Ireland is an amazing country with an incredible history. It is home to some of the oldest archaeological sites – chamber tombs, standing stones, ring forts, mounds and passage tombs. Also home to personal favorites like Guinness and Murphy’s Irish Stouts, Jameson and Teelings Whiskey and the home of the iconic shipbuilders of the Titanic. Oh, and the final scene in Star Wars 7 on Great Skellig Island.
Sarah planned a tour for us spaced out over 2 weeks, about 4,000 kms or 2,500 miles of driving. We booked return flights with RyanAir from Oslo Rygge for $168 USD – which is middle of the road. When they have sale periods, you could potentially get these for $20-30 USD return!
To successfully travel Europe on a budget, you MUST pay attention to the cheap flights, and their terms and conditions. RyanAir requires printed boarding passes for Non-EU international travelers. You have to check in early, and you must have your documents checked. If you check in at the airport, that’s an extra fee. If you have luggage to check, extra fee. You MUST travel light, and you need to be organised. If you’re one of the lucky few with an EU passport or an EEA card, then you can use the mobile app to download your tickets and check in directly. This is a huge bonus, but it obviously doesn’t apply to everyone.
Ireland in general
Firstly, get an OPW card. The Office of Public Works (or OPW) card, is a heritage card that enables you to free admission at all OPW managed Heritage Sites around Ireland. It’s €25 per person, but it will easily save you double that over the course of 2 weeks. Valid for 1 year, and is (in our opinions) totally worth it. Here is a link for more information (http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/info/heritagecards/)
Is it cheap?
Overall, Ireland is pretty cheap. I was able to have a haircut for around €6. Our Indian meal with 2 courses, drinks and naan bread was around €25. Diesel is around €1.039/L and petrol is around €1.199/L.
Lunch can also be had cheaply, as there are plenty of kebab and sub shops but dinner we still aimed to cook most nights at our AirBnb’s. Overall Ireland, pretty middle of the road. Not as expensive as Norway or London, but not as cheap as Asia. (Northern Ireland is on the British Pound, so everything is more expensive there!)
We arrived mid afternoon, and after dropping our bags off, we headed straight to Temple Bar. This is the nightlight and “cultural” quarter. A couple of pints and that was it for us!
We kicked off the next day with a guided tour of the Dublin Castle. This is where we purchased our OPW Heritage cards and the guided tour is included with our free admission! From there we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Zac got a haircut, and we took in the sights of Dublin town on foot.
Day 3 was a guided tour of the Guinness factory, learning how to properly pour a pint (drinking said pint), then drinking more pints. Pro Tip: Buy your tickets online and save money. Cheaper than any discount offer you will see, and you can skip the very long lines at the Guinness Factory!
After our lunch of delicious Guinness, we went to Phoenix Park to walk off the calories. This large area contains with very tame deer, rabbits, foxes, many birds, open areas and the official residence of the President of Ireland. Our OPW card also gave us access to a guided tour of his residence, so we did that as well. He was at home, but we did not get to meet him. Apparently he has shown up to greet visitors in his dressing gown before!
After a long walk back into the city we had delicious Indian food for dinner and packed our bags to leave the next day.
We picked up our Renault Fluence 1.4L Diesel which had all the power of 5 snails harnessed together, and drove down to Kilkenny. Along the way we visited the Dunbrody Famine Ship, and had an authentic Irish Emigrant Experience. The actors are brilliant, and we had the entire ship to ourselves. Come here if you’re doing a tour with your kids, or if you’re interested in history.
From there we drove to Hook Lighthouse. This is the oldest intact operational lighthouse in the world, at more than 800 years old! It wasn’t the most pleasant of days, but you can check out our video below!
After a night’s rest, we continued on to Blarney via Kells Priory, some random mountains, abandoned tower houses, The Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle. (We also took Sarah’s first car ferry!) These impressive and towering buildings are a testament to the manpower, time and dedication that was used for construction throughout history. Unfortunately, The Rock of Cashel is almost constantly under construction, so the site is littered with scaffolding. Cahir Castle is interesting as it has cannon-balls that were fired upon it still stuck in it’s walls during a siege. It’s also very well-preserved.
Now that we were in Blarney, there was two things on our to-do list
- The Jameson Experience at Middleton
- Kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle
We booked a tour which is a little pricey at €16 per person. The real distillery is now located next door, so this guided tour takes you through the old distillery; now configured as a museum. The tastings at the end are delicious, and I’m sure you will savour them. Those with more funds than us, you can also bottle and label your own special bottle with Jameson Select Reserve Cask Strength Whiskey. They can then post it to you at some date of your choosing which is also fun! Whiskey (with an “e”) is typical only to Ireland. The Scots spell it Whisky.
Lunch and a short drive later put us at the Blarney Stone. Now, I’ve heard the stories about the Blarney stone being used as a “pee stone” by a lot of the locals. With this in mind, we did hang over the castle ledge to kiss it…but didn’t actually kiss it 😛
Kissing the stone is meant to give you the “gift of the gab”….skill in flattery and eloquence. However, I’m not sure it will help our writing!
Getting to Killarney
Heading south from Blarney/Cork, we visited Charles Fort in Kinsale. This 17th century star-fort is one of the largest in the country, and was used during the Williamite war in the late 1600’s and the Civil War in the early 1900’s. It has great views out over the water, but (as with Irish weather) it was raining/misty when we visited.
We drove along the N71, through some picturesque villages before passing over some mountain ranges that seemed to appear from nowhere. The weather was still a little rainy, but we did get great video as the sun came out.
Next up, Killarney.
Also published on Medium.