Some beautiful destinations can’t be discovered without getting a little lost.
This is what I quickly learned when my husband and I set out on a road trip in Ireland.
Ireland is famous for so many wonderful things: magnificent castles, Celtic history, traditional Irish cuisine, folk music, Irish whiskey, and, of course, Guinness.
I’ve traveled to Ireland three times, each at different stages of my life, and repeatedly what I love most about the country is its luscious green landscape and rural countryside.
And so, Ireland is the ultimate destination for a cross-country road trip.
Step on the gas! Let’s speed ahead for a look at our seven-day road trip in Ireland.
Day 1: Dublin
Good morning Ireland! Our Aer Lingus flight landed at 6 a.m. and so our adventure begins.
There was a man standing with a tray of whiskey shots in the airport right after we disembarked. My husband quickly assimilated to his Irish roots by enjoying this traditional Irish breakfast without hesitation.
We picked up our hot wheels for the week, a silver diesel Skoda. Read on to the bottom of this post where I will share everything you need to know about renting a car in Ireland and how you can avoid getting slammed with car insurance fees (like we did!).
We had our first comical travel spat as we tried to navigate driving on the left side of the road as we made our way to The Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street.
We could have kissed the front desk clerk when he informed us that our room was ready when we arrived at 7 a.m. I have never been allowed access to a room that early, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to grab a nap and a shower before we started our day.
The hotel room was small and its location on busy O’Connell Street resulted in constant traffic noise, but it was ideally situated in the heart of the city. Next trip, we will likely try somewhere else.
We enjoyed the scenic walk to Temple Bar where we stopped into a pub called Gogarty’s that had a live band playing traditional Irish music. We had our first Guinness – sláinte! – and sat upstairs for a fish and chips lunch. The people were very friendly and even gave us two Gogarty hats to wear outside in the rain.
After lunch, we joined a free walking tour with Sandemans. This is one of my favorite ways to tour European cities that are best explored on foot. Also, they’re free other than a generous tip for your awesome tour guide.
Our guide, Lisa, was very enthusiastic and made the tour a blast, teaching us Gaelic and an Irish folk song along the way. We visited Dublin Castle, Temple Bar, Trinity College, the Molly McGee statue and more.
Lisa told us the best spot to eat, drink and shop like a local was at George’s Street Arcade, one of Europe’s oldest city markets. We never made it there but would have loved to check it out.
We had a 5:30 p.m. appointment at the Guinness Factory so we decided to walk there. I would not recommend this as it’s a long haul, especially with jetlag!
We did stop along the way at the Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub dating back to 1198 and enjoyed a pint in their outdoor courtyard.
By the time we got to the Guinness Storehouse we were – as the Irish would say – “wrecked” (i.e. tired). The Guinness Factory has seven floors and you could spend the better half of a day there. We walked the first two floors and then headed to the Gravity Bar which has stunning panoramic views of the city. I do recommend making a reservation beforehand as you can get discounted tickets and avoid waiting in line.
We headed back to Temple Bar for a delicious dinner at Thai Orchid. It felt a little ridiculous eating Thai food on our first day in Ireland, but it’s what we were craving after a long day of walking in the rain and drinking Guinness, and there are no rules on vacation!
We stopped back at the hotel to change out of our drenched clothes and grab another little cat nap before a night out on the town.
We were super lucky to be in town at the same time as one of our favorite people (I’m looking at you Bill Franks) who happened to be on his last leg of a heritage vacation with his siblings. We met up at a pub next to our hotel – Madigan’s – that had traditional Irish music. There was an 80-year-old local who wanted to dance with all the young ladies so we obliged and he gave us a good laugh.
We continued on to Temple Bar where we stopped into O’Sullivans which had an awesome live band with multiple bars on two different floors. Sadly, it looks like this location might have closed, but there are so many awesome bars with live music in this area of the city.
The city is beautifully lit at night, and on the walk back to the hotel we threw a penny into the River Liffey from the Ha’penny Bridge, which is supposed to promise a lifetime of love.
Day 2: Rock of Cashel, Cobh & Cork
We were up early, and after a quick breakfast at a nearby café, we were ready to get this road trip in Ireland started.
Our final destination for the day was Cork (approx. three-hour drive) but we wanted to take our time on the route and stop off anywhere that looked like fun.
