[Scenery from Slea Head Drive – read on for more info on that!]
Ireland is soooo much more than Dublin! When I hear that people only went there it literally pains me (especially because I was not the biggest fan of Dublin).
I’d say spend like 2-3 days in Dublin (depending on what you want to do) and after that get the heck out of there! IMO it’s overpriced and overcrowded with tourists (especially Temple Bar area – avoid at night at all costs!!!!).
And also – yessss I’m that girl that went to Ireland a year ago and is STILL talking about it. Ugh. But if you read on, you’ll understand why…And also, why not start off with a bang with one of my favorite places ever?
Want to learn more about the logistics of getting around, currency, where to stay, etc.? Go here.
[Temple Bar area is pretty but sooo overpriced – check it out during the day and don’t get food/drinks there]
**Just to give you an idea, my route through Ireland: Dublin -> Galway (Sky Drive, Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Cong) -> Cork (Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Cobh, Baltimore, Cape Clear, Sherkin, West Cork) -> Killarney -> Dingle -> Doolin (including Cliffs of Moher) -> Connemara -> Galway/Wicklow -> Dublin (including Howth)**
GET YOUR ASS TO AN ISLAND
[Cape Clear Island and it’s beautiful hilly roads]
I chose Sherkin and Cape Clear but I’ve also heard that the Aran Islands are amazing! I would’ve loved to stay longer at each location but I only took day trips.
Cape Clear has a hostel that would’ve been lovely to stay in! Something about islands, man – time just slows down.
…AND ALSO A NATIONAL PARK
[View from Ross Castle at Killarney National Park]
I chose Killarney (Torq Mountain is a MUST DO hike – I literally felt like I was in Middle Earth) and Connemara! You really can’t go wrong in Ireland because everything is pretty, even their garbage dumps I’d imagine.
Also all their National Parks are FREEEEEE. So you have no. Excuse. Not even diarrhea. Just go to the park and spend all day at their bathroom. It’s probably a lot nicer than your hostels’, anyway………
YOU HAVE TO SEE AT LEAST ONE CASTLE
[Kylemore Abbey is LIFE]
I chose Ross Castle in Killarney National Park! Only €2 for a 45 minute tour, and I really enjoyed it.
I skipped Blarney simply because it’s so touristy and I just didn’t have time/an easy way to get there.
Kylemore Abbey (pictured above) is also really pretty! It used to be a school – like WUT. I’m also still not convinced it’s not a cardboard cutout. I saw a nun driving a car while I was there, so I think I have reason to be suspicious.
THE CLIFFS OF MOHER ARE PRETTY LEGIT
[Casually acting like I’m not about to be blown off the cliff]
I would definitely recommend the Cliffs of Moher because they really are pretty damn majestic. Be prepared that you have to pay €6 for the Cliffs, but Hag’s Head (pictured here) is totally free!
I only did Hag’s Head, so I’m not sure how it compares to main part of the cliffs, but I think it’s pretty similar. You can also walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher if you’re feelin that. It takes about 2 hours each way.
Regardless of how you get there, be prepared for lots of wind and potentially fog! I’ve heard that sometimes you can’t even see off the cliffs due to the thickness of it. We got lucky!
DEFINITELY CHECK OUT SOME BEACHES
[Coumeenoole Strand along the Slea Head Drive route]
Jk guys I didn’t actually go to Ireland!!! This pic is from my trip to the Caribbean! Or is it? Have I ever even been to the Caribbean? I’ll let you guys be the detectives on that.
You ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO Slea Head Drive (starts in Dingle and is about 26 miles roundtrip) – so many beautiful beaches/scenery in general. I rented a bike for €12 (student discount baby! Otherwise it’s €15) and left at 1PM, was back by 7PM.
I took the long route and did all 26 miles – I would recommend cutting it short at the crossroads as the scenery on the long way was still beautiful, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Just lots more sheep. Watching me. Probably plotting my demise.
DO FREE WALKING TOURS
[You will definitely see this park if you go on a free walking tour in Dublin! Also, I definitely photoshopped some people out of this pic, and you can probably tell where because ya girl is not that great at photoshop things yet #noshame]
I did them in Dublin and Galway (couldn’t find one in Cork!) and they were great, as always! So many great insider tips that I wouldn’t have known otherwise! And also a great way to meet people if you’re solo.
