Ireland Self-Drive Itinerary

With an Irish name like Kelly Murphy, I figured it was about time I traveled to Ireland to visit my motherland and learn a bit more about my heritage! We flew into Dublin and booked an Airbnb right outside the city center. We rented a car and drove around southern Ireland for 9 beautiful days.

Day 1: Dublin

Day 1, we arrived in Dublin, checked into our Airbnb, stopped at a local pub for some bangers and mash and hit the sack!

Day 2: Galway

The next morning we woke up early and went to the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The long room is a beautiful library filled with ancient books from floor to ceiling. After Kells, we walked over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and toured the beautiful old church. After grabbing some lunch, we hopped in our car and drove towards Galway.

Galway was a bustling little town with street performers on every corner. We listened to some great local music and even saw some dancing. We spent a few hours here walking around and enjoying a meal before checking into an Airbnb for the evening.

Day 3: Burren National Park, Cliffs of Moher

Day three started with a drive through Burren National Park. Coming from the US, we expected this to be a crowded park with an entrance fee and line to enter. Burren was quite the opposite. We drove down a narrow tree-lined lane and eventually came upon an iron gate and a small sign indicating that we were at the park entrance. There was not another soul in sight so we stopped to read a bit of the history and take a look around.

After a bit of exploring, we hopped back in the car and headed to the Cliffs of Moher. A small entry fee led us to breathtaking scenery and miles of coastline to wander. We spent most of the day here walking the pathway at the edge of the cliff, taking photos and enjoying some lunch. You can most definitely spend an entire day here- I would recommend packing a lunch and some sunscreen and having a picnic! The Cliffs of Moher were without a doubt the highlight of our entire trip.

We spent the night in the town of Doolin where we had the pleasure of listening to a local trad band in a small pub. We had heard that Doolin was known for local music and we were not disappointed!

Day 4: Dingle Peninsula

From Doolin, we headed to the town of Dingle where we spent the day driving the scenic Slea Head Drive. The western end of the route boasts stunning coastal views and can’t be missed. The drive starts and ends in Dingle which is a great little town to stop for a bite to eat before or after you begin your journey.

The drive took several hours and we were exhausted afterwards so we headed to our Airbnb in nearby Killarney for the night.

Day 5: Killarney, Ross Castle, Muckrock House

Killarney ended up being one of the busiest towns on our route, filled with tourists and traffic so we decided to forgo driving the Ring of Kerry and instead just made stops at Ross Castle and Muckrock House.

Rock Castle is an old tower castle full of history in a beautiful lakeside setting. In addition to a tour of the castle, you can also book a boat tour out on the lake.

Muckrock House is a cant miss! A beautiful historic mansion surrounded by beauty- gardens, lakes and mountains. You could spend hours here (and I would recommend doing so) just walking around the estate and enjoying the scenery.

Day 6: Cork, Blarney Castle

Waking up in Cork, we walked the town and enjoyed a bite to eat before heading to Blarney Castle. We spent most of the day exploring the ground and gardens of the castle and of course….kissing the Blarney Stone!

The castle itself has some steep and narrow stairs so it may not be suitable for everyone. However, the estate is lush, green and gorgeous and worth the price of admission in itself. There is also a small cafe on site for snacks or a quick cup of tea.

Day 7: Cahir Castle,Swiss Cottage

The next day we spent enjoying the countryside views on the way to Cahir. We stopped for a tour of Cahir Castle (another tower castle) and then made our way to the Swiss Cottage up the road. I wouldn’t say these are “must dos” on the itinerary, but it was a nice place to stop on the long drive to Kilkenny.

Day 8: Rock of Cashel, Kilkenny

We spent the night in Cashel and woke up early to visit the Rock of Cashel- an old historic abbey up on the hill. There is an entrance fee and if you’re looking to save some money, I would say to skip this one. You can see most everything from the outside and the real view is from afar.

After lunch in the town of Cashel, we headed to Kilkenny where we would spend the rest of the day exploring the small town and having a few pints at the local pub.

Day 9: Powerscourt House and Gardens, Dublin

We started our drive towards Dublin and had planned on stopping at the Powerscourt House and Gardens along the way, but were disappointed when we arrived a bit too late and they were no longer allowing entry for the evening. That being said, I cant speak to the beauty of this one, but I’ve heard that it’s a great spot and is on the path back to Dublin and would be a good spot to stop for a few hours.

