Alright, I don’t need to tell you, Ireland is one gorgeous country. Sweeping landscapes, jagged rock, lush and flowing greenery are all hallmarks of Ireland.
With 7 days to work with, I had to decide where we were going to go and what we were going to do. Trip planning is always an exciting time but also a pain too. So many decisions and where do you even start?
Basically, I knew I had done Northern Ireland which if you didn’t know, is part of the UK. So I said, instead of trying to do it all, why don’t we just do the south. Boy was I naive to think even that was easy to do.
We’re back from my trip and I wanted to share Top 10 favourite spots that you have to visit when you’re in Ireland.
Watch it first
Check out this video I put together of my top 10 go-to spots in Ireland. Make sure you get to the end if you want to see the super secret discount code for Galway Glamping.
#1 Skellig Michael
I kind of needed to start here right? I mean geebus it’s freaking incredible. Yes I’m a Star Wars fan and yes I totally brought a mini lightsaber and YES I totally dueled a kid while I was there, but it’s so much more than that.
You get on a boat in Portmagee, and you’re out in the middle of the ocean where these two giant islands jut out of the water. The first one, aptly named Little Skellig looks completely white and you think it’s just a really white island and that’s when you see ALL the birds.
Past that, you have Skellig Michael which is the sanctuary ecosystem for so many unique species of birds including the puffin. I almost forgot about the monastery when we first got off our boat. June is the perfect time to see tens of thousands of puffins and their babies.
#2 Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland’s most unique and spectacular archaeological sites. It is legitimately a Castle On A Hill.
Found on a prominent green hill, banded with limestone outcrops, rising from a grassy plain and bristling with ancient fortifications, this was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster hundres of years prior to the Norman Invasion.
This picturesque complex has a character of its own and is one of the most remarkable collections of medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe. Most of the structure is intact.
#3 Ring of Kerry + Skellig Ring
Ireland at its wildest can be found in this picturesque loop at the heart of County Kerry. This 179 kilometer circuit of this peninsula is perfect for driving with the road that winds past pristine beaches, medieval ruins, mountains, lakes, and views of the island-dotted Atlantic.
This is the same Ring of Kerry where you’ll get access to the Skellig Michael.
This loops starts in Killarney, and its recommended that you drive counter-clockwise because officially all big coach buses have to go this way. Now while everyone warned us that these roads would be hard to drive, we didn’t find it too bad but that might be perhaps we were always on a whacky time schedule because we started late and ended late.
Along the way, I highly recommend that you stop along the many small towns and
You can easily do the full loop in one day BUT you’ll have to be a bit creative with your itinerary if you want to do Skellig Michael because that often starts in the morning and departs from Portmagee which is about midway through the loop.
Also don’t miss Valentia Island which has gorgeous views of the landscape and its towns. There’s also Kerry Cliffs which most guidebooks don’t seem to talk about but is well worth the view. It’s a brother to Cliffs of Moher but I loved it there because there are way less tourists there and you get this wild collection of jagged rock and dramatic cliff drops from the several viewpoints that are available. To round things out you have Molls Gap and Ladies View.
How you do this drive is up to you and depending on the time, stop where you please and continue onwards if you’re short on time.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip for me was the entirety of the Dingle peninsula. This may be a little less famous than its cousin, the Ring of Kerry, but it is equally, if not more charming and beautiful.
It’s a place where land meets ocean, the sharp rocks jut out of the water, tiny settlements are spread all over, and sandy coves appear once in awhile. Here you’ll also find an ancient landscape of ring forts, beehive huts, early Christian chapels, picturesque hamlets and abandoned villages
The most memorable thing here is the drive around where things can get a bit hairier than the Ring of Kerry because you do get pretty close to the edge and the roads narrow to one lane along Slea Head Drive.
Don’t miss the town of Dingle either because you’ll find some amazing food here, Fungy the dolphin and charming streets.
We have a Killarney in Canada but it surely isn’t the same as the original Killarney National Park in Ireland.
The natural beauty of Killarney is undeniable and spans a large area. During your visit here though, you’ll most likely base yourself in the city of Killarney and from there you’ll be able to enjoy the sights of: Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, Ross Castle, and Torc Waterfall.
Killarney is perfectly situated to be either at the start or end of your drive through Ring of Kerry.
#6 Cliffs of Moher
A trip to Ireland wouldn’t be complete without this behemoth sight!
It’s hard to describe the staggering beauty of these vertical cliffs that fall into the ocean and the colors that shine through depending on the lighting conditions – hues of amber, amethyst, rose-pink and deep garnet-red
Now as a super popular destination, it’s going to be crowded here. If you check out the blog post, you’ll see that I’ve dropped a ton of super secret tips about 1) Not paying for parking, and 2) where the best spots are to hike to.
What I’ll say is that the official “Cliffs of Moher” viewing points are OK but if you leave the official boundary and head north, that’s where you get that glorious view of the cliffs and can see the waves of towering rock weave in and out for miles.
#7 Burren National Park
I think what really impressed me about Ireland is just how distinctly different each county is. Once you get to County Clare, not only do you have the Cliffs of Moher but you also have the alien-like landscape in Burren National Park.
What’s interesting about this park is that it’s not run like your standard National Park with an official entrance. The visitor center is in a nearby town. The park itself you kind of just take a small road through and if you know your hiking trail routes, you just park on the side and head out!
Now this is my favourite city in Ireland.
What I love about it is that it’s comfortably small to be easy to explore, full of energy from the locals, delicious food. It’s approachable, it’s fun, it’s artsy, and it’s bohemian.
Don’t miss the buskers, live music, boutique shops, cafes, and local restaurants along the long promenades of pedestrian streets.
#9 Kilmainham Prison
I’ve stayed at a prison converted into a hostel in Sweden and I’ve been to Alcatraz but I have to say that this is the most fascinating prison I’ve been to. Steeped in a dark history, our guide walked us from wing to wing, recounting the story of the painful path to independence and the famous inmates that resided there.
The most memorable part is the newest wing of the prison which was a big change in philosophy to incarceration which open spaces and natural lighting
My only regret was that I didn’t know enough about Irish history to start to remember all the inmates!
Make sure you book your tickets online because they sell out and they have fixed times for their excellent tours.
#10 Blarney Castle
Oh the famous Blarney Stone. I saved the best for last of course!
Now everyone knows about the Blarney Stone, and yes, we lined up for almost an hour. I’m proud to say that I am to recipient of eloquence, or really levelling up my smooth talking. It’s a tradition that goes back to Queen Elizabeth I where there a saying was invented “to talk blarney”.
While it was certainly interesting to see this 15th century castle up close and personal as some random guy held me in place for me to make contact at the top of the battlements, it’s honestly the rest of the grounds of this place that doesn’t get enough credit.
From the fern garden, toxic plants in the Harry-Potter-like poison garden or landscaped nooks and crannies of the Rock Close. These are the places that make this place worth spending time at.
Planning a trip to Ireland and looking for more?
For all the need-to-know tips and tricks and first-hand knowledge from my own roadtrip, I’ve meticulously detailed everything in these posts that you MUST READ.