The Best Weeklong Road Trip Through Ireland
I went to Ireland near the end of September 2017 for about a week with my ex and our mutual friend. During our week there, we rented a car and we (actually, I) drove around the country, hitting as many hotspots as we could along the way.
My ex and I arrived a day earlier than our friend, so we stayed at an AirBNB near the airport for that one night. We didn't do anything too exciting, so onto the next day!
The following day, our AirBNB host kindly took us back to the airport so we could welcome our friend to Ireland properly (yes, we even had a sign, albeit pathetic!).
After we greeted each other, we immediately walked, rolling suitcases to our sides, to the rent a car area of the airport. We previously made a reservation to rent a car with EuropCar online, so we got our car keys rather quickly.
As a side note, if you ever rent a car in Ireland, be sure to do so with a credit card. My ex and I didn't have one, so we looked online for places that allowed car rentals with debit cards. However, they were far more expensive with a debit card than a credit card. Maybe even double the price! We asked our friend who was visiting if he could cover it with his credit card and we'd obviously pay him back. He kindly accepted, which was great and it worked out perfectly at a much better price! It came out to around $450 for the week, which wasn't bad, especially considering the amount of time we got the car and that the three of us would be splitting the cost!
Anyway, the reason we wanted to rent a car was because Ireland is a lush and gorgeous country (I'm sure you already knew/heard that, though). We wanted to get the most out of our experience of backpacking through the country. Buses would've been okay to take, but we really didn't want to adhere to bus schedules and we wanted the option to just jump out and explore at our leisure. Plus, taking multiple buses would've been more expensive than just renting a car anyway. We saw no negatives to this!
Guess who ended up driving 95% of the time? Me! It was slightly terrifying at first because I'd only driven in America, where we drive on the right side of the road and drive from the left side of the car. But, in Ireland, it's the complete opposite (left side of the road, right side of the car). Basically, everything I'd ever known about driving a car was completely reversed.
Although it was terrifying, I surprisingly got used to driving on the left rather quickly. By the second day, I was comfortable and driving fearlessly...for the most part. A couple of times, I did turn and accidentally drive on the wrong side of the road for just a second, but it's fine! No one was hurt or killed! Phew.
So, if you’re nervous about driving on the left side of the road while renting a car in Ireland, don’t worry— you will get used to it far quickly than you might imagine! It’s worth the try.
Plus, Ireland supplies tons of signs and other reminders of which side of the road to drive on. So, you'll be fine! That, and drivers in the Ireland are incredibly calm, smart, and understanding. I was never honked at-- somehow!
After getting the car, we drove into Dublin but, since our AirBNB check in wasn't until 4:00 p.m. and it was only 10:30 a.m., so we needed to kill some time. We parked the car on the same street as our AirBNB, then took a bus, which was an awesome double-decker with functioning Wifi, into the city. We got off, grabbed a simple lunch of a sandwich and soup, then wandered around Trinity College's campus.
While our friend went inside to see the Book of Kells, my ex and I wandered around the campus a bit more, since he and I aren't exactly museum folk. Upon our galavanting, we discovered a pub-- on campus! As an American, this was shocking because this is not a thing in the U.S., since the drinking age is 21 (ridiculous, I know), so of course no pubs are allowed on any college campuses. While sitting there and drinking water (uncool, I know), we people watched a bit and noticed all of the people inside were college students, casually enjoying brews with their friends on a warm fall afternoon. How lovely!
We eventually met up with our friend again and continued on our trek-- to the Guinness Factory! We bought our tickets online ahead of time, which we highly recommend because when we arrived there, the line for buying tickets was absurdly long-- and we got to skip it since we already had ours!
The factory was cool, but it was too museum-like for us. It just explained how they brew their beer. It's definitely a grueling and strict process, which was cool to learn about, but it wasn't anything particularly exciting. But, one of my personal favorite parts of the tour was the tasting room. There were actually two rooms and in the first, the walls were completely painted white and there were four cylindrical tables in the middle of the room, emitting vapor. But, the vapor was for our smelling pleasure. Each table lets out a particular beer's vapor, which I thought in particular was wild! This white room with beer vapor was meant to "awaken" your senses to get them ready for tasting. They handed out small shot glasses of Guinness to each of us, then directed us into the next room.
