Thanks so much for being so interested in yesterday's post, featuring my travel tips for Aruba. I hadn't planned to do another in the travel series just yet, but everyone seemed to like it. So, here are my travel tips for Ireland.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I haven't seen everything there is to see in Ireland. In fact, not even close. My trip was sadly brief, and I am eager to get back and explore some of the must-sees on Ireland's west coast.
We flew into Dublin, leaving the U.S. in the evening and landing early in the morning. We rented a car before our trip, and it was really easy to pick it up at the airport. (We used Avis). It was also at this point in the vacation (read: immediately) that we realized how nice the Irish are. And it isn't a fake nice like you might be used to. Somehow, this entire country seems to be full of genuinely friendly, kind people. The woman who set us up with our car didn't try to talk us into upgrades or bully us into insurance. Instead, she asked where we were headed and gave us maps and her personal advice. It was great.
I definitely hit a curb in the traffic circle just outside the airport. The car was tiny and manageable, but the traffic circles were backwards! It took some getting used to. The roads were also extremely narrow. Suffice it to say, the first couple of hours in Ireland were an adventure. Finding our way, driving a new car on the other side of the road, a crash course in Irish street signs...and, thanks to no rest on the plane, being totally sleep-deprived. Our first stop was at Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow. It was AMAZING. As soon as we were done looking around, we hid our car behind a shrub in the parking lot and took a nap. I don't think I've ever been so tired.
Semi-refreshed, we awoke from our nap. I almost felt badly leaving the gardens so quickly. Known to be among the best gardens in the world, they were lush and quite unforgettable. I will definitely be back someday, and I recommend you give it a shot, too.
After Powerscourt, we drove to Kilkenny and arrived at our first hotel. I was very excited to see that it had a Nespresso machine. It also had a bed, which I promptly fell asleep in. For many hours. By the time we woke up, it was dark, which in Ireland actually means it's pretty late. Throughout our trip, it was still light until around 9 pm. We took a quick walk around Kilkenny, then hit up the hotel restaurant for some dinner. It was here that we first learned that in Ireland (and England, as we later discovered), you have to specifically ask for the check. Servers won't just bring it to you. It's like they want you to enjoy yourself, or something! (U.S. restaurants: take note!)
The next morning, we awoke and took a walking tour of Kilkenny Castle and its grounds. The castle was quite impressive, as was some of the preservation work that had been completed and was still underway.
After Kilkenny Castle, we left the city, onward to Waterford and Cork. As I mentioned, this was a very short trip. I would never suggest anyone see such a magnificent country so quickly.
On the way to Waterford, we stopped at Jerpoint Abbey, a ruined Cistercian abbey from the 12th century. This brief visit was absolutely outstanding. We took a guided tour of the abbey, which lasted about an hour and was very interactive. Our guide had exactly the right temperament to work in public history. The story of the abbey was fascinating, and the guide's frequent trivia questions to the group were most often correctly answered by my husband, who our guide decided must have really paid attention in Sunday school (which he didn't attend). So that was a nice ego boost! If you're ever in the Kilkenny region, I would absolutely suggest you take a trip to Jerpoint Abbey.
After Jerpoint, we hustled over to Waterford, where we took a tour of the famed Waterford Crystal Factory. Again, this was an experience I highly, highly recommend. You are actually brought onto active areas of the factory floor, where highly trained artisans are working to create intricate works of art. Becoming a master-cutter is no joke. You spend years learning how to use machines and hand tools to work with the crystal as an apprentice before you can be considered for a higher position. And the skill shows. Just look at this clock! Someone carved that by hand from crystal!
As I mentioned, we didn't have much time to explore Ireland. Immediately after our Waterford tour ended, we left the area and drove to Cork. The drive to Cork was actually the least pleasant part of the trip. We must have gotten stuck in the worst rush hour traffic I've ever experienced outside of Washington, D.C., and also had to deal with construction and wrong turns. Eventually, though, we made it to Cork. I was more than a little cranky at this point, so we decided to keep it simple by eating in the hotel's restaurant overlooking the River Lee (at the River Lee Hotel). What a fantastic experience! The view was beautiful and the food was delicious. I remember that they served the meal with a variety of fresh breads and dipping sauces, which were great. The white wine we ordered with dinner was served chilled in a bucket tableside, which is a small luxury I'd never experienced before. After dinner, we explored Cork and the University of Cork campus a bit.
This is another city I will definitely visit again someday. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend the River Lee Hotel. And not for nothing, their breakfast buffet was one of the best I have ever seen. Any food you can possibly imagine was out for you to enjoy. I had coffee, toast, eggs, fruit, a croissant with Nutella, and a forest fruit smoothie shot, as you can see. It was all just delicious.
After Cork, we closed out our travel loop and drove back to Dublin, where we settled in for two days. We managed to visit Dublin Castle, the Book of Kells at Trinity College, the Guinness Brewery, and the Jameson Distillery. Dublin Castle was pretty impressive, as government buildings go.
The line for the Book of Kells was long but worth it! Equally (maybe more) impressive was the Long Room, which you see right after the Book of Kells. It's often called the "Beauty and the Beast Library," and for good reason. This place is a bibliophile's dream. And my photo does not do it justice.
Both the Disney-like experience at the Guinness Brewery and the more typical factory tour at the Jameson Distillery were worthwhile. At the Brewery, we were taught how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, and then took our beers (included in the ticket price) up to the top floor, which claims to be "the world's tallest pint glass" and is a wonderful all-glass observatory from which you can view Dublin. Our tour guide at the Jameson Distillery was wonderful. We learned a lot, and got not only a free Jameson (either on the rocks or with Schweppes, which is my new favorite drink), we got to taste test various whiskies. Naturally, this taste test led to the realization that Jameson is the best one!
We also (finally) rested a bit, enjoying frozen yogurt in St. Stephen's Green while listening to an American student band perform. We had some delicious Italian food at Toscana City Centre on Dame Street in Temple Bar. I had the tasty ravioli you see below; my husband had a really delicious lasagna. We both had amaretto sours. It was a great night.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave Dublin and head on to our next adventure (England). When we woke up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus to the airport, the hotel staff was extremely friendly. The streets were filled, even at 5 am, with drunken young people politely chatting and singing as they paid their rickshaw drivers to drive in circles. The bus driver, while late to pick us up, was cordial. It's no wonder here in America everyone loves to talk about how Irish they are. It's a wonderful country. I can't wait to go back.
Thanks for reading! I hope it helps you plan your trip!