When I moved to the UK, road trips around Ireland and Scotland rocketed to the top of my travel list.
Why the Emerald Isle?
Incredible greenery, rolling hillsides, tiny villages, sheep and cows everywhere, and pubs alive with traditional music where the pints never stop flowing. Ireland epitomises culture, beauty and history.
Although I’m not a huge fan of holidays spend road tripping, I knew driving around Ireland would be the best way to see the countryside and explore small towns.
So, when my friends told me of the trip they were planning, I had to join for part of it. We started in Dublin, then drove through the Wicklow Mountains, to Kilkenny, to the Rock of Cashel and Blarney, then Cobh and Kinsale before heading north to Adare, Limerick, and finally west to Doolin and Galway. We covered a lot of ground in six days and had the most incredible time.
Luckily, I had a few people to help me plan the trip and rotate driving shifts. If it’d been just me, I think I would have tried to take trains and Bus Éireann to see as much as possible. But, renting a car really is the best way to make your way around Ireland- you’ll have the freedom to make unplanned stops and spend as little or as much time you want at each destination.
As for lodging, we alternated between Airbnb in bigger cities (Dublin, Galway), and B&B’s found through B&B Ireland for smaller towns (Kilkenny, Kinsale, Doolin).
I joined my friends for the first 7 days of the trip, choosing to fly back to London from Shannon Airport (took the bus from Galway to Shannon).
My friends, however, continued north to Sligo and into Northern Ireland before taking a ferry from Belfast to Glasgow. If you do the same, you could continue driving to Dublin to round out your adventure, or take the bus from Belfast to Dublin.
We were short on days and din’t have time to drive out to the Dingle peninsula, but I’ve heard it’s a can’t miss if you can build it into your road trip.
Because we wanted to see as much as possible, we forwent the luxury of spending longer than a few hours or half day in each destination. Was the quick speed of the trip worth it?
Knowing that we’d need to be up and out the door by 8 or 9 each morning made turning in at a reasonable hour easy- and, it helped we were excited by each day’s activities. If you have a bit more time, I’d recommend either seeing more of Ireland or spending more time in some of the bigger cities/villages, like Kilkenny and Kinsale.
Itinerary for a Weeklong Roadtrip in Ireland
Days 1 + 2: Dublin
Dublin is one of those cities that’s perfect for a day trip or weekend break. As Ireland’s capital, it’s a town filled with culture, beauty and history. Even though it’s quite big, I’ve had no problem getting around by foot or hopping on a local bus.
I joined in the evening of day 1 since I’d been to Dublin before and am planning on running a race there in coming months. One full day in Dublin, for me, felt like enough time to get into holiday mode. My friends from the States actually had 3 full days in Dublin after arriving to Ireland late one evening.
If it’s your first time in Dublin, Trinity College and the Temple Bar area are must-see’s.
During this visit, I decided to sample whiskies at Teeling’s Distillery and the Bow Bar, which boasts 200+ kinds of whisky. I also popped in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a tour, wandered around downtown Dublin and cheers’d pints at a few pubs in the Temple Bar neighbourhood with my friends.
One of my favourite parts of visiting Dublin is wandering streets at leisure, popping in and out of shops, admiring pubs with overflowing hanging flower baskets, and listening to live music in the alleyways. The Temple Bar neighbourhood and downtown area are easy to walk, even if you’re short on time.
Day 3: Wicklow Mountains National Park > Kilkenny
Early the next morning, we picked up our rental car, packed it up and hit the road.
First stop: Wicklow Mountains. In actuality, our first stop was in a small town called Roundwood for coffee and blueberry scones at an adorable cafe.
Then, we continued onto the Glendalough visitor centre. Glendalough means, Valley of the Two Lakes, and there’s a medieval monastic settlement that dates back to the 6th century.
After parking the car, we walked to the Round Tower, the Cathedral, and then continued on the path to the right towards Upper Lake. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk, and if you can swing it with timing, I’d definitely recommend it- so beautiful. On our way back to the car, we noticed another trail leading to Poulanass Waterfall. It only took us about 3-5 minutes to hike up the trail, but was a detour well worth it for the view.
All in all, our nature wander took us about two hours. Next, we continued driving to Kilkenny, hoping to reach the town mid-afternoon so we could see the castle before dinner.
Kilkenny, an Irish city where medieval meets modern.