Our first stop: Rock of Cashel. It is an absolutely stunning historic site of medieval castle ruins. The castle is set on a hill overlooking County Tipperary with gorgeous views of the surrounding topography. We took part in a guided tour where we learned stories from when the Rock of Cashel was once the seat of the High Kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. Admission was €8.00 / adult.
We drive on to our second stop: Cobh. Cobh, once called Queenstown, was the last stop The Titanic made before heading off across the Atlantic. The picturesque town just east of Cork city sits along a quaint harbor. We had lunch at a café near the water and enjoyed people watching.
Afterward, we took a small hike up a hill to St. Colman’s cathedral which sits above the Cobh marina, offering a stunning view of this quaint little seaside village.
We walked past a row of adorable rainbow houses, known as The Deck of Cards, before making our way back to the waterfront to the Titanic Experience. This small museum is very well done with rare artifacts from the ship and a wealth of unknown facts about its ultimate demise. I think they also did a nice job of honoring all those who lost their lives aboard and take great responsibly in telling the story of this tragedy as its final port of call.
We drove on to our final destination for the day: Cork. Cork City is over 800 years old and is an artistic city home to the Cork Opera House and numerous galleries and theatres.
We loved our stay at the River Lee Hotel, a charming boutique hotel perfectly situated within a short walk to a number of bars and restaurants.
On a rainy walk to dinner, we were hoping to catch a peek inside Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork’s main religious landmark, which is said to have impressive Neo-Gothic arches and tall spires. Unfortunately, it was closed so we were left to admire the cathedral from outside.
Rearden’s Irish Pub was our choice for dinner and it did not disappoint. They had delicious salad and pizza offerings, and we enjoyed some pints of locally brewed Murphy’s beer. We grabbed a table near a TV and enjoyed watching a Kilkenny vs. Tipperary hurling match. I still can’t grasp the rules of the sport, but the energy in the bar cheering on the teams was enough to get me into it.
If we had more time, we would have loved to check out “The Jameson Experience” at the Old Midleton Whiskey Distillery. We are Irish whiskey fans and I read they do a great guided tour that retraces the history of whiskey in Ireland.
Day 3: Blarney Castle, Baltimore Beacon & Kayaking on Castlehaven Bay
Top of the morning! We grabbed a quick coffee and said goodbye to the River Lee Hotel.
Our goal was to be the first people on line at Blarney Castle, a 20-minute drive from the hotel.
We had the most gorgeous, sunny day and in the spirit of true tourists, planted a smacker on the Blarney Stone to gain the ‘gift of the gab.’ We spent over an hour roaming the gorgeous castle grounds. We stumbled upon a flight of stairs where legend says if you walked up and down backward you would be granted any wish.
We were so glad we got a jump on the day as the crowds and tour buses were lining up at the entrance when we left.
Our Skoda was gassed up and ready for day three of our road trip in Ireland. A 45-minute drive brought us to Kinsale, a last-minute detour suggested by an uncle, that was well worth the extra miles. Kinsale is another beautiful marine village, with similar quaint, charming characteristics as Cobh.
We grabbed lunch at the Blue Haven Restaurant an enjoyed yummy fish tacos and a butternut squash salad.
The waterfront is a great spot for a slow, relaxed walk with lots of interesting boats to see and shops to explore.
Our next hotel was located in the city of Skibbereen, an hour and a half drive from Kinsale. Here I should mention that we fell in love with the candy bar Crunchie, so any longer stretch in the car always involved the consumption of this chocolate honeycomb goodness.
The West Cork Hotel was a bit dated, but it was perfectly situated for our planned evening adventures.
In planning this trip, I saw a picture of this unique stone structure set overlooking a harbor. Further research told me this was Baltimore Beacon, a white-painted stone beacon at the entrance to the harbor in Baltimore in County Cork. It was part of a series of lighthouses and beacons dotted around the Irish coast that formed a warning system for the British government following the 1798 Rebellion.
This was tucked away down an old dirt road, and we never would have found it was I not obsessed over this one image I had seen online. To my great disappointment, after scrabbling up the side of the hill, the fog was set so low we could not see any of the surrounding Sherkin Island. This mysterious, hidden gem was still breathtaking and we had the feeling of having uncovered a rarely celebrated Irish beauty.
We found a somewhat less treacherous way to stumble down the hill and took a short drive to Jacob’s Bar overlooking the bay. Sitting outside, breathing in the fresh air and devouring veggie soup and pizza was a great break after many hours in the car.
We saw the fog beginning to lift over the bay, and so we hopped back in the car and sped back to Baltimore Beacon to catch the sunset.
