My wife and I just returned from an amazing trip to Ireland and we already miss it. Neither of us had ever visited the “Emerald Isle” before, so all we knew about it came from books and movies or from people we know who had been there. Ireland more than lives up to its reputation as a highly photogenic country filled with stunning landscapes, charming towns you want to call home, and some of the kindest people in the world. The pubs were fun, too.
Sara and I saw so much during our week in Ireland and yet it wasn’t enough. We’ll have to go back. In the meantime, I’ll share seven of my favorite experiences. Why seven? It’s a lucky number and I’m writing about Ireland!
1. Aran Islands – We began our second full day in Ireland with a forty-five minute ferry ride to Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. Our first stop in Kilronan Village was a bike rental shop. Inishmore is very walkable but if you only have a day, rent a bike or hire a pony and trap (horse and buggy). Be sure to visit the ancient clifftop fort of Dun Aonghasa, the seal colony, the Seven Churches, and the Aran Sweater Market for a souvenir. Next time, we’re spending the night in one of the cozy seaside cabins.
2. Cliffs of Moher – Websites and guide books will tell you that the Cliffs of Moher are overrun with tourists. It’s true. The crowds are there, even in late October. But walk away from the visitors center along the walking trail in either direction and, before long, you’ll have more room to truly enjoy the dramatic views on the western edge of Ireland.
3. Drive from Killarney to Kenmare – Yes, we rented a car. No, it wasn’t easy getting accustomed to driving on the left side. It took a couple of days for us to feel comfortable with the narrow lanes, too, but it was worth it. There are many interesting and beautiful routes to take, such as the Wild Atlantic Way. The drive on the N71 portion of the Ring of Kerry between the towns of Killarney and Kenmare in County Kerry takes your through lush forest and over high mountain meadows. There’s a lot too see but stay alert. You never know when a sheep might decide to cross the road.
4. Athlone – This city in the center of Ireland doesn’t get the publicity of Dublin, Galway, or Cork, but it’s no less charming. Situated on the lovely Shannon River, Athlone has a rich history and plenty to offer. We visited Athlone Castle, biked along the Old Rail Trail, toasted our twentieth wedding anniversary in Ireland’s oldest pub (Sean’s Bar, 900 AD), and wandered through the nearby monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise.
5. Jameson Distillery Tour – I was skeptical about this one. A lot of factory/brewery/winery tours aren’t worth the money. That’s why we opted to skip the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin’s #1 tourist attraction. We had heard it was overrated. We ended up at the Jameson Distillery on Bow St. because it was open past 6:00 PM and we didn’t want to walk back to our hotel in the rain. It turned out to be a great decision. The tour was entertaining, interactive, and delicious. Whiskey tastings are included with your admission.
6. Trinity College – It’s the home of the sacred Book of Kells. And if you love the smell of old books as much as I do, visit the historic library known as the Long Room and inhale deeply.
7. The people – We visited a lot of pubs during our week in Ireland. Every one of them provided a comfortable place to rest, as much Guinness or Smithwick’s as we wanted, and the opportunity to meet a friendly local. The people of Ireland are the real reason Sara and I will be going back.