City Guide to Ireland & Northern Ireland, UK | Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, Belfast, Antrim Coast, & Beyond
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Sitting down to write this post is somewhat challenging. We want to share our experiences in Ireland, yet aren’t fully sure we can express them adequately. We’re tempted to just type, “And we spent a couple of weeks in Ireland”, and leave it at that. Seriously, what more do we really need to say? It’s Ireland! Just close your eyes and picture Braveheart, Game of Thrones, P.S. I Love You, etc (don't get crazy, we know, Braveheart is about Scotland, but it was in fact filmed primarily in Ireland).
Don’t miss Our City Guide to Dublin, Ireland | Must See Attractions!
Seriously Though, About Our Ireland Adventures…
Our last day in Dublin was certainly one we won’t forget. See, up until this point we’ve traveled by bus and by foot, not by car. If you haven’t realized it yet, this is a big deal because Ireland and the United Kingdom are countries that drive on the left side of the road. Neither one of us have any experience driving on the left, so this was bound to be interesting. Sergio took the first shift at the driver’s wheel and made his way through city center Dublin and to the country side. It was nerve wrecking for Sergio, and Shannon was just as nervous, if not more so for him. We’ll call it empathy anxiety.
It’s Harder Than You May Think
The thing is, it isn’t just about driving on the left side of the road. There are so many moving parts, knobs, levers and dials, that are just a little bit different and need your attention. For example, the gear shift is still in the center console, but since the driver sits on the right, you’re no longer shifting with your right hand, instead, shifting is with your left hand. Thankfully, the gears are still ordered in the same layout and aren’t reversed or something silly like that. Although, it’s worth mentioning that we had to ask how to get the car in reverse, since in our rental car, you had to push the stick down, towards the floor of the car, and then move it into reverse. Then, the lane spacing you have come accustom to has changed. Your perspective is now way off. We found we have a tendency to drive much too close to the left side of the road. This makes it a bit challenging to navigate the tiny, narrow roads that seem to be ever present in Ireland. Luckily, we side swiped nothing more than a few branches, and maybe a bush or two (tiny country roads we tell you!).
Then, with all that taken into consideration, you realize that your mirrors are off. No longer do you look up and to the right to see your rear-view mirror. It’s up and to your left. Not to mention that it’s an odd thing to get used to crossing traffic when you make right turns. With a little time behind the wheel, we both adjusted and became more comfortable. Shannon must confess though, she took a bit longer to be comfortable. In her defense the GPS took her down rural back country roads that were slightly wider than one car width, but there were cars traveling in both directions. On top of that, these roads would have been limited to a top speed of 20-30 miles per hour in the US, but here the limit was 80 kilometers per hour (equivalent to 50 miles per hour) and most cars were taking full advantage of it. So yes, she took longer to get the color back in her face and breath at a normal pace, but after a short time on normal roads, she adjusted just fine.
Irish Country and Natural Wonders
We made our way a bit north of Dublin to Trim Castle. This isn’t any castle though, it’s the castle used to film many scenes in Braveheart. Sergio is a huge fan of the movie and highly anticipated this stop. Frankly, he can’t wait to be on a rolling green hillside, have the Braveheart sound track playing and reenact Mel Gibson’s infamous battle scene (Sergio here! “They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedooooom!”) Shannon isn’t sure where he’ll find white and blue face paint, but she certainly won’t be surprised if he does!
We enjoyed the castle, but it’s worth noting that in reality, it looks nothing like the one in the movie. Aww, the magic of Hollywood. All of the surroundings, town, and structures, along with elements of the castle were built out for the movie. So, upon visiting, Trim Castle is a sparse version of the Braveheart castle.
