Early last summer, my parents and the bloke and I went on a road trip around Ireland. We started off in Belfast and went around the island of Ireland counter-clockwise, taking in some beautiful scenery and ancient monuments. The road trip lasted thirteen days in total, and we were a little rushed for some aspects and could have had a couple of more days added on to the journey.
Part of the problem for some of the rush was that many of the places that we stayed at had breakfast included, but breakfast started at 8:00 in the morning. I prefer early mornings for travel so that we could cram as much travel time into the morning and use the 9:00-17:50 hours for visiting the monuments. I would have preferred an earlier breakfast. Also, I did not factor lunch into the stops as I generally skip lunch and have a breakfast and then a larger dinner (after 17:00) when I travel so that I can plan seeing as much as possible in a day, but my father is now a diabetic and needs to have regular meals, so I did not factor this in. If I were to do the trip over, I would have made some adjustments or tried to add at least a couple of extra days. I'm reluctant to say that I would have missed any place from the trip off as we saw so many wonderful places.
Generally, I felt that the trip was a little bit rushed because we were not able to get an earlier start and we had to then factor in lunch along the way, which was not always easy in some of the more remote places. In the UK, you can generally find a shop or a cafe somewhere, but this was not the case in some of the remote areas of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Now, with this in mind, I will describe my iternerary in case any of my readers which to adapt it to their needs. The timings are pretty accurate here, and I'll explain any areas where we ran in to problems.
Day 1: We flew in to Ireland on a morning flight. We were booked into the Ibis Belfast Centre Hotel, which is a walk to the tourist sites for a weekend in the city. My impression of Belfast is that it was a small city. On the first day, we walked to the Titanic Quarter, which was the most distant area from the hotel. If I were to do this again, I would get a taxi back and get a taxi between a couple of the sites as it was a long walk from the Titanic Museum to the Titanic Pump House. Read more about my visit to the Titanic Quarter, which included the Titanic Museum, SS Nomadic, and the Titanic Dry Dock and Pump House.
Day 2: On the second day, we walked around the city and visited the town and grounds of the city hall (we could not get inside due to an event) and St. George's Market. After having a wander around the market, we walked to Belfast Botanic Gardens. We tried to book a taxi tour to see the murals, but this did not work out, so we walked back through one of the side-streets and got some photographs of Belfast Murals. Afterwards, we walked back in the opposite direction, had a quick look at the oldest pub, and we went to the cathedral quarter and looked inside Belfast Cathedral - St. Anne's before it closed for the day.
My additional posts cover the weekend in general:
Day 3: On the third day, we checked out of the hotel in Belfast and took a taxi to the airport. I did not realise that there were two airports in Belfast when I researched, so we went to the wrong one when we went to pick up the rental car and had to wait for another taxi to take us to the other airport, which resulted in a loss of time at the other places we planned to visit. After we picked up the rental car, we went to the Ulster Folk Park and then went across the street to visit the Ulster Transport Museum, which is on the same site. The Ulster Transport Museum has an excellent exhibition on the Titanic and some items found on the wreck the ill-fated ship. We spent most of the day at the Folk Park, which we found really interesting exploring the historic buildings and way of life.
After our visit, we drove along the coast to visit Carrickfergus Castle, which is a very intact castle museum that we could explore. The castle was not too busy, so we were able to make the most of it.
After the castle visit, we headed toward Ballycastle. On our way, we stopped off at the Dark Hedges, which is used in films, including the 'Game of Thrones' television series. This was extremely popular when we visited in the evening at sunset. Our bed and breakfast was located in Ballycastle, and we walked into town in order to have dinner and explore the seafront and the attractive village.
Day 4: The fourth day was a busy one for us, and we managed to get an early start. Our first stop was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. I was a little worried about the heights, but the rope bridge was not an issue at all. In fact, we had an early morning pleasant 15-minute walk to the rope bridge, and we were the first visitors and had it to ourselves for a short while.
After the visit, we drove a short way down the coast in order to visit Giant's Causeway in order to see the natural rock formations and to learn about them.
Afterwards, we drove up the coast again and stopped at Bushmills Distillery and had lunch and a tour of the whiskey distillery here.
Our last visit along the Causeway Coast was to Dunlace Castle ruins.
Afterwards, we headed in to Londonderry, where we stayed the evening. We had a quick walk around part of the Londonderry city walls (we had to finish the tour the next day), and we enjoyed dinner here.
We also saw the Bogside Murals, which documented the history of Londonderry only a few decades ago, and which is still a major aspect of the city.
Day 5: After our nice bed and breakfast in the Bogside area of Londonderry, we drove to Inishowen Peninsula and stopped off at Glenvin Waterfall, saw Crandonough Cross, went to Malin Head, and went to Gap of Mamore. There are many other attractions on this peninsula to visit, but we were only driving through to explore as much as we could.
After our visit, we headed back from the peninsula and stopped off at Grianan of Aileach, which is an ancient fort with amazing views.
