The first half of our Ireland vacation was everything I’d hoped it to be and more, so the second half of the trip had quite a bit to live up to. We woke up very early one morning and embarked on our greatest driving adventure through the Irish countryside. Narrow winding (sometimes one lane) roads took us to the Cliffs of Moher, the spot I’d been looking forward to the most.
The Cliffs were included in our tour package, but is normally €6.00 per adult and oh my heavens, is it worth it! We really lucked out and had the most gorgeous weather: sunny and dry. The Cliffs are always a bit windy and you will likely get wet from ocean spray, but otherwise the day was perfect.
We hiked a good portion of the trail, battling the very slippery mud, taking in as much of the view as possible. I frequently found myself just standing still and staring, partially because of the beauty and partially because the wind gusts were no joke. I highly recommend wearing sturdy shoes and keeping little ones at home for this trip.
We spent a few hours at the Cliffs, adding a bit of time to hike out and visit some sheep! I don’t know why, but I had it in my head that a trip to Ireland wasn’t complete without interacting with some sheep. Blame the movies. A was a good sport and followed me out there so I could take a selfie with them. That’s true love.
Our third stop of the trip was Galway, where we spent two nights. This is Ireland’s beach town and it’s also a college town so we were excited to see a different side of Ireland.
Where we stayed: Salthill Hotel. This was the most luxurious (and American-style) hotel we stayed in during our trip. After a few restless, hot nights with heat we couldn’t turn off, I’m not sure we’ve ever been so excited to have AC in our lives. We took full advantage of the nice bar downstairs, where I had the strongest gin and tonic I’ve ever ordered. But so good!
Where we ate: My favorite food of the whole trip was in Galway. The town is known for being a bit of a foodie paradise and we both found quite a few things we loved.
Dinner on the first night in Galway was amazing beef stew at Busker Brownes Bar. The portion was huge and it was so incredibly good. I walked away wishing I had a bigger stomach or the ability to take home the leftovers.
We ate lunch at Kylemore Abbey during our bus tour (details below) and were pleasantly surprised at the food! It’s cafeteria style, but serves the hearty, comfort food so popular in Ireland. A’s cauliflower soup was very good.
The absolute best food we had the entire trip was at King’s Head. I don’t normally share phone photos of my food on here, but these crab claws were so.stinking.good that I had to document them. I would have eaten these (and the chips that came with them) every night that week had I been given the chance. A had pheasant, which was also amazing.
What we did: You can’t visit Ireland’s beach town without walking along the beach. The mile-long walk was very pretty, especially since we were there right at sunset. We happened to be in Galway for the start of their Christmas market and walked through that in the evening. But the best thing we did in Galway wasn’t actually in Galway!
We took a bus tour through Connemara. It was the most expensive thing we did (minus the trip itself) at €30.00 per person, but it was so worth it! Our bus driver had so many funny stories and the group was very small (a product of it being the offseason) so we weren’t stuck behind people or in large crowds at our stops. The stops were amazing and definitely places we wouldn’t have been able to find (or enjoy as much) on our own.
Stop #1 was Ross Errilly Friary, a Franciscan friary founded in the mid-15th century. What I found most interesting was that it’s still an active burial site for area residents. Plus it was beautiful, even against the dreary grey sky.
Stop #2 brought us to the town of Cong, the setting of the movie The Quiet Man, something the town still uses to bring in visitors. It was a very quiet, small town, but it had a beautiful abbey where Rory O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, spent his last years.
Stop #3 was more of a mid-way point in the journey rather than a full stop, but I loved it anyway. Lough Nafooey is hidden in the valleys of Connemara, a very sparsely populated part of the country. In fact, I feel pretty confident in saying that there are more sheep here than people. I’m all for old buildings, but a stunning landscape is hard for me to pass up. These mountains were one of my favorite spots.
Another favorite spot was stop #4, Kylemore Abbey. One of the downsides to traveling in the off season is that many things are under renovation and Kylemore Abbey was not an exception. Of course, this renovation has been going on for well over a year and doesn’t seem to be any closer to completion. We did have to pay an additional fee to enter Kylemore, but once inside, there was so much to see that it was well worth the €8 each.
