A Garden Gate in Clifden, Connemara, Ireland

Clifden, Connemara, Ireland

          Galway was one of my favorite places in Ireland.  Not only is it a beautiful city, but there are some interesting sights nearby.  I took the bus to Clifden and fell in love with the spectacular scenery of the Connemara region on the West Coast of Ireland.  On my walk I passed this wonderful garden gate and ever since then have wondered what was on the other side.

A Garden Gate in Clifden, Connemara on the West Coast of Ireland

A Garden Gate in Clifden, Connemara on the West Coast of Ireland

Travel Cat

A Favorite Photo from Sligo, Ireland

          I saw this beautiful cat sitting next to a globe in a cottage window in Sligo, Ireland and imagined that he was dreaming of traveling the world.  This photo was taken near the grave of one of Ireland’s most revered poets, William Butler Yeats, near Ben Bulben, a striking rock formation that dominates the landscape around County Sligo.

‘Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.’
 
Cat in Cottage Window Dreams of Traveling the Globe, Sligo, Ireland

Cat in Cottage Window Dreams of Traveling the Globe, Sligo, Ireland

Exploring the Southwest Coast of Ireland

In and Around Cork

As the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland, Cork is an incredible gateway to some truly amazing sights on the southwest coast of the Emerald Isle.  If you choose to head here, whether from inland or abroad, take a look at the Travelodge Hotel near Cork Airport, an ideal spot to serve as your home base.  With so much to explore, there’s no need to spend unnecessary money on accommodations – not when you can get a comfortable, affordable hotel with such ease.  From here, why not hire a car so you can explore the surrounding area under your own steam?  It’ll give you all the freedom you need to take things at your own pace.  Just grab your GPS and head for the coast, taking in the beautiful sights and various attractions along the way.

Blarney Castle

Built in the 15th century, with earlier strongholds on the site dating back much further, Blarney Castle is home to the Stone of Eloquence, otherwise known as the Blarney Stone.  Legend has it that if you kiss the stone, you will be given the gift of the gab.  Nowadays, you have to hang upside down over a sheer drop to give it a peck, but it’s still do-able for the brave!

Fota Island

This small island off the coast of Cork is home to Fota Wildlife Park, Ireland’s only wildlife park, which aims to preserve global wildlife in its natural surroundings.  Animals include ostrich, kangaroo, giraffe and antelope – all of which are allowed to roam free without fear of predators, such as the cheetah.

Carbery’s Hundred Isles

Be sure to take a trip to these beautiful isles, situated off the coast of Cork in and around Long Island Bay and Roaringwater Bay. Many of these islands still have rustic villages on them.  Cape Clear Island (Cleire) is a popular berth for yachts and Sherkin Island, approximately 15 minutes via ferry away from the mainland, is a popular tourist destination, particularly with families during the summer holidays.

Rolling Hills and Coastal Cliffs

As you can see, there are plenty of places to explore on the southwest coast of Ireland.  With rolling hills and coastal cliffs right at your doorstep, Cork is much more than its namesake city.  Head further into the country and you can enjoy a whole host of attractions.

British Isles Itinerary

A Good Starting Point for Planning Your British Isles Itinerary 

This summary of the itinerary for my recent 18 day trip through the British Isles will, hopefully, help jumpstart your own trip planning process.  I’ve just completed a detailed series of postings featuring each city I visited, including where I stayed, how I got there and what I saw at each stop along the way.  If you decide to follow this itinerary you’ll get a good overview of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, while keeping the travel times each day to a minimum.  For me, getting there is half the fun, so I love riding the trains and buses through the countryside from one town to the next.  This is often a great way to meet people and it’s wonderful to be able to leave the driving to someone else when you’re on vacation.  If you’re traveling in a group of two or more, however, it may be more economical to rent a car, but remember, driving a car with manual transmission on the opposite side of those narrow roads is not for the faint of heart!

London, England

London, England

Customize to Fit Your Own Schedule

A word of caution…as a solo, budget traveler, I like to squeeze as much as I can into my trips, so this pace may be a bit fast for some.   If that’s the case or if you don’t have three weeks, you can use any portion of this schedule and tailor it to fit your own timetable.  One possibility, for example, would be to separate it into two trips, the first just concentrating on England, Wales and Scotland and the second just on Ireland.  Another suggestion would be to do England and Wales in one trip and Scotland and Ireland in another.  By dividing the trip in this manner you would have time to spend two nights in some of the major cities like London, Edinburgh and Dublin and at major scenic destinations like the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.

Conwy, Wales

Conwy, Wales

City by City Itinerary 

As you can see from a quick look at the list below, you will be traveling to some of the most famous and interesting destinations in the world…and getting from one place to the next will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.  Here goes!

