Ireland is a special place for me.
Half of my husband’s family is Irish, he proposed to me there in 2015, and it was where we originally planned to marry.
Our dream was to have an intimate wedding with our closest loved ones joining us overseas to celebrate in Ireland. But, family drama ensued, forcing us to wed stateside. Because of this, we decided to honeymoon there instead this past summer. After visiting once before, we really wanted to get the lay of the land and immerse ourselves in the true culture, not just the touristy stuff we did the first time around. I was a bit worried about what we were going to eat since we are vegan and Ireland isn’t exactly known for kale and veggie burgers. But as you will discover, we really didn’t have any trouble finding a good meal in the month we were there. And when we did, we hit up a Tesco and bought our own food to prepare at home.
There is something sacred about being on Irish soil. It is powerful and fierce and stays with you for the rest of your life. There is a freedom. It makes your soul yearn for the biting sea air and endless green once you’re home again. It’s in the forest. It’s in the water. It’s in the blood of the people. It’s sailors. It’s stories. It’s songs.
I will try to break up our month there by location, so if you (lucky bastard) happen to be traveling there or just want to skip ahead to the parts you want to read or find useful, hopefully this will make it easier for you to navigate. Read on to discover my top picks for places to stay, play, and eat in each location we visited in Ireland.
The Mighty Kingdom of Kerry
Where to Stay
Our first week was spent in the southern tip in Co. Kerry in a tiny cottage overlooking the sea at an estate called Westcove in Caherdaniel (where we were originally supposed to marry). Caherdaniel is a quaint seaside town and I fell deeply in love with it. I would move there tomorrow if I could. It is a place where many Irish families go to camp or vacation during the summer months. If you are looking for an affordable place to stay with unbeatable views, Westcove is for you.
What to Do
We spent our days in Caherdaniel exploring the wild landscape. Derrynane House was one of our favorite daytrips. The vast array of horticulture combined with the beach walk, was very romantic and one of my favorite places in Co. Kerry.
If you’re ever in Caherdaniel, the Blind Piper is the place to go for music and drinks in the evening. I was literally brought to tears by the piper and guitarist the one night we enjoyed there. It was true music; old music. LOTR music, if you know wha’ I mean. Nothing electric. Just a man and his instrument baring his soul.
My husband, also a musician, whether from drink or from lack of holding a guitar for a week, ended up playing a few songs with the band in front of a packed bar. I have to admit I was worried, because not only are tourists who are expecting to see authentic Irish music a tough crowd, but the musicians themselves were so talented. But my husband had the whole bar clapping and singing along to a song he wrote, and it was one of those nights that I will remember for the rest of my life.
One of our last days in Kerry we ventured to Portmagee to visit the infamous Skellig Michael (if you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll know some of the most recent films were shot here). Our captain, known as “Careful Dan” took us on his skiff across the briny black water (about an hour’s trip) to these massive islands (aka rocks) jutting out of the sea. They told us it was a “perfect day” for sailing, and it was raining the entire time. Apparently, some days they weren’t able to make it out by boat because of the weather. I didn’t understand why at first, but after experiencing the boat ride and witnessing almost everybody on board get seasick, I realized how easy it would have been to capsize. Alas, Careful Dan got us there and back in one piece. It was intimidating arriving in a tiny boat to the Skellings. It was one of those moments in life where you really feel small and are reminded that nature is so much more powerful than us tiny humans.
When we got off, we were given a set time to be back at the boat, then made our winding way up to the monk steps, which were essentially slabs of rocks jutting out the side of a mountain. We were given a speech and told we weren’t babies if we backed out of going all the way up (since people had recently DIED there by falling off the steps). Given my fear of heights, I made it up the first hill on the steps (there was no guard rail OK?) and sat my ass down to watch the puffins (which was a delight) and wait for my Celtic warrior of a husband to get up and down the mountain. He even helped some people who were frightened. Some lady ended up crawling back down on her hands and knees because the drop-off was so steep. The whole trip to the Skelligs and back was about 4 – 5 hours.
When we got back to the mainland, we headed to the tavern and celebrated our adventure with prosecco (for me) and whiskey (for him) and a big bowl of vegan pasta the chef made especially for us.
Another favorite place for us while in Kerry was Kenmare. Oh, what a lovely little town. It is the place to buy all of your “touristy” gifts and actually get something authentic from Ireland and not elsewhere. We originally ventured there because we were searching for vegan food that did not consist of chips (fries) or booze.
Where to Eat
In Kenmare we found the Bookstop Café and Mick & Jimmy’s. Both are wonderful, affordable, quality restaurants. The Bookstop Café was a delight for lunch because it was – as the name suggests – a plant-based restaurant filled with books! What could be better for two vegan writers? We enjoyed our meal in their little backyard garden and befriended a local cat, who shared crispy tofu with my husband and carrot cake with me.
