A whirlwind tour of Ireland

Allison and Greg had an amazing honeymoon in St Lucia in 2015, and came back to me this fall to plan an anniversary “escape” to Ireland. We put together an ambitious week of sightseeing, and they hit the ground running! Based on the trip report below, I don’t think they missed a thing 🙂

Hi Ann,

I finally have some free time and wanted to reach out to you with our trip review.

We had an amazing time in Ireland. We loved the itinerary that you planned for us and all of the suggestions you made.  Below is a rundown of the details by day.

Day 1: Dublin

After we landed in Dublin, we went right to the hotel to check in and store our luggage.  Our room was not ready, so we decided to go to breakfast and do some exploring.  We went to Trinity College and paid for the campus tour, which included the Book of Kells exhibit.  The line was really long to get into the exhibit, since it was a Sunday, so we saved our ticket to go back another day.  Later that day, we went to the Guinness Storehouse.  We didn’t love the storehouse, we thought it was a bit gimmicky and touristy, but the view from the Gravity Bar up on the 7th floor was worth the visit.

Day 2: Dublin

One of the highlights of our trip was visiting Kilmainham Gaol (jail).  We purchased tickets online ahead of our trip, because some friends told us it is almost always sold out.  We were so glad that we did.  The tour guide was incredible and he really told us so much about Ireland’s history.  The jail itself was fascinating.  We would definitely recommend this to others!

Day 3: Railtour to Cork, Blarney Castle

We loved our trip to Cork and the Blarney Castle. We both kissed the Blarney stone! We enjoyed exploring the grounds at the Castle and grabbing a bite to eat at the Post Office cafe at the bottom of the grounds. Cork was gorgeous and full of history too.

Day 4: Railtour to the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle, Doolin, and Galway

The Cliffs of Moher was our absolute favorite part of the trip.  To say that they are breathtaking is an understatement.  We truly can’t recommend this trip enough!

Day 5: Bus tour to Belfast

We were so glad that we got to visit Belfast and only wish we had more time to enjoy it.  We would have loved to do the Titanic Museum there, but simply didn’t have enough time. However, we did get to see so much of Belfast including Dundrum Castle, St. Patrick’s grave and cathedral, the peace wall, and much more.

Day 6: Howth

On our last full day, we decided to go back to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells Exhibit and the Long Library.  It was well worth it! We then hopped on the train and went to Howth, a small fishing village, only about a half hour and 6 euro from Dublin.  It was a quaint town with a lot of restaurants and scenery.

We went back before dinner and explored Grafton Street in Dublin for some shopping.

 

Dining

Eating gluten free in Ireland was so easy! Nearly every restaurant had a gluten free menu.  If they didn’t, every restaurant seemed to mark the major allergens in each dish, which made it really easy to maneuver around my allergies. Some of our favorites were Beshoff’s for authentic fish and chips, FX Buckley for an amazing steak dinner, and the Rustic Stone.

Pubs

While in Dublin, we tried to visit as many Irish pubs as possible.  We only stayed in the Temple Bar area one night, because we found it to be very expensive and touristy.  For the rest of the trip we ventured out further to find traditional pubs with live music.  We loved Darkey Kellys, which wasn’t too far from the hotel.

Temple Bar Hotel

The hotel was perfect for what we needed. It was close to everything and allowed us to walk almost everywhere.  The complimentary breakfast downstairs was great.

Please let me know if you would like details on anything else! I hope this helps your future adventurers!

Allison and Greg

An Irish “Escape”

Take two fun couples, add in a rental car, a handful of B&B vouchers, and a spirit of adventure, and what do you get? One amazing trip to Ireland!

Hi Ann,  

Here is the synopsis of our trip!  Sorry it took me so long!

Day 1 – Dublin – we arrived at 5am, and our room was ready for us around 9am.  After a quick nap and lunch, we wandered around the city, saw Trinity College and the Book of Kells, and then explored the shopping and pubs.   The Hotel  Alexander was very nice, centrally located, and clean and basic.  The breakfast buffet was just ok.  But the front desk staff was great – they gave us maps and recommendations, let us use the front desk computer (because the business center was down), and called to make our first B&B reservation.    

Day 2 – Dublin – Hop on/Hop Off bus.  We set out about 10am, and managed to hit the Guinness Brewery, Jameson Distillery, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and do some wandering around on our own.   Overall, Dublin was not my favorite place.  It was nice, but seemed like just any regular city.  We would return there, as there was plenty of things that we didn’t get to experience.

Day 3 – got the rental car, decided to head north towards Leitrim (where my family comes from).  We picked a random B&B from the book.  Took us about 2.5 hours to drive there.  The northern part of Ireland is absolutely gorgeous… and I think sometimes forgotten.  There is not much there, but the scenery/landscape was worth it for me.  It has an untouched natural beauty to it.    Or first (and favorite) B&B was in Sligo Town.  The TreeTops  B&B was fabulous.  Absolutely immaculate, and the woman owner was soooo friendly and accommodating (and the breakfast was great!).  She even recommended our driving route to Galway and not only referred us to our 2nd B&B, but called to make the reservation for us! 

