I love discovering new places! Cities, countries, hotels, restaurants… you name it. That’s why TRAVEL is such an important part of this blog. I worked with Tourism Ireland and Mid & East Antrim Tourism to come up with this custom itinerary which worked out perfectly for our 8 day trip. Let’s discover my reasons to travel to Ireland!
Ireland is one of the happiest places on earth. Pete and I were there for an 8 day trip and it was the first time for me to explore this glorious green space! I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at every turn. Although Pete had been before, he had not been any further than Dublin for business.
Below I am breaking down the trip and posting pictures in order of travel according to our itinerary. I want to thank Tourism Ireland and Mid & East Antrim Tourism for organizing the accommodations for me. I literally had no idea how to map this out as I think of everything being so far apart. After all, we live in Texas and you could drive for 9 hours and never leave the state! The entire island of Ireland is the approximate size of South Carolina. And while we’re at it, Northern Ireland is a part of the UK whereas the Republic of Ireland is not. We visited both on this trip and highly recommend it. Our road trip focused on Ireland’s Ancient East as well as Antrim and the Causeway Coastal Route.
Below is our itinerary in chronological order which make up our 8 reasons to visit Ireland now. We loved exploring the countries this way and would have loved to see more but we simply couldn’t get to the west coast. All the more reason to go back! Note that when I travel to “discover” a new place, I do not research anything about it beforehand. The reason for this is that I want to experience everything for the first time without any preconceived idea of what might happen. It is with intention that I asked to travel to places that were not the obvious tourist attractions. I wanted to get on the back roads and wander.
I want to point out some pleasant surprises before we get started. 1) The food was INCREDIBLE! Everyone kept warning us before we departed that the food would just be average. I kept envisioning lots of fish & chips, beer and soda bread. It’s the complete opposite! I would say that we had some of the best meals that we’ve ever had in Europe on this trip! The fresh seafood is divine and the Irish beef is great! Pete loved all the lamb dishes. 2) The weather was glorious! I think the warmest day was 70 degrees. When we left Dallas the temperature was 103 degrees. Now the downside to this mild weather is that Ireland typically will not have air conditioning. We’re used to cold. moving air at night as all of us in Texas depends on air conditioning. It’s an adjustment to sleep without it. 3) The shades of green! I couldn’t even really capture it with photos and video. There are so many beautiful shades of green! From the lawns, hills, gardens to the countryside, it’s just spectacular. Nature at its finest! I get why its called the Emerald Isle.
We LOVED our time in Ireland and can’t wait to go back and explore the west coast known as the Wild Atlantic Way. Whether you believe in Fairies, Celtic Folklore or Leprechauns, may the luck of the Irish be with you!
xoxo – Tanya
P.S. I have linked all of my clothes at the bottom of this post. For those of you asking, I got everything into 2 rolling suitcases! Be sure to click here to check out the GIVEAWAY on Instagram! Hope you enjoy reading my reasons to travel to Ireland!
8 Reasons to Travel to Ireland & Northern Ireland
We took the new non-stop flight from Dallas to Dublin on American Airlines and we highly recommend it. The flight leaves at 11 PM and you arrive in Dublin the next day around 1:30 PM (6 hour time difference). It allows you to have a full day at work as well as travel that evening. Once we took off, we had dinner and slept. This never happens for me but I was able to sleep a solid 6 hours on the flight. You arrive much more refreshed this way!
Because we wanted to explore the country, we opted to rent a car. Be aware, Ireland automobiles have the steering wheel on the right side of the car and you drive on the left side of the road. YIKES! This is not for the faint of heart which is all the more reason to arrive in Ireland rested. Thank goodness Pete was up for the challenge. He did a great job but will tell you that you have to constantly think about it. Also, Ireland uses many round-abouts as their traffic control system. We used our iPhones and put each destination in our map guidance app to find our way around. That worked perfectly.
1. The Johnstown Estate
We spent our first night at The Johnstown Estate which is a short 45 minute drive from Dublin. It’a s beautiful property in County Meath and many travelers opt to stay here upon arrival or make it their last stop before departure. It has a wonderful spa and after checking in, Pete and I had massages at 5:00 PM and both us remarked that our therapists were magnificent. This is a game changer for your jet lag! Between the overnight flight, quick drive, check-in and massages, we felt AMAZING! Afterwards we freshened up for a lovely dinner in their Fire & Salt restaurant and kept ourselves awake until 10 PM. We essentially never experienced jet lag on this trip!
The original house was built in the 1770’s and we stayed on the second floor in the Margaret Suite (the lights are on in our suite in the picture above). It has a gorgeous bedroom with a separate living room and parlor and large bathroom. Basically, it’s an apartment with 3 rooms overlooking the front of the property and the reflecting pool. We woke up the next morning and shot pictures since we had good weather. Every property we stayed at included a full breakfast with stay. What a delicious start to our day!
