So...I went to Ireland alone! And the scariest part of it all? Almost falling off a cliff (see "Day 6").
Hi everyone! I'm so glad to say my trip was an epic success and I can't wait for you to read all about it below. I did a ~7-8 day tour of Dublin, the southwestern, and the western coast of Ireland by myself and it cost me a total of about ~$2,000, including airfare, lodging, food, and rental cars. So, if you've been thinking you want to travel alone, or not burst your budget, I would highly recommend trying out this itinerary :)
Before even getting on the plane from D.C. to Dublin, I met a brother & sister around my age from Louisville, Kentucky who were traveling to Ireland for about the same length as me. We exchanged contact info and said we'd meet up! Sitting next to me on my 6.5 hour flight to Dublin were some newlyweds from none other than Dallas, Texas! Jessie & Jacob were such a delight to get to know and I'd later spend NYE and grab lunch with them around the country. Thanks for letting me crash your honeymoon, guys!
Our flight was uneventful, but we got into Dublin at 5:15am, which meant that nothing was open downtown and it was still dark (the sunrise wasn't until 8:30 this time of year!). I had booked an AirBnb for my two nights in Dublin and had messaged my host in D.C. to see if I could possibly get in early to drop my bags off (or even to sleep some!). When we arrived in downtown Dublin via a 7 euro shuttle bus, the only lights on were McDonald's, so me and the sis + bro duo chatted over coffee until we all got messages that we could check into our AirBnb's around 7am. My place was in the heart of the Temple Bar area and my host was kind enough to let me check in early to catch up on some sleep before exploring the rest of the day.
Temple Bar and the entire surrounding area are at the heart of the city's nightlife and tourism. Pub after pub, ice cream shop after restaurant: this area is where you want to be as a young single like myself. I took some pictures, then headed to Woolen Mills, somewhere my host recommended me to, for a full Irish breakfast (a must-do at some point in the country!). After I was caffeinated and full, I started walking towards Christ Church Cathedral for an afternoon tour.
When you think of Ireland, St. Patrick's Cathedral might seem like a more obvious choice to visit if you had to pick one cathedral, but I'm so happy I chose to see Christ Church. I got there just in time for a tour (a few euro and about 45 minutes) up above the church into the bell tower! Our tour guide explained the history of the church as well as the history of bell ringing -- something that sounds dull, but is actually pretty fascinating when you realize how much time, training, and dedication this practice takes. They even let you ring the bells at end of the tour -- bet you've never gotten to do that before!
After the tour, a Spanish-German man around my age asked if I knew how to get to the Guinness Storehouse, which was exactly where I was headed! We walked there together (about a mile) and I got to learn about Munich some. Side-note: this general happening was just one example of one of my favorite parts of this trip -- getting to meet so many people, unexpectedly, and just going with it!
The Guinness Storehouse is actually the #1 most visited place in Ireland if you can believe it! And while I enjoyed the tour and the tasting (especially of the different types of beer they brewed other than the normal dark stout -- Hop House was a delicious pale ale I grew to love during the trip), it wasn't nearly my favorite part of the trip.
*Note for those traveling to Ireland who definitely want to see Guinness: Buy your tickets online! The lines can get really crazy, and it closes at 5pm each day, so I really wish I would have bought my ticket online to bypass the ~30 minute line.
However! The staff did randomly break out into a 10 minute full Irish jig, complete with tap shoes and live music. This proceeded to my mouth literally dropping on the floor for said 10 minutes.
The end of day 1 was spent checking out local Irish pubs in the Temple Bar area with the brother and sister, Clay & Nicole. At one of the bars, we met a group of Italian pilots in training who we, as a group, would all spend part of New Year's Eve with, even though we could only understand about 1/2 of what the other group was saying! Lots of sleep and a good shower fueled me for my second day in Dublin.
New Year's Eve day in Dublin, Ireland! What a lovely day and what a lovely way to ring in 2018.
I started the day sleeping in and grabbing a quick croissant & coffee at a local café. I decided to walk around the river in downtown Dublin because it was brisk and sunny -- something not very common in this country! It was the perfect way to begin my last day of 2017.
I met up with the newlyweds at a cute bar in east Temple Bar called The Palace Bar, where I had my first Irish Coffee of the trip, and let me just tell you, friends -- this drink...is what the heavens are created of. Jessie (the newlywed wife) and I chatted at the end of the trip and both agreed that this first Irish Coffee was THE BEST of our entire trip! We met up with our new Italian friends for a drink and all decided to meet at J.W. Sweetman's later that night to ring in the new year together, alongside our Louisville friends. Sweetman's was having a "masquerade ball", which turned out to be just a nicer event at the top of a pub with a few masks (lol), but it was the perfect way to celebrate the end of what has been a crazy 2017 and welcome in 2018 with new friends from all over the world!
Before going to Sweetman's, I had a FABULOUS dinner at Fade Street Social Club by myself, which ended up being the perfect way to spend NYE dinner -- I got in without a wait, 2 free tapas, amazing service at the bar, and got to FaceTime my parents!
