to start your day. Take in the stunning views of McGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland, and admire the majestic beauty of the native red deer.
Ring of Kerry
OK. Don’t fall asleep. It’s just too beautiful. The Insight Vacations tour buses are too comfortable, and there are times when you might doze off a bit. But, here is where you definitely don’t want to. The remote villages are straight out of a story book. The cliffs look like paintings. I swear no matter how many photos I took, they just failed in capturing the true beauty of the place. There are tons of little stops we made along the way too, great for taking photos, grabbing a bite to eat, or just for a quiet moment to take it all in.
You’ll never know what road side silliness you will see.
A favorite lunch spot was in Monks Seafood Restaurant in Ballyvaughan, overlooking Galway Bay.
This coastal town is bustling in the summer months, but come in the fall and it will be a bit more relaxed. Not all the businesses will be open off-season, but there are still a few shops to explore and eateries to dine in. For me it was enough to walk the short streets and admire the colorful buildings.
But if you get hungry, make sure to stop into Harrington’s Fish and Chips. The seafood is fresh and when paired with a good beer, it’s even better. Cash is preferable here.
Cliffs of Moher
My husband talked often of this stop as being one of his favorite during his road trip through Ireland. I am not sure why I underestimate the impact it would have on me. It rained a bit during my visit, but I hesitated to take refuge inside the exhibition center nearby.
The sight and sounds of the waves crashing below, the fog as it danced along the cliffs, the cattle grazing on the hilltops, and then, of course, the musician playing the pipes, the wind carrying his melody along like a spell. How can one place be so incredibly beautiful. I often found myself tearing up over it. So ridiculous, I know, but this is how Ireland makes me feel. I never wanted to leave.
Though most of the days at the beginning of the tour were sunny, our arrival to Galway was greeted with rain. Rain in Ireland has a happy effect on me. I broke away from the group and took a walk not minding one bit that I was getting drenched. I loved the energy of Galway and found it really easy to navigate. At one point, I found myself standing still, in the rain, smiling. The moment just felt so perfect. I mentally added it to the list of favorites, rain and all.
We arrived to Limerick late in the day, tired and a bit overwhelmed from our days activities. As tempting as my bed at the Castle Oaks Hotel was, I fought the urge to rest and decided to take a stroll in the adjacent park along the Shannon River. The park is called Fairy Woods, and though I didn’t see any fairies, I have no doubt that this is exactly where they come from.
At this point, were you to ask me if my trip could get any better, I wouldn’t even know how to respond. I mean, how could it? Then I arrived to Ashford Castle.
I could write a little blurb about what that was like, but how horrible of an injustice that would be! For more on my castle stay read Timeless Ireland at Ashford Castle where I focused solely on this unique, luxurious hotel experience.
Overall, I would say that after the road trip and after witnessing how challenging some of the roads can be, especially in increment weather (bravo to our wonderful Insight Vacations driver Eugene and tour guide Michael), I still can’t rule out a road trip with my family. I think that taking on the challenge of driving ourselves is a worthy adventure.
But there is something to be said about doing it while on tour with Insight Vacations, and why even this has become a consideration for us as a family vacation. I do love a good adventure, which driving in Ireland can certainly be, but the spoils of luxury and comfort, having everything taken care of while still having the flexibility and freedom to venture on your own, especially when traveling with kids, is pretty appealing. At this stage in my traveling life, I have nothing to prove. I am happy to let others pamper me when I travel.
I felt like I didn’t miss out on the things that matter most: just being present and absorbing all the beautiful that Ireland is.
Special things to note about Insight Vacations experiences
All tours, hotel reservations, and transportation through the destination are included in the Insight Vacations tours. There is a dine-around night which you can choose to take part in where you have the option to join fellow tour goers at a specially selected local eatery that offers great ambiance and even greater food. There is a lot that is taken care of for you, all you have to do is show up. There is free time to explore on your own and many of the organized excursions are optional – though I have found these to be worth participating in.
Hotels are 3-star+, depending on the tour package you selected, though the new Luxury Gold travel option offers top-tier, Signature experiences much of which is exclusively arranged for Insight Vacations travelers.
Photography is property of the publisher and may not be used without consent of GirlGoneTravel.com.