Katie's Off-The-Beaten-Path Guide to Ireland (No Blarney Stone or Guinness Tours Here)

How our Assistant Editor spent 12 days from Dublin to the Wild Atlantic Way
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Zara Sweatshirt (similar here), Urban Outfitters Dress, Adidas Sneakers, YSL Bag

Zara Sweatshirt (similar here), Urban Outfitters Dress, Adidas Sneakers, YSL Bag

Whenever I talk to someone about traveling with kids or an easily coordinated trip, Ireland is my immediate recommendation. It's temperate, charming, stunning, and easy to travel around. Although I no longer travel with little siblings, or any kids for that matter, Ireland still holds a special place in my heart. Since my dad's family is from there, and we still have a lot of relatives abroad, I grew up going there frequently, and even worked at a modern art gallery one summer in Dublin for a college internship. What it's lacking in pastries and sun, it more than makes up for in rich history, friendly people, and incomparable scenery.

For my most recent trip, I spent two days in Dublin, reliving old city favorites and exploring many recommendations from locals. Dublin is a quickly changing city, and I couldn't have been more excited to visit all of the new spots, and remain a loyal customer at some of my favorite pubs. 

For the rest of my 12-day vacation, my fiancé and I went to my relative's house on the northwest coast, located between Donegal and Sligo before attending a wedding—the purpose of our trip! Most of my days were spent reading, hiking, stopping at my favorite cafe, The HardyBaker, and even surfing. The nature there is truly spectacular, and, although I'm biased, I think it's the most beautiful part of the whole country. Here is how I spent 12 days in Ireland, and why you should head off the beaten path (and relax a bit):

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Views off Grafton Street

Views off Grafton Street

After some serious delays, we landed in Dublin airport with still a solid portion of the day to spare. We checked into our historic hotel, located off St. Stephen's Green, and headed out immediately so as to not lose the day. For our first stop, we visited The Little Museum of Dublin. Despite its quaint exterior, it was one of the coolest museums I've been to in the city. Within the Georgian house, exhibits showcase a range of Irish historical subjects, from famous women to U2. Afterwards, we headed over to the National Portrait Gallery to check out traditional European art. Although it was not my favorite collection, I'm glad we got to see art that isn't featured as much in Los Angeles museums. 

After two museums post-flight, we felt completely exhausted and decided to leisurely shop. We stopped at Avoca, a store for Irish made gifts, Siopaella, a designer consignment boutique, and Stable, the perfect place for high-end wool goods. Our final shopping destination was Powers Court, an old town house with several artisan shops and antiques, including MoMuse, the best handmade jewelry in the city. 

As the jet lag began to run its course, we popped into my favorite wine bar, Fallon & Byrne, to enjoy their solid wine collection and charcuterie boards before heading off to dinner at Hugo's. Hugo's has one of the strongest, traditional Irish menus in Dublin, and I couldn't think of a better way to get vacation started than a lamb dish, complete with a side of potato terrine. As complete exhaustion was setting in, we set off across the street to hear traditional Irish music at O'Donoghue's, home to many famous Irish musicians, including The Dubliners. 

O'Donoghue's Pub

O'Donoghue's Pub

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Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin

Like clockwork, we woke up at 5 A.M., very much confused by all things time. Since most things don't open until 9 at the earliest, Rob and I went on a walk around St. Stephen's Green, to St. Patrick's Cathedral, and ended up back around Grafton and Exchequer street. 

For breakfast, we popped into Le Petit Parisien, for a light French breakfast before we embarked on 10 days of traditional Irish fare. The cafe is cute, with bistro music playing all times of the day, and art that will make you feel like you're in Paris. After croissants, we wandered over to Trinity College Dublin to see the Book of Kells. I recommend getting there when it opens to avoid a major line. The Old library at Trinity is considered one of the prettiest in the world, and you simply can't miss it. For more history (do you get the theme of my family vacations?), we grabbed a tour at Dublin Castle, the seat of the British government until 1922. It's a quick tour and the gardens are worth every dollar. 