1)  London, England

-arrived by plane from SFO

2)  Bath, England         

-by train, 1 hour 45 minutes

3)  Cardiff, Wales

-by train, 1 hour

4)  Shrewsbury, England       

-by train via Swansea, 8 hours

-scenic Heart of Wales train journey

5)  Conwy, Wales                             

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

6)  York, England                                     

-by train, 5 hours

7)  Edinburgh, Scotland                            

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

8)  Inverness, Scotland                     

-by train, 4 hours

-scenic Highlands train journey through Cairngorm Mountains

-LochNess

9)  Glasgow, Scotland                      

-by train, 4 hours

10) Belfast, Northern Ireland           

-by train and ferry, 6 hours

11) Londonderry, Northern Ireland  

-by train, 2 hours

12) Sligo, Ireland                             

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

13) Galway, Ireland                         

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

-Clifden and Connemara

14) Limerick, Ireland                       

-by train, 2 hours

-Cliffs of Moher

15) Tralee, Ireland                           

-by bus, 2 hours

-Dingle Town

16) Killarney, Ireland                      

-by bus, 1 hour

-Ring of Kerry

17) Cork, Ireland                             

-by bus, 1 hour 30 minutes

-Blarney Castle

18) Dublin, Ireland                          

-by bus, 4 hours 15 minutes

Loch Ness, Scotland

Loch Ness, Scotland

Summary of Expenses

Airfare: (San Francisco to London and Dublin to San Francisco) $807.00

Land Transportation: (trains and buses) $613.00

Lodging: $1,327.00 (average $74.00 per night)

Food: $144.00 (doesn’t include breakfast which came with most hotels)

Incidentals (including entrance fees): $73.00

Total Expenses: $2,964.00

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Las Vegas or Europe?

Depending on what part of the country you’re coming from, a round trip plane ticket to Las Vegas can cost anywhere from $200 to $500.  For just a few hundred more you could fly to the British Isles and see something new and exciting.  Remember, either way you still have to eat and sleep, so the expenses once you get to either destination will be similar.  The choice was a no-brainer for me!  Considering all the fantastic things I saw, the wonderful people I met and the awesome accommodations I had on my nearly three week trek through England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, doing all this for less than $3,000 was a great value for this budget traveler.  Be sure to check out the other articles in this series for more details on planning your trip to the British Isles.  Tally Ho and Cherrio!

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin, Ireland…Journey’s End

It was inevitable that my two and a half week trek through England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would have to come to an end, so what better place to wind it up than Dublin!  For many travelers, Dublin is a dream destination to be experienced at least once during a lifetime.  Located on the east coast of Ireland where the River Liffey flows into the Irish Sea separating England from Ireland, Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland and also its most populous city.

The Custom House Across the River Liffey, Dublin

The Custom House Across the River Liffey, Dublin

The word ‘Dublin’ means ‘black pool’ and humans have been known to inhabit the area since prehistoric times.  The first recorded accounts of life in Dublin date back to 140 AD and as the centuries rolled by, the events that transpired in this fascinating city would not only secure its place in history, but also ensure its role as a major player on the 21st Century world stage.  Today, Dublin is the center of culture, finance and education in Ireland, as well as being its seat of government.  So, let’s go together now on a whirlwind, walking tour of Dublin, Ireland.

The Millennium Spire, Dublin, Ireland

The Millennium Spire, Dublin, Ireland

 Points of Interest North of the River Liffey 

O’Connell Street 

The River Liffey divides Dublin into two sectors, known as the Northside and the Southside, and is traversed along its course by a number of interesting bridges, from the ultramodern Samuel Beckett Bridge opened in 2009 to the historic Mellows Bridge constructed in 1764.  The streets that run alongside the river on each side are divided into Quays that extend between each bridge.  The centrally located O’Connell Bridge is a good starting point for a walking tour of Dublin.  Crossing over to the Northside sets you on a path down this wide boulevard lined with shops, restaurants, pubs and a number of important sights.  One of the most noticeable is the Millennium Spire completed in 2003.  Also known as the Spire of Dublin or the Monument of Light, the location of this modern, 400 foot, stainless steel needle next to the 200 year old General Post Office typifies the juxtaposition of old and new throughout Dublin.

O'Connell Street, Dublin, Ireland

O’Connell Street, Dublin, Ireland

The Garden of Remembrance

Dublin figured prominently during the Irish War of Independence and a little farther north on O’Connell Street is Parnell Square and the Garden of Remembrance.  The garden was opened in 1966 and is dedicated to the memory of ‘all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom’.  Lost in my own thoughts, I paused for a moment in this peaceful, outdoor sanctuary, joining the other tourists and Dubliners who were gathered there in silent reflection.

