I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since we got back from our European adventure. My husband and I went to Ireland, Scotland and London for two whole weeks back in the beginning of September. It was truly an adventure of a lifetime! After spending a couple weeks recuperating and organizing all 4,000 of our pictures/video (yes…4,000), I finally typed up a recap!
For warning, this is a REALLY long post. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and get settled! I hope you enjoy reading about our vacation!
Our first flight took off from Dallas/Fort Worth in the morning, and we landed in New York early afternoon. We then flew overnight from NY to London. This was my first overnight flight– I only slept about two hours so the next day was quite rough, haha! Anyway, we arrived in London around 7:30am and caught our next flight to Cork, Ireland at 11am. We were in Cork by noon!
Flying into Ireland was exactly as you’d imagine– looking out the window were just endless rolling green fields and mist covering the hills in the distance. We landed in the port town of Cork, which is the biggest city in southern Ireland.
Cork City, Ireland
Once we landed in Cork, we picked up our rental car. We actually got upgraded– we reserved a small four door sedan but were given an SUV! Nick was our designated driver and it took him a while to get used to driving on the other side of the road. The GPS in the car was set in French and we couldn’t figure out how to switch it to English until we arrived at our hotel.
We stayed at the Clayton Hotel which actually ended up being our favorite hotel from the whole trip. The room was large and had a river view, and the bed was honestly the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in. We spoke with the manager later and she said they have custom beds in all of the Clayton hotels (they’re all over Europe). I totally want one for our apartment, haha.
The view from our river-facing balcony! For disclosure– the folks at Clayton hotel offered us one free night in exchange for an honest review. Everything was wonderful about our stay– the food, room, view, bed, breakfast, and they even sent up a bottle of wine for us to enjoy.
We stayed in Cork for 2 nights. Most of our days here consisted of walking around the city center and stopping in various pubs and restaurants. Cork was also our favorite city in Ireland! It was small and quaint, with colorful buildings and interested architecture. There were tourists walking around, but it didn’t seemed packed like Dublin and London felt.
It rained most days we were in Ireland, but we didn’t mind. The rain in Ireland is a soft, downward drizzle, totally different from the sideways pounding rain you get here in Texas. We wore our rain jackets (that we bought specifically for this trip) most days, and it was about 18 degrees C most days (~65 F). The temps went down at night, into the low teens, but it felt so nice being away from the hot temps at home.
Nick and I both found favorite beers in Cork. Mine was an ale from Franciscan Well Brewery, brewed right there in Cork! It was a red ale and delicious.
Nick’s drink of choice was Murphy’s. It’s a lot like Guinness, but sweeter and creamier. He describes it as the consistency of hot chocolate. I tried a few sips and I agree– it is better than Guinness! I hope we can find it back in the states.
Some of our favorite meals were in Cork. We stopped at Gallagher’s Pub for beer and lunch and ate these AMAZING tempura battered sweet potato fries. These were the best sweet potato fries we’ve ever had.
It seemed as if everywhere we turned, there were pretty buildings, intricate churches, and perfectly still rivers that made these awesome reflections of buildings on the water.
We stopped in Thomond for more beer + fish n’ chips, which is apparently Cork’s #1 sports bar. It was packed with rugby fans watching the game, and even had a live band in the back playing traditional Irish music.
Quite a few of the bars and pubs we hopped into had live bands playing the traditional Irish music, and I really loved that. Personally, I love folksy Irish music. Something you may not know about me– I did Irish Step Dancing as a kid (think Riverdance) and I used to dance at the Dallsa Irish Festival every year. So, it was really neat to relive my childhood by actually visiting Ireland!
I ate seafood every chance I got. This is fish n’ chips #2, which was quite tasty! I didn’t know that fish n’ chips are served with pea puree. It’s just pureed peas with no seasoning– definitely needs some salt. In fact, all the meals we ate needed an extra sprinkling of salt for our tastes. Americans are so used to heavily salted meals!
The traditional Irish breakfast consists of coffee (the smoothest I’ve ever tasted), pork sausage, potatoes, broiled tomatoes, eggs, and BEANS! They look like baked beans, but are actually covered in a tomato sauce that reminded me of Spaghetti O’s. I actually really enjoyed eating breakfasts like this every day– all the fiber kept me really full!
I just have to say something about the coffee in Ireland… everywhere I had coffee, it was amazing. SO smooth and not bitter at all. I need to find out how they make their coffee so smooth. I wonder if they use a French press? Or certain types of coffee beans? I shall find out.
We traveled about twenty minutes outside of Cork to Blarney Castle & Gardens— home of the Blarney stone! The castle dates back to the 1200’s. The Blarney stone is a block of limestone that was built into the battlements of Blarney Castle. According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with eloquence (skill of flattery). The stone was set into the castle in 1446 and people come from all over the world to kiss the stone and tour the castle.
To get to the stone, you have to stand in a long line. The line winds up through the castle, going through different rooms and passageways. When you get to the top of the castle and to the stone, you have to lay on your back, hold onto the metal bars, and basically tip your body upside down while an employee holds onto your waist so you don’t slip through the gap.
