I had the honor of working with a kindred spirit last fall on a three week Ireland itinerary. She’s a fellow planner, an Ireland lover and just an all around lovely lady.
Meet Karen, everyone!
After Karen’s trip this summer, she emailed me with the kindest follow-up note. It had so many tips and wonderful places from her three week Ireland itinerary, I knew I had to share them with you! She graciously agreed to give us a full trip report (yay!!).
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who did you travel with? And why did you go to Ireland?
I’m Karen, I love taking photos, taking walks and taking time for ice cream 😊 I was lucky enough to live and work in Ireland for a few months back in 2004 through a work abroad program and had always wanted to go back. My 2 favorite travel partners: my husband, Jason and my mom, Sharla, had never been to the Emerald Isle so we all took the trip across the waters in May 2017.
Q: How long was your trip? What was the rough outline of your itinerary?
This is probably easiest shown in a picture. Map with highlighted areas below. 😊 We stayed just over 3 weeks in 4 main areas: near Cappoquin/Lismore in SE Ireland, the Dingle Peninsula in SW Ireland, Achill Island and Claggan Island, Central-West Ireland and the Rosguill peninsula in the north, County Donegal.
We happened to stop by Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal during a bank holiday weekend festival and were thrilled to see a couple incredibly talented performers of traditional Irish step dancing, their footwork had us in awe!
We passed a couple fun hours at the Dingle Aquarium where we were surprised by the scope of exhibits and enthralled by some adorable baby otters.
The tour at Ross Castle near Killarney was one of our favorite guided tours – even without the great tour, the peaceful setting of the castle on the lake surrounded by hills makes it worth the stop. It had quite a few visitors but was well worth it.
The walk up to Slieve League and the views of the cliffs were amazing (and the gentleman who decide to set up a little ice cream stand there is a genius!)
Lastly, one of my absolute favorite experiences and memories was a walk at the end of Achill Island: from Keem Strand to the old coastguard watchhouse and along the cliffs. We had a picture perfect day for weather and the views were absolutely breathtaking!
Our favorite was the very small B&B on Achill Island called Bleanaskill Lodge. The breakfasts were almost beyond words: scrumptious, filling, hearty and very much homemade. As mentioned below, we LOVE bread products and Doutsje made 5 different types of homemade breads and brought us a doggie bag at the end of breakfast so we could take the leftover bread slices with us for snacking throughout the day (the coconut bread was a fave, although all were fabulous).
The view of the bay from the breakfast room is beautiful and you have the same gorgeous water view from the room which was lovely and featured an enormous and incredibly comfy memory foam “super king” size bed (equivalent to American king which is really rare in Ireland).
Footsteps from the door of the B&B is a “secret garden” that invites strolling and exploring and is jam-packed with so many beautiful blooms. From calla liles to columbines to roses and hydrangea with various sculptures throughout. As amateur photographers, being able to wander the paths and take photos while the petals held morning dew was a lovely experience.
Restaurants & Pubs:
We are BIG scone fans and probably ate our weight in bread products on our visit. Our favorite scones-and also probably our favorite meal (delicious Irish Stew) was at McGarrigles in Bundoran.
Runners up for best scone would be from Blue Café in Co. Wicklow or the café inside Kilkenny Castle.
Favorite ice cream: Murphy’s in Dingle.
For overall food, our favorites include: Summerhouse and Foleys on the Mall in Lismore. Carroll’s Hotel restaurant just south of Kells Priory. Ostan OileanAcla restaurant in the Achill Island Hotel. Bayside Bistro, Achill Island. Danno’s Restaurant and Bar in Dingle. Lizzie’s Diner in Dunfanaghy. The Yellow Pepper in Letterkenny. Huckleberry Coffee Shop in Creeslough.
We’re not really much for shopping, but if you’re in the area, I definitely recommend The Gallery in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal. The couple who owns the shop are delightful and there’s lots of reasonably priced local arts and crafts. I found bookmarks made from dried local plants and flowers as a unique souvenir, my husband got a gorgeous wool cap that makes him look like a dashing local and my mom bought some drawings from a local artist of whimsical bunnies.
We also enjoyed strolling through Dingle and found lots of fun souvenirs in the Dingle shops.
Q: Did you stumble upon any hidden gems? Give us the scoop!
