You gotta love holidays and even better when the sun shines. I had a lovely week staycationing around Ireland.

GRAIGUENAMANAGH, CO. KILKENNY

The first part of my staycation was in Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny for our Book Club’s first trip away. Six girls made our mini roadtrip and the little town of Graiguenamanagh didn’t know what hit it. Located on the Kilkenny-Carlow border in the Barrow Valley, it is a beautiful place to visit. We stayed in the Waterside Guesthouse along the riverfront. Only two hours from Dublin city, we arrived just after twelve to make the most of the day. Everyone in the town is so friendly stopping for a chat and to recommend places to go. We had lunch in the Duiske Inn sitting outside in the sunshine watching the very entertaining traffic trying to negotiate what clearly should be a one way system! The Guesthouse also offer a bicycle rental service. We hired bikes and cycled five miles along the river towpath to the beautiful St. Mullins. We stopped for a welcome break and some tea and cake in Mullichain Cafe. The five miles back was a lot tougher with sore arses and tired legs but we all made it. We had dinner that night in the Waterside Guesthouse which was lovely and is very good value with the B&B and one dinner package deal before heading for the local traditional grocery pub, M.Doyles.

The next day, we headed to Inistioge, the picturesque village made famous by Maeve Binchy’s ‘Circle of Friends’ as it was the location used in the movie. We visited the lovely gardens of Woodstock. Afterwards we did a tour of the village checking out the charming shops like the Irish Truly Craft Giftshop and the traditional antique shops. I’d also recommend a toasted special in the Circle of Friends cafe.

NORTHERN IRELAND
The second part of my staycation was a trip up north. I’ve been dying to see the Giant’s Causeway for the last few years so this was my opportunity to check it out.

PORTRUSH & THE COASTAL CAUSEWAY ROUTE
We decided to stay in Portrush, Co. Antrim which is close to the Giant’s Causeway. We choose Inn on the Coast which is located on the Coastal Causeway Route about halfway between Portrush and Portstewart. Portrush is a beautiful seaside resort made even nicer by the sunshine. The first night, we headed to 55 degrees North overlooking East Strand beach. We had a sea view which is worth booking. The restaurant was very busy and the food was lovely. It was the perfect start to our holiday.

The next day, we made it to the Giant’s Causeway which was bathed in glorious sunshine. We paid into the visitor’s centre which you don’t have to do but is worth it for the audio guide. It tells you the history of the stones plus the tall tales of Finn McCool. There is a short walk down to the stones but they also run a shuttle bus. The stones themselves are impressive and the landscape surrounding them is breathtaking. You can climb right to the top, take multiple photos and make a wish in the wishing chair. One man with four small children was losing his life trying to keep them all under control as the four decided to go off in different directions. We were so lucky having completed our tour and had coffee outside the visitor’s centre, we made it back to the car before the rain started. Having decided to continue along the Coastal Causeway Route, a scenic drive along the coast of Northern Ireland. We stopped off at a few points of interest including Dunseverick Castle, Dunluce Castle and Ballintoy Harbour. The rain was quite heavy so we decided to try the Bushmills Distillery but I think everyone had the same idea as the tours were booked out for the day. Instead, we headed for a drink in the Bushmills Inn, an old coach house now a four-star luxury hotel. It’s full of character and for a quiet afternoon is the perfect resting place with open fires and plenty of hiding places. Check out the secret room located in the tiny library at the top of the stairs. We made our way back to Portrush and ate in the Harbour Bistro which was warm and welcoming. A quirky restaurant with a wood burning grill, it is well worth trying. Their steaks are to die for and it is worth waiting for a table.

The next day, we were heading for Belfast but along the way we decided to check out the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge as it had been closed due to the bad weather the day before. The sun had made another welcome appearance and the bridge was open for business. There is a tough 1km walk down to the rope bridge but the views are worth it. Where you will eventually reach the bridge traditionally erected by salmon fishermen over a 30-metre deep and 20-metre wide chasm to get to a rocky island with stunning views along the cliff edge.

BELFAST
After our detour, we had a challenge anneka race to Belfast to make it in time for our booking at the Titanic Museum. Only opened in March this year, visitors are flocking to the museum and booking in advance is advised. We got lost on the way into Belfast and missed our appointed slot. Thankfully, we met Danielle, one of the friendly crew members who reassured us we could still get in and even fetched our tickets for us. It was a lovely welcome after a stressful journey. The museum was interesting divided into nine different galleries taking you on a journey from Boomtown Belfast to the Titanic Beneath. It takes around two hours to get around and it is very busy hence the appointment system! It was interesting to see all the work that went into building the ship and also the passenger stories. I felt they could have made it a lot more interactive and engaging though. My favourite was the Fit-Out Gallery. It is worth a visit just make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get there!

We stayed in the Ibis Hotel in Castle Street right in the middle of the city centre. This was another stressful journey owing to Belfast’s drive to get cars out of the city centre, we found ourselves going down roads only for buses and cyclists and almost up one-way streets! Cue a lot of cursing!!! The Ibis doesn’t have a carpark but recommends City Carparks which is very close and they have a deal where parking is £6 for 24 hours. It is across the road from Castlecourt carpark which we first choose! The Ibis is great value and the rooms are very clean and comfortable. After a wee rest, we headed to Paul Rankin’s restaurant Cayenne. It is an asian influenced menu. They offer two set menus – one for £19.95 for an early bird three course and one for £23.95 for the late birds which is quite good value. The flavour and presentation of the food was beautiful. The only thing that let it down was the staff were quite stiff and the place lacked ambience but I would go back purely for the food.

On our last day, we took a bus sightseeing trip of Belfast. We were recommended Allen’s tour company which took us all around the sights of Belfast including Stormont and the famous wall murals with a fascinating and funny commentary. A bus tour is always a good way to get to know a city and even after having visited Belfast at least five times previously, the bus tour brought me to places I had never seen. It is sad to hear how they are still building peace walls but Belfast is definitely on the way to better things. We had lunch in Harlem Cafe on Bedford Street before leaving which is well worth checking out. It is right beside Ulster Hall and does the nicest food – they are famous for their seafood chowder available only on a friday – and the decor is pretty fabulous too. The staff are warm and friendly and it is a place where you could spend the day.

All in all, I would recommend a staycation. We were lucky with the weather so perhaps we just picked a good week but the scenery around Ireland makes you realise why so many tourist flock to our fair isles.

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