This trip was awesome.
We had been to Ireland together once before in 2007. So through the trials and errors of that trip, we knew exactly what we wanted to see and do this time. Although our flights were in and out of Dublin, we didn’t want to spend much time there. So we immediately rented a car from the airport and drove about 2 hours north to Belfast.
This gave us a little taste of the big city, but was still a manageable place to drive the car around. Plus, starting our trip in the North meant that we could change money to just pounds Sterling first, then get Euros later when we traveled back to the republic. (NOTE: there was a toll on the road from Dublin to Belfast in Euros, which we could luckily cover with some Euro change that Danny remembered to bring along from our last trip. If we didn’t have that change, I’m not sure what we would have done since we only had cash in Sterling.)
The first day we slept off the jetlag and drank our first delicious non-pasteurized Guinness of the trip. I tell you that the trip is worth it just for the Guinness, it’s just not the same as it is here.
Then on day two we took a day-trip up the Causeway Coast in our trusty Ford Focus hatchback.
This northern coast was a part of the country that we had not explored previously. It was fantastically beautiful. It’s centerpiece, the Giant’s Causeway, is a big tourist attraction for a reason. It’s a coastal cluster of these crazy ancient rock columns.
We stayed for two nights in Belfast in a hotel called Tara Lodge. Along with hundreds of TripAdvisor users, I would highly recommend it. For about $111/night, we got a lovely modern room, free car parking, and amazingly delicious made-to-order breakfast. This was the most amazing full Irish breakfast ever after the previous night’s pub crawl.
Then it was off to Derry, where we would be seeing the first match of the season for Derry City FC. Danny has been supporting this team since our last trip, and in the age of steaming video and Twitter, he’s become an avid follower of the team and a member of a club called the Derry City Exiles. So let’s just say they knew he was coming.
We had a few pints before the game at the team’s social club, where we were met with a warm reception and a free ride to the stadium. We sat in the “jungle side” where the rough and tumble hooligans sit. But it really wasn’t rough at all, there were kids everywhere and everyone was happy-go-lucky.
And we knew this before going, but Danny had a little feature in the match program. (We forgive the club for misspelling the name “Knoxville”, mostly because I’m sure no one else noticed.)
After that one-of-a-kind experience, we hit the road for the countryside. We had pre-booked rooms for our first three nights, but from this point on we were winging it. The next logical destination on our wish list was Connemara.
After brief travel stops in Donegal town and Foxford, we ended up in a town called Westport for the night. It seems to be a holiday destination for the Irish in the summer since it’s close to the coast, but a big enough town to have lots of amenities, i.e. a decent hotel to stay in, interesting restaurants to eat dinner at (fan-freakin-tastic curry), and a handful of pubs to pop into in the evening.
If you haven’t noticed, that’s kind of our travel pattern: wake up at our leisure, eat a good breakfast, drive around and sightsee for the day, find a place to stay, then eat and drink the night away with the locals.
The next day we traveled through Connemara, and it was beautiful. This was another area we hadn’t been to before. Really great scenery, but not much to “do”. So we just enjoyed our road trip, stopping to take lots of pictures along the way.
For night 5 of the trip, we had even less clear direction in mind. So after getting out of the Galway metro area, we headed out towards the Clare coast, which was one of my favorite spots from our 2007 trip.
It’s pretty rural down there, so you drive across very small roads with obstacles like this:
We passed through an area known as the burren, where mountain tops are crusted with solid rock. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.
The roads got really pretty crazy small and twisty during this part of the trip, like so:
Then we landed for the night in Doolin. Although it really only consists of one road, a handful of B&B’s, three pubs, and a hotel, it’s really the best. For some reason I just totally love it here. It embodies this idyllic rural Irish image so well. I’ve decided that the next time we come here, I want to rent a little summer cottage and spend the whole week here. I love it that much.
Doolin is also just a few miles away from the popular Cliffs of Moher. We had visited them before, but since we ended up so close, we had to go back and take another quick peek. They are impressive.
From there we ran into some rainy weather, so the next two days aren’t terribly well documented. But we headed from Doolin down to Cork, another city that was new to us. Cork is like a mini-Dublin, with lots of shopping and college kids. We did enjoy the city though, and it made me feel less bad for not visiting Dublin this time around.
Then we headed around the southwest corner of the country to spend the night in Wexford. We wanted to check this area out because, again, we hadn’t seen it before. But honestly it’s a little boring. Although there are pretty coastal areas that are popular for Irish summer holidays, it’s a little dinky compared to the dramatic scenery we had just seen in the west.
Wexford was a cute little city though, and the next morning we visited nearby Glendalough. This was a very cool site with a picturesque ancient monastery and cemetery nestled in a grove with two lakes. It looks sunny in these pictures, but within minutes it can (and did) turn into a rainstorm.
And we rounded out our last day of sightseeing with a trip to the Hill of Tara, which is just northwest of Dublin. It was very sunny and clear, but incredibly windy. Windy like you wouldn’t believe.
And since our flight was very early the next morning, we stayed our last night in a hotel at the Dublin airport so we could easily bid farewell to the rental car and get to the terminal on time the next morning.
For those of you interested in the nickels and dimes, my cheap ass kept track of our expenses for the trip. For my own peace of mind, I’ve outlined it here, and honestly for a trip where we really didn’t cheap out on anything and got absolutely everything we wanted out of it, it’s not so bad.
- Airfare (TYS>DUB for 2 tickets): $1,378
- Dog Boarding & cat-sitting bribery: $565
- Airport Parking: $80
- Car Rental: $800
- 8 nights in various hotels: $855
- All food and drink: $1,378***
- Souvenir purchases: $220
- TOTAL: $5,276
***Update 3/20: I realized that this number also represents the money spent on gas for the car ($158) and miscellaneous attraction costs (something like $65). So although we did spend a lot on food/drink at about $1,155, it wasn’t quite as much as I first thought.