Both Nick and I kissed the stone– we’ll see who gets the skill of flattery! ;)
We visited probably a half dozen castles on this trip, and Blarney was our favorite. It was the only castle that actually looked like a castle– it was crumbling in some places and it looked it’s age. Many other castles we toured had been renovated and decorated with modern furniture, but that wasn’t the case with Blarney.
We enjoyed walking the grounds surrounding the castle– it was full of greenery with a river flowing through the center.
St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral
We stopped by St. Finn Barre’s cathedral in Cork, which is a very Gothic-looking cathedral in the city center. It was really cloudy that day and the shadows on the building made it look super creepy but awesome! We loved admiring the attention to detail everywhere you look, inside and out.
Killarney National Park
After spending time in Cork, we drove north through the country side up to Killarney National Park. This was breathtaking. Every turn we drove opened up another beautiful view.
Below is a picture of a valley surrounded by hills and covered in greenery along the drive.
We couldn’t believe how green everything was. No filter needed for these pictures– it really is that green. So amazing.
In Killarney, we parked our car and got out and hiked the trail to the Torc waterfall. The hike was absolutely beautiful– we passed a sparkling lake surrounded by trees, meadows full of grazing cows and deer, and more of that bright green grass.
The hike to the waterfall was just as beautiful as the waterfall itself. The picture look deceiving, but the waterfall is at least five stories high. I love the sound of a waterfall– the water rushing against the rocks is such a peaceful noise.
After spending half a day at Killarney National Park, we drove to our next destination. We followed what’s known as the Ring of Kerry– one of Ireland’s most scenic driving loops. We passed by lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and this beautiful harbor view. We stopped and got out to take pictures probably every 20 minutes, which resulted in us arriving past dark to our Air BnB in Portmagee (and getting stuck in mud… story below).
The drive from Killarney to Portmagee was only supposed to take about an hour and a half, but it took us almost twice that since we stopped so much to take pictures. By the time we got close to Portmagee (which is on the west coast of Ireland), it was almost 9pm and pitch black (no streetlights!). Our GPS decided to take us down these obscure roads, one of which ended up dead-ending with a closed bridge, and the other just dead ending in the middle of a field full of sheep. The second road wasn’t even a road– it started off looking paved, but ended up just tapering off and we ended up in that field of sheep surrounded by tall grass. Thank goodness we had a four wheel drive SUV and we were able to get ourselves out of there!
We finally made it to our room– we didn’t know this, but it was actually a shared apartment with a common living room/kitchen with two bedrooms. Not what we expected, but the couple staying in the other room were really nice and we ended up chatting with them for a while.
This is Marie, our host. She had one of the thickest Irish accents I’ve ever heard and her three sheepdogs followed her everywhere! So cute! She was very welcoming.
The whole reason we drove out to Portmagee in the first place (there’s not much to see out there) was to go on a Skellig Michael landing tour. If you are familiar with Star Wars, Skellig Michael is the crazy looking island where Luke Skywalker was found at the end of episode VII. We bought tickets months ago, but they warn you that the tours can be canceled the day before due to weather.
On the day we were supposed to go on this trip, the weather was absolutely beautiful. Albeit very windy, it was sunny, warm, with no rain at all. But, they ended up canceling our tour anyway due to “choppy water”. We were both pretty disappointed.
The domes below are models of what we would have seen on Skellig Michael. On the island, there’s an old monastery dating back to the 6th century. It’s over 600 steps to the top and would have been probably the coolest thing we did on the whole trip, but alas, cancelled.
Instead, we walked over to the Kerry Cliffs, which were across the street from our AirBnB. If you look closely, you can see the pink house towards the middle right of the below picture.
The Kerry Cliffs were absolutely breathtaking (I’m going to be saying that a lot about this trip). Look how awesome the jagged edges of the rock are, with small spots of mossy green and the strips of grey and white. The water was a rich turquoise and was crashing against the rocks at the bottom. It was SO WINDY, we could barely walk up to this view point!
The island on the right is Skellig Michael– this is as close as we got.
Since our landing tour was cancelled, we decided to leave early for our next destination the Cliffs of Moher. We drove to Limerick first for dinner, and along the way we saw signs on the highway for this Crag Cave in Castleisland. Intrigued, we followed the signs and it led us to apparently what is Ireland’s largest show cave. It was discovered in the 80’s, but is thought to be over 1 million years old. There were some pretty impressive stalactites and stalagmites! I had never been in an underground cave before. Pretty neat!
We stopped in Limerick for about two hours for dinner and some quick sight seeing. We went to St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. John’s Castle. We didn’t get to go inside these, but they were pretty neat to look at from the outside. Dinner was in a pub across the street from the cathedral. They had live music and an Irish dancer came out and danced! Limerick was a lovely town and we wish we had more time to explore it.
