A decade ago, Tim and I got married. A DECADE! Can you believe it? We couldn’t either.
To celebrate, we decided to take a week’s long road trip through the Republic of Ireland starting in Dublin, driving south to County Cork, west around the coast and then up to Galway. The entire week was amazing but I couldn’t possibly highlight it all in one post, so I’ve rounded up my top ten favorite things we did so you can do them too when you head to Ireland. Because it shouldn’t be IF you head to Ireland, but WHEN.
Take a whisky cocktail making class at the Jameson Distillery
Where: Jameson Distillery, Bow Street, Dublin
Cost: 50 euros pp
When: 7 days a week
Notes: Only up to 16 people in one class, so make sure you book in advance.
I’m not one for whisky really, so when we were planning to head to Dublin and everyone said “you have to have a Guinness and you have go to the Jameson distillery” I wasn’t super stoked. And I’d like to say, I went and tasted Jameson from the source and my life was changed! But it wasn’t. What I can say though is that because of my personal dislike of straight whisky (or straight any alcohol basically), I saw that one of the experiences offered at the distillery was an hour long cocktail making class. It was more expensive than a basic tour, but you also get to make and drink three mixed drinks, which, if you calculate those at 10 euros a piece, you’re really only paying about 20 euros for the class. You also get a mixed drink cocktail guide that has recipes for all the cocktails you make in class plus several more.
In the class we made a whisky sour, an old fashioned and a spiked tea punch. I definitely have a new found appreciation for bartenders and their artistry after taking the class. And even though I wouldn’t say I am a huge whisky fan after the class, I definitely enjoyed most of the cocktails we made. (Still not a huge old fashioned fan, but I did make mine extra sweet so it was passable haha). The class was well worth the cost.
Take a Guided Tour of Dublin Castle
Where: Downtown Dublin
Cost: 10 euros pp for a guided tour*
When: Tours offered 7 days a week until 17:15
Notes: you can take a self guided tour for less, but you don’t get to see as much either.
More information can be located here.
We went to the Dublin castle on the advice of my former coworker who lives in Dublin and while it is definitely different than any other castles I’ve visited in Europe (as in… it’s not really a castle anymore), I found it really interesting. During the guided tour they took us underground so we could see the remains of the original towers of the old castle and an excavation that dates back to the viking era in Ireland. After the historic areas of the castle ruins, you get to see the current palace and state rooms that are still used today.
Where: A short drive outside downtown Dublin, near the Irish MOMA
Cost: 8 euros*
When: Tours are offered 7 days a week
Notes: You can only go through the gaol on a guided tour. It’s quote popular and fills up quickly. Make sure you book before you go.
The Kilmainham Gaol was one of the most interesting things that we visited in Dublin. It was creepy and interesting all at once. Mostly known for housing political prisoners during Ireland’s war for independence and it’s civil war, the Kilmainham gaol didn’t seem as scary to me as the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, but it was much more somber. Many of the prisoners they discussed didn’t really need or deserve to be in prison, or at least that’s the general feeling you get as you’re on the tour. The most somber part for me was when they took us to the execution yard where some political prisoners were executed by firing squad, one so previously injured that he had to be tied to a chair because he couldn’t even stand. It really brings home my own country’s fight for independence and I found it astonishing that it was all so relatively recent. I learned a lot about Irish history at the Kilmainham Gaol and I would urge anyone interested in history, especially that of politics, to visit. It may behoove you though, to brush up on your Irish history before you go, otherwise, like me, you might feel a little lost at times.
Head underground and visit the awe-inspiring Mitchelstown Caves
Location: Burncourt, Cahir
Cost: 9 euros pp
When: Tours are given throughout the day and times are created based on arrivals.
Notes: A minimum of two adults are required for a tour. More information on their website.
