Psst. I have a secret to tell you. Ireland is somewhere you need to add to your bucket list of places to go next. You might not know it yet but better start making plans and to help you with it, I’ve put together a comprehensive full week itinerary and I’ve also gathered my top things that I wish I knew before going that’ll ensure your own version of this trip is smooth sailing.
Ireland is a place where legends, epics, and science fiction become reality. Ireland is breathtaking ancient landscape. Ireland is rolling green hills and craggy sharp rock. Ireland is céad míle fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes)
As with our other itinerary guides, this Southern Ireland guide is broken into three main parts – trip planning decision points, the comprehensive breakdown of each day, and my personal planning tips. This is meant to be super comprehensive and when I think about it, is everything I would have wanted to know when I planned the trip. Okay here we go!
Table of Contents
- Getting Started
- Day 1 – A Peek Inside the Ancient East
- Day 2 – From Castles to Kissing to a Ring Called Kerry
- Day 3 – Magic on Skellig Michael
- Day 4 – A Day In Killarney
- Day 5 – Coastal Adventures Around Dingle Peninsula
- Day 6 – Mighty Cliffs and The Burren
- Day 7 – Clash of Gaelic Sport and Dublin Delight
- How The Itinerary Changed During The Trip
The awesome thing about planning a trip to Ireland is that it’s actually not that hard. Still, there are a few things that you’ll want to consider as you put everything together.
For more details make sure to read everything you need to know when you plan a trip to Ireland.
How Many Days Do I Need?
Oh the tricky questions you ask. There’s three scenarios here. 1) You have limited vacation days, 2) you found a flight deal with specific dates, or 3) there’s flexibility.
If it’s #1 or #2, you already know your answer but if it’s #3, things become intriguing.
The universal question to any trip is “the more days the better!” but if I put my get-serious-hat on, it’s in part dictated by your decision on how much you’d like to see and the pace at which you travel.
Is one week enough? My one week in Ireland wasn’t enough to see everything we wanted in the south but was the perfect amount to see the highlights of the south. With that, I’d say 7 days is a bare minimum. With a week, your itinerary will be decently packed as you’ll see with ours. Any less, you’ll have to focus on less regions or drive aggressively which I don’t recommend.
I feel that two weeks is the perfect amount whether you decide to deep dive in a specific area or see the whole island.
That being said, for the sake of keeping this guide focused, let’s say you only have 7 days to work with.
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Where Should I Focus On?
Admittedly, this was the hardest part of trip planning for us.
A week in the Emerald Isle is certainly not enough but if you’ve got limited time like we did, you’ll have to make a pretty critical decision. Do you focus on the North, South, or the whole island? Do you want to take it slow or hit up as much as you can? These are the fundamental questions you’ll want to think about as you kick things off.
First, we probably need to do a little bit of a geography lesson here. The island of Ireland is in fact divided into two parts. The majority of the land is covered by the Republic of Ireland (officially named Ireland) and other sixth is Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom to the northeast.
Here’s how I see it in terms your choices:
One of the most recognizable places of Ireland is Giant’s Causeway and it is probably one of the biggest reasons you’ll want to come to this part of the island. These unusual basalt pillars are incredibly unique and will boggle your mind. In the north, its cities like Belfast and Derry which present the most compelling and fascinating political history if you’re interested in learning about absolutely fascinating for their political history and the complicated past around Ireland’s independence. From a landscape perspective there is plenty to see here as well and is just as beautiful as the southern part of the island.
Other highlights include:
- Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
- Dark Hedges
- Donegal – There’s a reason why this region was picked as ‘Coolest Place on the Planet for 2017’ by National Geographic Traveller
- Malin Head
For the sake of argument, let’s call the southern part of Ireland everywhere below the line that connects Galway to Dublin but I want to be clear in saying that there is no official “southern Ireland” borderline but I’m breaking it up for the purpose of providing focus.
“Same same but different” couldn’t be more true here. While the north and the south are all part of what evokes what we associate to Irish landscape and people, the bottom half of the island is also dramatically different in terrain and sights. The south is where you’ll find a majority of the larger cities of Ireland including Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Limerick.
I won’t go into too much here because you’ll see how the itinerary is laid out but I would say that a main reason for doing the southern part is to do the Ring of Kerry, Skellig Michael, Dingle, explore castles and ancient ruins.
The Full Loop
The truth is, the island itself isn’t that large (area wise, it is in fact smaller than Iceland) and doing a loop is certainly possible in 7 days but that would mean making a decision to pick and choose places you want to see. It’s an ambitious schedule but definitely possible.
Ultimately I chose to do the south because I had done Northern Ireland on a separate short stopover trip and wanted to see a different side to Ireland and get the full Irish experience so to speak.
When Is The Best Time To Go?
What you need to know about Ireland is that it rains a lot. The summer months are short and in the winter most things in the country are shut down. As a result, it kind of makes it simple in terms of when to plan your trip.
The months of July and August are the peak of high season when school is out but of course you contend with the large hoards of tourists both domestic and international. On average these months have a high of 20C.
Spring and fall are going to be a bit temperamental but if you’re okay with rain, you’ll find awesome flight deals and hotels will be cheap. Expect the temperatures to be colder though where you’re looking at highs of 15C.
The sweet spot however has to be June. I’m not just saying that because that’s when we went but when you factor in summer solstice with the longest days of the year and the fact that it’s just the start of high season, you get the best of amazing weather and smaller crowd sizes. It was incredible that there was enough light to sightsee until 10PM. Mind-boggling!
Things I Should Pack?
Packing for a road trip through Ireland shouldn’t be too hard as you’re not necessarily going to be roughing it and you’ll be staying at B&B’s and hotels all the way through.
