The Cliffs of Moher and County Clare are amazing in our book, but when we recently asked an Irish colleague how she ranked it, compared to County Kerry, she said there was no comparison. She firmly stated that County Kerry was the most beautiful county in Ireland, along with the remote northwest county of Donegal. We still haven’t been to Donegal, but we recently made it to County Kerry with Paddywagon Tours, as part of a 3 day tour that began in County Clare.
Our tour did not include the famous “Ring of Kerry,” but instead took the shorter Slea Head coastal route on the peninsula across. Fog and harsh weather conditions made viewing the gorgeous scenery difficult and we were very happy we were not driving the wet, narrow and windy roads ourselves. Thankfully that job was left to our driver, guide, entertainer and singer extraordinaire Mike Coggins, who was nothing short of fantastic. At times he reminded me of one of my favorite history professors from college, who also had a seriously great sense of humour. Other times he was charming us with song, like when he sang the classic Wild Rover as we drove through County Kerry.
Dingle, One of Ireland’s Most Quintessential Towns
After driving the Slea Head coastal route, we made a two hour stop in one of Ireland’s most quintessential and popular towns, Dingle. Quite a few celebrities, including Julia Roberts, have been known to take up part time residency in the Dingle Peninsula for a break from the spot light (take note paparazzi!). And if you like Irish pubs, it doesn’t get much better than Dingle. Despite having a population of only around 2,000 people, the town has a whopping 50 pubs. That’s 1 pub per 40 residents!
The day we were there, the Dingle Food Festival was on. So we spent much of the two hours browsing and eating at the many food and drink stalls scattered around town. We stuffed ourselves with a buffet of good local food and tasty microbrew Irish cider (no mediocre, mass produced Bulmers cider on that day!).
After Dingle we took a short 65 km drive to lovely Killarney where we viewed the lakes and mountains that surround the town at what must surely be “make out point” late at night. The scenery was absolutely stunning, and I’d wondered why it took us nearly two years of living in Ireland to finally gaze upon that lovely terrain.
A few of us from the press tour had a great night at Courtney’s Pub, which has a big selection of international beers and whiskeys. If you’re in Killarney and want to drink something other than Guinness or another mass produced beer, Courtney’s is the place, and it’s also rated first on Yelp for pubs in Killarney.
The next day we visited Torc Waterfalls, in Killarney National Park. It’s a majestic place, and a quintessential spot where leprechauns probably come out to play when nobody is watching. Bring your lucky charms here, and perhaps you’ll find a pot of gold across a rainbow. But more likely, you might see a flock of red deer like we did.
It was then on to Cork where we had 1 and 1/2 hours to tour town. I felt this was a bit short as you can easily spend an hour at the English Market alone, sampling good food…which I did! We had previously spent a few days in Cork last year so I bypassed trying to cram a big walk around town in a short period of time. If you have more time in Cork and like craft beer, the Franciscan Well is an absolute must. They brew their own beer, offer other great microbrews, and have one of the best beer gardens in Ireland. Bell’s great grandmother’s old house is also in Cork, so it holds a special place in her heart.
For further reading on Paddywagon, here are some posts from fellow travel bloggers on our press trip:
Susan of Vibrant Ireland writes on the pros and cons of the Paddywagon tour
Tanya of PA Girl Goes Abroad shares this fun review
Jennifer of Solo Girl Travel writes on the incredible medieval beehive huts we toured
For German speakers, Anja from Travel on Toast writes this
Also in German, Carolin from esel-unterwegs writes this
*Updated Summer of 2018 Below*
Luxury travelers and those visiting Ireland for a honeymoon or anniversary should consider staying at Dromoland Castle. This was the ancestral home of the Dromoland O’Briens, whose lineage goes back 1,000 years to Brian Boru, the only High King of Ireland. This is a stay fit for monarchy, with world class dining and close to everything County Clare and County Limerick have to offer.
Where to Stay in Dublin Before Touring the West Coast of Ireland With Paddywagon Tours?
It’s a good idea to book a hotel with free cancellation in advance. Later if prices change and you find a better deal, you can easily cancel your reservation and book another one. Here are hotel and bed and breakfast recommendations for Dublin:
Shelbourne Hotel is Dublin’s most historic 5 star luxury hotel, as several US Presidents and many foreign dignitaries have stayed there. The hotel is a 5 minutes walk from many of Dublin’s famous attractions, like Trinity College, Grafton Street, National Gallery, National Library and National Museum. They have a wonderful cocktail lounge and great dining options. Even if you’re not a guest, swing in for high tea and enjoy a lovely view of St. Stephen’s Green.
The Merrion Hotel is a 5 star hotel furnished with Georgian decor and Italian marble bathrooms. Awarded 2 Michelin stars, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud serves gourmet French influenced cuisine overlooking the gardens. The hotel also has an infinity pool and spa. Rooms feature city or garden views.
The Kilronan House is a family run, award winning B&B in Dublin’s picturesque Georgian Quarter. Grafton Street and St. Stephen’s Green are less than a 5 minute walk away. Trinity College and Dublin Castle are within a 15 minute walk from the house. Free parking is provided. This is one of Dublin’s best bed & breakfasts for a romantic getaway.
O’Callaghan is a small chain of centrally located, comfortable hotels with good breakfasts. Trinity College often puts job applicants and guests up in these hotels. We stayed at O’Callaghan St. Stephens Green when Bell interviewed for her post doctoral position at Trinity College and highly recommend it.
ABC House Dublin and Egans House are quintessentially Irish bed and breakfasts in quiet neighborhoods in the north of Dublin. They both offer reasonable comfort for those that don’t want to spend a lot to sleep. We spent a week at ABC House Dublin while searching for our apartment when we first moved to Dublin. We stayed at Egans House on a visit to Ireland.
Families especially will find the best deals on short term apartment rentals. If you’ve never used Airbnb, sign up here for free and receive $40 credit off your first stay!
Generator Hostel is conveniently located right next to the Jameson Distillery (fun!) and is part of a reputable chain of hostels in Europe that are known for being clean and having a fun atmosphere.
Want to travel to Ireland for Free?
Play the credit card points game and use bonus point sign ups for free plane tickets! The most popular card among travel hackers is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card also includes complimentary priority pass lounge access with free food, drinks and wifi. The annual fee seems steep at $450, but it includes $300 in travel credits. The 50,000 bonus point sign up is good for $750 in travel credit, enough for a free plane ticket to Ireland! They’ll also compensate you $100 for free Global Entry and TSA pre-check to skip airport lines.
If you don’t travel very frequently, the Delta Skymiles American Express Gold Card is free the first year and just $95 each year after. They give a 40,000 point bonus after you charge just $1,000, so this is a great card. You’ll typically need around 60,000+ miles for a free flight to Ireland, but you can earn these miles with everyday purchases. There are other perks to having the Delta SkyMiles AMEX Gold Card, like free checked bags on Delta flights.
Have questions about planning your trip to Ireland? Email me at email@example.com or leave a comment below and we can assist you!