Ireland has been on my bucket list since I can remember – with family names like Ringrose and Malone how could it not be. I recently seized the opportunity to go and it was every bit as magical as I thought it would be. The Irish people are warm and witty, the weather is often both sunny and rainy in the same day, and there are fantastic adventures around every corner. Some of our favorite spots were the well-known classics while others were a little off the beaten path.
These were just a few that will stick with us:
- Ennis, County Clare
Ennis has a reputation for being the friendliest town in Ireland and it lives up to its name. It is a beautiful town in County Clare situated on the River Fergus. It is a wonderful blend of “then and now” through its winding, narrow streets and historical buildings to its modern conveniences. You can kick back, relax at some wonderful accommodations (shout out to the Coach House Airbnb), and spend the day shopping its many wonderful boutiques. At night enjoy a meal at one of its fabulous eateries and then join in on the fun of a traditional music night at a historic old pub. Use Ennis as your central point for day trips to some of Ireland’s more well-known sites like Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry.
- Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are pretty spectacular and well worth the traffic and parking to get to the visitor center. Under an hour’s drive from Ennis, the cliffs are a great day trip to see one of the most famous landscapes of Ireland. There are a lot of tours that go to the cliffs for a fee but it’s an easy drive if you have a car. It can get really crowded but the long walkways along the cliffs offer great views at different vantage points. You can climb a small tower to get an even better view and then visit the café and shops at the visitor’s center.
- Moran’s Oyster Cottage
This place is world famous for its seafood, including the famous Galway Bay oysters. It is also well hidden and surprisingly off the beaten path. Moran’s Oyster Cottage is in a picturesque thatched roof cottage on an inlet of Galway Bay. Driving in to the restaurant you can see castle ruins on the other side of the inlet. Inside Moran’s it is inviting and warm and so are the staff. We were so excited for the Irish seafood feast that we had been looking forward to since our arrival and we were not disappointed. Everything was fresh and delicious and served with traditional brown bread. We gorged on Galway Bay oysters prepared a few different ways, clams, mussels, shrimp and more. If you are a seafood lover Moran’s is definitely the spot to find when in Ireland.
- Ballintotis Castle, County Cork
Built in the early 1500’s, Ballintotis Castle is one of a few castles that are available to rent in Ireland. The four-story tower can accommodate up to four people. It’s not for the faint of heart or those with limited mobility as it has been restored to how it was in the 1600’s with steep circular stone stairs only navigated with the help of a rope to hold on to. There are thick stone walls, a four poster bed in the bedroom and bathtubs in wooden boxes. It does have some modern conveniences like flush toilets, running water and a kitchen, not to mention a beautiful rooftop skylight on the top floor. We stayed there one night as a birthday treat and we had a blast! It is rumoured to be haunted, which added a little extra excitement to the night with a door closing on its own and some odd sounds in the night.
- Portmagee, County Kerry
Portmagee is a quaint seaside village on the south Iveragh Peninsula. Made popular by the Star Wars movies, Portmagee is a boat tour center for trips to Skellig Michael islands where much of Star Wars The Last Jedi was filmed. The history of the island as a monastery and the epic scenery though are enough to make Skellig Michael worth a visit. There are some wonderful Airbnb locations and inns in Portmagee and it is a great place to grow roots and relax for a few days. The Kerry Cliffs are a local geographical wonder that rival the Cliffs of Moher without the tourist crowds and traffic. Hike along the cliff’s edge and then head to the Moorings Inn for a lunch or dinner. Stay a while or come back after a rest to enjoy a few pints and some great traditional music. This magical place was one of the highlights of our trip.
- Dingle, County Kerry
Dingle is a popular and very picturesque port town on the southern Dingle peninsula. A popular tourist destination, Dingle offers everything from great shopping, quaint historical streets and shops and even a dolphin resident named Fungi. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon soaking in the Irish vibe and shopping for treasures to take home. We had a great lunch at one of the many local eateries and then wandered the narrow winding streets for a few hours. My favorite store was a small jewelry shop owned by Irish jeweler Brian De Staic who is known for his “Ogham stones” jewelry line where I purchased a Celtic jewelry piece that is one of a kind. The Ogham stones are stone monuments scattered around Ireland that date back to the fifth and sixth centuries and depict the first examples of early and old Irish written language. When I bought my ogham pendant from the shop they sent me on my next adventure – to find the original stone my necklace was made for.
- Kilmalkader Church, Dingle Peninsula
I bought a Celtic “Ogham” stone pendant and it sent me on a little afternoon adventure to an ancient churchyard just five miles away from Dingle. Kilmalkader Church is a crumbling medieval 12th-century site on 10 acres of land. You can wander around the church site or take a walk along the trails in the area. There is also an old stone manor attached to the property. It has a holed Ogham stone, an alphabet stone, a sundial, a large Celtic cross just to name a few things. It also has some fascinating gravesites, including a surprise one with my family name on it! Kilmalkader is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
- Lough Rynn Castle, Mohill, Leitram
After visits to famous ruin sites like Blarney Castle and a stay in an original tower, it was time to experience castle life with a little more refinement. Lough Rynn Castle is north of Athlone in a rural area of Ireland. As you make your way through the countryside, it seems as though you are lost and then Lough Rynn appears out of the trees. It’s a lovely Irish estate with beautiful rooms, gourmet meals and a stunning walled garden. We spent two luxurious nights there and ate some of the best food of our trip. Enjoy high tea in one of the many drawing rooms and a giant Irish breakfast to start your day. Lough Rynn is a great place to kick back and forget your worries for a few days.
- Sean’s Bar, Athlone
Sean’s Bar claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland dating back to the 11th century. It’s a must-see if you are in the area. Bright and cheery on the outside, once you go in you feel like you have stepped back in time. It’s dark and shadowy; there is sawdust on the floors, an open peat fireplace and an old-world feel to it. During the day its nice to explore and have a pint or two, but we would like to see it in the evening when the music flows along with the pints.
Dublin is a travel hub both in and out of Ireland and a great city to spend the last few days of a trip. There is so much to see and do you will need a few days and even then, you will want to go back. There are some great options for staying downtown at a hotel, inn or bed and breakfast. Driving in downtown Dublin can be a real challenge so we left our rental car at the airport and took a taxi to our Airbnb. We opted for an apartment just across the river by footbridge from the Temple Bar district. Anywhere you stay in the downtown area puts you in walking distance to famous sites like the Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, Temple Bar District or you can hop on one of the many tour buses. Food and pub options are limitless in Dublin and no stay in the city is complete without a visit to the “other” oldest bar in Ireland The Brazen Head. The Brazen Head is located in downtown Dublin on the banks of the river and it reportedly dates back to 1198. It was one of our most fun nights with traditional music and lively conversation about an old rivalry between the Brazen Head and Sean’s Bar for the status of oldest pub in Ireland. Both pubs have a strong personality and historical feel and both should be paid a visit.