Words can not describe the beauty of this moment in time for us. It felt like our own special place and ultimately was the highlight of our trip. It will always feel like our own special place. Stunning!
And we still had a big night ahead! Another 40-minute drive brought us to Castlehaven Bay where we had booked a kayak tour with the Moonlight/Starlight Experience. The tour started at 8 p.m. so we bundled up warm and hopped into our double kayak. This area is known for its bioluminescent plankton, and it looked like dipping the oar in glitter every time we paddled. We were told some nights you couldn’t see the plankton so we were lucky as it would have been a boring kayak trip in the dark without it. We also weren’t allowed to use cameras or GoPros, which was disappointing as we had nothing to share with family and friends when we got home.
The tour was about 2 ½ hours long and we took the 25-minute ride back to the hotel and were passed out in minutes.
Day 4: Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Killarney
Today was our wedding anniversary! Happy two years to us lover!
We had another early start and were on the road by 6:30 a.m. to a quiet, picturesque town called Kenmare. We grabbed pastries and coffee at Jam Café – a cozy little breakfast spot. We would have enjoyed more time to explore the village but we were back on the road to start the famed Ring of Kerry.
The 110-mile coastal drive is known for its breathtaking scenery – hence why this guide is called the most ultimate road trip in Ireland.
Unfortunately, we had truly crappy weather – rain, fog, the works – but we made the best of it.
Technically we drove the Ring of Kerry loop backwards, going from Kenmare to Sneem to Waterville, Dingle, and onward…
Our first stop was at the Staigue Stone Fort, in between Sneem and Waterville. Staigue Stone Fort is a partly ruined stone ringfort that was believed to serve as a defensive stronghold for a local lord or king as far back as 300 and 400 AD. The drive up is an extremely narrow trail through the woods thas was an adventure all its own. There were also sheep roaming the fort and would come within feet of us.
These ruins are nothing compared to the Rock of Cashel, but we definitely had a few laughs at this quick detour.
We stopped at the Derrynane House, former home of Daniel O’Connell, one of the great figures in modern Irish history. Unfortunately, the house didn’t open until 10:30 a.m. so we didn’t stay to wait for a tour.
As we continued our drive, the amazing beach views appeared as we continued south toward Caherdaniel. We drove along the Ring of Kerry and hopped out for a picture wherever there was a break in the fog, beach view or a short trail that looked exciting.
The scenic drive led us to the famous Dingle Peninsula where we had a streak of sunshine and could finally enjoy some amazing views of Dingle Bay and the Skellig Rocks.
It was a long day in the car, so we were happy to break for lunch at John Benny’s Pub in Dingle. This is an authentic traditional Irish pub and we enjoyed pints of local Crean’s lager and shepherds pie. Afterward we checked out some of the local souvenir shops and grabbed some ice cream at local creamery Murphy’s (super expensive, but many creative flavors to try).
I would recommend stopping for the night in Dingle as there was so much more to see and explore. The Dingle Peninsula is said to be one of the best places for a scenic bike ride in Ireland, and the quaint town offers quality restaurants, some with live music offerings. Coumeenoole Beach is said to be a great hangout spot too.
As we got back into the car on our final leg to Killarney, the sky cleared up and the sunshine brought to life the lush, Irish countryside that had been hiding from view all day.
Here we made our biggest mistake of the trip. We decided to drive an hour and a half back on the Ring of Kerry to try to see some of the views we had missed earlier in the day.
Everyone knows that the weather in Ireland can be unpredictable, so as we should have expected, an hour into our drive back the fog rolled right back in.
So we spend a few extra hours of “quality time” in the car together and finally arrived at our accommodations for the next two nights, the Killarney Plaza Hotel and Spa.
This hotel was the perfect retreat after a long, long day in the car. Rates include free parking, Wifi, and a delicious full Irish breakfast. Best of all, it’s situated right at the heart of the town of Killarney which is lined with lovely shops, pubs and traditional arts and crafts stores.
We showed up and shipped out to what would be our biggest party night in Ireland. We loved the atmosphere of this beautiful town with live music in pubs along the city center. There were too many to choose from, so we decided to do our own self-guided “pub crawl” where we sampled perhaps one too many of Ireland’s many traditional whiskeys and beers. We had good craic and made some new friends along the way.
