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Ireland's Hidden (and not so hidden) Gems

Coming from Arizona, I never could have imagined how many shades of green could exist in one place. Let's just say move aside Christian Gray.... because St. Patrick's 50 Shades of Green is a whole new type of easy on the eyes.

But seriously, I cannot properly put into words how much I adore this country. Ireland is by far one of the top, underrated tourist destinations around, and I urge anyone who has not had the chance to go to do so NOW.

Spanning over just 32,595 square miles (just about the size of Maine), the vast amount of contrasting sceneries is a reason to visit this country alone. You can find modern city life, the Irish countryside, harbor and seaside towns, and castles dating back to 1172 all within a couple of hours of one other. And let's be honest, it's an adult playground for my Game of Thrones devotees out there!

The first time I got to see the Emerald Isle was March of 2017. This country had been top of mine and my family's bucket list as my mother's maiden name is Smylie and her and I were big fans of rom coms like Leap Year and P.S I Love You. (I'm still not sure PS I Love should be considered a rom com after the amount of tears shed over that movie but nevertheless... also hi Gerard B if you ever see this, I am a big fan).

For this trip, we booked through Great Value Vacations and were able to experience an all inclusive 9-day Irish vacation for $1,300 per person! And let me just tell you it was nothing short of incredible.

This price included roundtrip airfare from Phoenix, hotel and bed breakfast options all around Ireland, car rental, breakfast AND a night stay at the Ashford Castle (one night here can cost you anywhere from $600 to over a $1,000 per night!) Additionally, they also provide customizable options from other airports around the US, and choices to upgrade to packages that include entrance fees to must-see tourist attractions like Trinity College in Dublin and The Cliff's of Moher in Co. Clare.

Since we had access to a car, we were able to make our way down from Dublin to Kilkenny, then to Cork where we kissed the Blarney Stone and explored the amazing restaurants and atmosphere of the second largest city in Ireland.

Next we explored the quaint, little fishing town of Kinsale where their unique, french-inspired cuisine was absolutely divine and coincidentally had the pleasure of sitting next to Conor McGregor at a restaurant called Fishy Fishy (first of all NO BIG DEAL, and second.... try the Yellow Fin Tuna because it's amaze). About a 40-minute drive north, we drove to the most gorgeous harbor town of Cobh which over looks the Celtic Sea and was the Titanic's last port of call before its impending voyage. We then stayed in Co. Clare in the cutest bed breakfast with our host, Mary, whose home was literally less than 100 feet from the restored Bunratty Castle. Here we were able to walk the grounds and see first hand what it was like to live during the 15th century.

Next stop was The Cliffs of Moher (gorgeous, but COLD... so if you go, bring a coat for your coat... and then maybe another). From there we stayed the night in Galway and made our way to the Ashford Castle (omfg), and then back to Dublin.

Fast forward nearly exactly a year later, I found myself with an opportunity to go back and there was absolutely no hesitation.

It was always a bucket-list item to spend St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, so when one of my best friends (whose birthday just HAPPENS to be March 17th) sent me a roundtrip flight deal to Dublin for $500 we booked immediately and figured out the details later. Since none of us felt comfortable driving we booked most of our excursions through bus tours stationed out of Dublin.

Instead of going through and detailing exactly what we did on this trip too (because a lot of it included pub crawling and falling down a flight of stairs courtesy of St. Patrick's Day festivities) I have provided a detailed list of both touristy and off-the-beaten path, must-see attractions and best IG photo opportunities for you to choose from for your next trip to Ireland!

Dublin City Center:

Starting with the most obvious of places, Dublin has much to offer. If you are looking for the hustle and bustle of Irish city life, say hello to your new best friend! The capital of Ireland is full of culture, traditional and gourmet cuisines, and the home to 751 pubs (yassss). With so much to see, it's easy to spend many days wondering the streets and getting lost in the city's historic architecture and culture. Places to see, things to do, but definitely not limited to:

Attractions & Landscapes

(all are accessible by either car or bus tours from Dublin or other major cities)

  • The Cliffs of Moher (no explanation needed other than DUH)

  • Blarney Castle

  • ​Here you will want to kiss the Blarney Stone where literary legends say doing so will grant you the "gift of the gab" or the gift of elegance and wit. On the grounds of the castle you will have the chance to see the Estate Manor and Gardens, Badger's Cave, and the Cromwell dungeons! (and just a 15 minute drive south you'll hit the city of Cork where you'll have an abundance of shopping, food culture and entertainment to choose from!)

  • The Ring of Kerry

  • This scenic road trip will take you through 12 towns, 10,000 years of history and vast sceneries. Throughout your journey through the ring, you'll come by places of interest including the Muckross House, The Stone forts of Cahergal, Derrynane Beach and much more.

  • The Harbor town of Kinsale

  • Walk the colorful streets of this fishing town and enjoy dinner with the most glorious seafood from Bulman Bar & Restaurant.

  • End with drinks at Dalton's Bar.

  • Cobh, Co. Cork (picturesque as hell)

  • ​Lots to see including the Titanic Museum, but I would recommend just walking the streets and coastline as the views are honestly to die for.

  • Bunratty Castle

  • Kylemore Abbey

  • Kilkenny Castle

  • Galway City (****cue Ed Sheeran's Galway Girl***)

  • Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge (Probably one of my most favorite attractions but definitely not for those scared of bridges, heights or both).

  • If you're a Game of Throne's nut, you'll experience ALL the feels as you get to legitimately walk the grounds that THE Jon Snow and Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen (First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men,Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea,Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons) have walked. Can't disrespect my queen em i right, people?????

  • Giant's Causeway

  • ​Absolutely breathtaking, but cold and windy... so dress accordingly! We booked this excursion through Paddywagon and it included Giant's Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle (House of GreyJoy, people!!), the Antrim Coast and one hour of free time in Belfast.

I realize this was all encompassing and probably too much information for one post, so if any of you are interested in a more concentrated post regarding an 8-10 day itinerary for this magical country, leave a comment in the comment section below!

#art #mustsee #tourism