Ireland Tour Review: EF Tours

After a successful trip to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London we joined the Wilmington College tour group again on their EF Tour to Ireland in 2014. Our trip took us to Dublin, Blarney, Kinsale, Cork, Killarney, the Ring of Kerry and the Rock of Cashel, ending back in Dublin for a final day before our flight home. As far as flights to Europe go, this one is fairly easy at 6 hours, making Ireland a great place to visit for first-time travelers to Europe. Additionally, there’s no language barrier and the trip is far more relaxed and laid back than other European city tours. It’s also astonishingly beautiful. Here’s what I thought of our EF Ireland Tour.

Dublin, Ireland

Our group landed in Dublin, Ireland and was met by our guide at the luggage pickup. We hopped on a bus and immediately got an overview of Dublin, a city rich in history and character. Our entry into Ireland also included a walking tour of the city, including the famous Temple Bar area, known for its nightlife, the history, a stop in the church where Handel first performed The Messiah, a walk through the beautiful shopping district of Grafton Street, a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and, of course, a tour of the Guinness Factory where we learned how to properly pour and drink the famous stout.

Our Itinerary in Dublin, Ireland included:

  • Bus Tour of Dublin
  • Walking tour of O’Connell Street, shopping district and Temple Bar.
  • Visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Visit to Trinity College to see the famous Book of Kells
  • Tour of Dublin Castle
  • Dinner and a fantastic Irish Step Dancing performance
  • Expert guided walking tour on the history of the Easter Uprising
  • Time on our own to explore and shop

Dublin Tour Review

Lodging: Good. Our Hotel in Dublin was a short walk to O’Connell Street, the rooms were clean but small, as is typical in Europe. Bathrooms were small but functional.

Food: Fair. Irish meals consisted mainly of meat, potatoes, and an overcooked vegetable. That being said, the pubs have wonderful beers on tap, the whiskey is great and I had the best Irish Coffee I’ve ever had in my life on our tour of the Ring of Kerry. The dinner and Irish dancing event in our hotel was spectacular.

Excursions and Itinerary: Excellent. The walking and bus tours are a great way to get an overview of the city, and the trip to Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and time to explore the city and hang out with the locals in the pubs at Temple Bar was fun and exciting.

Kinsale, Ireland

After our stay in Dublin, we boarded our bus to head to Blarney, with a lunch stop and walk through the beautiful fishing village of Kinsale, Ireland. Taking the bus gave us the opportunity to see the lush, green countryside for which Ireland is known. Instead of dropping us off in town, we disembarked outside of the village and walked into town, where we could enjoy the beautiful views of the village and ancient fortresses before stopping in a local pub to get some lunch and, of course, an Irish Stout.

Blarney, Ireland

We visited in March, so, unfortunately, our weather was cold and mostly rainy throughout the week. In fact, our guide mentioned to us that the spring had been unusually rainy and they were experiencing flooding in some parts of the country. Thankfully this did not affect our visit to Blarney. Our stay was short, one day and one night, but well worth the stop. We stayed in the restored Blarney Woolen Mill, converted to a hotel, pub, and shop. The shop sells the most extensive selection of Irish woolen items I’ve ever seen, along with plenty of wonderful Irish gifts. When I discovered that they would ship my purchases back to the US, well, let’s just say I bought a few things.

Our visit included a trip to the famous Blarney Castle and the opportunity to climb the Keep and kiss the Blarney Stone. Doing so, according to legend, will give you the gift of the gab. Blarney Castle and the surrounding grounds is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life. The castle soars out of the lush green undergrowth like something you’d see in a fairytale movie.

Our Trip to Blarney Included

  • Dinner in Blarney Hotel – Hint: I learned from a local Irishman that it’s NOT ok to sample Jameson and Bushmills whiskeys together. He seemed quite horrified and made sure I knew of his disappointment.
  • Visit to Blarney Castle
  • Overnight Stay in The Blarney Woolen Mills Hotel
  • Plenty of time to shop in the wool factory

Blarney Tour Review

Lodging: Excellent. Staying in the transformed mill was a great experience.

Food: I honestly do not remember what we ate. I’m sure it was adequate but I’ve not been impressed with food from this region.

Excursions and Itinerary: Excellent! The visit to Blarney Castle was self-paced, leaving us plenty of time to explore and take photos.

