Writer, New Yorker, traveling mom and The Vacation Gals contributor Holly Fink recently toured Ireland courtesy of Insight Vacations. Here’s her report:
A few years ago, I toured Southern Ireland with my husband and school-age children. We traveled through the Ring of Kerry and Dingle, learning history, eating Irish cuisine and taking in fabulous scenery. We were visiting friends and were given a real dose of culture and Irish heritage. It was a wonderful trip and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
But seeing Ireland without the kids in tow is another story. On my trip to the Emerald Isle in October, I was able to linger longer during particular points in time and really take everything in. There is no question that when traveling with a family, your itinerary is very different than when traveling solo.
Traveling Solo (ish) Through Ireland
That’s right, I was a solo traveler for eight days. Traveling solo brings out my inner explorer and sets the stage for me to make new friends, escape my daily routine and be inspired. As much as I can do with my children, I can do so much more without them, and this trip — a luxury package tour via Insight Vacations called “Treasures of Ireland” — was no exception.
For eight days, I was shown the best of Ireland, on a coach with leg space and free Wifi while accompanied by a native Irishman as our guide. Insight is about timeless moments – not just about the beauty and food of a country, but about the people you meet and the stories you hear. And I had plenty of that during my time in Ireland. Our tour guide, Mike, made the experience truly unique, offering snippets about the country only natives know – introducing us to Irish coffee, offering pints of Guinness at lunchtime, teaching us the basics of hurling (the local sport) and even taking us to one of the best hotels in Europe, the infamous Ashford Castle.
The tour company Insight really goes out of its way to appeal to solo travelers, offering a single room at no extra cost when there is no second occupant available. The comfy coaches also only have 40 seats — which means groups are kept intentionally small. The trip includes welcome and round-trip transfer, as well as luggage delivery and all tips. Insight chooses top-notch hotels and restaurants and customers are given incredible access to sites and attractions.
My Journey Through the Emerald Isle
There were so many moments in time on this trip I would like to freeze-frame. No trip to Ireland is complete without a stop in Dublin, and introduction to the capital city was brief but splendid. We were taken on a tour of Trinity College’s famed library containing the 9th century Book of Kells and enjoyed a delicious welcome dinner at O’Connells in Donnybrook Restaurant, where we indulged in authentic Irish dishes such as Irish Lamb, County Cork landed Atlantic Hake and traditional Sherry Trifle. Needless to say, my palate was humming. This would be the first of many grand meals.
We continued on to Kilkenny to learn the art of hurling, Ireland’s proud sport. Then we headed to the Rock of Cashel, a medieval castle with burials. It was beautiful and haunting at the same time. We then headed to Killarney where we stepped back in time on a horse and carriage ride, passing by a castle dated 1693 and a medieval cathedral.
The trip was full of special moments, and the journey around the Ring of Kerry was no exception, passing towering cliffs, lush lakes and remote villages. We were blessed with good weather so our trip around Dingle was simply glorious as we explored see Early Christian monuments, Iron Age fortifications and Dingle Bay and ended up in County Limerick on the banks of the River Shannon.
After being escorted over a drawbridge by a bag piper at Ashford Castle, my life may never be the same again. A member of Leading Hotels of the World, the hotel was once home to the Guinness family for more than 100 years before being turned into one of Europe’s most luxurious hotels. And luxurious it is. After a thorough, two-year renovation that was just completed earlier this year, the hotel has been lovingly restored to reflect its royal history. My room felt like a regal stateroom with its share of antiques, tapestries and classical artwork, and while exploring the hotel, there were moments I felt like I was on the actual “Downton Abbey” estate. Luckily, we had time to explore and fully experience the hotel, so I was able to partake in its falconry school, go on a lengthy bike ride around the property’s woodlands, take a lovely boat ride around the castle and enjoy a gorgeous dinner in the George V Dining Room.
And Back Again…. in Dublin
I was delighted that our return to Ireland’s capital included a visit to the world-famous Guinness Brewery (yes, I’ve written the word “Guinness” three times now). As I mentioned, the beauty of traveling with Insight is its access, so a local who taught us how to pour the perfect pint showed us around the museum. Then Insight hosted our farewell dinner at an exclusive restaurant called Residence Club on St. Stephen’s Green.
There is nothing shabby about access, ease and level of detail in a trip around Ireland, let me tell you. If I wasn’t a packaged tour user before this trip, my opinions have changed since. I was gone for eight whole days, but I never forgot my responsibilities as a mom. I checked in often and brought back trinkets for my kids. But I’m an adult — with adult tastes — and this trip really appealed to the explorer within me.
Holly Fink is passionate about culture and travel. She’s the founder of The Culture Mom and has contributed to Findery, MiniTime, Ciao Bambino, Family Vacation Critic, Go Girlfriend, CBS.com, Savvy Source and has been featured on Huffington Post, Yahoo Travel, Parade and other travel websites.