1 Week Trip in Ireland
"That's some good craic (/kræk/ KRAK)!" And no....not the kind you're thinking of. The Irish are all about their craic (the fun, the gossip, an all encompassing term for excitement) and, trust me, there is plenty to go around.
I didn't know a ton about the landscape of Ireland prior to our trip and not going to lie, had fairly low expectations. But my girlfriend's enthusiasm to explore this rural-Euro-Island country peaked my interest and we decided to take a 9 day road trip across the Southern half of this incredibly GREEN country. Long story short, this turned out to be one of the most mind-blowingly majestic places I've ever been to and the ruins of medieval castles, abbeys, and graveyards littering the countryside gave the whole experience a fascinatingly historical, Lord of Ringzy twist. Seriously though, there were SO many old stone structures, many of them very well preserved, some crumbling, others in some sort of in between state. And the best part, a lot of them were Free!
Anyway, if standing on 1000 ft (304 m) tall Atlantic cliffs, exploring 13th century castle ruins, gazing at stunningly green mountains, hiking in European rainforests (yes there are rainforests in Ireland), drinking tons of Guinness, and feeling like you're constantly in a fairy tale sound like a good time to you... well buddy... you've come to the right blog post.
1. The Ring of Kerry
Probably the coolest thing we did in Southern Ireland was the Ring of Kerry, a 111 mile (179 km) driving (or biking) loop around the Iveragh Peninsula. Highlights included spectacular views of sloping grassy mountains, shear vertical coastal cliffs, stone covered grounds, beautiful beaches, and plenty of stops at weathered medieval ruins. (this article's cover photo was taken in the Ring of Kerry)
You honestly cannot go wrong wandering this region of Ireland, but here are the stops we enjoyed most:
Ballycarbery Castle (FREE!) - A crumbling, yet proudly standing castle ruin, semi overgrown with lush vegetation. Although a little sketchy at times, we REALLY enjoyed being able to freely explore this castle's intricate floors and fascinating features. Ohhhh, and they may have had tiny sheep there too....
More info about Ballycarbery Castle can be found here: Castle History.
Cliffs of Portmagee aka Kerry's Most Spectacular Cliffs - A place where the rolling grassy hills of Kerry suddenly terminate to fantastic shear cliffs, plunging 1000 ft into the chill and impressively blue Atlantic waters. One of the most dramatic and colorful rock section views (for you engineers out there) I've ever seen.
Cahergall Stone Fort (FREE!!) - The stony remains of a seventh century dwelling that contained 2-3 homes. Another great excuse to wander through ruins, take in the health of the landscape, and maybe even learn something (you know...if that's your thing)!
More information about Cahergall Stone Fort here.
2. Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park was the full Irish package. Here, we explored a medieval abbey and lakeside castle, hiked through a lushly forested mountain to stunning views of the region's lakes and surrounding mountains, and were mesmerized by a cascading waterfall. I can't speak much to the town because we were SO obsessed with this park. They had Guinness on tap, that much I remember...
Killarney National Park Highlights:
A beautiful 15th century Abbey, free to the public, and complete with hidden passageways, a historic graveyard, and surreal central courtyard. For some reason, I felt like I was on a movie set when I entered this courtyard. The large Yew tree in the middle was remarkably alluring.
We did a twilight jaunt around this amazingly well preserved lakeside castle. The castle can be entered for a fee between the months of April through October (tickets include a guided tour). However, the castle grounds can be enjoyed for free year round. We arrived at Ross Castle after it closed and just wandered the perimeter (which means we just couldn't enter the building) and had a lot of fun climbing the castle walls.
Here's a tip: the enchanting lake next to the castle and mountains in the distance make this a great place to catch the sunset.
We hiked up Torc Mountain, which provided rainforest-like vegetation, old hermit shacks, and of course, incredible views of the lakes and countryside below. This hike was a bit difficult, so if you're interested in an easier but still fun hike, I'd go to Torc Falls, which was also brilliant (my Irish side is coming out...).
A map of Killarney National Park can be found on the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Services website: Park Map
3. Cliffs of Moher
For us, as well as many travelers to Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher were a must-see geological marvel. Walking along the coastal paths, we found no shortage of awe-inspiring views created by the striking contrast of vibrant green plateaus and drastically vertical 700 ft (213 m) walls extending for kilometers. While you're at the Cliffs, if you look real close, you just might find the cave where Voldemort hid Salazar Slytherin's Locket!
