Johnny Cash sang about Ireland’s 40 shades of green. When you go there, you see exactly what he meant. This Atlantic island is a majestic, magical, and marvelous place that offers a warm embrace the moment you touch tarmac. With four seasons in a day more than likely, music that you won’t be able to help but dance to, and countryside and coastlines crying out to be photographed, Ireland belongs on your bucket list. I saw half the country in just a week, including Galway and plenty of countryside, so if your time is limited, then worry not; I’ve got the lowdown on how to make the very most of your time on The Emerald Isle.
My grandparents are Irish, so this was a personal journey for my family and me to touch base with our roots. The key destinations for us were Wexford and Cork, so we based our trip around the southern half of the country. The northern territories are beautiful and must-sees for sure, so I’ve been told, but this is a how-to guide for the south.
Our journey started in Dublin at noon. We took the ferry and our car over from the UK, but if you’re flying from further afield, be sure to have car hire ready at the airport. There ain’t no public transport where we’ll be going. Drive into the city and park near St. Stephen’s Green. It’s a very central location that’ll allow you as much time as possible for sight-seeing. There is so much food to choose from, but for a quick lunch spot, head to Chopped for plenty of healthy, vegan salad options (take your own tupperware and silverware if you can, though, to avoid plastic waste!) I also highly recommend The Rolling Donut just around the corner where you can pick up a pistachio vegan donut (to die for) to keep your energy levels up. Wander ’round Trinity College if you have time; it’s a beautiful campus, and if you can get into The Long Room, it’s insanely magical and Hogwarts-ish. I’d been to Dublin before, so we didn’t spend a night here, but if you do want to (totally worth it), definitely head to the Guinness Storehouse for a pint with a 360° view and then over to Temple Bar for some evening shenanigans.
In the afternoon (or the next day), head down to Wexford via the Wicklow Mountains National Park. If you’re after P.S. I Love You vibes, this will give them to you. Sally’s Gap is where the two met in the film and regardless of what the weather is doing, it’s a beauty to behold.
While in County Wexford, get yourself to Hook Head to see the oldest working lighthouse in the world. It’s on a beautiful peninsula with plenty of space for picnicking and lounging in the sun. For a bit of fun, stop at Loftus Hall on your way either there or back. It’s Ireland’s most haunted house and definitely worth a look. The gardens are beautiful and full of wildflowers, so if that’s more your thing, take a seat on the bench while the braver souls step into the mansion’s darkness. If you have time, it’s also worth a trip over to the Kennedy Homestead. It’s very popular with Americans, as you might imagine. But hey, I’m a Kennedy so how could I not take a trip to see the fam?
While in Wexford, I recommend a hike up Quarry Forth Mountain. The panoramic views will take your breath away. It’s worth it, trust me.
From Wexford, we head west through Waterford (where you can pick up a delicious vegan crepe from Avochemist) and the medieval town of Youghal before approaching Cork for a pit-stop. Then it’s further west still to Bantry. Ah, Bantry. This sleepy little fishing town is the perfect place to spend a few days. It’s a great base camp for exploring Kerry and Killarney and has a great vegan health food store called Organico right in the center of town.
After a good night’s sleep, it was an hour’s drive up to Killarney National Park to explore Torc Mountain and Muckross Lake. Park at Muckross Abbey and follow the signs for the walk around the lake. Try not to get plowed down by one of the many horse and carts, though!
Spend another day in Bantry itself. One of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting Bantry House and its gardens. Now, I’m typically not one for big stuffy manor houses, but this one made me feel like a child running around The Secret Garden. I don’t know if it’s because it’s so grandiose somewhere so unexpected or because someone still lives there, but I got lost in pure imagination during my wandering.
From Bantry, we drove north via Limerick to the Cliffs of Moher. It’s a must-see and rightly so. Here, with the sea spray lashing at your face, you truly feel the full force of the Atlantic as you overlook the cliff edges. Our third accommodation lay in tranquil Burren where nothing but the rain and wind can be heard for miles. But another stunner of a spot to stay is nearby Lisdoonvarna. You can’t go wrong with anywhere in County Clare, to be honest.
For a final day’s excursions, we headed north to Galway, Ireland’s cultural capital. I’m not a city girl, but then Galway doesn’t really feel like a city. Galway has been voted one of the sexiest cities in the world and it’s easy to see why. It’s a hedonistic town full of color and music and texture. It’s full of boutiques and galleries aplenty and set to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020. If you fancy an epic vegan brunch, I recommend The Kitchen, located adjacent to the Galway City Museum.
When it’s time to head home, head east back to Dublin. It’s about a 3-hour drive (give or take), but if it’s a nice day and you’ve got some time, take a detour via the Slieve Bloom Mountains that lie in the middle of the country for some final 40-shades beauty before departing.
Have you been to Ireland? Is it on your bucket list? Where do you most want to visit?
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Photo: Kat Kennedy