Since you’ll have access to a car for storage all the time, you don’t have to go ultra-light but you should be careful about what you bring because you will want to rent the smallest car possible which means minimal trunk space.
Waterproof – The other part you want to make sure you have is the right clothing in case it does rain. When it rains during your road trip, you’re not necessarily going to skip every spot you have on your itinerary. This means that you’ll have to brave the elements and rather than getting fully soaked which I don’t recommend (speaking from experience), have rain gear with you in case you need it.
GPS – Navigation was invaluable for us during the road trip. With the amount of driving we were doing through small country roads was down right dizzying. Driving with paper maps seem near impossible. If you have a data plan, using your smartphone for GPS will be your first choice so you can leverage any traffic information to take the most optimal route. If not, a stand-alone unit will work just as well. Lastly, unless you’re absolutely sure, don’t assume your car will have GPS built in. My policy is to always have a back up option here so before your trip, make sure you save areas offline on Google Maps and Save/Star all your destinations. Google Maps will work offline (minus traffic adjustments).
Money – Ireland is part of the EU and as such, Euro is the currency. Cash or credit is widely accepted so it is really up to personal preference what you want to use. If you’re from Canada, make sure you have the right credit card to either minimize on foreign exchange fees or maximize on points.
Always cool – If you look at the temperature graphs for Ireland, it never really gets that hot. In the summer, it tops out in the low 20s. Be mindful that the evenings drop down to the 10s or lower so pack accordingly. I had a light Quiksilver hoodie always ready to go in the car in case things got chilly.
Check out other gear that I recommend for a trip to Ireland.
Where Should I Stay?
After deciding where the trip was going to be focused around and having a rough idea of the spots you want to see, the next step is figuring out where you’ll end up each night and where to stay.
The best part about Ireland is the hospitality and it is a big reason why we had such a great time. As much as the scenery blew our minds every day, it were those conversations with the owners of the B&Bs and hotel staff that made for a lasting impression. We did not have one bad experience at any of the properties we stayed at during our journey and would highly recommend each one.
B&B’s: Since you’ll only find hotels in the big cities, when you get out to the country-side, you’re going to rely on B&B accommodations. Each one is unique but all family owned with a focus on attention to detail and friendly service. The rooms always have character to them and the best part is that breakfast is included (very good breakfast at that).
Hotels: In the bigger cities, you’ll have the option to stay at a hotel and I’ll be honest in saying that we quite enjoyed our big rooms, luxurious beds, and room cleaning when we had the opportunity. Not to say we didn’t have that at the B&Bs but it was a welcome change to go into a hotel knowing the level of service and quality that you’d expect and in our case, and then some. The big game changer for us was really just really good linens and mattress. Trust me, it makes a difference!
Glamping: It’s always fun to throw in something totally out of left field and when I found out about Galway Glamping and their Mongolian yurts, I knew we had to try it. Glamping stands for glamorous camping and in this one you get an experience that gets you into idyllic and charming countryside setting while not sacrificing the comforts of a hot shower, kitchen, and lounge rooms. Think of these like B&Bs where the hosts are just as accommodating, friendly, and helpful.
Here are the places that we stayed across the 7 days in Ireland:
- Kilkenny – Newlands Lodge
- Portmagee – Skellig View White Room Airbnb
- Killarney – The Lake Hotel
- Dingle – An Portán
- Lisdoonvarna (near Doolin) – Slieve Elva B&B
- Galway – Galway Glamping
- Dublin – The Croke Park Hotel
Tips and Advice
- Whether for B&Bs or Glamping, you have to be careful about check-in times. Typically there are very specific time slots where they expect you to come in. If you aren’t able to, make sure you reach out to them beforehand, give the owners an estimate of when you’ll arrive, and get approval.
- When glamping, make sure to ask what facilities are available so you come prepared. In Galway Glamping’s case, they did not provide towels so I had to bring my own travel towel.
Make sure you take advantage of the two offers out there for both Booking.com and Airbnb if you haven’t yet already!
How to Fly Into Ireland?
Ireland is becoming more and more accessible and that’s a great thing. The main international airport is Dublin (DUB) but don’t forget that there are also airports in Shannon (SNN), Belfast (BFS), Cork (ORK), and Knock in West Ireland (NOC).
Coming from Canada, Dublin will be your primary access point into Ireland. My choice of airline is Air Transat where I had a fantastic experience on my own trip. I flew with them on my trip and was greeted with great leg room, a solid entertainment system, excellent service, and amazing food. This was all in economy. What sets the food apart is that they have a brand new menu by Chef Daniel Vézina which is absolutely stellar. I highly recommend you pay the extra to get this meal and bundle it with OptionPlus which gives you bonuses like a special check-in line, earlier boarding, and comfort package (blanket, headphones, and eye shades).
Direct flights from Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Quebec, and Vancouver to Dublin.
If you’re coming from another part of Europe, you have even more airports open to you.
- Kerry Airport: Served by flights from Dublin, Manchester, London-Luton, London-Stansted and Frankfurt.
- Waterford Airport: Served by flights from London-Luton, Manchester, Birmingham, Bordeaux, Lorient.
- Galway Airport: Served by flights from Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradfort, London Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Southampton.
- Donegal Airport
- Sligo Airport
- George Best Belfast City Airport
- City of Derry Airport
The reason why I bring up all of these options is that you can get pretty creative with your itinerary. So for instance, instead of doing a round trip journey in and out of Dublin, you could start in Dublin which is on the East side of the island to Shannon which is on the West.
SEE IT FIRT HAND
THE 7 DAY ROAD TRIP ITINERARY
Now with the basics out of the way, you’re part of the way through your planning. The next step is to start figuring out how you’re going to be laying out your Irish adventure.
