We rented a car to drive around Ireland. I was a little nervous about driving in Ireland. Not only do you have to drive on the left side of the road, but it is also difficult and expensive to get insurance on a rental car in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Apparently, there are so many more insurance claims in Ireland and N. Ireland that many credit cards that say they cover rentals internationally have an exception for Ireland and Northern Ireland. Also, rental companies can aggressively push their own insurance and tell you that your credit card company’s insurance won’t apply to your rental. There are a couple of blog posts and articles detailing the process to rent cars and some tips regarding either buying insurance there or using your own. We opted to use our Citi Hilton card to rent the car which we made sure covered Ireland and N. Ireland and we had a print out from Citi saying that the card explicitly covers Ireland. Even if you use this insurance, the rental car company requires you to put a $5,000 deposit down to cover any damage to the car that they will refund at the end of the rental. Since the car was a manual, Diem couldn’t drive and I was going to do all the driving this trip. So I had all this going on in my head each day I was driving in Ireland.
From Dublin we made our way southwest and first stopped at the Rock of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel is an old castle that according to local mythology, originated in the Devil's Bit, a mountain 20 miles north of Cashel. When St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, it resulted in the Rock's landing in Cashel. The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. They were doing some restoration work so there were some scaffoldings on the side that blocked portions of the castle. We took a short walk around the castle and took some pictures and then got on the road again.
Our next stop was Cork, where we really just stopped to get internet so that we could find our way to Blarney Castle. Cork was a nice port city though with some upscale malls next to the river. Next we headed to the Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle. The entrance to the castle was €13 and we got in around 5PM and closing was at 6 PM but it was still plenty of time to go up and kiss the Blarney Stone because there weren’t many people there at all. We also walked around the Castle grounds where they had a poison garden filled with poisonous plants, a forest area, and a pathway that had a druid’s cave, waterfall, wishing steps, and the witch’s stone. We made it to our Airbnb in New Castletown and had dinner at a small shop in town.
The next day we made our way around the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop was the Torc Waterfall which is a nice little waterfall that is along a path just off the main road. Next we went to the Lady’s View which had a fantastic panoramic view of the Irish countryside. The weather was hit and miss, there were large clouds but later in the afternoon there was a lot of sunshine. The roads were also extremely narrow and were lined with bushes and branches. When large buses were coming the other way, I had to steer the car to the edge of the road and the branches would scrape along the side of the car. During our stops, it looked like there were a lot of scratches on the car but most of them came off with some hard scrubbing. Still, it made me nervous for getting charged for scratches when we return the car. We stopped and did Chocolate Tasting at Skelligs chocolate which was delicious. We also learned about the Skelligs Island where they filmed the last scene of Star Wars the Force Awakens. Unfortunately you need to book the ferries to the Skelligs pretty far in advance and we didn’t have enough time to do the visit.
After the chocolate tasting, we stopped at Bray Head and decided to hike to the ruins at the edge of the cliff. It was a beautiful view and we had a nice sunny day so it was really spectacular. Looking back at it now, it was probably my favorite spot of the road trip. There were lots of little sheep around, the grass was so green, the cliffs went right into the ocean, and the sky was so blue. Maybe my thoughts would be different if we had better weather at the other stops along the way but the view at Bray Head was exactly what I wanted when we set off on this road trip. Next, we went to Kilke beach but by that time the weather soured and it started to rain a little so we just took a quick picture and moved on. We went back to our Airbnb and called it a night.
The next day we were back on the road and made our way to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway. Unfortunately, we had a typical Irish rainy, windy day so we didn’t get to spend as much time at the Cliffs of Moher as we would like but it was still really beautiful. We stopped in Galway to have dinner but didn’t really explore the city because the weather was pretty bad and we wanted to get to bed. Our Airbnb host was really nice even though she showed up late. She gave us chocolates, showed us around the house and left so we had the whole place to ourselves. It was a nice change since most of our Airbnb stops have been private rooms in a house shared with the host to stay within budget.
Day four of the countryside was a long drive from our Airbnb to Belfast. It was pretty much non-stop rain all day. We stopped at Denluce Castle (House of Greyjoy from GoT) and walked around the exterior. We also went by Giant’s Causeway but we didn’t actually go to view the rocks because of the hard rain and the cost (£8.50). We also stopped at Carrick-a-Rede and the rope bridge there. It was still pretty rainy and windy and we didn’t want to pay the entrance fee of £5.90 so we took some pictures from outside the entrance and moved on. I was pretty bummed that we didn’t get to see Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede but it was so rainy and hazy that we really wouldn’t have enjoyed either and wouldn’t have gotten a good view of the sights. Our next stop was at the Dark Hedges Trees which is the tree tunnel in Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 1. In the scene, Arya Stark has escaped from King’s Landing, disguised as a boy. She is with Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and others who are to join the Night’s Watch, in a cart, travelling north on the King’s Road. It was pretty cool to see but there were some people there so it was hard to get a clear shot and the weather didn’t make for the best picture. We finally made it to Belfast that night and had dinner at “Made in Belfast” next to Belfast City Hall. The food was pretty good but we were pretty cold since we came in from the rain. The Belfast City Hall building was beautiful but we didn’t really want to explore Belfast since we were so tired that night.
Day five we followed the itinerary of the Game of Thrones tour that we found online. The Irish countryside is used for a lot of the Winterfell and Northern territory scenes in Game of Thrones. We went to Scrabo (Scrabo Tower) the high tower on a hill that is Season 5 in Game of Thrones. Next, we went to Tollymore Forest which apparently is used for basically any forest scene that is shot in Game of Thrones, e.g., Haunted Forest and Forest outside Winterfell. Before we went into the forest we had lunch (ate amazing lunch at Maghera Inn). The third stop was Audley’s Field and Castle, which was used during Season 1 as King Robert Baratheon and his retinue arrive at Winterfell. It's the backdrop of Robb's Camp in Season 2 and the place where he first meets Talisa. Later on, Audley's Field is where Alton Lannister is imprisoned with Jaime (and doesn't live to tell the tale). We also stopped by Castle Ward but we didn’t want to pay the entrance fee of £8.00 so we just took a couple pictures of the exterior and went back. Castle Ward, County Down, and its lands were home to House Stark before the Boltons’ siege. Castle War doubled as Winterfell and its courtyard and they have different themes and re-enactments that you can take part in and/or watch there as well. The Game of Thrones sites were cool to see but without all the CGI, actors and different show scenery it’s not as impressive as you would think watching the show. That night we had dinner at Barking Dog Tapas then made our way to our Airbnb.
Our last day in Ireland, we went to Titanic museum in Belfast. The museum goes over the history and process of constructing the Titanic which was built in Belfast and then sailed to London before making its famous fatal voyage. The museum details the famed shipbuilding history of Belfast and the timeline of the sinking of the Titanic. The exhibits include a 3D rendering of the entire ship, a short ride showing the Titanic shipbuilding process, along with telegrams sent from the Titanic at different times before and after the iceberg hit. The exhibits also highlight memorabilia from the ship, the history of some passengers that passed away, as well as audio from survivors. After the museum, we drove to Dublin Airport. Luckily there were no damages to car and we got full refund of our $5,000 deposit.
See the beautiful full gallery of the Irish countryside here: Irish Countryside