Flung onto the fringe of the Atlantic like a mossy stone, Ireland is a small country with a big reputation. Bolstered by a timeless craggy landscape and a charming, friendly people, whose lyrical nature is expressed in the warmth of their welcome. Witty, earthy and proud, yet unpretentious, Irish culture is an intoxicating potion to sip or slosh — as the mood strikes you.
The Merrion Hotel, Dublin
The Merrion Hotel is pure city center luxury. Located next to Merrion Square, the Irish Parliament, Trinity College (home to the Book of Kells) and Grafton Street, one of the city's main shopping thoroughfares. The hotel occupies some of the finest, most beautifully restored, historic Georgian buildings in Dublin and exudes a relaxed traditional elegance. Our room was spacious and elegantly decorated with luxurious beds and a grand bathroom. Unfortunately, the view from our room looked onto the construction that was taking place just outside in the garden and courtyard. The service was attentive without being intrusive and combined the right measure of friendliness and professionalism. I loved the eclectic collection of art that can be found throughout the hotel!
Mount Juliet, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny
Steeped in heritage, Mount Juliet is one of Ireland's leading country estates. They pride themselves on their family culture, while at the same time maintaining a high level of service and hospitality. My mom and I stayed here for two nights. Our room was located in the main house and was comfortable and quite large with a pretty walk-out garden.
The 1,500 acre estate offers many exhilarating activities and sporting opportunities. Hit the links on the estate's 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, salmon and trout fish in the two rivers that run through the estate, or head over to the archery and skeet shooting centre and channel your inner Robin Hood!
As an equestrian enthusiast, I was eager to check out the Mount Juliet Equestrian Centre and managed to convince my mom to go horseback riding with me one morning through the estate's mature unspoilt parkland. A visit to the world renowned Ballylinch Stud is also a definite must! Located on the edge of the estate, the stud farm has a long breeding tradition and is responsible for many world-famous racing horses.
There is a lot to see and do on the estate itself, let alone the surrounding area, and if you're only staying a few nights I would highly recommend a guided tour of the estate and its grounds with the hotel's host Dez! Dez was the perfect host, very knowledgeable, a great story teller and loads of Irish charm. Blessed with the gift of the gab, Dez kept the tour fun and entertaining with his vivid and colourful tales. My guess is that there might have been a bit of exaggeration thrown in for good measure, but it just made the story all the more interesting.
After a busy day of activities and adventure there is no better place to relax and unwind then at the hotel's bar. It was the perfect place to sip Irish whiskey and watch the future thoroughbred champions race in the fields.
Hayfield Manor, Cork City, Co. Cork
A charming very well run property located just outside Cork's city centre. The staff were wonderful, friendly and provided excellent service from the moment we were greeted by the topcoat and tails wearing doormen to the time we checked out. The grounds are lovely and the food was good, although I thought the décor of the Orchid restaurant was a bit passé and over-the-top, a matter of taste of course. Our room was spacious, comfortable, well appointed and had a lovely view over the courtyard.
Sheen Falls Lodge, Kenmare, Co. Kerry
The French expression “comme ci comme ça” perfectly exemplifies our stay at the Sheen Falls Lodge: It was neither good nor bad – just so so. The location is great - Kenmare, the Ring of Kerry, and Killarney all easily accessible - and the grounds were immaculate, however, the service and décor fell short of what I would normally expect from a "5-star" Relais & Chateaux property.
Our room was large and spacious with a beautiful view, but certainly not up to five star standards - older furnishings, outdated décor and simply fell short of our expectations.
The dinner experience was confusing and seemed like a scene right out of a Fawlty Towers episode. There were two restaurants located in one big room - one was high end that included a tasting menu and the other was more casual and consisted of more traditional fare. The menu you decided to pursue dictated where you sat in the dining room even though everyone was still eating together in one big open room. A complete lack of intimacy to say the least.
The service was patchy at best, although the staff were friendly and competent, they all appeared confused, lacked significant training and many seemed new to the industry. At breakfast one morning we had to ask three times before a pot of tea and hot water were delivered to our table!
While Sheen Falls is probably the nicest accommodation in Kenmare, overall it probably didn’t live up to the billing. I'm not sure there is much more in the area to choose from, but don't expect super high end accommodations here.
Gregans Castle Hotel, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare
Far from the grim stone fortress conjured by the name, Gregans Castle turns out to be something quite a bit more refined and not a castle at all, it’s a 250-year-old manor house, that has been lovingly maintained and thoroughly renovated.
Known for its legendary Irish hospitality, the Gregans Castle Hotel ranks as a treasured gem among Irish hotels. This historic 18th-century mansion welcomes guests by scenic roads and boasts extraordinary views of Galway Bay and the layered limestone cliffs of the Burren - one of Ireland's most unusual landscapes. Here, in this quiet landscape, Gregans Castle Hotel has served as a sanctuary for bird watchers, botanists, and Hollywood luminaries like Sharon Stone, Ewan McGregor, and Kathy Bates.
