Road trip holidays have always been one of my favourite types of holiday.
Over the years I’ve gone on several road trip holidays. When I was 12 my family travelled from Northern France, through Germany, before ending up in Italy. Last year though on our trip to Oslo we decided to do something a little crazy and took a road trip from Norway to Gothenburg which is down the western coast of Sweden and then drive back in one day (these are the kinds of spontaneous, exciting and yet slightly mental things my other half comes up with). After deciding that the road trip aspect was the best bit of our trip, we decided our 2019 holiday together would be an epic road trip round the Republic of Ireland – and this took quite a bit of road trip planning and attention to arrange.
This post is long awaited so without further ado, prepare to hit the open road with me as I share the do’s and don’ts for an Ireland Road Trip (pt.1)…
Ireland Road Trip Stop 1 – Dublin
Dublin, the charming capital of the Republic of Ireland. The home of the famous ‘black stuff’ –Guinness – and now a booming place for major tech companies to flourish. You can’t say you’ve experienced Irish culture properly until you’ve gone to Dublin.
Surprisingly for a capital city, Dublin has a small town feel to it, the locals are friendly and enthusiastic and it’s easy to walk from one area to the other (if you leave the heels at home). From pubs filled with live music to charming literary attractions and a delightful scene for foodies, Dublin will charm you and set the scene for the Irish adventure that awaits you on your epic Ireland road trip.
Elle’s Top Tip for Dublin: Aim to spend 48 hours here. Any longer and you might find yourself running out of things to do. It’s such a small city and all the sights are easily to do in one day with them all within walking distance of each other, and there really is no need to worry about public transport.
Where to Stay: Augier Street
As an upcoming tourist destination, Ireland welcomed 11.2 million overseas visitors in 2018 and delivered revenue of approximately €6.1 billion. With all this increasing demand in part resulting from featuring in Star Wars, new flight routes the country and its capital have placed more emphasis in tourism infrastructure, so your accommodation options are endless. From high-end boutique hotels to self-catering AirBnBs and hostels, Dublin has something to suit all lifestyle tastes and budgets.
As many of you are aware, I am a big advocate of AirBnB especially when travelling on a budget (which I do have to be careful about these days) due to the flexibility and affordability they offer you. AirBnB properties are great options for a Ireland road trip and I’d happily recommend staying in this Augier Street (pronounced to rhyme with danger) its practical with no frills and it serves as a good base for a sightseeing holiday (or as my other half would tell you ‘it works, it’s a thing). It’s central location places you right where you need to be, in the heart of the main shops, restaurants and bars, all within easy reach of the main city sights.
Food Hotspots & Watering Holes
After visiting Dublin I’m surprised its foodie scene isn’t spoken about more widely and shouted about more frequently. As this is your first stop on your Ireland road trip you should stock up on some tasty food. There is so much choice in Dublin your taste buds will be quivering in delight after discovering some of the following…
Authentic Mexican delights
Mexican food is a bit of a running joke between me and my boyfriend We often cook fajitas at home but before visiting Dublin we were yet to find a Mexican restaurant that didn’t (to put it politely) “disagree with us” and have a negative effect on our health (and especially our stomachs). Before we travelled to Dublin, I asked our AirBnB host to send across some suggestions of places to eat, this is one of the reasons we love staying in AirBnB proprieties because it helps you discover hidden local gems that you wouldn’t find on your own (not even in the guidebooks).
777 is literally just that — a hidden gem. From the outside you’d be mistaken for walking straight past. There are no menus. No indications that it’s a restaurant, in fact it looks and sounds just like a nightclub with its black exterior and ‘I love you so much’ graffiti style décor.
Step inside and the music switches between retro pop and house music, the cocktails pack a punch (no watering down the spirits here) and the food, oh gosh the food is mouthgasmic (yes that’s a word I made up) Hands down 777 is the BEST Mexican we’ve ever visited. It’s not a Tex-Mex so you won’t find Nachos or Churros. Instead make sure you order a selection of soft tacos and tostadas between you. It’s expensive but a real foodie treat.
Elle’s top tip: The restaurant doesn’t take bookings unless you are coming in a large group. So, either head here early before the main dinner rush or be prepared to give your name on the door and go to another bar whilst you wait. And trust me 777 is worth the wait!
Get your burger fix
Bunsen, an Irish Burger company using prime Irish meat, you’ll find several restaurants from this chain dotted throughout Ireland. Think GBK meets Five Guys, thick juicy burgers that taste so good you’ll be in a food coma for the rest of the day. The menu is so streamlined it fits onto a business card, this place is non-nonsense, straight to the point, good quality fast food.
Eco friendly Asian Fusion
Lucky Tortoise was ironically a ‘lucky’ find from our holiday. Just down the road from our AirBnB this place is extremely popular but doesn’t take bookings, it operates on a walk-in first come first served basis. I love how eco-friendly this restaurant is in their approach to operations and ingredient sourcing. To reduce wastage, they use a blackboard for a menu and source products locally with minimum plastic containers. If you are a Dim Sum lover this restaurant is a MUST especially if you are looking to try something new on your holiday.