The following is a high level outline of everything we did across the 7 days we had in Ireland including sights, restaurants we tried, where we stayed, and invaluable insight we learned through a little bit of adventure and misadventure.
This is meant to be a guideline of course because I know everyone’s situation is going to be different. That said, if you’re looking for a baseline to start from, this guide is probably the best out there. Sign up to become an insider and get access to the downloadable spreadsheet.
Day 1 – A Peek Inside the Ancient East
If you’re a traveller coming from North America, you’ll most likely be taking a red-eye flight where you fly out in the evening and arrive the next day in the morning. Factor that into your plans because you may be too tired to hit the ground running. For us, we tried our best to sleep through the whole flight so that we’d have enough energy to last the entirety of the first day.
Upon landing in Dublin and out of the airport by 1PM, we made an explicit decision to hit the road right away. There’s more details about in the driving section but since I knew driving in Dublin was going to be a headache, it just seemed more logistical sense to finish with Dublin where there’d be the option to return the car in the city and then rely on local transportation. We didn’t end up doing this but the option was nice.
After picking up our rental car from Europcar, it hit me like a brick wall (mainly because I didn’t really think about it much beforehand that I was going to be driving on the left hand side of the road and that I’d be shifting with my left hand instead of my right. Panic set in but luckily I had some experience driving on the other side of the road in Australia and New Zealand so at least I knew what to look out for.
After quite the adventure getting out of the city and making a few wrong turns, we eventually wound our way down the narrow country roads to get to Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains region which in itself is gorgeous. As our first stop, Glendalough Monastic City ruins were very impressive and almost fairytale-like with the Round Tower (straight out of Hansel and Gretel), Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, the high crosses in the graveyard, and the priest’s house. It truly is amazing how places like these were cradles of Christianity in the country. Also make sure not to miss the walk up to the Upper Lake which has a postcard worthy view. It’s roughly a 30 minute walk each way. No admission required.
With that taking most of the afternoon, we then drove to our final destination of the day which is the city of Kilkenny. We arrived too late to do the Kilkenny Castle tour but there was plenty to see walking around the grounds including the massive green park on one side and the rose garden on the other.
After dinner, we treated ourselves to Murphy’s Ice Cream which had just opened up in town. Our favourite flavour has to be their Dingle Sea Salt flavour which you have to try!
If we had more time:
Smithwick’s Experience – Smithwick’s ended up being our beloved beer for the trip and would have loved to have done this tour. They also have a evening experience that sounded pretty rad.
Quaint restaurant down a small alleyway in Kilkenny that serves excellent European dishes that span Irish to Italian. Ordered the Baked Goatsbridge trout and Pappardelle pasta and both were very good. Loved the decor here as well. Best part was when the manager, Frank, came out to greet all the customers to see how everything was.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Car rental and driving tips – There are in-depth details about this in the post about everything you need to know to plan a trip to Ireland.
- Parking at Glendalough – We were very clueless when we got to Glendalough and parked at the first parking lot we saw which turned out to be the Glendalough Hotel. The parking was “free” and we weren’t ticketed although I’d say in high season it may not be as easy as it was for us.
- Relieve and hydrate – The walk to the Upper Lake is long and there isn’t much cover at the main site so either using the visitor centre or Glendalough Hotel for the bathroom facilities.
- Kells Priory – We learned about this site from Mairead and Jimmy and Newlands Lodge and I wish we had read about it earlier but this sounds like the off-the-beaten-path spot that would be worth considering in your itinerary. Read more about it here.
Day 2 – From Castles to Kissing to a Ring Called Kerry
With a full stomach from our Irish breakfast, we hopped into our car and made our way to the Rock of Cashel. On a green hill, with banded limestone, ancient fortifications create a ring around the Gothic cathedral, round tower, and chapel. We were able to walk through the open yet remarkably intact ruins while also enjoying the rolling countryside of Tipperary. When Ed Sheeran sings about a castle on a hill, he surely must’ve been talking about this one. Entrance is 8 EUR per person.
Next stop was the famed Blarney Castle just outside of Cork. First of all the grounds of Blarney Castle and Gardens is huge and requires a half day to fully explore everything but since our mission was to kiss a certain famous stone, we walked straight to the castle tower to line up to smack lips with a stone famed for giving the gift of eloquence. We just managed to get there at the height of the queue and ended up slowly ascending to the top an hour later. If time alotted, we would have loved to have escaped the crowds and walked the Poison Garden, Fern Garden, Arboretum, and the endless other garden walks that explore the mystical and magical landscape. Entrance is 14 EUR per person booked online.
We would have loved to have spent time in Cork itself but there just wasn’t enough time for the detour. Wrapping up at Blarney Castle, we literally rushed through Killarney and connected to the Ring of Kerry to start our counter-clockwise rotation. The scenery at this point dramatically changed from the tree lined country roads to coastal cliffs and crashing of waves. This is where you really appreciate having your own car.
There were a few impromptu stops along the way before we made our final stop of the night at Kells Bay House & Gardens. Here, we had a lovely and surprisingly authentic Thai meal at their in-house Sala Thai Restaurant.
By the time we finished our meal it was close to 9:30PM. Luckily we had Summer Solstice on our side and there was still a ton of light out. This made navigating the road to Portmagee and over to our Airbnb much easier. Sadly we had to skip pretty much everything along the way along this part of the Ring of Kerry except a quick stop at a gas station to pick up breakfast and snack items for the next day.
If we had more time:
- Cork – We always heeded the advice of countryside > city but it would’ve been nice to explore Cork and their English Market and perhaps even visit the Cobh Heritage Centre.
