My 2018 trip to Northern and Southern Ireland

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Some of you may or may not know that I was born and raised in Northern Ireland and lived there until a month and a half before my 19th birthday.

In 2005 my family moved to the US, just south of Pittsburgh to where my mum grew up. Since then I graduated college, lived just outside NYC for almost 5 years and then moved back to the Pittsburgh area to be closer to my immediate family.

But through the years, Northern Ireland has and always will be home to me.

I always say you don't appreciate where you live until you leave. Growing up my family traveled and we have done a lot of touristy things, but as a kid I just didn't have an appreciation for the beauty and culture of my country like I do as an adult. So anytime I get the chance to go back home, my family, friends and I make a real effort to catch up but I also try to be a proper tourist and do some of the things that so many people travel to Ireland and pay a lot of money to do too!

Since I left, a little show you might have heard of, Game of Thrones, has blown up the tourism industry in Northern Ireland since a vast a majority of it is filmed there at Titanic Studios and along the north coast of Ireland. I grew up going to many of these places but they weren't known for Game of Thrones at the time so it's been fun going back as an adult and experiencing home through the eyes of that show and it's fanbase.

This past summer, at the end of August/beginning of September I had the chance to go home for 10 full days again. And it was hands down one of the best trips of my life! Most of my trips home have been spent in Northern Ireland, fitting in time with family with a few trips up the north coast to see some of the countryside and catch up at some of my favorite watering holes in Belfast. But this trip we planned 5 days up north and 5 days in southern Ireland in Killarney and Galway.

I wanted to write this blog post to share some of my experiences back home and give you all some tips on places to check out and companies to use if you ever make your way there. It's one of the most popular questions I get from anyone planning a trip to Ireland. But first..... I have to start this off with one of the BEST ideas I think I've had!

Before flying home, I invested in a SMOVE MOBILE smartphone stabilizer so I could capture some wonderful video footage and have a "memory video" made of my trip. Something a little different than just having some photo's to look back on (which are fabulous in themselves). I came across bakergraffix on Fiverr (fabulous website if you've never heard of it) and was immediately taken with the video's he had created in the past. I knew he was the guy to make my vision come to life. And OH did he do an AMAZING job at an incredibly reasonable price. I cannot recommend him enough!

Check it out for yourself!

One of the reasons I flew back this time of year was to bring my 88 year old Nanny home. She spent the summer with my parents and I in the states and I arranged to escort her home so she wouldn't have to travel alone.

It was my first time flying with someone of that age, and also a very long time since I had flown with Aer Lingus and I have to say they were absolutely spectacular.  Nanny and I started out from Pittsburgh airport where I had my traditional pre-vacation mimosa! When we landed in Boston Aer Lingus took my tickets and immediately moved our seats closer to the entrance so that Nanny wouldn't have far to walk. I was touched by their consideration!

The food on the flight was great! I mean, you can't go wrong with cottage pie and it just gave me that little pre-taste of home to get me in the mood. The flight attendants were lovely, funny and very helpful. The entertainment on board was great and I would have to say I can't wait to fly with them again sometime.

My first night home my friends and I headed out for dinner at a newer restaurant (to me at least) called Made in Belfast.  Their menu was fantastic and I got to experience my first "Jawbreaker" drink. I'm not usually a gin person, but this was SO SO good. I promise! Give it a shot. Jawbox gin which is local to Belfast with ginger ale and honeycomb. It's amazing. I wouldn't lie to you!

Tip for this place, it's popular, so I suggest making reservations in advance.


From there we headed to custom square in Belfast where they hold regular concerts outside during the summer. I had the pleasure of seeing Kodaline who were phenomenal but what surprised me most was their opening act. A scottish fella by the name of Lewis Capaldi who has completely stolen my heart with his music. He is incredible and I highly recommend you look him up!

After the concert we headed to Donegal Square where you'll find some of my favorite pubs. If you're in the area, the Duke of York is a great spot, as is The Harp Bar and White's Tavern where my friends threw me a surprise 30th birthday party a couple of years ago. Good times, good times!


To start my trip down south, my best friend and I took off on a road trip by ourselves to spend 2 nights in Killarney. We booked a B&B room at Douglasha House for €100 euro but found out they were double booked. No worries.....Joan, the lady who runs Douglasha House has a caravan site around the corner and offered us a large mobile home. Now, if you've never stayed in one this might not sound like your cup of tea, but truthfully when we got there it couldn't have worked out more perfect for my Rebekah and I. We had FAR more space in the mobile home than we would have in a single room. Joan and her husband took wonderful care of us and breakfast was still included in our rate.
Ladies View, Killarney National Park

I can't wait to go back to Killarney again and I honestly would request the mobile home next time, especially if you're on a budget and really only need somewhere to lay your head at night. We were out sightseeing all day so this worked out fine for us. Joan is a fabulous, warm and friendly woman. The food was great, but the banter was even better! She and the lovely staff who work with her were an absolute highlight of the trip for us!

