Today I’m here with the second of my Ireland blog posts! The first one went over what to pack for Ireland, now I’m back with how we planned our Ireland trip and what you need to know when planning a road trip abroad. This wasn’t our first rodeo with an international road trip, but it was certainly more extensive – with lots more possibility for twists and turns and detours – than our Iceland Ring Road road trip. There’s lots more planning that goes into it and, since it seems that Ireland is becoming an increasingly popular destination, I’m hoping this helps a few of you out as you plan your own trip!
We were asked so many times if Ireland had been on our list for a long time and, be honest, it wasn’t. At all. I had never even thought of going there! But, one morning, Adam forwarded me an email with a deal on Ireland flights – $330 round trip out of BWI. I mean…I couldn’t pass that up, right?
A couple minutes later, our flights were booked. We didn’t really think much about it, we just picked our dates – almost a year out – and figured we’d nail down the details later. Well, over the next few months, we talked to friends who had been there and heard again and again that a road trip is the best way to see the country. Initially, we actually heard that a week would be way too long in Ireland and we should try to book RyanAir flights elsewhere once we got over there. Luckily, we didn’t listen to the Ireland naysayers, because, honestly, I could have even stayed longer.
HOW BEST TO EXPERIENCE THE EMERALD ISLE
If you plan on seeing as much of Ireland as you can during your trip, like we did, then you’ll definitely be looking at an Emerald Isle road trip. You could stay in Dublin the whole time and you’d never need a car, but I wouldn’t recommend limiting yourself to one city. We loved Dublin, but you won’t get that quintessential Irish countryside experience. Speaking of Dublin, however, a lot of people hated on it and, as a result, we only scheduled 24 hours there. Well, we LOVED it and easily could have spent another day or two exploring the city – there will be much more in my travel guide coming up next week, but just know that there is so much to do and it’s such a vibrant, friendly city.
Okay, back to how to experience Ireland, we knew that wanted to see all the different landscapes of the country, so we planned a road trip that would take us from Dublin in a counter-clockwise route, eventually leading back to Dublin. A quick note: it didn’t seem realistic to try to fit in Northern Ireland on this trip, but that is something I’d like to do in the future.
While the entire country is significantly smaller than the state of Virginia, there’s an amazing diversity in what you’ll find. There are the rolling, green hills of the southeast – this is the terrain I always thought of when Ireland came to mind, the cliffs of the west, and crazy flora and fauna that make up the Burren. Until I got there, I anticipated the entire country to be these pastoral rolling hills dotted with sheep. That’s definitely not the case. It’s a much more varied landscape than you’d ever expect.
SELECTING OUR ROUTE
When I first sat down to select our road trip route, I was so intimidated at the thought of picking 3-5 cities in a country I didn’t know at all and hoping those happened to be the best spots to visit. However, I quickly realized the way to do this was to look at routes of guided tours of Ireland and see what patterns started emerging in the stops they selected along the way. I knew a guided tour wasn’t the right option for us, but I also recognized that these people know the sites you need to see and the cities that are worth visiting.
So, after scouring several guided tour sites and mapping out the distance between cities, we settled on the following route:
- Day 1: Arrive in Dublin around 9 AM and drive to Galway
- Day 2: Galway and the Aran Islands
- Day 3: Leave Galway and drive to Killarney, stopping at the Cliffs of Moher and the town of Adare on the way
- Day 4: Killarney
- Day 5: Leave Killarney and drive to Kilkenny
- Day 6: Leave Kilkenny and drive to Dublin
- Day 7: Fly back to the US
Our itinerary gave us enough downtime to explore the cities where we were staying, yet it also kept us moving enough to see a large swath of the country. If we had more time, we would have loved to include Dingle and Cork. We actually had Dingle scheduled as a day trip from Killarney, but had to cut it when we accepted that all the driving was wearing us out.
If there’s one item on our itinerary that I absolutely wouldn’t miss, it’s the Aran Islands. We debated going because it is absolutely a time commitment – you leave on a ferry in the morning and come back around 5 PM – but we had such a lovely day biking around this rural Irish island. Make sure you work it into your itinerary if you can.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR A ROAD TRIP ABROAD
So, a road trip abroad, it’s definitely a new adventure from a road trip in your own country. Every time I rent a car somewhere else, I’m shocked that they just give you the keys and let you drive away. Like, what about all these different road signs?! How am I supposed to know what things mean when they’re in another language?! Your only option is to cross your fingers and figure it out. But, I do have a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
- If you don’t drive manual, triple check that the car you’re getting is automatic. Yes, there’s a huge price difference, but driving in another country is not the time to figure out stick shift.
- There may be an option to get wifi in your car. If this is the case, get it. This didn’t come up in Ireland, but when we were in Iceland, I 100% wish we had splurged on the in car wifi. When you have no idea where you are and you accidentally close out Google maps with zero service, you’re going to wish you had that wifi.
- I can’t totally speak to this because I didn’t drive, but when you’re driving on the left side of the road, be conscious of where the left side of your car is. Luckily, Adam had me in the passenger seat to tell him when he was about to clip whatever was on my side of the car, but we talked to a girl who was traveling by herself and she said not having a second person to remind her of the left side of the car was the toughest part of a solo trip.
- Take it slow. The Irish speed limits are insane. That is the one consistent thing that I have heard from anyone that’s driven in Ireland. You’re driving 60 km/h and you see that the speed limit is 120 km/h – it makes no sense! Just take it at your own speed and don’t drive off the road.
- Maybe spend a night in Dublin before you hit the road. We drove to Galway as soon as we got off our flight at 9 in the morning and it’s a miracle we didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. So, learn from our mistake and don’t do that. Actually, this one tip is the biggest takeaway I have from our entire week.
What’s next from me? I’ll have the Travel Guide to every city we visited, what we did, and what you should do next week. So, stay tuned!