On our drive from Dublin to County Cork we saw signs for the Mitchelstown Caves and as we had been on the road for quite a while at that point, we thought it would be a fun detour. We were definitely impressed. The caves themselves are huge but the operation is small and family run. I love that they take strides not to make it too commercialized. As we got there in the middle of the day mid-week, we were able to get our own private tour. The caves were amazing and we heard wonderful stories about a lake that lies in the depths of the caves, accessible only by crawling on your belly. The adventurous part of me really wants to go visit that part of the cave but the anxious part of me says no way. Either way, I really enjoyed listening to our tour guide tell us about it. It won’t take you more than a couple hours out of your way to check out these awesome caves. Definitely make it a pit stop, you won’t be disappointed.
Kiss the Blarney Stone and walk through the Blarney Castle grounds
Where: County Cork
Cost: 16 euros (if booked online beforehand)*
When: Open 7 days a week, but opening times vary depending on time of year.
Notes: Tickets are good for six months after the date of purchase. If you book online beforehand, you must print your receipt before arriving.
Since I was a girl I have alway wanted to kiss the Blarney stone. They say that hanging upside down and kissing the stone will give you the gift of gab. I mean… obviously I need that right?! So when we decided to go to Ireland for our anniversary, I was determined to go hang upside down over the edge of a castle. (Who knew I was so daring?!)
Really…it’s not that scary and you can’t fall off the castle as there are iron bars between you and the ground, but there’s definitely a feeling of adrenaline as you lean backwards off the edge of the castle. After walking up possibly the smallest spiral staircase I’ve ever encountered (Tim had to go sideways because his shoulders didn’t fit), we were rewarded with the most splendid view and a quick walk to the Blarney stone. In the summer and pea tourist seasons, this trek up the stairs and through the castle could take you over an hour, but we were up and kissing the stone within 30 minutes of arriving at the grounds (including a toilet break, and photo opps with Hamilton Pig). If you’re claustrophobic I definitely don’t recommend going in the summer because I don’t know how long you’d be stuck in the spiral stairs.
After we kissed the stone, I wasn’t sure there was anything else to see, but I was so wrong. The Blarney gardens offer some of the most beautiful sights I saw in Ireland. We walked through maybe only about half the gardens on the grounds before we were exhausted, but what we saw was spectacular. We saw waterfalls, walked up and down the wishing steps and even learned a bit in the poison garden. Walking through the surrounding gardens and grounds make the pricey ticket of just kissing the stone well worth it.
Take the Kinsale Comedy Ghost Tour
Where: Depart from Tap Tavern downtown Kinsale
Cost: 10 euros*
When: Departs nightly at 9pm (It says summers but we were there in October and it was still going)
We rolled into the little seaside village of Kinsale without much on our itinerary except to go to the Blarney Castle, a bit of a drive away. The first night, our amazing hostesses at the Perryville Guest House (my favorite hotel we stayed in, btw), recommended that we check out the Kinsale ghost tour. After a decent, but early dinner at 6 pm, we decided to go hang out in the Tap House and have some drinks while we waited for the tour to start at 9 pm. Let me tell you, the Tap House is the oldest pub in Ireland a typical, small Irish pub that’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s adorable. And Mary O’Neil, the owner is equally Irish, rough around the edges and adorable. She’s a tough Irish old lady who was gruff with patrons at first but obviously had a soft spot for her regulars and even us, once we got her talking. Photos on the walls of the little pub show a younger Mary with celebrities and even Fergie, the Duchess of York herself.
I could have talked to Mary all evening, but sooner than we knew, it was time to put on our Kinsale Ghost Tour stickers (the tour ticket) and head to the back patio for the beginning of the tour. The tour isn’t really your typical ghost tour with tales woven to make you scared or shake in your boots. And without ruining any of the joy of taking your own tour, let’s just say, it’s quite hilarious.
Listen to Live Music
Cost: free, other than the drinks you buy while listening
Where: We went to Kitty O’ Se’s Bar, but most pubs in Ireland have live music in the evenings
This is also a thing I really wanted to do when I was in Ireland. I love Irish music and find it so upbeat. I can’t help but smile when I hear a good traditional Irish band and I was super excited to find that there was one already playing the night we went in search of a band. We aren’t really night owls and many pubs’ shows don’t start until 9 or 10. So when we found music already being played at 8 we were super excited. We grabbed a table and a pint and settled in to listen. When the bands changed in the pub, they also changed locations and we ended up with a great front row seat to the second set. Which worked out, as they ended up calling me up onto the “stage” with them to play a maraca. I told them it was our anniversary and they sang us a special song and it was truly a night I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire evening.