Cliffs of Moher
We drove the three or so hours across the span of the Ireland country side to make our way to the Cliffs of Moher. We arrived late afternoon, just an hour or so before sunset, which we were glad for. However, a storm had rolled in early in the afternoon and immediately upon exiting our car, we were attacked by the wind. Now, you may think that the word attacked is overkill. Let us assure you, it’s not. The closer we got to the cliffs, the harder the wind became. As we made our way to the top scenic point we stopped and looked at each other. Shannon not only couldn’t push her body forward, but was being pushed back. We both had to hold a wide stance to stay upright. This was the first time in our lives we felt a true sense of danger invoked by wind. We turned around and decided that we’d try again in the morning.
We stayed at a lovely Airbnb and got a good night’s rest (use our link and save up to $40 off your first stay!). Over breakfast the next morning, the owner of the home, John, told us to be extremely cautious. As a paramedic, he was all too familiar with being called to the Cliffs of Moher to help a person who had violently been blown and dragged along the ground. We were glad we’d chosen to keep it safe the previous day and turn around!
On our second attempt, making it just after the sun had risen, we were the only people on the cliffs. It was spectacular! While still windy, it wasn’t quite as severe. We made it to the top scenic point and just stood there in awe. The cliffs are a sight to see. At that moment, we both knew we were happy with where we were in life, to be standing on the edge of this absolute wonder. It’s one of those sights that make you feel small, in such a large and beautiful world. If you’re fortunate enough to have visited Mount Rushmore, Half Dome, Muir Woods, or someplace similar in person, you’ll understand when we say, the pictures just don’t to it justice!
Shannon, Bunratty and Limerick
What trip to Ireland would be complete without a stop in Shannon. Well, if your name is Shannon that is. It’s a quaint town and we made a quick drive and a small stop in the town. Bunratty was our next stop. Here we were able to go inside and tour a castle. It was fantastic! They allowed you to climb to the top of the towers! We then completed our day with a drive to Limerick, where we stayed for a couple of nights.
Limerick is the first place we took advantage of some of the hotel points we’ve earned and saved over the past few years. We used our Club Carlson points to stay at a category two hotel at 15,000 points a night. Our goal is to use our points for hotels that are one or a two category hotel. The lower the category, the fewer points it costs to stay in them, therefore the further our points go. One and two category hotels generally aren’t in large cities, but are on the outskirts of town. However, we sometimes luck out and get one in the city. In Limerick, we stayed at the Radisson Blu and Spa which had a business class room. It was a very nice room and came with bottled water, both flat and sparkling, robes, slippers, an assortment of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, and access to a gym. We had a great space for work and the hotel was kind enough to bring in a second chair for the desk. Using points for this room saved us $230 for a 2 night stay. Usually Club Carlson points are valued at $0.4 per point, but we got $0.8 per point!
Warning: Tangent. Shannon here! I must comment that it was so nice to have a washcloth while staying at the Radisson Blu. Surprisingly enough (at least for us), not a single place we stayed at in Ireland provided a washcloth or scrub pad for showering. I resorted to using a sock in place of a washcloth! If you have insight into why washcloths don’t seem readily available here, leave a comment! We’re quite curious! Oh, and on that subject, why are there no top sheets here? Literally, it goes from a fitted sheet on the mattress straight to the comforter/blanket for cover.
In town, we spent a day walking city center. We explored several sights, St. Mary’s cathedral, St. John’s Cathedral, Thomond Bridge, Treaty Stone, and King John’s Castle. The tour for the castle was well done and gave a great overview of the history of the castle as well as the surrounding areas. We were able to see the tunnels dug beneath the castle, as well as climb to the top look out on one of the towers.
Ring of Kerry Drive and The Kerry Cliffs
When we looked up what things we should do and see in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry Drive was almost always in the top couple of things to do. On the west side of the country, it’s a drive that takes you along a section of the coast and takes approximately four hours to drive (without stops). We gave it about two days, with half of each day dedicated to the drive and stops. The views are beautiful and vary from country side, snow-capped mountains, to cliffs and ocean.
