Ireland & Scotland in 10 Days

It may seem like 10 days is quite a long time to spend in Ireland and Scotland combined. Well, not when you have decided to rent a car and drive around the entire Island(s).  

 I always knew that I wanted to go to Ireland, but what really sold me was the movie Leap Year. Yes, pathetic I know.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist when I found a flight deal for under $500 round trip (I will do a separate post on how I find travel deals) and booked an atlas to help navigate while driving around the country!

Day 1

I don’t really mind flights (probably because of my AA status), but it’s surely a treat to look out the window and saw this on final approach to Dublin. It was pure beauty!

When we arrived, we picked up our car, did a few practice laps around the parking lot (driving manual on the other side of the road is no easy feat) and as the navigator, I steered us in the direction of Waterford, famous for its crystal.  Go figure that no crystal is produced in the town anymore after an American company purchased the name and manufactures elsewhere.  We ventured outside of town and stumbled upon some amazing scones – and views:


We hit the road again headed to Cork and I basically hung outside the window the whole time snapping photos.  I am SO glad that we decided to drive because of the amazing beauty along the way.  Here are just a few of many!  Full disclaimer, I was obsessed with something called “Art Mode” on the camera I was using so all of the photos are very saturated and ominous…it wasn’t nearly as dreary while we were there!


We made it to Cork in the early evening, but in enough time to give ourselves a walking (photo) tour of the amazing waterfront (with kegs) and church:

 

Day 2

We woke up early and hit the road toward the Blarney Castle.  Yes, I kissed where many have kissed before to get some good luck from the Blarney Stone:

More impressively were the Castle grounds:

After a quick grocery run for some lunch (and our newly discovered favorite ‘Chelsea Buns’), hit the road to experience the Ring of Kerry.  Now, I didn’t know that Ireland was so damn “Ring” happy, but basically, any road that loops a peninsula is called a “Ring” and there are way more than expected.  We happened upon the “Ring of Berra”, thinking it was the “Ring of Kerry”.  It was a beautiful oops.

 

After our long day of driving, we wanted to get back to Waterville to watch the sunset but of course got lost in an amazing inland landscape, but finally made it around the bend, in time to see the sun set over the Skellig Islands and called it a night.

Day 3

The next morning, our hope was to go take a boat out to the Skellig Islands and climb to the top, where there are old monasteries and amazing views.  Sadly, Mother Nature was being testy and we had to find other plans.  What else is there to do when you are in Ireland? Oh, I know. Drive through another “Ring”! We found the “Ring of Skellig” but this was my favorite Ring.  On the way, I found my future home!

Then we stopped at a random chocolate factory and did some tasting:


And of course, this chocolate factory had some gorgeous views. Beach and chocolate? Yes please!

Along the drive, we happened on some more gorgeous views.  Did I mention Ireland is an Island so apparently there’s something stunning around every corner!


And even saw a rainbow! No leprechaun or pot of gold sighting though…

Just as we were getting hungry again, we stumbled upon the cutest restaurant along our ring and had our first bowl of Guinness Lamb Stew of the trip. AH-Mazing!

We crossed the bay on a car ferry and found ourselves at the “Ring of Valencia” (why not), where we happened upon a candle shop. The owner was quite secretive – and against photos, because he feels that you spend too much time obsessing about the shot..and miss the actual beauty of the subject.  Wise words, if you ask me…even though I love photography haha.

We also found a slate quarry…also with an amazing view!

We spent the rest of the night driving to our destination – Killarney.  When we arrived, we decided to go check out the local music scene. I have to say there is nothing more amazing than fantastic beer drank while a 3-piece band plays Irish jigs by the fire.

Day 4

We started the day with a hike to Torc Waterfall.  I could have roamed around the forest for hours…it was all so lush and beautiful!


Just as we got back to the car, it started pouring.  But, we were not going to let that stop us from seeing our next planned stop – the Cliffs of Moher.  I have to say, we totally lucked out that it was pouring because we were able to enjoy the Cliffs all to ourselves.  Literally.

To round off what seemed like the perfect day, we stumbled upon a jam shop in County Clare.  Again, those of you who know me know how much I love jam. So, 12 jars later, we hit the road to Galway.  I had my first fish & chips of the trip, and then enjoyed a local pub for a pint and some live music.

Day 5

The next morning was rough, but nothing that a hot cross bun (a la 4th grade song played on a recorder) with Clare jam couldn’t fix.

The road to Donegal was quite lovely, but did I mention that the reason we were headed to Donegal was to stay at an old castle, turned 5-star hotel? Yep, I know.  We actually found this place on Travelzoo and got a steal of a deal.