It’s impossible to replicate the live music evenings we each have, but that’s why they are all so special. I hope you find your own little Irish band playing in some pub along the way and make your own memories to last a lifetime.
Venture into the countryside for a Sheep Herding Demonstration
Cost: $16 USD
When: Available dates are on the Airbnb calendar, but I think it’s most days.
Notes: I booked this trip through Airbnb experiences
This was such an AMAZING hour spent out in the rural countryside. I love to see all the sheep in the UK and when I was researching things to do in Ireland, I came across the idea of Air BnB “Experiences.” This is a whole database that links people to classes and workshop, hikes, and several other things to do that you’d never find on the normal tourist information site. We found Sinead and her dad, Timothy’s one hour sheep herding demonstration of sheep herding and we determined it HAD to be integrated into our plan for the week.
Even though it was pouring buckets that day, Timothy and Rose the sheep dog and of course the little sheeps in the field did not disappoint. Timothy and his wife were exceptionally nice as I desperately needed a toilet and was unable to locate one in the closest village. They took me to their house and his wife even offered tea and donuts so we could stay warm for a little while. It was really nice to talk to them both and learn about sheep farming and then of course see the little fluffy guys. If you’re looking for something different to do, absolutely go do this. Also, in the summer they offer a longer sheep herding demo with a hike. I’d love to go back and do that when it’s less likely to be pouring buckets of water on my head. 😀
See the splendid Cliffs of Moher
Where: The west coast of Ireland, we stayed in the little village of Doolin, but there are a a couple.
Cost: 4-8 euros depending whether you book online and what time you want to go.
When: Open year-round other than 24, 25, 26 December.
More information here.
Maybe I’m jaded because I grew up in California with some amazing cliffs fairly close by (Malibu and Big Sur spring to mind immediately), but the Cliffs of Moher weren’t as awe inspiring as I thought they’d be. Don’t get me wrong, they were still gorgeous, I just didn’t feel like they were life changing or anything. That being said… please go see the Cliffs. There’s some beautiful scenery and if you get a clear day like we did, you can see for miles. We only spent one day there to see the Cliffs of Moher and that was more than enough. There was nothing in the little town of Doolin save one pub (that actually had chicken strips!! score!) and a smattering of tiny stores which were all closed by the time we arrived in the evening. We stayed at a decent enough B&B and then took off for the cliffs the next morning. Since we didn’t have anything else planned that day, and we were kind of over the Cliffs after about an hour, we decided to get on the road to Galway early in the afternoon. That lead to our next suggested tour stop, horseback riding!
Ride Horses on a trail or on the beaches near the Cliffs of Moher
Where: Just outside Doolin
Cost: Starting at 30 euros pp
When: We lucked into a trail ride and there’s no calendar on their website. Contact them to book one in advance.
Notes: More Info on their website.
Another pit stop on our drive for the day, we saw signs for the Mountain View Horse Riding Centre. We decided to stop and see if we could maybe get in on one of their trail rides for the day and we were in luck. The long tours were already out for the day, but the one hour trek was going to leave in 45 minutes. So we decided to wait around and go on that trail ride. I thought 30 euros a person wasn’t bad since we got a guided hour-long trail ride. The trails were mostly paved and I really enjoyed that. But we rode on some dirt trails too through gorgeous forests that were both enchanting and spooky at the same time. There were amazing views of the water and fields and the hour flew by. Since we aren’t super experienced the hour was a perfect amount of time and though the two or three hour treks sounded great, I think my legs and bum were more appreciative of a shorter trip. Next time we go, I’d love to take a horse ride on the beaches, I’m sure it offers some spectacular views.
*All prices are for adults without concessions. Often children, students, and retirees have cheaper tickets.