Elle’s top tip: Order the sharer taster to experience a great selection of tasty dishes for just 20 euros each it’s a real bargain and exceptional value for money.
Authentic taste of Spain
Hands down tapas is my favourite style of eating – its laid-back, satisfying and great for sharing with others. Salamanca Tapas is a great restaurant to visit for an authentic taste of Spain right in the heart of Dublin. The food here is reasonably priced but make sure you book in advance as this place is very popular.
Elle’s top tip: “If it’s a sunny day, grab a delicious takeaway of stone-baked pizza or garlic bread and head to nearby Stephen’s Green.”
Soak up the Irish atmosphere
As everyone from travel journalists to your mum’s neighbour will tell you the real Irish culture comes alive in front of your eyes with a live music session at a traditional pub. No Ireland road trip would be without a visit to a Irish bar (just don’t drink and drive!). Be sure to visit the oldest pub in Ireland, the Brazen Head, and sit back on the sun terrace with a pint of Hop House 13 in hand or listen to live music in the charming Merchants Arch. Of course, the world-renowned watering hole in Dublin is the vibrant Temple Bar area but be very aware this is a tourist hotspot so expect busy pubs and high prices!
Elle’s Top Tip: Avoid ordering drinks at Temple Bar itself we were stung by the expensive cost of dry cork gin at 35 euros for two gins! Instead head to the Gin Palace and order a float of gins to share for 19 euros it’s a great way to try Irish gins and decide which one you should pick up from duty free on the way home.
Indulge your Sweet tooth
The homely and welcoming cafe Queen of Tarts was another suggestion from our AirBnB host and an inclusion within the Dublin Pocket guide book. Think Alice and Wonderland’s Mad Hatters tea party and the decor used in this cafe will instantly spring to mind. This patisserie is one of the hotspots of Dublin, it’s very famous so gets exceptionally busy, if you are keen to visit here on your Ireland road trip then you should book in advance. We tucked into a delicious selection of afternoon treats including a salted caramel tart and a raspberry New York style cheesecake.
How to spend your time:
Head to the Beach
Hang on a second, the beach? In Dublin?! So technically its half an hour train journey outside the city centre…but pop on the DART line to Howth for some beautiful fresh sea air and a coastal walk.
Following our taxi drivers’ advice, the first thing we did during our time in the city was leave the city! Making the most of the gorgeous Bank Holiday sunshine (how often do we get to say that?) we bought a return ticket to the quaint seaside town of Howth. There are plenty of pubs and seafood restaurants here and an information point near the station offers several walking route maps varying in difficulty and views. We opted for a relaxed 7k cliff walk loop and took the time to explore the harbour, admire the lighthouse and take in the views of the nearby islands.
Learn about the ‘Black Stuff’
Dublin is synonymous with the black stuff: Guinness, and the Storehouse at St James Gate has dedicated six floors where you can learn about the history of the brand and its advertisement as well as the special ingredients and production methods used. To put it simply no visit to Dublin is complete until you’ve visited here, and you could easily spend hours on end just at this one tourist attraction.
You’ll receive a free pint of Guinness as well. My favourite floor was the advertising section (marketing nerd that I am) but my partner enjoyed the tasting room where scents of the four main ingredients are pumped out for you to quite literally breath in.
Elle’s Top Tip: Buy your tickets in advance online and book a morning session to save money!
Trinity College Old Library
For years I’d dreamt of visiting Trinity College Dublin, in fact at one stage I was even considering doing an English Literature degree there! With literary hero Oscar Wilde as one alumni, this University has a reputation that precedes it. Book tickets online to visit the Book of Kells and the Old Library and be prepared to be amazed by the astounding display of 200,000 books that are still used by students to this day (sure beats the library at my old University).
What to take with you?
A city break requires comfortable walking shoes, a camera and a reusable water bottle (non-plastic) and of course a travel guidebook. I recommend the Berlitz: Dublin Pocket Guide because it’s nice and light weight and fits into your handbag. The handy maps on the cover flaps will help you find your way around when you want to take a break from your phone apps, and it’s jam packed with ideas for the best places to visit in the city and a perfect itinerary that you can follow for a day exploring the city. My favourite part of this guide book though is the ‘places to eat’ section and it includes a clear and easy to follow system which gives an indication of budget dining to high end fine dining so you know what to expect before you sit down to view the menu.
“It’s about the journey not the destination.”
After an action- packed city break, it’s now time for your road trip adventure to begin.
We adapted the itinerary that can be found in Marco Polo Ireland guidebook and downloaded on your phone (so you never have to worry about signal again). The key essentials to planning a road trip involve ensuring you have places of interest along the way to break up your journey so research, research and research some more (also the reason you are now here reading this Ireland Road trip post!).
Leave Dublin and head along the east coast of the Republic of Ireland towards your first stop…
The Wicklow Mountains & Powerscourt Waterfall
Located south of Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains National Park covers 20,000 hectares ideal for hiking and scenic road journeys.