Day 5: Kayak Tour on Lake Killarney and Hike to Torc Waterfalls
We had a slow, groggy start to the morning but eventually dragged ourselves down to the free breakfast buffet. The dining room is beautiful and the coffee and array of breakfast options perked us right up.
We needed that morning boost with a full day ahead, starting with a kayak tour on Lake Killarney. We met our guide – Tomas – outside of the stunning Ross Castle. The other couple had canceled so we had Tomas as our own personal tour guide, and we enjoyed his company during the 3-hour tour.
We finally had some gorgeous weather, and we boarded our kayaks and paddled into Lough Leane, the largest of the three lakes of Killarney. The lake is surrounded by Killarney National Park, arguably one of the most beautiful and admired national parks in the world.
Tomas helped us dock on a wooded island where we saw the ancient ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, a 13th-century monastery that was overrun by Vikings, then rebuilt. We also got up close and personal with some of the native red deer.
We enjoyed some tea and chocolate that Tomas had brought along and talked with him about his life in Ireland. He gave us an amazing recommendation for the Cliffs of Moher which you’ll read about soon.
Our tour was booked with Outdoors Ireland and would highly recommend spending your time in Killarney exploring from the lake.
We stopped back at the hotel to change, the walked to Cronins Restaurant for another traditional Irish lunch, shepherd’s pie and beef stew.
Back in the car, we drove to the nearby lot for Torc Waterfall which cascades through the wooded Friers Glenn. The waterfall has a public hiking path that is somewhat steep but fairly easy to manage. The waterfall is a gorgeous natural site and a great place to enjoy the splendid Killarney National Park.
We had planned to do a 2 ½ hour hike in the afternoon through the national park, but after the prior evening’s debauchery, we decided we had done enough physical exercise for the day.
We had a lazy afternoon to relax, nap, shower, and change before venturing out for some pre-dinner shopping. Ryan bought me a beautiful trinity necklace for our anniversary, and we also purchased some historical printouts with information on the Irish heritage of our last name, Kenny.
Flesk Restaurant served delicious fresh seafood, and we ended the night with a stroll up and down main street Killarney.
We heard the Muckross House & Gardens is a beautiful spot if you’re looking to tour a historic mansion. Maybe next time!
Day 6: Cliffs of Moher and Galway
We had considered starting the day with a tour of Bunratty Castle, but decided to set our sights on our most anticipated event in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher.
Our Killarney tour guide, Tomas, had suggested looking up local farmer Pat Sweeney who does a walking tour along the Cliffs of Moher from Doolin.
This was the best recommendation he could have given us as we will never forget Pat Sweeney and his guided walk along the sea cliffs.
Pat had a dream of creating a walking tour along the cliffs of his farmland and that of his surrounding neighbors. The result is a 5 ½ mile gravel path with the green fields of the local farmers on one side and the pounding waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
Having grown up on the Cliffs of Moher his whole life, Pat is an expert on local history and is passionate about the preservation of a rural lifestyle enjoyed by five generations of his family who have farmed in the area. He shared stories of swimming in the cliffs with his father, and how he convinced 38 farmers to allow access to their land to make the walk possible.
If you are visiting Cliffs of Moher, skip the visitor center (this is where Pat’s tour ends anyway) and do this walk with Pat. You will not regret it.
To top it off, a couple even got engaged during our tour! The whole experience was magical.
A shuttle bus brought us from the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center back to Doolin where we had lunch at Gus O’Connor’s Pub. If you’re lucky, we heard it’s a great place to watch live traditional Irish music.
We decided to take the scenic drive from Doolin to Galway via the Burren, which only added an extra 30 minutes.
This area is unique as it has a wildly diverse ecosystem where the hills and valleys are covered with limestone.
Of course, by now it was pouring (darn unpredictable Irish weather!) but we did choose to hop out to take a peek at the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an unusually large stone tomb. It was cool but not worth getting drenched to see.
We arrived in Galway around 5 p.m. and checked into our hotel, Hotel Meyrick (now called The Hardiman).
Sat at the heart of Eyre Square, the hotel has an intriguing history and still has much of the architectural beauty and charm from years past. We were told JFK stayed here once. There was no air conditioning at the time, but otherwise the location was great and the rate included free breakfast as well.
We took a rainy stroll around the area and grabbed a drink at a nearby pub. One of Ryan’s buddies was living in Galway at the time so we met up with him for dinner at McSwiggans Restaurant – so good.
I headed back to the hotel to get a shut-eye, and the guys headed out for a bro night, on which I cannot and do not wish to comment.