- Blarney Gardens – We saw the castle but as I mentioned I would have loved to have spent more time doing the various walks around the garden.
- Killorglin – This is the first town we passed by along the Ring of Kerry. We zipped right through but I would have loved to have stopped here even for a few minutes to get a feel for a small town like this one.
- Cahirciveen – This is home to the Ballycarbery Castle and the Old Barracks which is built in the Schloss style and has a legend of a story around the British building this in haste where they mixed up plans for this and a building designed for somewhere in Punjab, India.
This is the in-house restaurant as part of the Kells Bay House property. As someone that’s had a lot of Thai food, I have to say that the curries, noodles, and skewers we had were all very good and very authentic. The only knock I’d have on this place is the service. Our order took way too long to get to the table and only after following up did they realize that they missed our order completely and had to make it from scratch at that point.
A no frills kind of Airbnb that I booked pretty early on because I was worried that the town of Portmagee would sell out. Our host, Marie, was very accommodating of our late check-in request and I appreciated the free passes to Kerry Cliffs. The room was just the right size and in relatively clean condition. Wifi included as well.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Rock of Cashel – It may not seem like it but parking is right up the narrow road right at the base of the hill. It’s an automated parking system where you pay the machine when you’re leaving. This parking costs 4.50 EUR. To save money you could look at parking in town and walking up which isn’t too far either.
- Blarney Castle – Be ready for lines up to kiss the Blarney Stone. If you’re not in a rush, I recommend doing the other parts of the garden, waiting for the line to subside and then doing the castle itself.
Day 3 – Magic on Skellig Michael
This was the most special day of the entire trip. Not only am I a Star Wars geek, I am also a super Star Wars geek. I’d be lying if I told you that I knew about Skellig Michael before The Force Awakens and I think that just goes to show you how powerful TV and film can be on travel.
The entire pilgrimage experience of zipping across the North Atlantic to discover that the white tipped Little Skellig was in fact covered by white gannets, followed by the adorable puffins that made Skellig Michael their home, and then following in the ancient footsteps of Luke Skywalker and Rey up to the monastery itself was pure magic.
The 2.5 hours we had on the island seemed like a lot at the start but once we got to climbing the steps, awestruck every step of the way with puffins, and then exploring the beehive huts of the monastery, the time passed by so quickly.
Back on the mainland and after lunch, we explored the lesser-known Valentia Island. We wouldn’t have known about this part of the Ring of Kerry if it wasn’t for incredible photos I had seen from this area. With the higher vantage points of Geokaun Mountain (5 EUR per car) and the slate quarry behind Valentia Lighthouse (5 EUR per person), the scenery was as close to postcard perfect as it gets especially with the beams of sunlight making it through the overcast day.
We then continued along or ring road journey by joining up with the Skellig Ring where we stopped by Kerry Cliffs (4 EUR per person) which is an impressive view of the jagged edged rocky coast. It’s at the edge of the peninsula where the land rises and then sharply drops into the ocean.
The driving adventure continued along until rejoining the main Ring of Kerry where due to time, there wasn’t much of an opportunity to stop in the towns along the way. From Waterville and onwards, it was straight driving. The truth is there wasn’t much to stop and see along the way because we were away from the coast.
At Molls Gap, we took a quick break to take a quick peek before descending into Killarney National Park with sunlight starting to wane. Along the way, we were able to make quick stops at Ladies View. It’s this point where you can see where the glaciers carved through the valley before the opening into Killarney itself.
By the time we checked into The Lake Hotel, it was pretty late and no restaurants were open so we just hopped downstairs to the Devil’s Punchbowl Bar, grabbed a pint and ordered a sandwich.
If we had more time:
- Waterville, Sneem, Caherdaniel, and Kenmare – It would’ve been nice to take our time through these idyllic coastal towns but I feel the trade off of spending more time in on Valentia Island and the Skellig Ring was worth it.
With barely any time to snack on Skellig Michael, we were famished by the time we arrived back in Portmagee. Right along the main street is this nice little local restaurant which gets all the Skellig tourists. Their fish and chips definitely hit the spot.
A historic hotel that is full of character but doesn’t show its age. The rooms here are incredibly spacious and comfortable. Breakfast as part of the B&B package was of the highest quality and the perfect charge-up for the day. Location wise, it can’t be beat either being practically on Killarney National Park Grounds with that amazing view of the old castle ruins at the footsteps of Lough Leane.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Skellig Michael –
- Booking: You must book at least 4-5 months in advance in order to guarantee a spot for a specific date. If you haven’t, don’t fret because cancellations happen all the time.
- Companies: This part was the most challenging to figure out because you realize how behind these companies are in terms of online reservations and having a solid online presence. It’s a bit of a mess because every company out there has similar names for search engine purposes and so it gets incredibly confusing. At the end of the day you have to realize that it’s fishermen and boat captains that run these businesses so you have to give them some slack. The other part you have to consider is that these boat companies offer two types of tours – one that lands on the island and others that simply circle the island by boat. Make sure you book the land tour. I ended up going with Skelligs Rock and they were fantastic. I highly recommend them. Other companies out there are:
- Casey’s Tours to Skellig Island
- Skellig Michael Cruises
- Ballinskelligs Boats – Leaves from Ballinskelligs which is a totally different pier from Portmagee
- Skellig Boat Trips
- Skellig Walker Cruises
- Skellig Michael Voyage
- Go Visit Ireland aboard Eagle 3
- The Skelligs Tour – Departs from Caherdaniel
- And then you have all the folks that aren’t online and you can find them here.
- Weather: What is not under your control is mother nature. If the weather is poor for the boats, they’ll cancel the trip. That’s why Skelligs Rocks ensured we called the morning of to confirm whether the trip would be a go or no-go. There’s not much you can do here other than perhaps planning in 2 days in the Ring of Kerry area so that if one day doesn’t work, you can reorganize things so you can have a second day to attempt a trip out.
