Looking for a quick tour around Irish Country? Here’s our six-day guide to maximize your time:
Arrive in Dublin, rent a car and head straight to Drogheda to see St. Peter’s Church (approx. 35 minute drive from Dublin Airport). This Cathedral also holds the head of St. Oliver Plunkett. Yes, a real human head. About as gross as it sounds.
Grab lunch and your first Guinness at a local pub next door.
Next, drive 20 minutes to Monasterboice to see the Celtic Crosses. If you feel like you’re going the wrong way, then you’re headed in the right direction. Single track and back roads bring you to the crosses. This cemetery is made famous by it’s sandstone crosses, some of which date back to 900-923 AD (Muirdach’s Cross), and also contains the highest cross in Ireland, towering at 6.5 meters, dating from the early 10th century. They are pretty remarkable.
A little over an hour drive to Belfast where you can jump right on a Black Taxi Tour. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Such an incredible tour with so much (recent) history; our guide lived through it all. Makes me want to research more — Our guide grew up in the 70s when the IRA was at its peak. When I asked him about being scared as a young boy, he responded, “I didn’t know fear, that was normal life. And now Northern Ireland is like Disneyland for my children; its heaven. Still some issues of course, but not as many deaths.”
He took us all around the city, showed us the giant bonfire spots and the months of work that goes into preparing the site, gathering the wood pallets, building the tower, etc. These bon fires are for the Eleventh Night which refers to the night before the Twelfth of July, a yearly Ulster Protestant celebration. On this night, large towering bonfires are lit in many Protestant unionist neighborhoods in Northern Ireland. The bonfires are mostly made up of wooden pallets and tires, with some reaching over 100 ft tall. They are often accompanied by street parties. The event has been condemned for displays of sectarian or ethnic hatred, and for the damage and pollution caused by the fires. The flag of Ireland, symbols of Irish nationalism/republicanism, Catholic symbols, and effigies, are often burnt on the fires.
Because of this, our guide told us he normally doesn’t do tours in the evening because the kids are out and can be aggressive and threatening. “You don’t want 400 Irish kids running after you. They’ll kill ya.” Great note to start a tour on 🙂 He was an amazing guide though. The history about the Protestants, Catholics and loyalists, how his family was all in the IRA, his grandmother still sleeps with a gated locked door at her bedroom door and thinks it’s completely normal. It was all very surreal.
Highlights of the tour:
- Belfast Berlin Wall (aka “Peace Walls”)
- Bon fires
We stayed in the Cathedral District. Close to great bars and restaurants. Everyone here gets super dressed up even when it’s freezing outside… Not my cup of tea!
Early morning and straight to the Titanic Expedition. Sounds lame at first (so I thought), but it was actually well worth it. The exhibit itself is four stories tall, with interactive attractions, and even a ride that takes you through the ship. Allow yourself two hours for the exhibit and perhaps a little more to walk around the site where the Titanic was built. (Similar to Disneyland’s Peter Pan ride, but way better than the Nessie exhibit in Scotland). Very cool. Worth it.
Drive an hour to “Carrick-a-Rede” Rope Bridge; This bridge was made famous by the salmon fishermen who used it to catch the fish in the “sweet” spot. It gives a unique look from the 30m sea cliffs to the water below. Definitely worth the short wait to walk across the bridge.
Then spend some time on the island, perhaps even pack a lunch, and take in more classic Ireland coastal views. [Note: If a picnic isn’t your thing, lunch at the Causeway Hotel is a treat and a short drive away.]
Next on the agenda is the Giant’s Causeway.
Tip: Beat the system here. If you tell the hotel parking attendant that you’re going to lunch at the hotel then you won’t have to pay for parking. Shhhh!
The Giant’s Causeway is a volcanic formation and is one of the most unique landscapes in Northern Island, with bragging rights as the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the area.
Note: If you walk on the upper trail in and out then you don’t have to pay the 9 pound entrance fee.
If time allows, make a pit stop at Bushmills Distillery to sip on some Irish Whiskey. But be sure to check the hours before going. They tend to close early (like 4/5pm).
As you continue West, exit for a quick view of Dunluce Castle. Note: Closes at 4/5pm also and costs $18, but you can at least see it from the railing view point, and that was good enough for me! Fun Fact: This castle was in the movie “Leap Year” 🙂
Our last stop of the day is an hour drive to Londonderry (aka Derry). Derry is known for it’s walls. Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. The walls constitute the largest monument in State care in Northern Ireland and were built in the 16th century. Be sure to allow 30-45 minutes to walk around the walls exterior. A neat walk with great views of the outer city. Unfortunately, Derry itself felt like a ghost town everywhere, and I probably wouldn’t stay here again. Another little Irish town would be just as good, if not better.
Departed Derry at 8:30am and started down the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW) Coastal Route.
