City Guide to Ireland & Northern Ireland, UK | Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, Belfast, Antrim Coast, & Beyond
Starting in Dublin, Ireland, we took full advantage of being in such a beautiful country and took a road trip! By car we went to the Cliffs of Moher, Shannon, Bunratty, Limerick, and the Ring of Kerry. We then ventured by train to Northern Ireland and explored Belfast, the Antrim Coast, and Giant’s Causeway!
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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).
Looking for a city guide to Dublin? We write about our time there and our extensive sightseeing itinerary in 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 empathetic anxiety.
Adjusting to Driving on the Left Side of the Road
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.
Once you get the mechanics of the interior figured out, you still have the lane spacing to adjust to because your perspective is probably 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.
Then, with all that taken into consideration, we realized the direction we look to for our rear-view mirror was different. No longer did we need to look up and to the right, was now up and to our left. Finally, it was 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 Shannon’s defense the GPS took us down rural back country roads that were slightly wider than one car width, but still had two-way traffic. On top of that, these roads would’ve 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.
Must See Attractions and Natural Wonders
We made our way a bit north of Dublin to Trim Castle. This isn’t any just castle though, it’s the castle that was 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. Insert sad face here!
In reality Trim Castle is a sparse version of the Braveheart castle. Upon visiting it’s quickly apparent that the castle and the surrounding town that’s seen in the movie is a product of Hollywood ‘magic’. We didn’t let that spoil our time there though, it’s still a very cool castle to visit!
Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher First Attempt
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 ended up arriving in the late afternoon, just an hour or so before sunset. We were glad to have arrived before dusk, but sadly a storm had rolled in early in the afternoon. 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 backwards. We both had to hold a wide stance to stay upright! Ultimately, for our safety, 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!
Cliffs of Moher Second Attempt
On our second attempt, arriving just after the sun had risen, we were the only people on the cliffs. It was spectacular!
We made it to the top scenic/lookout 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.
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!
We found it to be a charming quaint town and to honor Shannon we made a quick drive and a few stops in the city.
Bunratty was our next stop. Here we were able to go inside and tour a castle. It was fantastic. We appreciated that 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 at 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.
Tip: Want to learn how to travel inexpensively by scoring low cost and free hotels? It’s one of the major ways we were able to travel abroad for a year (23 countries and 60 cities) for $16,000 (all-in)! See how we do it and you can too…
In Limerick we stayed at the Radisson Blu and Spa, Limerick, Ireland in a business class room. It was such a nice room that came with bottled water (both flat and sparkling), robes, slippers, an assortment of tea, coffee, 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.
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 Road Trip and The Kerry Cliffs
When we looked up what things we should do and see in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry road trip 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). So, to include enough time for plenty of stops and sightseeing, we scheduled two days for the road trip.
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…
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.
If you’re not geographically inclined, it’s helpful to know that Belfast is in Northern Ireland and is a part of the United Kingdom (not Ireland). The politics within the area are well entrenched and we only scratched the surface of understanding them while visiting.
Sightseeing in Belfast
The walls covered in murals across the city are a sight that should be seen! In addition to the exhibits and museums that teach visitors about the history of the area, these murals are another way to get a glimpse into the city’s politics.
Our Airbnb was about a mile and a half outside of Belfast city center. So, for us it was an enjoyable walk into the city to explore and see the must see attractions.
We purchased a hop-on hop-off city tour that we used to see the city sights and history. It’s always a great way to be able to get to and from the sights.
Queens college, the Belfast Customs building, and the leaning Albert Memorial Clock are beautiful stone and brick buildings. Their architecture alone make these places worth a stop on your sightseeing itinerary.
The Parliament building was no different. 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.
We didn’t know it at first, but we ventured up top the front of the Parliament building and were pleasantly surprised that we could actually go inside! (Note: We did need to pass through a security check first.)
Belfast is known for being the ‘birth place’ of the Titanic because it was built on the docs of Belfast. Plus, the historic ship started it's voyage on the docs of Belfast.
The Titanic Museum is marketed as more than a museum, it's an experience. And for us, it lived up to the hype! It was a very well done museum and full of great things to learn that you may not have expected. For example, did you know that linen is made from flax plants?
One of the features we liked most about the Titanic Museum were the 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 even featured some of the stories in the actual voices of the survivors.
Some might feel that it’s a hefty entrance fee for the museum, but in our humble opinion, it’s well worth it!
Tip: Get discounted tickets with a tourist bundle! Our tickets were discounted because we bought a tourist bundle that included the hop-on hop-off bus, a tour to Giant’s Causeway, and entrance to the Titanic Museum.
The Northern Coast: Giant’s Causeway & the Antrim Coast
Giant’s Causeway and Antrim Coast Tour
We often opt to do sightseeing on our own and stay away from tour buses. But in the case of Norther Ireland 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.
Tours do have their downsides (for us). For example, 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 easily done it 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…maybe… probably not.
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, really it was Shannon that had to have a traditional Irish meal!
We found a small restaurant in downtown, Darcy’s, with good recommendations and walked to it after a day of sightseeing in Belfast.
We’ve learned our lesson from a previous trip to Hawaii (long story, but we didn’t have the cash to pay for the meal we’d already eaten!). 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.
The Irish Lamb Stew looked wonderful! 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! Once we got our chance to taste it, it was just as good as it looked.
All in all, it was a very good meal and put a very nice cap on our stay in Ireland.
At the end of dinner we settled in for the night at out Airbnb and got our bags ready for the morning. We did our best to get a good night’s sleep because 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…