The house itself comprises some 21 bedrooms, as well as seemingly endless drawing rooms, lounges and libraries. The guest rooms are all different, ranging widely in size, from petite bedrooms to sprawling suites, from the absolutely traditional to the faintly contemporary newer suites.
Hotel amenities stick to the essentials; this is a classic country house hotel, not an all-inclusive resort. The hotel restaurant is top-tier gourmet and serves modern Irish & European food, made from local and regional ingredients, including organic Burren beef and lamb, and local Atlantic seafood. The combination of an inspired menu, local ingredients, impeccable execution, artful plating and superb service make Gregans a definite on the "must return" list.
There’s plenty to see in the surrounding rugged and rocky countryside, and even options for golfers, but in the evenings, we found ourselves socializing in the Corkscrew Bar or the drawing room. We were jealous that we couldn't stay longer to enjoy more food, extended camaraderie amongst our fellow guests and further interaction with the team, who were kind, genuine, and engaging.
It is no surprise that this historic small hotel is a local landmark - unpretentious, relaxing, comfortable and warm. This was easily the highlight of our trip to Ireland's west coast.
Historic fun fact: Writers J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis often visited then owner Frank Martyn and stayed at Gregans Castle during the 1950s and it is believed that The Burren was part inspiration for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Ballynahinch Castle, Connemara, Co. Galway
The 40-room Ballynahinch Castle Hotel is set in a beautiful riverfront location amid the wild, unspoiled beauty of Connemara. The hotel's style remains true to a hunting - fishing - shooting lodge with lots of old world charm, interesting art and history to be learned. It's more of a manor house than a castle, but the main structure dates to the 18th century and both the building and the estate are steeped in history. Both restaurants served good food, however the service was poor, obviously the staff lacked training, and could have been a bit friendlier and welcoming - we missed the Irish hospitality.
The interior is quite homey and features several wood burning fireplaces. Our room was on the ground floor at the end of a long maze-like hallway - there are also no elevators. Our room was spacious, nicely decorated and had lovely river views and a walkout to the stream.
The hotel is set on 450 acres of woodlands, rivers and walks in the heart of Connemara. It stands proud and majestic overlooking the famous Ballynahinch Salmon River, whilst being surrounded by the splendour of the Twelve Bens Mountain Range. The grounds offer a range of activities, including beautiful hikes, woodcock shooting and fishing. Nature lovers will not be disappointed as they have all the equipment you might want available.
We booked a full day guided hike through the hotel that fell short of our expectations. Although we had booked the hike months in advance our guide was very disorganized and the hike was poorly planned. We were a small group of three, myself, my mom and another lady who was also staying at the hotel. The hike was terrible, not overly scenic and the terrain consisted of gravel roads and bog. We had asked the hotel in advance to prepare a lunch for us for our hike that turned out to be absolutely horrible - white bread with butter and a few bits of shredded chicken. Yuck!
Towards the end of the hike the guide had planned to take me up Mount Leenane for something a little more challenging while my mom and the other lady were to continue along the gravel road to the village where we would all rendezvous. I told our guide that I wasn't keen on doing the climb if the terrain was going to be boggy and wet, as I was already covered in mud up to my knees and could feel my feet sliding around in my soaking wet shoes. He assured me several times that it would be dry. Sure enough I ended up climbing 700 ft straight up in bog! Suffice it to say I was not a happy camper! The decent was even worse - steep, wet and slippery - I basically had to slide down the mountain on my bum. By the time I got to the bottom I was wet, covered in mud and extremely agitated.
Afternoon Tea, The Merrion Hotel, Dublin
Who doesn't love afternoon tea at a posh hotel! During our stay in Dublin my mom and I indulged in the 'Art' Tea at The Merrion Hotel. I have been to a few afternoon teas in my day and this was by far the best and most interesting. The tea was served in two courses: The first course was a 3-tiered stand of sandwiches, cakes and fresh scones with jam, clotted cream and a divine home made lemon curd. The second course was three beautiful miniature sweet creations inspired by the artwork found throughout the hotel. The teas were delicious and the service throughout was excellent without being pretentious. Afternoon tea at The Merrion Hotel was a great way to experience the history, art, service and ambiance of the hotel. A lovely experience from beginning to end. Be sure to reserve in advance as space is limited as it is very popular.
Fallon & Byrne, Dublin
Sweet mother of Jeebus, my waistline certainly did not need this discovery. My mom and I stumbled upon this place after a morning of walking and exploring around the city and decided to stay for lunch. Located in a beautiful old building on Dublin's Exchequer Street, Fallon & Byrne is a foodie's paradise and baked good heaven. The ground level features an enticing and exciting food hall, deli and supermarket with lots of delicious and unique looking items, all beautifully displayed. We chose to eat in the food hall and had a great experience. The choice was eclectic and the quality was well above average. There is also a lovely restaurant upstairs and a wine bar and cellar located downstairs. What a great place!
Lady Helen Restaurant, Mount Juliet Estate, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny
The formal setting of the award winning Michelin starred Lady Helen restaurant at Mount Juliet is the perfect place to enjoy classic country house cuisine. The menu features dishes prepared with local ingredients and herbs from the estate's own garden and the opulent dining room boasts beautiful panoramic views over the estate and lush Kilkenny countryside. The staff were warm, friendly and well trained - it was like being a privileged guest in a beautiful country manor. Don't miss it!