Please don’t get us wrong on this, it was beautiful. But, it wasn’t spectacular. If this drive was back home, we probably wouldn’t make it a priority on our to-do list. However, the Kerry Cliffs were definitely worth seeing. They are spectacular in a different way from the Cliffs of Moher. We’ll let the images speak for themselves on this one.
A Train to Belfast
We returned the rental car and made our way to the train station in Dublin. We’d pre-purchased tickets to Belfast and had reserved seats on the train with a table and Wi-Fi. It was a nice break to pull out our laptops and for both of us to get some work completed.
Belfast is Northern Ireland and is a part of the United Kingdom. The politics within the area are well entrenched and we only scratched the surface of understanding them while there. The mural walls that are across the city are a sight that should be seen. The architecture is beautiful, and for us, it felt like a much larger city than Dublin, even though it’s population is approximately 60% of Dublin’s. We stayed about one-and-a-half miles out of city center and walked in each morning to do our sightseeing and walked back in the evening to do our work where we were staying.
We purchased a hop-on hop-off city tour that we used to point out the city sights and history for us. It’s always a great way to be able to get to and from the sights. Queens college, Belfast Customs building, and the leaning Albert Memorial Clock are done in beautiful stone and brick architecture. Parliament is no different, and we were able to go inside the main doors and see the entrance way. With the drive leading up to the building and the size and architecture of the building itself, it’s quite a scene, it reminded us of the Mall in Washington, DC.
Belfast is known for being the ‘birth place’ of the Titanic. It was built and started it's voyage on the docs of Belfast. The museum is marketed as more than a museum, it's an experience, and it lives up to the hype. It was a very well done museum, with many interesting things to learn about. Like, did you know that linen is made from flax plants? There were personal stories along the way of people who worked on the construction of the ship, on the vessel while at sea, and passengers from the various ports of call. The museum featured stories in the actual voices of the survivors and had a portion on the exploration of the ship’s wreckage undersea. It’s a hefty fee to get in, but in our humble opinion, it’s worth it. On a side note, we had discounted tickets because we bought a tourist bundle that included the hop-on hop-off bus, a tour to Giant’s Causeway and the Titanic Museum.
The Northern Coast
The Giant’s Causeway and Antrim coast tour was a beautiful tour and bus ride. We often opt to do sightseeing on our own and stay away from tour buses. We weighed the cost of a car and planning out the trip ourselves to the cost of the tour and it being planned for us. In this case, we choose the tour. It certainly has its downsides. We were on the timetable of the tour company, not our own. So, the entire day was taken up by this excursion, where on our own we likely would have done it easily in half a day. However, it was nice to have everything planned and done for us. Would we do it again? We’re not sure, probably not. We have a year of travels to see though!
The coast and country we saw on the tour was exactly what we expected to see when we came to Ireland. The Ring of Kerry drive we took didn’t exactly live up to our expectations, but this drive made up for it! Along the way we saw the Carrickfergus Castle which was right on a cliff side and over the ocean. We stopped at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, but due to high winds, could not cross it. The big attraction of the tour was Giants Causeway. It’s a very interesting sight to see in nature. We’ll let the pictures show you!
Traditional Irish Dinner
Before leaving Ireland, we had to have a traditional Irish meal. And we’ll be honest here, Shannon had to have a traditional Irish meal. We found a small restaurant in downtown, Darcy’s, with good recommendations and walked to it. We’ve learned our lesson from a previous trip to Hawaii, so our first question, even before being seated, was if they accepted credit cards. Upon a positive confirmation, we sat and looked over the menu. We ordered the Irish Lamb Stew. Once it arrived, we were ‘those’ people and pulled out our camera to take a picture of our food. The waitress had a bit of a laugh on that one.
All in all, it was a very good meal and put a very nice cap on our stay in Ireland. We settled in for the night, got our bags ready for the morning, and did our best to get a good night’s sleep. The morning was awaiting us and would call for a long day of travels. The hardest part will be the first leg, with a five-and-a-half mile walk across the city…