Ireland: Tips, Tricks, and Local Flavor

by Christy on

We spent a busy week driving around Ireland, and in the process we learned a variety of important lessons that we wish we’d known when we started.

DUBLIN

Yes, go ahead and visit the Temple Bar. You know you want to.

And then hightail it over to Hanley’s Cornish Pasties just down the street, because those buggers are AMAZING.

You just can’t go wrong with stew-wrapped-in-a-pastry, and these in particular are the perfect hand-warming fast food when wandering the (slightly damp) streets of Dublin. Oh, and did I mention they’re delicious?

The Temple Bar in Dublin

CONNEMARA

We fully expected Kylemore Abbey to impress us (which it did; there’s a reason its one of the most popular stops in the Connemara region), but we were completely blindsided by the quality of food at their onsite restaurant/giftshop.

Expecting it to have generic, overly-expensive tourist fare, we’d cleverly stopped for lunch at a random roadside restaurant just a half hour before arriving. We spent the rest of the afternoon kicking ourselves for that terrible decision.

Kylemore Abbey in Conemarra

The Abbey’s food was fresh, creative, delicious, and surprisingly cheap compared to the pub fare we’d choked down earlier that afternoon. Even as stuffed as we were they managed to draw us in with a piece of Snickers Cake, hot tea, and a jar of Apple Mint Chutney for later.

Moral of the story: if possible, hold off on buying lunch until you get to the Abbey!


While you’re in Conemarra, you should also stop at Joyce Country Sheepdogs on the shores of Lough Na Fooey to see a working dog demonstration. We’re probably a little biased, since we have our own border collie at home who likes to herd things, but this would probably be a fascinating activity for anyone to watch… right? Right?

Okay, the kicker – they usually have puppies!

Puppies in Connemara

GALWAY

Galway is all about its renowned music scene, so you can’t visit the city without taking in a live show. Head to Tig Cóilí for craic (“party”) and impromptu music sessions, or visit the 400-plus-year-old King’s Head Pub for traditional Irish bands.

Beware parking, however; this was our first experience with an Irish parking garage, and it wasn’t pretty. We’re talking 5 point turns just to make it around the corner to the next level, let alone actually getting into a spot (confession: we came across two adjoining empty spots in a corner and promptly stole them both).

The King's Head in Galway

KILLARNEY

We have two awesome recommendations for Killarney: a place to eat and a place to sleep.

First, we had our best meal in all of Ireland at Caragh Restaurant. It’s not exactly stunning on the outside, but the atmosphere was cozy, the meal didn’t break the bank, and the portions were quite generous. Oh, and it was delicious. We ordered the Shepherd’s Pie, Seafood Chowder on Cheesey Garlic Bread, Guinness, and a slice of Bailey’s Cheesecake… and every last morsel was absolutely fantastic.

And the best part? Caragh is within walking distance of Killarney Lodge, our recommendation for where to stay in Killarney.

That’s not surprising, though, because most things in Killarney are within walking distance of the B&B. I’ll write a more in-depth review later this week, but I can tell you now that Killarney Lodge is perfect for anyone looking for centrally located accomodations with delicious homemade breakfasts.

Killarney Lodge

RING OF KERRY

The Ring of Kerry is not to be missed, but the real gem of the area is the Skellig Ring.

The Skellig Ring is sort of an off-shoot of the Ring of Kerry, and it’s comprised of narrow coastal roads that feel more like undiscovered countryside than popular tourist routes. There won’t be any large tour buses vying for road space (which is good, because there isn’t much to begin with) and the views are incredible.

If you have the time and inclination, head down to one of the beaches to enjoy frolicking in Ireland’s deep teal waters. Or, y’know, just check it out from above and stay warm.

Skellig Ring, Ireland

BLARNEY CASTLE

Did you know that to kiss the infamous Blarney Stone (and be granted the gift of gab) you have to hang upside down over an open parapet? Yeah, I didn’t know that either.

Blarney Castle

While you’re hanging upside-down in the air, have someone take your photo from as close to the professional photographer as they can get. It’s the best angle, so you’re more likely to get a decent shot (and won’t have to pay €10 for the “professional”‘s snapshot).