Arthur Mayne's Pharmacy, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork City, Co. Cork
Located in the heart of Cork city, Oliver Plunkett Street is home to a multitude of food shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs. We choose to eat at Arthur Mayne's, a 120 year old pharmacy turned wine bar. Many of the old counters, cases and prescription paraphernalia are still on display! Very little has been done to the ground floor of the building that houses one of the most unusual bars in Cork city, apart from the installation of an enomatic wine system which allows customers to sample 24 different varieties of wine without stumping out for an entire bottle.
Mitchell's Restaurant, Clifden, Co. Galway
Mitchell's is a wonderful restaurant with great ambiance and delicious food. The menu had lots of great choices and the staff were friendly, professional and well trained!. Order whatever seafood is on the menu as it was delicious and very fresh. The seafood chowder, crab salad and spicy fish cakes are sure to impress. Be sure to book in advance!
With reminders of its stirring history and rich culture on every corner, Ireland's capital and largest city is a sightseer's delight. My mom and I arrived in the evening and the first thing we did was venture over to Temple Bar, Dublin's trendiest neighborhood, with cafés, pubs, and restaurants — a great spot for live traditional music. We did a ton of walking in Dublin I loved all the antique shops just off Grafton street - the city's liveliest pedestrian thoroughfare. The National Museum of Archaeology is also worth a visit as it had an interesting collection of Irish treasures from the Stone Age to today.
Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny
Known as Ireland's finest medieval town, Kilkenny is truly a beautiful historic city and a great hub for arts and culture. The Kilkenny Castle and gardens is the dominate feature in the city and is its principal attraction. Be sure to visit the Kilkenny Design Center, home to an amazing selection of Irish handcrafted gifts. Take a wonder through the streets as there are lots of shops and quaint cafes to explore.
The English Market, Cork City, Co. Cork
Kinsale and Cobh
County Cork, on Ireland's south coast, is fringed with historic port towns and scenic peninsulas. Rather than kissing the spit-slathered Blarney Stone, spend your time in County Cork enjoying the bustling, historic maritime towns of Kinsale and Cobh.
No trip to Ireland would be complete without taking on the Wild Atlantic Way, the world's longest road trip, around the Emerald Isle's craggy west coast. The Wild Atlantic Way is 2,600 kilometers (1,600 miles) in length and winds its way all along the Irish west coast from the Inishowen Peninsula in the north down to the picturesque town of Kinsale in the south. With a constant meeting of water and land a deeply indented and wild terrain has emerged with towering cliffs, spellbinding bays and beaches and mystical islands.
The Ring of Kerry, Co. Kerry
One of Ireland's most scenic routes, the Ring of Kerry combines jaw-dropping coastal scenery with emerald pastures and villages. Hope for good weather and your views will be spectacular. Drivers beware - the roads can get very narrow. Be sure to go clockwise to take advantage of pullouts and views. And look out for tour buses! We opted to use the "tidy town" of Kenmare as our base. A spectacular drive and a definite must see!
Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry
The Dingle Peninsula, the westernmost tip of Ireland, offers just the right mix of far-and-away beauty, isolated walks and ancient archaeological wonders. The classic loop drive is 50km but allow a day to take it all in. The town of Dingle is very picturesque and chock full of beautiful artisanal shops and friendly pubs where you can listen to a steady beat of traditional Irish music. It's colourful harbour is filled with fishing boats and tractors leave tracks down the main drag.
Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland's most visited natural attraction. Standing 214m (702 feet) at their highest point they stretch for 8 km (5 miles) along the Atlantic coast of County Clare in the west of Ireland. We were lucky enough to visit the cliffs on a beautiful clear and sunny day. The Cliffs were truly a spectacular sight. I was so surprised that there were no fences or any sort of barrier/enclosure, as people can walk right up to the edge and along the cliffs - one slip and your gone! The cliffs themselves are quite majestic and offer beautiful views over the mighty Atlantic. The Cliffs of Moher are definitely a not to be missed visit on any trip to Ireland. Well worth a visit but do it early before the tour buses arrive!
The Burren, Co. Clare
The Burren is a unique, windblown limestone moonscape that hides an abundance of flora, fauna, caves, and history. It is one of those landscapes that is truly otherworldly. They sing about it in the traditional pubs of Doolin and it is the backdrop for an incredible display of rocks, sky, wind, ring forts, tombs, orchids, shamrocks, birds of prey, ancient karma and mystery.
Galway City, Co. Galway
What Galway lacks in sights it makes up for in ambiance. My mom and I spent the afternoon in this lively town just wondering its medieval streets, with their delightful mix of colourful facades, pubs and weather resistant street musicians. Be sure to pop into McCambridge's - a lovely family owned deli and fine food shop. Irish Whiskey is their specialty and they have a great selection to choose from (they will even let you sample!). Try the Yellow Spot and the Teeling, both are excellent!