Day 4&5 – drove from Sligo to Galway.    We stayed 2 nights at the Ross House B&B (which was about at 10-15 minute walk to city center).  Galway was, by far, my favorite city.    The B&B was very nice.  It was situated on  side street between the beach and city center.  I would absolutely recommend it.   Sarah (the owner) was also an amazing cook.    Galway is so fun, young, and friendly! 

Day 5&6 – We drove through the Burren and saw the Cliffs of Moher (AMAZING!).  We stopped at a B&B in Tralee,  (so we wouldn’t have to drive in the dark).   The Glenfort House was basic.  Not quite as clean or friendly as the others, but it did the trick.     ** The 2 best pieces of advice we received about driving around Ireland – 1.  Skip the ring of Kerry if short on time.  We were told the Dingle Peninsula is shorter and more scenic.  Definitely worth it.   And 2.  Take the car ferry from Kilimer to Tarbert (cost about 18 Euro per car) and is only about a 15 minute ferry ride across the River Shannon.  This probably cut several hours off the driving time.  

Day 7&8  Kent House B&B in Cork.   This one was picked at random out of our B&B book as well.  Town house style B&B, that was set up more like at hotel.  Modern décor, in a very old town home.  It was about a 10-15 minute walk to city center. 

Our final day at Dromoland Castle was amazing.  Absolutely perfect ending to the vacation.  The atmosphere, accommodations, and grounds were beautiful.  We took advantage of the complimentary bicycle rentals to tour the entire property – and I’m so glad we did!!   And Matt & Gabby hit some balls at the driving range. 

The weather was great the whole time. We had 2 days of solid pouring rain, but overall, the temperature was mild – about the same as here.  And booking the B&Bs on a day to day basis was FAR less stressful than I thought it would be.   Most of the B&Bs had wifi internet access, which we were able to use through our cell phones.  I have never stayed in a bed & breakfast before, and Ireland just set the bar.  I would absolutely consider it again.   Although, Just a warning that when the B&B book says something is a 5 minute walk to city center, it’s usually closer to 10-15 mins 🙂    But taxis are very easy to get in the bigger towns like Galway, Cork, and Dublin. 

Overall, there is a lot more to Ireland that we would love to see…  but this was a great start, and we can’t wait to go back!!     Thank you sooo much for planning this vacation for us!!!  Everything was wonderful!  

Let me know if you want any additional information!

– Erin

Ireland — February, 2010

I recently took part in a six-day travel agent “FAM” (familiarization tour) of Ireland, and was fortunate enough to be able to bring my 14-yr-old daughter along with me. It was my first trip to Ireland, and my first escorted motorcoach tour, and the trip exceeded my expectations in every way! Before even getting into the details of the trip, I have to put a plug in for CIE Tours (our host) who truly provided a first-class experience.

NOTE: If you’re not interested in the review, and just want to skip ahead to the photos, click here. If you want to read about the trip first, there’s another photo link at the end.

We flew overnight from Newark to Dublin and arrived bright and early on Wednesday morning. At the airport, we were met by our very personable driver/guide Frank who rounded us all up, loaded us in the coach, and took us on an orientation tour of the city – complete with some very interesting background commentary and explanation. Our first destination was the Guinness Storehouse, where we were treated to a tour, a tasting, and a demonstration on how to pour a proper pint. Afterwards, we enjoyed a draft in their beautiful roof-top bar with a 360-degree view of the city. A glass of Guinness at 10:00 in the morning is not as bad as you might think!

 

From there, we continued our driving tour of the city, including Phoenix Park (the largest wall-enclosed urban park in Europe), O’Connell Street, the newly-emerging Dublin Docklands area, and more. We also enjoyed a tour of the Croke Park Hotel, directly across the street from Dublin’s Croke Park stadium (which hosts major concerts, sporting events and conferences).

That afternoon we checked in to the Maldron Hotel Dublin, a lovely modern hotel on the south bank of the River Liffey near the new “Samuel Beckett Bridge” (a stunning architectural landmark, shaped like a harp). After a few free hours to unpack, rest and take a brisk walk along the river to wake ourselves up, we joined our fellow travel agents for a welcome drink and delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Thursday morning we were up and on the coach first thing in the morning for a tour with a very knowledgeable local guide who explained Dublin’s history from Viking times to the present, and showed us Georgian townhouses, parks and gardens, cathedrals, government buildings and more. We enjoyed an in-depth tour of Dublin Castle (in whose courtyard the historic transfer of power from England to the new sovereign Republic of Ireland took place), and a quick spin through Trinity College to see the famous Book of Kells. After our tour we were treated to lunch and a hotel inspection at the Westbury Hotel on historic Grafton Street, and then turned loose for the afternoon on our own.

