The Emerald Isle is a lush, green country that most travelers aim to visit at some point in time. The local culture, traditions, history, and nature draw you in… or is it the pubs?
Here is my itinerary for a 10 day independent road-trip- Also be sure to check out the driving map below! :
Day 1: Fly in to the Shannon Airport. Pick up your rental car, and make a quick stop in the thatch-roof village of Adare. Stay the night in Killarney– my favorite Irish town- and céad míle fáilte (welcome) to Ireland!
Day 2: Today, drive out to the historic bog town of Killorglin (County Kerry). Here in the curated village and museum, you can get a quick insight as to how the Irish poor (a.k.a. my ancestors!) lived in the 17th-18th centuries.
Next, make some quick stops in Glenbeigh, and Aghadoe. These are two picturesque farm towns that will give you a good insight into the rural Irish life. The town of Kells is next on your list. It’s home to the Kells Abbey, which the famed “Book of Kells” is named for. Stop next in Kenmare to watch a sheep-dog herding demonstration. It may not be the most exciting thing you’ve ever done, but it is part of Ireland’s heritage, and worthwhile to see!
Now it’s time to drive the insanely beautiful “Ring of Kerry“, a scenic loop around the Iveragh Peninsula and its uniquely rugged coastal landscapes.
Once you’ve had your fill, head back to Killarney. Here, I’d recommend taking a “jaunting car” (horse and carriage) out to the 15th century Ross Castle in Killarney National Park. There you can explore the castle, and even climb around on it. It overlooks a lake and forest, and just gives you a vibe of going back in time. Nobody else was there when we went, and it was such a great experience!
Day 3: Leave Killarney and drive 40 minutes to the village of Macroom. After a quick visit, head to the port town of Cobh. This is infamously known as the last port the Titanic stopped at before heading out into the Atlantic. However, it’s also where millions of Irish immigrants departed from during the Great Potato Famine era. If you’re American with Irish ancestry, it’s extremely likely that this is where your ancestors said goodbye to their homeland.
After Cobh, drive around scenic County Cork. Eventually you’ll stop at the famed 15th century Blarney Castle. Here, legend has it, that if you lean over backwards on top of the castle tower and kiss the Blarney stone, you will be gifted forever with the “gift of gab”. My Mom kissed it while she was pregnant with me, so this could explain my penchant for conversation… After exploring, head back to Killarney for the evening.
Day 4: Say goodbye to charming Killarney, and make the 2.5 hour drive to the town of Kilkenny . On the way, stop at the ancient “Rock of Cashel“, A 12th century archaeological site. This rock and nearby structures are some of Ireland’s most important historical sites. Paying a visit to the town and museum is a good idea too.
Once in Kilkenny, explore the 12th century Kilkenny Castle (I recommend the Medieval Mile pass). Other options are to visit St. Canice’s Cathedral, the Black Abbey, or even the Dunmore Cave.
Day 5: Today is the day you visit Ireland’s capital- Dublin! I personally wasn’t a huge fan of Dublin compared to the slower-paced more scenic towns all over Ireland, but it is of course a “must see”. I think I would’ve liked it more if I had been of legal drinking age of course 😉 . Once there, you have a huge variety of options as for things to do.
I loved visiting Trinity College, it has so much history and also houses the Book of Kells. If you’re not sick of castles by this point, the 13th century Dublin Castle is great for a quick tour and a picnic lunch on the lawn. I’d also highly recommend a walking tour if you want to get familiar with the city quickly. That evening, you have a few options: A Literary Pub Crawl, or a Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl! You can’t really go wrong!
Day 6: On your second day in Dublin, I recommend a classic tour at the Guinness Storehouse. Afterwards, you can enjoy a free pint at their rooftop bar. If you want to learn even more about Irish spirits, the Jameson Distillery is also an option. Another “can’t miss” site is the 13th century Cathedral of St. Patrick. Explore Dublin however you prefer, but make sure in the evening to partake in a fun and creepy ghost tour! Afterwards, squelch your fears by visiting the touristy yet fun Temple Bar– one of Ireland’s most iconic pubs.
Day 7: Say goodbye to Dublin, and make the 2.5 hour drive towards the waterfront town of Sligo. Your first stop along the way should be the ancient site of Newgrange (in County Meath). At first, this ancient site seems to be nothing more than a grassy knoll- but it actually consists of a Stone-Age era passage tomb. Constructed in 3,200 BC, they are older than the Pyramids of Egypt- and they also align with the solstice. Exploring 5,000 year old tombs isn’t something you get to do every day, so join a tour and explore!
Continue on to Drumcliffe for a brief visit, and spend your evening in Sligo. Walk along the scenic Sligo Bay, or visit the megalithic cemetery of Carrowmore.
Day 8: Depart Sligo, and head for Carrick-on-Shannon. After a quick look there, you may be interested in stopping at the Catholic religious site of the Shrine of Knock. This is home to a Vatican-approved apparition site for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is an important European stop for many pilgrims.
From there, drive 1 hour to the town of Galway (yes, like that one very popular song!). Sitting on the harbor, this town is a very lively place filled with traditional pubs and shops. It’s also a great place to find an Irish dancing or folk show as well! Also be sure to visit Quay Street and the Latin Quarter, and maybe even Connemara National Park.
Day 9: Once you’re ready to leave Galway, drive on to the Rossaveal ferry port that will take you to the misty Aran Islands. I recommend Inishmore, the largest of the islands. Visiting the Aran Islands is such a unique experience, they feel so isolated and are strikingly pretty. They’re also one of just a few places in Ireland where Gaelic is still an active and spoken language. Rent a bike for the day, and you can basically circle the whole island. Life is slower paced here, so be prepared to relax and enjoy!
Day 10: Depart Galway, and drive to Ireland’s most visited tourist site (and for good reason): the crazy beautiful Cliffs of Moher. You can spend hours walking around and taking in the natural beauty. Not only are the cliffs absolutely stunning, but the surrounding countryside is as well. This is quintessential Ireland, the one you’ve pictured in your head.
When you’re ready, drive about 1 hour back to Shannon. If you’re into a cheesy medieval themed dinner show, a visit to Bunratty Castle could be fun. If not, explore the town of Shannon– and of course hit up your last Irish pub!
Day 11: Fly out of Shannon Airport, and say goodbye to the Emerald Isle. Slán, and I hope you had a lot of craic in Ireland!
Here is a map of the suggested route, with directions in between:
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As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, I may receive a small commission should you choose to book any of the hotels or tours listed above. This helps with the costs of running this site.