Southern Belle in Training

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle Blog || Est. 2012 || Virginia Beach, VA

February 3, 2023

IRELAND TRAVEL GUIDE: Insight Vacations Irish Elegance Tour Recap.

      I'm excited to finally be recapping the full itinerary of the Ireland trip that my mom and I did in May 2022! We experienced two and a half years of cancellations for this trip, first from my mom having a medical emergency and then for the pandemic. May 2022 was finally our time! I've blogged so far about the nicest hotel that we stayed at in Ireland, a full guide to all of the other hotels we stayed at, and an outfit diary of what I wore on the trip. Now it's finally time to recap the trip in full! I was taking a break from blogging for most of last spring and summer, and as you can see, I'm still playing catch-up from some of the blog posts I wanted to write in 2022.

      We traveled with Insight Vacations for their Irish Elegance tour, and I'll be recapping all of it for you today!

 We took this trip through Insight Vacations, which is a guided tour company for international travel. My mom and I had previously traveled with Insight in 2017 when we went to Italy! We had a really good experience on that trip, which lead to my parents using Insight when they went to Iceland in 2018. So, when my mom wanted to do another international trip with me, it was a quick decision to go with Insight Vacations again. They also offer decent discounts if you have traveled with them prior. We like Insight because they make international travel so easy and take care of all of the logistics- from ground transportation and hotels to most meals and activities. You also get the chance to meet really nice people from all over the US and other countries who are your travel companions! A lot of people that take Insight trips are older folks, but both of the tours I've been on with my mom have also had a few people in their 20s and 30s traveling as well, so I haven't been the only younger person.
       The Irish Elegance tour through Insight Vacations is a 7-night, 8-day bus tour. While the tour starts and ends in Dublin in the eastern part of Ireland, the majority of the trip is spent exploring the far west part of the country, known as Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. One disclaimer before I jump into everything: the majority of the meals on our trip were arranged for the tour group by our Insight tour guide. We did a lot of lunches at cafes on the premise of many of the attractions that we'd visit during the daytime, and most of our evening meals were private dinners for our group organized at our hotel restaurants. Because of this, I don't really have a ton of restaurant recommendations for this Travel Guide, since most meals were organized as part of our tour.

      I recapped all four of the hotels that we stayed at in THIS blog post! Just like with our group meals, all of the lodging was arranged with our Insight Vacations tour. One of the hotels was on the of the best that I'll probably ever stay at in my life, another hotel I also really loved, and the other two were okay (pros and cons for these two). 

      Insight Vacations gives you the option to start your trip a day early or end it a day late, by extending your stay at the first and last hotel of the trip. For our Italy trip in 2017 we opted to arrive a day early, and it was great to help with the jet lag! We were more rested and adjusted for the next day when our tour actually began. We tried to do the same thing this time for Ireland and arrive in Dublin a day early. The Irish Elegance tour itinerary didn't include much time to explore Dublin, so we were excited to have an extra day of free time. 
     Unfortunately, there were storms on the East Coast in the NYC/NJ area on the day that we were supposed to leave for Ireland from Newark, NJ. Neither my mom or I could get to Newark, and our Ireland flight was also cancelled for the weather. So unfortunately, we lost that extra day to explore Dublin, which we had been really looking forward to. Once we were finally able to fly out the next night, we were unable to both fly out of Newark. I still left from Newark, and my mom departed the country via Chicago. My Newark flight ended up getting delayed a few hours, but that worked out as it ended up arriving just a few minutes after my mom's flight from Chicago, so we met up in the customs line! 
     Here's the first glimpse I had of Ireland! Historically, I've never been able to sleep on overnight flights, but I think I was so tired from all of the flight cancellations and delays that I managed to get four hours of sleep. I was pleased with that! 

Day 1:
      My mom and I finally arrived in Ireland a day later than we were supposed to, but luckily it was just in time for our Insight Vacations tour to begin. After clearing customs, we found the person holding a transportation sign for our Insight group. Once everyone else had arrived, we all boarded a shuttle and headed for our first hotel. By the time we got checked into our room and met our tour director, we had only about 20 minutes to get settled and changed before heading out for a little Dublin excursion.
      Our bus dropped our group off at Dublin's historic Trinity College. This university dates back to the 1500s!! The Book of Kells, which is a famous piece of religious art from the Middle Ages, is displayed in the library at Trinity College. Our tour group toured the library at Trinity College to see The Book of Kells and the rest of the library. I'm not a big Harry Potter fan personally, but even I think that the gorgeous historic library definitely gives off Hogwarts vibes! (See the first picture below.)
      Our group then had a brief guided tour of the outside grounds of Trinity College, and then we had about 30 minutes to briefly wander around some of the nearby downtown Dublin streets. My mom and I popped into a couple souvenir shops, but since it was such a brief time that we had to explore, we mainly just admired the hustle and bustle of downtown Dublin and took photos. Our tour group then when back to our hotel, where we enjoyed our first group dinner together in the hotel restaurant. That evening before bed I called Ryan and my dad, and then finally got to sleep off the long travel day! 

