Lonely Planet social media editor Deepa Lakshmin recently returned from a visit to Ireland, where she took a bus tour of some of the country’s most dramatic coastal scenery. Here, she shares some insights and tips for anyone planning a similar trip.

I landed in Ireland as I typically do whenever I’m visiting a country for the first time: with zero expectations. My week was dedicated to working out of Lonely Planet’s Dublin office, where I was meeting many colleagues for the first time in real life. But all work and no play is no fun, right? So two days before taking off from New York City’s JFK, I impulsively booked a three-day bus tour across the Wild Atlantic Way so I would see something beyond a conference room. Weekend plans secured.

Lonely Planet's social media editor, Deepa Lakshmin
Deepa making the most of the fleeting Irish sun © Deepa Lakshmin / Lonely Planet

Bus tours are kind of my go-to, probably because my superpower is dozing off in the backseats of moving vehicles. And my super weakness? Planning trips in advance. I’ll figure it out when I get there, I often say to myself.

And that, my friends, is how I ended up on a giant green Paddywagon Tours bus cruising down Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way (through the counties of Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry) with a guide who told us to call him Cash. Also, I’m also a terrible driver, and don’t trust myself behind the wheel on the “wrong” side of the road – and you need to drive to see Ireland in all its beauty.

What was the cost? Where did you sleep?

The cost of the tour was $765.79. This included two nights’ accommodation at local bed and breakfasts (Asgard B&B in Galway and The Randy Leprechaun on the Dingle Peninsula) that, to be honest, were pretty bland and bare-bones – though they were uniformly clean, had hot water and served a decent enough breakfast in the morning. (My last few trips have been in hostel bunk beds, so this was an upgrade for me.) The tour company works directly with the B&Bs in the towns, so I didn’t get to pick them. It was kind of a “show up, get what you get” situation, which was fine for my needs.

Comfort level? 

Four out of five for me. We were on a newer bus that was very clean and had plugs to charge my phone. I would have preferred if the seat reclined more – but the bus was pretty empty, which meant enough space for everyone to stretch out.

We spent about five to six hours on the bus each day, yet since we never went more than two hours without stopping to grab a bite at a cafe or wander around a small town, it didn’t feel like a long, drawn-out journey. Our bus driver also made stops when someone requested something, like needing to use the restroom or – in one case – really wanting to pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy on the bus and into the night. Plastic cups were passed around from seat to seat.

How did you typically start your day on the bus tour?

Pretty much every cafe along the tour route seduced my sweet tooth – so I kicked off several mornings with carrot cake. (That counts as a serving of veggies, right?) And an espresso: less of a want and more of a need. I’d blame this habit on jet lag...but this is just who I am.

In Kinvara, around 30 minutes outside of Galway City, the windows at Wild Beans coffee shop reflected the sunlight juuust right, and I was charmed by the leftover St Paddy’s Day decorations. In Adare, I enjoyed a cup at Stacpoole Coffee House – you can’t miss its bright pink exterior – then browsed through Ireland-inspired art prints in the attached gift shop. If the weather’s nice, do a quick loop around the neighboring park. It’s quiet, and we were the only tourists there.

Deepa in Killarney National Park
Deepa visiting Killarney National Park © Deepa Lakshmin / Lonely Planet

What was the most scenic activity you did?

A visit to Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park. Green is my favorite color, and I was completely surrounded by it on our brief walk. The trees are coated trunk-to-branch with bright green moss like I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. I wanted to frolic through the forest like some sort of woodland fairy; living in Manhattan, it’s a rare treat for me to be immersed in this much nature. I took a lot of deep breaths, as if I could suck up all the fresh air and take it back home with me.

You can also take a breather at Ladies’ View, a popular regional viewpoint that lets you take in the entire Killarney landscape with its stunning lakes. If you want a scenic photo shoot, this is the spot.

Another cool thing I did in Killarney was take a horse-drawn carriage through the park. If you are a horse person, you can either take a carriage or ride a horse yourself. You’ll be able to see so much more of the park this way than on foot – plus, horses can go through flooded areas without getting your feet wet. (Shout-out to Jessie, the mare that took my group through quite the flood.)

Street musicians perform in Galway City, County Galway, Ireland
Musicians perform everywhere in Galway. Don’t forget to tip them © Achim Oberhauser / Oneworld Picture / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Where was the best stop for food and fun?

With only one night in Galway City, I had to make the most of it. I took Cash’s advice to “follow your ears” and wandered down bustling Shop St, a tourist favorite in the city’s Latin Quarter, popping into every pub I heard live music coming from. You can DIY your own pub crawl here, if that’s your thing, stopping in Taaffes, Tigh Chóilí and Tigh Neachtain – but since these places are small and packed, if you score a good seat, hold onto it. And wow! Do the local musicians deliver.

Continue your way through the Latin Quarter, across the river – stopping to admire the lights on the boats – then settle in at Monroe’s Tavern for more music with a bit more elbow room. I spent most of my night watching performances at The Quays, simply because there were multiple bars with plenty of space to move around (and places to sit).

Let’s not forget about the food. Flaky friends are no good, but flaky fish? Yes, please – and you’ll find it at McDonaghs. I’m not a fish-and-chips person, but I ordered the cod and was blown away. No fishy aftertaste! (But look elsewhere if you’re looking for something more formal. Here, you order a casual quick bite at the counter, then get on with your day.)

People on the top deck of a ferry admire the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland
Seeing the majestic Cliffs of Moher from the sea is a must – just don’t forget to take your seasickness pills before © bubu.com / Shutterstock

What’s the one thing you’re glad you packed?

Seasickness meds, essential if you’e visiting the Cliffs of Moher by boat, as our tour group did. These spectacular cliffs are a must for travelers coming down this way, and while most folks see them just from the top, I also took a ferry to see them from the water. Though it was cool to get the full picture, be warned: the Atlantic coast is not for the queasy. I don’t even have solid photos from this experience to share: the waves rocked me so heavily, I was scared I’d drop my phone into them.

Take the motion-sickness meds before you need them, even if your tour guide insists the ocean is calm that day. He did for my group, who ended up needing lots of plastic bags...and plenty of Febreze to cover up the damage afterwards. If you can get a seat on the top deck, you’ll have a much more pleasant time.

All that said, the Cliffs of Moher are a favorite for good reason. I walked the path toward O’Brien’s Tower, enjoyed music from buskers along the way – don’t forget to tip them – and gobbled down the piece of carrot cake I’d stashed in my bag for later.

A beautiful day, indeed.

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Ireland coastline with view of the ocean and mountains, man and woman walking through Ireland wind
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