In my personal opinion, the best way to see Ireland is by renting a car and getting out of the cities. While Ireland has some pretty amazing major centers (Dublin being one of my all time favourite cities in the world), the rural villages and towns are where it’s at. This is where you get to experience true Irish culture, and you will get to see how diverse Ireland is as you drive from county to county.
All that being said, in this post, I am going to stay away from the major cities. They are so accessible by public transit, I would rather show you some of my favourite parts of Ireland, that are best seen by driving yourself.
Glendalough, in Irish means “Valley of the two lakes”. It is a glacial valley located in the Wicklow mountains, about an hour and 15 minute drive, south of Dublin. It is known for the Early Medieval monastic settlement that was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. When you arrive, I strongly suggest hitting the Visitor Center to get yourself a map. It is a large area and you will be walking the whole time so make sure you have a good pair of shoes. You will get to explore various hiking trails that take you to all sorts of cool things and are rated at various levels of difficulty. My favourite part was the monastic settlement. I love wandering through the old buildings and checking out the graveyards with the ancient dates on the tombstones. There are two lakes and you can stroll around, you can take the more difficult hike up to a gorgeous waterfall, head on up to St. Kevin’s cell (the map makes it look like a cave but it eluded me. Maybe you can find it when you go!) and so, so much more.
Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel is a great little roadside stop in the town of Cashel and if you happen to be there on a dreary day, it really adds to the atmosphere. Located on a limestone outcrop, the Rock of Cashel is a group of Medieval buildings that include a 12th century round tower, a High Cross and Romanesque Chapel, a 13th century Gothic cathedral and a 15th century castle. From on top of the Rock, the views over the Tipperary countryside are spectacular.
Seriously, kiss the stone. Blarney is up there as one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of Ireland. I have heard lots of people say that they don’t want to go here because it is SO touristy and they don’t want to kiss the stone that millions of other people have kissed. I really recommend that you do though. You climb up to the roof of an amazing castle in ruin, lay on your back, hang your head upside down over a 90ft drop, and give ‘er a big ol’ smooch. Don’t worry, there’s a lovely gentleman that hangs onto you and there are grates underneath so you can’t fall.
The stone aside though, there is an insane amount of things to do on the grounds and I don’t think people realize this. It is easy to spend a full afternoon wandering through the Poison Garden (yes, there are truly deadly plants in this garden), through the woodlands where you get to see a Druid’s Cave, the Witches Stone, Fairy Gardens, The Wishing Steps, waterfalls, fern gardens, and so much more. If you are there at the right time, you can take a tour of the Blarney House which is a Scottish Baronial mansion that was built in 1874. It has since been restored back to its former glory, but it is only open for tours in the summer months as that is when the Coalthurst family (who live in the house) goes to live on their farm. I was lucky enough to do a tour the first time I was here and it is unbelievable that people call this architectural masterpiece their home.