      Since we had so little time between checking into our hotel and heading out to tour Trinity College, some jet lag and hunger started to catch up with me as soon as we arrived at Trinity College. (Hence why my mom and I had wanted to arrive a day before the trip! But alas, cancelled flights.) As soon as we entered the library to see The Book of Kells, I started fading fast. I needed food and caffeine ASAP. I dragged my mom quickly through the library tour, and then we darted across the street to a Costa Coffee location, where I grabbed a hot black tea and a toasted ham and cheese baguette sandwich. While Dublin does have Starbucks locations, Costa is like a European competitor of Starbucks. While there is nothing super special about their food or beverages, because I was so hungry and tired from travel everything tasted amazing. I kid you not- this toasted ham and cheese baguette I got was probably the best sandwich I've ever eaten in my life. 😂 I still think about it! I'm not sure if those are as tasty if you're not jet lagged, but I definitely want to try another next time I'm in Europe. I do feel badly for rushing my mom through the Trinity College Library tour so that I could get a snack. (My mom had been smart and done a better job eating healthy snacks during our travel day than I had.) But that will forever be remembered as the best tea and sandwich ever! Haha. 

Day 2:
     Unfortunately, the second day didn't get off the best start. We were woken in the middle of the night by a (false alarm) fire alarm going off in our hotel. It was tough to fall back asleep after. After breakfast, our tour group checked out of our first hotel and boarded the tour bus. We had a few hours of driving that day and two fun stops to get to.

      Our first stop of the day was at a traditional Irish pub in the tiny village of Urlingford. When I picture what I'd think a typical Irish village would look liked, I'd picture a place like Urlingford (a quiet and historic main street filled with local businesses). It was still late morning when we stopped at the pub, so they served us tea and scones with clotted cream instead of the typical Irish pub food that you might think of. I think it was my favorite scone that I ate on the trip. Another nice thing about traveling with tour companies like Insight Vacations is that they plan out creative rest stops like this to break up travel days. 

       We then went off to visit Blarney Castle and Gardens. You have probably heard before of the famous Blarney Stone in Ireland, and how if you kiss it you'll be blessed with the "gift of the gab" (gift of eloquence). The Blarney Stone is located at Blarney Castle! We were given the option to get in line to kiss it... but the line was 2+ hours long on the day we visited. My mom, myself, and a lot of the other folks on our tour decided to skip the line for the Blarney Stone and instead take a guided tour of the Blarney Castle Gardens. Definitely the right choice! The Gardens were absolutely beautiful, and I learned a lot about the types of plants and trees that can grow in Ireland's unique climate. We then had lunch at the cafe on the property before getting back on the tour bus.

     That night we arrived in Killarney and checked into our next hotel. We had another group dinner in the hotel restaurant, and then there was an Irish dance performance at a nearby venue that everyone went to see. My mom went with the rest of our group, but I was feeling very overtired from the combination of the travel stress from the originally canceled flight, the jet lag, and barely sleeping the night before because of the fire alarm. I was feeling very overwhelmed and not myself, and just wanted a quiet evening to rest and read in the hotel bed. As cool as it would've been to see the Irish dance performance, sometimes you need to listen to your body and intuition when you need a break. I am so glad that I stayed in that night, I felt much more myself the next day, and that next day ended up being one of my favorites of the trip! 

Day 3: 
     Aside from the sixth day of our trip (when we arrived at Ashford Castle), this was probably my next favorite day of the whole trip. It was a very full and fun day, and the most beautiful natural wonders that I saw in Ireland were all seen on this day! We started the day by going on a Jaunting Car ride in Killarney National Park. The start of Killarney National Park is right by downtown Killarney, so we didn't have to venture very far from our hotel. (Also, a cool fun fact- all national parks are free to everyone in Ireland!) The term "Jaunting Car" is a bit misleading- it's actually a fast-moving horse drawn carriage ride, not a crazy fast car ride! We got to see some beautiful sights in the park during our morning ride. 

      After the Jaunting Car ride ended, we boarded the tour bus and geared up for a big day of adventure. We spent the day driving the entire Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is a 111 mile route in County Kerry, in the southwestern part of Ireland. It passes through many charming small villages and the most stunningly beautiful natural wonders. The road is small and winding and there are some terrifying curves and hills! I personally would never feel comfortable driving it in a rental car. This is another reason I was thankful that we were doing an Insight Vacations bus tour, our awesome bus driver took care of all of the tough driving on roads like The Ring of Kerry! 

