Friendly and fun loving people, breathtaking landscapes, and so green! Of course I am referring to Ireland! We just got back from an amazing 10 days there and we didn’t even scratch the surface of this amazing country.
We decided, on our first trip to Ireland, we did not want to drive and weren’t really thrilled with the idea of being on a large coach with a totally filled itinerary so we booked an independent hosted vacation through Monograms, owned by Globus Tours. Monograms takes care of your hotels, transfers, transportation, and some must see sightseeing while also giving you your freedom to explore on your own with the help of a dedicated host in each city you visit. The hosts can give you helpful suggestions to make the most of your time like dining and shopping recommendations, setting up optional tours, providing maps and brochures of local activities, etc.
We flew into the Shannon International airport on the western side of Ireland since most itineraries plan a route so you don’t backtrack and you can depart out of Dublin or in our case, Belfast. Our host, Tommy picked us up right outside of customs and escorted us to Limerick, our first stop for two nights. Tommy was full of information and told us some of the history of his country and pointed out a few landmarks on the way. We arrived at our hotel in the morning, but rooms weren’t available until the afternoon. We decided to go out and have breakfast and ride the hop on/off bus until we could check in.
Limerick is the third largest city in Ireland, but on a Sunday morning it was quiet (maybe too much time in the pubs the night before?). The hop on/off bus took us on a tour of the city and we got off to explore King John’s Castle, built in 1200 on the Shannon River for protection from surrounding Gaelic kingdoms and any rebellious Normans. It was partially destroyed in 1642 and today you can explore the ramparts and learn more of it’s history through the interactive exhibits.
The next day we took a full day tour to the Cliffs of Moher. We stopped along the way at Poulnabrone Dolmen, an ancient burial site dating back to 3800 BC.
Driving through the Burren region was like looking at a lunar landscape.
After a nice pub lunch in Ballyvaughen, it was time for the main attraction! We had great weather and the sun was shining as we walked up the trail to see the cliffs and they did not disappoint!
Seeing these cliffs, at over 700 feet tall, meet the Atlantic ocean is simply stunning. We returned back to Limerick for a second night.
Tommy arrived in the morning to transfer us by mini-van shuttle to Killarney where we would be spending 3 nights. On the way we stopped in the gorgeous village of Adare.
Then arrived in Killarney where we met our hostess, Dee. She showed us the main street of Killarney and we were off to explore and have lunch. Later we went on a jaunting car ride (known to us as a horse drawn carriage) into the Killarney National Park and stopped at Ross Castle to take pictures.
Pub life is huge in Ireland, it is a place to go to socialize, exchange news, listen to music, and enjoy a beer. We were able to sample quite a few local brews and hear traditional Irish songs in Killarney.
We had the next day free to explore Killarney and we decided to take it easy and use the spa at our hotel and relax. We were at the halfway point in our trip and used this time to regroup, it is a vacation after all!
Our last day in Killarney, we took a tour of the famous Ring of Kerry, a 110 mile scenic drive of the Iveragh Peninsula through coastal seaside towns. We stopped at a historic bog village, watched a sheep dog trial and learned how the dogs work to control the sheep.
We stopped for lunch and continued onto Sneem, a small picturesque village, for shopping and free time before continuing our journey back to Killarney through the national park and once last stop at Ladies View, a scenic overlook of the lakes of Killarney.
We travelled by train from Killarney to Dublin. The train is modern and clean, easy to navigate, and it took a little over 3 hours to arrive in Dublin. We were met again by our local host, Damien, who gave us a short panoramic tour of the city on the way to our hotel. After dropping off our bags, we rushed over to Kilmainham Gaol (jail) and took a guided tour to learn of the history of the many rebellions that took place in Ireland between 1798 and 1916 by strong willed, courageous Irish Nationalists who were looking for freedom from British rule.
On our way back to our hotel, we saw an Oktoberfest celebration going on with beer, German food, and music so it looked like a fun place to grab a bite to eat for dinner.
Our next day in Dublin was rainy, but we headed out to sightsee. We stopped first at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and couldn’t go in because a ceremony was going on so we walked down the block to Christ Church Cathedral, a medieval church dating back to 1030. It began as a Viking church and later the Church of Ireland. We visited both the church and the crypt underneath.
Our third stop was to Trinity College to view the Book of Kells, one of the most popular attractions in Dublin. The book was written in 800 AD and contains the 4 gospels in Latin surrounded by ornate drawings and script. Afterward we grabbed lunch at a pub, walked around Grafton Street, the main shopping area, and then back to the hotel. Our time in Dublin was coming to an end too quickly, but we had one more city to visit.
We left Dublin on a train for Belfast this morning, the train was a quick 2.5 hour ride, but it was like we stepped into another world. We were no longer spending Euros instead using the British sterling pound, the people spoke with a different dialect and accent, and there was an easy calmness around the city compared to the hustle and bustle of crowded Dublin.
After checking into our hotel, the Europa, we walked across the street to catch the hop on/off bus. The live commentary really made Belfast come to life as we learned some of the history of the city and it’s war torn past. We visited Titanic Belfast, in the heart of the Titanic Quarter area of the city. This iconic building showcases Belfast’s history in ship building, how important and innovative the Titanic was at the time, the amount of man power that went into building the Titanic, and the devastation of it sinking and the lives lost as a result.
Afterward, we went to the most famous bar in Belfast, The Crown Liquor Saloon, a Victorian era pub with beautiful stained glass.
Our last day in Belfast, we spent the day on a full day excursion to the Giant’s Causeway. We were delayed a bit waiting on others for our group tour, but once we made it out of the city, the day cleared up and we had beautiful weather to enjoy the northern coast. Our first stop was to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This place was amazing! Pictures can’t even do it justice.
Next, we stopped for lunch before arriving at the Giant’s Causeway. We took a short shuttle bus down to the interesting rock formations along the sea and had time to explore and enjoy the spectacular views. The name, Giant’s Causeway, comes from the story of the giant, Finn McCool, who lived in this area.
We were sad to leave Belfast the next morning and are already planning a return trip to both Ireland and Northern Ireland. We left a piece of our hearts there after experiencing such amazing Irish hospitality.