Mary and I took full advantage of the free time to window-shop along Grafton Street, re-visit Trinity College for a closer look, stop in at the Powers Court townhouses for a snack from their cupcake café, and rest our feet on a park bench in the lovely St. Stephen’s Green. That night, we headed out to Taylors Three Rock (just outside the city) for an evening of Irish food, music and dance. Some of our group even got the opportunity to get up and join the step dancers (fortunately, not me!)

On Friday morning we checked out of the hotel and boarded the coach for a scenic drive south through farm country and market villages – with historic background and commentary provided by Frank. We had a quick photo stop at the dramatic Rock of Cashel (which definitely would be worth a return visit) before arriving at Blarney Castle in County Cork. It goes without saying that Mary and I both climbed the castle and kissed the Blarney Stone before enjoying a pub lunch and some shopping at the Blarney Woolen Mills. The remainder of our drive passed through gorgeous countryside surrounded by lakes and mountains, before ending up in the beautiful town of Killarney, where we checked in to the Killarney Avenue Hotel. We joined our group for a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant, and begged out of the pub-crawl they were planning, as we were just too exhausted!

Saturday’s itinerary was the highlight of the trip – a scenic drive along the Dingle Peninsula, where we saw snow-capped mountains (very unusual for Ireland, I’m told), wild coastline, sandy stretches of beach, fishing villages, stone ruins, early Christian monastic beehive huts, and lots and lots of sheep! We toured a great family-friendly resort in Dingle, called the Dingle Skellig Hotel, and we made it back to Killarney in time to wander around town and do a little souvenir shopping on our own. That evening we enjoyed a gourmet dinner (and a hotel tour) at the Brehon Hotel – a luxurious four-star hotel and spa in Killarney. Mary and I wanted to hide out in their Thai-inspired Angsana Spa and never come home!

 

On Sunday, we checked out of the hotel and headed northeast to Foynes (the birthplace of Irish coffee), to visit the Flying Boat Museum. This fascinating museum celebrates the early days of transatlantic air travel in the 1930’s and 1940’s and we were treated to a tour of a full-scale replica of a Boeing 314 “Yankee Clipper” – as well as an Irish-coffee-making demonstration!

After Foynes we took the ferry across the River Shannon estuary and continued along the coastline of County Clare to the famous Cliffs of Moher. Of course, this was the one foggy day of our trip, and by the time we got to the cliffs, you could not see your hand in front of your face. We ate lunch, toured their museum, and just before we had to get back on the coach, the fog lifted….so I sent Mary running back up the cliffs to grab a few photos!

That afternoon we stopped for a quick tour of Dromoland Castle, an imposing castle that was the ancestral home of Irish royalty (direct descendants of the high king Brian Boru) and has now been turned into a five-star resort hotel and golf course. Later, after checking into our final hotel, the Bunratty Castle Hotel, we headed across the street to the Bunratty Folk Park to enjoy a medieval banquet in the great hall of the 15th-century Bunratty Castle. This fun and festive dinner included singing, dancing, and bagpipes – but no utensils! I guess part of the “atmosphere” is to eat with your fingers as if you are still in the Middle Ages. Yikes!

 Since it was our last night in Ireland, I convinced Mary to come out to Durty Nelly’s Pub with the group for a farewell drink (beer for me, Diet Coke for her). The next morning dawned much too early, and we were at Shannon Airport by about 7am to check in for our flight. After an uneventful hop across the Atlantic, we landed in Newark at about 11:30 am and were on our way back home to Rhode Island.

A few thoughts/observations about this trip:

  • The weather in Ireland in February was not nearly as bad as I expected. Never once opened my umbrella, and it was warmer than it was at home in RI that week. Clear and in the upper 30’s most of the time…though I’m sure this was an aberration.
  • The food was much better than I expected (since I did not expect much). We dined on salmon, roast beef, delicious soups and breads and, of course, potatoes.
  • The drinks were great too. After much trial and error, I decided that Smithwick’s was my favorite beer (Guinness is a bit too heavy), and I found a whole new appreciation for Irish coffee (which was served to us at practically every stop we made along the way)
  • A motorcoach tour is just about the most stress-free vacation you can take. We never once touched our luggage, waited in a hotel check-in line, worried about directions, or reached into our pockets to pay for sightseeing admissions, etc. Best of all, we did not have to drive on the wrong side of the road or pay for our own gas (about $6 a gallon!)
  • Six days is not nearly enough time to take in a whole country. I feel as though I got a very good “sampler” of Irish history, geography, and scenery — and a great feeling for Irish hospitality – but it just left me wanting more! Now I just need to start planning the next trip. Maybe I’ll bring the boys this time !

For all of our photos, click here.

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)