Our final stop of the day was a quick drive through Glenveagh National Park and visited Glenveagh Castle. We loved the gardens of this castle, and if we had time, we would have walked as it would have been a pleasant walk along the lake. However, we got thr bus as the walk would have taken about an hour each way. I recommend the castle grounds, and we felt the castle tours were not as nice.
Day 6: We stayed in Donegal on the night of the fifth day, and Donegal is the location where some of my ancestors came from. We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast with lake views. In the morning, we explored the small town and the ruins of the abbey. We walked along the harbour and went to Donegal Castle.
After we had explored Donegal, we drove to our next stop, Belleek Pottery (a quick stop) and Marble Arch Caves. If we had had some time, we would have toured the Belleek Pottery museum, but we did stop at the shop. On the way to the caves, we actually got a little bit lost on our way here as it was not sign-posted well.
Had we had the time, we would have explored the towns of Sligo and Cong, but our next stop was Galway, which was a fair drive away, and this is where we stayed for the night.
We had a quick walk around the town of Galway before the shops closed. Galway is a very touristy town, and it seemed slightly souless due to this. Although, the Spanish Gate was attractive, and the town has many tourist shops and pubs. This is a popular tourist destination, and the majority of the town catered for tourism.
Day 7: As we did not have breakfast the next morning, we were able to make an early morning start to drive an hour to Clonmacnoise ancient monestary. We were the first to arrive to see the attraction, and a large tour group turned up afterwards, but we were able to see quite a bit before they turned up.
After this visit, we headed back into the opposite direction in order to go to the Burren area of Ireland. We headed through some attractive villages here before visiting Ailwee Caves and Doolin Caves and Kilmacduagh monestary ruins. My preference between the two was Doolin Caves because of the giant rock formations inside. It has the largest stalagmite in Europe.
Before heading to our hotel, we went to the Cliffs of Moher. We did not have long before the tourist area closed, but we were able to see a little of it. Afterwards, we walked along the sides of the cliffs for some nice views. However, I have seen better sea cliffs and views, so these were a little under-whelming.
Day 8: We really enjoyed our hotel in Doolin, but the next morning, we had to check out in order to drive to Bunratty Castle and Bunratty Folk Park.
The castle was too busy with tourists, but we really enjoyed the folk park, which was similar to the Ulster Folk Park. We had light rain on this day, and it did get a little harder at times.
After the visit, we headed to Kilfenora to have a light lunch at the cafe in the visitor's centre, a quick nip around the corner to see high crosses at abbey ruins, and then we met up with Tony from Heart of Burren Walks so that we could get a little taster of what the national park has to offer us. We followed Tony to a location in the Burren and saw a rare bee orchid as well as other plants and geological features; we were told a little bit about the history of the Burren. We got caught up in the rain off and on, but we still had a nice visit.
I would have liked to have driven past "Father Ted's" (the television series) house, but we did not have time as we needed to head toward Dingle Peninsula in order to get to our bed and breakfast. I'd struggled to find a closer place to stay. I ideally wanted to stay in Adare and also explore it, but we only had time to drive through. This town looked like a great place to explore, and I'd booked ages ahead and still could not find availability in a hotel or bed and breakfast, so this may be on the list of places to visit next time.
Day 9: We stayed on a farm (bed and breakfast) at the entrance to Dingle Peninsula. It was actually more like a bed and breakfast and less of a farm, and it also catered to mini-buses full of tourists. Our first plan for the day was to drive up Conor's Pass, but there was a cycle race going on which shut the road, so we had to re-plan. Instead, we decided to follow the road around Dingle's coast. We drove counter-clockwise.
Our first stop was Gallarus Oratory, an early church. Afterwards, we continued to follow the coast and stopped off at a couple of nice areas with sea views before ascending the mountains. I would have loved to have gone to the beehive huts along the road, but we did not. We admired more views and headed back into the town of Dingle where we ate lunch at a pub and enjoyed an ice cream.
After lunch, we took a boat trip around Dingle harbour to see Funghie the Dolphin before heading out of Dingle and driving up Conor's Pass on our way to our next destination, Kilarney.
We arrived in Kilarney in the late afternoon. Whereas Dingle was warm and sunny, Kilarney was completely the opposite. We were met with downpours while we stopped off at the ruins of Muckross Abbey.
After the visit to the abbey, we explored Killarney National Park and drove up to Torcross Waterfall for an amazing view of the waterfall and then up the mountain to Ladies View, where we saw a beautiful rainbow. We had dinner that evening in Kilarney. We had to drive to the centre as the hotel was too far to walk there, and we did not see much of Kilarney; the town itself is very touristy and not the most attractive town.
Day 10: Our plan for the morning was to visit Skellig Michael island to see the beehive huts. I'd pre-booked the boat, which left at ten in the morning, so it was an early morning start. However, the weather was again very wet and rainy. I really want to go to Skellig Michael, so we will have to visit again and pray that the weather is nice. When we got to Portmagee, we were told that the boat trip was cancelled due to the bad winds and weather. So, we continued to drive the Ring of Kerry.