- Boat ride: With the speed of the boat, you’re not going to get that rocky, nausea inducing feeling that folks sensitive to being on the water get. That being said, the water does get choppy especially on the way out which is why you have to wear the waterproof gear provided by the boat). For those that get sea sick easily, they do have medicine onboard prior to leaving the pier if you need it but nobody on our boat ride had issues. Make sure you tuck your camera away once the boat is out in open water because you will get very wet especially if you sit near the back. The captain was also nice enough to provide big zip-loc bags in case. Talk about service!
- Difficulty: There are two main sets of steps to the Monastery but I would say it’s relatively easy. The first set slowly winds up with some natural spots for breaks. The steps are wide enough to allow people to pass and the step widths felt pretty normal. The second set of steps are more steep but if you take your time, you’ll make it up with no issues. Compared to the Inca Trail where altitude was in effect, this felt very easy since it only required short spurts of energy.
- Tour: Make sure you stick around for the educational talk given by one of the rangers when you get to the Monastery. I don’t think there’s a fixed schedule but I could be wrong. It felt like it was every hour.
- Valentia Lighthouse – Admission to here was 5 EUR per person but didn’t think it was worth it. The lighthouse and the small museum weren’t too interesting and the views weren’t anything special. What was a nice view was in fact from the slate quarry which is visible when you look back inland from the lighthouse. From here you get sweeping views of lighthouse and the sprawling peninsula fingers that meet here.
- Skellig Ring – The Skelligs are in view for most of the drive around here and was honestly more of a joy to drive through compared to the Ring of Kerry because the large coaches don’t come here. There weren’t designated stops per say but it was a joy to find pullovers to see the villages below
- Ring of Kerry – I would recommend driving counter-clockwise which is the officially designated route for all the coach buses. I say this because it is flat out scary driving the opposite way and having buses coming your way especially on corners. I’d much rather be stuck behind one and feel comfortable that opposing traffic will have to yield and when the opportunity arises to pass. The driving section will cover this in more detail but I’ll say two things. 1) The speed limit is way too high so don’t feel pressured to drive that fast and 2) As scary as everyone made driving the ring sound, it really wasn’t that bad because you’re never at a cliff’s edge and there are usually tiny pull offs to let give space for oncoming cars.
Day 4 – A Day In Killarney
After a hearty breakfast at The Lake Hotel, we started off our late morning by checking out the hotel grounds. The hotel back right into the largest lake of the national park and as part of that, there’s also the ruins of The McCarthy Mór Castle.
You’ll need a full day exploring Killarney National Park because it’s that huge. For us, we wanted to hit up the main sights and we were able to do Muckross Abbey, Muckross House, Torc Waterfall, and Ross Castle. I was probably most impressed with the Abbey and its courtyard that must’ve inspired Tolkien.
Wanting to spend time in the town of Dingle, we hit the road right after we finished at the castle. The drive through the southern coast of peninsula was amazing to drive through as you pretty much had views of the water all the way through as you winded through. The Ring of Kerry side was always visible across the water and sufficed to say we made quite a few stops along the way.
We quite enjoyed our time in Dingle as we were able to take a relaxing stroll along the main streets of town, popping into the small shops that were painted in a variety of colours. After dinner, we also made sure we tried a few more flavours at Murphy’s Ice Cream.
If we had more time:
- Killarney National Park – In my head we had a lot more time to work with and I would’ve loved to have done a few hikes in the park. I was also sad that we weren’t able to take the boat across from Ross Castle to the Meeting of the Waters and Old Weird Bridge.
- Gap of Dunloe – This was part of the plans but had to cut it out. There’s an awesome hike there that takes around 2 hours with breathtaking views of the lake, a heritage cottage, and the surrounding mountains.
- Killarney City – If there’s one city we completely skipped because of time, it was Killarney. It’s supposed to be a charming city with great food options like Quinlan’s Seafood Bar and Lane Cafe Bar which we had picked out.
If you love seafood, this is your spot. The seafood chowder is out of this world. The fish is all locally caught and fresh and it comes through in the two dishes we had – sea bass and pollock were probably the best of the entire trip.
This is one of the few B&Bs located on the western part of Dingle Peninsula which is the perfect spot to launch into the main sights along Slea Head Drive and the ferry out to the Blasket Islands. The owners, Rónán and Geraldine are warm and friendly hosts that also serve up delicious breakfast. The rooms are spacious, clean, and even come furnished with a rocking chair.
Day 5 – Coastal Adventures on Dingle Peninsula
When I was planning the Dingle portion of the trip, I couldn’t find a really clear itinerary of others that have done it so I kind of left it open. It wasn’t until I had a chance to speak to Rónán and Geraldine that I realized there was a ton to see. They were kind enough to write it all down for us.
As beautiful as the Ring of Kerry was, I’d say rivals it in many ways as the drives are much more epic as Slea Head Drive literally hugs the coast. You then have the Blasket Islands that serve as the backdrop to the wild and jagged landscape of rock, ocean, and mountain ridges.
Starting in Dunquin, which is where our B&B was located, was a bit of a blessing and a curse because it allowed us to jump right into Dunquin Harbour and The Blasket Centre but since driving counter to traffic is highly inadvisable as we were told, we had to cut across the mountain in order to drive on Slea Head Drive in the clockwise direction.
When it comes to Slea Head Drive, there really wasn’t a specific sight that you’re looking for. It’s very much a look out into the ocean as you’re driving around.