One of the first places we visited was Lismore Gardens. I think I read about Lismore Castle while doing research before our trip and dismissed it since you can’t go in the castle (it’s privately owned/occupied). But we stopped in Lismore for lunch since it was only about 10 minutes away from our vacation rental and we could see flowering bushes beckoning to us from above the tall stone walls around the castle. We paid the small entrance fee and spent the next several hours absolutely enchanted. So many colorful flowers and things to explore. There was a rope swing to try and even a little playground that looked like a fairy garden – ladders built from tree branches and a slide built right into the hillside. It was fantastic and we almost skipped it!
I love finding ruins that are off the beaten path. One of the best compliments I got from a co-worker after seeing our photos/video was he couldn’t believe how many places we went that we had all to ourselves (he had visited Ireland the previous year and spent a lot of time in places crowded with other tourists).
For hidden gems, I highly recommend Athassal Priory, Kilcooley Abbey, Roche Castle and Carriogunnel Castle. I don’t mind things that are mostly ruins so I loved all of them, although I know some folks prefer when most of the structure is still standing.
Kilcooley was probably in the best condition with lots of cool carvings to see.
Q: What did you wish you had time for (or what’s on the next trip’s bucket list?):
We really fell in love with the Achill Island area and wish we’d spent more time there. Just more time soaking in the beauty and more time in that lovely B&B! Also, there’s a bike path called the Great Western Greenway that goes to Achill Island that we ran out of time for, but I’d love to try sometime.
Beyond Achill Island, we tried to see the Mizen Head lighthouse but the weather wasn’t cooperating (heavy fog), I’d like to give that another try as well as a walk I’d found nearby called the 3 Castle Head walk. In general, exploring the Mizen Head peninsula and the Beara peninsula look like a lot of fun!
Q: Anything you would skip next time around?
Cahir Castle and Rock of Cashel, too many people and we had better tours at other places.
The Ring of Kerry. Next time I’d skip doing the whole ring and just visit the Gap of Dunloe and do the Slea Head drive on the Dingle peninsula.
And even though I really like the photo I got there, I’d also skip the Torc Waterfall, Killarnery National Park – too many people and too many gnats.
Q: Did you have any surprises or unexpected issues?
Except for a few nights in a hotel/B&B, we mostly stayed in vacation rentals and were surprised that although washers were common, dryers were not.
Another thing that wasn’t really a surprise is how hard it can be to find places with American king beds. What’s called a king in Ireland is an American queen and most beds seem to be American doubles. Which I understand is fine for most folks but my husband is 6’5” tall and tends to sleep diagonally when the bed is a queen or double so his feet don’t hang off the end…which can leave me with a small triangle of space (and did I mention that I’m not exactly a delicate flower at 6’ tall myself)? Not the end of the world of course, but it made coming home a little bit easier, which is always good 😊
Q: If your best friends were headed to Ireland soon, what advice would you be sure to give them?
Make sure to find a pub playing traditional music and stop in. It’s pretty easy to find and so worth it. We caught a terrific band complete with fiddle, drum (called a Bodhran I believe), accordion and wonderful singers. It’s an experience not to be missed.
Embrace the side trips. Buy a local atlas (even though we got local phones through Three and had google maps, I still bought one), you can stumble upon hidden gems when you take that side road. The official road atlas put out by osi (Ordnance Survey of Ireland) has lots of castles/etc marked on it. It’s how we discovered Kilcooley Abbey which was one of my favorite stops.
Speaking of roads: pay attention to the letter in front of the number. M1 is a motorway (like our interstates), N1 would be a national road, also usually pretty big, like our highways. R is a regional road and is usually a two lane and can be small. L is for local roads and these can sometimes seem like they should be a one way, they are so narrow.
Google / GPS loves to try and save you time by taking you on the most direct route which often includes L roads. If you see that it’s trying to cut a corner using an L road when there’s an R just a few kilometers down the way, you’ll likely be better off time wise (and stress wise) taking the longer R route (unless you want to explore that side road in hopes of a hidden gem of course!)
How is that for a three week Ireland itinerary? Pretty amazing isn’t it? Tell me you’re not dreaming of your own escape after reading that.
What’s even better is that Karen has her own site with even more beautiful photos and an AMAZING video of all the places they visited. Seriously you guys. I may have teared up a little just watching it. Don’t miss it.
I’ve got a serious case of nostalgia going on right now. Who’s with me. #TakemetoIreland