I recently took an amazing trip to the Emerald Isle and loved every minute of it.  You absolutely have to go see it for yourself and when you do, I’ve got you covered with some must-see places and events for your own travel plans to Ireland.  If you’ve spent any time Googling what to know when traveling to Ireland, you’ve probably found an overwhelming amount of suggestions for popular tourist attractions, but don’t let the sheer volume of options scare you away from such a beautiful adventure. As luck (of the Irish) may have it, we saved our itinerary to share with you. 

Day 1 – Dublin, Ireland

We stayed at a boutique 4 star hotel right in the heart of Dublin. The Clarence Hotel, also known as the “Rock & Roll Hotel,” is owned by the legendary rockstars,  Bono and the Edge from U2.  Located in Temple Bar along the River Liffey, The Clarence sits in close proximity to many of Dublin’s top live music venues, yet somehow, the hotel itself remains calm and peaceful. The rooms recently received some modern updates and have a thoughtful, fun vibe due to the new design.  The garrett rooms up top have quaint roof patios that provide exquisite views of the city.  When you’re making your travel plans to Ireland, nothing beats this Dublin hotel.

The Clarence hotel lobby in Ireland

After checking into The Clarence, we were a bit hungry, so we made our way to Gallagher’s Boxty House on Fleet Street. It is an “only in Dublin” experience.  If you don’t know, boxty is a traditional Irish dish made from potatoes.  Similar to a crepe and filled with all sorts of yumminess, it makes for the perfect comfort food on a damp Irish day.  Boxty is such a long-standing staple of Irish cuisine that there’s even an old-fashioned rhyme about it:  “Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan; if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man.” As the founder of Oceano wines, I get a little laugh out of this silly limerick. A woman’s place is in the kitchen, in the boardroom, or wherever else she would like to be.  My husband, Kurt had the Corned Beef Boxty, paired with a Jack Smyth Red beer and I had the fish and chips with mushy peas, paired with a Stag Kolsh beer. Delicious!

rachel martin at an irish boxty house

With some guidance from the locals, we just knew we had to visit The Lord Mayor’s Lounge inside of The Shelbourne Hotel for the celebratory theater of the most civilized ritual: afternoon tea. If you haven’t had tea in Northern Europe, then you haven’t really had tea. It’s serious business over there. A symphony of gentle indulgence, afternoon tea is a time-honored tradition savord by guests of The Shelbourne for generations.

Kurt and Rachel at the Shelbourne hotel

After tea time, we went for a little exploratory walkabout and stumbled across a cute, little bar that shared a namesake with my maternal grandfather – O’Donoghues. It seemed like a sign, so we stopped in for a pint and some exposure to traditional Irish music. No matter when you visit this pub, you’ll get treated to the same experience because they have live music seven nights a week.

busy, lighted street of temple bar

For dinner, we had some mouthwatering cuisine at SOLE Seafood and Grille, where Chef Oscar Chen says their food philosophy “focuses on seafood sustainability and local Irish producers.” Oceano wines has a similar philosophy and we love to support like-minded businesses. Kurt and I recommend the sole meunière, local oysters, and the char grilled tiger prawns.

waitress displaying plate of dover sole

To close out our evening, we strolled down the streets of Temple Bar and  found a lovely speakeasy that made us feel like we were in a 1920s gangster film. Vintage Cocktail Club is similar to those old speakeasies in America and it takes you back to a time when prohibition prevented flashy neon signs and easily accessible entrances. If you weren’t looking for this place, you’d be lucky not to miss it. The cocktail menu had throwback concoctions older than the USA. Dating back to the 1600s, you don’t experience Dublin without trying a single serving original milk punch.

rachel martin holding umbrella inside
Kurt Deutsch holding menu of a vintage cocktail club

Day 2 – A Journey through History

For our second day, we woke up at the crack of noon. When you’re on vacay in a country far from home, you can get away with sleeping in.. We took a scenic drive through the Wicklow Mountains on our way to that evening’s destination. Of course, you have to make some stops along the way because this is how to travel around Ireland. 

serene Irish monastic site

First, we went through the majestic Glendalough Valley, otherwise known as “The Valley of the Two Lakes.” We stopped at the Monastic City to take in the rich history of the Glendalough Cathedral. The most mind-blowing historical site would absolutely have to be the Rock of Cashel. This cluster of medieval buildings houses monuments and structures that go back over a thousand years including:  round tower, a high cross, a Romanesque chapel, a Gothic cathedral, an abbey, the Hall of the Vicars Choral, and a fifteenth-century Tower House.

