Ireland is a bona fide treasure trove of sights, sounds, tastes, and, of course, Guinness! But whether you love beer or not, pink and blue painted sheep, copious buskers, or seafood chowder, you’re in for the ride of your life as the Emerald Isle Ireland has a little something (or, should I say, a lot of something) for everyone.
The Heart of Dublin
We began in Dublin, where we delighted in the elegant charm of the Trinity Townhouse Hotel. Right in the heart of Dublin, it’s the perfect location for any and all excursions, plus it serves a delicious, complimentary breakfast before you head out for the day.
It also provides a discount on the convenient parking garage directly next door to house your rental car. That benefit is huge because it’s nearly impossible to park anywhere in and around the city.
The hotel is happy to arrange a taxi service to wherever you’d like to go. That being said, you are actually a 3-minute walk from Grafton Street’s upmarket shops, where you will be entertained by some of the most talented buskers in all of Europe.
The Book of Kells
From Grafton Street, you’re a short walk to the Book of Kells at Trinity College. For those not familiar, the Book of Kells is an illuminated medieval manuscript from around 800AD.
It consists of the four gospels of the Christian New Testament, called out for its visual brilliance and striking, painted illustrations of both gold and silver. Impressive as that may sound, the Long Room upstairs, a working library since 1732, houses an astounding 200,000 of Trinity’s ancient books. At 65 meters (213 feet), it truly is the Holy Grail of libraries and is simply awe-inspiring.
The Guinness Storehouse is a bucket-list must as it’s a veritable amusement park of “Everything Guinness” from the ground floor, introducing the beer’s four ingredients to the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor featuring spectacular views of Dublin, where you can drink a pint of the prized brew, included in the price of admission.
Other attractions feature the 9,000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness, the history of Guinness advertising, the Brewery Bar for Irish cuisine, and a cavernous gift shop for your every desire.
History of Irish Whiskey
The Irish Whiskey Museum is another alcohol-related attraction that you don’t need to be an aficionado to enjoy. The upgraded tour features a highly amusing one-woman show relating to the history of Irish Whiskey. After the presentation, you are treated to a savory whiskey tasting whether you like it or not!
We also caught an excellent play at the Abbey Theatre’s Fringe Festival that was a wonderful treat as the writing and acting ensemble was, as one Irish native put it, “Brilliant!”
Take the Bus
The hop-on, hop-off bus provides further attractions in Dublin, including the serenely beautiful urban park, St. Stephens Green (walking distance from the hotel), St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the expansive Phoenix Park, encompassing 707 hectares (1,750 acres) of grassland and tree-lined avenues.
Restaurants to recommend are a lively Fade Street Social with Irish-inspired tapas. For a more intimate dining experience, try Suesey Street restaurant for the best, contemporary European fare in all of Dublin.
Our next stop was the vibrant medieval town of Kilkenny, 90 minutes south of Dublin. I highly recommend the upscale Pembroke Kilkenny hotel for your accommodations. It is situated in the heart of town, has a super friendly staff, and features Statham’s, an excellent fine dining venue where you can decompress after a long day of sightseeing.
The Kilkenny Castle is a short walk from the hotel, which inspires and educates at the same time. It’s a good idea to secure a guided tour to grasp the castle’s colorful and lengthy history. The castle also features a tea room, a playground for kids ages 2-14, and a spectacular rose garden overlooking the Nore River.
Since the whole town is walkable, it’s nice to just stroll down High Street with no specific plan as you wander down an endless array of alleys discovering coffee shops, art galleries, street musicians, restaurants, and even St. Mary’s Medieval Mile Museum, a 13th-century church and graveyard featuring medieval sculpture and Renaissance era tombs.
You should walk a little further to St. Canice’s cathedral, dating back to the 13th century and the second longest cathedral in Ireland after St. Patrick’s in Dublin. Beside the cathedral is a well-preserved 100-foot, 9th-century “Celtic Christian” round tower, still climbable for the extremely fit traveler!
