My friend Mihai was on an amazing road trip around Ireland this year, despite the pandemic, and he was kind enough to write a guest post for my blog. It’s both informative and funny, with lots of gorgeous photos, structured in a day-by-day itinerary. As I haven’t traveled anywhere this year, all I can do is drool over his photos and dream about the times when we would wake up in a different hotel each day… You are welcome to do the same! Enjoy! 😄
Why read this?
2020 was a bad year for travel, I was lucky, and you may have too much time on your hands.
Warning: this article does not contain gourmet recommendations. Unless you consider a bag of chocolate raisins as a proper breakfast.
Day 1 – 31st August 2020
Theme of the day: Dermot Kennedy – Rome
Left Dublin driving towards Cork. Once you get off the highways you can see why Ireland is renowned for green landscapes.
After adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, my first stop was Kilkenny Castle, an 800 years old castle which was founded soon after the Norman conquest of Ireland. It has been rebuilt, extended, and adapted to suit changing circumstances and uses. Currently, it’s ‘largely a Victorian remodeling of the thirteenth-century defensive castle’.
My next stop was unplanned, I just saw the sign of Highbank Orchards & Distillery and stopped there, hoping to see how they make the cider. But that was not allowed due to the Covid situation, so I was happy just meeting the owner, who showed me around a little. And then I got lost through the apple orchard trying to find my way to Burnchurch Castle. It was more like a tower than an actual castle (there are hundreds of towers like this across Ireland) and I couldn’t go inside, but it was a good opportunity to play a little with Osiris, my MavicPro drone.
Continuing my trip towards Cork, the road passed by some mountains as I’ve seen in the movie Prometheus (which was actually filmed in Iceland). I had to stop as I felt a hiking tingle in my toes, and after a short drive through the woods where I met a lovely Irish couple, I’ve started a 2.5h round trip to a lake on top of the mountain, Lake Counsingaun. The track is not really marked, but you cannot get lost. You just go uphill. Lisa and James were a fun company, we’ve talked about life, goals, and the current world situation. They were also on a trip around Ireland so we exchanged tips on things to see, places to go.
After saying our goodbyes, I started driving towards Cork again, but a few kilometers down the road I saw a sign with Mahon Falls, which, of course, I had to go and see. This time the hike was easy, as the track was paved. It’s a very nice place to go with the kids.
Next, I passed through Dungarvan, where I saw an amazing sunset, and around nightfall I reached Cork.
Lancaster Lodge is an amazing place in Cork, on the right side of River Lee, and as soon as I passed by, I knew I made an awesome choice for a place to spend the night.
Theme of the day: Dermot Kennedy – Outnumbered
After a quick breakfast, I went to Blackrock Castle Observatory which is used as a science center/museum. It wasn’t open for visits but I still took some awesome pictures of it.
My next stop was Blarney Castle and Gardens. Built in 1446 in its actual form, the castle has the same tower structure as Burnchurch castle, only on a higher scale. It is the host of the Blarney Stone, the legend of which says it gives the gift of gab to whoever kisses it. Before the current situation, thousands of people were visiting the stone. Today I encountered only a few visitors, so I was able to explore the tower however I liked.
My goal for today was to reach Kerry Cliffs and spend the night in Limerick, but I had time to spare, so I took the long road, through the Gap of Dunloe and the Black Valley. No regrets.
After this detour, I finally reached Kerry Cliffs. The place is attended, costs 4 Euros to visit and it’s a mild exercise.
I ended the day at Limerick Strand Hotel after a short walk around with this kind of views:
Theme of the day: Dermot Kennedy – Giants
Left the hotel without breakfast for a walk around to have a view of King John’s Castle in Robert Byrne Park. Decided not to visit, as I wanted to reach the famous Cliffs of Moher.
On my way there I visited Kilkee Cliffs which are amazing. But don’t take kids there on a windy day unless you want to replace them, as the place is wild.
Before going towards the Cliffs of Moher, I decided to go all the way to Loophead lighthouse. Although it rained like crazy up until close to the lighthouse, and it was very foggy, I did not regret it.
“Go to Cliffs of Moher”, they said, “It will be great”, they said. So, yeah…
Although not able to see almost anything at Cliffs of Moher, the road to Galway presented itself with more nice places.
In the evening I reached Galway where I stayed at the Harbour Hotel.
Walked around central Galway for a while thinking of Ed Sheeran’s famous Galway Girl, but I only saw some loud young women with questionable fashion tastes.
So I decided is time to try some Irish whiskey at Garavan’s bar.
This baby is called the Power of the Three. It will put your brain on pause and make you send regrettable messages in the middle of the night. 100% recommended.
Theme of the day: An escape plan – Living together
Started the day in Galway again with a quick breakfast at the hotel and the most tiresome day of the trip followed.
Castle, castle, chocolate chip cookie lunch, castle, castle. Athlone, Roscommon, McDermot, and Parke’s.
All of them amazing. But my mind was in another place: Slieve League. I reached it at around 6 in the afternoon. The place is not accessible by car on one side and I had no idea what to expect. Met some hikers coming from the cliffs and they said: 2h hiking. Looked at my watch, not enough time for a chill walk, sunset was coming. So what followed was 45 minutes of military-pace hiking uphill with the last part on slippery rocks and mushy grass. 100% worth it. The view is breathtaking, it’s the only place I’ve seen a lake up on a cliff.
I ended my day in Donegal at The Bridge Bed and Breakfast after a nice steak at La Bella Donna.
Theme of the day: Robert Grace – Fake Fine
This day was a Game of Thrones Day, as I visited Northern Ireland, going to places GoT was filmed, passing through green fields on straight roads that seemed to go to infinity.
But before that, I stopped at Giant’s Causeway, a world heritage site that leaves you in awe of what nature can create. The hexagonal-shaped columns look out of this world!
Next stop and the Cushendun Caves where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow of Renly, and then off to the Vale of Arryn. The whole North-East coastal road of Northern Ireland looks like it was picked up from Game of Thrones.
I reached Belfast in the afternoon and I should have gone around it, it was the worst traffic I’ve seen.
Evening caught me in Newtownards, at the Strangford Arms Hotel, listening to the theme of the day on TV.
Theme of the day: Bob Marley – Three little birds
As I was planning to return to Dublin in the afternoon, today was a short day for visiting. My only target was Winterfell. Or better yet, the grounds where some Winterfell scenes were filmed in Game of Thrones.
Tickets for visiting the Castle Ward and Winterfell MUST be purchased online. The admission lady figured out I was ‘good’ at planning ahead, so she let me in anyway.
Ended the trip on Britta’s bay beach with my Romanian friends, having our traditional ‘mici’, and Irish burgers.
Conclusions & recommendations
Ireland is an awesome place, almost magical, it’s worth visiting at least once.
Anywhere you go you can find amazing views, castles, and friendly people.
Rain and wind are at home here, so prepare for them.
Bring your spouse, or a friend or two, otherwise, you may have jokes to tell and no one to tell them to.
Take the roads less traveled, you won’t regret it.
- Driving: approx 2000 km
- Walking/hiking: approx 16,000 steps per day
- Burgers, steaks, beers, and whiskeys: …nobody stopped to count them.
TL;DR: rain rain, green green, moo moo, whiskey