Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Brian Callender and Julie Boyd
While planning our time in Ireland, we had given ourselves a very open schedule so that we could relax and enjoy the last days of our trip. After spending the rest of the trip constantly on the move, our pace slowed down when we reached Dublin, and it was a welcome change. Aside from exploring the city, the only other item on our must visit list was the Cliffs of Moher. It’s nearly impossible to think about Ireland and not envision the striking views from the cliffs. Arguably the most popular tourist destination in the country, the cliffs are a tremendous draw for tourists looking to soak in the Emerald Isle.
With relaxation in mind, we opted to do a day tour out to the Cliffs with Wild Rover Tours. Our hotel concierge recommended the company, and we booked our tickets online the day prior. The tour bus picks up at several stops in the city, and fortunately for us, it was just across the street. The company recommends that you arrive at the stop early, and I second that. When we arrived there were already a number of people waiting to board. Wild Rover’s bus arrived on time, but unfortunately, it was already full and we were assured another bus would be stopping by momentarily to pick the rest of us up. The secondary coach was just a plain, white bus without the Wilder Rover markups.
Once on the bus, Julie and I grabbed seats in the first row so we would have more space, and the ability to exit the bus quickly at our destinations. Though Wild Rover promises wi-fi on all their coaches, this doesn’t extend to secondary, overflow buses like the one we ended up on. Considering that we spent most of our day on the bus, it definitely would have been nice to have had wi-fi. Additionally, the seats recline but mine was broken, so if I reclined, it would go all the way back and I’d be right in the lap of the person behind me. Despite alerting the two girls who opted to sit behind us of this issue, they decided to keep their seats.
Every bus has a driver and tour guide which allows each to focus on their primary task at hand. Our tour guide was personable, and seemed to know the route well. Over the course of the day, he tried a couple of “short cuts” which often turned out to take us longer than the other bus. After a brief introduction, we were on our way west on the motorway towards the Cliffs. Since our bus did not have a bathroom on it, our guide informed us that it was best if we made the most out of our pit stops when they came along. The first such stop was about two hours in on our journey. While the main bus stopped at one rest stop, our tour guide suggested that it would be too crowded, so we carried on to another station. Once at the rest stop, Julie and I stretched our legs and then hurried to beat the crowds in for food and a bathroom break. Water is allowed on the bus, so we made sure to stock up on it. We were instructed at each stop throughout the day exactly what time it was and when we you are supposed to be back at the bus. This was an essential rule that we had heard about beforehand, and one that is important to take note of, as there were stories of people whom the bus left behind. Before leaving the rest stop, Julie and I grabbed sandwiches for a picnic lunch at the Cliff which turned out to be a great idea because time was limited to roughly an hour and a half once we got there.
The Cliffs of Moher
Several important things to note about the Cliffs:
- It’s crowded! The tour we were on gets you in around lunch time which is the same as many others it seemed. There were many coach buses there and it was a bit tough for our driver to find a place to park.
- On a sunny and clear day, conditions aren’t great for photos. I understand that this isn’t a regular occurrence in Ireland, but on our visit, the bright sky made it tough for stunning photos (as they have on their website) to turn out. And of course, it’s ideal to be there at sunrise or sunset, which doesn’t work on a tour, so be prepared!
- You might be late arriving! We were supposed to arrive around 11:00 a.m. and then have two full hours to spend at the Cliffs. Unfortunately, we arrived closer to 11:30 and had about an hour and half. The Cliffs stretch for 5 miles along the coast, so you really need far more time if you plan to explore it all. Julie and I decided to head past the initial crowds and seek out a quiet(ish) place to camp out and eat lunch.
- Make sure you make it back to your bus on time! As I mentioned before, the tours are very big on being on time because it ensures that everyone has the same amount of time to see the destination. A girl on our bus was late coming back from the Cliffs and our tour guide was on the verge of leaving without her. He instructed her friend not to go after her, but she did anyway and the two came running back. At that time, the guide gave them both a quick, but stern lecture about being on time.
The Cliffs themselves were absolutely stunning and definitely a place we will return to again in the future. Ninety minutes is not nearly enough time to explore all of their beauty!
With everyone back safely on the bus, we continued our drive along the coast towards the city of Galway. We made a brief stop in Burren to see the limestone rock formations along the ground leading towards the water. Definitely an interesting sight, but for our purposes, I think we would have been better served to spend more time at the Cliffs.
Back on the road again, we continued to make our way to Galway, which would be the last stop before returning to Dublin. Since the roads are small at times in Dublin (similar to Scotland), there are instances where a large coach bus struggles to get by. This was no exception for our bus as we ran into some small road congestion.
Once we reached Galway, our tour guide suggested another shortcut that didn’t pan out, and we arrived after the primary bus. There happened to be an art festival taking place while we were there, so the city was especially busy. In keeping with our theme of the day, we arrived late and had less time in the city to explore. With the bus set to leave at 5:30, we had about 90 minutes to explore on our own, or we could do a walking tour with our guide. Julie and I opted to go it alone and find someplace to eat. Passing through crowds of people, we found a bar that looked good and grabbed a seat. The Cellar Bar turned out to be a pretty good option. We each order a pint and Julie grabbed fish and chips, while I opted for a burger.
For some reason, I decided to wait until after we left the bar to figure out that I needed to use the restroom. Unfortunately, there weren’t many good public options on our way back to the bus. Julie jumped on the bus and I headed out in search of a bathroom with mere minutes to spare before our coach was set to depart. I opted to run into a pizza restaurant and pretended to be a paying customer (when you gotta go, you gotta go), before running back to catch the bus and by greeted by our less than excited tour guide.
With everyone on board, we made our way out of Galway and back onto the highway to Dublin. There isn’t much to see on the return trip, so many of the other passengers took this opportunity to nap. I’m a firm believer in staying awake on vacation even when I’m on a tour bus, so that I can take in everything a destination has to offer. We returned back to Dublin right around 8:00 p.m., and thanked our driver and guide for the trip. The guide also asks that you add in an optional tip for the driver who spends the day ensuring your reach each destination safely, so make sure you have some spare cash to give, if you feel so inclined.
Overall, Julie and I both agreed that given the opportunity to do the tour over again, we would have passed in favor of renting a car. While it’s definitely tough to navigate a destination you are unfamiliar with, the freedom that having your own transportation provides is immense. On several occasions that day, we passed through small, cute towns that would have been nice to stop in, even if just for a moment. And of course we would have loved the opportunity to spend more time at each of the locations we visited, particularly the Cliffs. I can certainly understand the appeal of tours, if you have limited time at a destination, or you just don’t want the hassle of having to make the plans and drive yourself. It is a vacation after all, and I can’t say that driving around the country makes you feel all that relaxed. However, I loved our drive through Scotland because it gave us the freedom to explore, and see what we wanted at our own pace. I wish we had done the same with Ireland. Though I’m not completely opposed to trying a tour again in the future, I know it’s something that will be dictated by the destination and our travel itinerary. We look forward to returning to Ireland again in the not too distant future!