Be sure to stop in the Donegal Visitor Center to grab some maps of the areas you’re heading to. These were lifesavers for us! And who doesn’t love to look at a real map to really make them feel like travelers??
Passed by Benbulben on the way to Sligo. It’s such a beautiful looking mountain with the memorable flat top. The roads in Ireland are magical with so many tree lined covered two lane roads. I love it.
The drive from Sligo to Ballina had beautiful cemeteries all along the way. Also, small stone walls divide all the land properties. Beautiful giant homes and tons of land. Not the same kind of homes as Scotland that were all very similar, made of all stone. These look more modern. Also, I felt like there were more trees than Scotland, but perhaps that’s just me, or the places we went. Bottom line, the drive and scenery is breathtaking.
Stop in Westport for lunch down at the water and enjoy a beer by the lake. Continue a little further down the rode to the Visitor Centre for the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to hike it this trip and Michael’s knee was hurting, but next time I definitely will.
After you soak in the views of Croagh Patrick, follow the WAW to Delphi and then continue on the N59 to Abbeyglen. If you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, either stop on the bridge for an epic view from across the lake or pull into the car park for a quick look around (and apparently Ireland’s best scone in the cafe!).
An hour more to Galway and you’ll be immediately enchanted by the cute streets and pubs. I suggest staying in an apartment off Quay Street so you’re close to the action, but still have some quiet for sleep. Also, for those that are Irish, or want to feel more Irish, pop into the Claddagh Ring store and buy a Claddaugh Ring. Galway is home of the Claddagh Ring so this would be the perfect opportunity. [Fun Fact: My mom bought me a new claddagh ring for my golden 30th birthday, silver with a gold heart. Love it]!
We jumped on a pub crawl that evening and met a bunch of kids from Australia, Canada, and the U.S. Such a fun night and great way to meet people!
Wake up and get going! Another big day of driving ahead… An hour and a half to the Cliffs of Moher on the N67 – This journey is noted in The National Geographic’s Top 10 Coastal Drives of Europe, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
Along the way, you’ll journey through the Galway Bay Shores to the one of a kind “lunar” landscape that is known as the Burren Region. This is the only place were Meditteranean, Arctic, and Alpine flowers grow next to each other.
Once you arrive at the Cliffs of Moher, you’ll be eager to explore. Note: If you’re scared of heights, stay back from the edge. I’ve never had a problem with heights, but this did make me a little queazy since there aren’t any railing or boundaries, you can literally get as close to the edge as you want. Be sure to go to the south end and take a picture looking north. The water is so clear!
And this was just too epic of a scene in the parking lot. I want to be these travelers when I grow up!
After you capped off your camera’s memory card, jump back in the car for another hour and a half to Loop Head Lighthouse. (Unfortunately, we had a later start than expected due to the pub crawl, so we didn’t make it to the lighthouse, but I hear it’s great!). Then if you don’t need to see another castle (i.e. Bunratty Castle), take the ferry to Kerry and cut off some drive time. The ferry runs every 30 minutes and takes 20 minutes to get to the other side. Worth it!
Continue on the N69 to N86 to get to Dingle. On the way, stop at Fermoyle Beach – A huge sandy, beautiful beach. –> We were pretty excited to see a decent beach!
Then take the R560 to An Chonair pass for an epic photo op of the mountains and valleys.
Follow the road to the quaint town of Dingle… Dingle is a must!! I’d suggest staying the night here. Unfortunately, we stayed in Killarney instead, but I wish we would have stayed in Dingle. It is the cutest seaside town with such clean, bright, perfect little streets and shops. Otherwise, an ice cream stop is well worth it here too 🙂
Heading to Killarney, you’ll pass Dingle Bay and continue to soak in it’s beauty. Stop at Sammy’s and Inch Strand where you can drive right on the beach. Also a great place to watch wind surfers or get some surf lessons for yourself! On my next bucket list!
After much discussion with our host, and learning we couldn’t even take the boat out to the Gap of Dunloe and back in a couple hours, we decided to get a jump start and head to Dublin, which was still four hours away. I was definitely bummed, but I think we over did it too with the rushing around in Ireland. Gotta save something for next time I suppose!
Before leaving Killarney, we checked out Ross Castle by the lake and then drove an hour to Cork to kiss the Blarney Stone.
Note: Be prepared for long lines and tourists. Legend has it, if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you’ll be blessed with eloquence and the gift of the gab. Too bad the line was too long and the wait over 2 hours, otherwise maybe I could have finally gotten rid of my occasional stutter 🙂
Tourists kissing the Blarney Stone…
Caves of the Castle.
After lunch in Cork we drove the remaining three hours to Dublin, and arrived in time for dinner in Temple Bar. Undeniably, a tourist spot, but a great area to cruise around. And of course you have to grab a Guinness and oysters from Temple Bar (and naturally the corned beef and cabbage). They also have great live music!
