Driving on the other side of the road on narrow, windy streets with three foot high stone fences on one side and sheer cliffs on the other, will make you count your blessings and also blurt out truths in a panic. But truthfully it’s the absolute best way to see Ireland. We landed in Dublin, Ireland with the idea of staying near the big city and taking day trips by bus. But when we met up with friends and they told us of epic adventures driving around the countryside and getting to tour towns not on the main drag and pet baby sheep along the way, I knew we needed to take the leap and rent a car. I’m going to break down our one week Ireland itinerary and hope this will help you plan your trip.
After a few days in lovely Dublin we hit the road to explore Ireland’s castles, countryside, and see some of the greenest scenery I’ve ever seen. Now I know you might be thinking that you’re terrified to drive on the wrong, err, left side of the road. And believe me it IS scary. But once you realize that it’s just like you normally would drive, just switched, you can get the hang of it pretty quickly. I would highly recommend having: 1. a copilot to watch out for passing cattle, cars, and when you need to make a turn, and 2. a navigation system. We used our phones and I navigated while my husband, Michael drove. I reminded him about every 5 minutes to stay on the left and how turning left means staying on the left while turning right means you need to swing wide. Oh and 3. snacks. You need snacks of course. We lived on lunches in the car of Irish soda bread (a hearty cake like bread) with cheese, sandwich meat, and plenty of nuts and chips. Or as the Irish would say, “crisps.” Since chips are fries.
Okay, enough about driving, let’s get into a week long travel guide in Ireland. I think this is the perfect length of time to really get to see most of southern Ireland. We concentrated our efforts in the south and didn’t spend too much time in the middle. If you do have extra time I recommend heading to Northern Ireland, particularly Giant’s Causeway and Belfast. But since we had one week, here’s what we did:
One Week Ireland Travel Guide
Day 1: Land in Dublin
We landed late in Dublin and stayed in a lovely AirBnb. Shockingly, hotels and AirBnbs were more expensive here than I was expecting (we couldn’t find a place for less than $120 a night.) This was the choice for stays throughout the trip. Oh, and if you haven’t yet, here’s my code for $35 off your next stay!
Day 2: Dublin
We started the day off right by exploring around Dublin: walked St. Stephen’s Green, took the Trinity College Tour, and did the Guinness brewery tour. To see my full post on Dublin check out 10 Things You Must Do in Dublin.
Day 3: Dublin
We hiked to a nearby town, hung out in the pubs, and even saw some Celtic music and dancing. We also argued over how to pronounce Celtic. Is it “kel-tic” or “sell-tic”? Here’s the thing, Boston celtics- right (sell wins) but traditional Celtic dancing is Kel-tic. The jury is still out.
Day 4: Kilkenny, Rock of Cashel, Blarney, and Kinsale
We threw caution to the wind and decided to rent a car. Yes it was terrifying. Yes, I thought for sure we’d hit something. Yes, I thought we’d get run off the road. But truly, it’s the best way to see the countryside. Michael and I had plans of just staying around Dublin, but after our friends drove around we knew we had to see what Ireland had in store. It was some of the prettiest countryside I’ve ever seen, with so much to see and do. Michael and I really packed it in because we didn’t want to miss a thing. So know that this itinerary is jam packed.
We drove south and headed to Kilkenny, a small historic town famous for its castle and the “medieval mile”. This long stretch of road is full of history including ancient churches, historic buildings, and of course the stunning castle. When I think of Irish castles, I think of the dark, gray stone, sitting on lush greens. Kilkenny Castle embodies that. You can take a tour of the castle, then walk to see the ancient buildings from the days of yore. I don’t say days of yore in everyday life but it felt Irish to me, so I went with it.
Make sure to check out St. Canice Cathedral– but you’ll need to enter through the side. The front is only for the 3 B’s: brides, bishops, and burials. You can climb the 140 steps up to get a good view of Kilkenny.
Since we were limited on time, we made moves and headed next to Rock of Cashel. We didn’t have much time, so we parked and headed straight for the striking castle.
As the seat of many kings, this 12 century tower sits atop a limestone rock. You can take a free tour once inside and also see a great view of the countryside.
Next, we hit the tiny, cobblestone road and went to Blarney to see the castle, kiss the stone and see the beautiful gardens. We arrived an hour and 20 minutes before closing and were told that, “you only have time to run up and kiss the stone and come down” but since there was NO LINE we were able to walk around the gardens as well. (You might like: How to Avoid lines and people while traveling)
This is the spot where you’ll kiss the Blarney Stone.
While the stone was cool and a must, the gardens around were so impressive. The lush ferns, bright pink flowers, caves, and grazing sheep made me feel like I was in the movie Fern Gully.
It’s hard to stick to the plan when you’re driving and everything looks so lovely. We stopped after a quick rain shower to see a double rainbow stretching across the sky. This was one of my favorite aspects of the drive. We had the ability to just stop and explore.
For dinner, we ventured down to Kinsale since they are known for good seafood. I had one of the best seafood dished in my life at a lovely place called Jim Edwards. Highly recommend!
We spent the night just outside of Killarney, so we could wake up and explore.
