WATCH: A Taste of Ireland
The common Irish greeting Cead Mile Failte means ‘a hundred thousand welcomes,’ which is a rather fitting phrase for a place that has a hundred thousand reasons to visit. Rolling green hills, bustling cities, a lively pub culture, incredible music and jaw-dropping scenery are just the beginning; Ireland also has grand castles, sweeping beaches, and the other-worldly Skellig and Aran Islands. Oh, and leprechauns.
Despite being a compact country that you can literally drive all the way across in half a day, there’s so much to see that travellers should budget at least one week in Ireland to properly explore. Most visitors who only have seven days typically focus on either the north or south portions, basing themselves in Belfast to explore Northern Ireland. The south is usually the most popular for first-timers, as it’s home to famous spots like the Blarney Stone, colourful Cork, and stunning drives such as the rugged Ring of Kerry and aptly-named Wild Atlantic Way which hugs the coastline.
From gallivanting in Galway to discovering Dingle, here’s the perfect one week Ireland itinerary for exploring the Emerald Isle.
Day 1 + 2: Dublin
Most flights land in Dublin, which makes the capital a natural place to kick off an Ireland trip. Forget any misconceptions you might have heard about it being a sprawling, working class city: instead, you’ll discover grand, centuries-old buildings like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle, cute streetscapes lined with quirky cafes, great shopping along Grafton Street, and fantastic museums.
Some of the top Dublin attractions are:
- Trinity College– A visit to this beautiful campus is a must for bookworms, as its massive library home to the illuminated Book of Kells which holds all four gospels of the New Testament and dates back more than 1000 years.
- Ha’Penny Bridge- Stretching over the river Liffey in the heart of the city centre, this pearly-white bridge is named after the half-penny pedestrians were charged to cross when it was first built in the 1800s.
- Kilmainham Gaol– This former prison holds an important place in Irish history, as the spot where leaders of rebellions between 1798-1916 were held and in some cases executed. Guided tours of the restored jail quarters provide some fascinating insights into this dark chapter, and there are also exhibits detailing its penal history and restoration.
- Christ Church Cathedral- This architectural wonder is a stunner. Also called the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the medieval structure takes up the better part of two blocks, and includes a beautiful raised walkway that’s a favourite stop for photographers.
- Temple Bar- This happening district is the heart of Dublin’s party scene, where revellers spill out of bustling bars and eateries and into the raucous pedestrian-only area. The most famous spot is the actual Temple Bar, which is impossible to miss thanks to its fire-engine red exterior.
Even those who don’t usually consider themselves history buffs will want to drop by the EPIC Museum in the Docklands area.
Billed as the world’s first digital-only museum, this spot provides fascinating insight into what’s led to the country’s storied past of emmigration, and the imprint the exodus of 10 million people has left around the world. A series of video galleries, motion-sensored quizzes and bright displays detail the contributions of the country’s most famous musicians and artists, highlight prized pastimes like dancing and pubs, and even allow visitors to trace their own ancestry.
One of the most popular places to visit in Dublin needs no introduction: The Guinness Storehouse, where the dark, beloved brew is made. Tours through the factory start in a giant glass atrium in the centre of the building which is designed as a pint glass, making it the largest beer glass in the world which can hold an astounding 14 million pints. Guests are lead through seven floors’-worth of exhibits, tasting rooms and demonstrations on how to pour the perfect pint, before heading up to the Gravity Bar to enjoy a drink overlooking the Dublin skyline. Click here to book
More of a whiskey lover? There’s no shortage of spots in Dublin to whet your whistle, with crowd-favourites being the Old Jameson Distillery, the Irish Whiskey Museum, the Teeling Whiskey Distillery and Dublin Liberties Distillery.
Cap off your trip to Dublin with a jaunt up Killiney Hill timed for the golden hour. Here, you’ll find unbeatable views of the city hugging the rugged coastline of the Irish Sea, which makes for a mesmerizing scene at sunset.
Where to stay in Dublin:
- Clontarf Castle Hotel: From the grand turrets to the suits of armour in the lobby, this luxurious hotel wows from the moment visitors start driving up the long, tree-lined entrance and catch their first glance of this castle right in the city. Dating back to the 1100s, the Clontarf has been beautifully preserved and updated over the centuries, and the spacious suites feature canopy beds, vaulted ceilings, plush bedding and modern touches like smart TVs. Click here to book
- Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel: This posh property boasts more than 100 elegant rooms, which are all individually-designed with plenty of space to spread out. Some have balconies overlooking Dublin Bay, and guests love tucking into afternoon tea down in the charming Library Cocktail Bar, or unwinding in the hotel’s sauna and steam room. Click here to book
There are also lots of reasonably priced hotels and B&Bs, as well as these hostels in Dublin.