BONUS TIP: Don’t eat the plants in the Blarney Castle Poison Garden.

Blarney Castle Poison Garden

KINSALE

If you’re a boat fanatic, Kinsale has one of the best harbors in Ireland. The town is often overlooked by American tourists, but during the summer months Kinsale swells with Brits looking to enjoy a vacation on the water.

Kinsale, Ireland

After you take in the beautiful views and attempt to pirate away a ship (hypothetically, of course…), head to Fishy Fishy for a freshly-caught meal.

KILKENNY

When we stayed at Butler Court in Kilkenny, we discovered Victor’s Bar and Restaurant right across the street. We chose it more for its convenient location rather than any particular expectations of quality, but inside that restaurant we found something spectacular.

Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Just how good was it? Words just can’t do it justice, but this photo might:

Kali in Ireland

What are your recommendations for Ireland? Share them in the comments!

Our roadtrip around Ireland was partially sponsored by Thrifty Ireland; check out our review and driving recommendations.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Shanna Schultz July 23, 2012 at

I wished that we had gotten to Galway when we were there…it was recommended to us as a great part of the country to visit. I could have used a little more of a dose of Irish music during our trip.

I also just experienced one of those teeny, tiny parking ramps that you refer to (the ones that you have to make multiple point turns to navigate). Mine was in Paris. I felt quite a sense of accomplishment from getting in, getting the car into its spot and getting out again. We had a tiny car…I would hate to try one of those type of ramps with anything larger!
Shanna Schultz recently posted: Having Trouble Coming Home: The Dark Side of Travel Addiction

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Yikes, I had no idea Paris was just as bad as Ireland! I guess all of Europe is set up for tiny cars and scooters, so it’s going to be a huge adjustment coming from the U.S. (where everything is optimized for SUVs).

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Jonathan Look, Jr.twitter: lifepartII July 23, 2012 at

I notice you included a fair number of pubs. Nice! ANd it would be kinf of hard NOT to go to a place named Kilkenny.
Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted: Sea Turtles, Lightning Storms and Life

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Ireland has some of the coolest names! I think Blarney rolls off the tongue nicely. :P

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A Montrealer Abroad July 23, 2012 at

Ohhh I LOVED Ireland. I strongly recommend stopping for an afternoon in Dingle as well – it’s colorful main streets are really cute! The Skellig ring was my favorite part of all of Ireland (if you don,t count in the Northern Ireland coast). Killarney and Galway win in my heart for their super fun nightlife and quaint pubs filled with Irish music and dancers of all ages.

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Jeff @ GoTravelzing July 23, 2012 at

I was also recently in Ireland. I have to agree with you that the food at the Kylemore Abby was really good and priced reasonably. I was not that impressed with the Abby overall. The buildings were nice on the outside but there was not much open on the inside. The gardens were also being replanted when I was there and so they were not that interesting. I also thought the price was too high.
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Christy July 25, 2012 at

I completely agree about the Abbey itself being overpriced. We walked around the grounds (which were beautiful) but we opted not to go inside. Five euros would have been fine, but no way were we going to pay 15-20 each.

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London4Travelers July 24, 2012 at

Ireland is a very beautiful country. I have never been there, but I am planning to visit Dublin in the nearest future. Hope, it will be enjoyable and unforgettable travel. Thanks for sharing useful tips.
London4Travelers recently posted: Affordable London Hotels

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Glad to help!

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memographer July 24, 2012 at

Blarney Castle Poison Garden sounds fun!
Great pics!
Love dogs /puppies!
memographer recently posted: Photo Essay: Life On The Streets of Vienna

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Yeah, Kali did waaaay too much wandering in the Poison Garden. I started to get worried that he was taking notes. ;)

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Scott - Quirky Travel Guytwitter: quirkytravelguy July 24, 2012 at

I imagine that the food and the music will be the most awesome parts of Ireland for me. How weird about the Blarney Stone – I had no idea!
Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted: Strap on those crampons and hike inside Alaska’s Matanuska Glacier

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Ha, we had no idea either. I feel like that’s something that should be well known by now….