The second room was a stark contrast to the previous one. It was dark, small, and had thick wooden planks as "tables" to place your tiny Guinness shot glass on. A worker gave us correct directions for tasting Guinness:
Take a sip.
Roll it from the front to the back of your tongue
As ridiculous as that all may sound, it actually worked! I realized right at that moment that I really liked Guinness. I never really cared for it before until I finally tasted it in the way it was intended in the place it was intended.
After the tasting room, we headed to the top floor, which is referred to as the Gravity Bar. The bar is centered in the middle of a circular room that's surrounded by floor to ceiling windows that overlook Dublin. Our tickets included a free beer each, so we pushed through the crowd of people there, grabbed our free beers, and sat next to a window to stare out at the city. Not a bad first day, huh?
We left the factory and, out of starvation, chose to eat dinner at the first place we saw, which turned out to be Subway! While gobbling down our sandwiches, a large group of teenage boys came in and totally trashed the place. They were throwing candies and garbage at each other, but only ordered one soda, then left. Bunch of Irish hoodlums!
Once our bellies were full of Subway, we took a cab to our AirBNB to finally check in. We relaxed a bit with some music and Guinnesses (yes, we needed more after that one free Guinness at the factory because obviously, one was not enough!). We then took a bus to the Temple Bar area. This is just an exciting street in Dublin with lots of bars, clubs, and so forth. There is an actual famous bar called, “The Temple Bar,” but it was just far too crowded and touristy for us, so we went to another nearby bar.
Luckily we did because we had a fantastic time there! We drank lots of beer and got to hear some fantastic live music. Just one Irish guy was playing the acoustic guitar and singing contemporary music, but added his own flair to the songs. It was really a unique and amazing experience!
Unfortunately, none of us remember the name of the pub we went to (probably has something to do with all of the Guinnesses we’d drank!), but there are plenty of similar pubs in Temple Bar Street!
The three of us woke up and hopped into the car. We drove an hour southward to Wicklow National Park, which has 220 square kilometers (85 square miles) of land. To park, it was roughly 8 euros to park there-- and let me tell you: it was well worth it. We were surrounded by natural beauty like we'd never seen. The grass was so vivid and pristine, it was almost neon green. There were captivating mountains and glistening, mirror-like lakes everywhere we went. It was astounding! We even stumbled upon an old graveyard referred to as Monastic City, which was a pleasure to explore.
We walked along the shortest path, which was the Green Road Walk. It was short, easy, and took us to all the beautiful scenery we went there specifically for!
Oh, and we even saw someone playing the harp in the middle of our hiking trail. Yeah. It was like what dreams are made of.
Eventually, we walked back to the car and drove to our next AirBNB, which was in the middle-of-nowhere-Ireland Gort. It was a few hours away, but we enjoyed our drive on back roads there!
Except when we got lost.
And were two hours late to check in to our AirBNB.
Oh, and when our GoPro fell off the hood of the car, where we thought we fastened it tightly. Thankfully, that it didn’t break, but still!
When we finally got there late in the evening, we were all totally creeped out by the house. It was this giant house in the middle of absolute nowhere, surrounded by woods with not a soul around. It was quite spooky. It honestly looked like a house with some sort of secret ghostly past.
We all managed to sleep, though, because the beds were super comfy, then went to get some Irish breakfast in the morning. We ended up getting some outstanding Irish grub, which was a surprise because of where we were: the middle of nowhere!
Our friend got the full Irish breakfast: baked beans, sausage, bacon, potatoes, eggs, toast, and white and black pudding (not to be confused with American "pudding." They're both small meat dishes popular in Ireland!). My ex and and I knew we couldn't possibly eat all of that (surprisingly!), so we both ordered baps, which are breakfast sandwiches! Ours baps had sausage, bacon, and eggs. They were delectable!
After we had our fill, we drove to the Cliffs of Moher. We parked the car and walked to the cliffs, which were windier than I imagined they'd be! But, the view was unlike any other. No matter which cliff you found yourself on, you were still struck by more cliffs, cascading into the distance. It was nothing short of magical! Except for the intense wind. Be careful of that and cautionary areas where you could potentially get hurt. Being that we did not have death wishes, we kept to the safe areas and still enjoyed ourselves!