Day 3 + 4: Wild Atlantic Way- Connemara + Galway
Driving in Ireland is an easy way to get around (that is, if you don’t mind navigating the left side of the road), so hop in the rental car and head out to the west coast to explore part of the Wild Atlantic Way. The Connemara district is framed by the craggy Atlantic coast which makes for some spectacular scenery, where windswept hills and mountain ranges are dotted with tranquil lakes and bogs. Far away from the crowds, this area is the perfect spot for those seeking solace or looking for a nature fix.
Some prestigious properties call Connemara home, starting with the striking Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Gardens. The estate was originally owned by a wealthy businessman who built the property to showcase what innovations could be achieved in the wilds of Connemara, and today it’s run by the Benedictine community who at one point operated an international boarding school. Visitors are welcome to tour the on-site Gothic church, marvel at the gorgeous reflection cast into the lake in front of the Abbey, and wander through the peaceful grounds and gardens.
Not too far down the road is Ballynahinch Castle, a favoured weekend retreat for Coonemara residents that’s frequently rated as one of Ireland’s top luxury hotels. Framed by the 12 Bens mountain range and near a popular salmon fishing spot, the castle is surrounded by 700 acres of woodlands and offers plenty of activities for guests and day-trippers alike, including 10 miles of hiking trails, clay shooting, boat rides and cycling paths.
Dating back to 1813, the elegant property has hosted Irish actors and even American president Gerald Ford (there’s still a presidential seal hanging on the wall). Those who are lucky enough to overnight at the castle will enjoy spacious, well-appointed suites with sweeping views of the river or woodlands, five-star, attentive service and incredible meals, which makes Ballynahinch the perfect place to get away from it all. Click here to book
If cities are more your speed, head to Galway which is known as a college town thanks to the influx of students that flood the city when classes start up at university every autumn. Beloved for its festivals, quirky shops and colourful cafes that line the winding laneways, this is the kind of place that always feels alive.
Wander down Shop, Quay and High streets to do some shopping, relax in Eyre Square which marks the town centre, marvel at the magnificent Galway Cathedral which has an equally impressive interior, and enjoy a performance from one of the many talented buskers stationed downtown.
Where to stay in Galway:
- Galmont Hotel: This property is so modern it can come as a bit of a surprise, given its location in the heart of a medieval town. Featuring a gorgeous lobby, large rooms, a spa, state of the art gym and pool, the Galmont ticks all the boxes when it comes to amenities and also serves up a fabulous breakfast. Click here to book
Day 5: Burren Rocks, Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle
There’s a good chance today will be your favourite part of your one week in Ireland, thanks to an epic stop at the Cliffs of Moher. Designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark, the staggering views of the sheer rock faces that dramatically rise more than 200 metres out of the pounding ocean waves are sure to leave you speechless. That, and the fact that it can be hard to catch your breath around here–the wind is relentless!
The best way to explore them is by doing the Doolin Cliff Walk, which was founded in 2009 by Pat Sweeney whose family has farmed in the area for generations. Longing to share the beauty of this special place and welcome more visitors to the otherwise quiet area, he convinced 46 farmers to donate part of their land to create a trail, which winds along the cliffs looking down on the churning Atlantic Ocean on one side, and a blanket of soft green grass where sheep like to graze on the other.
The entire route takes about three hours and affords views of O’Brien’s Tower perched on the coastline, the counties of Cork and Kerry, and even out to the Aran Islands. Those short on time have another, much easier option: pay five euros to park at Guerin’s Path, which is located on a farm owned by Martin Guerin just a two-minute walk from the most spectacular lookout point. The trail is wheelchair accessible, and guided walks led by Guerin himself are also available.
Once you manage to tear yourself away from the awe-inspiring cliffs, drive over to Burren Rocks to see the desolate landscape of limestone, shale and fossils, before making your final stop of the day at Bunratty Castle.
Built in 1425, this medieval castle once served as a former stronghold of the storied O’Brien family, and today the interior reflects the style of the 15th and 16th centuries. Narrow, twisting staircases lead to over a dozen rooms for visitors to explore, and the surrounding grounds are a folk park that’s a living reconstruction of what towns in Ireland looked like more than a century ago.
The gardens, historic homes and mills provide a glimpse into the past, there’s an opportunity to try a medieval feast, and kids love getting up close with its current four-legged residents which include cows, pigs, donkeys, sheep and Irish wolfhounds.