We started our trip in Killarney with a drive through Killarney National Park to catch the view at Ladies View which is absolutely SPECTACULAR! Fairly easy to find, just watch the roads. They're a bit errmmm.....narrow! 😂


The next morning we set off along the Dingle Peninsula to go horseriding with Dingle Horseriding and it was honestly one of the coolest things I've ever done in one of the most beautiful places. We chose to do the Shamrock Trail. The views were out of this world and even though it got a little cold and wet at times if you're dressed appropriately you should be fine!  Dingle horseriding has a variety of appropriate shoes you can borrow (tip, wear shoes without laces if you want to wear your own) as well as some extra coats you can put on. They're a bit beat up, but if you don't care about how you look they do the trick and give you an extra'll probably need it! Otherwise, wear something warm and waterproof. It might not be raining when you start, but that doesn't mean you won't hit any at some point on your trek.

After horseriding we stopped at a local pub in Dingle for some food, drinks, to dry off and warm up before hitting the road to drive around the rest of the Dingle Peninsula. We stopped at a few spots along the way that looked beautiful including a waterfall and even found a little beach! With about an hour of daylight left we decided to swing by Ross Castle on our way back into town which is definitely worth seeing. The canal with a variety of multi-colored boats that look like they've been there for a century was a neat surprise, and who doesn't go to Ireland to see castles!


Back in Killarney we stopped at a Quinlan's seafood bar for some fish and you do! Highly recommend starting with the crab claws. They're delicious! And for dessert....Murphy's ice cream is a must!!!!

After dessert if you're looking for some good entertainment, O'Connor's is fun but a bit squashed. J. M. Reidy's really surprised me. It looks like a traditional pub when you first walk in but opens up into this Aladdin's cave of rooms that just never seem to end! They have fantastic live music in the back with an area to dance. Drinks are pricy but they offer some cool cocktails. I was told they increase the prices of drinks at a certain point of the night and each hour after, but I can't confirm that. I think to discourage excessive drinking but heard a rumour it's earned them the nickname "Greedy's". I have to say I enjoyed the place and would go back!

The band there the night we stopped in was called Thingamajig and they were a blast! Gave me that touch of traditional music I miss from home mixed with some contemporary for fun.

The next day heading out of Killarney we stopped at Muckross Estate where we walked the grounds and took a horse and trap ride up to Torc Waterfall.  All I can say is, it's worth the €40! You won't regret it! You can walk up to the waterfall yourself, but it's a fairly decent hike and the horse and trap adds to such an authentic and fun experience.

Muckross Estate Horse & Trap Ride

Muckross House


For this leg of the trip we had a couple more people joining us and booked a penthouse apartment called The Willows on the Salthill Promenade. That will be relevant if you're a fan of Steve Earle's song Galway Girl 😉

The apartment was absolutely fabulous. Clean, beautifully decorated, with a wonderful view and a short taxi ride to downtown Galway. It had a full kitchen, with shops within walking distance, a couple of balcony's and the master bedroom has a phenomenal bath. Beds were all very comfortable too.


Our first night out in Galway we ended up at a restaurant called the King's Head where we had a fantastic, very fun waiter and a wonderful meal. It was recommended we check out a bar called the Front Door after if we were looking for a fun atmosphere and the place definitely delivered. The DJ was great "craic" as we say in Belfast, the place was spacious with a number of rooms and an upstairs area. We liked it so much we went back our second night!
The King's Head- Galway
The Front Door- Galway

Corrib Princess River Cruise

The weather was a bit grey the next day and looking for something to do we booked tickets on the Corrib Princess River Cruise. What we didn't bank on was the traffic we would hit! Realizing we were going to be about 5 minutes late from the boat departure we called the company who were kind enough to hold the boat for us. True Irish style right there!!! Pretty sure they also let us park somewhere we really shouldn't have been parked but they seemed to know what they were talking about so we went with it!

Once on the boat, we didn't expect spectacular views, again it was a grey day. I imagine it would be much prettier on a clear day, but it was incredibly entertaining. They are known for being award winning Irish Coffee makers. Who holds the title of best Irish coffee maker in my family is still up for debate (I will challenge you Uncle Stanley), so I loved that the bartender demonstrated how THEY make their irish coffee. Afterwards, there was an Irish dancing lesson and then a professional demonstration from the other bartender who was fabulous!

We really enjoyed the experience and it was nice to sit back, enjoy the ride, some drinks (alcoholic or not...your choice) and feel even more a part of the Irish culture. You can check out a little bit of the boat tour in my video at the beginning of this post!

The Cliffs of Moher

Leaving Galway we had time for one more tourist attraction before heading back north to Belfast. Though there is so much more I would have liked to have seen (Diamond Hill, Connemara, Kylemore Abbey) they were in the opposite direction to the Cliffs of Moher and we chose that location as our last spot.

