You open your eyes slowly to the sound of birds singing outside. Soft morning sun washes in through lacy curtains. Light rain pattering softly against your window lulled you to sleep last night, but today the clouds are white and dappled against a soaring blue sky. That quilt gathered around you is a bit old-fashioned, but you’re not sure if you’ve ever felt so cosy. You steal a few more warm, quiet moments together, until the smell of bacon sizzling away downstairs lures you out into the day’s adventure.
Fueled by a hearty breakfast (crispy-edged fried eggs, thick Irish bacon, sausage, and coarse, nutty brown bread slathered with rich creamery butter), you set out along Slea Head, wheels whirring away beneath you as you sail around that first corner. The panorama opens up ahead: to your left the glittering Atlantic ocean, sparkling its way out to the horizon to the west, and exploding in foamy white sprays along the rocky coastline below. To your right, the patchwork hills are greener than anything you’ve ever seen; dotted with sheep and rolling gently under a blazing blue sky. You breathe in long and cool as the two of you coast around the next curve, ready for another breathtaking view.
That night you unwind with a creamy-headed pint, relaxing at a pub down the road. After a lively, laughter-filled hour or two, you’ve made a few new friends. While one of them is telling you about his granddaughter and showing you photos on his phone, you catch your new husband’s eye and share a little smile. You’re having a little trouble with that musical Kerry accent, but no matter– these warm-hearted, friendly strangers will stay in your memory forever when you look back on your Irish honeymoon. A bit later, the music starts; a few locals having a bit of fun with a fiddle, a flute, and a guitar. Easy and light-hearted it seems, until the flute-player puts down her instrument and takes a deep breath. The room goes softly, suddenly silent as her rich, haunting voice unfurls into a mesmerizing sean-nós ballad. A chill works its way down your spine, and you slip your hand into his, letting the magic of the place carry you away.
Why honeymoon in Ireland?
Oh, but where do I start? I am a bit biased, I’ll admit it; I first fell in love with Ireland in exactly this part of the Dingle Peninsula many years ago. Like so many dreamy-eyed Americans, filled with stories of Irish roots and the Riverdance rhythms of the ‘90s, I was drawn by curiosity, and captivated by a culture of warmth, openness, and great conversation. Ireland is the perfect destination for any couple seeking dazzling countryside, rich and fascinating history, and above all, a warm and smiling welcome.
What can we do in Ireland?
The absolute best way to see Ireland is to rent a car and get out into the countryside. For those wary of driving on the left, you can also find your way to many great sights using Ireland’s bus and train systems.
Start in Dublin. Most honeymooners visiting Ireland will land in Dublin first, given its major international airport. If you’ve got a lot of luggage, a taxi will cost about 20-30 euro to the city center, but the famed chatter of your driver may be well worth it. Ask him to suggest some sights, and you’re in for a treat as he gives you a colorful overview in a thick north Dublin twang. For those traveling a little lighter, the comfortable Airlink and Aircoach buses (with free WiFi) head downtown every 10-30 minutes for a mere 7 euro.
In Dublin, make sure you set aside time to see Kilmainham Gaol, by far my favorite tourist stop. The guides are so passionate about Dublin’s history, you’ll walk away feeling like you were part of the 1916 Easter Rising. If you have the time, the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery are both worth a look as well, and they’re in the same side of town. If the weather is dry, take a stroll through St. Stephen’s Green (if you’re traveling in the spring, prepare to be dazzled by the dizzying variety of tulips in every conceivable color) and Merrion Square, two of Dublin’s iconic city parks. Grab lunch at Hatch & Sons, where you can sample the finest examples of locally-sourced, lovingly-prepared Irish cuisine in a relaxed and friendly setting (and if you happen to be in Dublin on the third Thursday of the month, you absolutely cannot miss Hatch & Sons’ monthly supper club, an unforgettable evening of education and culinary delights– an entertaining talk, a 3-course meal, and lots and lots of wine all for a very humble 35 euro). When the sun starts to go down, make your way to Temple Bar for the Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl, to learn all about what you’ll be experiencing out west, and make some friends in the process. If you can’t fit in the crawl, or prefer something a bit less touristy, head to the Cobblestone pub in Smithfield (or the Brazen Head just outside Temple Bar if you’d rather keep it central) for fabulous music around 9pm. The Stag’s Head in the city center also offers live traditional music several nights a week, and free stand-up comedy on Sunday and Monday nights.
