10 days is hardly enough time to see what these countries have to offer, as I was repeatedly told prior to and during this trip, however when you only have 12 days for holiday/vacation, why not try to make the most of it? As you can see from the map above, 10 days allowed us to see a great deal of this region of Europe, but isn’t it still always the case that vacation is never long enough?
Days 1 & 2 – London
My husband and I made London our first stop specifically to visit friends and absolutely LOVED it! This city is a travelers dream since there is SO much to see, learn, and experience. The only apparent downfall was just the cost of it all, as London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. If you go, don’t bother spending a lot of money on a hotel, chances are you won’t spend much time there, so go cheap and get an affordable room in a small hotel or even an ensuite hostel. We stayed at the Tune hotel which had the smallest rooms you can imagine, but was clean, centrally located next to the Lambeth North Tube stop, and allowed us a good night sleep.
The London Eye is within walking distance of the Tune Hotel, so after my husband and I took the tube from Heathrow airport to our hotel, we changed, grabbed some coffee and walked over to this popular tourist destination to get a first-class view of this spectacular city. Looking back, I can’t think of a better way we could have started our vacation.
Day 3 – Windsor Castle (B on Map), Bath (C), and Stonehenge (D)
The most affordable way to see these sites in a single day from London is to purchase a day trip, group tour – we bought ours through Viator and were very pleased with the quality of the tour guide, as well as the sights along the way. Stonehenge really is just a pile of rocks and not as impressive as hoped, however Bath was well worth the trip and so close to Stonehenge that we’re glad we saw it, even if just to knock it off the bucket-list.
Day 4 – Take a train up to Edinburgh, Scotland (F on Map)
Edinburgh is hands down one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe. We took a train out of London’s King’s Cross station via East Coast rail for £74.10 for the 2 of us. A flight may have been faster than the 4 1/2 hour ride, but where’s the adventure in that?
Day 4 – Edinburgh Scotland to Glasgow Scotland
Glasgow is a gritty and industrial Scottish city, with a unique architectural and artistic twist. For only £7.50 per person, an hour train ride via Cross Country will get you into the heart of Glasgow from Edinburgh Waverly Station.
On the night of our arrival, we ventured out into the city and had a BLAST hanging with locals who were celebrating the Celtic Football Club win. In the morning, we walked the Mackintosh trail from the Willow Tea Rooms (where we could get a proper Scottish breakfast) to the Glasgow School of Art.
Day 5: Glasgow Scotland (G on Map) to Belfast Northern Ireland (I on Map)
A flight from Glasgow to Belfast is the preferred method of travel for most locals since it is faster than the 6 hour journey we took via train, bus and ferry, however, hopping the Stena ferry is a first-class way to see the western coast of Scotland and enjoy the sights of the lovely Irish Sea.
Three trains a day leave from Glasgow Central get you to Stranraer port in time for the Stena sailings to the Port of Belfast (click here for the timetable). The train and ferry altogether costs only £27 one way and you can buy this ticket right up until the day of departure.
Riding the Stena ferry is a fabulous experience and a tremendous deal! The boat feels more like a cruise ship complete with spas, bars, a movie theater video game room, delicious food, free wifi, comfy couches, and a huge sun deck with which to watch the coastline in style.
We arrived in Belfast shortly before 6 pm, and after heading to our hotel, the famous Europa Hotel, also known as “The most bombed hotel in the world”, we went across the street to Northern Ireland’s best known pub, The Crown Bar.
Day 6: Belfast Northern Ireland (I on map) to The Mourne Mountains (J) to Kildare, Ireland (K) to Adare, Ireland (N) & Bunratty Castle (M on map)
Our morning in Belfast started with the hiring of a local Black Taxi, the most comfortable and affordable way to see the famous murals and learn of The Troubles which have haunted this beautiful city since the 1960s.
Belfast is a very beautiful city, with an extensive history that takes time to understand. With a full day ahead of us to see Ireland via rental car, and with left-side-of-the-road-driving being a new experience for my husband and I, we had to leave in the early afternoon to arrive in Adare by sunset.
We rented a car via Auto Europe because, although expensive, we determined driving is the best way to see Ireland. Gas is a steep $7.79 per gallon (1.58 € per liter) which made 4 days of driving around Ireland cost us roughly 140 €, or $178. In order to reserve the car, we had to pay $259 up front since we planned to drop the car off in another country (Dublin airport) and when we picked up the car in Belfast, we paid another $279 directly to Budget Rent-A-Car. Lucky, our credit card company insured us which allowed us to save some money by waiving additional coverage. Click here to read what you should know when renting a car in Ireland.
