Ireland is the perfect road trip destination. As soon as we locked in our airfare (which we booked on a complete whim after seeing $400RT flights to Dublin on Skyscanner), we knew we wanted to rent a car and see as much of the country as possible.
We had one week to spend in the country, and our flight itinerary demanded that start and end our trip in Dublin. In the end, we decided a coast-to-coast road trip of Ireland’s south would allow us to hit most of the places on our “must-see” list, such as the Cliffs of Moher and Blarney Castle.
Here is our 1-week Ireland road trip itinerary:
Day 1* – Arrive in Dublin
Pick up your rental car at the airport (we used Budget) and head to your hotel to check in and drop your bags. If, like us, you are half-dead with exhaustion and jet lag, you may want to take a nap before hitting the streets.
Spend your first evening in the city getting your bearings. Depending on when you land and your energy level, you could hit a few of Dublin’s attractions. We were so tired after our sleepless, overnight flight that we didn’t feel like doing much more than taking a quick stroll down Grafton Street and hitting a pub for our first Irish dinner.
We stayed here.
Alternative: Dublin’s traffic is crazy (especially for jetlagged North Americans not accustomed to driving on the left). I was in such a teary panic by the time we got to our hotel that we didn’t end up using our rental car again until we left Dublin two days later. If you’d rather, you could wait to pick up your car until you plan to leave Dublin. Here is some good information on getting from the airport to Dublin city center without a rental car.
*For travelers coming from North America, this will technically be day 2 of your trip, since most transatlantic flights to Europe land the day after they depart.
Day 2 – Dublin
After a good night sleep, spend this whole day exploring Ireland’s charming capital. Be sure to visit Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St. Stephen’s Green.
Ireland is well known for its music, so look into concerts and other events taking place in Dublin during your stay. We were lucky enough to catch a Glen Hansard concert at Vicar Street, which was a dream come true for Sam.
Read our full guide to Dublin here.
Day 3 – Dublin to Galway
Driving time: Approx. 2.5 hours.
After a hearty Irish breakfast of sausage, eggs, tomatoes, beans, and toast, leave Dublin and travel to Galway on Ireland’s west coast.
Nearly everyone we talked to in Ireland said, “I just love Galway, but the weather is horrid.”
We soon discovered just how right they were. We arrived amid heavy rain—some of the worst of our trip—but still enjoyed exploring this lively Irish city. Be sure to visit the Latin Quarter, the Spanish Arch, and the harbor.
Locals told us that the nightlife in Galway is great as well. But considering we are usually blissfully asleep by 10:00pm, we can’t speak from personal experience.
We stayed at Almara House located on the outskirts of Galway. Though we had a nice stay, we would have preferred a more central location.
Day 4 – Galway to Kenmare (via The Wild Atlantic Way)
Driving time: Approx. 4 hours
Be sure to get an early start. There is a lot of ground to cover, and the scenery is so beautiful along the Wild Atlantic Way that you’ll want to make frequent stops.
Our first stop was at The Cliffs of Moher, which is about 1.5 hours south of Galway.
We spent several hours here, since it was one of the top places we wanted to visit in Ireland. We weren’t disappointed. The cliffs are spectacular! Read our full guide here.
As we continued toward Kenmare, we opted to take the car ferry from Killimer to Tarbert (rather than detouring through Limerick) so we could spend more time driving along the coast.
The final stretch of our drive took us through Killarney and Killarney National Park. Though Killarney is little more than a touristy jumping off place for the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
We ended the day with dinner at PF McCarthy’s, a cozy Irish pub in Kenmare, and also the only restaurant open in February.
We stayed just outside Kenmare at the LissycLearing Thatched Cottage. It was the most picturesque B&B of our trip, but also cold enough to preserve meat. We were the only guests at the time, and I don’t think the owners turned the heat on. Luckily the bed had an electric blanket!
Day 5 – The Ring of Kerry
Driving time: Approx. 3.5 hours
Get an early start again today to maximize daylight hours (this is especially important if you’re traveling in winter!).
Spend the day driving the 179km loop known as the Ring of Kerry. The loop will take you along rugged coastline, through rolling green hills, and past the lakes of Killarney National Park. Read our full guide to driving the Ring of Kerry here.
Spend the night in Kenmare.
Day 6 – Kenmare to Kilkenny (Via. Blarney Castle)
Driving time: Approx. 3 hours
Make your way toward Blarney Castle and spend the morning exploring the castle, the gardens, and the grounds. Read our full guide to visiting Blarney Castle here.
From Blarney Castle, head to Cobh, a quaint seaside town. Tour St. Colman’s Cathedral, photograph the brightly-colored buildings, and visit the harbor where the Titanic made its final port of call.
Unfortunately, the weather was authentically Irish the day we visited Cobh, so we ended up getting soaked and cutting our time there short. But I imagine it’s lovely on sunny days!
After you finish up at Cobh, continue on to Kilkenny where you’ll spend the night. We stayed at Damerstown Farmhouse, a family-run working farm and B&B located just outside Kilkenny. We had a lovely stay and the breakfast—which included dairy from the farm’s cows—was the best of our trip. The only glitch was a plumbing issue that made our bathroom smell worse than a group of 8th grade boys at summer camp.
Day 7 – Kilkenny to Dublin
Driving time: Approx. 1.5 hours
Spend most of the day sightseeing in Kilkenny. Explore Kilkenny Castle, meander the Medieval Mile, visit St. Canice’s Church. If you’re brave, climb the Round Tower.
Read our full guide to Kilkenny here.
In the late afternoon, head back toward Dublin. If, like us, your flight leaves early the next morning, we recommend returning your rental car as soon as you arrive and spending the night near the airport to save the hassle in the morning. We stayed at the Hilton Dublin Airport, which has an early morning airport shuttle.
Day 8 – Dublin to Home
After a lovely week of adventure, it’s time to say “goodbye for now” to the Emerald Isle.
Which places would you put on your Ireland road trip itinerary?
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