Right about now I’m wishing I was back in Ireland, in that peaceful land of rolling green hills, twisting towns and rollicking conversations. While living in Spain I had the opportunity to meet my mom and sister in Dublin and take the ultimate Ireland road trip with them through most of the country’s highlights.
Road trips have long been my family’s preferred style of travel. By driving you are able to get closer to the ground and really see a place for how it is. Self driving also gives you freedom to be in control of your time, get off the beaten path and stop along the way as unexpected sights on your journey call out your name.
My Ultimate Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
Ireland was the perfect country to take our love of self-driving overseas. The country is small, roughly the same size as the state of Indiana, and Ireland’s must-visit hot spots are connected by large and well-maintained roads. Because of this, it is also to see the major highlights of Ireland in just seven days, which is perfect news for American travelers who can only afford to spend a week out of the office at a time.
Get ready to hit those Irish roads and read on for the ultimate Ireland road trip itinerary my mom, sister and I crafted and then followed on our visit.
Day One – Dublin
Dublin is the logical starting point for a road trip around Ireland, as the largest international airport is located here and you’ll likely be landing in the city upon your arrival.
If you are flying direct from the East Coast of the United States your flight will likely arrive in the morning. My advice is to get as much sleep as you can on the plane and then stay awake the entire day upon your arrival so that your body acclimates to the time difference sooner.
Pick up your rental car and head into the city Center. Home to just more than half a million residents, the capital of Ireland is a small city for European standards. The city can easily be explored in two full days.
After checking into your hotel, a great first stop in Dublin is the National Museum of Ireland. By starting your trip here you’ll get a thorough overview of the country’s history that will help place the rest of the sights you see in context. Bonus points: the museum is free.
Spend the late afternoon exploring something a bit lighter (or should I say darker) at the Guinness Storehouse. Part distillery and part museum, the Guinness Storehouse uses innovative technology to tell the story of how Guinness is produced. On the tour you’ll learn how to properly pour and taste Guinness. I must admit, I had little appreciation for the greatness that is Guinness; today it remains my favorite beer.
If you still are awake at this point head to Temple Bar, a lively neighborhood filled with pubs, for dinner, more beer and live music.
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Day Two – Dublin
On your first full day in Ireland, make haste and squeeze in the rest of Dublin’s main attractions.
Begin your morning with a stroll through the grounds of Trinity College Dublin. As Ireland’s oldest university, the architecture on campus dates back to 1592. At the library you can see the Book of Kells. Completed in the year 384 and written on calfskin, this book contains the first four gospels written in Latin.
Pop in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the National Cathedral of Ireland nearby as you make your way to the central business district. Stroll along the River Liffey and cross the Ha’Penny Bridge before strolling through the city streets.
In the late afternoon pay a visit to Dublin Castle. Though this building has ancient beginnings, today it is a major seat for the country’s government. Be sure to walk through the Dubhlinn Gardens and Chester Beatty Library.
You won’t want to leave Dublin without visiting Temple Bar, so if you didn’t make it there your first night go there on night two (or just go two nights in a row).
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Day Three – Dublin to Kilkenny
On day three it’s time to leave the city and explore Ireland’s famed countryside with rolling hills, miles of greenery and hundreds of sheep. From Dublin to the town of Kilkenny it’s only a 90-minute drive so you can ease into driving and familiarize yourself with the roads.
Kilkenny is the former medieval capital of Ireland. With brightly colored buildings, the town is so picturesque it will likely match every fantasy you have in your mind of small town Ireland. The town center is easily explored on foot. The Kilkenny Castle and old Gaol are musts on your afternoon itinerary.
My favorite culinary discovery in Kilkenny was Kytelers Inn. Have dinner here and then bar hop at the pubs along the street in search of your own take on the best beer and live music here. Ireland is all about going to pubs and talking to as many locals as you can, drinking as much beer as you can and eating as much good food as you can.
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Day Four – Kilkenny to Cork via Cobh
Wake up early and hit the road for the hour drive to the Rock of Cashel, one of Ireland’s most important medieval sights. Legend says that St. Patrick converted the Kings of Muster at this stone fort.
Have lunch in town and then drive roughly an hour to the seaside town of Cobh, the departure point for Titanic. In Cobh you’ll find a Titanic Memorial and museum. While in town St. Colman’s Cathedral is also worth a visit. I still remember the sense of sadness I could feel walking into this church that overlooks the grey sea. Cobh is a port town and many ships other than Titanic departed Europe from these shores. This church is where the Irish would go to pray after saying goodbye to their loved ones often times forever.
As the sun sets in Cobh its time to drive 30 minutes to Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city. It will likely be late by the time you arrive, so as soon as you’ve checked into your accommodation search for a local pub that suits you and get a good meal in your stomach before heading to bed. Tomorrow will be a big day of driving again.
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Day Five – Cork to Galway via Cliffs of Moher
Today you’re are going to pack in a lot of sights. Other travelers might spread these out over the course of a few days, but you are on a time crunch so you are going to see as much as you can today!
Wake up early and take a short drive to Blarney Castle, the sight of one of Ireland’s most well known (if lacking in sights – the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that if you kiss this stone you’ll gain the gift of gab. Even if kissing a stone isn’t your thing, the castle is still worth visiting for its beauty and well-maintained architecture. On the grounds of the castle you can also visit druid stones and learn more about pre-Christian Celtic culture.
After you’ve had your fill of kisses, drive two and a half hours to the Cliffs of Moher. You can take pit stops in Limerick to see King John’s Castle on the River Shannon and the town of Shannon along the way.
The Cliffs of Moher were easily one of my favorite places to visit in Ireland. These stunning sea cliffs are everything you’d dreamt Ireland would be and more. Walk along the low rock walls, look out at the deep blue water and listen to the siren song of waves crashing against rocks.
Stay for sunset and then drive 90-minutes to Galway, a Western harbor city. Of all the cities I visited in Ireland I found that Galway had the best live music, so after a quick refresh in your hotel room head to Quay Street. Tigh Neachtain is your go to venue for the evening. Operating for over 120 years, live music, beer on tap and a warm fire are always on at this historic pub.
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Day Six – Galway to Dublin
It’s your last full day in Ireland so live it up! Galway is incredibly charming and extremely walkable, so you can put your legs to work before driving back to Dublin. Grab a map at your hotel and take a self-guided tour of top city sights including the Galway Cathedral, Latin quarter, Spanish arch, and Galway Bay.
If you are looking to purchase Irish jewelry, Galway is the place to do it as this is the birthplace of the traditional Claddagh ring, representing love, loyalty and friendship. Galway is also known for its silver and you’ll find a great collection of jewelry featuring Celtic designs at the shops along Quay Street.
From Galway it’s a straight shot across the country back to Dublin. Expect the drive to take around two and a half hours.
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Day Seven – Departure
Unfortunately day seven has arrived and its time for your Ireland road trip to end. If time permits, visit Howth Castle, northeast of the city, before dropping your rental car off at the airport. While waiting for your flight chug one last Guinness on tap – trust me, it won’t taste the same back in the states.
As your plane departs try not to feel an overwhelming sense of sadness as you leave Ireland – hold onto the wisdom from this Irish proverb instead – your feet will bring you where your heart is.