10 day trip around Ireland
Choosing somewhere to go on a trip is always a tough one for us. There is always the dilemma of whether you spend time exploring some of the beautiful parts of the UK…as there are so many. Or whether you spend the time and money visiting somewhere overseas with guaranteed sunshine and waves… because let’s face it, a UK or Ireland holiday can end up costing more than a week away to the Canary Islands.
So when we received an invitation in the post to a wedding in Northern Ireland this year, the decision had already been made for us. A trip to the magical Emerald Isle was imminent.
After researching travel routes and waves spots we decided to spend 10 days discovering Northern Ireland and Ireland. The plan was to explore the Wild Atlantic Way, hugging the coastline from the North all the way down to the Dingle peninsula in the South West.
Our 10 day itinerary was as follows:
Day 1 – Wales to Newcastle NI
Day 2 – Newcastle NI
Day 3 – Newcastle NI to Glenties Donegal via Ballintoy, Giant’s Causeway & Port Rush
Day 4 – North Donegal (Dunfanaghy & Cruit Island)
Day 5 – South Donegal (Slieve League, Malin Beg & Maghera Beach)
Day 6 – Glenties to Sligo (via Bundoran, Mullaghmore & Strandhill)
Day 7 – Sligo to Galway (via Easky, Westport & Connemara National Park)
Day 8 – Galway to Dingle (via Doolin, Lahinch & Cliffs of Moher)
Day 9 – Dingle Peninsula
Day 10 – Dingle to Dublin
Our trip started in Northern Ireland at a wedding in Newcastle, which is a beautiful coastal town on the East coast surrounded by the Mourne Mountains and Tollymore’s Forest Park. On the morning of the wedding we got up early so we could explore the area.
Tollymore’s Forest Park is not only known for its outstanding beauty, it was also one of the many filming locations of the Game of Thrones series in Northern Ireland.
Located in the foothills of the mountains, the park entrance greets you with a long drive hugged by beautiful trees before arriving at some gothic-style gate arches.There are a few choices of walks around the park, we chose the route that follows the Shimna river, which is marked by a variation of trees, bridges, rocky grottos and caves. As well as being beautiful, the walk has an element of mystery where you look forward to seeing what’s around the corner or over the next bridge.
It is definitely worth visiting the town for a couple of days to explore the surrounding area, and if you’re looking to stay somewhere fancy the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa is a beauty!
After Newcastle we drove up to the North coast of Northern Ireland…because what sort of trip would it be without seeing the infamous Giant’s Causeway?
The formation of the rocks at the historic site is quite impressive, especially as they appear as a ridge in multiple parts of the world. However overall I can’t say I was necessarily blown away, I was expecting to see something far more spectacular. The attraction is also booming with visitors which makes it even more difficult to appreciate its pure beauty.
The best stop in Northern Ireland has to be at Ballintoy Harbour, a very small picturesque fishing village. The harbour was also used to film a fictional town in one of the Game of Thrones series and it definitely felt olde worlde. We stopped there for lunch at Roarks Kitchen, a traditional cafe serving all day Ulster Fry breakfasts, smoked salmon salad with soda bread as well as some hearty cakes and a decent cuppa.
Before visiting Ireland, I wanted to go there to discover empty beaches and secluded bays. I expected to whitness wild waves crashing against the rugged coastline. I hoped to admire the majestic emerald mountains. See rolling green hills, alpine forests as well as gushing rivers and waterfalls. County Donegal has all this to offer and so much more. Exploring this part of Ireland felt like a true adventure. There are many impressive sights to see such as Slieve League, which are the highest cliffs in Ireland.
Malinbeg, also known as Malainn Bhig in Gaelic, is a horseshoe shaped secluded bay. It is a true beauty surrounded by rocky cliffs with the occasional stream running off them into the crystal clear ocean. The bay is sheltered by the wind, so the perfect place for SUPing. My biggest regret was not taking my SUP down that day so I could explore the bay some more.
Another beach worth visiting in County Donegal is Maghera beach. At low tide there are about 20 caves and a handful of tunnels to explore, some you can only access by a watercraft. Unfortunately we didn’t time it well and arrived at high tide, however it’s still a beautiful place for a beach stomp.
On day six we headed south to county Sligo, checking out the various surf spots such as Bundoran and Mullaghmore on the way. We ended up spending the day at Strandhill where we had waves, a tasty brunch at Shells cafe, as well as a relaxing seaweed bath.