We arrived back in Dublin in time for our tour of the Jameson Distillery. With each admission, you receive an overview of the history, how the whiskey is made, a tasting and a free drink.

We spent the rest of the evening waking Temple Bar, enjoying one last Irish meal and taking in some local Irish Dancing at a pub. I wouldn’t leave Ireland without seeing some local dancers and musicians!

Trip Highlights:

  • We traveled to Ireland in mid-April and it was still quite chilly. I would recommend bringing a heavier jacket and a scarf.
  • Driving is on the LEFT side of the road!! Be aware and be careful.
  • The people in Ireland are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met! Be sure to meet some locals and ask them for tips on local restaurants and pubs.

Germany: Christmas Markets Itinerary

christmasmarkets

I’ve always wanted to see the famous Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany so I decided to take a two-week, freezing cold solo trip through Germany to get into the Christmas spirit!

Day 1, 2 and 3: Berlin

I flew into Berlin and found my way to my Airbnb just steps away from Alexanderplatz. This was the perfect location to explore the city with my first Weihnachtsmarkt directly across the street and public transport right at my doorstep.

I spent my first two days in Germany wandering the city, seeing the major sites and spending my evenings at the Christmas Markets drinking waaaaaaaaaaay too much Glühwein.

Berlin Highlights:

  • Glühwein
  • Curry Wurst
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • East Side Gallery
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Potsdamer Platz
  • Nightlife
  • Public Transportation Info

Day 4: Day trip to Potsdam

I woke up early and went to the HBF to hop on the RE to Potsdam. A short 20 min ride and I was in the beautiful city of Potsdam. I immediately took a local bus to Sanssouci Palace and Park where I spent the majority of my day exploring the palace and grounds. Unfortunately, since it was winter, the grounds were quite bare and it was freezing, but it was still lovely and quite worth the trip.

Once my fingers were numb from the cold, I went back to town to indulge in a hot bowl of soup and large cup of cocoa before hopping back on the train to Berlin for the night.

Day 5: Dresden

A quick 2 hour ride on the Eurocity train had me in Dresden before noon. After checking in at my Airbnb, I set off to explore the city. The city does have public transport, but it is a small city so I decided to do the whole day by foot. Most of the major attractions are in one area of town so it is easy to spend the day in the center of the city, but one day here was definitely enough.

The markets here were so beautiful. Nothing compared to Berlin size wise, but still lovely. I had to restrain myself from purchasing all of the amazing handmade items for sale, but I did splurge and eat all of the goodies in sight! I definitely fell into a deep sugar comma sleep that evening.

Dresden Highlights: 

  • Church of Our Lady
  • Bruhls Terrace
  • Zwinger Palace
  • Pfund’s Dairy
  • Semper Opera
  • Procession of Princes
  • Royal Palace
  • Neumarkt
  • Pillnitz Castle

Day 6: Berlin

I took an early train the next morning back to Berlin so I could catch an evening flight to Munich. The trip from Berlin to Munich can also be done by train, but the price was relatively the same to fly so I decided to take the quicker option.

Day 7, 8 and 9: Munich

Munich was by far one my favorite stops on this trip. The architecture, the Christmas Markets and the beer had me hooked! Daytime was spent sightseeing and beer drinking while evenings were spent at the Weihnachtsmarkt drinking Glühwein and eating Kartoffelpuffer.

Munich Highlights:

  • Nyphemburg Palace
  • Residenz
  • English Garden
  • Neus Rathaus
  • Linderhof Palace
  • Schleissheim Palace
  • Pastries! Surprisingly, Munich had some of the best pastries Ive ever eaten! Stop by a bakery.

Day 10: Füssen

I took a RE train to Kaufbeuren where I quickly transferred to a RB train to Füssen (roughly 2 hours). Once in Füssen, there was a shuttle bus waiting to take passengers from the train up to the castle. This was a short trip, but definitely too long to walk. Once in Hohenschwangau, I bought my tickets to both the Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle and wandered the small town until my reservation.

My first trip was a short, beautiful walk up to Hohenschwangau Castle. This was a much shorter tour than Neuschwanstein, but still interesting and beautiful in its own right.

