Planning the Ultimate Road Trip through Ireland

From an early age I remember listening to my my grandparents marvel about the wonders of the Emerald Isle. Though they had not been born there, they were children of second generation Irish immigrants and had visited a couple of times. My mom has had a calendar showcasing photos of Ireland hanging in the laundry room for as long as I can remember. She had always wanted to visit the land of her ancestors. So last year I put plans in motion for a family trip across the pond. Easier said than done, obviously, as there are way too many places to see in Ireland than we could cover in a road trip that was less than two weeks.

Although I could (and probably will) write multiple articles about all of the places we visited in Ireland, this post will give you an outline of the route we took and some of our favorite stops! For context, there were six of us traveling in total. We rented a minivan at the Dublin airport as we planned to see the country at our own pace. I’d highly recommend renting a vehicle for cross-country travel in Ireland, as we were afforded a level of freedom and were also able to admire the landscape as we drove across the country. You may want to practice a bit in the parking lot before heading out on the streets, though, as vehicles operate on the other side of the road. With my dad driving (only somewhat more cautiously than usual) and me in the front seat navigating, we headed out... 

Day 1: Dublin 
We tried to overcome our jet lag and explore the city. Most of the day consisted of walking around and ducking into pubs when the rain hit!

Day 2-4: London
Okay, so I may have fibbed a bit on the title, as we weren’t only in Ireland. As the rest of my family hadn’t ever visited London, we hopped on a Ryanair flight to the UK capital and explored for a couple of days. Costs are high in London, especially for a family of six, so instead of a hotel I booked an Airbnb apartment in the theatre district. For our quick visit, we walked around a great deal to explore the main attractions in London like Buckingham Palace and other historic neighborhoods, rode around on one of those cheesy (but informative!) red bus tours, and had our share of pub fare. Some of the family went to see Emirates Stadium, where Arsenal plays, while others of us went shopping and did a bit more exploring. We all met back up to attend a free Jack the Ripper walking tour that took us around the city to the various locations his victims were found and postulated different theories. I would recommend that as an off the beaten path way to learn about London’s history!

Day 4-6: Killarney
After flying back to Dublin, we headed back to our first hotel (who graciously offered to allow us to leave our car and big suitcases for the two days) to pick up the car and begin our drive to Killarney, a touristy city in the southwest part of the country. We stopped in the cute town of Kilkenny for an early dinner at Kyteler’s Inn, a historic restaurant dating back to the 1200s. Once we hopped back in the car, we realized that we’d have to hurry to make it in time to check in at our hotel in Killarney (saving this hilarious story for another post!) so we raced, dodging sheep to get there just in time. Killarney is a really neat town despite being a bit touristy. While there we explored the city and rented bikes to head out to Killarney National Park, where we biked around beautiful lakes, old ruins, the Muckross Estate, and Torc Waterfall. The next day we set off on the famous Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive that’s well deserving of its fame! Be sure to allow yourself enough time to make the drive, as you’ll want to stop every few minutes! And the clearer the day, the better the views. While in Killarney, be sure to allow enough time to wander around the old city streets and try out a few restaurants. One of the great parts of Ireland is its abundance of live music, and Killarney was no exception! We also took advantage of having a car with us to go visit the fishing village of Dingle. If we’d have more time, we would have loved to spend the night in the colorful town where you can hear people speaking Gaelic on the streets. We took advantage of the blue skies to go out on the Slea Head Drive, a less famous but no less amazing drive that begins and ends in Dingle. In fact, some of our party even said they preferred the Slea Head to the Ring of Kerry!

Day 7-10: Galway
After Killarney, we drove north a bit to stop in one of Ireland’s most famous cities, Galway. Galway is known for being a university town with a ton of young people, artists, music, and pubs. While in Galway, we explored the city, visited our share of pubs (can’t get over how amazing all the music is here!), and used the city as a base to explore a couple of other places. Perhaps the most famous natural site in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher, is within about an hour and a half drive. We truly lucked out on the day we visited, as the skies were clear and blue and the sun was shining. From Galway we also visited the small town of Castlebar in County Mayo, where my family (the Flannellys) come from and also drove out to Connemara National Park for some hiking. Between all of our hiking and exploring, Galway’s many pubs were certainly a welcome place in the evenings!

Day 11-12: Ashford Castle, County Mayo
As I mentioned before, my family comes from County Mayo, so we decided to find a place to stay for a couple of nights. Luckily for us, one of the country’s most famous castles is located in that county and has been turned into a wonderful hotel: Ashford Castle. We spend our two days there exploring the estate, the local village, and taking part in many of the castle’s activities like archery, falconry, and tours of the lake. Even if staying at the castle isn’t an option for you on your trip to Ireland, I would encourage you to visit the estate, as it’s pretty amazing. 

Day 12-13: Dublin
We headed back to Dublin for a final day and to catch a few of the places we missed our first day there (ahem, the Guinness Factory) and to finish up souvenir shopping. After doing some last minute sightseeing, we found yet another pub to round out our trip. 

Hopefully this post has given you some guidance on planning a trip through one of my favorite countries. The scenery is out of the world, the Guinness is tasty and free-flowing, the people are friendly, and the music is amazing. A few things of note for those planning their own road trips throughout Ireland. First, I think I would have liked one more day to explore Dublin. Second, I designed this itinerary with our specific needs in mind, like combining outdoors activities with plenty of pub time and visiting my family's home town. Obviously others will have different priorities (or different home counties!). On our next trip to Ireland, we would love to visit some of the places that we had to skip for shortage on time: Cork, Northern Ireland, and smaller villages, among other places! I hope you enjoyed my first European travel guide and stay on the lookout for more to follow this spring. Ireland is a truly wonderful place and I highly encourage you all to make the effort to visit. I can personally vouch for this itinerary, so feel free to contact me below in the comments section or by email with any questions!