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jadetwitter: vagabond3live July 24, 2012 at

I’d love to do the drive around ring of keery and the off shoot too. Reminds me of The Great Ocean Road. oh, and the puppies- love!
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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Ah, yes – I’d love to drive the Great Ocean Road! Talk about scenic.

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Amy @ Gloriously Dismal July 24, 2012 at

I can’t wait to get back to Ireland at some point. We never made it out of Dublin unfortunately!
Great photo of Skellig Ring! : )
–Amy
Amy @ Gloriously Dismal recently posted: Amazing Bánh Mì In NYC

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Thanks, Amy! Dublin is great, but our favorite parts of the country were on the other side of the coast. :)

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Ayngelina July 24, 2012 at

I have never been to Ireland so this is the perfect introduction for me.
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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Hopefully someday you’ll make it there. :)

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Leightwitter: hikebiketravel July 24, 2012 at

If you drive or hike the Ring of Kerry/Kerry Way then I would make every effort to get out to the Skellig Islands. Also loved a quick visit to the Aran Islands via ferry from Doolin. We biked from Galway to Connemara and around and about doing our damnedest not to get killed. The Irish are WILD drivers and the speed limit means nothing to them.
Leigh recently posted: Hiking in the Splendour of the President Range, Yoho National Park

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

We didn’t make it out to the Aran Islands, but we’ve heard so many good things about them. We thought a week would be plenty of time for a road trip, but there’s so much we missed!

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Diana Edelmantwitter: dtravelsround July 24, 2012 at

Ha ha. I kind of feel like any visit to Dublin has to include Temple Bar. It is like a rite of passage!
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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Right?? Unfortunately it was way too crowded, so we only stepped in for a bit before quickly hightailing it out of there in search of something a little less crazy.

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Natasha von Geldern July 24, 2012 at

This all sounds fantastic! I’ve only been to Dublin for a weekend – need to get back and explore the rest!
Natasha von Geldern recently posted: Destination Britain: A canal boat holiday

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

We met a lot of people in Dublin who were only there for the weekend — it seems like a popular place for Europeans to come for just a few days, which surprised us.

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Pete July 25, 2012 at

You just made me miss Ireland. The Skellig Ring was some of the best scenery we’ve come across.

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Christy July 25, 2012 at

The Skellig Ring was AMAZING. And we got really lucky and had great weather for most of the day.

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Andrea July 25, 2012 at

My favs were Kilkenny, Galway and Cork – great tips!
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Christy July 25, 2012 at

I really enjoyed Galway and Kilkenny as well, but we didn’t actually spend any time in Cork. Oh well, next time. ;)

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Artitwitter: artisdiary July 25, 2012 at

What a wonderful post. As someone who has never visited Ireland, this post will be so useful when I do get down to chalking out my plans.
Wish you a fabulous week ahead:)
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Christy July 25, 2012 at

Awesome, I’m glad it will be helpful Arti!

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Sophietwitter: SophieR July 26, 2012 at

I’ve been in Ireland quite often, but haven’t managed to get out of Dublin much, except for a short visit to Galway once. Seems a long (driving) holiday is in order. Many good tips here!
Sophie recently posted: Family Fun in Carinthia

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Christy July 29, 2012 at

I wish we lived closer to Ireland so we could visit more frequently. I think it’s about time we relocate to Europe. ;)

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Christy July 27, 2012 at

You guys really saw a lot while you were there. Thanks for the tips!
Christy recently posted: What Life Has Taught Me in 33 Years

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Christy July 29, 2012 at

Any trips to Ireland in your future travel plans, Christy? ;)

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Jade Johnston - OurOyster.com July 30, 2012 at

Wow… great roundup of things to do in Ireland…

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Christy August 2, 2012 at

Thanks, Jade!

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Mary @ Green Global Travel September 19, 2012 at

Nice overview of Ireland sites & neighborhoods. Ireland is such a lovely place and has such wonderful friendly people. It’s a great place to get your travel feet wet.
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