After checking into our adorable B&B, Celtic House, we walked five minutes into town. With its roots as a medieval city, Kilkenny has no shortage of cobblestone streets. The High Street is even known as Medieval Mile for its narrow lanes and historic buildings.
Walking towards Kilkenny Castle, we decided to head in and wander before it closed for the day. The Anglo-Norman castle, which was built around 1195, has been altered over the years and recently refurbished to reflect original stylings.
Keen for a bit of exploring before dinner, we dipped in and out of alleyways, admiring the city’s colourful facades and doors, and then walked along the River Nore before settling on Matt the Millers as our pub for dinner.
Whilst at dinner, we formed a plan to do a pub crawl of sorts- there were a few places we wanted to check out, and figured, what better way than an impromptu crawl? Fun fact: Kilkenny is listed as one of the top cities in Ireland for a hen party (bachelorette party).
I’ll always be a fan of medium ciders, stouts and single malt whiskies, but the others in my group enjoyed two local brews- Kilkenny and Smithwick’s.
As we finished dinner, live music was just starting so we decided to stay for one more pint at Matt the Millers, making it our first stop. Next, we headed to Kyteler’s, one of the oldest inns in Ireland- established in 1324. It used to be the home of Dame Alice de Kyteler, a wealthy woman who outlived four wealthy husbands and was involved in one of the world’s first witch hunts. She managed to escape being burned at the stake by escaping to England, but her servant wasn’t so lucky- she was tortured. Next up: Bollard’s, and finally a whisky nightcap at Cleere’s.
Day 4: Cashel > Blarney > Cobh > Kinsale
In the morning, we woke early and headed straight to Cashel so we didn’t have time for The Black Abbey or Smithwick’s Experience, but I’ve heard both are great attractions in Kilkenny as well.
We were determined to get to Cashel early because we wanted to be among the first people to visit the Rock of Cashel, one of the most visited sites in Ireland.
From Cashel’s tourism site, “It’s huge, it’s complex, it’s iconic, there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world and it’s right here in Cashel at the heart of Tipperary. The Rock of Cashel (Carraig Phádraig), more formally St. Patrick’s Rock, it is also known as Cashel of the Kings. Reputedly the site of the conversion of Aenghus the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century AD. Long before the Norman invasion The Rock of Cashel was the seat of the High Kings of Munster, although there is little structural evidence of their time here. Most of the buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries when the rock was gifted to the Church.”
We chose to do one of the free tours offered, and I’m so glad we did- learned a lot about the site and its historical significance.
From there, we drove to Blarney. After seeing the castle from afar (and the hoards of tourists going inside the complex), we decided to skip entry and instead, walked around the town of Blarney and grabbed a pint before continuing our trip (#hearteyes for pub dogs).
Note: Although we drove around Ireland and enjoyed drinking pints daily, the person who was driving never drank. Safe driving was part of the reason why we usually arrived in a city/village mid-late afternoon and stayed there for the rest of the day- we wanted everyone to have a good time.
Next up: An impromptu stop at Cobh en route to Kinsale.
Last port of call for the Titanic, Cobh is a beautiful town in the south of Ireland to spend an afternoon in. Known for its cathedral, the tallest in the country, Cobh is full of other surprises- like it’s colourful deck of cards homes, similar to San Francisco’s pained ladies. We only spent a few hours in Cobh, but enjoyed wandering the seaside and picnicing along the waterfront.
Then, it was onwards to our final destination of the day, Kinsale, a charming coastal town in southern Ireland with relaxed vibes.
We arrived early evening, ~7 pm and checked into Valley View B&B, which was okay. By comparison to some of other B&Bs, it fell short in a few regards (small rooms, no breakfast time flexibility, and a small window and small fan meant a very warm room). However, the owner was very nice and the view from our window of the surrounding countryside was stunning. We took a taxi into town for the evening, and had no problem getting one back to our B&B at the end of the night.
Kinsale is cute, colourful with a scenic harbour that seems endless. Narrow streets wind throughout the town, there are so many shops and restaurants to explore.
Its harbour is guarded from the sea by a pair of forts that were once the scene of a battle for the Irish army.
We only ate dinner in Kinsale, but dubbed it the best meal we had in Ireland, which supports the town’s foodie reputation. A friend had recommended eating at Fishy Fishy to me before our trip, and after looking at the menu when we got to town, everyone agreed it looked delicious. We all ordered fresh fish, such a great decision for a seaside town.