Day 5: Killarney, Kissane Sheep Dogs, Dingle, Tralee
I told you: we pack it in. Now, you could spread this out over a couple days or more, but we were limited on time and really want to see it all. So, we did. We woke up bright and early and headed to the famous Ross Castle in Killarney. This is a tower house on the edge of the lake with horses and carts that can take you around the grounds. You can even hop in a boat to see more around the lake.
We ventured over for a tour of the mansion, the Muckross House.This fully furnished Victorian home was so interesting. I learned things that really shocked me: like how women used to put beeswax, lead, and arsenic on their face to keep them pale. Luckily, I have no problem with that. But the reason why we have the expression “save face” is because they put up screens to protect their face from the fire so their face wouldn’t melt. If I was told I needed to put arsenic on my face to look good I might just keep a tan.
Next we drove through the lovely Killarney National park to go to the Kissane Sheep Dog farm. This drive was Michael’s favorite and it was so scenic.
We stopped so I could take pictures of sheep on the sides of the road. And scream “baby sheep!” I know it’s a lamb. But I like saying baby sheep because I’m a child.
My favorite part of the trip was the Kissane sheep dog farm. A real, working farm where they use dogs to herd the sheep on the rough mountain terrain. It was incredible to watch the dogs work.
I’m a dog lover and seeing dogs getting to do what they love makes my heart melt. These are some of the happiest dogs in the world because they are truly serving a purpose. I HIGHLY recommend visiting a sheep dog farm if you come to Ireland.
Plus I got to hold a puppy. So my day was made.
After playing with the dogs we took a drive and headed to Inch Beach. This small stretch of land juts right out to the ocean and has a very wide, hard, sandy beach. People were surfing but we stayed bundled up because the chilly wind was pretty frigid.
After the beach it was time for some ice cream. We headed to the adorable town of Dingle. Here we got a great view of the Atlantic Ocean lined with brightly colored homes and shops. We ate ice cream at Kool Scoops. I highly recommend this shop. Murphy’s Ice Cream shops are everywhere, and while delicious, it’s a bit over priced.
Dingle is a small town of only 1300 residents, yet they managed to fit in 52 pubs. It’s safe to say it’s a good place to find a drink.
After we had some fuel we drove more of the Dingle Peninsula, a beautiful, scenic drive. Then stopped for a hike and a better view of the scenery.
After our hike we ventured to the town of Tralee where wee feasted on delicious and quick Asian food at a trendy restaurant called Lana.
Day 6: Ennis, Cliffs of Moher, and Burren National Park
On our last full day in Ireland we knew we had to venture to the famed Cliffs of Moher. We stayed at a quaint AirBnb in Ennis, which was close to the cliffs and an easy drive. One of the other guests at the AirBnb gave us a fantastic tip for the very popular and busy Cliffs of Moher. He told us to NOT go to the visitor center, but instead take the turn about a kilometer (half mile) before, just south of the visitor center. We did as directed and saw a tiny sign that read “parking here for the Cliffs.” We turned down the winding road as instructed. A road so small you had to honk around corners to warn those approaching the other way that you were coming up.
But we did as directed and found a quiet house where we paid just 2 euro for parking and a lot with only a few other cars. We made the trek over to the cliffs and found that the rain stopped and we had a clear day for the cliffs with barely any tourists around. They were so majestic and grand. You can easily see why Harry Potter was filmed here. (In case you’re wondering it’s number 6: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince).
We walked around the cliffs for a few hours, mesmerized by the birds who weren’t getting blown over by the incredible wind. I will admit, if it had been rainy AND windy I think I would have been a bit scared. The wind really does make you feel like you could easily be pushed right off the cliffs.
On the way, we passed the Cliffs of Moher Visitor center and it was jam packed with tourists and busy with cars and buses. I’m so glad we avoided it and found the small sanctuary away from the crowds. After the cliffs we headed to the nearby Burren National Park. This desolate rocky area is unlike any other in Ireland or around the world. It feels a sparse landscape compared to the lush green typical of Ireland. The Burren is made up of of glacial-era limestone and rock formations and you can find ancient relics from the past here.
We did a short hike here and went to the tourist office nearby to learn a bit more about the park and what it teaches us about the past.
Day 7: Galway and Back Home
On our last day we headed to Galway as everyone told me to go here. I have to tell you: I wasn’t that impressed. I’m convinced that Galway is the perfect stop from the Cliffs of Moher on the way back to Dublin. You see, the buses take you from Dublin to the Cliffs and Galway all in one day. While I was told there were some fun pubs and restaurants, I felt there were so many other lovely towns with a more vibrant history than Galway.
I know, I know this isn’t a popular opinion. But to me, you can find more quaint European towns than Galway.
And then it was back to Dublin! We stayed at an Airbnb (this seemed to be the theme for this trip) and had one last traditional meal of fish and chips.
After my travels through Ireland I’m convinced the best way to get around is to drive. If you do have a few more days or extra time I’d suggest heading up to Northern Ireland to see Giant’s Causeway and Belfast.
Ireland is an incredible country full of culture, beauty, and fun. We met so many tourists traveling from America learning about their heritage and finding that the country is not only spread with history of the past, but monuments from prehistoric times. I assumed that Ireland would be rich with green grass and epic cliffs, but it’s so much more than that. The dramatic differences between the bustling cities and dreamy countryside makes for an epic experience. Whether you’re into drinking and singing in a thatched-roof pub or want to walk for miles alongside sheep, you’ll find something to enjoy.
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