At 121m Powerscourt Waterfall is Ireland’s highest and home to Giant Redwoods reach 80m high! Wander around the trail and you might be lucky enough to spot silka deer or red squirrels.
Elle’s Top Tip: Avoid visiting on weekends or bank holidays as this is a very popular place for Irish people to escape nearby towns and the big city smoke for a summer picnic or barbeque.
Soft white powdery sands shrouded by towering sand dunes. This Special Area of Conservation has been awarded European Union Blue Flag so you can rest assured it’s not only astonishingly beautiful but its exceptionally clean too. It’s a lovely place to stop for some fresh coastal air and a refreshing ice cream before carrying on with your journey along the coast.
Who else likes sand dune races? Sadly, I lost because I insisted on taking my shoes off to dip my toes into the Irish sea… the challenge to put my toes in every ocean in the world continues!
If we had more time, we would have visited Waterford as its renowned for being a Viking settlement and famous for its crystal. If you choose to stop on your Ireland road trip to explore this vibrant city you could see exquisite pieces of crystal created right before your very eyes at the House of Waterford Crystal or explore the legacy of the Vikings, it even has its very own Viking Triangle (which contains a trio of museums) where you will find traditional jewellery, architecture and learn stories of stormy characters.
When planning our Ireland road trip, we knew after leaving Dublin we’d need to break up the 215 miles long journey to Dingle by stopping at a few places along the way. A quick search on google maps identified the seaside town of Tramore as being a good distance between Dublin and Dingle whilst giving us the chance to stop at places of interest along the way. We didn’t spend very much time here so I can’t recommend eating places or things to do but it’s a lovely chilled place to stop on your Ireland road trip.
Where to stay: Seaside Chalet
Stylishly decorated, Dermot’s Airbnb chalet is cosy and welcoming and his wife had even prepared oat milk scones for our arrival. With all the amenities and facilities you need, this property was one of our favourites from the trip and a charming little place to stay to enjoy coastal walks before hitting the road again. Our host even gave us some excellent suggestions for routes to drive before reaching our next stopping point of Cork….
“Hit the road jack….”
Copper Coast drive
Extending 17km from Kilfarrasy in the east to Stradbally in the west this coastline is named after the vast mines that once ran here during the 19th century. Following our hosts recommendation we left Tramore and took the Copper Coast road (R675) to Dungarvan and Now let me tell you – no Ireland road trip is complete without taking this route. The rugged coastline is breath-takingly beautiful full of panoramic seascapes, cliffs, bays and coves. This drive is in fact considered to be one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the world and it’s not hard to see why.
Elle’s Top Tip: There are plenty of secluded coves and beaches along this route so bring a pack lunch with you and stop at one of them for a meal with a view!
Cork & Blarney Castle
Cork is one of the famous and renowned cities in Ireland and many people recommend visiting the English Market here so if you get chance why not check it out and let me know in the comments what you thought (sadly it was closed when we went).
Visiting Blarney Castle has always been on my Ireland wish list ever since my Grandma mentioned it following her trip many years ago, she insisted that one day I should visit and kiss the blarney stone for myself just as she did.
There are several myths and legends that surround Blarney castle and its famous stone. Kissing the blarney stone isn’t a recent phenomenon though in fact for over 200 years world statesmen, literary giants and movie starts have joined us all in climbing the steps to gain the gift of eloquence. There are so many stories behind the stone that I could write a whole blog post dedicated just to the legends behind its meaning however I’m going to share with you my favourite one – Jacob’s Pillow.
Some say the stone was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah where it became the ‘fatal stone’ used to determine royal succession in a Harry Potter sorting hat kind of approach. Its name comes from its connection to giving those who kiss it the “gift of the gab”. As Queen Elizabeth I once remarked, the Lord of Blarney was “giving her a lot more blarney!” as he often wrote such subtle and eloquent letters to her.
Of course, I am pretty sure kissing the stone hasn’t given me the gift of the gab but I’m proud to say I climbed the stairs, stood in the queue, lay back, held the rails and leaned to kiss the stone. It was a scary experience but I’m glad I have a story to share for years to come and it brought some delight to my grandma when I told her about my experience! It’s a story she now recounts every time I go to visit her!
It’s not just the castle itself that is full of myths, legends and stories the grounds themselves are full of stories to discover. There is even a set of ‘wishing steps’ which you have to walk backwards down, eyes closed and make a wish but it’s up to you whether you believe in the magic and want to risk breaking your neck or not…
What next ……?
After a day exploring Irish myths and folk lore, we left the castle and Cork behind and our thoughts turned to dinner. Where would we eat? There was a lake we wanted to see on our journey to Dingle but we needed to eat first before “hanger”* set in, and we soon found out though that our unexpected detour would lead us to discover an unexpected moment of beauty that we would otherwise have missed.
Make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter to discover what we found and how to spend time in Dingle and Galway in my Ireland Road Trip Part 2 (coming soon.)
* “Hanger” is that mix of hunger and anger you get when you have not eaten for so long!
**Disclaimer – this post is sponsored by Berlitz Guides and Marco Polo Guides although all views expressed are entirely my own**