If you are looking for a stunning place to visit, Ireland is a great choice. You have heard many times that Ireland is a very unique and special place to visit. It has a rich culture of language, literature, music, art, folklore, cuisine and scenic beauty. Everyone you know that has made the trip has a big smile on their face and enthusiasm when talking about the adventure of their trip. You would have to look far and wide to find a friendlier group of people anywhere in the world.
Located on the western edge of Europe, Ireland is an island that consists of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Roughly, 4.8 million people live in the Republic of Ireland and 1.8 million live in Northern Ireland.
Known as the Emerald Isle, Ireland is a fascinating country with deep roots of Viking, Celtic and Anglo-Norman cultures with an incredible history. It’s easy to imagine a fairy or leprechaun on windswept cliffs that tower above the Atlantic Ocean. You will see more shades of green landscape than you could ever imagine.
When thinking of Ireland, usually one of the first things that come to mind is the lush green grass. It’s as green as they say, rugged coastlines and lush meadows as far as the eye can see and the epic cliffs. Ireland is famous for some of the most stunning landscapes and unique landmarks in the world along with many charming villages, ancient cites and rambling castles.
It is hard to think of the country without St. Patrick’s Day coming to mind, as it might be one of the most famous exports that people across the world celebrate. St. Patrick has become one of the largest and most recognized Irish icons worldwide. This national holiday is celebrated as a religious as well as cultural event. Saint Patrick is known as the man who converted Ireland to Christianity.
With all that Ireland has to offer, it is a great choice for an exciting road trip. We decided to take you on an adventure by driving around the countryside and getting to tour several towns and see a variety of sites. You will first have to get used to driving on the left side of the road which will come to you to fairly quickly.
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Our first stop is Dublin, Ireland’s capital and largest city. It is well worth spending a few days here. Dublin is known for stunning cathedrals, medieval castles, historical museums and of course classic pubs with live music along with many hidden attractions. It is also known for its folklore, fine literature, traditions, customary music and dance and there is always a supply of pints of Guinness.
The people of Dublin can be such characters, as well, and a lot of fun to be around. You may hear an odd joke, a long-winded story and maybe even hear them sing some local songs. Dubliners are known for their resilient spirit and ravenous sense of humor.
The perfect way to start the day is with a traditional Irish breakfast. The Irish place a strong importance to starting the day with a hearty breakfast. A traditional breakfast usually includes cooked meat (bacon, sausages and black/white puddings), eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and potato all fried in butter with brown bread. O’Neill’s Pub and Kitchen is a great place for you to start the day.
We will start the first day by exploring the western part of central Dublin and take a look at the city’s medieval and Viking roots.
Our first stop is Dublin Castle. It is one of the most important buildings in Irish history. It was the seat of power for British rule for over 700 years and has been witness to some of the most pivotal events in Ireland’s history. All of Ireland’s presidents have been inaugurated in St. Patrick’s Hall since 1938.
A tour will offer you the opportunity to see many artifacts, including some special paintings, sculpture, furniture, clocks, tapestries, china, glassware and various textiles from the 1700s to the present day. A highlight of the tour is the manicured castle gardens.
CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL
Our next stop is at Christ Church Cathedral where you can get a taste of what life was like back in 1030 as you climb the spiraling staircase of the Cathedral. With its stunning architecture, 12th-century crypt, and the sound of the medieval bells, it is truly a highlight of Dublin.
Although it dates back to medieval times, Romanesque and Gothic elements were added over the next few centuries and the cathedral underwent a major renovation during the Victorian era. It serves as the seat of the Church of Ireland (Anglican church) in Dublin.
You will get a chance experience the narrow corridors of the Cathedral and a chance to ring the bell for yourself as well as tour an exhibition of original 15th-century costumes. Also included are some tombs including the disputed tomb of a medieval Norman-Welsh earl and warlord along with the largest cathedral crypt in the British Isles.
A final stop on the first day of Dublin is the city’s most popular visitor attraction – the Guinness Storehouse. It is a top symbol of Ireland known for its famous brewery and a well-known name. Guinness Brewery was founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness and the beverage has been brewed there for all of these years.