For our final stop in Dublin, we grabbed a taxi over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art for a truly fantastic experience. If you love modern art, this museum is, in my opinion, one of the more underrated modern collections

After all of the busy travel, I was pretty excited to hop into our rental car and head to the coast. For this trip, we opted for a rental car so we could travel around more easily, but buses are also a great option, especially if you don't feel comfortable driving on the other side of the road! The Northwest Coast of the Republic is fondly known as the Wild Atlantic Way, due to its picturesque beaches nestled among the mountains. While all of Ireland is truly stunning, especially given its lush green lands, the northwest is largely undeveloped. Tourism isn't as popular there, due to more unpredictable weather, so 10 days in the countryside was the perfect antidote to our chaotic L.A. life. 

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Le Petit Parisien

Le Petit Parisien

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Tulland Strand in Bundoran

Tulland Strand in Bundoran

Waking up on what felt like the other side of the world was perfection. The air was fresh, I heard the cows in the backyard, and I settled in for a cup of coffee and some bridal magazines at the kitchen table (I'm getting married next year). For breakfast, I headed to my favorite cafe in all of Ireland: The HardyBaker. The owner and chef, Laura, left her job in Dublin banking 3 years ago to pursue her passion for baking and cooking. The HardyBaker is nestled in the surf town of Bundoran, and along with the local surfers and workers, foodies from all over have come to enjoy Laura's award-winning food. I always go for the avocado smash, complete with homemade onion bacon jam, but you can't go wrong with the breakfast bap or chicken sandwich either. 

After a quick two-mile walk around the rougey (an oceanfront loop), we went to Parkes Castle to see the lake and manor that inspired some of William Butler Yeats' poetry. 

For dinner, we stopped at The Courthouse, a Sardinian restaurant in the middle of the small town of Kinlough. Although the town where it's located is less than a block long, the restaurant is considered one of the best in Ireland.  

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Lissadell House 

Lissadell House 

After another slow morning, we drove south to Lissadell House, the former home to Constance Gore-Booth, an Irish revolutionary, and her sister Eve, a poet and suffragist. On the way to Sligo, a major town known for its literary history, we visited William Butler Yeats' grave and tea room, a yearly trip my mom insists on making (she's a professor of Political Science but an all-around literary nerd in the best way possible). Once in Sligo, we walked around old shops and enjoyed the larger city benefits that aren't readily available in Bundoran. 

About 15 minutes up the coast is Strandhill, a surfers inlet with some of the best food, farmer's markets, and views. We visited Voya for seaweed baths and massages and then finished with lunch at Shells, a farm-to-table cafe that could easily be located on the Malibu coastline. 

For our final step of the day, we hiked Benbulbin mountain to see the ruins of an old plane that have been there for nearly 100 years. The views were simply incredible, despite the treacherous trip it took to get there (10 miles!).

Views from our hike

Views from our hike

Strandhill

Strandhill

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After what I would call the world's most exhausting hike, I decided to treat us to a spa day at Northern Ireland's newest spa, Finn Lough. Finn Lough is famous for its "bubble rooms," which are suites completely hidden within the forest that have 360 degree views of the surrounding Lough Erne. For the spa, they created several different hut stops that are completely private for the experience: a salt bath, hot sauna followed by lake dip, aromatherapy sauna, hot tub overlooking the lake, and a relaxation room. [Editor's note: This is the point when our entire office decided to copy Katie's trip exactly... just us??] By the end of the spa session (which lasts 2.5 hours), you're treated to a beautiful high tea of sandwiches, soup, and divine pastries. I seriously couldn't recommend it more. 

We stopped in the small town of Belleek on the way home, famous for its pottery, and walked around Mullaghmore, the prettiest beach walk that passes Lord Mountbatten's Castle.

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Clare Island docks

Clare Island docks

The Loom at Clare Island 

The Loom at Clare Island 

Finally, it was the big event. We headed to Clare Island for my family friend's wedding. On the way we stopped in Westport, a bustling city that has incredible artisan shops and pubs. 20 minutes away is the island ferry, which is how you reach the island. Under 200 people live on the island full time, and the land is pristine and undisturbed. If you want an other-worldly experience, complete with sheep walking alongside you, this island is a must.

For our trip, we stayed in The Lighthouse, a decommissioned lighthouse turned hotel that overlooks the whole island. The hotel provides a set dinner and cocktail hour for its dozen or so total guests so you're able to meet travelers from all over the world. 

