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.
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?
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: