I booked tickets flying in and out of Dublin after I found great tickets and a brief Google search of “is it a terrible idea to go to Ireland in January”. It makes a ton of sense to fly in and out of different airports so you are not back tracking if you plan on driving around the country, a tip I’ll keep in mind for my next trip to the Emerald Isle. We knew that we would need some good family time together after my crazy busy holiday sales season for me, which means a crazy busy parenting season for Craig. Ireland seemed like as good a place as any to explore and reconnect, and it is certainly more mild than Massachusetts in January.
We flew WOW Air, Iceland’s relatively new budget airline. I might share more about WOW Air later, but the most helpful tip I received from someone else is bring snacks. Part of why the tickets are so affordable is that NOTHING is included in your ticket.
We knew Benton does great in the car so planning a driving-heavy trip wasn’t a deal breaker for us. In fact we knew it would be a great way to experience the most of this smaller country and help us give Benton a consistent nap time every day with long stretches of driving mid day. If your toddler is not happy watching the world go by in a car our itinerary might not be for you.
Day 1 -Dublin – We landed in Dublin picked up the rental car and set off exhausted and dazed through airport maze and Dublin traffic on the wrong side of the road to find our hotel. The closest thing I can compare that first left-side-jetlagged-driving experience to is trying to focus at work on the sleep deprivation of having a newborn at home. After dumping our stuff in our hotel, we set off to catch a bus to downtown which should have been easy since the bus stop was half a block from our hotel. The bus only takes exact change in the form of coins. No ATM, or bank, or restaurant seemed capable or willing to give us change and it took me three attempts looking my most disheveled with a jetlagged toddler on my back before we were able to get on the bus. None of this maters to the toddler who happily shouts “YELLOW BUS” at every single bus we missed while we were trying to scrounge change with out looking homeless. We did mange to get a free ice cream because the shop owner couldn’t be bothered to make change for our large bill, which defeated our purpose of buying the ice cream in the first place, but hey, I’m not going to complain about free ice cream.
We had the perfect sunny mild weather to just to stroll the sweets of Temple Bar area and visit both Trinity Library and St. Patrick’s church.
Day 2 – Clonmacnoise & Galway – We slept in and were slow going in the morning after relatively sleepless flights the night before. We set out west on the highway toward Galway with an extended pit stop at the 6th century monastic site Clonmacnoise. This stunning site right on the River Shannon was the perfect place to run around with a toddler. Make sure to stop at Lukers for lunch after Clonmacnoise as you head back toward the highway. The food was perfect and the views of the River Shannon were even better.
Walking around the pedestrian only streets of Galway in Eyre Square was exactly our speed. Even though it was raining on and off it is far more enjoyable for us to wander and explore at our own speed (the speed Benton will let us explore) than to stick to a rigid schedule of museums and must-sees.
Day 3 – Spiddal, Conemara & Clifden – I don’t think I can say enough about the thatched cottage Airbnb we stayed in near Spiddal for two nights. The pictures online did not do justice to the perfectly quaint set up, the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in, or just how remote and tucked away you are. After meeting our host at a gas station on the edge of Spiddal about 20km west of Galway, we took a left in the middle of nowhere and drove 15 minutes until the road disappeared and there was no one around but a few donkeys. The host had a fire going and the electric bed warmers already turned on when we arrived. Breakfast for the three of us was in the fridge and we were able to pick up groceries for snacks and dinners at the gas station mini mart for under $20. The Airbnb had a pack-and-play and highchair, and the next door neighbor (dog) was so friendly that this really was the perfect place for us to stay with our dog loving toddler.
Benton and I spent the morning throwing rocks in puddles and getting to know the local animals while Craig slept off a cold he came down with on the flight over. After some snacks we set out for an adventure driving north toward Kylemore Abby, Clifden and Conemara National Park through the most beautiful rolling hills with lake views around every turn. Cliffden was a perfect town to walk around and grab our standard lunch of fish chowder with brown bread and fish and chips.
