I just returned from an amazing 2-week adventure in Ireland. I’ve never wanted to not come home so badly. Even though it may be one of the smaller countries, the Emerald Isle definitely packs a punch when it comes to things to do.
There’s a little something for everyone, which is what makes Ireland such a great destination for any traveler. For the adventurer, visit Killarney. You can’t beat its central location to jump on the Ring of Kerry or it’s proximity to Killarney National Park for hiking or fishing. For the history buff, you’re never too far from a few-hundred-year-old castle or towerhouse. The entire country is riddled with history, starting with the Viking raids to being under English rule to gaining independence less than a century ago. For the photographer, Ireland has some of the most breathtaking scenic vistas I have ever witnessed. Be prepared to take pictures that are so perfect they look fake. Ireland is so green that some of my pictures couldn’t express the true greenness of the scenery due to the lack of contrast. Adjust your camera settings accordingly! And for anyone that enjoys a fun night out, there’s always a pub nearby no matter where you may be. The Irish people are some of the most hospitable and friendly people you will ever meet. Add in a few pints of Guinness and some traditional Irish music and it will be a night to remember, or not remember, depending on how the night goes. Maybe you’ll get lucky enough to be caught in a lock-in!
We rented a car for the 2 weeks we were there, and I highly recommend it. There is public transportation available, but it isn’t as frequent and accessible as it is in mainland Europe. Pricing everything out, the car was going to be more expensive, but the freedom to be on our own time instead of stressing about making the next bus or train was well worth it. It also came in handy when we had to check out of our hotel and needed a place to stow our luggage for the day while we were out exploring. I also highly recommend getting a GPS. We were lucky enough to have a coupon from our rental company for a free GPS, and I couldn’t imagine driving around without it.
Driving on the other side of the road in the beginning was terrifying. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to drive the car and felt I would be better off as a passenger, but be warned: if you plan on being in the passenger seat, the fact that you will be in bushes at some point trying to avoid oncoming traffic can also be overwhelming. Passengers are responsible for making sure you can get as close to a wall or a bush or whatever without scraping off your side-view mirror or hitting the oncoming car. It truly is a team effort. The roads in Ireland haven’t seemed to changed size since the days of horses and carriages, maybe even longer before that, because I am not exaggerating when I say that they are incredibly small. My neighborhood street at home is wider than some of the main roads we took! You won’t see big trucks or SUVs, but rather the smaller economy/compact sized car driving around the island. It makes it so much easier to maneuver a tiny car when your one-lane road must turn into a 2-lane to let an oncoming car pass and you to continue on your journey. Be sure to go slow around corners and over hills because chances are you won’t be able to see anything ahead of you on those windy roads. It’s also not uncommon to run into a roadblock of sheep! The tour bus drivers over there get mad props as they make driving huge charter buses on these teeny tiny roads look like it’s nothing. We’re white-knuckled as they pass us in our car, and they don’t even seem to flinch! We had no accidents (or even close calls) and felt like pros by the time we left, so don’t let the fear of driving on the opposite side of the road deter you from renting a car.
If you do plan to rent a car in Ireland, please be aware that Ireland is one of 4 countries in the world where your credit card car rental insurance is not valid. You will be required to purchase extra insurance or else you could be liable for a deductible equal to the amount of the car if you get into an accident. I did some research and found that most of the big car rental companies don’t give you the option to purchase this extra insurance when you reserve the car. It’s something that is added when you pick up the car, so you’re not sure exactly what the total price will be beforehand. The majority of cars are also stick shift, so if you plan on getting an automatic, be prepared to pay about double what a manual transmission would cost. Our rental company, Easy Tour Ireland offered the extra insurance with $0 deductible and gave us the total price up front without any hidden fees. They are a subsidiary of Hertz so you get the Hertz name brand service you’d expect. It was a no-brainer for us and we had no issues at all. A special thank-you to Easy Tour Ireland!
Ireland isn’t really known for their food, but I felt I had a high percentage of extremely yummy meals. A tip for ordering out: stick to the basics and you won’t be disappointed. Things that you think you’re ordering might not be exactly what you’d expect. For example, we were at an Italian restaurant and I decided to try a more “daring” pasta with chorizo sausage, which it turns out, is actually chopped up capicola deli meat. The pasta dish was still good, but I almost sent it back thinking I had gotten the wrong order because I was expecting a completely different-looking plate. You can’t go wrong with pub food: burgers, fish and chips, and beef stew. Fries, or “chips” as they’re called over there, are served with pretty much every meal so be prepared. The chips we know here are called “crisps” there. Don’t worry about knocking back the pints of Guinness… did you know that Guinness is one of the lighter calories beers around? At 210 calories/pint, it’s not much higher in calories than a Bud Light! I always thought because it was so dark and seemed so thick that it would have a calorie number equivalent to the full feeling I had after drinking it. The Irish do make an incredibly tasty breakfast, and you can find it at almost any restaurant. A Traditional Irish Breakfast is served with eggs (usually fried), sausage, rashers (Irish bacon, my favorite!), hashbrowns, roasted tomatoes, baked beans, mushrooms, and blood pudding. If you’re a coffee person, try the breakfast tea instead. You can add cream/milk and sugar like coffee, and I actually preferred it as my morning beverage. And if you have a sweet tooth like me, the chocolate is fantastic! Butler’s Chocolates has amazing truffles, and don’t forget to try my favorite Cadbury’s chocolate bar you can pick up at any Spar, a Boost bar. You won’t be disappointed.
I truly felt welcomed and at home during my 2 weeks in Ireland, and I can’t wait until I return again. The experience was absolutely incredible. Stay tuned for more details on the destinations we visited!