Post dinner, we walked around until we found a pub with lively music. Dalton’s Pub was one of my favourite nights out in Ireland- traditional music with solos from locals.
No matter how much time you have in Kinsale, it’s hard not to love this gem of an Irish town.
Day 5: Adare > Limerick > The Burren > Doolin
Awaking in Kinsale, we got on the road early. Known as one of Ireland’s most charming towns, when I first heard of Adare and realised it would only be a 15-20 minute detour from UL, I hoped we’d be able to fit it into our trip.
The pretty village of Adare is located in County Limerick. It’s a designated heritage town, famous for its thatched cottages.
On our way into town, we stopped at the Augustinian Friary. Repaired in the early part of the 19th century, the building exemplifies a medieval Irish church. Prior, it was home to the Augustinian Order until they were driven out during the 15th century.
Heading into town (after saying hello to some cows grazing in a nearby field), we parked in the back lot of the visitor’s centre. First stop: The Good Room Bistro.
Beautiful and delicious homemade baked goods, plus wonderful teas. This is a must visit.
Of course, no trip to Adare is complete without seeing the thatched cottages. The cottages have survived for hundreds of years. Today, some of them are restaurants or shops, but some are still privately owned.
Next to the cottages, near the Visitor Centre, there’s a small, beautiful park. We sat here with our teas and coffees, soaking in the sunshine before hopping back in the car and continuing to Limerick.
Limerick was a quick stop for us. Someone in our group spent a semester while in uni in their study abroad program, so we did a quick spin around campus and then stopped in a bar downtown that used to be one of her pub go-to’s, Dolan’s.
Back on the road to the west, we drove through part of Burren National Park, a place where it’s easy to think you’ve been transported to the surface of the moon. The word “Burren” actually comes from an Irish word “Boíreann”, meaning a rocky place.
We stopped to see Poulnabrone Dolmen, a tomb that dates back to the neolithic period.
With the sun starting to set, we kept driving, eventually arriving in our final destination for the night, Doolin.
The unofficial capital of Irish traditional music, Doolin is a small, single street with only a few pubs and restaurants, but was one of my favourite places we visited on our road trip around Ireland.
It’s a picture perfect village, winding roads where the Irish countryside meets the Atlantic sea. We spent a night in Doolin because it’s the perfect place to visit Cliffs of Moher from- only a 15-20 minute drive from town. Doolin is also a good hub if you want to visit the Aran Islands, ferries leave throughout each day from Doolin’s pier.
First stop: Checking into our B&B at Glasha Meadows. This was my favourite B&B of the trip- our family room was newly renovated with sweeping views of the countryside.
Breakfast was also my favourite of the b&b’s we stayed at- they offered the usual staples of Irish breakfast, plus pick your own sides (fruit salad, scones, toast, banana bread, yogurt) and the chance to choose a main breakfast meal (eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, etc.). The most important part though was the b&b pup- Chase. The cutest.
Post check-in, we walked ~20 minutes into town in search of dinner and pints. With only a few pubs to choose from, we’d heard all were great, but a few, in particular, were favoured by the locals: O’Connor’s, McDermott’s and McGann’s. We spotted a huge table at McDermott’s, liked what we saw on the menu and decided to spend the night nibbling, and sipping Stonewell ciders.
As great as the food and drink were, the best part was then the traditional live music started. We stayed far longer than planned, and when we finally headed back outside, realised the sun had long set. Not enticed by the idea of walking home along dark country roads, we gladly took the pub owner up on his offer to drive us back to our b&b.
It doesn’t get much more charming than Doolin. If you’re driving along the Wild Atlantic Way and need somewhere to stay for a day, you’ll be welcomed by open arms in Doolin.
Day 6: Doolin > Cliffs of Moher > Driving along The Wild Atlantic Way > Galway
The next morning, we awoke to sunshine and blue skies and were so excited- it was Cliffs of Moher day.
Waves crashing into rocks, cliff edges towering overhead, The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most visited and unique attractions.
Part of a dramatic stretch of coastline, 14 km of cliffside trail in total, the cliffs draw thousands of visitors yearly.
Millions of years ago, the area where the cliffs are today was the mouth of a large river. Over time, floods, sand and mud were washed to the area to become the compressed rocks the cliffs are today.