This seven-story building showcases the history and process of the most famous export of Ireland. The Storehouse was built in 1904 for fermentation purposes until 1988, but is no longer part of the active brewery. The exterior is designed to look like a pint of Guinness itself.
The self-guided tour covers all seven floors and you will learn the founder, Albert Guinness’ story, how Guinness is made and the history of its iconic advertising over the years. As you finish the tour, you will get to sample a pint of the good stuff at the Gravity Bar on the top floor along with getting a fantastic 360 degree view of the city.
We start the second day by visiting Trinity College, founded by Queen Elizabeth in 1592 and Ireland’s oldest university. It is a wonderful cultural treasure where you will be in astonishment at the Long Room, which is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It contains 200,000 ancient books in some beautiful oak bookcases. It was used by J.K. Rowling as inspiration for Hogwarts in Harry Potter.
BOOK OF KELLS
The collegeprides itself on being the guardian of one of Ireland’s greatest cultural treasures-The Book of Kells . Dating from the 9th century, this decorated copy of the four gospels is the most famous medieval manuscript in the world and is regarded as Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure. The library contains four Gospels in Latin based on the Vulgate text completed by St Jerome in 384AD.
For a change of pace after your tour, take a leisurely walk along the eclectic Grafton Street. This is one of the city’s main shopping streets for restaurants, cafés and street performers. If you are interested in the more recent history of Dublin, the Little Museum of Dublin will give you a taste of 20th century life that includes 5,000 artifacts on display including a room devoted to Ireland’s most famous musicians, the rock band U2.
If you have energy at the end of the day, it is recommended that you experience some of Dublin’s nightlife. A top priority is a visit to the popular Temple Bar District. If you are seeking out pints of Guinness, some live music and a lively time, this is the place to be.
For a taste of another Irish pub experience, stop for a pint at Brazenhead, Dublin’s oldest pub. It is Ireland’s oldest pub dating back to 1198. There is a network of rooms, each with a unique atmosphere where you will see items of interest illustrating Dublin and Ireland of past and present.
After spending time in Dublin, we are off on a short two-hour drive to Kilkenny. It is a historic and medieval town considered a top spot in Ireland in its attractions for visitors. It is a colorful little village and just what you might have expected of a town in Ireland. There is a great deal of old-world charm with its colorful buildings, narrow and winding streets as well as terraces of some striking Georgian homes .
A special landmark in Kilkenny is The Medieval Mile. It is a stretch of road deep in history with a discovery trail that runs through the center of town that includes many historic buildings, ancient churches and the amazing castle. You can get a nice glimpse of many of the top sights of the city and spend time taking a stroll with plenty of shopping and restaurants.
A must see stop while we are here is Kilkenny, home to one of Ireland’s most famous landmarks, the 12th century Kilkenny Castle. This striking castle was built over 800 years ago and was founded soon after the Norman conquest of Ireland. Right in the heart of the city, the Castle has been rebuilt and is largely a Victorian remodel of the defensive castle of the thirteenth century. It was an important part of the town’s defense with its four corner towers and enormous ditch.
You will explore the country house and take a relaxing walk through the 50 acres of meadow with an abundance of trees and wildlife. There is a formal terraced rose garden with ducks and geese as well as several trails for you to enjoy.
ROCK OF CASHEL
Next, we will take a short drive to the Rock of Cashel, which is another of Ireland’s most historic sites. It is quite breathtaking and inspiring to experience.
The oldest building is even older than Ireland itself, dating back to over 1,000 years. It was reported to be the traditional seat of the kings of Munster that lasted for a few hundred years before the Normans invaded in the 12th century and sits on top of a limestone rock.
These impressive ruins represent some of Europe’s most awe-inspiring examples of medieval architecture. You will be quite impressed as you spend time observing the arches and ceilings of Cormac’s Chapel and the cross-shaped Cathedral. A must-see part of the ruins is the large collection of Celtic art headstones with elaborately carved high crosses.