After we all rung in the new year at Sweetman's, we continued to bar hop and, somehow, I ended up at a KFC around 4am on January 1, 2018. So...welcome to 2018?? #YOLO
Day 3 should be titled: "I drove on the left side of the road and survived!"
I rented a car from Sixt, which is a local Irish car rental service. Normally, you have to be 25 in order to rent a car, but with some additional fees, you can rent at a young 24 (which I was during this trip). I was pretty nervous about trying to drive on the other side of the road AND on the other side of a car, but about an hour into it, I got used to it. I got on the highway and headed south towards a small town outside of Cork in the south of Ireland for my first day of 2018. I picked a cute 400-year old dairy farm (Granig Farm) on Airbnb to rent and couldn't have been happier with the host, the space, and the cows!! The area was called Minane Bridge and was near Kinsale and Cobh, two popular seaport towns. I decided to have dinner in Kinsale by my host's recommendation and it was the perfect, sleepy sea town with kind locals and good food. I ate some fresh salmon and veggies at The White House and had some brews before heading to the last pub of the night at the bottom of the hill near my Airbnb. I walked into the small, adorable pub and the four people all turned to watch me walk in: I was definitely not a local they recognized haha! They were all very sweet and were watching the World Darts Championship, which is apparently a HUGE thing in the UK?! I finished a local beer and thanked them for their conversation, headed back to the farm for some good rest.
I kissed the Blarney Stone, y'all! I spent the morning of January 2nd (day 4) walking around the Blarney Castle grounds, which are incredibly gorgeous in and of themselves. I would highly recommend doing what I did and getting there early in the morning (I think I was the 2nd person in the gates and was the only one inside the castle at the time). This way, you get to go kiss the Blarney Stone without waiting in line and get to really appreciate the beauty of the castle without the buzz of other tourists. The Blarney Stone history is pretty interesting, but the basic idea is that by kissing the stone, you gain the gift of eloquence (or, blarney!). My mom would probably agree that I could use some of this when telling stories that tend to get a little scatter-brained ;)
I then embarked on one of the 3 favorite drives of my entire trip. I was set to stay in Dingle that night, which is another seaport town that is more northwest of Cork. For some reason, my Waze Maps took me through small towns instead of on a highway, and I am SO glad it did because I saw some of the most breathtaking green, hilly landscapes of my entire trip through this drive!
This day was probably the second worst weather day, with wind gusts of ~20 mph and lots of rain, but I knew I needed to stop into the Killarney on the way west to Dingle to see some of the Killarney National Park. I REALLY, really wish I would have been here on a better weather day, because I've seen such beautiful images of this place, but I was glad I at least got to see the Muckross House (a 19th century mansion straight out of Downtown Abbey) and some of the gorgeous lake! I kid you not though: sideways rain and wind that blew my umbrella straight out of my hands.
I finally pulled into my Dingle Airbnb around 3pm and couldn't have been more thrilled with this place. There were a few rooms that they rent out in the house, but I had the whole place to myself this night which was a nice change from the last few nights sharing a home. There was a stunning view all around the house, and it was only .3 miles from the heart of Dingletown (get your laughs out now, children). My favorite part about this Airbnb? The wood-burning fireplace in the middle of the living room on a windy chilly night that made my evening so perfect.
I did venture out for a bit into the town to get some food and drinks, and was told that Doyle's was the place to eat if I wanted good seafood (which...is that even a question? YES.) Doyle's was probably the most expensive restaurant I ate at during this trip, but I definitely did not mind splurging on a huge thing of mussels, crab cakes, fresh bread, and a sauv blanc that I got to take back to the Airbnb with me. Treat yo' self, right?!
Warning: colorful pictures ahead.
Dingle is perhaps the most colorful city I've ever visited. And I mean that literally. Every building, store, restaurant, etc. is a different color than the one next to it and I am 100% into it. I spent a couple hours walking around Dingle in the morning before heading along the Dingle Peninsula, which was possibly my favorite part of the entire trip due to the stunning views.
The Dingle Peninsula is lesser known than the famous "Ring of Kerry", and even though I didn't do much of the Ring of Kerry, I wholeheartedly loved every windy road along the Dingle Peninsula. I would have loved to hike around the area more, but it was again very windy, cold and rainy, but I didn't really mind: the views were literally breathtaking. I stopped off the side of the road probably 15 times just to take it all in. It feels like another world, saltwater blowing in your face and waves crashing violently along the cliffs.
I had to take a ~20 minute ferry from Tarbert to Shannon so that I could make it to my Airbnb in Liscanoor (the town the Cliffs of Moher are in) by sundown so my host could let me in. My Airbnb host was a very sweet young woman, who translated English to Celtic for a living, and hosted 2 other travelers in her lovely home the night I was there. She recommended I try a local pub called Gus O'Connors that night for some tasty, affordable food and live music. I headed there, had some wonderful lamb and potatoes, and actually saw a group of Chicago Catholic School Principals that I had met the previous night in Dingle and spent the rest of the evening pub hopping with those lovely ladies! But I decided to go home somewhat early since I knew I wanted to get up and explore The Cliffs of Moher the next morning!