Where to stay in County Clare:
- Parknasilla Resort Hotel: This luxurious hotel and spa overlooks Kenmare Bay and the Kerry Mountains, and has room offerings to suit every group size with suites, two-bedroom lodges and their three-bedroom woodland villas. The sea views are breathtaking, and there are plenty of on-site activities including kayaking, golf and exploring the walking trails. Click here to book
- Ballygarry House Hotel: Located in the cute town of Tralee, this old-world property exudes charm from the tastefully-elegant lobby areas to the individually-designed suites–some of which have classic touches like clawfoot bathtubs. The well-kept grounds looking out to the Ballyseedy Woods are a great place to enjoy the sunshine, and the service at Ballygarry is second-to-none. Click here to book
Day 6: Dingle Peninsula
The next stop on your Ireland road trip is a doozie: the Dingle Peninsula, which is arguably one of the most beautiful areas in the entire country. This region has it all, from deserted blonde beaches and craggy coastlines (some of the Star Wars filming locations are here) to rolling hills dotted with tiny villages and farmhouses. The best way to explore is by tackling the stunningly-scenic Slea Head Drive, an unforgettable experience due to its tight twists and turns. In fact, the road is so narrow that traffic only goes in a clockwise direction!
Tip: It’s best to do the Slea Head Drive in the morning, because afternoons are typically more cloudy which means less visibility.
Finish off in Dingle, which just might be the most adorable town you’ve ever seen. The streets are a photographer’s dream, where the facades of the boutiques, restaurants and pubs are painted every colour of the rainbow.
There’s also a lovely walk along the waterfront to admire the boats docked in the harbour, and if you’re lucky you might even spot Fungie the Dolphin, who was first spotted in the bay more than three decades ago. Over the years, the 13-foot long, wild bottlenose dolphin has achieved legend status in the town, and there’s even a statue erected in his honour as well as regular boat tours in hopes of catching a glimpse of the charismatic creature.
Some stops worth making in Dingle include:
- Murphy’s Ice Cream: The sweet treats served up here are a labour of love, with staff so committed to their all-natural treats that they scrape vanilla beans by hand, use free range eggs, farm milk, and even make their own sea salt sourced from Dingle sea water. Murphy’s is so popular they had to open a second location in town!
- Foxy John’s: A bar that’s also a hardware store…so basically every guy’s dream.
- The Dingle Distillery: It’s well-worth signing up for a tour of this artisan distillery, which opened in 2012 and has made quite the name for itself despite being such a small operation. They’ve already won heaps of awards including World’s Best Gin for their Dingle Original Gin, which visitors are able to sample along with their vodka and whiskey creations.
Where to stay in Dingle:
- Dingle Benners Hotel: Guests love the location of the Benners Hotel, which is right in the heart of town making it a great base for exploring. The property has a historic feel with thick carpeting and cozy couches to curl up on while sipping afternoon tea, and rooms are quite large. Click here to book
Day 7: Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park and Limerick
The last stop on your Ireland road trip itinerary before heading back to Dublin is the scenic Ring of Kerry, which has a dizzying amount of diversity. Winding around the Iveragh Peninsula, the curved roadway is lined with purple heather and sunshine Yellow Gorse bushes, and has pullouts at picturesque points like Ladies View which overlooks a pristine lake nestled into an untouched valley.
The lush, rainforest-like Killarney National Park is a stunner, with standout spots like the Torc Waterfall which is found only a few minute’s walk from the highway along a mossy, green wooded pathway. It’s worth budgeting half a day to explore the park’s trails, go horseback riding, check out Muckross House which was once owned by the Guinness family, or drop into Killarney or the adorable town of Sneem to tuck into lunch at a pub.
End the day in Limerick, an extremely walkable city which has a few sites worth exploring including St. John’s Cathedral known for its towering spire, the Treaty Stone which marks the end of the Siege of Limerick, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, and the imposing King John’s Castle which looks over the waterfront. Cap off the evening by enjoying a pint and live music at a nearby pub, which is the quintessential Irish experience and perfect way to end your driving tour of Ireland.
READ MORE: Fun activities in Limerick, Ireland
Where to stay in Limerick:
- Limerick Strand Hotel: The Strand has a fantastic location in the heart of the city, just a few minute’s walk from the main landmarks. Some of the spacious rooms have views of the River Shannon, and there’s a state-of-the-art fitness facility on-site with a steam room, sauna, plunge pool and hydrotherapy pool. Click here to book
Air Canada Vacations takes the guesswork out of planning a trip to Ireland, offering packages that include flights, ground transportation, hotel stays and activities starting at just $1500 per person from Canada. Along with being an incredible cost savings, their self-guided holidays leave plenty of time for sightseeing at your own pace, and trips like their Taste of Ireland tour serve up bucket list-worthy experiences including walking along the majestic Cliffs of Moher and getting to stay in a castle hotel.
Globe Guide explored Ireland as a guest of Tourism Ireland and Air Canada Vacations, to experience their Taste of Ireland tour. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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