The Garden of Remembrance, Dublin, Ireland

The Garden of Remembrance, Dublin, Ireland

Potpourri of Culture

Those who appreciate Irish literature will want to continue on to the Dublin Writers Museum and the James Joyce Cultural Centre.  With a little sleuthing the original location of 7 Eccles Street featured in Joyce’s Ulysses can still be found.  Continuing on the Northside, but east of O’Conner Street, is the Custom House built in the 1780s and undoubtedly Dublin’s greatest contribution to the world of architecture.  Its impressive dome and columns are actually best viewed from across the river looking northward.  Heading westward now, a visit to the Old Jameson Distillery will delight aficionados of Irish whiskey and you can even wet your whistle with a free drink at the end of the tour.  Remember, all of these sights are easily accessible on foot and having gotten to this point, visitors can now take their pick of interesting bridges to cross back over to the Southside.

The Old Jameson Distillery, Dublin, Ireland

The Old Jameson Distillery, Dublin, Ireland

Points of Interest South of the River Liffey 

Guinness Brewery 

For most visitors to Dublin, the best known sights are likely to be located south of the River Liffey.  Our walking tour has thus far taken us on a counter-clockwise sweep of the city.  We are now at the west end of the Southside of Dublin near Heuston Station, built in 1846 and still one of Ireland’s main railway stations.  The nearby Kilmainham Gaol where many of the Irish nationalist leaders were incarcerated was built as a prison in 1796 and is now open to the public as a museum.  Continuing eastward after exploring this sobering landmark, a visit to the Guinness Brewery and Storehouse dating back to 1759 will get your Irish mojo back on track.

The Guinness Brewery, Dublin, Ireland

The Guinness Brewery, Dublin, Ireland

Medieval Dublin

The Vikings, mostly from Denmark, settled in Dublin in the 9th century and retained control until the Norman Invasion of 1169.  Once England assumed power in the region it operated from the Dublin Castle which dates back to 1204.  The Record Tower is the only surviving tower and dates back to 1228.  History buffs will also want to see St. Audden’s Gate (1275) and the old city walls in the Viking Medieval Area, all in the vicinity of the castle.

Dublin Castle, Ireland

Dublin Castle, Ireland

The Cathedral District

Next up, in the appropriately named Cathedral District you will come to the historic Christ Church Cathedral founded around 1030 AD.  If you time it just right, you may get to hear the well-known choir, the magnificent organ and the pealing of the 19 tower bells, all of which carry on the musical tradition for which this church is known.  Just a little farther south is Ireland’s largest cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, dating back to 1191, which contains the grave of writer Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels.  The choir at St. Patrick’s Cathedral provided many of the voices for the first public performance of Handel’s Messiah which took place in Dublin in 1742.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

Trinity College

Perhaps one of the most famous universities in the world, Trinity College is located literally in the heart of Dublin.  Founded in 1592 during the rein of Queen Elizabeth I, its impressive list of graduates includes such literary notables as Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Jonathon Swift and Bram Stoker of Dracula fame.  The library at Trinity College contains the famous Book of Kells, a lavishly illustrated manuscript of The Four Gospels of the New Testament created by Celtic monks sometime before 800 AD.  After a stroll through the perfectly manicured quads which are lined with architecturally classic buildings you’ll see why Trinity College is considered one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.

Shakespeare Players at Trinity College, Dublin

Shakespeare Players at Trinity College, Dublin

Temple Bar 

South of the college is a peaceful park known as St. Stephen’s Green where you can take a breather after visiting the adjacent shopping centers.  The historic display of Georgian architecture surrounding nearby Merrion Square is also worth a peek.  After visiting the National History Museum and National Gallery next to Merrion Square you can cool your heels at one of the many pubs in the Temple Bar area.  With its cobblestone streets and period buildings, this bustling district running alongside the River Liffey will give you a taste of ancient Dublin.  You can also enjoy a taste of beer or whiskey as you enjoy they vibrant nightlife in this popular tourist destination.

The Temple Bar Area, Dublin, Ireland

The Temple Bar Area, Dublin, Ireland

Tips for Planning Your Trip 

Dublin as a Gateway City

Not only is Dublin a beautiful and historic city with lots of great hotels, restaurants and pubs, but it also has convenient access to the modern Dublin Airport 6 miles north of the city as well as easy access to both bus and rail lines.  With its central location and the many airlines that service its airport, Dublin should be considered as a potential gateway city for any trip to the British Isles or the European continent.  Completing the last leg of my journey, I arrived around noon on a weekday in early June after a 4 hour bus ride from Cork (on my favorite Bus Eireann) with the ticket costing about $18.  After waiting out a brief downpour, I walked from the bus station, across the river to my hotel with a little help from several friendly police officers (referred to as Garda in Ireland) who were glad to assist me with directions.  The friendliness of the Irish people simply cannot be overstated.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge and the Convention Centre, Dublin

