Out of the 20 something countries I've visited, I would have to say Ireland is in my top 3, hands down! The people are so friendly, the beer is great, and the green land itself is just something you don't see everywhere.
Since the husband has work, I have school, and I love to travel on a budget, our schedule for Ireland was short. We went to Dublin for Saint Patrick's Day this year but only spent two days. This weekend we went back but instead to Shannon and stood for two days as well. Both times we had used the budget airline RyanAir and paid less than $85 per person round trip! We love Ireland and would love to go back for a third time, definitely for a longer stay. We are just lucky to have been able to travel there, even if it were for just one day!
If you are planning a trip to Ireland, you would want more than a week (maybe even two) to soak up all of the beauty and greatness of this country. But if your schedule can only give you a few days for a trip to Ireland, here's how you can see most of the highlights in less than 4 days.
Rent a Car
Driving on the left side of the road in a right hand drive car may feel daunting at first but you’ll realize that driving is the best mode of transportation while traveling in Ireland. Before selecting which rental car agency to use, compare the prices and the insurance packages that are included. Find out exactly what they include and if maybe a third party insurance will work better for you. Some rental car agencies require a large hold to be put on your account (by large I mean thousands of Euros) if you select to use insurance other than their insurance. I went through Avis and I rented the smallest car they had with a manual gearbox. If you book online you will pay a slightly cheaper rate. Select just the car at its base price and then when you arrive to Avis in person, you can decide if you want to purchase their insurance.
Whichever you choose, understand that there is a small chance that you’ll return the car with scratches or car dings because the lanes are so small. That is why it is best to rent the smallest car you can while you’re in Ireland.
My first mistake was sitting in the driver's seat and reaching out for the gearbox with my right hand! My husband looked at me crazy and told me that I wouldn't drive, he would. (Sounds good to me, huh). From my husband’s point of view, it probably would’ve been easier to get an automatic car. Switching to second gear with his left hand instead of his right while turning on the blinkers in a roundabout (and there are plenty of roundabouts) was one more thing to think about while getting used to the driving. Of course, renting an automatic car will increase your rental car rate but it could ease some frustration.
Something to remember when driving is to hug the left lane and reach far out when making right turns. I thought we were almost going to crash when my husband was going to make a left turn and almost drove in the wrong lane! So remember, hug the left and reach far out for the right. :)
Drive to the Coast
As I mentioned earlier, for our first trip to Ireland we just stood in Dublin for Saint Patrick’s Day. This past weekend, we were glad to have been able to drive from Shannon towards the Cliffs of Moher. Many people have recommended the drive to Northern Ireland and to see Giant’s Causeway. We both really wanted to go and had started to plan the long drive. Two days before our trip, we decided it would be more driving than experiencing in such a short time with a total of 11 hours in driving time. As soon as we landed in Shannon, we picked up our rental car and headed to Cliffs of Moher and to Doolin. We were not disappointed at all as we showed up before sunset! Breathtaking views along The Burren Way and the cliffs were awesome! If I had more time, I would have also looked into driving through the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.
Stop for Castles
You will see castles and ruins everywhere in Ireland! I’ve looked up the castles by county and there has to be a few hundred castles in this country. Since we cancelled the drive to Northern Ireland, we decided to create our own route for castles. We stopped in Shannon for the Bunratty Castle, Doolin for the Doonagore Castle, Kilkenny for the Kilkenny Castle, Cashel for the Rock of Cashel and in Limerick for King John’s Castle.
Enjoy a Medieval Banquet in a Castle
This was by far the highlight of our Ireland trip! I heard great reviews and just had to reserve a dinner at the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet! You can search other banquets in Ireland that offer similar experiences such as the Knappogue Banquet and the Dunguaire Castle Banquet but the one at Bunratty Castle was great!
We were welcomed into the castle with mead from the servers wearing period costumes while waiting to be escorted into the banquet hall. The servers, who were also part of the entertainment crew, were singing to the crowd but remained observant as to who they would choose to be part of the interactive scenes. I had a weird feeling we would be picked on since we were 10 minutes late and were the last to show up.
