Everything we ate in Ireland was pretty heavenly. We spent most of our time in small towns so there were only a limited number of restaurants to pick from, but I don’t think you can go wrong. Seafood on the west coast is abundant.
The Long Dock (in Loophead): This the restaurant that we were looking for when we ran into the cute little Irish children riding their bikes. They serve tons of locally caught seafood. The seafood chowder is uh-mazing (Scott ate seafood chowder at every restaurant we went to and he vouches for this). Make sure to check out their craft beer list!
Ashe’s Bar & Restaurant (in Dingle): Another great seafood restaurant in the heart of Dingle (embrace the seafood). The first time we tried to go for lunch and it was packed, which is always a good sign. We made sure to come back extra early the next day to get a table. If you order the lobster they take you over to their tank and let you pick out which lobster will end up on your plate!
Idas Restaurant (in Dingle): This would be a great choice if you were in the mood for a slighter fancier (and more expensive) restaurant. If you get there before 6:00 you can order from their early bird menu, so I would recommend making plans for an early meal if you’re going for dinner (this was not a problem for my dad).
The west coast of Ireland is all about the B&B’s. You can find some really great, affordable places in all of the small towns. Plus, you get to enjoy a traditional Irish breakfast and get insider tips from the owners.
Waters Edge B&B (in Kilkee): We started out with this winner of a Bed and Breakfast on our first night. The inside is so cute and the rooms are fantastic. It looks out over the water so you get to fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean. Kilkee is a really small town so you only have to walk about 10 minutes to get to the few restaurants and shops in town. We only stayed one night here and we spent most of the day in Loophead, which is definitely worth the trip.
Duin House B&B (in Dingle): The couple that owns this B&B was so warm and welcoming. They greeted us with tea and crumpets (I don’t really even know what crumpets are, I just couldn’t not call them that). They provided us with maps and gave us great recommendations of things to do while we were in Dingle. The rooms have everything you need AND there are sheep next door. So you will awake with a lovely wake up call from the sheep (it really adds to the whole experience).
Ocean View B&B (in Cahersiveen): This B&B was nothing fancy, but was perfect for a one night stay. We arrived too early for check-in, but our host was very accommodating and gave us some suggestions of things to do for the next few hours.
Kilkee & Loophead: We didn’t actually do much other than eat in Kilkee. We mainly chose to stay there because it seemed to have more options and was a bigger town than Loophead. The main attraction here is the Loophead lighthouse and cliffs. We chose to stop here instead of Cliffs of Moher because it was more on our route and I read than it had less of a tourist crowd. It was humbling experience to stand on the edge of the cliffs, looking down at the vast ocean. You can also take a short tour of the lighthouse where you will learn about its history and how it is still in use today. While you’re in Loophead, take a walk through the town and have lunch at one of the family owned restaurants. If you’re staying in Kilkee, you could just take a half day to explore the town of Loophead.
Dingle: This was the biggest town that we stayed in on the coast and the one that we spent the most time in. We spent about two days here, which seemed to be just the right amount of time to get a good taste of the town. The first day we drove along the “Dingle Way”, which is a big loop around the area with several points of interest along the way. You could easily spend an entire day on this, taking your time at all the different points along the way. There’s so many places on the drive when the view changes and you’ll just want to stop to take it all in.
The town of Dingle is really cute too. There’s many different art galleries and craft shops that you’ll want to take a peek in. We probably spent half a day just walking around looking at everything. Also, this area of Ireland is one of the most highly populated areas of Irish speakers. (We learned that outside of Ireland the language is called Gaelic, but within Ireland they refer to it as Irish). If you’re driving along the Atlantic coast, I highly recommend spending some time in Dingle.
Cahersiveen: Valentia Island is just off the coast of Cahersiveen, which has some good hiking and sightseeing. It was really foggy the morning that we went so we didn’t get to see as much as we would have liked, but what we did see was incredible. The other thing that we would have really liked to do was hike Skellig Michael. Skilling Michael is another small island in the Atlantic Ocean where a Christian monastery was founded somewhere between the 6th and 8th centuries. The island itself is highly affected by the wether conditions in the Atlantic, which is why we were unable to go while we were there. It’s not an experience for everyone, as the hike up the rock seems to be pretty intense. But if you’re looking for an adventure, and the boats are running while you’re there, you should look into it. I still want to go back there someday.