My next stop was the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. I decided to walk to the top which was quite a hike. It’s all uphill and took about 40 minutes. There were also horse-drawn carriages and shuttle that you could pay to take to the top of the hill if you are unable to walk that distance.

I walked up early to snap some photos and take in the view before I started the 30 minute tour. The castle was truly incredible and beyond beautiful, the story was amazing, and I was so glad I made the trip to see this iconic castle with my own eyes.

After the tour, I wandered around a little longer, ate dinner in town and took the bus back to Füssen where I enjoyed some music at a tiny Christmas market before getting some rest at my local Airbnb.

Füssen Highlights:

  • If you know when you will be visiting, go online and reserve your tickets in advance as tours are sold out quickly.

Day 11 and 12: Nuremberg

I took a 3.5 hour train ride from Füssen to Nuremberg and immediately went to nap at my Airbnb. That evening, I went to explore the Christmas market and drink more Glühwein. All of the markets had been very crowded, but this one in particular was extremely packed and hard to move around. Despite the crowds, I was still able to leave the market with a beautiful hand crafted Nutcracker to take home!

The next day, I explored the city which can easily be done in a day and took a tour of the underground Rock Cut Cellars. The cellars are great as long as you aren’t claustrophobic! The ceilings are quite low in most parts and you go quite a few floors underground. If you’re prone to anxiety attacks, this is not the place for you! The stories of the cellars though are very interesting and worth the tour if you have time!

Nuremberg Highlights:

  • Kaiserburg
  • Rock Cut Cellars and Dungeons
  • Tanner’s Lane
  • Haubtmarkt

Day 13: Munich

An hour ICE train ride had me back in Munich for my last day in Germany. I enjoyed a few more delicious German beers before I headed to the airport feeling ready for the Christmas season!

Trip Highlights:

  • It was EXTREMELY cold, check the weather and prepare to dress appropriately as you will be walking outside a lot at the markets.
  • Public transportation is amazing, no need to rent a car unless you really want to.
  • Train tickets from city to city are slightly cheaper if you buy online in advance.
  • Each city has their own public transportation system. Make sure you buy the appropriate tickets for each system you plan to use.
  • I found Airbnb to be  much less expensive than hotels and in really great locations. If you’re new to Airbnb, get a free travel credit here!
  • Bring an extra bag to pack all the lovely hand crafted items you will buy at the markets!

Norway Self Drive Itinerary- Western Fjords

Norway

Day 1: Fly into Bergen

We flew into Bergen and immediately picked up our rental car and started our drive to Stavanger. The drive took a little over 4 hours and included two ferry rides. Exhausted, we arrived at our Airbnb in Stavanger and got a good night’s rest before we started our adventures.

Day 2: Hike Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)

We stopped at the grocery store before heading out on the hour and a half drive to Preikestolen. This drive included one ferry ride. We paid for parking, used the restroom and filled up our camelbaks before starting out on the 2-4 hour hike.

This hike can definitely be done in under 4 hours, but the views are exceptional and we spent a lot of time hanging out and enjoying the scenery.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Preikestolen.

After our hike, we started driving the two and a half hours towards Kjerabolten. We stopped to camp right near the entrance of the hike so we could get an early start in the morning.

Day 3: Hike Kjeragbolten

Even though we started our hike early, the parking lot was nearly full. We spent almost the entire day on this hike, enjoying the scenery, taking photos and exploring the area.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Kjeragbolten.

Tired, we started our four and a half hour drive towards Trolltunga. It had started to rain so we stopped and set up our tent under a small shelter and spent the night.

Day 4: Hike Trolltunga

In the morning, we continued our drive to Trolltunga and stopped in the town of Odda to get a bite to eat before beginning the hike. Once our bellies were full, we drove to the trail head and prepared our packs.

The hike to Trolltunga took us roughly 6 hours. We arrived around dusk, set up our tent for the night and enjoyed the evening with an incredible view.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Trolltunga.

Trolltunga

Day 5: Hike Trolltunga

The next day, we explored more of Trolltunga and hiked the 4 hours back down to the parking lot.

When we arrived back at our car, we were so excited to remove our shoes and packs! We took a few minutes to stretch and relax before we started our hour and a half drive to Voss where we would camp for the evening.