      We left for The Ring of Kerry in the late morning. We took a couple brief rest stops at tourist shops during the start of the day. As we kept on following the road, the natural wonders became even more beautiful. There are lots of places to pull over and enjoy the views along The Ring of Kerry, and we stopped at several to take pictures and stretch our legs. The beautiful cliffs and mountains that you can see from the overlooks are just magnificent!!

       The big rest stop of the day was at Derryanne National Historic Park and Beach. We had lunch in the cafe on-sight, and then met up with a tour guide to walk on the beach and learn about the types of seaweed that are natural to the area. The oceanwater color at Derryanne Beach is bright aquamarine and looks just like the Caribbean! Kind of freaky to see since the water isn't warm at all in Ireland. 

       We took another brief afternoon rest stop in the colorful village of Sneem that afternoon, and we finally made it back to Killarney in the early evening. This was the only evening of the trip that we were on our own for dinner separate from our tour companions. Our hotel was in such a central location in Killarney, and it was easy to walk the main streets to find restaurant options. We ate dinner at an Irish-Italian spot right downtown called Salvadors and Robertino's. After dinner, I grabbed ice cream at the Killarney location of Murphy's Ice Cream, which is a chain throughout Ireland.

Day 4:
     We left Killarney and started driving for the Cliffs of Moher, which was about three hours north. There were many days that I would drift in and out of sleep on the tour bus, but on this day I think I slept the most. I napped for a lot of the drive, and I think I even napped through our rest stop. (Our Insight Vacations tour guide was always talking on the bus through his microphone, but I found that by downloading white noise on Spotify I could tune out the talking!)

      The Cliffs of Moher is probably Ireland's famous natural wonder and tourist attraction. I was definitely excited to see it. We finally got there around lunchtime. I will always be honest with you on my blog... so my honest opinion is that I really didn't enjoy visiting here very much! It was absolutely overrun with tourists. I'm talking hundreds (maybe thousands?!) of people. Tour busses upon tour busses upon tour busses of people. The weather also changed dramatically once we arrived. It was windy and cold beyond belief. So windy that it was tough to even really take in the sights of the Cliffs! We also got lunch in the cafe on-sight, and this was by far the busiest museum or attraction cafe that we went to during our whole trip. It was absolutely packed, and we also had to wait a bit for food. I just kind of felt claustrophobic the whole time we were at the Cliffs of Moher. While they are really cool to see, I personally thought the various cliff and mountain views while driving The Ring of Kerry were more majestic to see! (And a lot less people, too.)

       We then got back in the bus and had another couple hour stretch of driving. We took a very brief rest stop in Galway to tour the famous Galway Cathedral. Although I'm not Catholic, I've always had a fond appreciation for visiting Catholic churches. (Partly because they usually have beautiful architecture, and partly because I have many Catholic family members on my mom's side of the family.) 

       After visiting the Cathedral, we got back on the bus and drove about 25 minutes out to our third hotel of the trip, the Connemara Coast hotel. We had a couple hours to relax and explore before dinner with everyone in the hotel restaurant. My mom and I checked out the ocean views from the back of the hotel, and then I cozied up in the lobby with a book for a while. We then had dinner in the hotel restaurant with our tour companions. 

Day 5: 
     After breakfast at the hotel, we boarded the bus for a day trip adventure. We had the option to pick from two different day trips: visiting an Irish oyster farm, or touring Kylemore Abbey, which is a historic castle turned girls boarding school turned nunnery. I'm not a fan of oysters at all, so it was an easy choice for me to pick Kylemore Abbey. My mom and I decided to start the day with an early lunch in the cafe at Kylemore Abbey, which was smart. We were then able to spend the rest of the time exploring without being hungry! We toured Kylemore Castle and learned about the history of the castle and the family that lived there before Kylemore became a boarding school and abbey. We also toured the chapel on the property and enjoyed the mountain and lake views. 

      We made it back to our hotel in the late afternoon and had a little bit of time to freshen up before leaving for Galway. Our tour group went back into Galway for the evening. We met a local tour guide and did a 30 minute walking tour through some of the city's most popular streets, and then our Insight tour guide met us again and took us to dinner at a local pub in Galway. That's where I tried my first-ever Guinness! (As you can see in the photos below, I wasn't a big fan haha.)

      This was probably my least favorite itinerary day of the trip. Don't get me wrong- Kylemore Abbey is a beautiful and historic place to visit. I didn't have a bad time seeing it! But I am confused why the Insight Vacations itinerary for this day included that, and only a couple hours in the evening in Galway. Galway seemed like such a cool city with so much to do! I would've loved to spend a full day wandering the streets, shopping, eating more local food, and maybe checking out some attractions like the aquarium. Kylemore Abbey (and the oyster farm if we had chosen that excursion) were both in very far-out, rural locations, with a lot of time in the bus to get there. I am much more of a city girl in general, and would've really enjoyed extra time in Galway, especially since our trip didn't really have much Dublin time (and we lost our extra day). Anyways- mini rant over! Just my one honest opinion of this part of the trip. Kylemore Abbey is still a very cool and beautiful place!

