Ireland: A Leap Day Adventure

Ireland: the land of lush green pastures, stunning mountain peaks, and a rich, history-infused culture! To date, Ireland is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been, so I’ve been wanting to share this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience with you guys!

One year ago (almost to the day), Kevin and I embarked on a seven-day trip to one of the most beautiful places on Earth for both of our birthdays! Since mine falls on a leap year, and Kevin’s is the day before, we usually celebrate on the same day – but this year was a little different! Since 2016 was a leap year, it meant I got to celebrate on the actual day of my birthday (which only happens once every four years)! This trip – or, rather, this dream vacation! – was filled with incredible adventures that I will never forget, with my favorite person to see everything with, always.

Since our trip, I’ve gotten a ton of questions about what we did, what we saw, and how we planned, so what better way to celebrate our birthdays this year than with a post that encompasses all the amazing things we saw and how we saw them?!

Kevin and I flew into Dublin and picked up a rental car at Hertz – which turned out to be a fantastic value! We paid extra for a GPS and also got a wifi hot spot for the car, which was about half the size of an iPhone, that we charged in the car and could carry around. This meant we used our phones for GPS 24/7 and never opened the semi expensive/already paid for GPS – oops!

The roads were marked really well, so it was easy to get where you were going by just following the signs. Kevin is obsessed with anything that drives, so he was usually our pilot!

Our flight was really early, so we actually just left with the car and headed on and didn’t stay in Dublin at all. We did a gorgeous coastal route of the whole bottom of Ireland and looped back up. The top part of Ireland is Northern Ireland, which is actually owned by the UK. This is something to keep in mind when renting cars! Since we had a little extra time at the end of our trip, we did a hike about 2 hours north of Dublin and had no problems going there at all – but they do take british pound vs. the Euro!

Day 1: Glendalough + Wicklow Park

The first day, we stayed in Glendalough and visited Wicklow Park! We loved it, and it was our first taste of seeing the countryside. We kept saying how much we couldn’t wait to see lots of sheep, and then laughed at our selves the entire trip because of how many we saw, everywhere!!!! Everyone was so kind, and we quickly learned that most of the people that we passed on any hike/nature walk we went on we would stop and dedicate time to talking to. It was really such a nice little town – I think about it all the time actually. I don’t know if it was the magic of our first day or what, but it will stick with me forever!

Since our flight was at night out of NY, with the time difference we ended up landing at 8am Ireland time – so at this point, we had been up for over 24hrs (exhausted!!). We actually set up our eno hammock in the park and took a nap (which is super unheard of for me – I don’t nap). It felt like we were in a movie!

That night, we stayed at a super cute B&B that we had booked ahead of time (we only booked one night ahead of time – for the rest, Kevin insisted we play the rest of the nights by ear, which actually worked out fine and gave us room to really do what we wanted!). We went here at night and experienced our first real Irish pub. The best way to describe it would be exactly what you’re probably envisioning – something straight out of a movie! It was a quiet night there with a handful of locals, and the bartender was also our waiter for the night. We had such a great time! Exhausted, were getting ready to leave when a local, Alan, came and sat next to us. He immediately offered to buy us a drink (and had me try a sip of his beer to see if I liked it- talk about friendly!), so we took him up on and it chatted for over an hour. He mapped us out a route we ended up following on the back of a receipt. It’s a night both Kevin and I will cherish for the rest of our lives.

 

Day 2: Rocky Bay Beach + Cork

We really wanted to head down to Cork, which is about 6 hours down if you take the scenic route vs. the motorway.  We didn’t mind because we woke up early and just stopped and went as we came across photo-worthy stops! We went to Rocky Bay Beach (which we could only find on google maps GPS, not iPhone GPS) and it was such a dream!!!!! Caves everywhere! It was such a cool experience, one that I truly loved! This day truly was one of the best days of my life. Something about Rocky Bay Beach really stuck with me.

On this little journey, we got to travel the backroads, too! The roads really were as tiny as they say they are. We slept in Kinsale that night, which I would really recommend – it’s a super cute little town and all the buildings are different colors!! I loved it. We stayed in a hotel that night called Actons Hotel. It was really nice, and Kevin was obsessed with it! He still says it was the nicest one we stayed at (who knows why this sticks in his head so much…). All of our hotels had free breakfast which was really nice and helped us save money. I think we averaged like 90 euros a night for bed + breakfast.

Day 3: Killarney + Kinsale

We headed up to Killarney and went to Killarney National Park! We took a cool horse + buggy ride here because we could tell that a storm was soon rolling in. I wish I remembered the name of our tour guide, who owned (and poured with love for) the beautiful brown horse – which was another authentic Irish experience. He told us stories about the park, about his life, and shared his excitement for what he does. We saw a beautiful waterfall here and the green bliss that everyone who travels to Ireland talks about. We lucked out with weather but it was pretty foggy- we knew if we started hiking we would be limited on time before the sky opened up. The town of Killarney was really cool too, lots of little shoppes and people playing live music, too.