Then, we were all escorted to the banquet hall where we had assigned seats in a communal table. The couple that sat next to us (Jenny & Paul) were awesome, it made the night fun as we chatted throughout the dinner! They shared their experience in Ireland with us as they had been there already for a week and had seen so much. The food was ready to be served and the entertainment continued with storytelling and music. The mead had been passed around the table along with wine (we couldn’t figure out where the water was!) Once our food was served, we were told that we could only use our fingers and a knife as utensils.
As we were eating, one of the servers approached my husband and Paul. The server, Derek, decided that one of them would be part of the show. My husband volunteered to take one for the team and played the role of a prisoner begging to be released by singing a song to the crowd. I could actually hear the older women in the crowd yelling out “but he’s so cute”, “look at how adorable he is” and I just laughed because it was true. My husband looks so adorable when he’s embarrassed and this was one of those things that he would just never volunteer to do!
Maybe the reason why I was having so much fun was because the mead and the wine were getting to me! Either way, it was a great night with great company and entertainment. I would recommend doing something like this in Ireland to anyone!
Spend a Night Sleeping in a Castle
Although I didn’t get to do this, the couple we met at the Medieval Banquet had mentioned this to us and this seemed pretty neat! It wouldn’t take any time away from your trip because well, you have to sleep somewhere, don’t you? In County Clare, there is the Dromoland Castle which is a 5 star hotel showcasing its elegance with antique chandeliers and descending staircases. Had I booked my hotel arrangements in advance, I probably would’ve stayed in the castle!
Tour a Former Prison
The Kilmainham Gaol was a former prison in Dublin and is now a museum offered to the public. The guided tour is 4 Euro per adult and it is about an hour long. You’ll first step in to watch an audio-visual presentation, afterwards walk through the gaol, and then outside where former leaders were executed. I am not going to lie, it felt a bit spooky in there hearing the stories of what went on in the prison but nonetheless, it was a great experience.
Try Different Beers
Of course Ireland is known for Guinness but why not venture out and try other Irish beers? I love Guinness with its dark and rich flavors, especially in Ireland (I won’t drink it anywhere else in the world) but my new found love is in Smithwick’s Kilkenny Irish Ale. Stop into one of the many pubs in Ireland to have a drink or a few and enjoy the Irish bar atmosphere. Trust me, it can be quite fun people watching in an Irish pub while they’re drunk!
Become Certified in Whiskey Tasting
Who doesn’t love Irish whiskey? If you know me, you would know my go-to drink is Jameson & Ginger-Ale with a lime wedge. So going to the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin was at the top of my list of things to do! If you can’t make it to the Dublin location, there is also the Jameson Experience in Midleton, Cork. The Jameson location in Dublin offered an hour long tour which included whiskey comparison tastings and a complimentary drink at the end. It was worth the experience and the free drink!
Learn to Pour a Perfect Pint of Guinness
I love doing brewery tours but the Guinness Storehouse was a bit different than the other tours I’ve been on. This tour takes you through the Guinness Academy where they teach you how to pour your own pint of Guinness. The tour should probably be done earlier in the day as the lines were long and it’s best to purchase your ticket online so you’re not waiting too long outside. Once you’re inside you can take a self-guided tour around the Guinness Storehouse and make your way up to the different floors to learn more of the history and brewing process at Guinness. Be sure to check out the panoramic view of Dublin on the top floor!
Compliment an Irish Breakfast with Irish Coffee
The good ol’ full Irish breakfast. Yummy. I always get excited to eat it while I’m there. But you know what makes it better? Drinking Irish coffee! I typically would take the tea with my breakfast but once I tried Irish coffee, I couldn’t go back! I don’t even like coffee but the shot of whiskey makes it all the better!
If you haven't been to Ireland yet, start looking into it NOW! :)