2. Monart Spa
Our next adventure was an 1 1/2 hour drive south to The Still, Enniscorthy to check into the glorious Monart Spa in Wexford County (the county famous for its strawberries). We drove on some of the back roads to experience the beautiful scenery and I nearly had a nervous breakdown since the roads have no shoulder and are very narrow. Irish drivers are used to this – we are not. The Monart Spa is an adults only, luxury destination spa that is ranked in the Top 3 destination spas worldwide by Conde Nast Magazine. It is STUNNINGLY beautiful with horses in the rolling hills and meadows as you pull through the private gate.
We checked in and had afternoon tea. You know, the proper kind with tea sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and sweets. Both of us of us received a full pot of tea that had to be strained to catch the tea leaves. No tea bags here! After that, we put on our robes (uniform for the Monart Spa) and were treated to a salt scrub and facial (me) and back treatment (Pete). We could have stayed in the spa all day long. It’s GORGEOUS! The Monart Spa has it’s own candle scent and you will want one before you leave.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner in their fine dining restaurant and this is where we discovered the art of drinking G&T (gin and tonic). Of course Ireland is known for their whiskey but did you know that they are also a top producer of Gin?
Monart Spa is a destination spa meaning it’s a place you should spend several days/nights so that you completely unplug and relax. My suggestion would be to stay at least 3-4 days if you have the time. We saw lots of couples, girls trips and Mom/Daughter combos.
3. Waterford & Waterford Castle
Heading south to Waterford County we drove to the charming town of Waterford. This is the oldest town in Ireland! We checked in to the Waterford Castle and WOW it was amazing! I felt like a princess on holiday at my summer castle. Our suite in the castle consisted of a living room/parlor, bedroom and bathroom. Again, three rooms. When there, be sure to enjoy dinner in the restaurant downstairs. The room has Waterford Crystal chandeliers!
Explore the quaint town situated on the river and be sure to enjoy dinner at Everett’s. Chef Peter Everett is a master in flavorful cuisine and we had a delicious three-course meal there while chatting it up with him. He really educated us about Ireland. Did you know that Gaelic is the national language in Ireland and that they consider this speaking “Irish”? I had no idea this language was still spoken. In fact, it is required that all road signs, official documents and government papers be both in Gaelic and English. Chef Peter does an excellent job of using locally sourced foods and lists exactly where each ingredient was sourced.
4. Waterford Crystal
It goes without saying, if you visit Waterford, Ireland you must do the Waterford Crystal Tour. We were treated to the private VIP tour and I hope you watched me blow and cut crystal on Instagram Stories. It takes 10 years for an apprentice to become and expert in the crystal making business and they have to excel in their specific division – molds, blowing, cutting, sculpting and etching. If any one part goes wrong along the way of a piece of glass becoming a beautiful hand-cut piece of crystal, it is “smashed” and put in the scraps. The pieces get melted down and used again. All the artisans we talked to have spent their entire career working at Waterford Crystal. Jim told us he has been with the company for 50 years! That is not only dedication to your craft, it is pride in what you do.
Our own personal crystal happens to be Waterford Lismore pattern. I was excited to see where our crystal was made! This pattern started in 1952 and the cut is modeled after Lismore Castle (see below). Of course we purchased some and had it shipped home.
5. Blackwater Distillery
While I thought that Ireland is really known for Whiskey, it’s also a large producer of Gin! Craft distilleries are popping up everywhere (just like in the US). Everywhere we went, bars were serving fancy Gin and Tonics (they call it a G&T) with Blackwater Distillery. We decided to drive out to the distillery for a tour. This was actually a private meeting with one of the founders and CEO – Peter Mulryan. What a charming guy! A true Irishman and great storyteller. He spent so much time with us explaining the process of making Gin, Whiskey, the business of craft distilleries and what makes a good spirit. We enjoyed the No. 5 Blackwater Gin with tonic and I can tell you, this is our new cocktail of choice. We started requesting it with Blackwater Distillery Gin on the rest of our journey.
The craft distillery is located in Ballyduff Upper, which is a small town right on the Blackwater River. We drove to the distillery from Waterford and passed Lismore Castle on the way. Fun Fact: Waterford Crystal Lismore pattern comes from the design of Lismore Castle. Built in 1185, it is the “summer castle” for the Duke of Devonshire and in 1583 it belonged to Sir Walter Raleigh. You can actually stay in Lismore Castle (details here).
6. Farnham Estate
This trip involved moving around a lot to see the most of Ireland. That meant we were traveling up and down the east side of Ireland and changing accommodations almost as often as we changed clothes. Our road trip from Waterford to Farnham Estate was our longest trip. It took about 3 hours to make this journey and its mostly highway. This beautiful property is set on 1,300 acres on the outskirts of Cavan. This is just south of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It was a great place to stay and break up the long trip between the southern coast of Ireland and Galgorm in the north.
The property was built in the 1600’s and is now a 158 room resort, spa and golf course set in nature. We did have a quick 30 minute back massage in their beautiful spa which was a great way to relax after the long road trip. That evening we took a stroll on their nature trail and enjoyed the fresh, chilly air. Dinner that night in The Cedar Rooms restaurant was delicious. It’s named after the oldest tree on the property which is 400 years old. Our gorgeous hotel room overlooked a rolling hilled pasture filled with cows. When we woke up the next morning, the fog had rolled in and we enjoyed coffee on our balcony while watching it burn off. It was like a beautiful scene in a movie!