Day 4 – The Burren & Cliffs of Moher – This was another full day of adventure where my pictures just don’t touch the epic scenery that you just have to see to believe. The unique rocky landscape of the Burren felt like something out a space movie. I know it would have been wonderful to visit when the landscape is covered in wildflowers in the Spring and Summer, so I guess we will just have to make another trip. There are numerous outlooks and spots to get out of the car and explore. Our favorite stop was Bishop’s Quarter Beach, perfect for throwing gravel into the slowly lapping waves. The Cliffs of Moher were simply breathtaking, green and dramatic, with the dark face dropping away into bright blue ocean. If we had more time and is wasn’t January we would have loved to take one of the boat tours to experience the Cliffs from the water. Alas, it will be on our list for our next visit.
Day 5 – Dingle Peninsula & Killarney Night Life – The Dingle Peninsula loop is smaller and less famous than its southern counterpart, The Ring of Kerry. Most guide books suggest that it is a half day drive, so it was the perfect almost full day with a toddler in and out of the car, because everything takes longer and is more complicated. We drove The Slea Head Drive clockwise after a little lunch and exploration of the town of Dingle. The bright blue water and green cliffs made it hard not to stop the car around every bend, although we could have since we were one of the only cars on the road. Craig and I both agreed that the Dingle Peninsula drive was our favorite day and should certainly be on your list if you are planning a trip.
We splurged on two nights at a posh hotel in the center of Killarney, The Fairview Hotel. It felt like a luxury experience with the best breakfast and shower we had the entire trip, at only $150 (USD not Euros) a night. The perks of being in the heart of town meant that we could walk to dinner and not pile back in the car to find food. After dinner we found a pub around the corner from our hotel that had live music starting at 7pm, perfect for those of us with early bed times. Benton absolutely LOVED dancing to Irish music and made friends with everyone at the pub, including the bassist who gave him a guitar pick and a couple on holiday from Belfast who bought him a drink, water with a splash of orange soda.
Day 6 – Lakes of Killarney & The (truncated) Ring of Kerry – Even though Benton is usually great in the car we decided to do the truncated Ring of Kerry instead of the full loop. We “hiked” through the moss covered forest and waterfall right as you head out of Killarney toward the start of the Ring of Kerry. We stopped for an early lunch in another picture perfect Irish town, Sneem, and to play on the metal bridge overlooking the River Sneem. Just like the Dingle Peninsula drive, it was almost impossible not to stop at every single turn to ooh and aah at the stunning landscape. On our return we found a park for Benton to get some energy out (read hit trees with sticks). We visited the Killarney Outlet Mall in a failed attempt to find souvenirs, but we did find an inflatable slide and bouncy house where 2 Euros bought you 10 minutes of toddler bliss.
Day 7 – Rock of Cashel & Newgrange – We broke up our drive back to Dublin from Killarney with stops at the historic sites of Rock of Cashel and Newgrange. We had the Rock of Cashel almost entirely to ourselves, which meant Benton was free to throw as much gravel into puddles as his little heart desired. Benton was more interested in the work truck that than appreciating the beautiful historic site.
Our guide book had a one sentence note saying that the last tour of Newgrange started at 3:15 thought the site didn’t close until 5, and reasonably thought that we could just catch up, or that we might not want to join a tour at all, but explore on our own speed. What the guide book should have said is “the only way to see the site is by taking the tour bus, the last one of which leaves promptly at 3:15 and you will not be able to see the site at all if your GPS sends you the tourist way through town and not the direct way you arrive 11 minutes late”. We still had spectacular view and there were sticks aplenty to throw off the bridge into the the stream, so happy toddler, happy parents, right?
Day 8 – Fly Home – Farewell Ireland, land of green and rainbows, where even shepherd’s pie comes with a side of chips. You were good to us and gave us time to reconnect and build memories together. Until next time!