I'm back from a thirteen-day trip overseas to Ireland and Scotland. There was so much to squeeze in, so much I didn't get to, but I spent most of my time in Dublin/Kerry/Galway/Edinburgh/the Scottish Highlands. I've compiled some of my highlights and lowlights into "Winning" and "Losing," because that's what's most important in life, right? Winning, and how many likes you get on Instagram.
I tried to include some information that would be helpful if you're thinking about visiting either country. By no means is it exhaustive. If you'd rather just look at some of the photos from the trip, here ya go.
Let me know if you have questions--I'd love to help you in any way if you're thinking about going. I'd also love to hear any tips or favorites of yours--I can always add to my notes for my next trip back!
The Ring of Kerry / Cliffs of Moher
These come as no surprise--they were two of the most recommended places to see. The Ring of Kerry is a circular route around the Kerry peninsula. It's over 100 miles long, and much of it is right along the coast.
The drive is incredible. You'll see rocky coastlines, cliffs, the Skellig islands (they filmed the final scene of The Force Awakens on Skellig Michael), beautiful beaches and blue water, and you'll go right through Killarney National Park, too. You can stop at any number of the towns and villages along the way for seafood, beer, coffee, the list goes on.
The Cliffs of Moher offer more crazy views. You can walk along the top of the cliffs or jump on a boat tour to see them from below. If you want to do a boat tour, the town of Doolin is right there and has some options. I personally liked being at the top more than I liked looking at the cliffs from the water.
Here's a tip: for a cooler view of the Cliffs with less crowds, drive south on R478 past the visitor's center entrance (where almost everyone goes) to the cliffs until you see a small white sign for cliff parking on the right. You'll have to drive through some snaking, narrow farm roads, but don't worry--it's worth it. Keep following the signs, and you'll end up at a privately owned parking lot. You'll pay two euros to park there, and then walk up to the south end of the cliffs. Trust me--it's better this way.
Galway was a lot of fun. It's full of great pubs and restaurants with live music to check out. As you walk through the square and side streets, the energy is great--people everywhere, lights hanging overhead, street performers on every block.
My favorite pubs: Tigh Neachtain, Tig Coili, The BierHaus. I had pizza at The Dough Bros--they live up to their name and use flour from Naples. Definitely worth checking out. The Savoy Hostel was one of the nicest hostels I stayed in for my entire trip.
If you're in Scotland, there are Scotch distilleries all over, and there are tons of great, local Irish whiskeys to try. What to try/spend your money on? I'll share a piece of wisdom from my tour guide in the Jameson distillery.
At one point, someone asked him if the age of a whiskey makes it better and therefore more expensive. He had a great answer.
He told a story of how he bought two glasses of a rare whiskey for his friend’s birthday. He spent over two-hundred euros for just the two glasses. He thought the whiskey was just okay. If someone offered it to him again, he’d rather go with a much less expensive whiskey that he actually likes.
And then he said, “It doesn’t matter one bit how expensive a whiskey is. It matters whether you like it or not."
Brilliant. Forget the perceived “prestige”—go with what you like. Works for a lot of other things in life, too.
The Scottish Highlands
I'll be honest--I knew very little about Scotland before going there. I heard there were great views in northern Scotland, but I wasn't ready for how great the highlands of Scotland are. The mountains, the lakes, the coastlines--they're incredible. Mountains make me happy. As I drove the highlands, I was straight-up giddy. Having the Braveheart soundtrack blasting through my car speakers helped, too.
There's so much to do and see. With my limited time, I was able to cross the Skye Bridge into the Isle of Skye and hike the trail to the Old Man of Storr. All worth your time. I ran into someone who was going to do the Quiraing Walk--he sent me photos afterward. Looks amazing. Someone recommended that I check out the brochs in Glenelg--theyr'e structures built by the ancient Brits and date up to 2,300 years ago. I love stuff like that--and other than the extremely narrow roads that had more sheep on them than people, also worth the time.
The Harry Potter Nerdness
Ireland and particularly Scotland have so much goodness if you're a Harry Potter fan. There are a ton of Harry Potter points of interest to check out, but here are the ones I got in:
The Jacobite, Fort William. This coal-powered steam train takes you from Fort William to Mallaig (and back again if you do the round trip). There are several points along this route that are in the Harry Potter films when the kids are riding the "Hogwarts Express"--which is a steam locomotive just like the Jacobite. This was an awesome train ride with cool views regardless of the relevance to Harry Potter. The ride up had some bad weather, but the ride back was perfect. I recommend the upgrade to first class tickets.
The Elephant House Cafe, Edinburgh. This is the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first HP book. You can go inside and order food/sit down. I've heard the line can get crazy depending on when you're there--it was only about five minutes or less when I visited.
Greyfriars Kirkyard. Behind the Elephant Cafe is Greyfriars Kirk and its graveyard. Rowling used to go on walks through Greyfriars. One of the graves in the back of the kirkyard reads "Thomas Riddell"--if you know your HP, you know that Voldemort's name is Tom Riddle. The association is loose--Rowling says that she might have seen the inscription and subconsciously worked it into the stories. Either way, it's pretty cool, and the graveyard itself is worth checking out even if you're not a fan. There are a lot of intriguing history and stories with this place.
The Cliffs of Moher were in Harry Potter as well.
This Lord of the Rings-themed hostel/bar
The hostel is called The Sugan; the bar is called The Shire. They're right next to each other.
The theme idea is great. The actual bar and hostel are not. Without even getting into all of the reasons why, I'll just say this: they smell weird. And not just one weird smell--the hostel smells weird, but the bar has its own, distinct weird smell as well. I don't do weird smells.
A ton of the places where I stayed had showers/tubs that looked like this:
How in the heck are you supposed to take a shower with glass covering only half or less of the tub? I tried as hard as I could—even if I huddled in the corner, water still got all over the floor.
One place I was in, the shower looked like this:
A baby gate? Also, the water fills up to about an inch. If the gate isn’t set perfectly, the water floods the bathroom floor. I know from experience.
Oh, and a seat?
You’re drunk, Europe.
I was looking forward to going overseas and enjoying a much-needed break from the political insanity, complaining, and coverage in the US. Three days into my trip, the UK voted to leave the EU, and it's like all of the political insanity followed me right to Ireland (and then to Scotland). That's all anyone was talking about; it's all that was on any television (except for soccer--that was a winning part of the trip). At least they were doing it with charming accents.
So narrow. Everywhere. So glad I had a small car.
That's it. Cheers, everyone.