The Samuel Beckett Bridge and the Convention Centre, Dublin

The Drury Court Hotel

I’d made a reservation at the Drury Court Hotel near the Temple Bar area before leaving on my trip and for the equivalent of $98 I had a nice room in a great location.  It’s worth pointing out once again that the only reservations I make ahead of time are for the first and last nights of my trip, since these are the only nights I know for sure where I will be.  Interestingly, these are often the most expensive nights of my trip and for the most part just walking in on arrival will get you a better value for your money, especially during the off-season.  When my visit had finally come to an end I was able to catch an Airlink bus near my hotel going directly to the Dublin Airport for $8.50.  All that was left now was the long flight home and a lot of wonderful memories.  Be sure to return for my next posting where I will recap my itinerary which you can tailor to meet your own needs for your trip through the British Isles.

The Drury Court Hotel, Dublin, Ireland

The Drury Court Hotel, Dublin, Ireland

Cork, Ireland

History, Culture and Architectural Splendor

The city of Cork in southern Ireland is a major seaport and the third most populous city in Ireland.  The name ‘Cork’ comes from the Irish word meaning marsh and the city center is actually located on an island where the River Lee divides into two channels before converging again to flow to the sea.  From the time it was founded by Saint Finbarr in the 6th century, Cork has been at the center of Irish history in one fashion or another.  It served as a Viking trading post beginning around 920 AD, had its population decimated by the Black Death plague in 1349, played a role in the English War of the Roses in 1491 and was a major player in the War of Independence in the early 20th century.  Recent history is reflected in the beautiful churches and cathedrals that grace the city, including the famous neo-Gothic Saint Fin Barre’s (Protestant) and St. Mary’s (Catholic) Cathedrals.  Christ Church in the Old Town and St. Anne’s Church, which houses the Bells of Shandon in its clock tower, round out the architectural splendor on display at the houses of worship in Cork.

The Bells of Shandon Across the River Lee, Cork, Ireland

The Bells of Shandon Across the River Lee, Cork, Ireland

Elizabeth Fort was built as a fortification outside the city walls in 1601.  While parts of the fort are now used as a police station, other areas are accessible to tourists, as are some of the original town walls.  Culture abounds in Cork, as attested by the Crawford Art Gallery, the ultra modern Cork Opera House and the beautiful University College Cork, built in 1845, which straddles the south channel of the River Lee.  While all of these sites are easily accessible on foot, St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral and the University College Cork located near one another on the south side of the city are particularly worth the time and effort to see.

University College, Cork, Ireland

University College, Cork, Ireland

Kissing the Blarney Stone

No trip to Ireland would be complete without kissing the Blarney Stone.  Located high up in the tower of the 600 year old Blarney Castle just outside of Cork, the Blarney Stone can only be kissed while lying on your back and being suspended partially upside down…and trusting the guide to hold you!  It really isn’t as scary as it sounds and once done, the gift of Irish gab is supposedly conferred upon the ‘kisser’.  The short bus ride from the Cork city center to the castle cost about $9 for the round trip and the entrance fee to the castle grounds was about $15.

Blarney Castle Near Cork, Ireland

Blarney Castle Near Cork, Ireland

The Blarney Castle and Gardens are actually a large, active estate located on the River Martin and the Blarney River.  Visitors can also tour the elegant Blarney House built in 1874 where the current baronet and his family actually live.  Put on your hiking shoes as you take a self guided tour of the gardens, the castle with its dungeons and caves and the rock close with its waterfalls, Druid’s Cave and Witch’s Stone.  One could spend hours wandering the grounds and exploring the many points of interest to be found in this magical place.  Trust me!  You won’t want to miss it.  Just before I left I’m almost certain I saw several Leprechauns, but then maybe I’m just full of Blarney.

Kissing the Blarney Stone Atop Blarney Castle, Ireland

Kissing the Blarney Stone Atop Blarney Castle, Ireland

The Friendly Corkonians

The hour and a half bus ride from Killarney to Cork cost about $24 and took us through some beautiful sights and scenery, including the market town of Macroom.  Corkonians are a very friendly lot and I enjoyed chatting with a number of them during my wanderings about the city.  It’s interesting to note that they are sometimes referred to as ‘The Rebels’ for their early disavowal of British domination during the long struggle for Irish independence.  I was very fortunate to find a wonderful place to stay while I was in Cork and encourage you to return for my full report on Creedon’s Bed and Breakfast.  It goes without saying that with its many cultural and architectural treasures in addition to the nearby Blarney Castle, Cork is an essential stop on any trek through Ireland.

Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork, Ireland

Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, Ireland