Table of Contents
A Road Tour of Southern Ireland - 10 Highlights
Once outside of Dublin, spending 6 nights travelling by car allowed us to explore Southern Ireland‘s Highlights – and Lowlights – pretty thoroughly.
Click the link below to see our full 10 Day Itinerary and Accommodation Reviews.
10 Tour Highlights
Dublin to Kinsale
1 The Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel is where St Patrick chose to make the head of his church in Ireland. It is a collection of medieval buildings on a rocky outcrop and short group tours run at regular intervals.
I found the gravestones there interesting. So many marked the resting place of people who had not lived very long, including several children. I couldn’t find any for someone over 80. I turn 60 next year, so officially a senior. It made me wonder – if I had just one year left to live, how would I spend it?
Someone who did live over 80 – and some – is buried there too though – or is he? The priest known as the scoundrel of Cashel had 2 wives, switched faiths and lived to over 100 and you can gaze at his stone effigy here. It isn’t certain whether his remains are actually here or not – but it makes a good story.
2 Blarney Castle
I’m not a big fan of tourist sites really, but if you are visiting Southern Ireland, then you can’t drive past Blarney Castle without being just a bit curious?
To kiss the legendary Blarney Stone and secure the gift of eloquence for yourself, you will need to:
- Pay your dues (a princely 18 euros pp)
- Climb up a very steep, long spiral staircase
- Queue up around the rampart walls.
- Finally, your patience will be rewarded and you get to lie on a slab on your back, hang onto the handrails for dear life and launch yourself backwards over the gap to kiss the legendary lump of rock.
- You can relax now – you are never going to be stuck for something to say again (?!)
- Watch the stone being disinfected after your brief interaction with it (only introduced pre Covid).
- To prove you did it, you can then buy a photo (10 euros for 1 or 18 euros for 2).
I didn’t buy my photo. I confess that I prefer the one Tim took that makes it look as though I was kissing the stone. In fact, I didn’t launch myself all the way over in the end. It felt like an unnatural thing to do and I’m not convinced of the powers of the stone in any case, so I chose to give the grand finale of this highlight a miss.
3 Don and Barry’s Walking Tour of Kinsale
Kinsale is a really pretty little town to visit and a great base to stay on a trip around Southern Ireland. You could walk all the way around it in 15 minutes or so, but that would be a shame, because there is a lot of history here that is worth unearthing.
To get the most out of the town, join Don and Barry (or on the day we went, Brian) on a Walking Tour. They leave every day at either 9.15 or 11.15 from outside the Tourist Office. As their flyer states: “On ‘soft’ days, there will be umbrellas a plenty. On ‘desperate’ days, there will be tea and scones!”
For a guideline donation of 8 euros pp, you can make the morning here a lot more interesting for yourself.
Enjoy hearing all about how Kinsale was reclaimed from the sea. Hear the tale of Pirate Anne Bonny and think about whether it is true that well behaved women seldom make history. Take a peek inside the Tap Tavern and see what a well preserved original Irish Bar REALLY looks like (complete with its old style dial up telephone and a formica bar).
In the afternoon, maybe complete your day by taking the Scilly Walk via the Low Road to Charles Fort – a well preserved classic star shaped fort.
4 The Kinsale Food Circle
Kinsale has some really good restaurants. You could do make a nice long weekend out of taking a short round trip from Dublin to Kinsale, stay a couple of nights to sample the local fare and then return home actually.
You will see Peter Barry’s statue in town. He arrived in Kinsale in 1963 and set himself the uphill task of making the then poor town a jewel in the crown of Irish Tourism. A Bon Viveur, in 1971, he set up and developed the Spaniard pub and Man Friday restaurant. He made such a roaring success of his endeavour that other restauranteurs were attracted into the town to join him and the Good Food Circle that makes Kinsale the gourmet capital of Ireland we can enjoy today was born. The town owes Peter Barry a great debt. If ever anyone was worthy of a statue, it is surely him. Sadly he died just 3 weeks after unveiling it.
The gin infused smoked salmon and the scallops at Man Friday were my favourite meal of the trip. The restaurant is a pleasant 10 minutes walk out of town along the waterside.
