Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Ultimate Ireland Road Trip - Southern half

We had an amazing holiday in Ireland and I've had so many people ask me for our itinerary.  So here is the breakdown of our trip for those looking to experience one of their own!

The background:  we have a US fitted Honda Odyssey minivan and there were 4 adults, two 5 year olds, and a one year old on our trip.

The food:  I'll give you the info on where we ate as I talk through the itinerary.  We booked B&B's with breakfast intentionally, took our own peanut butter, jelly, nutella, and bread for our daily lunch to reduce down our eating out budget, and ate out for dinner of the evenings.

On 22 July, we set off in the evening to try and miss traffic on the M40 and the M1.  We drove to Holyhead, Wales and stayed at Witchingham B&B which was right near the port and let us check in later in the evening.  They had a self serve breakfast and was a very comfortable place to be for the quick night we had.  The only thing we would have changed was to try and leave a bit earlier because the drive through Wales was amazing and we only caught a bit as it was late when we arrived.  But the sunset along the north coast was fab.

The morning of 23 July, we set off early to grab the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin.  We had booked in advance through Irish Ferries as they had a sale this past spring and we saved 25% by waiting on the sale.  We were onboard the ship Epsilon and let me give you this tidbit of advice.  When you park your car and everyone goes inside, it feels like you HAVE to sit at these tables and chairs in the restaurant or the lounge.  However, if you go up one deck, there's a little room just off the stairs that is full of reclining seats.  It's much more comfortable, they have a television, and is right by the toilets.  People think this place is something you have to pay extra for because it almost feels like it should be, but it's a little gem we found and made the 3.5 hour trip sane for us and the kids!

Once landing in Dublin, we drove off into the sunset (or the midday rain?) and headed directly across the country to Lisdoonvarna where we checked into the Cannville B&B for the night (approx 3hrs 10 min).  It was really out in the middle of nowhere but a close drive to the cute village area of Lisdoonvarna or a 10 minute drive from Doolin.  We went to dinner in Doolin at Fitzpatrick's Pub where they have live Irish music and Doolin beer (delish).  The B&B was quaint but nice.  We had an absolutely amazing sunset and because we were in the middle of nowhere, we had great pictures of the countryside.  The B&B had 3 breakfast options including full Irish breakfast, yogurt and fruit, or pancakes.  Most of us had the Irish breakfast and everything we had was lovely!

On 24 July we awoke to a lot of rain and fog and were pretty bummed as we intended to head straight to the Cliffs of Moher.  We had purchased our tickets in advance to receive the online discount and they are not tied to a day so I highly recommend this!  The whole drive there (15 minutes max), we were praying for the fog to lift but as we parked it was not looking good.  We went into the visitors center to look around and, within 15 minutes the ceiling was lifting and we were starting to see some blue in the sky.  We hiked up the cliffs and enjoyed a beautiful morning there.  I highly recommend getting there early as the crowds get a little crazy midday (this is part of the reason we drove in the afternoons, along with giving my kids a chance to nap as we drove).

After a few hours at the cliff, we made our daily sandwiches and got in the car to head south.  We drove about 3 hours, 10 min to the Dingle Peninsula, specifically to Inch Beach.  We stayed in a dorm style room (6 bunk beds and the baby cot) at a place called The Strand (no ensuite toilets for this place but it wasn't bad for one night).  For the money, it was great!  The location was perfect with gorgeous views of the beach.  We spent the afternoon/evening on the beach with the kids freezing in the water.  That night we had dinner in the hotel restaurant as they give a 10% discount to those staying.  Decent food, good beer, what's not to like.  And we didn't have to go anywhere else!

The morning of the 25th we awoke and had another Irish breakfast at The Strand (included) along with some continental options that were also good.  Our friends traveling with us did a morning surf lesson and the boys spent the morning on the beach.  We got a late checkout so everyone could get cleaned up before we got in the car again.  This was really a good option because our drive this day was only about 45 minutes to get down to Killarney for our next adventure.

Because it was a short drive (although Justin's favorite due to the scenery and winding roads), we arrived in Killarney before we could check into our next B&B.  So this time, we headed straight to the Ring of Kerry and into the national forest.  We went to the Torc Waterfall where we could climb on the rocks and see the beauty of the falls and the forest.  The walk to the falls is short and not treacherous so you can really just park and run up for a quick look or go for a long hike, whichever you're up for.  We didn't do the long hike but instead took time to just throw rocks in the water and climb the rocks.  From the waterfall, we headed back toward Killkenny, stopping at Muckross Abbey.  It was so cool (this may have been my favorite part).  The abbey is in ruins but you can still go to the different levels and check out all the staircases and rooms.  From the abbey, we headed to our B&B in Killarney, Countess House.  This was probably our favorite traditional B&B as the rooms were nice, breakfast was great, and the host was lovely.  It's also walking distance from town so we could just walk in to dinner where we enjoyed awesome food at Mac's of Main Street.   Killarney is pretty touristy but it also has a pretty cool vibe.  We enjoyed our time there both in the national park and in the town.