7. Galgorm Golf & Spa Resort
I’m so glad we decided to explore Northern Ireland on this trip! We checked out of Farnham Estate after a lovely breakfast and headed north. First of all, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is non-existent. There is nothing – no border patrol, no passport check point, nothing. Just a squiggly line on our map app. Northern Ireland is part of the UK and other than that, we noticed no difference. Same friendly Irish people!
We intentionally took the long way and drove on small country roads so that we could explore. I love passing fields and fields of sheep and cows. This is where you can really enjoy the many shades of green in the countryside. We navigated to a prehistoric standing stone circle location and if you were watching me on Instagram Stories, I’m sure you got a good laugh! This was a well preserved national landmark and its fascinating to think about what these people were doing. These stones and ancient circles dated back 6,000 years. WOW!
We checked in to Galgorm Golf & Spa Resort and our beautiful room overlooked the outdoor pools of the spa and the river. It’s so peaceful to listen to a rambling river, isn’t it? We slept with our windows open and could hear the water all night. Our dinners were in their restaurants (The River Room and Castle Kitchen & Bar) and again, the food was exceptional! Every dinner we had in Ireland and Northern Ireland was a 3 course meal. I don’t know if this is the norm, but I’m scared to get on the scale after this trip. We also went to Gillies Pub for live music and this was one of our favorite nights. Irish people in a pub take things to a whole new level! Some of the best people watching occurred this night. That, in addition to enjoying G&Ts in a pub until 1:00 AM, makes me giggle just thinking about it. 🙂
8. Mid & East Antrim and the Causeway Coastal
Exploring Northern Ireland was probably my favorite part of the entire trip. Jason Powell from Mid & East Antrim Tourism picked us up and spent the day with us to show off his beautiful region. There are so many things to do and see so he carefully picked a few highlights for us. This could have been an entire blog post but I wanted to keep our entire journey together in one place.
Arthur Cottage, 4 miles from Ballymena town, is situated in the heart of County Antrim. Only a short walk from the village of Cullybackey, it is the ancestral home of Chester A. Arthur, the 21st President of the United States of America. When you visit, you will see a demonstration of how Soda Bread is made over an open fire. It’s delicious!
Get ready for the most spectacular view from the The Gobbins Lookout Point! If you are up for adventure, you can book an amazing 2 1/2 hour fully guided walking tour. Witness native birds, gorgeous views and miles and miles of the Irish Sea. Breathtaking!
Coastal town of Whitehead
The most charming little town! Where are all my foodies? This is your place! Be sure to grab a bite at The Bank House and visit the local bakeries. The Whitehead Railway Museum & Edwardian Tea Room are not to be missed. How about these brightly painted houses? They have a view overlooking the Irish Sea. Darling!
Doesn’t this look and feel very Downton Abbey? The family was in residence and we got to meet them. They were absolutely charming and this gave us an idea of what the interior of the castle is like. The couple holds the titles of Viscount and Viscountess, which is below an Earl/Countess but above a Baron/Baroness. I kind of felt like I needed to curtsy when I was introduced but restrained myself. Thank goodness I didn’t go all in with a Texas Dip!
The Estate Manager spent some time with us showing us around the gardens and estate while amusing us with stories. What a story teller! His father had the same job for 40 years until retiring. They host events and you can even get married here. This castle dates back to the 13th Century and at one time the estate was over 340,000 acres. Magnificent!
The Game of Thrones tour with Giant Tours
Unless you live under a rock, you know that the popular HBO show Game of Thrones was partly filmed in Northern Ireland and headquartered in Belfast. Most of the Westeros scenes were filmed in the beautiful Causeway Coastal area. Flip Robinson gives private and intimate small group tours and he is well versed in all things #GOT – he was Hodor’s stand-in (he is 6’9″ and the perfect match for actor Kristian Nairn). So not only does he have first-hand knowledge of the show, he is also an expert of Northern Ireland history and geography. We loved our time with Flip and highly recommend booking a tour with him.
By the way, do you know what scene was filmed where Pete and I are standing? The Dark Hedges were used as The Kings Road. This is where Ayra Stark escaped dressed as a boy from King’s Landing after her father, Ned Stark was executed (Season 2). Check out Flip’s website for more locations from Game of Thrones. Whether you are a fan of the show or not, you will enjoy this tour.
This is how we ended our 8 day journey of the Emerald Isle and honestly, it was the perfect cap on our amazing trip!
Which of these reasons to travel to Ireland is your favorite? Share in a comment below!
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photo: Pete Foster
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Tags: Blackwater Distillery, Europe, Game of Thrones tour, Ireland, Ireland Ancient East, Mid & East Antrim, Northern Ireland, Toursim Ireland, travel, Waterford, Waterford Crystal