The rack of lamb is a great choice at Finn’s Farmcut. They have a good wine list too – but I didn’t fork out for a glass of Chateau D’Yquem 1997.
I have also heard that Fishy Fishy is highly recommended by locals. There is also a Michelin restaurant called Bastion, which isn’t actually part of the Food Circle.
Kinsale to Killarney
5 Beara Peninsula
The Beara Peninsula SHOULD be a highlight – but honestly, you do have to be able to see it to believe it? The rain was coming down so hard and the fog was so dense on our visit that you couldn’t see a thing – all day. The photos are honest and tell it just how it was – AWFUL.
6 The Ring of Kerry - Kerry Cliffs
The sun came out the next day – Hooray! It meant we could visit the Kerry Cliffs, which are quite pretty. It is a long walk to the end and back – nice to stretch your legs. There is a 10 euros charge to park as the car park is built on private land.
7 The Ring of Kerry - Kells Bay Gardens
Kells Bay Gardens make a nice place to stroll around for an afternoon. The fern gardens are worth visiting and there is a long and wobbly sky rope walk to entertain yourself with. It’s a good place for kids to run around in too as it is more wild than formal.
Give it a Miss - Killarney
I am always honest in this blog. That is one of the reasons I write it – to share any trip planning mistakes I make openly in the hope that you can avoid them when you plan your own trip. Life is way too short to waste it on trip planning mistakes?
For me, this trip would have been considerably better if we had given Killarney a miss. Yes, it is a good base for visiting the Ring of Kerry – and I am sure that many would find that a beautiful place to drive around. You really have to have good weather though and in Ireland, that unfortunately happens all too rarely.
As for Killarney itself, well my view of it is that it seems to be a place where people go to get drunk After 9pm or so, the streets were filled with drunks and scantily clad hen parties. If this is your idea of a good night out, then by all means go for it, The only other visitors were hoards of American golfers. For me, it was a wasted 2 days I will never be able to get back.
The Hotel we had chosen added insult to injury – See the Accommodation Review on the Link Below.
Killarney to Galway
8 The Dingle Peninsula
The road over An Chonair is the highest mountain crossing on the Wild Atlantic Way. On a good day, you can see “as far as the eye can see”. On a bad day though, you can see absolutely nothing at all. The photo below tells it as it was. The weather was so bad that all you could do was roll down your window for a short while to laugh about it with the other tourists who had parked up briefly to tick the non existent view off their “must do” list.
9 Galway Bay
Galway is worth a stroll around. It has shops, a (little) big wheel and a free museum. There is not much else to do there really. A blustery 6 mile walk along Salthill to Claddagh and out to the Mutton Island Lighthouse blew the cobwebs away.
The lighthouse was the last view of their homeland for the many thousands of people who emigrated from Ireland during the Great Famine between 1847 and 1850. How scared they must have been as they approached such a difficult journey, not knowing what their future would hold, but so desperate to leave the poverty of their homeland that they were prepared to take the risk to go in search of a better life. I found it a very moving view.
10 Glenlo Abbey - The Pullman Restaurant
Last – but certainly not least – The Pullman Restaurant at Glenlo Abbey is a fun place for a really special dining experience. Glenlo Abbey Hotel made the smart move of acquiring a Pullman Train and turning it into a restaurant.
The train was built in 1927 and used as part of the Orient Express. It was used in the film of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. It also carried Winston’s Churchill’s remains to their final resting place.
66 opulently furnished covers fill the carriages, just waiting to envelope you for a comfortable dining experience. Great food, attentive service, carefully chosen music and a lovely ambience combine to give you the opportunity for a unique and fun experience.
Don’t forget to get your train ticket punched as a souvenir – and dress 20s style if you really want to enter into the spirit of it!
If you are looking to treat someone to a special weekend away, then a stay at the very comfortable Glenlo Abbey Spa Hotel and dinner at the Pullman could be a good choice.
Souvenir I am Glad I Bought
Irish linen is beautiful – crisp, strong and made to stand the test of time. I couldn’t resist buying this tea towel. The Irish are resolutely cheerful people. They have had so much to put up with over the years and have to wrestle with inclement weather a lot of the time too. The only way to deal with it all is to keep a smile on your face and keep soldiering on. I really like their philosophy.