As you depart Kilkenny for Cork, a stop at the Blarney Castle and gardens is imperative. Personally, I’d have rather spent more time exploring the exceptional 60 acres of gardens and arboretum than waiting hours to kiss the Blarney Stone. That being said, kissing the Blarney stone is a popular undertaking for a cherished photo op, but be warned of the wait. Now, back to the gardens!
One path leads to an even more impressive array of botanical wonders and idyllic streams than the other. It feels so otherworldly, and it’s almost like being on the set of “The Hobbit!” Of course, don’t forget the castle’s history, the restaurant, and the gift shop before you leave.
Fota Island Resort
Continuing towards Cork, our next stop was the stunning, 5-star Fota Island resort set on 780 acres, including three golf courses, an indoor heated pool, a full-service spa, a restaurant, a gym, tennis courts, and more. Guest rooms feature a calming zen feel with every amenity imaginable. During a trip such as this, where you are covering a lot of ground, it’s essential to unwind and relax for a day or so, and Fota Island resort delivers.
Consequently, my wife treated herself to a grounding ritual at the spa, which employs light breathwork and hands-on rhythmical pressures utilizing 100% natural aromatherapy oils for a one-of-a-kind experience.
If you happen to be a golf aficionado, whether novice or pro, you’ll relish in their professional courses overlooking the joyous scenery across Cork Harbor. As for fine dining, the Cove restaurant does not disappoint, along with the Amber Lounge for cocktails.
For exercise, take an enchanting stroll through the “Fairy Trail,” a path through the resident forest, and be on the lookout for fairy sightings as there are quite a few. Camp Fota for kids 4-12 has a variety of activities, from soccer and swimming to baking and arts and crafts, to keep the kiddos entertained. For other recreational pursuits, the Munster Tennis club makes its home here, where you can rent a court for an hour and fifteen if you are a hotel guest. All in all, it’s a thumbs-up “Ah” experience.
Some interesting sojourns while in Cork include the English Market, chock full of culinary delights, fresh produce, and luscious delicacies. The current building dates back to 1788, and it’s a fun way to spend an hour or two. After the market, you may want to walk off some calories, so take a walk through lovely Fitzgerald Park on the banks of the River Lee, then visit the Cork Public Museum for some historical background of the city.
Since there is much to do in Cork, we then ventured to the Fota Island Resort’s sister property in the heart of town, the Kingsley Hotel. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea overlooking the river. We later experienced a therapeutic massage at Kingsley’s outstanding spa, where, after your treatment, you are sent to the relaxation room with a calming juice, fruit, and refreshing yogurt to re-energize.
Next on our itinerary, we stopped at the quaint little town of Kenmare in county Kerry. Even though it is small, it is a lively place buzzing with energy including great places to eat, art galleries, and an enjoyable flea market surrounding the town square. After the excitement and spending spree in town, it was time to head to our accommodations nearby as we entered the gates of heaven, also known as the entrance to Sheen Falls Lodge.
A flower-lined gate beckons you forward as you drive a few miles through a scenic country road replete with grazing deer and a refreshing breeze that drifts aimlessly through the open windows of your car. Finally, we arrive at this mystical place. As we checked in, my wife was enamored by an incredible floral mural behind the reception desk. We had heard local artist Christine Bowen commissioned it.
Moving on to our suite, I have never seen such magnificent appointments and stately country manor charm in all my travels. The open floor plan (I believe the room was fascinatingly hexagonal) was copious, consisting of a majestic king bed replete with a comfortable sofa and reading chairs placed strategically in front of the fireplace. To the right, a refined, wood-paneled wet bar; to the left, the roaring sounds of Sheen Falls directly outside our window.
We rested up nicely after the long day and looked forward to our fine dining experience at the Falls Restaurant, a split-level affair that is elegance personified. Have the sommelier select your wine of choice from Ireland’s largest wine cellar, then graduate to surf and turf (you can opt for the tasting menu), and finally, we reveled in a mouth-watering mascarpone mousse with raspberry sorbet. Sheen Falls has an additional variety of culinary options, including the Stables brasserie, afternoon tea, or the Sheen bar and lounge.
There is an endless array of unique activities such as horseback riding, archery, golf at the nearby Kenmare Golf Club, bicycling, not to mention a fitness room, the Easanna spa, and yoga on certain mornings. The Sheen Falls Lodge experience is unequivocally off-the-charts glorious!