Next on our adventure is the Waterford city, which lies along Ireland’s southeast coast and was once home to the largest Viking settlement outside of Scandinavia. Founded by the Vikings in 914, it is the oldest city in Ireland and a good balance between the ancient and modern. There is an abundance of more 18th century Georgian buildings.
It is quite a treat to enjoy some of the historic streets and unique atmosphere of this city. There are a lot of quirky shops and boutiques to experience on your walk. You may even get a chance to attend one of the many festivals that take place during the year.
The famous glass manufacturer, Waterford Crystal, was started here in 1783. You can take a tour at the House of Waterford Crystal Factory and Retail Store. A highlight during the visit of the factory is to view the furnaces and to see how the crystal is blown, cut and polished with centuries of expertise- truly amazing to experience the blowing and carving of the intricate designs in to the glass.
Next on the agenda is a visit to Bishop’s Palace. You will find artifacts from the last three centuries, including the oldest piece of Waterford crystal, the Penrose Wine Decanter from 1789. This mansion was completed in 1741 and covers the history of Waterford from 1700 to the 1970s with a wide range of period furniture, oil paintings as well as Georgian silverware. The very top floor covers details from Waterford’s past, including the War of Independence, World War I and some of the old livestock markets in the Ballybricken parish.
The city of Cork should be on the list for sure when traveling through Ireland. This next stop is located in the southwest of the country and is Ireland’s second largest city. Cork is right on the coast with many striking and unspoiled beaches and has the second largest harbor in the world.
There are many fun and magical things to see and do nearby. You will find some great shopping, many cafes and a pub on almost any corner. The streets are active with locals as well as tourists. Cork is compact and easy to get around on foot.
The first stop we make is to The English Market. Started way back in 1788, it is a true ‘food lover’s delight’. It is a covered market where you can find some tasty delicacies that includes fresh seafood. You will find everything from spices to cakes to wine, so well worth checking out.
CRAWFORD ART GALLERY
For some cultural activities, the Crawford Art Gallery specializes in visual arts and includes a collection of more than 3,000 works. You will encounter a range of items from 18th century paintings and sculpture all the way through contemporary video installations. A highlight of the gallery is the Canova casts that were received as a gift from the Vatican 200 years ago. A renowned Italian Neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova, created the casts.
If you are in the mood for some good traditional Irish music, you can hear live tunes at The Oliver Plunkett every night. This world-renowned bar has many acts that perform at the venue.
One of Ireland’s greatest treasures and world landmark Blarney Castle is this partial ruin of a Medieval castle built almost 600 years ago by Cormac MacCarthy. A big draw for the castle is the Blarney Stone, the Stone of Eloquence, at the top of the tower. Legend has it that kissing the stone means that you will never again be lost for words and always have the gift of gab.
Just outside of Cork in Cobh, you can have a virtual journey of what it was like to be a passenger on the ill-fated Titanic. Titanic Experience Cobh is located in Casement Square in the heart of town. Your visit will include learning about the conditions on board for third and first class passengers. When disaster strikes at the end, you will get a taste of the chilling experience of the sinking through a unique cinematographic experience.
If you are in the mood for some good traditional Irish music, you can hear live tunes at The Oliver Plunkett every night. This world renowned bar has many acts that perform at the venue.
THE RING OF KERRY DRIVE
For the final stretch of this trip, we will take one of Ireland’s most popular drives. The Ring of Kerry is a 120 mile long loop that swings around the Inveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland with most of the driving along the coastline. You will encounter some traditional Irish sights, including lush green fields, quaint towns, craggy cliffs, stunning beaches, mountains and castle ruins.
KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK
The city itself is well worth spending some time and is a charming place to visit. There are many restaurants and pubs that are family owned where you will hear Irish music on a daily basis. You will find many unique shops in the downtown area.
Killarney is famous for the lush natural beauty and all of the lakes around it as part of the Killarney National Park. There is so much stunning beauty in Ireland’s oldest national park where you can hike, sightsee, kayak as well as dine at some wonderful restaurants and pubs in this quaint Irish town. Just south of the town, the park has over 24,000 acres of stunning scenery, including beautiful lakes and dramatic mountains.
