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Trip Report Eight days in Irealnd

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So this is long overdue, considering our trip was in April 2011. But I've only recently discovered these forums, and as I've found the trip reports to be really helpful in planning our trip next year to Italy, I thought I would add in our trip to Ireland to help others.

We booked a package deal through Sceptre Tours for an eight-day trip to Ireland that included airfare, two nights in Dublin, vouchers for four nights at B&Bs of our choosing and then a final night at the Irish manor Adare. It also included a car rental. On top of the stop in Dublin, we decided to tour the town of Kilkenny, Cobh and then the Dingle Peninsula.

Tips: It's much cheaper to eat your meal at the bar instead of in the actual sit-down part of a restaurant. They charge you different prices. Also, liquor is not cheap there. I went from drinking whiskey and coke, to finally finding a beer (which is cheaper) I liked, to going to a grocery store to buy the alcohol and drinking it in our B&B room with the hubby.

Before you leave, plan out where you're going and how to get there. Get very precise copies of the directions. If Google (or whatever) tells you to turn in 423 meters, write that down. Street signs are scarce in Ireland, and if you don't want to get lost, you better have good directions beforehand.

Speaking of driving, it's definitely doable (and fun once you get the hang of it!) We even had a stick shift, which made it more challenging. But the roads are very curvy and like I said, street signage isn't the greatest. So just be patient, and if you're with a partner, don't get mad at each other. We actually only got lost once (we weren't even lost, we just kept missing our turn and kept circling back around).

At Rick Steve's advice, we bought a pack of coupons that had discounts for various sites and a card that got us into all the Irish Heritage sites for free. The card was totally worth it; the coupons, not so much. A lot of the discounts in there were for places that were actually free. Lame. The card lasts a year, though, so we gave ours to a couple we met while we were returning our rental car at the end of the trip for them to use.

I had read that you should avoid B&B vouchers because the B&B owners don't like them and you have a much more limited selection. Well, that may be true, but they were part of our package. To be truthful, I didn't have a problem with them. All three of the B&Bs we stayed at were nice, clean and welcoming. I would stay at all of them again in a heartbeat. (Sorry, I don't remember their names)

Flight: We took an overnight flight from Chicago to Dublin, non-stop, on Aer Lingus. For economy seats on a plane, they weren't bad. We got lucky and had a row of four seats to just me and my husband. We also tried to plan to sleep on the flight by waking up REALLY early that day (the flight took off around 6 p.m.) but alas, they never turned the lights off on the plane and the stewardesses kept bothering us. I'll take a few more precautions next time, such as asking not to be disturbed and using noise-canceling headphones.

Day 1: We landed to extremely nice weather, considering it was April in Ireland. The first four days we were there, it was sunny and in the mid-70s. The weather was actually much better than back home in Chicago! The first day we tried to push our way through jet lag but with not much success. After checking into our hotel, we got lunch at a random pub, and that was really nice. It was a great introduction to the Irish hospitality. The food was so-so, but I didn't go to Ireland for the food.

We then went to some of the national museums of Ireland but wasted a lot of energy on walking to them. The museums were interesting but not exactly a highlight. We then went to No. 29 Georgian House, which is a preserved a house of a well-to-do Irish family in the early 1800s. I usually love touring old houses, but this was probably the biggest bust in Ireland for me. It could very well have been that by the time we got there, I was just too tired to care, so take that into account. We finally decided we weren't going to make it any longer and went back to our hotel for dinner.

After our nap, we headed to Temple Bar to walk around and find dinner. The area is fun to walk around in but definitely not cheap. We enjoyed a good, although pricey dinner, and then found another random bar to sit in for a few hours. This was our first introduction to how the Irish do drinks differently - whenever I order a whiskey and coke here in America, it all comes as one price. The Irish give you an old Coke bottle, charge you about 4 Euros for that, and then the whiskey, for about 6 Euros. Ouch. My drinking habits kept changing throughout the trip, let's just say.

Day 3: We started off visiting Trinity College and the Book of Kells. If you get there early, there isn't much of a line and it takes just an hour to go through. The exhibit is short but good. We then headed to the Guinness museum. I'd heard this was a good place to visit but not great. Well, it's true that you're not seeing any of the actual brewing of the Guinness, but it was still really informative, interesting and extensive. My husband especially loved the fact that you get two beer samples, one in the middle of the tour and at the end. I don't drink beer, so gave my samples to him. Let's just he was a little tipsy by the end - which is actually the best part. The museum has you work your way up five flights until you end at the roof top bar that has a 360 degree view of Dublin and the surrounding mountains. It's absolutely gorgeous - go to the museum if for no other reason than the view! There were also several groups of tourists that started belting out drinking songs - it was a very fun atmosphere.

