By Meredith Clinton Bell
If you’ve done the peaceful beach vacation, and aren’t quite up for 24/7 tourism, Ireland is the best create-your-own escape you can plan. Despite being slightly larger that West Virginia, it’s a country that offers more than a few itineraries to choose from, no matter where your interests lie.
I went for a week’s time and explored almost 1,000 kilometers without feeling rushed or overworked. It was a relaxing, beautiful trip filled with a few pints, gorgeous scenery, and the nicest locals around.
Assemble your holiday as you go, but stop here first for a running start.
True Irish Pub
Recommended by an NYC Irishman, The Dawson Lounge in Dublin was my first stop for a pint in the land of Guinness. If you’re blessed with the luck of the Irish, look for a shamrock in the head of your beer (I was impressed, at least). But that’s not the only appeal of this cozy spot – it’s so small, you’ll feel as though you’re in a living room enjoying the banter with locals and tourists combined. Just don’t think of bringing your carry on. As you walk down into this basement bar you can’t be prepared for how truly small – think New York studio apartment – it is. Dublin has the best pubs by far, and this one is a must-see. It will satisfy your desire to get in on the Irish night (read “afternoon”) life.
Drive Safely…Keep Left
There’s no better way to tour Ireland than in a rental car. As you drive through the countryside, worries seem to melt away, and you’ll quickly get lost in its grandeur. It’s impossible to pick the most beautiful drive, because they’re all breathtaking, but I tip my hat to the Ring of Kerry (official name: Iveragh Penninsula). Yes, it’s hugely touristy, but there’s a reason for that…and ways around it.
The main road (N70) will get you from point A to B, but venture down at least one side street that looks more like a driveway than an actual road – you’ll be alone in no time. Keep an eye out for the stone remains of houses dating back to the famine.
Even with such a name, Hog’s Head (pictured above) along the southern tip of the peninsula is a site to be seen. Seriously…write that one down. On one side you see a rocky mountain littered with green and yellow sprouts, and look to the other side for a beach with water so blue, it looks like it came from the Caribbean. Cows and sheep graze fittingly along the steep slope, oblivious to the travelers. Ahhh. Manhattan who?
Try it on Horseback
In keeping with the spirit of Ireland, try one of their most popular sports: horseback riding. Established in 1965, the Kilotteran Equitation Centre (http://www.kec.ie) in Waterford is the perfect afternoon excursion for anyone from beginner to expert. Set in a private area at the outskirts of Waterford, a private lesson costs only 25 euro each. The stable provides all necessary accessories (helmet, boots, horse – which is convenient), teaches you a few moves in their indoor ring, and then you’ll gallop (OK, walk) out for a trek around the grounds. Every vacation should take you out of your comfort zone – even if you’re a champion rider, they’ll push your limits.
Call it your birthright trip…everyone has a little Irish in them, right? Trust me: buy your plane ticket, pack your GPS, and head to Ireland for a trip you won’t soon forget.
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