It’s here! Part one of my Ireland travel guide. I know many of you have been waiting for this as you have your own Ireland trips on the agenda for the coming months, and initially I planned on covering the entire trip in one post, but apparently I have A LOT to say, so I’m going to cover the first three days in this post, and the last four in my next post.
As a preview of what’s to come, this post will take you from arrival to Galway to the Aran Islands to the Cliffs of Moher and leave you in Killarney. The next post will cover our second day in Killarney before heading to Kilkenny and Dublin. Make sure you refer back to my posts on Packing for Ireland and How We Planned a Road Trip Abroad to round out your Ireland planning.
DAY ONE: DUBLIN TO GALWAY
We arrived in Dublin a bit before 9 a.m. and immediately rented a car to trek all the way across the country. You can read all my tips on planning an Ireland road trip in my post here, but my number one piece of advice is to pay attention to the car you’re renting. The default is a manual, so make sure you’re getting something you can actually drive.
From the airport, we drove west to spend part of the day in Clifden and at Connemara National Park before heading to Galway. This first leg is what I would have done differently if I were planning the trip again. We were far too exhausted to truly enjoy our first day in Ireland and should have just spend the day relaxing in Ireland rather than hitting the road. Also, Clifden and Connemara National Park were kind a bit underwhelming compared to many of the other places we went. I would have rather had more time to explore the colorful and lively city of Galway, but if you do include Clifden and Connemara National Park in your itinerary, grab lunch at Guys Bar and Snug in Clifden, do the shorter hike through Connemara, and plan on a stop at Kylemore Abbey.
Our first night in Ireland got off to a rough start – we booked an adorable Airbnb in the country in Athenry outside Galway…and there was a bit of a dead mouse smell problem that got progressively worse throughout the night. Luckily our Airbnb host was totally understanding, refunded us, and we ended up spending the next night at the Salthill Hotel in Galway thanks to Hotel Tonight, which I would absolutely recommend. It’s on the water, close to downtown, and I wish we’d had more time there.
DAY TWO: GALWAY AND THE ARAN ISLANDS
While I do wish we’d been able to explore Galway more, I absolutely don’t regret our decision to spend almost our entire second day in the region out on the Aran Islands, a trio of rural islands reachable only by ferry. I wavered on whether to include this in our itinerary because the only available ferry times meant that we’d be leaving in the morning and coming back in the evening, however the sunny, slightly cool weather that day made for a perfectly Irish experience.
The ferry takes about half an hour to reach the Aran Islands and, unless it’s pouring rain, I would recommend sitting on the open top of the ferry as there were more than a few seasick people downstairs within the boat. Once on the island, there are two bike rental shops immediately at the end of the dock. Both shops rent bikes for 10 euro and it’s the only way to get around the island unless you’d prefer to do a van tour. We were on the “big” island, Inis Mor, for 6 hours which was the right amount of time to bike the entire island, visit the Dun Aengus fort which sits atop the most gorgeous cliffs, sit down for lunch at Teach Nan Phaidi one of the island’s only restaurants, pop in a few of the shops which sell the famed Aran wool sweaters, and relax at Joe Watty’s Restaurant with a pint of beer before heading back.
The islands move at a slower pace than anywhere I’ve ever been. There’s nothing commercial, just a simple island filled with people who still speak Irish and live a self sufficient agrarian lifestyle.
DAY THREE: GALWAY TO KILLARNEY
We woke up to a bright day in Galway and walked outside to sun sparkling on the Galway Bay outside our hotel and grabbed a quick breakfast down the street at the Gourmet Tart Company and made a stop at local and super helpful pharmacy so I could tackle the allergies I seemed to develop immediately upon arriving in Ireland. Had we had another day in Galway, I would have loved to have strolled along the bay and made our way to the Sheridan Cheesemongers for lunch, but we’ll save that for next time.
Our drive from Galway to Killarney along the Wild Atlantic Way was the longest of our trip, but also took us through the most stops along the way, which I’ll break out for you below. The drive begins with the most stunning, relaxing roads along the water before taking you into the other worldly landscape of the Burren, and then through the pastoral fields you expect from Ireland. The diversity of the terrain is incredible, and was something I did not expect at all.
- Stop One: The Burren Perfumery. I’m such a perfume person, but I was a bit apprehensive about adding this stop to an already long drive. It’s about 20 minutes out of the way and with an almost three hour drive ahead, I definitely had my doubts on whether a perfumery would be worth the extra time. However, after my visit, I can’t recommend it enough. The sweetest woman took us on a tour of the perfumery where we chatted briefly with one of the perfume makers, went behind the scenes of the soap and candle making, and sample all of the perfumes before deciding on a favorite to take home as a souvenir of my trip. Even Adam got into it (they have men’s scents, too!).
- Stop Two: Cliffs of Moher. I know I’m about to offend some with this…but I was not blown away by the Cliffs of Moher. Yes, they’re something to check off the list, but, honestly, the cliffs on the Aran Islands took my breath away, and the Cliffs of Moher were just overcrowded and touristy. Feel free to add them to your itinerary, but don’t have any high expectations or you’ll be majorly let down.
- Stop Three: Adare. Touted as Ireland’s prettiest town, Adare seemed like an idyllic place to stop for a late lunch on our way to Killarney. We had a cozy lunch at The Blue Door Restaurant before strolling through the streets lined with thatched roof houses, antique shops, and stylish – and absurdly expensive – boutiques.
After our break in Adare, we arrived in Killarney by late afternoon and drove up to our home for the next two nights, the Cahernane House Hotel. I’m going to dive deeper into our stay in my next post, but just to give you a teaser, I loved this hotel to the point where I asked Adam if we should nix our Charlottesville wedding plans and get married here (for the record, we are NOT doing that). That evening we decided to take a break from the rich Irish food and try out a Spanish restaurant that had excellent reviews online, La Rambla. It was a welcome change from the heavy Irish soda bread I’d been scarfing down the previous few days, and while the service was just as MIA as promised online, the food was awesome.
Okay, now I’m going to leave you in Killarney and I’ll pick back up next week with the rest of our stay in Killarney, our days in Kilkenny and Dublin, and how we learned a lesson in adjusting our travel itinerary to suit what we need in the moment rather than getting caught up in checking off boxes.