Afterward, we hopped on one of the Dublin buses to head over to the Kilmainham Jail - only problem is we completely missed the stop and, at my awesome suggestion, decided to just stay on the bus until it looped back around. Except the bus went alllllll the way out to the suburbs. We ended up at some mall. So after having to board another bus and about an hour later, we finally ended up at the jail, after asking for directions for several times (signage is not the greatest in Ireland.) We really enjoyed the jail - I learned a lot about the Irish fight for freedom from the British.

Day 3: We planned on going north of Dublin to see several sights before driving south to Kilkenny, but we woke up two hours late - boo. We still made it up to Newgrange, though, which I cannot recommend enough. IT's a short drive from Dublin, about 40 minutes, and although none of the descriptions I had read about it sounded all that interesting, I opted to go because it was so highly rated. I was really glad I did. Basically, Newgrange (and another mound in the area, I can't remember what it's called) are ancient mounds that were created before Stonehenge and the pyramids. The ancient Irish used these huge slabs of stone to create the walls and ceilings of the interior - it's incredible how they were able to lift them. The whole interior is designed so that on the winter solstice (I believe,) a single ray of sunlight strikes right through a hole above the doorway and lights up the interior. Super cool.

We then drove south to Kilkenny, which I thought was a really charming town. It received middling ratings in the tour books I read, but I'm glad we went. It's a small town that's very walkable and has a delightful downtown area. It makes you feel like you stepped back several hundred years. We were lucky in that the weekend we went, an R&B festival was going on, so all the bars had a lot of great bands playing. We met an awesome Irish couple who were so friendly and made us feel very welcome. It was also funny because the bar was showing the NFL draft - we didn't expect that!.

Day 4: We spent the morning touring the castle in Kilkenny - there's no guided tours, but an audio tour was fun to listen to. The grounds were gorgeous. If you're into old buildings, you'll like this place. We then headed south to the Rock of Cashel, which was just amazing. It's the ruins of an old cathedral (or abbey? I can't remember which) where St. Patrick was supposedly baptized. It's really just ruins, but what cool ruins! You see it really far away as you drive there, and it's just this huge building sitting high up on this rock. Really amazing views, plus the history is fun.

We then headed south to the Old Middleton Distillery - if you like whiskey, or alcohol, at all, go here! It was so much fun seeing how they make whiskey. At the end, I volunteered to do a tasting of whiskeys - an Irish, a Scotch and a bourbon from America. It was really cool to taste the differences.

We then spent the night in Cobh, a lovely little ocean resort town. Our B&B was high up on the hill, so we had a really pretty view of the town and ocean. Cobh is known for being the last call of the Titanic, but I'm not really into that so we didn't visit the museum. We basically walked around town and enjoyed its charms.

Day 5. We left Cobh and drove to Charles Fort in nearby (and bigger) Cork. This was the first day the weather started to turn on us. It wasn't bad, but it got a lot windier and spit rain every now and then. The fort was fine - it gave an interesting lesson on life as a soldier in Ireland, and had some cool views of the bay. But it wasn't something I'm dying to revisit either.

After stopping for lunch in Cork (finally found an Internet cafe!), we headed west to the Dingle Peninsula. Our first afternoon there we basically just walked around and explored. We actually found a pitch and putt course (it's not putt putt, think of it as a tiny golf course) that had amazing views because it was right on the water.

Day 6. After staying the night in the town of Dingle, we toured the peninsula itself. This is literally some of the most gorgeous views I have ever seen. We didn't tour the Ring of Kerry, which is the better known peninsula, but I in no way regret picking Dingle over it. Just so gorgeous. You drive right along the edge of the whole peninsula and see a lot of really old ruins, plus a museum talking about some of the last speakers of Irish. We brought food along with us for a picnic and went out pretty far on one cliff - one of the best views I've ever had while eating.

We spent the rest of the day shopping in DIngle. It's a cute town and fun to tour.

Day 7. We decided we wanted to head north to the Cliffs of Moher and took our hostess' advice to cut across the peninsula instead of driving all the way back inland and then going north. Well, it was definitely a really cool view all along the way, but if you're terrified of heights like I am, beware! You drive literally at the top of a mountain on a road wide enough for just one car, so if you come upon a car going the opposite direction, one of you has to back up until you find a spot to pull over.

We finally made it up to the Cliffs. One of my friends said that they pale in comparison to DIngle, which is true, but I'm still glad we went. It really is cool seeing such steep cliffs that go straight into the ocean. You can't get too close to the edge, because of people falling off they've put up rails. But it's definitely worth an hour or two.

Day 8. Drove back to Dublin to catch our plane!

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