Moving on to Killarney, stop at the Ross Castle in Killarney National Park overlooking Lough Leane, the largest of Killarney’s three lakes. Take the short tour, as it’s a sobering look at the realities of castle life in the 15th century. After Killarney, it’s off to the Cliffs of Moher, the astounding sea cliffs located in County Clare. Tourists galore and gift shops but worth the long drive!
Our next stop was Dingle, a charming town overlooking Dingle Bay. We stayed at the Greenmount House B & B. Gary Curran is a highly entertaining host of the property, which features a delicious breakfast overlooking Dingle Bay with a reading room, a piano parlor, and cozy guest rooms.
From the B & B, it’s a short walk to the main drag of Dingle, which includes great pubs featuring Irish music as well as fine dining offerings that make a killer seafood chowder. For a day trip, skip the Ring of Kerry Loop and opt for the Slea Head Drive, it’s one of the most incredible experiences in the emerald isle Ireland. It’s 2 hours around the Dingle Peninsula and undoubtedly the most spectacular breathtaking views of the coastline, offshore islands, cliff-top roads, and fun places to stop along the way.
The bustling town of Limerick came next as we stayed at the Strand Hotel overlooking the river Shannon. The hotel features upscale rooms with an excellent bar and restaurant on the ground floor. They have a massive indoor pool, hydrotherapy, and fitness room for a good workout.
I recommend spending a few hours at King John’s castle within walking distance of the hotel. It’s a fascinating look at the castle’s turbulent history with interactive films and displays. And my wife said it has the most authentic gift shop she had ever seen in Ireland.
As our trip came closer to its end, we visited the quaint coastal town of Clifden and stayed at the Hillside Lodge B & B with hosts Ruth and Stuart. The Lodge is within walking distance of the town, consisting of great pubs, coffee shops, Michelin restaurants, and local gift shops. You can drive the Sky Road, a scenic 12-mile loop right outside of Clifden with jaw-dropping scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way.
The B & B has an incredible breakfast that includes porridge with cinnamon and honey and the freshest scrambled eggs and salmon you’d ever want to eat. Stuart is an old rock and roller who played guitar with some very famous bands and lovingly helps his wife out with all the B & B chores when he’s not on the road. Meanwhile, Ruth is a wonderful cook.
Our final stop was a long trek to Belfast and the phenomenal Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast featuring luxurious rooms, attentive and friendly staff, and a wonderful fine dining restaurant and bar downstairs.
One of the main reasons we traveled to Belfast was to visit the massive Titanic museum and exhibit. It’s a mind-boggling, six-story tribute to the doomed ocean liner built at the historic port site where Titanic was designed, built, and launched. Multi-media displays, reenactments, and reconstructed staterooms are all part of the gargantuan attraction.
There is, of course, a café and gift shop on the first floor. A fitting end to an unforgettable trip to the Emerald Isle Ireland. Green with envy? Then get yourself to Ireland!
FYI: Driving in Ireland can be harrowing with one-lane, narrow roads and tour buses traveling in the opposite direction. Consequently, you want to rent the smallest car possible to carry you and your bags.
Airfare: For the most economical deals, go to priceline.com.
If You Go to the Emerald Isle Ireland:
- Trinity Townhouse Hotel – trinitytownhousehotel.com
- Book of Kells
- Guinness Storehouse
- Irish Whisky Museum
- Fade Street Social Restaurant – fadestreetsocial.com
- Suesey Street Restaurant – sueseystreet.ie
- Pembroke Hotel Kilkenny
- Kilkenny Castle – kilkennycastle.ie
- Blarney Castle – blarneycastle.ie
- Fota Island Resort
- The Kingsley Hotel
- Sheen Falls Lodge
- Ross Castle – ross-castle.com
- Cliffs of Moher – cliffsofmoher.ie
- Greenmount House B & B
- The Strand Hotel
- Hillside Lodge B & B
- The Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast
- Titanic Belfast – titanicbelfast.com
Richard Atkins is a travel writer, photographer, playwright, screenwriter, and actor and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.