As I type, I am in reminisce mode, reliving an eight-day-long roadtrip Conor and I took along the West coast of Ireland this time last year. We camped and AirBnB'd our way across the Wild Atlantic Way to our final stop in the fishing village of Portmagee, Kerry, with our dog in tow every step of the way (all recommendations here are dog friendly!). It was pure magic. Here's my roadtrippin' guide!
We live in Trim, Co. Meath, so we decided to ease into the long journey by stopping off in Roscommon on the first evening, staying in a former Bishop's Palace from the 1800s for the night – as one does. Ahem. It's an AirBnb, also known as Edmondstown House, and it was a brilliantly unique way to kick off the trip.
We ordered in Chinese takeaway from the nearest town, and ate it by a roaring turf fire in one of the House's ornate drawing rooms – it felt wrong, but also so, so right! I think my personal highlight though, was discovering miniature horses wandering the grounds outside and having a Lisa Vanderpump moment.
The next morning, we got up early to make our way to Achill Island, and more specifically Keem Bay – making a quick stop in Westport, Co. Mayo for coffee and a brownie in This Is The Place. With Irish rebel songs blaring on Spotify, and the sky surprisingly blue, we drove the spectacular windy road to Keem Bay before pitching a tent for the night, right above the beach. We brought a four-man tent, which was roomy enough to set up our bed, space for Mike's crate and a sitting area/table.
Zipping that door open as the sun rose the following morning, to be greeted with the sight of such a majestic place, was a special moment and one I won't forget – I also won't forget the morning dip in the sea. It was BALTIC, even with the sun shining! But with views like that, you almost forget the cold and just soak in the pure joy. It's important to note that, when camping, always respect the locals. Don't light a fire if signs say not to, don't litter and leave no trace when packing up.
Next up, we made our way to Clifden, Galway, where we set up our tent in Clifden Eco Camping, a fantastic site with all the facilities needed for camping and access to a beautiful private beach. We were there for the summer solstice, and that sunset was a sight to behold.
We stayed here for two nights, and loved exploring the town and all its postcard-worthy scenery; make sure to do the Sky Road Loop for a stunning drive, visit Connemara National Park and go for a dip on Renvyle Beach; the backdrop is ridiculously beautiful. For our third night in Galway, we drove down to Rosscahill, to stay in an absolutely incredible AirBnB called the Hazelwood Hideaway. Set in a forest with total privacy, you sleep in a shepherd's hut with a cosy bed, cooking facilities and a stove, and outside there is a bbq/fire pit area as well as an outhouse with a toilet and hot shower.
It was truly an unforgettable stay; as it was Conor's birthday that night, we brought along champagne and a locally sourced cheese board, lit a fire, played our favourite music, danced and toasted marshmallows under the stars.
Onward we went, the following day, to Co. Clare, where we stayed in a room above the Oar restaurant in Doolin, purely for handy location and cheap rate. We were blessed with the weather for the entire trip, but on this occasion, it rained. It's just to be expected holidaying here at some point, innit. Inside dining would have come in handy for this evening, but it was during Covid restrictions, when you could only dine and drink outside. Alas, raincoat-clad, we sat outside the famous Gus O'Connor's for a pint of the black stuff, then headed to the well-covered and heated Ivy Cottage for fresh crab claws and scampi. We explored nearby Ennistymon (an adorable place, make sure to stop for treats in This Is It and grab a drink in Pot Duggans) and Listoonvarna, and somehow ended up outside the house of the famous matchmaker Willie Daly.
In a nutshell, we followed signs for a donkey farm, which took us to a man's house. We soon realised he was the well-known face of the town's iconic matchmaking festival, and as well as introducing us to his donkeys (one was called Pamela Anderson), he took us through his homemade matchmaking museum in his shed, before sticking on a documentary about himself. It definitely was not what were expecting! Before we left, he insisted we touched his ancient matchmaking book, for good luck and continued romance. Only. In. Ireland.
Our final stop was Portmagee, Kerry. This was the longest drive of all, but we broke it up by getting the ferry from Killimer to Tabert. And oh, was the drive worth it. We stayed in an AirBnB called Skellig View, which was a stone's throw to the Kerry Cliffs, as well as the lovely village of Portmagee. During our two days there, we climbed the famous cliffs, walked atop the Geokaun mountains for surreal views, swam at Finian's Bay and did the beautiful Bray Head Loop Walk on the adjacent Valencia Island. And ate lots, and lots of seafood!
We travelled home with our adventure itch scratched, after a long stretch of staying still, and with a newfound love for the country we luckily call home. I can't wait to do it again, with our other dog Sully in tow, hopefully in our very own camper van...
The Misunderstood Heron, in Connemara, has been voted one of the coolest food trucks in the world by Lonely Planet. And it's not hard to see why when you get there. It has the most incredible views of Killary Fjord, and it serves up exquisite food – I recommend the smoked salmon on homemade brown bread and jalepeno cream cheese. When doing the Sky Road Loop in Connemara, pull in for coffee and treats at The Coffee Corral. There are gorgeous dogs and horses roaming around, and you can even hug a lamb! Lamplight Wine Bar in Clifden is gorgeous.
The wines are stunning (try the 'orange' wine, white wine made with the skins left on) and the food is beautiful; think artisan small plates and meat and cheese boards. Visit The Cheese Press in Doolin for amazing local produce, from cheeses to meats and fresh pestos, and also for one of their glorious toasties!
The Fisherman's Bar in Portmagee is famous for its seafood, and for good reason. It is incredible. Order the sizzling prawns in chili oil, and wash it down with a very creamy Guinness. I also loved a dish that I ordered in Smuggler's Cafe, Portmagee: hake kataifi, fresh fish in a unique pastry served with tomato salsa. *Chef's Kiss*
When driving from county to county, a good soundtrack is essential. We blared rock songs like Carry On My Wayward Son, Christy Moore (yes, we did play Listoonvarna whilst driving through...Listoonvarna) and Luke Kelly plus all the good cheesy stuff like Abba, for some butchered car karaoke. Make a playlist and blast it as you take in the sights.
Pack light! Learn from my mistakes! I didn't need the half the stuff I brought in the end. Because it's Ireland, make sure to pack waterproof gear (I got a great jacket in Decathlon for €80 that served me well) but also walking shorts and tees. Good runners are essential, as is some form of dry robe for that Atlantic sea swimming chill (I got a knock off for about fifteen quid).
Our portable gas Sahara bbq (above) – which we bought in Woodies last year – was the best thing we packed, as was our own duvet and pillows to make camping that bit more luxurious! If you're bringing a dog, bring bungee cord and a stake to secure in the ground so they can run freely around the tent close to you. Also make sure to bring an cooler box, fold up chairs, a USB charger for your car and a camping stove to make your morning coffee. Or midnight Koka Noodles!
Other roadtrips to consider
The Beara Peninsula, The Ring of Kerry, The Causeway Coast, Glencree to Glendalough, Wexford to Waterford, Ireland's Ancient East...the list is endless!