Pace: Moderate. There was plenty of time to shop and explore the small town on our own.

Cobh Heritage Center

Our visit to County Cork also included a brief lunch stop to Cobh Heritage Center. Once described as the “saddest place in Ireland,” Cobh was the center of the mass emigration of the Irish during the Great Famine, the port taking criminals sentenced for petty crimes to Australia, and the last port of call for the fated RMS Titanic. The location was most likely the port from which my Sweeney Irish ancestors departed on their route to America, where they settled in Upstate New York and live there still. For this reason, this stop was especially meaningful and emotional for me. It was here that I purchased a silver Claddagh ring in memory of my family’s journey.

The Traditional Claddagh Ring

Outside the Cobh Heritage Center stands an iconic statue of fifteen-year-old Annie Moore and her younger siblings about to leave for America due to the potato famine. Annie was also the first person to pass through Ellis Island in New York State, and there stands the same statue, depicting their safe arrival. Her image will forever represent the millions who passed through Ellis Island in pursuit of the American dream.

Killarney, Ireland and the Ring Of Kerry

Our next stop was Killarney, Ireland in County Kerry. Our hotel was a short walk from the main shopping and business district; however, our weather was cold and very rainy, making it hard to enjoy being outside. Despite the rain, we did take a traditional jaunting cart ride and visited some of the shops and pubs on foot. I highly recommend the jaunting cart tour as the guides are hilarious and it was a fun overview of the region! Our driver brought us through the countryside and into the woods to visit Ross Castle, but the rain had flooded the area and overturned trees, so we were unable to get close up. I did receive a marriage proposal from our jaunting cart driver, but that’s another story.

During our first evening in Killarney, we ducked into a pub and discovered locals getting together to play traditional Irish music with their own instruments, including the spoons! After the rain and cold it was wonderful to cozy up in the pub and get a taste of the local culture and music.

The following morning we departed for a day-long bus ride around the famous Ring of Kerry, which would typically provide breathtaking views of the Irish ragged coastline. It was so rainy and foggy that we could not see out the windows of the bus. This was by far the most disappointing day of our trip, as aside from the initial stop in the 19th century Kerry Bog Village and a very wet and cold Sheepdog demonstration, the day was wasted. It was raining horizontally during the Sheepdog demonstration; however, the dogs and their trainer were amazing, even in that weather. If you’ve never seen these dogs in action, I highly recommend this stop.

Our visit to Killarney, Ireland Included

  • One night stay in a local hotel
  • Evening meal with the group
  • Bus ride of the Ring of Kerry
  • Trip to the Kerry Bog Village and museum
  • Sheepdog demonstration

Killarney Tour Review

Lodging: Fair. The rooms were drafty and very dated, circa 1980s decor. Still, they were clean and functional.

Food: I honestly can’t remember anything I ate here except for the Irish Coffee.

Excursions and Itinerary: The weather destroyed most of these, which would have otherwise been great.

Pace: Slow. We had plenty of time to explore on our own.

Rock of Cashel

From Killarney, we circled back toward Dublin, which would be our final destination to our flight home. On the way, we stopped at the Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s rock, located in County Tipperary, Ireland. This location was the traditional seat of the King of Munster and was reputed to be the location of his conversion by St. Patrick in the 5th century.

Visitors can tour the ruins of the castle and explore the grounds, which include a graveyard containing many beautiful and ancient high crosses. Most of the buildings you’ll see here date from the 12th and 13th centuries. If you’re one of the lucky members of the remaining family, you can still be buried in the cemetery, and I was excited to discover what might be a distant relative of mine newly buried right outside the exit of the main castle. Here’s another place where you really get the feel of ancient Ireland through art, architecture, and religion. From here, we traveled back to Dublin for one more day exploring the city before heading home.

Ireland Tour overview: If you Go

This EF Educational tour is a great overview of Ireland, the pace was moderate and allowed plenty of time to explore on our own, spend time in the pubs, listen to local music and shop in the beautiful wool and jewelry shops. There was an extension available for Northern Ireland, which, due to work schedules, we did not join. I think that extension would have rounded out the trip and provided a great overview of the country, the conflicts, and the culture.

Do you have advice for those visiting Ireland? Leave me your tips in the comments!

To see photos of my trip to Ireland visit my Flickr page, my Google Photos, or follow me on Instagram @offdutytraveler. I’ll see you on the next trip!


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