TBT: Ireland – Part 1

A lot of people lately have been asking me for the itinerary Nikki and I created for our 2013 trip to Ireland, so I figured it was time to post about it. Part of the reason is that I’ve been talking this up for just over two years now as the greatest trip of my life.

We spent 9 days circling the country (and Northern Ireland, too) in a car, and our road-trip route looked a little something like this:

Ireland Itinerary Map

(For reference, those points are Dublin, Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, Derry, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, Dingle, Blarney Castle, Cork, the Rock of Cashel and Kilkenny. Not pictured: Aran Islands)

As you can see, we packed a lot in, and it’s going to take me awhile to write it all up. So I’ll save the individual city recaps for the coming Thursdays and dedicate this one instead to the planning stage.

The first thing we did, naturally, was pick cities we wanted to visit. I based our to-do list largely on Contiki’s Ireland Tour; originally, I had thought we might even want to do it just to avoid renting a car, but once we started researching, we realized we would much rather avoid a group tour schedule, jacked-up costs and the hordes of drunk Australians Contiki is famous for.

(Note: Driving in Ireland is actually not nearly as difficult or stressful as it may seem on paper. Driving on the other side of the road, for me, was easy to get used to, and I quickly learned not to fear the roundabout. Most roads between cities are single-lane, meaning you don’t have to deal much with other cars and can spend the bulk of your journey driving straight ahead. As a plus, our car took diesel, and we only had to fill it up all the way once–ONCE–on the entire trip.)

Still, though, the Contiki trip encompassed all my must-dos–almost. A notable exception was Dingle, famous for its traditional music (“trad”) scene, and as an Irish fiddler myself, I felt I had to go. Luckily, our trip was one day longer than the Contiki trip, so we managed to work it in.

That’s not to say we did even close to all there was to do in the country. We didn’t drive the Ring of Kerry, a famous scenic loop; we did part of a smaller-scale drive around the Dingle Peninsula, instead, but Kerry has a reputation for spectacular views. We also skipped the Wicklow Mountains, prehistoric Newgrange, and other archaeological wonders close to Dublin (Hill of Tara, Glendalough) in order to spend more time in the west–which boasts the country’s most impressive topography–and to include Northern Ireland in our loop, a decision I’m really happy we made.

While there are lots of driving trips you can do–you could easily cut out Northern Ireland and drive straight across the country, going from Dublin to Galway or Connemara–I do recommend that you drive in the first place. While the country has a train system, it won’t get you to the non-city sites like Blarney Castle (my favorite) or the Cliffs of Moher. And having a car always affords a greater degree of flexibility, which is useful in a country with unpredictable weather and so many sites that you’ll want to jump out to photograph along the way.

My second recommendation is that you drive some sort of loop–or one-way route, perhaps flying into Shannon and out of Dublin, or vice-versa. While you could pretty easily base yourself in Dublin–or maybe in Dublin and then Galway–and do day trips, this will really cut out a lot of the nightlife on the trip. Ireland is full of local pubs with friendly people and amazing music, and to miss all of that–or to try to enjoy it knowing you have a drive ahead of you–would be missing one of the best parts of the country, in my opinion.

Back soon with the city specifics. Happy Thursday!

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