Day 6: Kayak Gudvangen

We woke up early in Voss, grabbed breakfast and drove a quick 40 minutes to Gudvangen. A beautiful, sunny day, we rented a double Kayak at Nordic Ventures. There are also Kayak tours you can take here, but we decided to rent a kayak and explore on our own. They offer full day and half-day rentals and we opted for the full day so we could take our time and enjoy.

Nordic Ventures supplied everything we needed: kayak and paddle, skirt, wet-suit, booties, waterproof jacket, life vest and dry bags. We packed a lunch and began paddling out into the fjord. We passed a few other kayakers and lots of tourist boats. The water was calm and the view was breathtaking. We stopped off to explore a waterfall and dip our toes in the freezing glacial water.

We paddled a bit further and stopped for lunch on a small, lush, green,  sun drenched pasture. We ate our lunch while lambs roamed around us with the serene sound of waterfalls in the distance. We even took a swim in the fjord and laid on the shore to dry in the sun. I could have stayed here forever, but we had to get the kayaks back by 5:30pm so we geared up and started our paddle back to shore.

Our arms were quite tired on the way back so we took our time and enjoyed the scenery and the lovely weather. We made it back just in time for closing, returned our gear and began the five and a half hour drive to Hoddevik. We were very tired so we stopped on our way at the town of Lem and camped for the evening.

Day 7: Surf at Hoddevik

Day 7 started out with a stop at Bøyabreen Glacier, Fjærland. Here we found a lot of tour buses so we didn’t stay too long, but it was an amazing spot to view the glacier. The water in the lake below was an incredible shade of blue with small ice chunks casually floating by. We could feel an icy chill coming from the glacier above as we marveled at the large, blue ice sheet. There was also a restaurant and restrooms here where many of the tour buses stopped for lunch.

After our glacier stop, we continued the drive to Hoddevik. It started to rain, but it didn’t stop us from hitting the surf. Hoddevik is a very small town so it wasn’t hard to find the board rental shop right by the beach. We rented boards and suits and hit the waves. While the waves weren’t huge, they were consistent and there were very few surfers competing for waves.

After a few hours of surf, we headed to nearby Ervik. There are also surfable waves in Ervik, but we came here on a suggestion from a local to check out the old Nazi tunnels in the mountain. We hiked across the beach and up a cliff, through a gate and finally reached the entrance to the tunnel. There were two paths in the tunnel. The path to the right led us to an amazing view of the ocean where the path to the left let us to some old broken stairs up to a small house out on the cliff. This was definitely an off the beaten path stop, we were the only people around and were able to enjoy a nice quiet hike with only sheep as our company and the sound of waves crashing as our soundtrack.

After our hike, we began the three and a half hour drive towards Geiranger, but stopped about an hour in and found a spot to camp for the evening.

Day 8: Hike in Brunstad (or go to Geiranger)

The next day we had planned on heading to Geiranger, but the weather was fierce so we decided to take a detour and spend the day in nearby Brunstad. We got an amazing Airbnb with a wood burning stove and incredible view.

We took a VERY rainy hike up to a nearby Norse village. The old farming village was like a time warp, sending us back to the days when farmers would bring their livestock to this tiny village for summering. We decided to continue up the mountain hoping to reach a lake we had heard of, but after about an hour of hiking in the pouring down rain, we decided to call it a day and head back down.

Norse Village

We were soaked and muddy and happy we had a nice warm cabin to go home to and dry off. We got an amazing night of rest and were sad we had to leave our quiet little village the next day.

The touristy thing to do here would definitely be to go to Geirangerfjord, but we really love immersing ourselves in the local culture and enjoyed our time away from the tourist crowds and exploring Norway off the beaten path.

Day 9: Drive towards Bergen

The next day we began the six and a half hour drive towards Bergen. We stopped multiple times to veer off course, take small side roads and explore anything and everything that seemed interesting and beautiful.

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After a day of admiring our surroundings, we had a nice dinner at Stryn Hotel and found a campsite near by for the evening.

Day 10: Hike in Bergen

On our final day, we finished our drive and spent the day in Bergen. We checked into our Airbnb not far outside of town and took a local bus to Stoltzekleiven. We hiked the 722 stairs up to Sandviksfjellet and the view was well worth the effort.

