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I recently had the pleasure of doing a self-drive tour through southern Ireland and it was beyond amazing. It was a combination between beautiful scenery, vibrant cities and quaint towns. The country’s small size makes it easy to explore regardless of the length of your trip. It was even better than I’d hoped because I was blessed with glorious sunshine every day and I met some wonderful people along the way.
The first property I stayed at was the small, cozy and intimate Buswells Hotel. It is situated right in the heart of Dublin opposite the Leinster House, the National Museum of Ireland and the National Library of Ireland. The hotel room was decorated in warm red or golden-brown tones; all rooms also came with mineral water, tea and coffee. The staff was very attentive and friendly, and the intimacy of the hotel encourages a general warmth and friendliness. A vast range of shopping, cultural and entertainment destinations lie within a five-minute walk of the hotel.
It’s fair to say that the city of Dublin needs no introduction. The Irish capital is famous for a number of things, including its bars, its beauty and even its books. I had a fun and memorable night in the Temple Bar district, and there were stunning views of the city stretching along the banks of the Liffey River. It’s was impossible to get bored in this cosmopolitan (yet staunchly Irish) city.
The second property I stayed at, The Kingsley Hotel, was a 3-hour drive away on the outskirts of Cork in south-west Ireland. Located on the Lee River, this fully modern hotel is next to Cork University and a 15-minute walk to Cork’s city center. The property has a large Technogym, expansive spa, pool and unique dining options. Unusual objects including intricate large vases, wood sculptures and Asian-influenced artworks are positioned for eye-catching interest in halls and other public areas. The room was spacious and the service was of a high standard with staff ready to assist in every area. The highlight for me at this property was the outdoor infinity hydropool with amazing views of the Lee River.
Cork itself sits proudly on an island in the middle of the Lee River and has a bustling collection of cool coffee shops, vibrant art galleries and unusual museums. Despite being a city, there’s a decidedly towny feel here – life is laidback and nothing is too much hassle. A definitive must in Cork is a visit to the English Market which has been around since 1788. The moment you step into the market, you’re right in the middle of a food lover’s paradise – the 55 or so stalls in the market and stocked with bread, fish, cheese, fruits and vegetables. The market is hailed as the “best covered market in the UK and Ireland” and it has survived fires, civil war and an attempted name change in the 1980’s.
A totally different side of Ireland’s history is contained within Blarney Castle, a medieval stronghold a short drive from Cork. There are dungeons, gardens, caves and a lake walk to enjoy, as well as the famous Blarney Stone, which when kissed, imparts the gift of eloquence…apparently.
Next, I drove 2 hours north to the small town of Killarney and stayed at the historic Arbutus Hotel, one of Killarney’s original hotels set among many shops, pubs and restaurants. The Arbutus has been run by the same family for over 86 years, and each room has its own distinctive décor, with some rooms having original Celtic Deco style from the 1920’s. If you are seeking an utterly unique experience, genuine Irish hospitality and a hotel with character, the Arbutus Hotel is for you.
Killarney is in the heart of the 25,000 acre Killarney National Park on the northeastern shore of Lake Leane. It is a wonderland full of activities to suit all tastes. From the 15th century Ross Castle to the 19th century Muckross House, Killarney is alive with long standing Irish history and culture. The locals take immense pride in sourcing and producing local food as much as possible. From fine dining to pub food and bistros, the menus are in abundance. Killarney is known for a fantastic nightlife and traditional Irish music and entertainment, and it did not disappoint the evening I was there.
The final stop on my Irish road trip brought me to the small village of Bunratty, nestled in between Limerick and Ennis on the west coast of Ireland. I stayed at the Bunratty Castle Hotel, which is located on a hillside next to the Shannon River, and it is known as one of the most intimate and charming hotels in the west of Ireland. The property has very luxurious and spacious rooms, a heated indoor pool and the amazing Angsana Spa. It is also a mere stroll away from the historical Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.
Bunratty Castle, built in 1425, is the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland containing mainly 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries and works of art, capturing the mood of those times. It is a must on your itinerary to Ireland. You can browse the castle at your own leisure or join a guided tour.
I was looking forward to enjoying a medieval banquet in the heart of the castle, but the very popular dinner show was sold out the evening I was there unfortunately. In lieu of the banquet, I had my final dinner in Ireland the famous Durty Nelly’s, which had a menu full of traditional Irish food.
I really enjoyed my time in Ireland and the fact that it was a self-drive tour made traveling around the country an effortless and truly enjoyable experience. I journeyed into the heart and soul of Ireland, met some amazing locals, indulged in hearty and rich foods and cannot wait to return.