Take a walk to the Guinness Storehouse where you’ll learn how Guinness is made, the history, advertising campaigns throughout the years, and how to pour the perfect Guinness pint. I must say, the folks at Guinness do it right. Such an incredible experience! You won’t want to miss this, even if you’re not a beer drinker (I like beer, but was never a fan of Guinness until now. It really can be quite delicious!). End the tour at the top floor to enjoy the beer and have a panoramic view of Dublin. Great experience, highly recommend.
Taking in the aromas of Guinness!
Pouring the perfect pint!
Panoramic views of Dublin from the Gravity Bar in the Guinness Storehouse.
For your final day in Ireland, rent bikes and ride around the Phoenix Park. This park is the largest in Europe and features 5,000 wild running Red Deer. We saw three different packs, one running through the park, one hiding laying down in between the trees (surprisingly well camouflage), and one standing in the middle of the field. We even got to feed a couple!
Continue to ride all over town and stop for lunch in Temple Bar at the Norseman. Being Irish, I decided to buy the Coat of Arms and family history for Duggan (my mom’s maiden name); I learned so much about the history of the Duggans (or O’Dougilans) over the past week and am so proud to be Irish!
One final Guinness and Irish coffee from the Temple Bar to send us on our way to the airport. A whirlwind of a week in Ireland, but oh so memorable. We saw and experiened a lot, but also left a ton to see and do for next time! Because I KNOW there will be a next time 😉 We got SO LUCKY with the weather! Sunny and warm(ish), very different from Scotland, and a welcomed change.
- Bought a Claddagh ring in Galway
- Learned how to Irish dance
- Danced in a pub
- Took an Irish car bomb in Ireland (they just call them car bombs)
- Poured a pint of Guinness at the Storehouse
- Had an Irish coffee at Temple Bar
- Do the pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick
- Drive the Sky Road through Connemarra National Park to see the Twelve Bens
- Visit the Maum Turk Mountains – Inbetween Recess and Maam Cross N59
- Watch big wave surfers
- Hike the Gap of Dunloe – Can also hike in and take a boat out.
- Drive the Ring of Kerry
- See River Dance or Lord of the Dance
- See a professional football game (we missed Ireland v. Scotland European Championship by one day. Travel fail!)
- Stay at Bunratty Castle and attend a medieval banquet dinner experience
- Most stunning landscapes and drives
- Friendly, helpful people
- Amazing tradition
- Beautiful beaches on the south west coast
- You have to pay for everything; all the viewpoints, etc. In Scotland the views and hikes were free, except for castles
- Narrow roads, even more narrow than Scotland so just be prepared
- Either beat the crowds and hike Croagh Patrick first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. It takes 3.5 hours roundtrip and in the summer stays light until 10pm. Start the hike around 2-3pm. Otherwise it might look like a Disneyland ride and won’t be a very enjoyable or spiritual pilgrimage.
- Try to find a cool driving route and get off the motorway. The R335 from Westport to Killarney Harbor is a good one, along the Mweelrea Mountains.
- Apparently there’s a tour company called Shamrocker that does a 5 and 7 day tour through Ireland if you prefer to travel in groups.
- You must do the drive to Moher — It’s stunning!
- If you have more time, you can drive the entire WAW all along the coast. But if you don’t have that luxury, then you can jump on inland roads to get more direct access to your next destination. We did both.
- You need at least two days in Killarney. One for the Ring of Kerry and one for the Gap of Dunloe. One day isn’t enough as both take full days. Locals say the Ring of Kerry isn’t worth it if you’re just going to drive through. You need to get out and explore the sites along the way. If I had to pick one, I’m told the Gap of Dunloe (especially if the weather is nice), is the way to go!
- I got to drive a bit from Killarney to Cork, and I thought Michael was going to have a heart attack every time we passed another car. Now he knows how I feel when he’s driving! Although, the roads in Ireland are even more narrow than the ones in Scotland, so just prepare yourself… Suck in! 🙂
- If I were a nun, I’d want to be one at Abbeyglen – Beautiful!
- The UK takes their tea very seriously and are shocked when you don’t have it every day. With a sweet.
- All of the properties are sectioned off by rock walls. So much prettier than a fence. The U.S. should adopt this.
- Castles everywhere!
- Driving along the Galway Bay shores will take you to the one of a kind “lunar” landscape that is known as the Burren region, which is the only place were Meditteranean, Arctic, and Alpine flowers grow next to each other.
- Irish (and I think the entire UK) say “thanks a mil/million” and I think it’s adorable. Also, they don’t say “bye-bye” or “buh-bye” like a lot of Americans do when hanging up the phone. They all say, “byeeeeee” like a little kid. Adorable!
- Guinness has a 9,000 year lease at the Storehouse (whatever that means)
- Best Irish coffees in the world, naturally!
Funny Irish streets:
- Butt Hall Centre