Friday, June 22, 2018

Road Trip in Ireland with Maps

For our twentieth anniversary we booked a road trip through Ireland. Having no idea what to do or where to go in Ireland, we booked a Great Value Vacations Ireland Castle Getaway for 8 nights through Groupon. It was our anniversary, so we thought we'd go to some nice hotels for once! In this post I'll detail the road trip. I reviewed the hotels in this post. This trip would be easy to do and book on your own. Now that we are familiar with Ireland, if we ever go back (and we want to) we'll book things on our own. For our first trip, it was easy to have Great Value Vacations take care of our airfare, itinerary, hotels, and car rental. We were free to plan everything else between the hotels.

We traveled a good portion of Ireland. It's a small country and easy to travel across in a day. I'll have to do another post on driving in Ireland. It's everything you've heard and more!

We loved Ireland and look forward to going back someday. There is so much to do, that you can't get it all done. We chose to do things near us, which meant we missed out on some things, but that just means we'll have to go back.

Here's the highlights of what we did each day:

Day 1

  • From the airport we drove to Howth. We hiked the cliff walk and town, bought coffee from a cafe (Il Panorama Cafe), bought lunch from a small food store (The Country Market), and took a boat ride from Ireland's Eye Ferries around Ireland's Eye. The tide was too low for us to get off at the island. 
  • Drove to Dunboyne Castle Hotel for night. Walked into town and picked up dinner from a local take out eatery (The Crusty Corner) and grocery store (Eurospar). We ate on a bench in a park. Also stopped at a local pharmacy (McElroy's Pharmacy) to get some allergy much grass!

Day 2

  • Breakfast at Dunboyne Castle Hotel before driving. Stopped at the Arigna Mining Experience on the way. Picked up scones and some food from a local grocery for lunch (we stopped at lots of local grocery stores such as Aldi, Tesco, and Lidl).
  • Arrived at Lough Eske Castle Hotel and went into Donegal town. We saw Donegal Castle and the old abbey. Ate fish and chips at a local restaurant (Marina's Cafe and Wine Bar). 
  • Drove to Mountcharles and walked the beach.
  • Walked near the hotel. Found old castle walls and then walked the board walk trail on Lough Eske.

Day 3

  • Breakfast at hotel where the breakfast chef gave me some touring tips and drew me a map.
  • Drove to Glenveagh National Park. Walked from the visitor center out to the castle. Went on a castle tour and walked the surrounding gardens and grounds.
  • Drove on crazy roads to the pier to take the ferry out to Arranmore Island. We were the only ones on the ferry. Walked the beach near the pier before taking the ferry back to mainland.
  • Continued the wild drive on the Wild Atlantic Way to the Slieve League Cliffs. We went through the sheep gate and parked at the top lot. We hiked up to a wonderful viewing point and shared the trail with sheep.
  • Tried to eat dinner at The Rusty Mackerel, but they were still getting their food license. We got back to the hotel too late for dinner. Once again ate digestive biscuits (from local grocery) and Sunbutter I packed for a meal.

Day 4

  • Wonderful breakfast at Lough Eske.
  • Stopped to see the Fairy Bridges and Wishing Chair (little underwhelming) on Tullan Strand Road, but we enjoyed the walking path and beach walk. We were able to watch lots of surfers.
  • Stopped at Mullaghmor Head. Walked the circle tour next to the coast and viewed Classiebawn Castle from a distance. We got ice cream at Paddy's Place and ate it while enjoying the pier (low tide again). We tried honeycomb ice cream with a chocolate waffle cone!
  • Stopped at Creevykeel Tomb quickly, seriously 10 minutes max, and right off the road.
  • Stopped in Sligo to see The Abbey and walk town. It was Sunday, so all the recommended restaurants were closed.We ended up eating some amazing fish and chips at Chipmongers in a petrol station!
  • Walked around Lough Key Forest and Activity Park. Most things had closed, as it was after 5pm, but we enjoyed the walking trails. It costs 4 euros to get out of the parking lot and you need exact change.
  • Arrived at Kilronan Castle Hotel and walked the hiking trail next to the lake.

