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I’m all for taking the stress out of vacation planning, so if you’re looking for a phenomenal Ireland road trip jam packed with pubs, castles and cool sh*t, look no further. You can download our itinerary fo’ FREE at the end of the post.
When my husband first approached me about an Ireland trip, my heart sank. No tropical weather? No palm trees? WHAT KIND OF VACATION IS THIS!? But, as I started doing my research, Ireland seemed like the ultimate road trip adventure waiting to happen. Because really, who doesn’t like amazing scenery and pubs up the wazoo? Through days of research and recommendations from friends on social media, we had ourselves an Ireland road trip worth bragging about.
Headache-Free Booking… At Least for Us
I didn’t have the slightest idea as to how to start booking a road trip in another country, but trusty ol’ Travelzoo led me to Great Value Vacations (formerly Perfect Escapes). Doing a Google search now for Great Value Vacations will leave a bad taste in your mouth from the mixed reviews, but our experience was really seamless and easy. Perhaps that’s because all they did was book the flights, car rental and a two-night hotel stay in Dublin… We were responsible for booking the B&B’s for the rest of the trip with a voucher to B&B Ireland.
In hindsight, the hubster and I could have put this trip together on our own, but we are notoriously indecisive. Purchasing a package was the best option for us.
We booked our trip for beginning to mid-September, which is off-season. Lower pricing, no crowds and… Well, I want to say great weather, but anytime you visit Ireland you run the risk of rain, rain and more rain.
Below is a rundown of the itinerary. I’ll preface it with the fact that my husband and I wanted to take in as much of Dublin and Galway as we could, so we did two days in each. The time in Dublin is a bit jam-packed, but you know what they say: YOLO. The rest of the time was spent road tripping.
Day 1 – Dublin
Bleecker Street Café Bar
We started off the trip flying into Dublin and picked up our car rental right at the airport. Our first stop was for a full Irish breakfast at Bleecker Street Cafe, a bit of a hole-in-the-wall with casual dining and a decent beer selection. Of all the places we had an Irish breakfast, this was probably the best with the most generous portions. The staff was incredibly friendly and chatted us up about our time in Ireland and about their visits to the US. Great way to start the trip.
Next we were headed to Grafton Street to check out the shops before checking into our hotel. If you’re looking for souvenirs for the fam and friends, this is the place to be, as it is one of Dublin’s main shopping areas. We caught some street performers and stopped at the local mall, where I learned the hard way that sometimes Dublin charges you to use the restroom. Psssh.
Originally, we were supposed to be staying at the Croke Park Hotel, but it turns out they had overbooked themselves, so we ended up getting moved to The Gresham in City Centre, which was—you guessed it—centrally located. SUCCESS. The room was clean and cozy, and there was a wide variety of food in the breakfast buffet the next day.
After checking into the hotel, we knew we wanted to make our way closer to Temple Bar, but Matt wanted to see a cathedral first. We walked our way over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the tallest and largest church in Ireland. The price of admission in under $10 euros, which is a small price to pay to say you’ve seen such a landmark.
Night owls who love the bar scene need to spend some time in the Temple Bar neighborhood. There’s live music nearly everywhere you go, and even strange street games to entertain the passerbys. $100 euros to hang on a pull-up bar for 100 seconds… Many tried. Almost all of them failed.
The Temple Bar Pub has traditional Irish music 7 days a week. One of the place’s claims to fame is holding the Guinness World Record for the longest marathon guitar playing for a total of 114 hours. Needless to say, they do the live music scene right.
I knew this place was a speakeasy tucked away in Temple Bar, but I hadn’t really read about how to get in. We jiggled the door handle to no avail. Matt and I stood in front of the door clueless… And then a couple walked in front of us and rang a buzzer. ::Facepalm::
The vibe of the place was pretty unique and intimate. I could literally reach out and touch the couple next to us, who were within arm’s reach. The variety in the cocktail menu made up for it though. Holy cow. You could get lost for days reading the selection.
Day 2 – Dublin
Every local we asked adamantly recommended we visit the Guinness Storehouse. We bought tickets before we even arrived in Dublin, because I knew they were a hot commodity. The tour was really an interactive and visual spectacle on so many levels.
The pinnacle of the tour is getting to spend time in the Galaxy Bar, which features the only 360 view of the Dublin you’re liable to see anywhere. Snag a seek next to a window and enjoy a free Guinness and the scenery. The day we went was mildly cloudy, but the view was still incredible.
If you’re planning on catching a Gaelic football game or hurling match, Croke Park is the place to be. The swanky little Croke Park Hotel is in a prime location for all of the athletic action your heart desires.
The Book of Kells is one of the world’s most famous medieval transcripts of the four Gospels of the New Testament in the world. That in and of itself is cool, but the Trinity College library that houses the book is quite the sight too. Bookcases for daaaaayyyyyysssssss.