Rachel Martin in Glendalough Valley
Rachel Martin sitting on ledge at the Rock of Cashel in Ireland

After spending a few hours absorbing a ton of interesting knowledge, we hopped back in the car and drove a little further to the Ballymaloe House near Cobh (pronounced “cove”) in the East Cork countryside. When making your travel plans to Ireland, you’d be remiss to not include the Ballymaloe House. This elegant Georgian country house has some fascinating history of its own. Family-owned and sitting on 300 acres of land, this sprawling hotel and restaurant makes you feel like royalty from the middle ages.

Rachel Martin standing in Ballymaloe courtyard
The Ballymaloe restaurant and hotel in Ireland

Built in 1440, the old castle maintains its integrity with the addition of modern amenities like a swimming pool, a massive garden walkway, a cookery school, and huge greenhouses. In fact, everything you eat from the restaurant is “farm to fork” and is curated on the land. Veggies couldn’t be any more fresh.

Dinner served at the Ballymaloe
Small treats served at the Ballymaloe restaurant

If you’re visiting with your sweetie, this area has some very romantic activities. You could take your love on a stroll down the beautiful beaches or the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, enjoy an intimate picnic on the Ballycotton Cliffs, or visit the Blarney Castle and share a kiss with the famous Blarney Stone.

In nearby Cobh, you can visit the site of the Titanic’s last stop and also enjoy some immaculate seafood.

Day 3 – On the Road to Kenmare

We had two nights booked at the Sheen Falls Lodge in Kenmare. If you want to be an expert in what to know when traveling to Ireland, this “jewel in the ring of Kerry” will make you look like an authority. With a population of just over 2,000 people, this unspoiled town has plenty of sites to see and some of the best food on the Emerald Isle.

Sheen falls in Ireland

We arrived in Kerry on our way to Kenmare just before lunch and made our way to Ashe’s Seafood Restaurant. As you can tell, Kurt and I love our fresh seafood. Not only was the food fantastic, but the establishment had some interesting historical factoids, as well. The first legal alcoholic beverage in Ireland was served here in 1849 when it was only a general store. When making your travel plans to Ireland, you should definitely plan to stop here for a drink and some crab and prawn dumplings; locally sourced, of course. 

After lunch, we just had to try some local beer at Dick Mack’s Irish Pub. Owned by the same family since its inception in 1899, the Mac Donnell’s set the standard for a traditional Irish pub. When you see one on TV or in film, whatever the case may be, it’s most certainly inspired by Dick Mack’s.

Storefront of Dick Mack's in Ireland

On our way to the Sheen Falls Lodge, we took a trip down the Beara Peninsula. The drive was incredible, but it became even more interesting when we made a wrong turn off the beaten path onto a dirt road in our rented Audi A8 sports car. Good thing we sprung for the extra insurance. After getting unlost, we finally arrived. Sheen Falls Lodge is one of our all-time favorite hotels. Inside of the fantastic little market town is the place to be if you’re a foodie like us. Coupled with good shops, pubs, and live music, this little hidden gem provides endless entertainment.

Rachel and Kurt selfie in car

We checked into the lodge, and after settling in, we took advantage of The Falls restaurant. There, we enjoyed locally sourced, fine dining and fine wine from an Irish chef and an Irish sommelier.

Day 4: County Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula

When making your travel plans to Ireland, County Kerry deserves a little extra attention. That’s why we booked two nights at the hotel because there is so much fun stuff to do and it is so important to not waste a single moment.

Bar area of the No. 35 restaurant

For lunch, we went to a casual, cute, and cozy restaurant called No. 35. This place is a local staple that serves farm to table, in season food including free-range pork from their farm (which is just a mile up the road).  No. 35’s glorious architecture dates back to, at least, the 1800s with exposed timber beams, hand-cut limestone and stained glass windows. The open fire makes this treasure feel a lot like home.

Entree served at the No. 35 Kitchen and Bar in Ireland

Next,  we spent the day on the Dingle Peninsula window shopping, watching buskers playing banjos, guitars, and bouzoukis. The busking culture in Ireland is expansive and unlike anything we see in the US. Some of these musicians even do it as a full-time means of income.

streets of Dingle, Ireland

One of my favorite experiences on the Dingle Peninsula was our visit to Dingle Crystal. This unique experience should be on every list of what to know when traveling to Ireland. Combining art, skill, and commerce, Dingle Crystal makes more than decor; they make pure beauty.