Day 5

  • Breakfast at Kilronan.
  • Stopped at O'Rourke's castle in Leitrim (saw it in a guide book) and discovered it's just a wall. Feel free to skip that one.
  • Stopped at the Abbey in Boyle quickly.
  • Made it to Westport by noon for our shuttle and bike ride at 12:30. We used Clew Bay Bike Hire and it was wonderful. Three other people were on our shuttle and were dropped off at the stop before us. We were dropped off at Achill Island and set up with bikes. We biked on the Great Western Greenway back to Westport and made it before the 5:30 closing time. We only had a couple of wrong turns in town. We asked for recommendations for dinner, but the place recommended (Sage) wasn't open. We stopped at a Foxford Woollen Mills store to buy some wool socks as a gift. We then had an appetizer of Crab Claws and King Prawns (delicious!) and the Cheese Steak Burger made with Irish steak (best burger ever!) at JJ O'Malleys Bar
  • Stopped at a store in a small town to get water and more cookies. We lived off digestive biscuits, cookies, and scones...they're cheap!

Day 6

  • Breakfast at Kilronan.
  • Examined old castle entrance and gatekeepers house on the Kilronan grounds before leaving.
  • Stopped in Ennis for a sandwich (The Snack Shack) and to visit the Ennis Friary
  • Visited Dysert O'Dea Castle and Rath Abbey with a hike through a cow pasture. 
  • Arrived at Dromoland Castle Hotel. We explored the grounds and rowed a boat on the lake. Had a late dinner in the gallery at the hotel (Irish steak sandwich and a crab sandwich). 

Day 7

  • Breakfast at Dromoland.
  • Finally had to put petrol in our vehicle for the first time...expensive!
  • Visited the Rock of Cashel and walked to Hore Abbey. Rock of Cashel was the most touristy place we visited and the most crowded.
  • Picked a place on the map to visit and it was Farney Castle. Definitely one of the most eccentric finds. We were given a tour of the castle by the owner, Cyril Cullen. Google him. We ended up buying a porcelain sheep to commemorate our 20th anniversary. It was 8 euros. We bought a glass-blown dolphin on our honeymoon, so it was time for one more figurine.
  • Arrived at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel. We hiked the paths at Killiney Hill Park and walked into the town of Dalkey. Ate appetizers for a late supper at Ouzos.

Day 8

  • Breakfast at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel.
  • Drove to Wicklow Mountains National Park. We were there before the visitor center opened and walked out to the Glendalough Monastic City. Tip: Visit the monastic ruins early before they get crowded! We were the only ones there. Tour buses started showing up when the visitor center opened and the nearby ruins were then crowded with people.
  • After the visitor center opened we did a big hike around both lakes (white route for those who have a map of the area's walking trails). It was super windy and we only saw a few people. 
  • We visited the waterfall (pink route) and other ruins (bronze route) near Upper Lake before heading back to our car near the visitor center.
  • Walked into Dalkey and had dinner at P Borza Takeaway. We had fish and chips and a battered burger (we had to try). It was one of the best deals on food (besides grocery stores and Chipmongers).

Day 9

  • We had a go-to breakfast from Fitzpatrick.
  • Drove back to the Dublin Airport.
  • If you have a later flight, you could explore Dublin.
I'll do more posts on the Great Value Vacation and the hotels (we had favorites). I'll also try to do one on driving and maybe some other things as they come to me. You can see from the map up top that it says we did 1,378 km of driving. With a few other side trips and smaller roads, we ended up traveling nearly 1600 km or 1000 miles!

We visited the first week in June and it was perfect. Kids in Ireland were still in school and testing, so even on weekends places weren't busy. On our empty ferry ride (on a Saturday!) the ferry driver said the next weekend would be bustling after kids were out of school. And Ireland is known for rain, but we went during a dry spell! We tend to bring dry weather wherever we go. We saw the sun quite a bit, but we also had overcast days. We only got sprinkled on a tiny bit and it never lasted more than a few minutes. You might also notice that we skipped Dublin and many of the touristy places (Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Limerick, etc). We don't regret it and enjoyed seeing more of the small towns and outdoor things. 

Our favorites (if we have to pick):
  • County Donegal - pretty much everything about it
  • Wicklow National Park
  • Westport and surrounding area
Stay tuned for more Ireland posts! Have you visited Ireland and you did you have any favorites?

Take a look at these posts:

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