We were told that the Famine Cottages are a tourist trap so we skipped that. There are also beehive huts along the way but because we had done Skellig Michael, we were good to drive through as well. Past that, the panoramas are a constant high. The challenge will be finding a safe place to stop. Cross at Slea Head is a good spot for a quick stop where you’ll see great views of the Blasket Islands. From there, a golden beach is in sight and that would be Coumeenoole Beach. The beach is a good spot for a picnic and there’s a good hike to the peninsula’s edge.
From there we continued around the peninsula with stops at Clogher Head which is more or less another beach and the Louis Mulcahy Pottery studio (good for a bathroom break and quick peek).
To round out our day in Dingle, we drove back into town for another quick pitstop before detouring north to cross Conor Pass. At the peak, there’s a carpark where we stopped briefly to check out the magnificent sights here where you can see the coast in the distance, farms at the valley floor, along with lakes and cliffs.
This is when the heavy driving started as we had to wind up Northeast towards Limerick before turning Northwest. Along the way, we stopped in the city of Ennis where it started pouring but we ducked into Cruises Pub for dinner.
If we had more time:
- Gallarus Oratory – This was on our itinerary for the drive around Dingle but because we didn’t have enough time, I quickly flew the drone and continued along our way.
- Quaint small towns of Dingle – Our B&B hosts recommended that we stop by Ballydavid but short on time, we had to skip them.
- Blasket Islands – Now this is a full day kind of event but if you had a couple of days in the area, I’d totally recommended getting a ferry over to the Great Blasket Island to create your own eco adventure.
This spot was a bit of a happy accident for us. Originally we wanted to eat at The Cloister Restaurant & Bar but they weren’t taken anyone without reservations. This pub was full of energy when we stepped in with a Gaelic football match televised with live Irish music. There was a good selection of local beer here on top of comfort Irish bar food. The Guinness meat pie and bangers and mash were perfect.
Just outside the town of Lisdoonvarna is this amazing B&B which features cosy guest rooms which are both spacious, clean, and modernly renovated. What makes any stay special is the hospitality of the owners Kris and Ireen who will go out way to make you feel at home. Their breakfast is marvelous and you will love their personal touch of home made bread and jams. On top of that, each room gets Ireen’s homemade biscuits. This would be my B&B of choice for anyone want to visit Cliffs of Moher or The Burren in County Clare.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Driving in Dingle – Having done the drive myself, I can confidently say that you do not want to drive counter-clockwise direction. Slea Head Drive is designated as a two way road but honestly at some parts along the coast, the width is just wide enough for one car.
- Tarbert to Killimer Ferry – Instead of driving through Limerick as we ended up doing, there’s an alternative route that involves a ferry from Tarbert and goes across to Killimer. We were originally going to do this but after considering waiting time based on when we’d arrive and ferry time, it didn’t save us anytime so we just kept on driving. However, if you plan it well or just have a more flexible schedule, check the schedule beforehand and this’ll be a great way to cut down driving time. It costs 19 EUR per car or 17.10 if you book online.
Day 6 – Mighty Cliffs and The Burren
It’s invaluable to be able to chat with a local about their perspective of what to see and things that guide books don’t tell you about. Kris from Slieve Elva was great in this as he took the local tourist map and pointed out all the areas we should check out. While we weren’t able to follow his plan to a tee, his tips were super helpful.
So we started off getting our first hint of the Burren landscape by crossing through the countryside before dropping to the coast. Where there were rolling valleys before, large forested areas popped up and the ground bursting with streams of sharp jagged limestone.
The Cliffs of Moher were staggeringly impressive with its continuous sheer drop of 214 metres that winds out as far as the eye can see. Where the vistas truly opened up though was beyond the fences of the maintained park. There, I only dared walk to the death-defying edges a few time before following the ridge line down to the most northern point. We ended up spending quite a bit of time here and even took a snack break. Entrance is 6 EUR (more on that below).
Our next stop was Burren Smokehouse which friends raved about so we knew we couldn’t miss it. What we learned was that the Smokehouse itself is just a store and next to it on the same street is the Storehouse. Here, we grabbed a sample platter to eat one of our few lunches on the trip. Let me tell you, their smoked fish whether it be the salmon or mackerel were amazing. It was so good that after lunch, we walked over to the Smokehouse and picked up a few for home. The tricky part for the rest of the trip though was figuring out how to keep it refrigerated.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in Burren National Park where we sort of got lost, followed by a quick walk around the portal tomb, Poulnabrone. The Burren region is seriously out of this world though. Even though we didn’t get to do a full hike in the national park, this geopark shows the power of glaciers once upon a time that carved through and left behind limestone pavement with fissures created by rainwater dissolution. The end result is something that is so dramatically different from anywhere else in Ireland.
We closed out the day in Galway which has got to be my favourite city in Ireland. It’s not like we even got to stay there that long but it was somewhere that was full of energy with all the street performers. Pedestrian streets ruled the downtown core which made it easy to walk and so approachable with its many shops and restaurants.
At the end of the night, we drove outside of the city to get to Galway Glamping where we had a chance to meet the owners where they gave us the full tour of the grounds. This night was hands down the most memorable of stays with eclectic assembly of furniture in the Mongolian yurt which was surprisingly very cosy and warm thanks to the electrical heater.
If we had more time:
- Ballyvaughan Fairy Fort – Kris from our B&B was very knowledgable about hidden spots in The Burren and one of them was this ring fort said to be on the road up to Poulnabrone just opposite the left hand turn into the Ailwee Caves. Access is restricted but it’s supposed to be easy to walk in.
- Ballyvaughan – The original thought was to head up there for a visit but we ran out of time. Pretty thatched cottages, nice crafts shops, and restaurants sound good?