There is so much more to experience in Galway if we only had more time: Salthill Promenade, the Aran Islands, Connemara, Kylemore Abbey Castle, walk through the Spanish Arch along the waterfront, and so much more!
Day 7: Ashford Castle & Ballyhaunis
Finally, a day to sleep in! We woke up at 8:30 a.m. and enjoyed the complimentary Irish breakfast at the hotel.
Back in the car, next destination for our road trip in Ireland: County Mayo.
Our first stop was Ashford Castle, a medieval and Victorian castle that is just massive. Pierce Brosnan was married there a decade ago. What we did not realize is that it’s now a five-star luxury hotel, so unless you’re staying there or wanted to pay big bucks, you couldn’t take a look inside. I would skip this one.
We spent the afternoon exploring the town of Ballyhaunis where my father-in-law grew up and even spent some time with relatives who still live there.
The drive back to Dublin was 2 ½ hours. We had planned to stay back at the Gresham Hotel, but decided instead to stay at the Hilton Dublin Airport Hotel since we had an early flight the following morning. We were happy with the accommodations and they had a nice restaurant as well.
And so our road trip in Ireland has come to an end.
The next morning we said farewell to our Skoda, which had served us well on our road trip adventure.
So now I’d like to share all the tricks of the trade regarding renting a car in Ireland.
What we learned about renting a car in Ireland:
- My husband is 6’4” so we opted for a large compact, but as long as you’re comfortable, a smaller car is better for navigating the windy, narrow roads.
- Booking a compact car that ran on diesel saved us on the cost of fuel. As of the date of this post, the average price of gas in Ireland is 5.50 euro/gallon.
- The Irish drive on the left.
- If you can drive manual it will save you money. There isn’t a huge selection of automatic cars available.
- You can purchase a GPS (ours cost 11 euro/day) but if you have an international mobile plan Google Maps will work much better.
- If you want to add an additional driver, it will run you 5-10 euro/day.
- Be sure to inquire about how the tolls work.
Here’s where we really got screwed. We booked our rental car through Enterprise as we cashed in some rewards points and the daily rate was low. However, this did not include the cost of car insurance which ended up running us close to $140 USD/day. Ouch! The person at the rental car desk really bullied us into paying a premium and this could have easily been avoided.
It will be easy for you to find cheap daily rental car rates, but these don’t include the collision damage waiver (CDW) that is required for an Irish car rental. This CDW cancels the risk of you being charged for damage or loss versus rental car damage insurance transfers the risk from you to the insurance company. Therefore, the CDW is not actually insurance and will end up being more expensive than the car rental itself.
Ok, so how do we avoid getting trapped in this scam?
The first step is checking the fine print to see if the CDW cost is included.
Let’s assume there is no CDW coverage by your rental company. There are a few cost-effective ways to go about doing this.
- Consider securing car rental insurance through Bonzah.com which is a more affordable alternative to car rental insurance. It can cost as low as $7.99/day and can provide your desired coverage at a fraction of the cost than if you went through the rental company.
- Contact your U.S. credit card company to see if they provide rental car insurance and CDW coverage in Ireland. I’ve heard that Mastercard and Chase offer CDW protection. Make sure you get something in writing with all the details to show the rental desk when you arrive.
- Be sure to waive any coverage offered by your rental car provider if it will override coverage offered by your credit card provider.
- DO NOT PUT THIS OFF AND PURCHASE THE CDW AT THE RENTAL CAR INSURANCE DESK. YOU WILL GET SCREWED.
Driving in Ireland can be thrilling, treacherous and sometimes just downright dangerous. Do your research, bring the printed proof of coverage and don’t let this put a damper on the start of an awesome vacation.
If you’re looking for more information, you can read a more detailed step-by-step guide on shershegoes.com.
This trip was unforgettable – learning about our Irish heritage, taking in the gorgeous landscape, meeting wonderful locals, sampling some Irish whiskey, dancing a jig to traditional Irish music, and just spending time together getting lost in our fabulous little Skoda.
My #1 tip for visiting Ireland is to make sure you have enough time to explore at a leisurely fashion and take in every single unforgettable memory. This trip did not even include Northern Ireland, and there are so many cities we said we wish we had more time to explore.
From Ireland, we headed to Amsterdam for three days and you can get all the deets on that trip on Girl Pack Your Bag.
I’d love to hear your adventures and favorite spots, so please share in the comments section below.
Happy traveling. Sláinte!