Crossing the border from Northern Ireland to Ireland was uneventful, in fact we were not even sure when exactly we did since there were no border posts. It was clear almost immediately Ireland is one big scenic country. Driving on the left side of the road took a bit of adjustment, especially since every mile is worth seeing, and the narrow country roads along the western countryside of Ireland were nerve wreaking at times, but overall it was a blast! Read here for tips on driving in Ireland.
We arrived in Adare in the early evening and immediately took to wandering the town. Adare is renowned as one of Ireland’s prettiest villages, and is designated as a Heritage Town by the Irish government.
That evening, we drove 30 minutes north to the nearby Bunratty Castle for the 8:45 pm Medieval Banquet, a fantastic conclusion to our day of travel. Built in the early 1400s, the castle is furnished with a magnificent collection of period paintings, sculptures, furniture and tapestries. Sipping on cups o’meade, we enjoyed live music by Madrigal singers and entertainment from a fun group of performers during a torch-lit medieval-style banquet. We dined on a four course feast at a long communal table among new friends from the world over.
Day 7: Dingle Peninsula (O on map) to Killarney National Park (P) to Kinsale (Q)
Don’t let the short distances on the map fool you, once you get out west in Ireland, the roads become increasingly narrow and windy, with many blind curves and the occasional sheep to avoid. There were several roads in Kerry county where we seemed to be driving through a cave of trees, where the side of the road brush and tall trees all became one over-grown tunnel.
On our way to the fishing town of Dingle, we took the advice of locals and drove The Conor Pass, at roughly 1,300 feet is the highest mountain range in all of Ireland . It’s a tight, precarious road which weaves its way around sharp cliffs and past the high corrie lakes. The drive can be scary at times, but was the highlight of our road trip as the views will not be forgotten.
At the bottom of the mountain, at the end of this scenic ride, is the small fishing and farming town of Dingle. This charming village is definition-ally what you would imagine Ireland to be – full of friendly pubs, Gaelic speaking locals, colorful buildings, and fishermen tending to their boats.
After a few hours and a much-needed lunch, we got back on the road to head south to Killarney National Park, where we could walk around the 19th century Muckross House and Gardens and hike the trails. Here, we felt miles away from others in the grandeur of true wilderness. This large park is so beautiful, peaceful and serene, it feels like touring one of those “Sights of Ireland” calendars.
Around 5 pm we got back on the road and drove another hour south to spend the night in Kinsale, where the food is fantastic and the locals know their craic. We stopped at The Folk House to enjoy foot-tapping Irish music and are still very grateful to the local business owners who bought us Guinness there all night!
Day 8: Kinsale (Q on map) to Blarney Castle (R) , Cork to Dublin (S)
Kinsale is a friendly seaport town of about 2,000 set on the southern coast of Ireland, roughly 18 miles south of Cork. Its big harbour is virtually landlocked and surrounded by steep green hills, making it a picturesque joy to visit. There are numerous excellent restaurants, both large and small, making this the unofficial culinary capital of the country.
Leaving shortly after lunch, we drove roughly 45 minutes northeast to Cork to take part in the most important of all activities: Kissing the Blarney Stone.
My worry in stopping at a place like the 500-year-old Blarney Castle is that it is the ultimate tourist destination – being the most photographed and visited castle in all of Ireland, I was worried it would be overly crowded and equally over-hyped.
We clambered up the steep 127 steps, lied on our backs over a sheer drop of 120 feet, and did a slight back-bend to kiss the famous rock which is said to have made its way to the castle in 1314 from Scotland. While obtaining the “gift of gab” (which, arguably, I had in the first place) may have been the goal, the sights of the county Cork from atop the castle are the real prize.
After spending several hours walking the castle grounds and checking out the original Druid’s Circle, Witch’s Cave and the Wishing Steps, we hit the winding country roads again to finish our trip in Dublin.
Day 9 and 10: A weekend in Dublin
We arrived at the Shelbourne hotel early Saturday evening with enough time to relax and get ready for a night in Temple Bar. Dublin, much like the rest of Ireland, is a fantastic place to have great conversation with locals and wander where they, and the night, take you.
My favorite part of Dublin is the Guinness Storehouse at the St. James Gate. Here, you can learn of the interesting history of one of the world finest beers and get the best view of the city at the Gravity Bar. It was here, during my travels to this city in 2001, where I fell in love with this stout and it’s thick, silky deliciousness which cannot be matched by the lower quality version sold in America.