Bergen Hike

After enjoying the bird’s eye view of Bergen, we hiked back towards a small lake. Here we were met with multiple hiking trails. We were surprised there were so many hiking trails right in the heart of the city.

We took a trail from the lake all the way down to the city center. We passed several other trail heads and even some backpackers heading out for a night of camping.

We treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at Bare Vestland and explored the city for the evening before returning to our Airbnb and packing up to fly out the next morning.

Bergen

Day 11: Fly home

Goodbye, Norway! Leaving Norway was really hard. The entire trip was beautiful and breathtaking with something to wow at after every turn. I’m already starting to plan my trip to return!

Norway Travel Tips:

  • There is a very cool law in Norway that says you can camp just about anywhere. We took advantage of this to save a lot of money on our trip.
  • Norway is expensive, plan accordingly. For reference, gas was about $7USD/gallon and a meal at the gas station was about $30USD.
  • Grocery stores are closed on Sundays, make sure you stock up beforehand.
  • If driving, you will be taking quite a few ferries. Check schedules beforehand.
  • Tolls and ferry rides are also expensive, make sure to factor this into your budget.
  • Most gas stations did not take our US credit cards at the pumps which made getting gas difficult after hours. Make sure you fill up while stations are still open.
  • We used our US credit cards everywhere and rarely needed local currency.
  • If you haven’t used Airbnb before, it’s a wonderful, cheaper alternative to hotels. If you’re new to Airbnb, get a free travel credit here!

Photo Inspiration- Japan

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Japan was my first stop on my first trip to Asia. I was excited and nervous, but fell in love with the country on my first day. From the modernness of Tokyo to traditional Kyoto, I found something new and exciting at every turn.

One of my favorite experiences was staying at a traditional guest house (Ryokan) and participating in a traditional tea ceremony. I could have spent weeks exploring Kyoto, but only had a few days. I hope to make it back there soon!

 

A Weekend in Sequoia National Park

The Mission: Spend a weekend at Sequoia National Park with my mom!

The Prep: I booked our campsite 3 weeks in advance for Potwisha campground and got the last campsite available! Book as early as possible and don’t count on just showing up and finding a spot.

The Gear: Please see my post on Camping Essentials

The Execution: We arrived at Sequoia National Park in the morning and paid our $30USD entrance fee, good for 7 days. Not far from the park entrance, we found our campsite at Potwisha, a small, quiet campsite equipped with flush toilets. We set up our tent and secured all of our food and scented items in the bear locker provided.

After getting our campsite settled, we drove roughly 40 minutes from Potwisha to the General Sherman Tree parking lot. Mileage wise, this is not far, but the roads are very windy and speed limits are slow so it took us awhile to get all the way up the mountain.

Once we found parking, we hiked a quick half mile down to the General Sherman Tree. There is also a shuttle that goes from the parking lot down to the tree area if you are unable to walk that distance.

After checking out General Sherman, we started hiking along Congress Trail (2 mile loop) to explore some more of the Giant Sequoias. We veered off onto Alta trail for a while to get away from the crowds before turning back and finishing Congress Trail.

Back at the General Sherman Tree, we hopped on a shuttle that took us to the Giant Forest Museum. After a few minutes in the museum, we hopped on another shuttle up to Moro Rock. We stopped to check out the Auto Log and then continued on to the rock.

The steps to the top of the rock are rather steep, but there are safety rails that lead the way. At 6,725 ft, the view from the top was magnificent, but I wouldn’t recommend this hike if you’re afraid of heights!

After Moro Rock, we hopped back on the shuttle, grabbed our car and headed back to camp for the night. Unfortunately, we were hit with a major thunderstorm that evening, complete with flashes of lightning and heavy rain. We stuck it out through the night, but were soaked by daylight.

We decided after a long sleepless night to give ourselves a break and do a short hike near the campsite on our last day before driving home exhausted.

The Highlights:

  • Campsite cost about $22USD.
  • If you want to camp, book a campsite as early as possible. Backpacking is also an option, but requires registration and a bear canister.
  • Crowds are heavy around the major sites, but if you hike just a short distance off a main trail, the crowds thin out and you will get to enjoy more of the park.
  • Take advantage of the shuttle as parking is scarce. Shuttles run every 10 minutes so you never have to wait long.
  • There is a small restaurant and store at Lodgepole Visitor center for food and firewood.