Within Killarney, there is the Ring of Kerry – which is a 4-hour scenic coastal route. After leaving the national park, we came across a John Deere sign on the road and followed several until we found a shop. Kevin works for John Deere – so this was a must of course! When we got there, we were given a tip to definitely drive the Ring of Kerry – but to hold off until tomorrow. For whatever reason, we decided to ignore that and head off at 2pm (with sunset around 530-6ish) to embark on a little journey, despite hearing that it was 4 hours long. I would definitely recommend doing this for sure, but maybe give yourself more time! It got dark by the end of it for us which was fine because we were almost back where we started, but the roads were pretty windy and pitch black. Totally worth it though – really gorgeous views and you just see a whole lot.

 

Day 4: The Dingle Peninsula

The next morning, we explored Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula! It was a gorgeous coastal route, similar to Ring of Kerry, but waaaaay shorter – and much more beautiful we thought!!! We did a lot of driving during the trip but that was how we knew we would truly get to see and experience Ireland to it’s fullest in the time that we had there. We got out of the car a lot here, climbing up rock walls and exploring a bit. This was also Kevin’s favorite place ever, and it’s so easy to see why!

We drove about 2 hours up north to the Cliffs of Moher in Galway – this is a super popular siteseeing spot in Ireland that I had read about a lot, so you may have hear of it. Having heard so much about it, we assumed it was going to be packed (and our friend from the first night, Alan, actually told us it wasn’t worth our time to go and that it was going to be crowded because it’s so popular), but we must have lucked out with the weekday. It was actually just us and maybe two or three other couples! SO beautiful and so, so worth it. Nothing is really around the area, but it’s worth going to for sure!  We parked our car and then walked about a mile through a wide open field, which led us to about a 2-foot stone wall that you had to climb over to take you to the other side where the cliffs were. We couldn’t see anything from where we parked, so we really had no clue what we were even walking to! We were able to FaceTime family and friends from the old castle on the cliffs and just enjoy the sun going down with such a beautiful view. We also saw a ton of sheep (of course), and noticed that the herds had colored markings (like the one below). Some were blue, some red, but the colors always seemed to group together. We were thinking that the markings pointed towards a specific farmer, but it was so amazing to see!

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Day 5: Connemara National Park

The next day we went to Connemara National Park! This may have been our favorite spot- maybe because it was a really beautiful day (okay – I’ve said favorite for almost everywhere, I know). We had been excited to explore here and made sure to line it up perfectly to land on Kevin’s birthday (February 28th!) The drive there felt like a dream – super open with mountains surrounding you and sheep everywhere!!! We took an awesome hike that was around 3 hours long (roundtrip) up a mountain and the views just got better and better.

We got lunch in the little town near by the water- seafood bisque, fish and chips, sandwiches, and so much more! We stayed at the Delphi Resort that night which was really cool – they have a lot of activities there like kayaking, zip lining, etc. Ireland truly is a land of opportunity and adventure! We didn’t have a chance to do any of that kind of stuff because the next morning was rainy and we wanted to head out. We made friends with the young bartender there and ate a ton of delicious foods and tried tons of delicious hard ciders – they were all SO good. It was the perfect end to an awesome birthday for Kevin!

 

Day 6: Leap Day

MY birthday! We woke up and headed to Dublin – we were ahead of the game (we were there a Wednesday-Wednesday) and planned to do a full day there on our last day. I don’t know if it was because we had such an awesome bit of a road trip going on or what, but we were kind of sour about Dublin because we had been in these gorgeous mountain views and all of a sudden were back on highways and city driving.

Once we got a parking garage and got rid of the car things were better – but it really is just a city. We stayed at Temple Bar Hotel which was really nice, and we hung out around the Temple bar area and went to a few pubs. Everywhere had live music and it ended up being super fun of course. Cool little old school candy shops and tiny shoppes around too. We drank Guinness (and I, who is not a huge beer drinker at all, actually loved it) and sang at the top of our lungs at a pub with live music. We didn’t do the Guinness factory because our friend we met at the pub the first night told us it wasn’t worth it and that the beer isn’t even made there (though I know everyone who has gone said they loved it- so I guess to each their own!). Overall, it was an amazing way to spend my first actual birthday in four years!

Day 7: Our Last Day in Ireland

The last day we had planned to stay in Dublin, but since we had the rental car we decided to head up to Northern Ireland a little just to say we went. We went to Mourne Mountains and did a little hike there. It was really really cool and had such gorgeous views. We stopped at a gas station (their gas stations are like a grocery store/pharmacy/deli/gas combined- always really nice, and the deli food is always really good) and forgot that we were back to paying British pounds! We paid with euros but they gave us the change back in pounds. That night, we stayed about 10 minutes from Dublin airport at a generic hotel nearby and went to use the pounds, but they wouldn’t accept them! We luckily had some Euros and other cards, so it was fine, but this is a good thing to remember if you’re in Dublin!

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All in all, Ireland truly was the trip of a lifetime. The sweeping views and stunning cityscapes were just the cherry on top of a perfect vacation with Kevin. I love being able to adventure with him and see the world through both of our eyes. It’s such an incredible experience to travel with someone you couldn’t imagine life without, and it’s an experience I hope to relive over and over again for the rest of our lives!

 

XO KAITLYN

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