Now, get out of Dublin! The biggest mistake American tourists make when visiting Ireland is staying in Dublin the whole time. This is no knock on Dublin– in fact, I live in Dublin, and it’s great, but at the end of the day it’s just a city. Rent a car (or hop a bus or a train) and head out west!
The Dingle Peninsula. If you possibly can, go to Dingle: a magical little harbor town with a funny name. You can get there in about four and a half hours by car, or about six and a half hours by train and bus. When you arrive, settle into your B&B (my favorite so far is the Milestone B&B, just outside of town), and go for a stroll along the harbor, where you might see Fungie, the resident dolphin (really!). Get an early start the next morning to rent bikes and cycle around the Slea Head Loop, and you’ll find the most unforgettable 30 miles of your life. If you like seafood, book a table at Out of the Blue Seafood Only Restaurant, and prepare for melt-in-your-mouth mussels and fish cooked so perfectly you could almost cry. And of course, head to the pub at night. John Benny Moriarty’s is dependable for great traditional music (count yourself lucky if you’re there on a night when Eilís Kennedy is singing), as are O’Flaherty’s and O’Sullivan’s. Looking for a bit of great conversation before your music? I would suggest starting off the night in Dick Mack’s, a smaller, quieter pub just a short skip from the others. If you’re aiming to avoid crowds, it’s best to visit Dingle in late spring or early fall, since the town is a bit overrun by tourists and teenagers (sent to the region to learn the Irish language) during the summer months.
Galway. Just 10 euro and a two and a half hour bus trip from Dublin will get you to Galway city; a lively, colorful town on the west coast. If you only have a short time in Ireland (and a many-hour trip to Dingle would be a bit too ambitious), make Galway your hub. Hop a ferry and spend a day back in time on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, and another great place to rent bikes and putter around the island. Stop to hike out to Inishmore’s many interesting archaeological sites, including the impressive Dun Aengus ring fort, perched precariously on the edge of staggeringly sheer-faced cliff. Take a day trip in the misty, rugged Connemara, or down to the beautiful Cliffs of Moher in nearby County Clare. In Galway city itself, head over to The Crane pub (climb the stairs for a memorable musical evening) or to one of the popular bars on Shop Street. Ard Bia, near the Spanish Arch, makes for a tasty, relaxing dinner away from other tourists, and McDonagh’s on Quay Street will introduce you to a fine example of Irish fish and chips. An eclectic, bohemian market takes place near St. Nicolas’ church on Saturdays (try the matar paneer at the little booth selling vegetarian Indian food, and if the day is a bit chilly, buy a beautiful hand-knitted scarf or hat at the knitwear stall). And don’t forget to join the other couples strolling down the waterfront to Salthill at sunset.
Want to see more? Get in your car and take a spin out to west Cork, in the south, renowned by the Irish for its spectacular countryside and coastline. Spend a night or two in Kinsale, enjoying the local culinary scene. Drive (or cycle, for the ambitious) the Ring of Kerry, and spend a day or two relaxing near one of the county’s lakes. Watch a sunset from the beach in Lahinch, and catch some music with the locals in Doolin. In Mayo, climb Croagh Patrick on a clear day or cycle to Achill Island on the Great Western Greenway (then catch a good night’s sleep and some lively conversation in Westport while you rest up). Farther north, drive off to a remote corner of Donegal, and make your way along the Emerald Isle’s most stunning cliffs. Wherever you go be sure to talk to the people around you– even with all of the incredible scenery, it’s their warmth that will stick with you the most.
And what goes on our registry?
The sky’s the limit! Make sure to add your rental car, and those cosy nights at country B&Bs. Dinner at Out of the Blue in Dingle, and lunch at Hatch & Sons in Dublin can go on there too, as well as your walking tours, your bike rentals, and a round of pints for your new friends from the pub! Why not try surf lessons in Donegal, or a tickets to one of Ireland’s many summer music festivals? Let your friends and family help you have an unforgettable journey, finding your own slice of Ireland with the love of your life. Start your Irish honeymoon registry here.
Hmmm… what shall I write about next week? Will it be Costa Rica, or Greece? Or maybe South Africa? Check back next Thursday to find out!
(Photo taken by yours truly, Ballyferriter, Dingle Peninsula, 2013)