We’ve recently written a whole bunch of driving guides designed to help you navigate around some of the most popular European countries but realised we’d neglected write anything about the country we know best: Ireland! Because we’re extremely proud of our native land and have so much stuff we want to tell you about we’re splitting the guide up into sections. (read part 2: Ireland’s best driving roads or read part 3: A general guide to driving in Ireland)
Whether you’re a ‘blow-in’ or a native you’ll be spoiled for choice in this amazing, picturesque little country when it comes to things to do and places to stay and eat. Ireland is a fantastic country to drive but pack a sat nav and brush up on the map reading skills as the Irish approach to sign posting is as laid back as the people! We’ll cover some of the finer points of driving in Ireland in our next blog, for now we want to tell you about some of the best places we’ve visited.
So You’ve packed the car (and the rain gear) and marked out the route. You know where you’re going but what do you do when you get there and – more importantly – what do you eat and drink and where do you stay? Relax, we’ve got you covered:
Do: Guinness Storehouse – yes, every tourist in the country will be there, but for good reason. Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse has been named Europe’s leading tourist attraction. Enjoy Irish history, culture, food, shopping, sink as many pints of the black stuff as you can stomach and take in wonderful panoramic views of the city from the sky bar.
Eat: Afternoon tea in the five-star Merrion Hotel. The ‘art tea’ as it is known, is based on 19th- or 20th-century art and it is served on fine china with miniature sweet creations inspired by the work of J.B Yeats, William Scott, Louis Le Brocquy and others. Want to grab something quick and tasty on thefly? try Boojum, a casual Mexican burrito bar with award winning food at great prices.
Stay: The Dean Hotel – smack bang in the middle of Dublin, has a super roof top terrace and restaurant with gorgeous views, as well as an uber cool high-tech penthouse suite. The rooms are designed to make you feel like you’re staying over at a mate’s house and they’re filled with fun stuff: big bouncy beds, blast power showers, Grafton Barber products, Marshall amps that connect to your gadgets, Netflix, loads of classic vinyl for your Rega turntable and original Irish art on the walls. Their website is cool too!
Do: Glendalough Valley – located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park this is an accessible way to get out and enjoy the countryside and history – there is a monastic settlement here dating back to the 6th century that you can stroll around – it’s as fascinating as it is beautiful. Guided tours are available and there’s a good visitor centre with helpful knowledgable staff too. Nearby Powerscourt house and gardens is also well worth a visit. The image at the top of the page is the view from the cafe, pretty spectacular i’m sure you’ll agree! There’s also the Avoca store at Powerscourt where you can buy a huge selection of beautiful hand made Irish crafts.
Eat: The local tradition of licking a 99 ice-cream (with a flake and strawberry syrup) whilst strolling around the lakes is hard to beat but if you need a bit more sustenance then the charming Light House Seafood Restaurant in Wicklow gets our vote. It has a very enviable location, looking onto the river Vartry estuary, with all the little boats tied up along the quay.
Stay: Brooklodge – this boutique hotel comes with its own pub, an entire village, a spa and a golf course and has Ireland’s only certified wild and organic restaurant, The Strawberry Tree!
Do: Rock of Cashel – If you’re interested in castles, tales of kings and bloody battles then the Rock of Cashel is for you! Take a tour and enjoy the spectacular views of this verdant part of the country.
Eat: a cheese and crisp sambo made with the best local ingredients of Cashel Blue Cheese and O’Donnell’s Crisps. Cheese and onion flavour is most popular but we enjoy the tang of Irish Cider Vinegar and Sea Salt flavour; controversial, we know!
Stay: Lisheen Castle – this hotel dates back to the 18th century and has been restored from total ruin and you can even dine in the traditional old Irish kitchen.
Do: Skibbereen Heritage Centre – located in the award-winning Old Gasworks Building that overlooks the River Ilen, here you can learn about the Famine of the 1840s. Fota resort is also a great place for the family with a spectacular island golf course, excellent wildlife park and 5 star hotel
Fitzgerald park is a great place to escape for a walk and let the kids run around if you’re staying in the city. Be sure to check out the aptly named ‘Shaky Bridge’
Eat: Head to the famous English Market in Cork City and stock up on fresh local produce for a picnic along the banks of the River Lee. The Queen of England visited it recently don’t you know!
Keohanes chipper in Midleton is also a culinary experience worth seeking out. This review from a local lad describes the place perfectly.