- Aran Islands – This isn’t a day trip kind of thing. We met some travellers along our journey that raved about their Aran Islands experience. The easiest way to get there is by catching a ferry from Doolin. I’d recommend staying overnight at a minimum. There are 3 islands in the chain but the most interesting is Inis Mór which features the cliff tops prehistoric ring forts. A ton to see and explore here.
- Burren National Park – I’m still a bit disappointed in the hike we attempted here. With a little better planning, I would’ve picked a better marked hike here since winging it clearly didn’t work out.
- Aillwee Cave/Pollnagollum – Another one of Kris’ recommendations. Pollnagollum is a secret spot but if you know where to look, you can find the cave that inspired Lord of the Rings’ character, Gollum. Entrance to the longest cave in Ireland, the more accessible way is through Aillwee Cave which is open to the public. The best way to see it is to join up with a local caving tour (Back West Adventures).
Everyone raved about The Burren Smokehouse and their restaurant (Storehouse next door) and it sure didn’t disappoint. After our morning at the Cliffs of Moher, we made our way over here for a quick bite. While they have a ton of other great menu items such as their pizza, what we really wanted to try was a sampling of their smoked fish. Luckily they have the Smokehouse Platter which has 6 of their products. Two of us shared one plate and it was just right for a half lunch. There’s often live music playing here as well.
The most unique accommodations of our entire trip. Who would’ve thought we’d be able to stay in a Mongolian yurt in the middle of the Irish countryside. What used to be an estate in ruins, the grounds have now been converted to this eclectic mix of yurts, axe-throwing, group games, party rooms, and other funky rooms. What makes it glamping is that all rooms are furnished and powered while also including super clean bathroom, kitchen, and lounging facilities next door.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Cliffs of Moher –
- What the entry ticket is actually for – The assumption I made going there was that the Cliffs of Moher were somehow closed off and the only way to get there was by paying admission. The truth is, the entry ticket is only to get into the mass lot across the street. Once you’re parked, all you do is cross the street and that’s it. There’s ticket check so anyone can walk in. This kind of makes sense because there’s no way to police the cliffs to the north and the south. Anyone can walk in. They just bank on everyone driving. Okay another gripe I have with the entrance ticket is that the online reservation should be faster to get into the parking. Wrong. You have to get in the same line as everyone else so time savings are pretty much nil.
- How to get in for free – This one I learned about thanks to Kris but basically there’s a farmer that has land right next to the most northerly edge of the cliffs. The farmer is apparently super cool with people parking along the road as long as their car can still drive through. The photo below is the spot that you should be looking for. If you’re coming from the north, you’ll see this before the mass parking lot. You can use either side as you can see.
- Best time to go – If I were to do it again, I’d definitely plan to go after 4PM. During the middle for the day, there are way too many tourist buses and the sun is right above you which creates incredibly harsh shadows. I’ve seen the photos and sunsets are epic here.
- Best spots for photos – To get that postcard perfect shot, you need to leave the official bounds of the tourist site (there are signs that let you know). We couldn’t do both ends but chose to hike to the northern edge which gives you full view of the pinnacle and a long depth of cliffs front to back.
- Burren National Park – This park is unique because there aren’t any specific boundaries and isn’t run like a national park that we’re used to. That’s why the visitor centre is in the nearby town of Corofin. We didn’t go to here and just plotted a route to the park via Google Maps which in retrospect wasn’t a good idea because I had no clue where the hike trails were. At the Gortlecka Crossroads, we saw a bunch of cars parked here so we did as well. Thing is, there’s only one board here that indicated there was a trail here. We tried to follow it but eventually got side tracked by a gate opening that we thought was the right way. Long story short, we ended giving up and turning back. Either we are terrible at hiking or the trails are just poorly marked. Lesson learned: Get a trail map from the visitor centre first.
- Tunnel toll – When driving up to Galway, we hit an unexpected toll since there’s a tunnel you have to go through. This is an unattended machine so you have to make sure you have enough coins for this. The toll is 1.90 EUR.
- Galway parking – You’re probably not going to find free parking here. We circled around for a bit to see if we could get free parking to no avail. In the end, we found a paid lot and just sucked it up.
Day 7 – Clash of Gaelic Sport and Dublin Delight
We didn’t want the adventure to end but alas it was our very last full day in Ireland.
An early start was needed on this day because we needed to zip across from the West to the East. While that sounds daunting, it was mostly on the motorway (highway) and took about 2 hours. The reason why we were rushed to get over was because we had an exciting morning planned with Clash Gaelic Games.
One thing you need to understand about Ireland is that while European football is popular, it pales in comparison to the Gaelic sports. Gaelic Football and Hurley are the top two sports in the country and what better way to end off the trip than to get to learn how to play these two sports. I had found out about Clash Gaelic Games through my research and I thought it was such a fun way to learn about culture while burning a few calories and making a fool of ourselves. Over the course of 2 hours, Neil and Gareth showed us the basic skills of both sports. What it made me realize by the end of it is that because it’s such a “clash” of sports that we know, these are games that require extremely skilled athletes to play (i.e. not me).
After our mini workout, the rest of the afternoon became a bit of a marathon because we had to get into the city, check into our hotel, get organized, cab over to Kilmainham Gaol prison just missing our tour time, then make it late to Trinity College’s Old Library to see the Book of Kells, before things settled down for us to be able to stroll the streets and get some retail therapy at the hyper cheap Penny’s. Kilmainham Goal is 8 EUR per person (plus booking fees online) and Book of Kells is 10 to 13 EUR depending on peak or off-peak hours per person.
With one night to make it count, we had dinner at L. Mulligan Grocer and then spent the rest of the night drinking Guinness and listening to live Irish music at The Temple Bar.