One of my favorite things of Ireland is that there aren't many tourists (or even citizens!) anywhere. The Cliffs of Moher, one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland, was no exception. That was such a welcomed relief!
Next stop: Galway! We stopped by our AirBNB, dropped off our things with some lovely and accommodating hosts, and took a double-decker bus into town. We walked along the main street called Quay Street and, just as we hoped we would, found a place for some killer fish and chips! We stopped at a restaurant called McDonagh's (nope-- not McDonald's!) and thoroughly enjoyed wolfing down some good, hearty, greasy grub.
Afterwards, we walked along Quay Street for a bit, which was lovely because it was a quaint, cobblestone street with tons of shops, pubs, and restaurants. It was even lit up nicely and felt so cozy and homey.
Then, we made our way to a pub called Garvey's Inn, which was showing American football games live! Since it was Sunday and who I was with greatly enjoyed football and I’m such an accommodating travel pal, we needed to spend some time there. Even though I'm not a huge football fan, the three of us had a great time sitting back, drinking some Guinnesses, and watching some football. Surprisingly, a small crowd gathered there to do the same! We even met a few people from America, some of whom even knew where I'm from, which is odd because my town has a population of 5,000 and hardly anyone knows of its existence! What a small world we live in, huh?
After waking up, we noshed on some breakfast cereals and tea that were kindly provided by our AirBNB hosts.
AirBNBs in Ireland were overall some of the best accommodation experiences I’ve ever had. Most of them gave us free breakfast in the morning, which honestly hasn't really ever happened before for us, even though "breakfast" is in the name of AirBNB...
Anyway, we then packed up our things and drove into Galway. We walked around a bit and checked out the Claddagh, which has a line of small, colorful houses along the water. It was lovely! ..Until it randomly started pouring on us.
Beware of random and unexpected rainfall in Ireland!
Once again, we were hungry! We returned to Quay Street and ate some open-faced fresh crab meat sandwiches with potatoes at Seafood Extravaganza, which was fresh, delicious, and heartwarming.
We hopped in our car and drove to Bunratty Castle. But, since it was quite expensive to go inside, we decided not to go in and just look at it (in awe!) from the outside. Then, we went to Durty Nelly's, which is an old restaurant/hotel directly next to the castle. Bunratty Castle was built in the early 15th century, then Durty Nelly's quickly followed in 1620 as a bar for castle guards.
At Durty Nelly's, we finally had some Irish coffee, which was far more amazing than any of us could've imagined! For those who may not know, Irish coffee contains coffee, whiskey, cream, and brown sugar. Quite the simple concoction, but so damn delicious! It really makes you feel awake and just overall good! I highly recommend it if you're ever in Ireland.
Next stop: Ennis! Why did we go there? We're not entirely sure, to be honest! Maybe because we wanted to just stop at a place that was en route and was inexpensive. To our surprise, Ennis turned out to be quite nice! It was small, but in the town, there were some pubs and restaurants-- and it was such an adorable little place!
We went into Brogan's Bar, which apparently was the most lively and popular place in Ennis because it was so packed, we needed to wait for a table!
Eventually, we were sat, but we were so far away from the live twosome that was playing the banjo and flute that we couldn't even hear them! What a bummer that was for us because we made it a main goal for ourselves to listen to some live and authentic Irish music. But, the food was at least satisfactory!
Overall, Ennis was an adorable little Irish town to stay in and wander around! It was nice to go to a place that very really authentic and genuine.
Once we woke up, we ate some breakfast that was once again provided by our AirBNB (sweet!), then drove to Killarney National Park. Our first stop there was Muckross Castle, which is a castle on Muckross Lake. Naturally, like everything else in Ireland, it was beautiful.
Afterwards, we hiked a little bit and saw a waterfall!
Then, we headed to Muckross House, which was in an area with a cafe, beautiful garden, and even a petting zoo, However, the petting zoo was closed, which was quite disappointing since we all wanted to pet some sheep!