Day 6: The Cliffs of Moher, and using up 7 of my 9 lives.
My Airbnb host had recommended a back way to see The Cliffs of Moher - park at the end of this street, walk down a path towards the coast, then up a 100-yard uphill climb a few feet from the edge of the cliffs, and I was promises an incredible view of the Cliffs that most don't get to enjoy. I was 110% down.
Did I mention Ireland is windy? I mean...like 40-50+ miles per hour gusts sometimes.
This was one of those times.
I realized it was windy that morning, but I thought, "Hey, I only have one chance to see this and I want to see it the right way!" I parked, pulled on my gloves (very important note -- as you'll later see why) and started down the path towards the sea. I took my camera since I knew I was going to get all the Insta-worthy images. About 1/3 of the way into the path, I realized this was an especially windy day because there was water from the ocean below actually blowing up the cliffs and onto the land. I had to grab the electric fence (hence: gloves) in order to stabilize myself the closer I got to the edge. I got to the path that led up the side of the cliff, and, semi-terrified, semi-super-excited, I started to walk up the muddy cliff path.
A few seconds later I started praying. HARD. I was almost to the top when a few really, really strong gusts made me stumble and almost fall. Mind you, I'm 4-5 feet from the edge of a ~700 foot drop straight into the Atlantic, with gusts of ~40mph. It was not the smartest choice I've ever made. As I crested the top, I was slammed against the fence and had to crouch down. "Okay, God! You are strong! I get it! Can I just make it down from here please?!" LOL. I snapped one picture (below) then decided this was a lost cause and this day was just too windy, and headed (very carefully) back to the car.
After that, I went to have lunch with my newlywed Dallas couple in a cute coastal town called Fanore, and realized I had left my credit card back in Doolin, the town near the Cliffs. I drove back and realized that this may be the perfect excuse to try The Cliffs again, but this time, to do it right.
And boy, am I glad I went back. The Cliffs of Moher are just as breathtaking as you've always imagined...but...like...times infinity. I highly recommend going through the tourist center (maybe 6 euro) and you get to spend as much time walking the area as you want. There are multiple different perspectives, so take your time and enjoy the Cliffs SAFELY :)
After the Cliffs, I started driving to my second-to-last destination, Galway. I had connected with my best friend's sister, who was going to be in Galway the same night as me, so we made a plan to have dinner and see a few pubs with her & her friend that was traveling with her.
I had been set to stay in a hostel that night, but when I told the lady at the gas station I stopped at what part of town the hostel was in, she heavily recommended I reconsider. I decided I would drive by and check it out (it was $25 per night so I didn't have too much to lose), but when I drove by, I realized this would not be where I stayed that night if I wanted to feel safe. I called The Forster Court Hotel and got a decent rate for a night's stay and was very pleased with the service, the room, and all the accommodations: quite a sigh of relief after a crazy day!
Marjorie, her friend and I explored Galway for a few hours, met some nice Irishmen, and generally had a lovely evening.
Hi, I got food poisoning in Galway. I spent the majority of day 7 puking off the side of the road driving back to Dublin.
HOWEVER. THERE'S A SILVER LINING AND THAT SILVER LINING IS CALLED THE DEAN HOTEL!
Let me just tell you all a little about this hotel, k?
This hotel is trendy, beautiful, and affordable. I booked a "Superroom" and luckily got a corner room with stunning views! The room had a record player, beautiful art, a fully stocked mini fridge with - YES, FREE LIQUOR (you just pay for the tonic, etc.) - and all the snacks/espresso/amazing amenities. The upstairs restaurant is called Sophie's and is a cool, tasteful, dimly lit rooftop restaurant + bar that was crowded on a Friday night. I had some delicious seabass and people-watched for a bit. This was the perfect ending to my trip, even though I wasn't quite feeling 100% yet. For my Austin friends, I compare The Dean to a mix of Native Hostel & Hotel Van Zandt -- just plain cool, great design & branding, and perfect for young professionals like myself.
Day 8 + Wrapping Up
I headed back to the airport, dropped off the rental car (I almost miss driving on the left side now that I'm back in America!) and took off back to JFK.
Overall, I would say this was one of the best, most beautiful trips I've ever been on. The people I met, the experiences I had, and the beauty I saw were all much more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. I still pause to remember the salty wind on my face standing alone with no one in sight, and just instantly feel at peace.
Ireland is somewhere I will come back to explore more. But this ~7 day trip was a pretty perfect way to see a large part of the country with a limited budget and vacation time.
I would recommend, if you have the time, spend at least one more night somewhere along the Dingle Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry. That area is so gorgeous and I wish I could have stayed and explored (and hiked!) more around the area. Splitting up your driving with another person or by staying two nights in a couple locations would also be recommended because 2-3 hours of driving every day like I did is definitely doable, but gets a little tiring.
Thanks so much for following along and I hope you enjoyed reading all of my itinerary (if you made it this far, wow, you rock and obviously want to go to Ireland bad enough that you should just book a ticket right now)!
Now...onto Paris and London in March!!! *WHAT IS MY LIFE?!*