If we had more time:
- Dublin – Oh gosh there was so many more things I wanted to do in Dublin but just had to make a call to see the big highlights. I would have liked to have seen St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Stephen’s Green, done more shopping, tried more restaurants, and drank a little harder.
- Pubs – The Temple Bar is the most popular one in the city but there are so many others that I hear are just as good including The Dame Tavern and The Brazen Head.
- Guinness – While we weren’t big fans at the beginning, this famous stout grew on us throughout the trip. The Guinness Storehouse is in Dublin and would be a fun place to visit for any lover of this beer.
- Newgrange – While technical not in Dublin, north of the city is a large and ancient burial site built of stone and architected to only let light into the ritual chamber at sunrise on Winter Solstice.
- Howth – This is a village north of Dublin and near Portmarnock and located on a bulbous peninsula and features sweeping coastal views and a superb food and crafts market. It’s a place that gives you a flavour of everything we saw on the west coast without driving too far from Dublin.
- Malahide Castle & Gardens – While I’m sure this would’ve been impressive, we couldn’t fit this in with how long Clash went. I wasn’t too sad in this case though since we had seen Blarney Castle & Gardens and I imagine it would be somewhat similar.
It’s a peculiar name for sure and it’s a bit far from the city centre but well worth it for the wide range of craft beers on tap and menu items. We tried a most interesting watermelon wheat beer which tasted like…you guessed it…watermelon! Our Moules Frites and Free Range Chicken Kiev were most excellent.
This Doyle Collection hotel is located right next door to the famed Croke Park stadium where all the biggest Gaelic sport matches are held. This signature hotel in the Dublin is a contemporary hotel that is big on comforts. Their mattresses are heavenly with velvety duvets, there’s good table space to work, comfy furniture to relax, and the marbled bathrooms. If you get the packing that includes breakfast, you’ll be treated to a wide buffet selection including honey straight from the honeycomb and my favourite, the croissants, which were delightful. The staff was incredibly friendly and lastly, parking is included for free. It’s the perfect hotel to launch your Dublin adventures from.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Clash Gaelic Games – While it was a bit of a specialized session with just the two of us, if you’re travelling with a big group of friends or if you’re a family, this is a great way to stay active and honestly try something you’d never be able to do anywhere else.
- Driving in Dublin – Everyone said “don’t do it” and they were right. The core is a mess especially with the construction going on. You do not want to drive in the city. Take a cab or local transit is the way to go so make sure you either return the car rental, wait to rent the car later, or your hotel has free parking.
- Uber – I experienced the most peculiar thing with Uber in Dublin. There were numerous times when I’d order a cab and while it was on its way, they could cancel the ride. I couldn’t understand why this kept on happening until I realized that all the Uber drivers were regular cabbies essentially. Every cab had Uber and another local app running on their phones and so they had to allegiance to any one of them and if they found a more convenient ride along the way, they’d take it. On top of that, Uber also doesn’t display prices because it’s all standard meter. At the end of the day, just understand that hailing a cab or order an Uber is no different. In Dublin, I’d say hailing is just easier if you’re in a busy area because you won’t get cancelled on.
- Booking in advance – What we learned from Kilmainham Gaol and the Book of Kells is that we were very thank to have booked our tickets in advance. It’s almost impossible to get tickets last minute especially in high season. What you need to be careful with though is that for both of these tours, you have to pick a specific time slot. As we learned with being late to Kilmainham Gaol, they won’t slot you into a later tour because they’re that full. Pick your times wisely. For the Book of Kells, we were the last slot so they just ushered us through and we were literally the last ones there. In both cases, we simply flashed our tickets and we were through so I’d say booking in advance totally saved us.
How The Itinerary Changed During The Trip
Trips never go as planned. This one was no different. For the most part though, nothing dramatically changed where we had to restructure things around. This trip was one where I simply packed too much in and had to make the call to fast forward if time was running low.
Here’s a little insight into why I feel that our plans deviated to help in your own planning:
- Not starting the day early enough – I’m not sure if I’d do things anything different here because we love our sleep but we could’ve fit more in if we hit the road after breakfast by 8AM instead of 9 or 10AM on most days.
- Taking too long in each spot – Travel blogger syndrome here. Between photos, videos, drone, and eyes, I definitely spent a lot more time than I had planned for.
- Driving time according to GPS is inaccurate – If you drove by Ireland’s ridiculously high speed limit and if you didn’t stop, sure, but the reality is that you’ll be making pitstops to take photos of the views and you’ll be slowing down around all corners and when there’s opposing traffic.
- Skipping meals – This is more of what happened as a result of a packed schedule. Since we always had breakfast included by our B&Bs or hotels, lunch was the first thing to go out the window. W’ere used to this kind of travel especially with how Iceland was but if you’re insistent on having lunch,
- Unexpected stops – You can’t plan for these but we stopped along the Ring of Kerry to help a couple with their flat tire and that put us behind. Alternatively, I didn’t have much planned for Dingle but we got a long list of suggestions from the B&B and so we ended up spending more time there before driving out of the peninsula.
- Losing track of time – As much as it was a massive advantage to have incredibly long days (usable light up until 10PM), it was also easy to just keep going. As a result, there were a few times where we got to our dinner spot too late and had make alternate plans.
So there you have it, the super duper mega ultra itinerary guide for southern Ireland. It was an ambitious trip for sure but even then we probably only covered a small portion of everything Ireland has to offer.
Hopefully you’ll be able to use this as a starting point for your trip planning and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
I’ve collected all of my learnings from my trip into an easy to digest article about all the things I wish I knew before going to Ireland. I go through everything from car rentals, driving, costs, gear, and photography. It’s the perfect companion to this itinerary.