On our visit, we considered hiking the full way from Doolin, but ultimately wanted to be on the road north by noon, so we decided to drive to the Visitor Centre instead. Admission is €8 per person, or €5 for students.
Our first stop once inside was the Visitor Centre to learn more about the cliffs. The centre is built directly into a hilltop, so as not to obstruct the view from the cliffs.
Heading to the trails, we went to the right first, walking toward O’Brien’s tower. We didn’t pay to go inside, we felt like we’d be just fine capturing beautiful shots cliffside. At a certain point, you have the option of going beyond the ‘safe zone’ and continuing on the cliffside trails. We chose to do so, but stayed far back from the edge.
We visited on a beautiful, sunny day when wind was light but still exercised caution and stayed away from the cliff edges. Be careful when you visit, especially if you go beyond the recommended areas. We saw so many people getting way too close to the edge for photos or selfies- it’s not worth it.
After walking close to the end, we turned around and headed back in the other direction. On this side, past the initial cliff, there were rock barriers to prevent people from getting too close to the edge. Since we had a nice day, we climbed over the barriers for a bit, but again- still stayed back from the actual edge.
In total, we spent about 2 hours at the cliffs before heading back to Doolin and continuing north.
The only thing I wish I’d brought with me were a pair of binoculars. So many species of birds and marine life reside in and near the cliffs, but are tough to spot without magnified assistance.
After hiking around the Cliffs, we headed back to Doolin to explore more. Doolin Cafe is a sure bet for coffee, and if you really want to see more of the countryside, drive north along R477.
You’ll be treated to incredible coastal views- two points of interest: Doolin Cliffs, where the extraterrestrial landscape of the Burren meets the sea, and Fanore Beach, a stretch of sandy coastline with rocks for lounging and surfers to watch.
Post beach time, we got back on the road and started driving north to Galway.
We made a quick stop in Ballyvaughan, stopping for coffees at The Soda Parlour and snacks from a small grocery store. Then we continued on until we reached Dunguaire Castle. A scenic stop, Dunguaire was a nice chance to stretch our legs for ~15-20 minutes before finishing our drive.
Galway- cobblestone streets, colourful buildings, and salt air from the sea. Before heading to Galway, everyone I knew who’d been there told me it’d be one of my favourite stops of the trip.
Pulling into town mid-evening, we grabbed a pint at McGinns Hop House and checked into our Airbnb.
Then, dinner at The King’s Head, followed by live music and a bit of bar hopping.
Oh, Irish nightlife, there’s no shortage of it in Galway. Galway is the kind of city where pub patrons pour into the streets on a standard Wednesday night. The city is practically alive with the sound of music. Head to Taafees Bar at the bottom of Shop Street to start, another favourite place: An Pucan pub.
Day 7: Galway > fly back to London in the evening
My last day in Ireland was spent exploring Galway until I had to leave early evening to catch my flight out of Shannon. Ultimately, I loved Galway, but smaller Irish cities, like Kilkenny, Kinsale and Doolin won my heart.
Not to say though Galway isn’t worth a visit. Buzzing with history, Galway is a vibrant town. If you find yourself driving through Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way and can swing a few hours or a day or two, I’d definitely recommend stopping in Galway.
While in Galway, a few of my favourite activities:
- Learn about the city’s history and get acquainted with its cute streets through a free walking tour with Shamrock Tours
- Stroll along the River Corrib and visit the Galway Cathedral, a beautiful modern church. Walk the opposite way to see the Spanish Arch, the gateway to the city. And, from the arch, head across the river from the arch for a great vantage point of The Long Walk, a row of pastel coloured homes
- Meander Eyre Square, a central focal point for the city for over several hundred years
- Savour Irish cheese and fine wine at Sheridans, so good
- Wander Shop Street and The Quays, packed with pubs, restaurants and shops
Days 8 – 11: My friends who continued the road trip followed the bottom itinerary for the rest of their trip-
- Day 8: Galway > Sligo
- Day 9: Northern Ireland (Giant’s Causeway, The Dark Hedges, etc.) > Belfast
- Days 10-11: Belfast
No doubt our Irish road trip was one for the record books, it was a week I’ll never forget. 🙂
Have you ever drove around Ireland? If so, which parts of the trip were your favourite?