After owning the cookbook for some time, I was pretty stoked that we got the chance to eat at Shells Beach Cafe. The menu selection and food was great, however the overall experience wasn’t quite what I had expected. After reading the cookbook, I was really bought into the story of the owners, who started up the cafe through their passion for food. Even though the cafe was extremely busy, I felt it lacked atmosphere and personal touch. Despite this we did have a really tasty brunch and would still recommend you popped in if you are in the area!
Whilst we were in Strandhill we also treated ourselves to a traditional Irish seaweed bath at Voya. Seaweed baths have been a well-known therapeutic treatment amongst the Irish for sometime now. This particular bath house was founded by Neil Walton, who discovered the recuperative properties of seaweed baths during his time as a triathlete. He found that seaweed baths would remove the toxins from his body, as well as promote the healing process after exercise.
The seaweed used at this bathhouse is hand harvested in unspoilt areas of the Atlantic Ocean. The treatment is about £25 and lasts 50 minutes. Initially when you arrive in the room you enter a steam shower which opens up your pores to enhance the benefits. The bath is pre-prepared with seaweed, seawater and hot water, so you can jump straight in after. In the bath there are two taps, one so you can top it up with hot water and one to top it up with seawater straight from the ocean.
The bath was totally invigorating…if a little on the slimy side. It was truly relaxing and I definitely felt the detoxifying benefits after. Plus my skin has never felt so smooth and soft. Highly recommend you book yourself in if you are in the area.
Connemara National Park
After Sligo we headed to the west coast of Mayo. The drive to Connemara National Park started by winding through Doolough Valley, where there is a huge lake surrounded by mountains. The scenery is breathtaking.
Next we came across Irelands only Fjord at Killary harbour. The Fjord forms the boarder between Mayo and Galway and extends for 10 miles out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Once we were back at the coast we decided to look for a place to stand up paddle board, there is an abundance of beautiful inlets and calm bays in Connemara which is perfect for the activity. The ocean is so clear and unspoilt with loads of sealife.
Connermara National Park is well worth the visit, there are several mountains to climb and many bays to explore…you could easily spend a week in just this area of Ireland alone.
After our flying visit to Connemara we spent the night in Galway visiting friends we met whilst traveling in New Zealand 10 years ago. Again we could have spent much longer exploring the town. It has such a vibrant atmosphere and so many restaurants and Irish pubs to choose from.
On day eight we had a lot of ground to cover so we left Galway pretty early in the morning. There were a few surf spots we wanted to check out on the way to the Dingle Peninsula such as Doolin, Lahinch and of course we wanted to check out the cliffs of Moher. Unfortunately there were no waves at the time, however it’s always good to see the set up and imagine what it’s like when the swell rolls in.
The Cliff’s of Moher is one of Irelands most popular tourist attractions and it’s likely you will have seen pictures of them in Irish adverts or guidebooks. The cliffs go on for five miles along the coastline and they are totally mesmerising because of the way they plunge into the Atlantic Ocean. Once again Mother Nature left me feeling totally insignificant.
The Dingle Peninsula
We spent day nine exploring the very pretty Dingle Peninsula, which is in the South West of Ireland. Again the scenery is spectacular with rolling green hills and a rugged coastline plunging into the ocean. There is plenty to keep you busy in the area such as climbing Mount Brandon, visiting Blasket Island (to see the memoirs documenting life there from the 1800s and1900s) as well as eating seafood chowder and watching a live band in Dingle town.
Again unfortunately there wasn’t any waves for us to enjoy, however we still enjoyed exploring the peninsula and taking in the scenery.
The Dingle is a quaint Irish town with lots of pretty shops, cafes and restaurants. In most Irish towns the shops are so colourful and their signs are still hand painted. It doesn’t feel overly commercial with a Starbucks and Mc Donalds on every corner. The Dingle must be the only town that has a hardware store that also sells beer.
On day 10 we started the long drive from the Dingle to Dublin pretty early. Our ferry back to Wales wasn’t until 9pm that evening, however we wanted to spend the day in The city.
Ideally it would have been nice to have spent the evening there, however we really made the most of the day by strolling around the city, going for coffee in a cafe down a cobbled side street, a picnic ln Iveagh Gardens and dinner at Temple. The city is so buzzing with Irish culture and I felt that I couldn’t help but walk around with a big smile on my face.
We had a great ten days exploring Ireland, however we could of done with so much more time. It would have been nice to spend longer in some of the places like Connemara National Park, as well as continuing the journey along the coastline to Cork! Luckily the beautiful country is only a stones throw away for us, so we will certainly be back.