Cliffs of Moher
Now onto our favorite part of the whole trip– the Cliffs of Moher! These jaw-dropping cliffs were high on our to do list. My grandparents actually made this trip to Ireland years ago and my Grandma painted them– the painting is still hanging in their house and every time I saw it I wanted to go see them for myself. Pictures don’t do it justice– these cliffs are 70 stories tall (at their tallest point, 702 feet).
The path to walk the cliffs is only about three feet from the cliff’s edge. When you dare get close enough to peek over the edge, you’ll get some extreme vertigo.
This is the traditional view that you’ll see online, and it’s the view my Grandma painted years ago. I may have to do a painting of this myself!
This was hands down, our favorite AirBnB. We stayed in a house about 5 minutes from the cliff trail. The house was beautiful, and our host Martina, was so nice. She had everything set up for us, and even had a welcoming gift: a painted rock with our names and the year on it. Such a great souvenir!
When I first walked in the room, I was confused as to why the window was so low to the ground.
But then I understood. For this view in the morning, laying in bed:
We only stayed one night. In the morning for breakfast, our host had laid out a feast. Fresh scones, Irish butter, soda bread, an assortment of cereals and fruits.
She even offered us farm fresh eggs from her neighbor. You bet I took her up on that offer!!
Our final stop in Ireland was Dublin. We turned in our rental car and stayed at the Radisson Blu in the city center. Dublin was actually our least favorite city in Ireland, surprisingly! It was just SO packed with tourists. We wished we had spent more time in Scotland than in Dublin, but that’s hindsight!
In Dublin, we did a TON of walking. Nick got sick with a high fever, congestion and the chills when we arrived so the first day we didn’t do much. Luckily, I had brought Tylenol with us so we were able to bring down his fever. I had to run to a drugstore to pick up more medicine, and they didn’t have any of the normal stuff. I wanted Mucinex for his congestion, but they didn’t have anything like it. The Irish pharmacist recommended some type of serum with licorice, vitamin C and ginseng which he promised would clear his congestion… I had my doubts but decided to trust him anyway. The weird concoction ended up working and helped his congestion clear up a bit!
We visited Dublin Castle, which was one of the more boring castles. It’s been renovated and updated because it’s still used for official things. The swearing in of the Irish president is done here. Our tour guide showed us the underground remains of one of the towers, which dates back to the 1100’s. We also saw all of the state rooms and throne room. My favorite was the dining room!
Two fun activities we did in Dublin were the Jameson and Guinness tours. We did both on the same day
The Jameson Distillery tour consisted of walking through a lab-type room, with a bunch of tables set up. Each table had examples of copper stills, different types of aging barrels, and different years of aged whiskey. The tour guide walked us through how whiskey is made — turns out its very similar to how they make Guinness, sounds like it’s just concentrated much more.
We had a whiskey tasting at the end of the tour. I’m not a big fan of whiskey, but it was still fun anyway. They had samples of a Scottish whiskey, Jameson, and Jack Daniels. The Jameson really did taste the best, in my opinion! Very smooth.
Afterwards we had a mixed whiskey drink in their bar area. Such a cool atmosphere– see the Jameson chandeliers?
We went directly to the Guinness Storehouse. This is next door to the Dublin Guinness brewery site. It’s basically a giant, seven floor museum. It’s a self guided tour, and you walk through different floors showing the brewing process, ingredients, etc. When you get to the 7th floor, there’s the Gravity bar that has 360 degree views of the whole city. They also give you a free pint of Guinness!
Next up: visiting Trinity College, The Book of Kells, and the Old Library Exhibition. Trinity College was founded in the 1500’s, and is the oldest university in Ireland. The campus was pretty with lots of architectural details.
The Book of Kells is an illustrated manuscript in Latin, made in a monastery in Ireland in the 800’s. It’s on display at Trinity College. It was pretty neat to see such an old piece of literature/artwork, but they have it in a glass case (don’t blame them) and they only have it open to one page. So, we were kind of bummed that we only got to see a tiny part of it.
After viewing the Kells, you walk through the Old Library Exhibition. This is a photographer’s dream– just look at the symmetry! There are over 200,000 books in this library and they date from the 1400’s to the 1800’s. You can actually request to read them, and they have every subject matter imaginable, from history, cookbooks, and children’s books. Can you imagine reading a children’s book from the 1700’s?!
We also learned that the books are arranged by height.
Our hotel was a couple blocks away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so we walked over and visited that as well. The place was HUGE, and hundreds of years old, with tombs of very important people. It was neat to see the cathedral dedicated to St. Patrick (of St Patrick’s day… haha!)
Ireland was such an amazing country. We definitely loved western Ireland the most– all the green grass and rolling fields were just so beautiful. Our favorite city was Cork– we loved the small city vibe. Everywhere you turned there was a reminder of Irish culture– from the music, the food, and the people. We met some of the nicest people in Ireland. Who wouldn’t be nice over there, when they get to look at such natural beauty every day!
Everything runs a little slower in Ireland. You can tell that the locals like to enjoy their days– they’re not rushing around, the meals last a little longer, and everyone drives a little slower. The main lesson we took back with us is to slow down and enjoy the every day!
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed learning about our 7 day adventure in Ireland!