As the butler said when we arrived “We are much bigger than we appear from the front” – and boy was he right.  The grounds were massive – and we explored them on bicycles which was great (and exhausting).


We also made time for Afternoon Tea.  Now, I hope you all know that Afternoon  Tea is not just drinking a cup of tea at 2pm.  It is quite the ordeal – and one of my favorites.  Check out the spread:

Our stay at the Solis Lough Eske Castle certainly did not disappoint.

Day 6

We started off with a traditional Irish Breakfast at the castle hotel.  I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but here’s basically what it means…

After my food coma subsided, we hit the road to head into Northern Ireland.  I honestly didn’t realize that Northern Ireland was different from Ireland (oops), but it is actually part of the UK – and has a very conflicted background with Ireland.  Despite this, it was a smooth transition into the country which was disappointing because I wanted another passport stamp!

The main reason we came here was to see the one and only Giant’s Causeway. This place can only be described as magical – and confusing – at the same time.  None of the scientific explanations on how it was formed actually make sense to me, so I prefer to believe in the legend – but you can read this and decide for yourself… http://www.ireland.com/en-us/what-is-available/natural-landscapes-and-sights/natural-landscapes/articles/giants-causeway-myth


After spending some time mesmerized, it was time for our next stop – the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  Did I mention I am terrified of heights? Yep, I am. And I made every excuse in the book to not cross this bridge, even though I was the one that suggested we do it.  After a kick in the ass, I crossed and was amazed at the views waiting for me on the other side.
I have a lot of fears in life – and I find that traveling forces me to conquer them.  While it is often terrifying, I know that with each trip, I become stronger.

The day winded down as we drove into Belfast, where we were planning to spend the night.  I definitely wish we had more time to explore the city where the Titanic was built via dry dock, but there’s always next time.

Day 7

We left car at the Belfast Airport and took off on a flight to Glasgow, Scotland.  There, we picked up another tiny rental car and hit the road for Ayrshire – a town on the West coast of the UK – famous for the Turnberry Resort and golf course.

Interestingly enough, Turnberry is a Starwood hotel – and I happen to be a SPG Platinum member.  This means that despite the fact that I booked a room for the wrong night (oops!), they confirmed a room, make that a suite for us.  And, what suite in Scotland would be complete without a bagpipe player outside your window?

We decided to have a low key dinner at the hotel ate and drank – and watched the sun set over the ocean.

And then…the hotel just started shooting off fireworks!

Day 8

After being treated like royalty, it was time to indulge in the real reason we were in Scotland – Scotch.  Yep, my favorite spirit of them all.  We decided on touring the Glenkinchie distillery, which is right outside Edinburgh, our next stop.  Here are some of the photos from the amazing experience:

After some day drinking, we headed to Edinburgh for the evening and had dinner at a stellar seafood restaurant.  I absolutely loved the little bit that I saw of Edinburgh (thankfully our hotel had a view of the Edinburgh Castle), so will definitely need some more time there in the future.
Day 9
Alas, after a quick 2 days, it was time to leave Scotland and fly back to Belfast.  We were going to pick back up our car and drive back to Dublin.  If you recall, we immediately headed out of Dublin when we first landed, so now was our chance to see it.

Once in Dublin, we hit up the hotel’s neighbor – Trinity College – the famous home of the Book of Kells.  Our student tour guide, Harry Potter, showed us around the campus and then we got to see the Long Room of Library, holding the Book of Kells.

After a visit to the Guinness factory and a great night out in Dublin, we reached the end.

This probably sounds like quite the intensive trip.  I like to call this “traveling hard”.  However, the sacrifice that I make with this approach is that I don’t get to spend as much time as I would like in some places.  This trip, those places were Dublin and Edinburgh.  But, it just means that it will be high on the top of the repeat-travel list.
You could certainly modify this trip to be a slower-pace, spending more time in fewer cities.  Or, you could focus on Ireland separate from Scotland.  Either way, I think this comes back to really doing your research to identify the must-see sights, but also building flex time into your schedule so that you can just explore – and stumble upon some of the uniqueness of your destination, like the chocolate factory, candle shop, jam store, etc.  And no, it is not a coincidence that the majority of the things I stumble on are food related.  In my opinion, food is the window into a country.  If you let it, it can explain the past, present and future of a country’s soul.
All in all, Ireland and Scotland can be described as one word – “magical”.  The raw, natural beauty was only on another level.  Perhaps it was the stew – or Scotch – but my heart was warm after this adventure.
Please reach out if you want more details on places, sights, hotels, food, etc. from this trip.
Cheers!
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