Kenmare was our lunch stop, and we also walked to the stone circle close to the centre of town. We then headed back to Killarney and stopped off at Ross Castle and took ride on the jaunting cars first and took in the beautiful national park and some history. After our ride, we visited Ross Castle.
Our next stop was to the Gap of Dunloe, and we arrived in the early evening as the jaunting cars and hoards of tourists had left. I could see that the place is a popular one. It is a beautiful place. We drove up the hill to see the beautiful views and then back down. At the entrance of the Gap of Dunloe is a restaurant, and this is where we ate dinner.
Day 11: We stayed in Kilarney again, and the next morning, we had another early start to visit the villages of Kinsale and Cobh before heading into Cork. Kinsale was our first stop, and it is a quiet harbour village. We ate breakfast here before driving to Cobh, which is the last port that Titanic sailed from. There's a Titanic exhibition here, a cathedral, and a beautiful Victorian garden seafront. I also saw many cats in Cobh. After we had seen enough, we drove to Cork for lunch and had a quick wander around the market.
Our next stop was Blarney Castle, and we spent the afternoon here. We enjoyed the castle and the gardens. Of course, the castle is famous for its 'Blarney Stone', which we saw before heading back to Killarney for our final night.
Before we headed back to the hotel, we visited the Meeting of the Waters, which was not advertised as a long walk but ended up being a long walk. We saw a deer and nice scenery, but we wished we'd given it a miss as it was not as beautiful as expected.
Day 12: I woke up on my birthday on this day, and we checked out of the hotel and made our way to Cahir Castle. Again, the weather was rainy and wet for us.
After the morning visit, we made our way down the road to the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey, where we explored the ruins of the ancient monestary associated with St. Patrick. The beautiful monument was sadly covered in scaffolding, so I was not able to get many good photographs, and the weather was dreadful here. Unfortunately, we did not learn much here as the venue was catered for busloads of tourists, and the introduction video was in three different langauges before it played in English; we'd have had to wait over two hours for the English video to be played again. I think that they need to have English subtitles at least. After Cashel, we walked a couple of blocks away to have lunch and then drove to Hore Abbey at the foot of the hillside to explore the ruins.
After our visit was finished, we drove a little further away to the Rock of Dunmase near Portlaoise. This is the ruins of a hilltop castle, and it is free to visit. We were the only ones to visit, and we had a nice walk around, but we did suffer with the rain.
After that stop, we headed down to Kilkenny where our bed and breakfast was for the evening. The weather had improved for us when we arrived. We had a walk around the town and climbed one of the only accessible round towers at St. Canice Cathedral. Afterwards, we walked to the town to look in some of the shops, have dinner, and look at the castle. I was surprised with a birthday cake when we arrived back at the bed and breakfast.
Day 13: We left Kilkenny in the morning to drive to Wicklow Mountains, and our first stop was Glendalough village and monestary. After our visit to this beautiful location of ruins, we drove through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. I was not keen on the landscape of the national park and found it to be too barren.
We did stop at a small waterfall on the way and then arrived at Powerscourt Waterfall, which is the largest waterfall that we saw on the whole trip.
After the waterfall, we drove north to Trim Castle, which was used in the film "Braveheart". We had lunch in Trim at a bakery before our guided tour of the castle.
The last stop of the day, before we headed back down south to Naas where our bed and breakfast was located, was to the Hill of Tara, the seat of the Kings of Ireland and a place of mystery and history. We then drove to Naas and had dinner at a nice restaurant in the town. Unfortunately, this was the worst bed and breakfast as the host was rude to us and asked us not to bring our luggage indoors.
Day 14: Newgrange and the surrounding tombs were high on my list of places to visit in Ireland, so I wanted to make sure that we had secured the morning to have plenty of time to see them before we needed to head back to Belfast for our flights. We got stuck in bad traffic around Dublin on our way from Naas. On the way to Newgrange on the motorway (a few miles away) on the hottest and sunniest day of our trip, the car tire blew. The car rental company had given us a dodgey car with three normal tires and one winter tire, and the winter tire was several years old and an import from Germany. Apparently, tires from Germany are sold cheaply to Ireland because Germany has tighter regulations on the wear and tear of the thread, so used tires are sold on.
We were not happy as we missed seeing Newgrange and were stranded on the motorway, trying to speak to the car rental company, Enterprise. We were stranded in the hot sun, on the phone and waiting for call-backs, to expensive international numbers as we were still in northern Ireland. Finally, we were taken to a service station. Enterprise eventually did refund us for the car and the tire that we had to pay for.
The situation could have been a lot worse, but this left a bad taste in our mouths at the end of a pretty good trip. We were then taken to the airport and flew back to England. I will never rent with Enterprise after the appaling service and lack of duty of care for not checking the tires and making sure that the car was safe. We could have been killed.
Sometime, I'd like to visit Newgrange as well as the other places that we failed to see.