Kurt standing outside of the Dingle Crystal boutique

Master craftsman, Sean Daly, even demonstrates his crystal cutting skills to visitors of the family-owned business. So much tradition and history lies everywhere you look in Dingle.

Glassmaker and Rachel Martin displaying newly-made, hand-cut wine glass

Day 5: Ferries, Music, and Doolin. Oh my!

The next morning, we were back on the road to Doolin to stay at a small hotel called The Fiddle & Bow. This tiny, quaint hotel felt like a bed and breakfast with its own bar and restaurant. Located next to Hotel Doolin, we heard they host various festivals throughout the year. Unlike the other places we stayed, The Fiddle & Bow is still in its infancy, only open since 2019.

On the way there, we took a detour for a ride on The Tarbert Ferry (shown in video at the top of this post) and stopped for lunch in Lahinch. We found a fun, little pub called Kenny’s Bar. Opened in 1830 as a coach house,  the restaurant and bar has been passed down through four generations while eventually developing into a hopping spot for nightlife. You can catch live music most nights of the week. Serving burgers, seafood, and curry, the offerings made us feel more at home. They even offered a cajun salad.

Menu for Kenny's Bar in Ireland
Irish meal served at Kenny's Bar

Once we were finished with our ferry experience, we headed to Doolin and checked into The Fiddle & Bow. After a few long days galavanting around Ireland, we decided to plant ourselves at Gus O’ Connor’s – one of the first live music venues in the country. Opened in 1832, Gus O’ Connor and his wife, Doll, took over in 1956. They’re philosophy was simple: musicians were welcome to play there at any time. The menu has some traditional pub options like chicken wings, fish and chips, and a hearty steak sandwich.  As well as some vegan dishes and seafood. Did I mention we love seafood?

Back at the hotel, we settled in for the night. Suffering from the best kind of exhaustion imaginable, we drifted off to dreamland in our comfy, loft bed. When you decide to make your travel plans to Ireland, you must stay at The Fiddle & Bow to experience the intimate, high-end hospitality.

Day 6 – From the Cliffs of Moher and Back to Dublin

After getting a good night of rest, we woke up early to visit the Cliffs of Moher. I suggest you go early before the crowds get there and while the sun rests low in the sky. The edges of the cliffs are entirely vertical and you can hear the enchanting sounds of the waves as they crash against the soft shale shore.

Oceano chardonnay placed on edge overlooking the Cliffs of Moor

The cliffs, however, offer more than just a pretty view. There is also a hiking trail that leads to the Loop Head Lighthouse for more scenic views and you can even spend a few hours on a “hooker” (a fishing boat) in the Atlantic looking up at the cliffs from whence you came. This is a definite tour mark in what to know when traveling to Ireland.

If you get a little more time in Doolin, I also suggest you check out the music scene. It is the center of the traditional music revival in Ireland and some of the country’s most loved and respected musicians are known to perform there.

Burren landscape in Ireland

On our way back to Dublin, we paid a visit to County Clare – a barren moonscape known as “The Burren” littered with ancient monuments and all sorts of local shops and food producers. Of course, I just had to swing by The Burren Perfumery for soaps, teas, and cosmetics, all of which are sourced and produced onsite.

Sign on rock for the Burren Perfumery
The facade of the Burren Perfumery

As our final day came to an end, we checked into our last hotel for the trip. The Number 31 Hotel in Dublin is a Georgian Townhouse with modernist style. Once the epicenter of social Dublin in the 1960s and 70s, it was once home to the famous architect, Sam Stephenson.

Courtyard of the Number 31 Hotel in Dublin

When Stephenson purchased it in 1957, it was an abandoned stable that he quickly turned into a James Bond bachelor pad. Inspired by equal parts: jazz and disco, this was the place to be in the 60s and 70s. Famous politicians and stars alike gravitated towards the laid back, yet eccentric atmosphere.

Boasting secluded gardens, giant beds, and sunken rooms, it felt more like staying inside of an Andy Warhol installation than temporary housing. Number 31 fits perfectly on your last night when you make travel plans to Ireland. If you’re anywhere near the Emerald Isle, this hotel is something you have to see to believe.

Blog post graphic for "Travel Guide: Travel Plans to Ireland" with image of old castle

Breath-taking adventures await you on this majestic island. The food and drinks rent space in your head and you’ll be thinking about it long after you leave. Unique experiences of history and culture are just a flight away. What are you waiting for? The Land of Saints and Scholars is calling your name. You should make your travel plans to Ireland as soon as possible.  For more pictures from our travels and all things Oceano, follow us on Instagram,