“Do you want a trip to Ireland that everyone does, or do you want a trip that you two will love?” Jonathan Epstein, owner of Celebrated Experiences and one of our closest friends, asked us when we told him we wanted to explore Ireland.
We chose the latter.
Granted, he asked us this question around one in the morning after one too many bottles of wine, which I’d imagine is a relatable scenario that many of you have found yourselves in for trip planning.
With this one question, I was able to put myself in your shoes, as our clients, trusting us to know you well enough to plan a customized vacation you will love. The result? Taking this trip made me an even firmer believer in allowing an expert to personalize a trip that you will love.
A large part of what we do for our clients is choosing the right partner, who we collaborate with on each and every vacation we plan, representing our travelers as we create a completely unique experience.
If you’re tired of taking the same photos as every Instagram influencer, let your Epperly Travel advisor know this in advance so we can craft a much more authentic getaway for you.
How do we go about planning a trip that doesn’t feel like the same thing everyone else is doing?
For starters, if your dates are flexible, we’ll work to identify an off or shoulder season period to avoid the crowds. As we drove around the narrow, winding roads to the Cliffs of Moher, we passed a coach bus or two. We were told by the locals that these busses pick up an insane amount as the destination opens up to its peak season (summertime!), which would’ve made for a much less enjoyable driving experience.
Second, we focused on a less traversed region of Ireland. While we fully believe we’ll return one day to do the more popular areas, like the Ring of Kerry, we instead started in Shannon and headed North.
Our itinerary began with a quick stint at Trump Doonbeg, a gorgeous golf course hotel that offers dramatic seaside views and spacious rooms. Not only that, their front desk team were the absolute loveliest people. After an overnight flight, arriving in the rain to their cozy lobby with their friendly staff felt live arriving home.
Thanks to Celebrated, we had our self-drive mapped out to enjoy spots all along the Wild Atlantic Way, which was every bit as breathtaking and rugged as the Cliffs of Moher themselves. At one point, the Atlantic ocean even roared up and soaked our car with a wave or two– it felt like the start of a great adventure.
We made our way further North on our itinerary, stopping for a food tour in Galway, an absolutely idyllic Irish town. I see why Ed Sheeran wrote about it. This gem of a city is filled with a young, modern vibe and tons of incredible food.
An hour away from Galway sits the picturesque Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, a hotel that feels equal parts castle and manor home, made all the more beautiful thanks to its setting along Ballynahinch Lake. The team here was equally as warm and hospitable as Trump Doonbeg, going above and beyond to make sure we were cozy and well-caffeinated as Jeremy and I did some business strategizing by one of the many fireplaces. I could have easily stayed longer here than our two nights as we barely scratched the surface on the property’s activities.
While here, we spent most of our time taking a drive through the Connamara region, which exceeded our expectations on what Ireland’s scenery could offer. As we ambled along rolling hillsides (filled with sheep, of course), we came to Killary Harbor, an actual fjord that felt like a scene from a Nordic country. What a treat – who knew Ireland had a fjord?!
We loved this drive so much that we went out of our way to do it again as we were leaving Ballynahinch, taking the detour route on the way to Ashford Castle.
When you think of Ireland, you likely think of staying in a castle for at least a portion of the trip. Let me tell you, Ashford Castle is everything I could hope for in a castle experience and more. The rooms and common areas felt stately and royal without being any sort of gaudy, the service felt formal without being stuffy, and the on property experiences were nothing short of epic. The property is home to the Ireland’s School of Falconry, so we booked a 60 minute private Hawk Walk to hang out with Ispini and Frodo:
For an hour, we were able to watch these incredible birds take to the forest to hunt, calling them back on occasion to reward them for a job well done (no, they didn’t catch anything while we were out, but I’d prefer it that way). What we learned about these birds of prey, their habits and the School of Falconry was absolutely incredible. I never knew falconry would be so fascinating!
To end our tour of Ireland, we hit the most obvious spot that everyone should incorporate into their itinerary, at least for a couple of nights: Dublin! This charming city was far less mini-mini-metropolis than we were expecting and way more “big college town” kind of vibe, between the college campuses and the number of pubs (maybe this is just because I’m a Bulldawg and Dublin gave Athens a real run for its money!).
We stayed at the Westbury, a stunning city hotel with excellent service and even more impressive common areas. This property, while modern and sleek, does not take itself too seriously, which I can appreciate of a good 5 star property and is so reminiscent of the fantastic Irish culture that we encountered – everyone is just down to earth, good natured, and not stuffy in the least. The Westbury’s restaurant, Wilde, is a total charmer, and their bar, Sidecar, is just stunning (then again, I’m going to like anything that offers a rolling martini cart).
We were able to experience the best parts of Dublin, and by best parts I mean the pubs and literary history and real-life insight into what it means to be Irish and proud, with our lovely guide arranged by Celebrated, Pat Liddy. Pat owns a company of guides that we work with on a regular basis and he literally wrote the map on Dublin – no joke, most of the maps used by the concierge have his signature on the bottom.
Now that’s a connection.
All throughout this trip, Jeremy and I kept saying to one another, “We are so glad that we chose a trip to Ireland that we would love instead of the same thing that every tourist book tells you to do.” Not only that, we fell so much in love with it that we actually still want to go back and do all of the tourist sites, but this was an excellent first encounter with the undiscovered side of Ireland.
Big thanks to all of our lovely hotel partners and our friends at Celebrated for arranging this getaway!