GET YOSELF A GUINNESS
[I actually liked Guinness and I’m not a huge beer person? So there’s that. Also I’ve heard that it really does taste better in Ireland]
If you like beer, you really have to have a Guinness (but that’s a given right??). I personally didn’t feel the need to visit the storehouse as I’m not a super huge beer fan and it was €20 (#budgeting), but a guy I met there did it and said it was really cool.
I’ve heard mixed reviews about it – some people love it, some say it wasn’t really worth it. The view is supposed to be cool since you end the tour 7 stories up overlooking the city and get to pour your own beer, so I’ve heard peeps say that that alone makes it worth it.
Just keep in mind that the tour is self-guided, and more about Guiness’ marketing strategy rather than their beer itself (based on what I’ve read from Tripadvisor reviews etc.).
CAMP BECAUSE YOU CAN
[Camp setup in Connemara National Park – three of us girls fit in that tent]
Camping in random spots around Ireland and Connemara with my (new) friends was super fun and felt very ~authentic~. Very much recommend and also no one seems to give a shit in Ireland.
Like I’m pretty sure we maybe, probably (definitely) camped on someone’s property and nothing happened. Also people just own a lot of land in general I feel like and so yeah – nothing happened.
But, we were quiet, and arrived late and left early. Bottom line: Be respectful and take what you bring with you.
Be prepared for cold nights though, even in summer! It definitely rained and it was also pretty chilly.
YES, YOU SHOULD GO TO DUBLIN
[Howth Cliff Walk views – this is right at the beginning of the walk]
BUT tbh I was not a huge fan (but I don’t really like cities in general, so maybe it was just me?). If you do go to Dublin, definitely take a day trip to Howth and walk the Howth Cliff Walk, it is SO PRETTY and cheap to get there by train.
Just a warning: it can a little confusing if you do the whole thing (the beginning of the walk is pretty clear but after the first hour there were multiple times we weren’t sure if we were still on the right path) but it’s so pretty! Eventually there’s a lighthouse and it’s just very swoon-y.
Back to Dublin, here’s what I liked: St. Stephen’s Green, the Archaeology Museum, Trinity College, National Botanic Gardens (more on that below!), Christ Church Cathedral, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDENS ARE SUPA KOO
If you love plants and cool looking greenhouses, the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin is a must!!!! I would love to go back because we arrived like 1.5 hours before it closed, and subsequently had to rush through and didn’t get to see everything.
DON’T MISS OUT ON GALWAY
[Beginning of the Salthill Promenade Walk]
Galway was my favorite ‘bigger’ city in Ireland (out of Dublin and Cork). It’s still touristy, but prettier and smaller and less industrial, if that makes sense. Promise me you will do the Salthill Promenade walk, if nothing else (recommendation by a free walking tour guide and she was totally right).
GO ON A PUB CRAWL
[I don’t have any pictures from my pub crawl so here’s a pic of a random Guinness sign]
Yes, it’s touristy, but I feel like you’ve gotta do it at least once on a Europe trip! Plus I was solo and lonely (and don’t worry, it’s not weird to go to one alone) and met two awesome girls there that I traveled with in Galway and met up again with in Cork!
YOU SHOULD ALSO GO TO DINGLE
[I didn’t get any pictures in Dingle because I suck at life, but this is at the beginning of Slea Head Drive, which starts in Dingle – so it counts for something]
If only for the fact to tell people that you went to a place called Dingle.
But really, Dingle is so cute and adorable and it has Slea Head Drive and beautiful beaches (albeit too cold to swim in) and a friendly Dolphin named Fungi.
Also, ICE CREAM. And not just any ice cream, but MURPHY’S ICE CREAM. They have the funnest flavors around like Carmelised Brown Bread (which is actually delicious) and Dingle Sea Salt. They have normal flavors, too, but the others are so fun and so Irish.
EXPLORE IRISH TOWNS IN WEST CORK
[Colorful street in Skibbereen]
I went to Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Cobh, and Timoleague and they were all equally cute and colorful and Irish-y. I didn’t really prefer any of them over the other, so just pick one and explore away 🙂
STARE AT SOME CUTE HOUSES
[Sometimes the houses/buildings in Ireland are painted cute colors, and then I die. Most of the houses/buildings have this same structure]
That’s one of my favorite things to do in a new city! I love to walk around and look at the houses and general architecture and mentally compare that to what houses look like where I’m from.