Mick & Jimmy’s was a bit more on the fancy side, and perfect for dinner. It’s a funky little restaurant and we enjoyed a decadent black bean burger there. I am a foodie, through and through, and it is a dream of mine to own a restaurant someday. That said, I am pretty critical of the food I eat, when I do go to a restaurant. If you’re not a vegan, you might be wondering – how can you be a foodie if you’re plant-based/vegan? Don’t you just eat, like, lettuce? Well, yes and no. I do enjoy lettuce, but it needs to be (for example) massaged butter lettuce with aged balsamic vinegar drizzled over it. I’m not one to force any diet dogmas on anybody. I always say, “it’s all about how your food makes you feel.” And if your food makes you feel like shit, you might question why you continue to eat it.
Just some *food* for thought.
When you’re plant-based, I truly believe you focus on the ingredients, because you don’t have a bunch of animal products to cover it up. So, the food actually needs to taste good. (And no, I don’t consider people who only eat junk vegan food like Oreo’s [but, hey! Oreo’s are vegan!] to be vegans.) But I digress. Mick & Jimmy’s did just that. They took quality, local ingredients and made an incredible meal.
Doolin, Co. Clare
The next part of our trip around the Emerald Isle brought us to Doolin. It was where we were engaged two years before and it was a must to stop back at the Cliffs of Moher. If you haven’t been there, it’s an incredible feat of nature and iconic Ireland. Wave-beaten black cliffs jutting out of the sea, black water crashing below, storming clouds in the near distance — supposedly it can be sunny there, but both times I’ve been the wind nearly knocked me over the side of the cliffs. I’m actually not certain how my husband was able to convince me to stray off the safety path (there are concrete barriers that go some of the length of the cliffs to keep people from falling off) given my fear of heights. There are even signs that are in memorial of those who lost their lives to the Cliffs, self-inflicted or otherwise.
It’s also swarming with people from all over the world. When we were there for the first time, it was February and not at all busy. But June – hell no. I would never go back in the summer again.
Alas, we traversed the Cliffs, got our pictures, and left.
Where to Stay
For our lodging, we rented a thatch roof cottage at the top of Doonagore Hill via AirBnB. It was a nice change after the old cottage in Kerry. This place was recently renovated and it felt like we were the first to stay there. We made most of our meals there and relaxed by the black stove fireplace at night. AirBnB has some great options whilst in Doolin.
What to Do
We took a ferryboat to Inis Oirr and spent the day wandering around the island. To me, being from Michigan, it sort of felt like a way cooler version of Mackinaw Island. The traditional Irish way of life is preserved there, you’ve got to take a boat to reach it, lots of rugged landscape, and there’s tons of little shops to visit. We wandered around for a few hours – met a couple cows and horses – then pretty much bar-hopped thereafter until it was time to go home.
We also saw a man in a wetsuit swimming with a wild dolphin. Yep, you read that right. They were for sure friends, because the dolphin was playing with him – swimming up alongside him and following him around. A crowd gathered on the beach to watch. Two teen boys decided they wanted to swim with the dolphin too, but when they got in the water the dolphin attacked them. Then, the dolphin man and his dolphin swam off together to the other end of the beach. Strange times.
On our drive from Doolin to Sligo (our next place of residence) we stopped at one of my favorite places on our whole trip: The Burren Perfumery.
If you’ve the chance to stop here, please, please do. If not, you can order their otherworldly perfumes/colognes online, here: burrenperfumery.com. I LOVE THIS PLACE. It feels like France in Ireland. Think: fresh perfumes and herbal beauty products made right from the Irish landscape, a fairy book garden you can meander through, and a café with food made right on-site. The next time I am in Ireland, I will for sure go back here.
Thereafter, on our road trip to Sligo, we stopped at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for truffles. Yes, they had vegan truffles! And they were wonderful.
Sligo, Co. Sligo
Sligo is a magical place. It’s Yeats Country, as they say. It’s a university town, it’s got a young and fresh feeling to it all while preserving the Irish authenticity people know and love. And it’s one of my favorite places in Ireland.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Glasshouse Hotel and it was the first hotel we stayed at on our trip. We got a room with a balcony overlooking the River Garavogue. It’s a really nice, modern hotel with a 60’s vibe to it.
What to Do
Whilst in Sligo, my husband got a tattoo of the trinity spiral on his chest at Fat Cat Tattoo, we took lots of walks in the park to watch the sun set over the Benbulbin Mountains, went to a metaphysical lecture at the Yeats House, and found our favorite restaurant in all of Ireland: Sweet Beat Café.