After Killarney, we took a drive to Cork, Ireland's second biggest city behind Dublin. We stopped at our AirBNB, dropped off our things, and took a walk to catch the bus into town. We were on a mission: to eat some Irish food and listen to Irish music. We were willing to die trying to find this, I swear! Luckily, our friend researched a bit and found a restaurant/pub called The Oliver Plunkett, which is known for its Irish food and live Irish music!
Upon sitting down and sipping on dark beer, a live band started playing-- and by god, our dreams had finally come true. This band was playing the fiddle, guitar, and accordion while the guitarist sang Irish songs. And, to top it off, they even had Irish step dancers. Oh, and we did indeed eat some serious Irish food. It was as if our prayers had finally been answered.
After drinking, eating, and head-bobbing, we went back to our AirBNB. We finally met our hosts themselves (their children let us in when we first arrived) and our first conversation topic: Trump. Of course! That was wild because they instantly assumed that we hated him (they weren't wrong) since we were open-minded enough to travel and just dove right into discussing his antics-- and not in a positive way.
In America, you have to tiptoe around the subject of Trump because there are many Trump supporters there (obviously, since he had to have been elected by someone). However, in Ireland (and many other forward-thinking places), I've noticed that no one really likes him-- at all. It was just an interesting thing to notice.
Anyway, so we talked to them about that and even the Ponzi scheme they're apart of! And yes, they certainly tried to get us involved. They even gave us business cards. Quite the interesting AirBNB!
After chowing down on a warm and delicious breakfast provided by our hospitable hosts, we packed up the car once again and drove into Cork. We parked the car at a car park, hopped on a bus, and waltzed around a bit. We went to the English Market, which dates back all the way to 1788! There was all sorts of stuff in this historic and gigantic market, from fresh meat to chocolate. Naturally, we had a bit of everything!
Afterwards, we went to the University College of Cork, mainly to wander the campus and eat some cheap dining hall food. Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly cheap, nor was it any good. Bummer. But, the campus was lovely to walk around in. We honestly thought it was a little nicer than Trinity College in Dublin!
Next stop: Wexford. Considering our flights were the following day, but AirBNBs were far too expensive in Dublin, we chose to stay in the middle-of-nowhere-but-somewhat-kinda-close-to-Dublin-and-is-cheaper Wexford. And when I say "middle of nowhere," I mean absolute desolate middle-of-nowhere. While driving through the area, there was just nothing at all. We were surprised there was even an AirBNB this far away from civilization!
But, the older couple we stayed with were fantastic, hospitable, kind, and sweet. We didn't mind staying with them at all! After arriving, though, we were in desperate need of some food (aren't we always?). However, since it was later in the evening, many places were closed-- the ones that were somewhat nearby, anyway. But, there was an Italian place called The Forge that was open that our hosts told us about. They said it was highly recommended by numerous friends, so, we sped there.
Yes, we ate Italian food in Ireland. However, it was outstanding. All three of us had grown up with authentic and delicious Italian food, too, since half of all of our families are originally from Italy, and we were all impressed! It was actually owned and run by a woman who was from Italy. She hardly even spoke any English!
After we stuffed ourselves with scrumptious and authentic Italian food, we drove back to our AirBNB and hunkered down for the evening, since we had to be awake impossibly early the following day to catch our flights.
We drove to Dublin airport early in the morning. We were a little late because of traffic and when we were returning our rental car, the people were going far too slow. On top of that, we were nervous to return the car because, like everyone, we'd heard horror stories about people returning their cars and getting unwarranted fees. We had lots of things on our minds, if you couldn't tell!
Eventually (and after I annoyed a ton of workers), someone from EuropCar looked at our car and we had no fees to pay or anything. Phew! Then, we hopped onto the shuttle bus to the airport. And that was the end of our road trip through Ireland!
Final thoughts on Ireland
Before Ireland, I didn't really know how green grass could be! The nature was just unbelievable. I also felt that almost everywhere we went, there weren't that many tourists or people in general, which was a nice break from the usual up-your-butt crowds. So, I felt overall comfortable everywhere we went because of that, even when I was driving on the wrong side of the road! Plus, the food and drinks were a huge plus and far better than I thought they would be. Ireland blew me away in just about every expect and I can’t wait to go back!
Road Trip stops:
Wicklow National Park
Cliffs of Moher
Killarney National Park & Muckross Castle