The day of the wedding was perfect: clear skies and sun. The bride and groom got married on the beach, and the wedding celebrations went on all night long. Seriously, Irish weddings can go on for 3 days, as opposed to the standard 11 P.M. curfew in the U.S.. By Friday, we were exhausted and could only muster up a quick stop in Ballyshannon, an old medieval town, before heading to dinner at The Courthouse and heading to bed. 

The old lighthouse keeper's room with my fiancé (Zara Sweatshirt (similar here), Urban Outfitters Dress)

The old lighthouse keeper's room with my fiancé (Zara Sweatshirt (similar here), Urban Outfitters Dress)

The Lighthouse 

The Lighthouse 

From the wedding! (Zara Jacket (similar here), MISA Los Angeles Dress, YSL Bag) 

From the wedding! (Zara Jacket (similar here), MISA Los Angeles Dress, YSL Bag

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Slieve League

Slieve League

What I love most about the Wild Atlantic Way is the undisturbed beauty and general peacefulness of the area. We started our day by hiking up Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in all of Ireland, and the sights were just out of this world. The air is so fresh that, at the peak, you feel a cinematic, weight-being-lifted-off you moment. 

After hiking, we stopped in Ardara, where you'll find the most traditional blankets, scarves, and sweaters, and the best fish in chips in all of Ireland (at Charlie's West End Cafe). Lunch was followed by shopping in Donegal. For traditional Irish clothes (read: tweed jackets) don't miss Magee (they have a Dublin location too!). Their quality and collection is unparalleled. 

On the way home, we went back to Mullaghmore for fresh seafood at Eithna's By The Sea and a quick walk. 

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Tulland Strand in Bundoran 

Tulland Strand in Bundoran 

For our last day, we just enjoyed the beach, took surf lessons (we may have a new hobby), and walked the beach paths, in the rain, to soak up our last full day at the house. 

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The Central Hotel

The Central Hotel

We planned to go to Dublin via train, as my parents were staying longer with the car. We stopped in Sligo once more on the way to the station and visited the old Sligo Abbey, originally built in 1253, and the Yeats Society, which has some of the best biographical exhibits I've been to. 

Once we got back to Dublin, we took a tour at Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison which held many revolutionaries from the Easter Uprising, and checked into my go-to hotel, The Central Hotel. If you've never been to Dublin before, this is the best hotel for both location and price. Plus, it has the oldest library bar in the entire city, which is naturally a must stop. 

Before dinner and drinks, I came across a sleek, modern store called Ace & Tate. Once I went inside, I realized it was similar to Warby Parker, with chic sunglasses and glasses at affordable prices. I picked up a pair of copper, round frames and headed over to 9 Below, an "underground" cocktail bar, for incredible cocktails and ambience. Our last meal was at Etto, a tapas restaurant the city was buzzing about. The food was incredible and well thought out, similar to an L.A. hot-spot, but with incredible prices and a small, quaint environment. For our final drink of Dublin, we ventured over to the Stag's Head, a Victorian pub from the 1780s. 

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Vintage denim jacket (similar here)

Vintage denim jacket (similar here)

By our last day, we were sad to leave but ready to return to L.A.. We felt totally restored from our trip and missed our cat even more. We grabbed the best scones in Dublin at Queen of Tarts and walked through St. Stephen's Green and Merrion Square for some final freedom before our 12 hour flight. 

Over the years, I've visited almost every county in Ireland and can safely say it's one of the most magical countries in the world. From the Ring of Kerry to the Cliffs of Moher, Dingle to the Aran Islands, each area brings its own unique traits and experience to any vacation. If you're looking to travel alone, or with a group of 20, look no further than the Emerald Isle! 

Other town recommendations: Galway, Doolin, Dingle, Shannon, Limerick, Letterkenny, Killarney, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Enniscorthy, Kilkenny, Kildare, Belfast, Enniskillen

P.S.: We shot all of the above photos on our favorite film camera, the Canon Eos Rebel G from 1996. It's lightweight, works with canon lenses, and we used Kodak 35mm Ektar 100 Color Negative Film.

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