“Best kept secret in Midleton (if you’re not from Midleton that is) This is due to the absolutely bizarre opening hours of this chip shop. After being reared there I still can’t figure out when it will be open. Usually they’ll put a sign up on the day. There’s nothing on the shopfront that gives away the fact that it’s a chipper (or any other type of shop for that matter) They really do have the best chips though. They also do great fish, potato pies and battered sausages. Not a burger in site. The queues there on Friday evening speak for themselves”
Drink: You may be thinking it’s remiss of us to be this far into an article about Ireland and not have mentioned a single pub! Truth be told, pubs and drinking in general are very much an Irish pass-time. So much so that it’s extremely difficult to find a bad one! However, two of our favorites in Cork city are the Mutton Lane and the Sober Lane. Both completely unassuming, both typically Irish, without a hint of faux paddy-whackery for the benefit of tourists and both great craic!
Stay: Roarwater Lodge – get a fishing boat to Heir Island and stay in this cosy country home and whilst you are at it book in next door to Firehouse Bread School and learn how to bake traditional real bread using traditional skills and methods.
Do: The Ring of Kerry – take the car or a horse and cart ride and enjoy the peace and quiet and the unspoilt beauty of the place. Try to spot the Star Wars sets on Skellig Michael and then go swimming with Fungie the dolphin.
Eat: Murphys Ice Cream – this artisan ice cream company is located in Dingle and it produces some of the best ice cream in the country. Try the brown bread flavour and you’ll be addicted after one scoop!
Stay: Ard na Sidhe – located on the ‘Hill of Fairies’, this hotel dating from 1913 overlooks Caragh Lake in Killorglin on the Ring of Kerry and offers, as you would expect, amazing views, especially when dining on the terrace at sunset.
Do: Outdoor activates – don rubber and learn how to surf some of the best waves in the world, experience the underground landscape of the Burren by caving, go rock climbing, sea kayaking and cliff walking.
Eat: Head to the Burren Smoke House and eat the most flavoursome freshly smoked organic salmon you will ever try. You can even buy some to take home with you.
Stay: On the ground – Co. Clare offers plenty of places to pitch a tent and sleep out under the stars. Just make sure you’ve packed the thermal undies, even in summer.
Do: Have the craic – find a cosy pub and listen to some traditional music, drink stout and make a fool of yourself trying to do some Irish dancing. Sure, it’s what being on the road in Ireland is all about!
Eat: Everything! Galway is a mecca for great food, chefs and restaurants. Enjoy Enda McEvoy’s food in Loam and JP McMahon’s food in Aniar. Head to the wonderful old fashioned tea rooms of Cupan Tae and have a nice cuppa and slice of cake (the lime courgette cake is delicious). Try the world famous Galway Bay oysters washed down with a bottle of Galway Hooker craft beer.
Stay: Abbeyglen Castle Hotel – a proper Irish welcome awaits you here, as does Gilbert the resident talking parrot. Make sure you head to the bar in the evenings for a good old fashioned sing song and lots and lots of laughs.
Do: The Slieve League Cliffs – three times higher than the more famous, and crowded, Cliffs of Mohar – battle the winds and walk along the cliffs amongst the colourful heather and be rewarded with some of the most rugged, wild and interesting scenery and views in all of Ireland.
Eat: Seafood, wonderful fresh seafood fresh off the boats. Enjoy fish and chips at Killybegs harbour or try Castlemartyr House for a great local seasonal seafood dinner overlooking St. John’s Point.
Stay: Harvey’s Point – enjoy some luxury in this hotel nestled on the shoreline of Lake Eske. Relax by the open turf fire after a long day driving. Bliss. Lough eske castle is pretty impressive too
Do: The Giant’s Causeway – get out and get windswept. Walk the marked routes or just marvel at the naturally created interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. What? You thought it was a couple of giants fighting?
Eat: A traditional Ulster Fry – fried eggs, rashers, sausages, black and white pudding, potato bread, soda farls, tomato and buckets of tea – start your day right! (beans and toast optional).
Stay: Bushmills Inn – the bar in this hotel is still lit by gas light and it serves some wonderful whiskey from its own private casks.
So that should be plenty to get your teeth into for now! We’d love to hear about the hidden gems you come across on your travels around the island of Ireland. Feel free to tell us about all the amazing places we should have included in the comments below 😉