Day 6: 
      My favorite day of the trip! We checked out of our hotel on the coast and boarded the bus. We drove back through Galway and kept going until we reached the charming little village of Cong. Similarly to the village of Urlingford that we visited on the second day of the trip, Cong is like the quintessential Irish village. Small, historic, and filled with colorful buildings housing unique local businesses. We had a few hours to spend in Cong before checking in to our next hotel. My mom and I grabbed lunch in a cafe, and then I visited the post office to finally buy stamps for postcards for everyone back in the US (I'm a big postcard writer on trips!), and I also spent some time checking out Irish grocery items in a convenience store there. I am always fascinated by grocery shopping when traveling! 

     After finishing our time in Cong, it was time to head over to take a short boat ride to our final hotel: Ashford Castle! I could go on and on and on here for you about how amazing our 24 hours at this five-star luxury resort was... but instead of making this blog post even longer, I wrote a whole separate review of Ashford Castle that I published a few months ago! I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read it. This resort is truly unbelievable. I will probably never get to stay somewhere like this again in my life! That is just another reason why traveling abroad with companies like Insight Vacations is so great. They're able to get exclusive discounts to make luxury experiences accessible to their travelers. We never could have afforded to stay here on our own! 

      Anyways- the rest of this day was just amazing being at Ashford Castle. Visiting their Falconry on the property was a huge highlight! You can read in detail about everything in my Ashford Castle Hotel Guide.

Day 7:
      This day began with the best breakfast that I've ever had in my life at Ashford Castle! Sadly after breakfast it was time to check-out of Ashford and board the bus for the drive back to Dublin. We took one rest stop on the way back to Dublin for a quick snack and bathroom break- I can't remember the name of the town. 

      We checked back into the first hotel from the start of our trip, and had a little bit of down time before dinner. Our tour group then departed for our final group meal of the trip! We went to another traditional Irish pub, this one was called The Old Punch House. It was a bittersweet last dinner with the people we had gotten to know so well during the week! I also finally had a Bailey's on the rocks while at dinner... it's always been a favorite adult beverage of mine and it only seemed fitting to have one in Ireland! We had a very early wakeup call for our flights back to the US the next day, so it was not a late night for us. 

Our Insight Vacations tour guide, Robbie!

Day 8: 
      The most hellish travel day of my entire life getting back to the US. United Airlines canceled our return flight back to the US. Unlike the start of our trip when it was weather related cancellations, these cancellations had nothing to do with weather and were solely a United issue. Thanks to legislation in the European Union, airlines are subject to compensate passengers generously for non-weather flight issues originating from EU countries. After a very long and tense morning dealing with several United agents at the airport, we were able to be re-booked onto an American Airlines flight (paid for by United). Of course, things kept going wrong after that! The security lines at the Dublin Airport were absolutely ridiculous (I had never seen anything like this in my life and hope to never again), and then when we finally made it onto the new American flight, the plane was grounded for 2+ hours to wait for a few passengers who got held up in the security line. When we finally arrived in Charlotte, NC we were pretty delayed. I had a mere 10 minutes (!!!) to run across the entire Charlotte airport to make my flight back to Virginia. Somehow I made it, but my luggage did not arrive until the next day. But we made it home!! I slept so well that night.

     Once we got home, we were eligible to apply for compensation for our travel issues. They ended up giving us a few choices for compensation. My mom took the cash payout (I think it was $600-700 range?), and I opted for a $1000 flight voucher. I am excited to be using my voucher for a trip with my dad this summer! 

     Thank you so much for reading!! Here are the other blog posts I've written about this trip:

     Also, I just realized coming to the end of my Ireland recaps... I failed to get many good photos for this post of all of the sheep that we saw in Ireland! There were sheep everywhere!! Sometimes our tour bus would even have to stop abruptly for sheep to cross the roads 🐑 So if you're ever in Ireland, expect to see them all over!

      God Bless,

      xoxo Annaliese 


  1. The picture of you with the Guinness made my day!! So cute. This looks like such a great mom and daughter trip. We loved our time in Ireland, and TOTALLY agree about the Cliffs. So crowded and miserable weather for 1 or 2 photos.

  2. Ireland is absolutely on my bucket list - your pictures are beautiful! When we went to Scotland in 2020, we were told that there are something like 3-4 sheep for each person in Scotland! They were everywhere - seems Ireland must be the same!


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