Rent a car. From what I’ve read and seen, there’s not a very extensive public transportation system in Ireland, especially along the coast. It makes life so much easier because you decide when you want to move on to the next town and when you need an extra few hours. If you’re not used to driving on the left side of the road, it will take some getting used to, but completely do-able (so I’ve heard, I didn’t actually do the driving). Take the scenic route from town to town, there’s some incredible view along the way where you’ll want to stop and take pictures or just rest for a bit.
After we left the lively town of Dingle, our next stop as we headed south was Cahersiveen. We didn’t even know how to pronounce the name of the town, much less what to do once we got there. Fortunately, the owner of our Bed & Breakfast gave us the low down on everything we needed to know once we got there. Cahersiveen is a super tiny town, but off its coast is Valentia Island and a bit further into the Atlantic is Skellig Michael. Valentia Island has an interesting history (it was the place where the first transatlantic cables operated between Europe and North America), along with its diverse landscape, which make it a great place to explore. We decided to tackle the island one morning before heading on to our last stop of the trip. When we started our drive it was so foggy that we could hardly see 10 feet in front of us, which didn’t bode well for all the amazing views we had been promised. We pressed on anyway. We stopped at all the different points of interest on our map and eventually got to the lighthouse. We parked the car and made the trek down to the peninsula. When we got close we could see there was a sign hanging on the closed gates. Not a good sign. We finally got close enough to read that the lighthouse was closed due to weather. The sky was dark, the fog was still holding up and the wind was howling pretty fiercely. Although I was slightly bummed about not getting to go into the lighthouse, being that close to the wild, angry ocean somehow felt even more exciting. I don’t know what it is, but being outside when the weather is so intense (when you’re somewhat prepared for it) gives me this thrilling rush. It feels like I’m pushing myself up to the edge and looking down a steep cliff. Then just when I feel like I’ve stayed there long enough to feel a small sense of accomplishment (or uncomfortableness), I walk away to a warm, dry car.
When we finished our sightseeing around the island, we took the scenic route to Cork. I’m not kidding when I say this route was the most scenic of all the scenic routes. It was also quite possibly one of the most windy routes I’ve ever taken (and I thought I had grown out of that car sickness thing). Even during the times when I had to lay my head down and close my eyes, I forced myself to peek out the window every now and then because I couldn’t risk missing any of the jaw-dropping views. I made a mental note of some of the places that I wanted to come back and visit someday (Killarney National Park, I'm talking to you). I mean, I knew Ireland had some pretty places, but it was so much more than I expected. There’s so many places to see and things to do that I didn’t want it to end. But I told myself that I wasn't saying goodbye forever, and someday I’d be back for more.
After our week in England, we popped over to Ireland for the next week. At this point in the summer I had done so much planning for our previous trips that this one kind of got put on the back burner. I booked places to stay and had an idea of some of the things we could do in each town, but it wasn’t put through my typically extensive planning regimen. Lucky for us, Ireland turned out to be the perfect place for that type of minimal planning.
On our first day, we drove out to the town of Loophead for lunch and planned to make a stop at the lighthouse. Like many of the towns along the west coast, Loophead is a small town with more sheep than people (I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it sure seemed like it). You would think that would make it really easy to find your way around. Wrong. Unless you happen upon two little Irish children with fiery red hair and the most adorable accents you’ve ever heard, riding their bikes along the same dirt street that you are driving on, you might be driving in circles for a while. We stopped to ask the kids for directions and I fully expected them to have no idea what we were talking about, much less be able to give us perfect directions to the restaurant, but that’s just what they did. Ye can take yer first left at the end of the street, den ye will see the main street and the restaurant will be on yer right. It was too much. I couldn’t stop talking about how ridiculously cute they were.
The Irish coast is completely stunning. Everywhere you look there are the most dramatic cliffs, mountains and fields. One of my favorite moments was when we were driving along the coast in Dingle and we stumbled upon a beach tucked into the bottom of a cliff. I desperately wanted to get down onto the beach so I called for a pitstop. The view was unreal. Waves crashing in front of you, huge rocks creating secret alcoves scattered around, and then gazing upward, were sheep and cattle grazing at the edge of the cliff. The wind was blowing so hard that it was almost hard to see at times, but that made it all the more thrilling. Scott braved the water while the rest of us held on to our rain coats and shouted to be heard over the roaring winds. We didn't stay for long, but the time we spent on that little beach is something that I'll never forget.