Yet another great breakfast on the 26th at Countess House and we set off on our way.  We started by heading to Ross Castle which was about 5 minutes away in Killarney.  The castle is cool from the outside but to go inside you have to sign up for a guided tour.  We chose not to take the tour based on timing and price and the fact that we were about to see a few other castles over coming days.  So we looked  to Kilkenny, by way of Cork.  It took us less than 90 minutes to get to the Blarney Castle in Cork and again, the drive was beautiful.  We got onto the castle grounds right away and found that we  probably could have spent the whole day there exploring the castle and gardens.  We did enjoy our time kissing the Blarney stone and exploring the gardens and then loaded up the car to continue on to Kilkenny for the night.

It took us right about 2 hours to arrive at Fanad House, our lodging for the night in Kilkenny.  It was located directly across from the Kilkenny Castle grounds and easy walking distance to the High st area.  However, by the time we got there, most things in the center of town were closed and we ate a bit of a random place called Ripley's Steak House.  It was good for families and the food was good for what we needed, especially given that we were all pretty ravenous by the time we got there.  We tried another place first and they made it quite clear they did not welcome our large family there so Ripley's was perfect for us.  Plus, it was right on Butterslip Lane which is something we wanted to see anyway.  We headed back to the B&B for the night and had a restful sleep in a very comfortable place (a close second to Countess).

The following morning (27 July) we, once again, enjoyed an Irish breakfast, but other options were available and quite delicious.  We set off into Kilkenny to see the castle and a short walk around the town but this was probably our least favorite place to visit.  The castle is cool but it has been restored back to what they think it was so it feels more like Windsor castle instead of a castle like Blarney and Ross (i.e. more in a finished state than looking like a ruin).  We finished our time in Kilkenny with our homemade lunches, loaded up the car, and set off for our final destination...Dublin.

We arrived in Dublin around 2pm and met up with our AirBnB guy, Paul.  Our flat was called Whiskey Corner and was literally in the old Jameson Distillery.  It.was.awesome.  The guy was a great host and got us set up in the flat and with parking quickly.  The place is right in the Smithfield area with a grocery store, pharmacy, and all kinds of restaurants.  It was walking distance to everything we wanted to see in Dublin and also very close to public transit.  But, it was far enough from Temple Bar and those areas that it wasn't too noisy at night with the windows open.

Our friends and Justin were interested in the Jameson Master Class they give at the distillery so they signed up and went straight away to the 4pm class.  After 1.5 hours of learning how whiskey was made and tasting the differences, we were all ready for dinner.  We headed out to a place called My Meat Wagon which I HIGHLY recommend.  Lots of, well, meat!!  AND an old school NES with Duck Hunt and Super Mario to play while you hang out.  Great food, good beer, and a relaxed atmosphere.  We were so stuffed after dinner that we headed back and crashed at the flat.

The morning of 28 July, we started the morning off with, no, not an Irish breakfast, but some quick food and coffee from a nice little cafe called Third Space.  We had booked tickets for the Guiness Storehouse tour well in advance to make sure we got the time we wanted as early and advanced bookings online provide some decent discounts.  We walked from the flat to Guiness and started our tour promptly at 10am.  It took us about an hour and a half to get through and we ended with the obligatory beer in the Gravity Bar with gorgeous views of the city.

It was a little late for lunch and the troops were restless so for the same price we would have paid for public transit, we cabbed it to Temple Bar.  Quick, uneventful lunch at a place I can't even remember the name of, and we strolled around the Temple Bar area and took pictures on the Ha'penny bridge.  At this point, half our crew (i.e. the kid half and a grown up), headed back to the flat for nap time.  The other half walked to Trinity College to check out the Book of Kells and their amazing library!  We all met back up for dinner at The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland!

The week had taken its toll on us and the kids and we were not resting well.  We intended on putzing about of the morning but instead, we took the morning of 29 July to relax, have breakfast, pack up, and clean up in the flat.  Our ferry was to leave at 2:45pm and we had to be there early to get checked in and loaded onboard.  We at lunch at a little shop near the flat called Christophe's which had nice little salads and sandwiches.  It was time to head to the ferry and get onboard.  Thankfully, we were on the same ship again and knew to go straight to the reclining chairs.  We settled in for the 3.5 hour trip and had our last set of PB&Js.

Arriving back in Wales around 6pm, we set off for the 4.5 hour drive home.  We, thankfully, didn't have much traffic and, other than the screaming baby in our car, it was a fairly uneventful ride.  We arrived home at 10:30pm.

As you can see, this itinerary was perfect for us but the route and lodging options could really work for anyone!  What you choose to do at the different locations could be tailored to your desires and groups intentions!  If you're coming from a country other than the UK, it's easy enough to fly directly into Dublin, rent a car, and take off from there!  Remember that they drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, roads are narrow (our minivan is HUGE there), and knowing the road signs, speeds in km, and how to tackle roundabouts is vital...but it's completely doable and actually a great part of the trip!

Mileage
Home to Holyhead: 270 miles
Dublin port to Cliffs of Moher:  162 miles
Cliffs of Moher to Inch Beach:  127 miles
Inch Beach to Killarney: 26 miles
Killarney to Blarney Castle:  47 miles
Blarney Castle to Kilkenny:  100 miles
Kilkenny to Dublin: 80 miles
Holyhead to Home: 270 miles
Miles in and around each location:  30 miles

Total Ireland Transit Miles: 572
Total Miles: 1112