The McGillycuddy’s Reeks is the tallest mountain range in Ireland at over 3,280 feet high. At the base of the mountain are the lakes of Killarney National Park.
You can start off with the visitors center at Muckross House. It is a 19th century Victorian mansion that is now owned by the state. A guided tour is provided where you will hear the historic stories about the families that lived there and admire the Victorian décor.
HIKING, CYCLING AND A WATERFALL
There are a variety of walking, hiking and cycling trails to spend the day exploring the rich abundance of nature and wildlife. You can cover more territory by renting a bike and stopping at various points to take some great pictures. A popular highlight is the stunning Torc Waterfall. There are various viewing points providing some amazing views.
SPEND A DAY ON A TRADTIONAL FARM
Next on our list in the national park, you can also have some fun spending a day and finding out what life was like in the 1800s for Irish farmers at the Muckross Traditional Farms. Discover this unique experience where you can actually milk a cow, be taught how to make your own butter and get a taste of some homemade bread.
You may want to treat yourself to a Lakes of Killarney Boat Cruise. You can observe some spectacular views of Ross Castle, Tomies Wood, Innisfallen Island, and the wildlife of the Killarney Valley.
We will finish the tour of Killarney National Park by reaching the Ross Castle on the edge of Killarney’s lower lake. Constructed during the medieval days, it was built by O’Donoghue Mor in the 15th century. Legend has it that O’Donoghue still lies in a deep slumber under the waters of Lough Leane. It is said that early in May every seven years he rises from the lake on his white horse and circles the lake. Anyone that sees him is assured of good fortune for the rest of their lives.
SMALL TOWNS AND SPECTACULAR COUNTRYSIDE
For the final stretch of this trip, we continue on the Ring of Kerry drive. On the way to Kenmore, we will stop at Kissane Sheep Dog farm. It is an authentic working farm where sheep are herded by dogs over the rough mountain terrain. It is inspiring to watch the hard-working dogs. These are happy dogs because they are serving their purpose.
One of the small towns along the route is Kenmare, with a population of 2,200. It has many B&Bs, hostels, guesthouses and campsites along with some good restaurants and pubs. It has a special identity of vibrantly colored buildings of character and one of the cleanest towns you will ever see.
An important historical sight is the Old Kenmare Cemetery that dates back to the 7th century. It became known as a place of mass burials during the Great Famine.
VILLAGE OF SNEEM
Our next stop is Sneem, a quaint small village that is home to various artists and craftspeople with some enjoyable shopping at galleries and craft stores. A great place to stop and enjoy traditional Irish pub food and atmosphere along with a pint of Guinness is Riney’s Bar.
You will also find several nearby beaches here along the coastline. One of the best is Castlecove Beach .
The last stop on this trip requires an adventurous spirit and is definitely not for the faint of heart as you will visit the Skellig Michael Island, located off the coast of Kerry. It is a short drive from Sneem and a top attraction.
It is the site where the early Christian monks built their monastery. The monks shunned civilization and felt the isolation brought them closer in contact with God. It is a well-preserved Christian settlement and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1996. It has developed additional fame as a spot for shooting two Star Wars movies .
ISLAND BOAT RIDE
The boat ride to Skellig is a good adventure all by itself. Departure takes place from the small fishing village of Portmagee in Kerry. Some of the tours offer open-decked vessels that are about 30 feet long. You will be out in the open ocean, so the waves can splash over the sides and you are likely to get wet. Even landing and getting off of the boat can be tricky and requires some agility.
Once landed, you will have a challenge with 600 jagged steps of rock up and then back down. The steps are directly cut from the rock and they are quite steep. The higher you climb, the more beautiful the scenery. The final climb leads you to the monastery where the monks built six huts and two small chapels. The island is quite a memorable experience and something you will always remember.
That concludes the trip to this area of the country and hopefully you have an idea about how unique and special it is to visit stunning Ireland. It is quite a memorable experience that you will always treasure.
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