Travel Guide: Ireland's Southern Countryside
My family spent almost two weeks in Ireland and the UK for my Grandma’s 80th birthday last year. For those of you catching up, we went in November (left on Thanksgiving day) and the whole trip was very festive and got us in to the Christmas spirit. I highly recommend going at that time!
First, we spent 3 nights and 4 days in Dublin, Ireland. Check out my Travel Guide: Dublin, Ireland here! Afterwards we headed to the Irish countryside (Waterford & Cork). Then we flew to Scotland. We ended our trip in England (more to come on those trips). Here is what we did and what we saw in Ireland’s Southern Countryside.
The number one thing I took away from this trip was that the time of year we went (November) and the time of week we went (week days instead of the weekends) made ALL the difference. We didn’t wait in any long lines. Most of my photos had zero other people in them. We felt like we had every place to ourselves! We legitimately walked right up to the Blarney Stone and didn’t see a single soul (we thought it was closed!). I highly recommend going to Ireland (or any trip, really), at non-peak times. It made all the difference for us and we enjoyed ourselves so much!
On our last day in Dublin, we woke up bright and early and took a cab to the rental car pick-up. The whole process probably took an hour. Once we had the keys to the car - really, a van that fit our group of 5 adults plus luggage - we drove back to the hotel to pick up all of our stuff! If you’re planning to do any amount of hopping between cities, I highly recommend renting a car or van. We loved it! Although we only used it for three days (two nights), it really made this leg of the trip a lot more manageable.
Once we picked up our luggage, we double checked our driving route, grabbed some coffee, and hit the road! Driving on the left side was a little weird at first, but once we were out of Dublin’s busy streets, we were really comfortable. The highways were spacious and the back roads weren’t crowded. A few times we felt stressed parking or merging, but for the most part, driving was an easy way to see the countryside!
From Dublin, we routed to the city of Waterford. I scheduled lunch followed by a tour of the Waterford Factory. Again, I did book our tickets in advance since I knew we had a tighter timeline. Lunch at the House of Waterford was fun, but nothing to write home about. It was convenient and there were some cute pastry offerings for dessert. But we were there for the factory tour to see how the famous hand-cut crystal is made!
WATERFORD CRYSTAL FACTORY TOUR
This Waterford Crystal Factory Tour was something my Grandma and parents were looking forward to, as they both have Waterford crystal in their wedding china sets. The tour groups are small, I believe up to 15 or so. We only had 9 people in our group at noon on a week day. We shopped in the store while we waited for the tour guide to call us up. I ended up buying a few crystal ornaments for family members who couldn’t make it on the trip. Everything was very tempting!
The tour of the factory starts with a quick video of the history of Waterford. Then the guide takes you through the very manual process of blowing, baking, tracing, and ultimately, cutting the glass. It is pretty remarkable that it is all done by hand! There are really neat items on display, like the NCAA Championship trophy. Overall, the tour lasted about an hour and was interesting for all ages. Afterwards, we shopped a bit more and then hopped back in the van to get to our hotel for the night.
One of the things my family was MOST excited for, was our stay the Waterford Castle. We only stayed one night, but it was totally worth it! To get to the castle, you have to take an auto-ferry to the island. The only thing on the island is the castle and it’s grounds, which include a few lodges, the main castle, and room for guest activities like golf.
When we arrived at the castle it was already getting dark, so we wandered around the grounds and took photos while the hotel brought our luggage into our rooms. After we got our fill of photos, we went inside and explored the lobby with a massive fireplace, the bar, and the restaurant. Then we went to our rooms to get changed for dinner. The rooms are big and made of mostly stone, so it can get chilly at night! The hotel is modernized enough to get by (you’re able to charge your phone and such), but it still feels very much like a castle inside!
Before dinner, we headed to the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. There was a wide selection of whiskey and you could order almost any specialty cocktail of your choosing. I had arranged for a special 80th birthday dinner for my Grandma this night and the hotel did not disappoint. Dinner was FABULOUS! It was three courses with immaculate service. They even printed my Grandma’s name and birthday on the menu! Dessert was amazing…
After dinner, we had night caps and (more) treats by the huge fireplace in the lobby. The hotel was starting to decorate for Christmas, so the trees were going up and ornaments were laying around. It was pretty cool to see the transformation start. The employees said the decorating happens during the week and overnight, so when guests wake up, the castle is decked-out for the holidays!
JAMESON DISTILLERY TOUR
The next morning we woke up early and said goodbye to our castle. It was pretty magical, but we were excited to hit the road again and see more countryside. We also decided to make a detour and hit the Jameson Distillery in Midleton, Ireland. I was able to call ahead and get us added to the 11:00am tour on the spot, which was pretty nice!
The tours were nice and small, again, a product of going on a week-day I think. We loved our tour guide and walking around the distillery grounds. Midleton is where all of the special reserve bottles of Jameson are made, which was pretty neat to see. There are tons of different buildings, some at least a hundred years old, and each is used for a different purpose in the distilling process. At the end of the tour you do a blind taste test to see if you can identify Jameson vs. other whiskey brands. My husband and Dad loved this tour and both bought a bottle to commemorate the trip.
After the Jameson Tour, we finished our drive to Cork. We had reservations to stay at the Hayfield Manor and then go visit the Blarney Stone. Hayfield Manor was gorgeous! They were completely decked out for Christmas with trees in every room and fireplaces roaring. We felt so cozy the second we checked in. The hotel lobby and bar were buzzing with action. I loved it! If you are planning to go to the Blarney Stone on your trip to Ireland, I highly recommend staying at the Hayfield Manor - we had the best time there!
I had made reservations for us to have afternoon tea at the hotel before we headed to the Blarney Castle. Tea was so good, I couldn’t believe it. We sat in a cozy room with a twinkling Christmas tree. There was coffee, tea, and champagne. The tea trays that arrived were gorgeous and so so yummy. Each person got their own piece of everything to try it all. The cucumber sandwiches were my favorite.
BLARNEY CASTLE & STONE
One thing I really enjoyed was visiting the Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. We drove from our hotel to the castle in the late afternoon (after tea) and only had an hour or so of daylight left. We soon found out the castle sits inside a park and the park closes at dusk! So we hustled to get our entry tickets and made our way to the castle. The park was beautiful, so meticulously landscaped. We walked through it and took some pictures before heading to the front of the castle.
Once inside the castle, we climbed through the hallways and stairs. There are a lot of look-out points to see down into the castle and out onto the grounds. The steps can be slippery and the walkways are narrow, so my Grandma actually waited at the bottom for us. We waved to her from the top!
Once you get to the top of Blarney Castle, you make your way to the Blarney Stone. This is an attraction, folks, so there are hired people standing there that help you get into the correct position and “lower” you down to kiss the stone. It’s a pretty awkward position, but most people can do it with a little help. I was slightly nervous, but did it anyway! You are essentially laying on your back kissing the stone from the underside, if that makes sense. Definitely different than what I envisioned!
After kissing the Blarney Stone we made our way back out of the castle, through the park, and to our car. We did stop at the gift shop, of course! The castle looked gorgeous lit-up at night. We headed back to Hayfield Manor for an easy dinner at the bar and got up early to make our way to Edinburgh. More on that later. I hope you enjoyed this recap of our time in Ireland’s Southern Coast.