We had the most BEAUTIFUL day for it too! The sun was shining, it was warm, despite being by the seaside. One thing to note, they are not free. I believe it was about 8 to visit. Again, I thought it was worth it!

Back to Northern Ireland

The day after we arrived back I had a friend flying in from Scotland who had never been to Northern Ireland. So we looked up a couple of tour companies and decided to do the Belfast Black Cab tour and the Game of Thrones tour through McCombs Coach Travel.

Before the black taxi tour we stopped at a restaurant I spent a lot of time at when I lived in Belfast., AMPM and had some FABULOUS cocktails. The decor has changed a bit but I loved it! Very boudoiresque (is that a word)? But that's how I'd describe it!


Belfast Black Cab Tours

After we were well oiled up, we hit up our first tour, the Belfast Black Cab Tour. And while yes, I did grow up in East Belfast, I admit I lived a rather sheltered life when it came to the religious and political troubles (thanks mum and dad!) It's not something that heavily affected me. My family are protestant and my two best friends growing up were catholic and jehovah's witness. I never really paid much attention to the history growing up so I was particularly interested in this tour to learn more about it from both perspectives and I have to say it was absolutely fascinating touring my city and hearing about just how bad things were and how much has changed now.  Our tour guide, I wish I could remember his name.....John maybe? Davey? I think it was John. He's the fella in the red shirt below. He rocked! And made the experience that much better for us. Also, they will come and pick YOU up in Belfast, which is super convenient!

Belfast Black Cab Tour- at the Peace Wall

The murals are incredible but the stories behind them are fascinating.


Game of Thrones Tour

The next day we got up early to catch a Game of Thrones tour bus with McComb's Coach Travel. I have to admit many of the sites we were going to see on this I've already been to, but my friends have driven me so many times we decided to cut them a break and take a tour bus instead.


This was hands down one of the most fun tours I've ever been on and I have to give ALL the credit to our tour guide Derrick who was a riot! I would also say the beautiful weather helped, but honestly Derrick made the trip!  I'm a huge game of thrones fan. My friend has only seen a little of it and was more interested in seeing the North Coast of Ireland. Either way, this tour encompasses ALL of that!

Some of the sites we saw:

Cushendun caves- where Melisandre gave birth to the Shadow Baby

The Dark Hedges- aka The Kings Road

A replica of the iron throne at the Fullerton Arms where we stopped for a wonderful lunch

Balintoy Harbor - aka the Iron Islands

Carrick-a-rede rope bridge
(Older pics but I didn't get good ones on this trip because my phone started acting up!)

Renley's camp where we're first introduced to Brienne of Tarth

Giant's Causeway. 
Totally time for a pint at the pub there if you take the bus down and up too! You're welcome!

Back to Belfast

Back to Belfast after the tour where we had a LOVELY dinner for a friend's birthday at Cafe Parisienne right beside Belfast City Hall. If you haven't seen Belfast City Hall lit up at night, it's beautiful! Also conveniently where a lot of buses and taxi's are located.

Grand Central Hotel

If you get the opportunity please stay at or stop by the Grand Central Hotel.  Recently opened and conveniently located in Belfast City Center, there is so much history with this building, the decor is absolutely fabulous, the rooms are lovely and the views of Belfast are spectacular! Special thank you to Julie Hastings for a tour of the hotel and the Observatory Bar which is just beautiful! I don't remember the name of the pear cocktail I had, but it was delicious!

Holywood Golf Club

Growing up my family has been members of Holywood Golf Club, and if you're a fan of Rory McIlroy you'll know it as his home golf club. We were really lucky to have been able to watch him grow from a young boy into one of the best golf players in the world. He wouldn't know me to walk down the street, but I remember him and his family!

It's been a tradition when we come home to have my family get together for Sunday dinner at the golf club. My uncle is still a member there and it's something I look forward to on every trip!

I'm not golf savvy and I don't know golf club protocol and whether you can rock on up and book to play or if you need to know somebody, but if you can book in, it's worth checking out. Especially the display in the clubhouse with some of Rory's accolades.

That ended my trip this time around. I was on a flight home the next day, but it was one where so many wonderful memories were made. I hope this post gives you some suggestions of things to do and places to visit. If you have questions, drop them in the comments below! Im happy to help as best I can!

Special thank you for making this trip so memorable to:

My friends and family
Joan at Douglasha House
Corrib Princess River Cruise
Dingle Horseriding
Julie Hastings with Hastings Hotels
Made in Belfast
The Grand Central Hotel
Derrick with McCombs Coach Travel (Game of Thrones Tour)
Belfast Famous Black Cab Tours
Holywood Golf Club
J M. Reidy's
The Front Door Pub
The King's Head