Where to Eat
Oh my. Yes. Sweet Beat Café is absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend their avocado toast and muffins. I’m also pretty certain, if my memory serves me, that everything on the menu was vegan. I appreciate restaurants that are not only vegan, but HEALTHY. That means something different to everybody, but to me, healthy means no canola oil, minimal soy products, fresh, local, organic. And Sweet Beat offered all of those things. So needless to say, we ate there every day we were in Sligo.
Dublin, Co. Dublin
No trip to Ireland is complete without a stopover in Dublin Town. To me, Dublin doesn’t even really feel like Ireland. It’s a melting pot of cultures and people with twisting alleyways and endless ways to get lost. It feels like any major European city, to me without all the tall buildings (which was refreshing). It was also sort of a culture shock for us though, after spending days in the country without seeing more than five other people on some days. In Dublin you can barely walk down the street without bumping into somebody else. I even watched a drunk kid whip out his willy and pee right there on the sidewalk while everybody walked by him, totally unconcerned.
What to Do & Where to Eat
But, I will say this: Dublin is a MECCA for vegans and foodies alike. I think I ate more in Dublin than I had in the month leading up to my wedding.
Our first night was spent on a vegan food tour of Dublin! Ah, how wonderful it was. We started in a swanky wine bar tasting vegan wine and pea pesto toast, then made it to six (I think? Seven?) other restaurants along the way. I would highly recommend this tour for anybody visiting Dublin because it was a great way to learn your way around the city by walking all over the place.
My favorite restaurant was, by far, Cornucopia. It is a vegetarian haven with tons of vegan options. I love the system they have down. You enter the restaurant, grab a tray, they load it up with whatever food you want, then you find a table and enjoy your meal. No muss, no fuss. No waiting on waiters. And the food is so damn good. Because of their rotating menu, we were able to get something different every time.
My husband adores whiskey. He is an Irishman, after all. I, however, cannot stand the taste. I’m a mead or tequila girl myself, but I wanted to learn more about the entire process, history and culture of Irish whiskey. So we embarked on a whiskey tour near Trinity College and did not leave sober, to say the least. How much history I actually took away from the whole ordeal… is to be left said.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Harding Hotel, which was great because it was in the center of Dublin and in walking distance to everything. Would I stay there again? No. But it was nice for what it was. If you’re looking for a luxury vacation, I wouldn’t recommend it.
However, I would recommend visiting Books Upstairs if you’re in the mood to pick up something to read while on your vacation. It’s a great place with bright blue paint on the outside, near Trinity College.
Glendalough & Laragh, Co. Wicklow
While we enjoyed our time in Dublin, it was time to retreat back into the country after a wild four days.
We booked a cottage just outside Glendalough in Laragh for our last week in Ireland. While this was great for a few days, I wish we hadn’t spent the entire week here. We did a lot of traveling during this week to local historical sites, beaches, etc. and the traveler in me was hungry to be on the move to another location. But this leg of the trip was more relaxing. We visited gardens, did tons of hiking and went horse riding.
What to Do
My favorite place we visited whilst in Laragh was Powerscourt House & Gardens. Just about an hour’s drive from Laragh, we spent the entire day pretending we were royalty at this gorgeous estate exploring the gardens. The Avoca restaurant was pretty incredible, too. It was a really peaceful day and the next time I visit Ireland, I want to stay here at the Powerscourt Hotel. This place is really a must-see if you’re in the area. The gardens are rated as one of the best in Europe.
A great place to get both a taste of the arts and the forest is Devil’s Glen in Co. Wicklow. It is a beautiful place to get lost in the trees while you stumble across some incredible pieces of modern art, right out there in the forest, as if they sprung naturally from the earth. We unfortunately arrived here just before it was about to close for the day, so we didn’t get to see as much of the Glen as we wanted to.
Where to Eat
On our last day, we visited Greystones (an adorable seaside village) so we could see what all the hype about the Happy Pear was about. This quirky little restaurant did not disappoint. After lunch, we got vegan chocolate croissants and made our way to the beach where we enjoyed our last day in Ireland fully indulging in both the decadent food and wild Irish Sea.
Reflections on a Month Well-Spent
Ireland is a magical, magical place. The energy here is otherworldly and if you ever have a chance to visit, do it. We found it to be an affordable place to travel (compared to other places in Europe) and the people are so genuinely friendly, helpful, and passionate about their country. The people and culture are truly what make this such an amazing vacation destination.
The only “complaint” I have is that the roads are so f*cking small. But this is coming from somebody who was a first-time car renter in the EU. So, call me spoilt for being used to big American roads, but having to be pulled out of a ditch (because you were ran off the road by a tour bus) by a local famer with a tractor isn’t any fun. But cheers to that local farmer, because he saved our asses.
And cheers to you, Ireland. Because we had the best honeymoon I’ve ever been on (lol). And I cannot wait to go back again.
Have you ever been to Ireland? Where are your favorite places to stay, play & eat? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time,