For you hikers out there, here's a tip! If you have the time, energy, and fitness, take the coastal hiking trail from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher. The round trip is 4 hours, plus whatever time you spend near the visitor center. Also.... if you hike, you don't have to pay the parking fees (€6 per person). Although, for €10 per person, you could take Pat Sweeney's professionally guided Doolin Cliff Walk to the Cliffs of Moher.
Lastly, there are a few boat tours that leave from Doolin and take you to the base of the cliffs. Here's one for pretty cheap ($17.90 per person): Cliffs of Moher Cruise from Doolin.
4. Blarney Castle and Cork
We really enjoyed Cork's walkable city center, which was filled with many great pubs and restaurants. The food was noticeably better here than other places we visited in Ireland so it didn't come as a surprise when one local told us that Cork was named the foodie capital of Ireland (though we may have done some fact checking...Irish Times article here).
But as much as we liked the City of Cork and all, the real crown jewel on this part of the trip was Blarney Castle! This gorgeous castle standing today (considered a "keep" on the Blarney Castle webpage) was the third of three buildings erected on this spot, with the first being built in the 10th century and the current castle having been the fortification project of Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster in 1446 A.D. This was easily the most popular castle we visited on our trip, with numerous people coming to line up and kiss the Blarney Stone in hopes of attaining the "gift of eloquence."
Unlike a lot of other castles we checked out, Blarney requires tickets, which sell for 15 Euros a pop or 14 Euros online. Here's my honest opinion: its worth the price. And here's why; the castle itself is beautiful, but not only that, with your ticket you are able to explore their 60 acres of grounds and gardens, which are so lush, green, and charming that you really can't help but feel like you're in a fairy tale. Also, check out the diversity of gardens they claim to have on the Blarney Castle Gardens webpage; its quite impressive. I'm sure it goes without saying, but wandering through these gardens was my favorite part of this stop.
We landed in Dublin and decided to do a day in the capital before embarking on our rental car journey around the country. There were a couple things we wanted to knock off the bucket list, namely visit the Guinness Brewery (and taste one of my favorite beers directly from the source) and check out Trinity College. We also did a walking tour of the city, which started at Trinity College, killing two birds with one stone.
The Guinness Storehouse tour was pretty dang cool. Even though you aren't able to enter the brewery proper, it still provides a very interactive, well designed experience of the brewing process and Guinness' history. My favorite part was the Gravity Bar at the very end, where we were finally able to savor a much-needed Guinness while enjoying 360 degree views of Dublin.
By the way, tickets are $25 at the door but only $20 if you book online (and you get to skip the line)!
Trinity College and the walking tour were definitely recommendable too. In my opinion, its always a good idea to get some cultural context when visiting a new place. Also, the college was beautiful and the guide was hilarious!
Honestly, if you have time to check them out, I'd highly recommend both tours. If you only had time for one, I'd choose beer, but that's just me....I LOVE GUINNESS.
6. Burren National Park
Direct quote from Alexis when we arrived in Burren National Park: "This place looks like a sea of ROCKS!" Well...turns out 300 MILLION-ish years ago, Ireland used to be just south of the equator (tectonic shifts baby!) and covered by a warm tropical sea. Said tropical sea has since dried up, leaving this graveyard of crazy geometric rock formations (after visiting places like this, its a lot easier to understand how Ireland has so many stone castles, walls, abbeys, etc...).
And believe it or not, the spirals of rock seen in the photo below were not created by mankind...nope...they were created when the modern day United Kingdom collided with the rest of Europe! While exploring this geological oddity, keep your eyes peeled for fossilized sea critters. More information about The Burren can be found on Ireland's National Parks and Wildlife Service's webpage.
A trip to Burren National Park pairs well with a visit to Kilmacduagh Abbey, which is a ruined monastery and graveyard supposedly founded by Saint Colman, son of Duagh in the 7th century. The Abbey is located just 20 minutes down the road toward the town of Gort and, in case you were wondering, no you can't climb the tower...we already tried...
This was definitely the most niche stop on our trip. We came here for really one reason, rock climbing. There aren't many sport climbing spots in Ireland, but outside of the town of Kilkenny awaits this awesome old quarry (Ballykeeffe Quarry) that has been converted into an amphitheater as well as a sport climber's paradise.
Beside rock climbing, we went to Kilkenny Castle, which was great until we went inside...the interior has been completely modernized, ruining the medieval feel. My advice, save yourself a few bucks and just check out the castle from the outside because the exterior is still really fascinating. Overall, Kilkenny was a gorgeous medieval town and a solid stop between Dublin and Cork.