The Abbey was originally a private home for Mitchell and Margaret Henry in 1867 and became a home for the Benedictine nuns in 1920. The Abbey served as a private girls’ school until 2010 and now the interior of the home and the grounds are open to the public. The interior was decorated for Christmas and it was absolutely beautiful. Give me a dining room with a tree and window like that any day.
The interior was spectacular, but the massive acreage surrounding the Abbey was just as beautiful. We walked through much of the forest via the walking trail and even took turns making wishes on the Giant’s Wishing Stone. I’m not sure what A wished for, but I hope it was a puppy!
My favorite part of Kylemore Abbey was the neo-Gothic church Mitchell Henry built in memory of his wife. Everything about the church was beautiful: the exterior detail, the single stained glass window, the Irish marble that made up the columns. But more than anything else, it’s the sentiment behind the church: Mitchell loved his wife so much, even after her passing, that he built this for her.
In a fitting end to our time in Connemara and Kylemore Abbey, we had a bit of a run-in with some Connemara blackface sheep! They were far more afraid of us than we were of them, but there was definitely a brief moment when I wasn’t sure if they would chase us.
The trip back to Galway was just as pretty as the ride out. Even though the bus tour was a bit expensive, I think it was so worth it! Both A and I got to enjoy the scenery, something we wouldn’t have been able to do if we’d driven ourselves. Plus there’s nothing quite like hearing the history of a place from a local.
The next morning, we got up bright and early to Dublin, our last stop of the trip. We only had half a day and one night in town which is one of my regrets. We were so pressed for time that we didn’t see everything I had on my list, but we made the most of the little time we had there. Our last stop of the trip was Dublin.
Where we stayed: The Bonnington Hotel. We were only in the hotel for a few hours and most of them were spent sleeping, which is good because this was definitely the crummiest hotel we stayed in the entire trip. But it was clean, functional and very close to the airport.
Where we ate:
By far the best meal in Dublin was at the Guinness Storehouse. I know, I know. It seems a little touristy and it is, but multiple people recommended that we eat there and I get why. The beef stew was amazing! And the bread? Oh my word. I wish they had given me an entire loaf. Luckily, they have recipe cards that you can take home in order to recreate some of their most famous recipes. We’ve already made the stew and bread (twice) and it’s still amazing.
We stopped for a sweet treat at Boston Donuts, which is essentially just Dunkin’ Donuts, but it still hit the spot! We had dinner at The Duke, which was just ok, but the atmosphere was really fun! A big rugby match was on TV and the place was packed with fans.
What we did:
The majority of our time in Dublin was spent at the Guinness Storehouse (included in our tour, but normally €17.50 per person), much to A’s excitement. We did the full tour (which takes a surprisingly long time) and it was so busy! It was a Saturday so we shouldn’t have been too surprised, but after basically having every location to ourselves, the crowds were a bit unexpected. But I know that A loved it and then we got two free pints at the end with our stew.
After eating our weight in stew, we needed to get some exercise so we set off on a self-guided walking tour. It took us through much of the historic part of Dublin, hitting quite a few commemorative statues, the post office and the Garden of Remembrance. It wasn’t the best tour book walking tour we’ve ever been on, but it allowed us to see a bit more of the city and provided some interesting history.
The Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to those who lost their lives during the fight for Irish freedom. I can honestly say that I didn’t know too much about Ireland’s long and complicated history prior to our time there, but I was still moved by the peaceful garden. It’s obviously still a very meaningful place.
Dublin had a big city feel to it, but there was still the quaint scenes we’d gotten used to in earlier cities. I loved the pedestrian bridges and riverfront buildings.
Before we knew it, our time in Ireland was over and we were on our way back home. We had the best time, but were very happy to be back in our own bed and getting squished by B and Ruger. We weren’t even home before we began talking about going back and seeing parts of the country we missed. Ireland, you haven’t seen the last of us!