Road tripping through Ireland isn’t for the faint of heart and can at times have some hair-raising moments, even more so, I imagine, for those (like us) that are used to driving on the right side of the road. Plenty of narrow winding roads must be taken to reach some interesting sites or off the beaten path attractions. It took some getting used too since driving on the left side isn’t an easy task and doesn’t come naturally for us right side drivers.
Taking extra insurance might be a good idea since trimming hedges on the side of the road is a common and sometimes unavoidable experience! Our rental car was scratched all over when we got it, so fortunately for us the attendant didn’t even check for any new ones when we returned the car.
We started our journey in Dublin by spending a few days exploring the city on foot, using the hop-on hop-off bus and taking taxis. We avoided taking the car into the city center and used our rental car only to explore a few places of interest further afield.
Dublin to Kilkenny
Heading southwest from Dublin, our first stop was the ancient Rock of Dunamase. This hill rises 150 feet above a plain and offers splendid vistas over the surrounding countryside. It’s history dates back to the 9th century and the castle’s ruins are impressive even though they are quite broken down. We’re very glad we added this off the beaten path site. No tour buses can come on these narrow roads! Excellent!
Walking is the best way to explore Kilkenny’s medieval center. We wandered into the 13th century St. John’s Priory and found an easy to follow tourist map, which proved to be most useful.
Some highlights in the heart of the old city include:
The main site is without a doubt the imposing 12th century Kilkenny Castle and its extensive manicured gardens. Inside we visited the Royal Apartments. Theses are lavishly decorated with many paintings and other art pieces on display.
The 186-foot tall St. Mary’s Cathedral dates back to the mid 19th century. The Gothic facade is eye catching.
In 1349, the abbey fell victim to the bubonic plague pandemic referred to as the Black Death. Eight members of the priory succumbed during those horrific times!
The Rothe House is an old merchant’s house built by John Rothe in 1594. We arrived too late to visit the museum, which contains more than 2500 artifacts depicting the history of Kilkenny. The refurbished rooftop garden is worth mentioning. However, we found that it was in need of a little love!
St. Canice’s Cathedral is a must. It was erected in the 13th century and has a lot of history; some pretty scary and horrifying stories too! The kind of stuff that will keep you awake at night, no doubt!
The story that got to me was the one about the hermit women that entered a small room after getting their last rites done – the Prayer for the dead – before being locked in under a slab on the floor! I kid you not, I had trouble falling asleep that night… and we were staying in an old 17th century manor…
We spent one night in Kilkenny and had barely enough time to see all the places we were hoping to see. We ran out of time to really experience this charming little town.
Kilkenny to Killarney
On the tourist path!
Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel, with its impressive stone fortress dominating the top. Known as the Cashel of the Kings, excellent vistas can be seen on all sides.
Most people go to the Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone in the hopes of getting the gift of the gab. Does it really work? The question is “Too kiss or not to kiss the Blarney Stone?” You be the judge… just remember that those thousand people in front of you have kissed the same spot!
Expect lots of tourists and tour buses at both of these sites. We found the Blarney Castle a little too touristy and commercial for our liking. It was almost like an attraction park and we found it impossible to just visit the castle. Everyone was stuck in a line to kiss the stone. As soon as we tried to peek inside a room, the people behind us were pushing ahead even if only to gain a few inches in the queue. A friend had told us to skip it, but curiosity got the best of us.
Tip: Skip it!
We continued on to Killarney and arrived too late to have the chance to visit the inside of the Ross Castle before checking into our hotel. We stayed for only one night and this proved to be insufficient, 2-3 nights in Killarney would have been more relaxing.
The Muckross Abbey was a short 30 minutes walk away from our hotel but if you go, beware of the bulls!
Killarney to Shannon
The Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most popular routes offering stunning vistas, especially around the Killarney National Park, which appear at every bend. Old forts, castles, vestiges of another time are scattered all over the peninsula.
Our favorite site, the Balleycarbery Castle was off the tourist circuit but worth the detour and wait. To get to it we had to take a narrow one-lane path but a truck was blocking the road. The driver finally freed it with the help of a local and my husband chipping in. The moss-covered ruin didn’t disappoint and made for a great photo op. Glad we persisted!
In order to beat the numerous tour buses on the Ring of Kerry, we were on the road by 8 am to drive around this scenic route. We were told that we should do it counter clockwise to avoid passing buses on the narrow winding road and to be on the inside instead of driving on the cliffside. We abided this advice but sometimes still ended up on the side of the drop-off!
We had greatly underestimated the amount of time we would need to drive around the Ring of Kerry. We were told that the drive would take 3-4 hours; it took us 8 hours and we had to rush in some places and even skip some stops. Due to this, we ended up bypassing Limerick since all the attractions were closed by the time we got to the area. We were on the road for 10 hours that day and had to get to our hotel to get ready for our dinner reservation.
Tip: Allow plenty of time to do this drive and stay two or more nights in Killarney or drive around the smaller Dingle peninsula and view similar sites.
Shannon to Cong
After enjoying our beautiful accommodations, we headed to the Cliffs of Moher. These famous cliffs plunge straight down into the Atlantic Ocean for dramatic and spectacular views.
The O’Brien’s Tower rises above the iconic and very popular cliffs. The place is swarming with tourists including some taking uncalculated risks by jumping over the protective barrier for their once in a lifetime selfies. One missed step and they could topple down to their demise. They also trample the eggs, nests and possibly even the baby birds! Numerous sea birds nest on the cliffs, let’s help keep them safe!
At the visitor center there is a short video of a bird’s perspective of the cliffs depicting the picturesque scenery above and below the waves. Exhibits, restaurant, facilities and a gift shop complete the experience.
After our visit to the cliffs, we made our way to Doolin and saw them from another perspective.
Tip: If time permits, take a boat tour to the cliffs and admire them from below.
Then it was time to head to Cong to check-in to out next and final castle accommodation. Following the Wild Atlantic Way we saw plenty of ruins scattered here and there throughout the Burren. Here too, there was plenty of picturesque scenery.
Our time didn’t allow for a stop in Galway, perhaps on another visit to Ireland. Galway would have been a good place to stay following a visit to the Cliffs of Moher.
Cong to Dublin
Our road trip was coming to an end; it was now time to return to Dublin for our trip back home.
Near Cong we stopped at the Friary of Ross vestiges and had the place to ourselves for a while. It’s a bit out of the way and located in the middle of sheep’s field.
For our last night we decided to stay in Malahide, which is a stone’s throw away from the Dublin international airport. While there we visited the Malahide Castle that is apparently the most haunted in the Dublin area. Take the tour and find out for yourself…
We thoroughly enjoyed our road trip adventure through Ireland and would recommend it highly to anyone thinking of visiting this picturesque country. There is so much to see and we could have surely spent many weeks soaking in the sites. If nothing else, it leaves us with the desire to come back again one day and explore more of Ireland and perhaps Scotland too…
Related post: Our Ireland Castle Hopping Adventure