Get your drink on at the historic Brazen Head Pub, which holds the title of Ireland’s oldest pub. For those really looking to delve into the history and folklore of the Emerald Isle, check out An Evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies. Matt and I learned a ton we never knew about Irish history and got to enjoy musical performances as well.
A warning if you’re looking for a “younger” crowd: the audience was comprised of a lot of older tourists. I’m a bit of an old soul myself, so it didn’t really bother me much. Young folk need culture too.
Day 3 – Kilkenny, Blarney & Cork
The hubster and I learned that Smithwick’s (not Guinness) is the oldest beer in Ireland, which predates Guinness by half a century. The Smithwick Experience is hard to compare to the Guinness Storehouse, but it was still fun. The tour ends with a tasting, which is always a plus.
The Blarney Castle was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. Kissing the Blarney Stone is a must… (Hanging upside-down with only a gentleman to save you if you slip is way more frightening than you’d think). Am I really more eloquent now that I’ve kissed the stone though? Sure, why not?
Besides the stone itself, the grounds were what really surprised me. My husband said the Fern Gardens felt like being transported to some sort of mythical land, and the Poison Gardens were fun to visit, if only to say I’ve seen a marijuana plant in Ireland. Another favorite was the wishing steps, which you’re supposed to descend and climb back up with your eyes closed while making a wish. Mildly dangerous during wet weather, but if it will make me a millionaire…
Oliver Plunkett Street
According to the Academy of Urbanism, “Cork has the third highest level of independent traders and places to eat and drink of all major towns and cities in the UK and Ireland.” Heyo! That’s how Oliver Plunkett Street made it to our list, because there’s not a ton happening in Blarney beside the castle. Check out the shops and make sure to make reservations for dinner early. We had heard the food at Elbow Lane Brew and Smokehouse was aMAZing, but we didn’t want to wait an hour and a half for it.
Day 4 – Cork, Midleton & Kinsale
We stopped at the English Market in the morning, which is great to check out if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen (mental note for next time). Tons of fresh food and artisan made jellies and chocolates and much more.
We obviously hadn’t learned enough about the alcohol in Ireland, so we made our way to the Jameson Distillery, which has the largest pot still in the world. That was overshadowed, of course, by the large chandelier of Jameson bottles in the lobby. Matt ended up with a great personalized bottle of Jameson that was 12 years old, a blend not sold off the premises.
Kinsale is the start of the Wild Atlantic Way, with lots of cute (and colorful) shops that were really dead on a Saturday afternoon. Off-season perk? If the weather’s good, there are lots of things to do either by foot or on the water.
Charles Fort is one of the largest military installations in Ireland, so go for the history, but stay for the fairy doors. That’s right. There are FAIRY DOORS HIDDEN THROUGHOUT. Clearly, they knew I was coming.
Being so close to the water, Matt and I thought seafood would be the best choice in Kinsale, and Fishy Fishy did not disappoint. We have read that reservations are a good idea, because they can get very busy, but we visited before their dinner rush. The seafood was fresh and delicious. Yum.
Day 5 – Dingle & Killarney
Instead, we got a head start on seeing sites within the Ring of Kerry, starting off with Torc Waterfall. It’s a little way off from the road, but not a long walk at all. It’s certainly worth a visit to see the view and climb the steps for views of the lakes.
There are lots of ways to see the Gap of Dunloe (tour, carriage ride, boat, etc.), but Matt and I decided to walk it and take in the view from the Wishing Bridge. I only found out it was a wishing bridge after the fact. You know, because I would have wished for that million dollars again.
Day 6 – Liscannor & Galway
We caught great views of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s longest coastal route, on our drive through Liscannor. Stop on the side of the road to get some pictures! We ended up near Spanish Point and decided to hop onto the rocks for the photo op. If we had done it again, we would have made it a point to visit Mizen Head, the southernmost point of the island.
OK, so I lied. I said the Blarney Castle was my favorite part of the trip, but HANDS DOWN seeing the Cliffs of Moher was the best. You literally cannot beat the view anywhere on the island, or in the world for that matter. It is the single-most important thing you need to see on your Ireland road trip. Things can get a little hairy if the winds are too strong, like borderline worried for my life scary… YOLO!
The Latin Quarter is where it’s at if you’re looking for things to do in Galway. Shops, shops and more shops line the streets and there are restaurants and pubs to boot. The street entertainment was what made it for me. So much talent!
Day 7 – Galway
The Aran Islands were the last stop of our road trip, and the weather seemed to foil our plans once again. We made it to Inis Mor via the ferry and decided, despite the rain, to bike it. MISTAKE. We spent close to an hour looking for the wormhole on the island, only to be told by other tourists it was not worth the hike in the mud. Had it not been raining, I would have hiked it myself. We did manage to catch a glimpse of some seals lounging around at the Seal Colony Point. The craft village would have been enjoyable if the husband and I weren’t soaked from the bike ride.
Download the Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
So now that you’ve made it through the extraordinarily long post, here’s the pay off! Download the itinerary as a PDF here or as an image below.