LOUGH HYNE IF YOU CAN
Soooo beautiful and serene to walk around, plus a cool nature trail (I didn’t have time but I’ve heard it’s beautiful!).
And if you go in July or August be sure to go at night to see bioluminescent plankton (omg heart eyes).
Also just know that you can’t drive all the way down – park in the lot and don’t keep driving even though there’s a road. It takes you to someone’s property and it’s VERY hard to turn around!
SEE SOME LIVE IRISH MUSIC
[Doolin – ain’t it the cutest??]
Most cities will have some sort of Irish music, but Doolin is known as the best place to see some plus it’s pretty freaking cute. And it’s right near the Cliffs of Moher, so you really have no excuse.
THE BURREN IS THERE, SO YOU SHOULD GO
We only drove by really quickly due to a downpour (surprise, surprise) but it’s really cool! Would love to go back in the spring when wildflowers are starting to reveal their cute little flowery selves.
DRIVE/WALK/BIKE/CRAWL ON THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY
[Ventry Beach on Slea Head Drive]
The whole Wild Atlantic Way is beautiful, I’m sure (I saw bits and pieces of it). The coastal route runs from the Southwest to the Northwest or Ireland and has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen!
FIND SOME GOLD AT THE END OF A RAINBOW
[Random spot near the Cliffs of Moher]
Finding the gold may not be feasible, but seeing rainbows are pretty much a guarantee as it rains a little bit almost every day in Ireland, even in the summer. Very strange for this Californian to get used to! Some of their summer days are the same as our winter days. #humblebrag
[Waiting for a ride in Kilkee – also apologies for the quality of this crap iPhone pic]
I’d been thinking about trying it (I’ve heard it’s pretty easy in Ireland), but was a little too nervous as a solo female.
At my hostel in Dingle, I met two girls who were hitching all around and figured it was a sign, so I asked if they could show me the ropes. We were all headed in the same direction, so they told me I could join them and we hitched from Dingle to the Cliffs of Moher in half a day!
But again – TRUST YOUR GUT. Don’t do anything that feels off or makes you uncomfortable. To be honest I wouldn’t have hitched had I not met those 2 girls and basically forced them to take me in…
JUST GO. BECAUSE IRELAND IS PRETTY AND YOU WILL LOVE IT.
[This picture is so Ireland it hurts; taken on the Sky Loop Drive]
Ugh I just freaking love Ireland. I realllllly want to go back one day and explore Northern Ireland as I didn’t get to that in this trip!
I remember booking the trip thinking that 3 weeks in Ireland would be too long and I worried I’d regret spending so much time there…I could’ve easily stayed for 3 more weeks!! Everyone is so nice and it’s sooooo pretty.
WHAT I MISSED (AKA ALREADY PLANNING MY NEXT TRIP)
Wicklow/Kilkenny area, Northern Ireland, Kildare/Kenmare, Aran Islands, more castles, Gap of Dunloe/Moll’s Gap/Ladies View, The Burren (we stopped super quick but then it started to pour, would love to visit in spring bc ive heard the wildflowers are amazing!), and sooo much more!
Skellig Michael would’ve been cool, but I’ve also heard they’ve been getting so much foot traffic that it’s starting to degrade the site, so personally I would opt out as it’s pretty difficult to get to/expensive, as well. I also heard they weren’t handing out permits anymore but I’m not sure what the latest on that is.
Also: everyone in Ireland (that I encountered) was sooo soooo nice. If I asked for help, especially directions, workers would stop what they were doing and immediately help me.
Like I asked for directions from a restaurant host, and he took the time to show me the google map directions, even after a few people showed up behind me waiting to be let in. I had the same thing happen when I was at a museum and asked which bus to take.
It just seemed like no one was angry, or in a hurry to get anywhere, and genuinely wanted to take the time to give you good directions, answer your questions and help you enjoy their country as much as possible.
[The most Ireland of all the Ireland things I saw while I was there]
Ahhh Ireland, I will be back!