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The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

When I'm planning an itinerary for a new trip, I try to include a driving portion whenever possible. Not only is a road trip often more time-effective than relying on transportation, it can also be cost-effective since you have more flexibility in where you're staying.

For our trip to Ireland last year, I knew we had to see Dublin--but I also wanted to explore the rest of the country as well. We didn't have a terribly long time to stay because of my husband's limited vacation days, but we managed to put together what I think is an incredible road trip that takes in the best of what Ireland has to offer!


The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

I've included everything that I think would be helpful for others planning an Ireland road trip including must-see sights, where to stay overnight, and driving times.

Day 1

Depart home airport

We found an excellent deal on a JetBlue flight from Charleston to New York and then an Aer Lingus flight from New York to Dublin. I don't know how we managed to get to Dublin as quickly as we did, but that pilot had us on the ground a full hour and a half before our scheduled arrival time. We were so early that we had to wait until the car rental place opened at 5:15 in the morning!

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
Too early for good pictures, but just the right time to get our rental car

Overnight
: on the plane

Day 2

Arrival + County Tipperary
Must see sights: Rock of Cashel, Midleton Distillery

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

We really hit the ground running on our first day in Ireland. Because we'd gotten there so far ahead of schedule, we figured that we might as well go until we couldn't go anymore. With the dark winter sky hanging above us, we pointed our little rental car towards Tipperary and the famed Rock of Cashel.

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

On the way, we listened to the radio and were lulled by their beautiful accents. (I actually love listening to the radio when we're on road trips abroad--it's one more way I can immerse myself in whatever place we're visiting!) Even after picking up our rental car and driving from Dublin to Tipperary, we were still too early to go into the Rock of Cashel.

So, in an incredible start to our Ireland road trip, we hiked around the Rock of Cashel and watched the sunrise from the base of this 1,000 year old site. Then, at the stroke of 9 AM, we became the first visitors of the day on that windy, chilly January morning.

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Our next stop was in Midleton, a small town about 30 minutes from Cork. It's known for its massive distillery, where visitors can learn how Jameson and Midleton whiskeys are distilled; there's also a tasting at the end that's included in your ticket price. My husband, whose favorite drink is whiskey, really enjoyed the tour. I could take or leave most whiskeys, but even I found the tour compelling, well paced, and informative.

By the time our tour was over, we were exhausted and were so happy to find the first of our AirBnB properties waiting for us.

Overnight: County Cork

*1 day add-on: If you wanted to spend time in Cork as well (and not just Kinsale as I've suggested), you could add a day here to explore Cork and the surrounding area. You might want to add the Blarney Castle, Blackrock Castle, Cork City Gaol, or the Titanic Experience Cobh in here.

Day 3

County Cork
Must see sights: Kinsale, Fort James, Fort Charles


The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Instead of heading into Cork, we made the decision to wander around Kinsale for the day we were in County Cork. Not only is it smaller (and incredibly adorable), it's much easier to see in just one day. It's one of the most colorful places I've visited, so we spent plenty of time just wandering the small streets.

We took a peek at the 13th century St. Multose Church, then marveled at the tiny lanes leading down to the water (which were originally just wide enough to roll barrels to ships). For brunch, we popped into Mother Hubbards in the heart of the historic town; it was cozy, small, and we were the only non-Irish people in there (another reason why I love traveling in the off-season).

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

After our bellies were full of French toast and tea, we headed to the other side of the River Bandon, and parked our car in the Castlepark Marina lot. From there, we made the quick hike up to the ruins of James Fort. It, along with Charles Fort across the harbor, served to protect the riches of this shipping town in the 17th century. Although Charles Fort is bigger and in better condition, I much preferred the ruins of James Fort. Not only was it free, but there wasn't anyone else around, so we could slowly explore at our leisure.

Overnight: County Clare

*1-2 day add-on: If you wanted to add the Ring of Kerry to your touring itinerary, I'd suggest visiting Kinsale during the 3rd day, driving to Killarney for an overnight stay, then doing the Ring of Kerry on the 4th day with another overnight in Killarney. From there, you could make your way to the Aran Islands and continue on with our itinerary.

If you wanted to go from Killarney to Galway in one fell swoop, you're looking at 4 hours of driving; you could drive in the morning and catch the afternoon ferry to Inishmore. If you prefer a more leisurely approach, add 2 days onto this itinerary: on the first, drive to Limerick and stay the night there, then continue on to the Galway ferry station the next day.

Day 4

Aran Islands
Must see sights: Inishmore, Dun Aengus, Seven Sisters

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

After a lovely night at our County Clare AirBnB, we packed up very early and headed to Galway. We couldn't be late because a very special boat was waiting on us! This was the day that we were going to the Aran Islands, a collection of three small islands off of Ireland's western coast. They are only accessible by a twice daily ferry (and that's only if the weather's good), and I did not want to miss that boat.

On the way, we marveled at the stark beauty of the Burren, which literally means "rocky place" in Gaelic. There's very little top soil here, so you see miles of these worn rocks everywhere. It's not traditionally pretty, but it's alien and captivating.

The ferry ride was stomach-churning, even for this travel blogger who never gets seasick. After 45 minutes of watching the horizon bob back and forth a little too much, we arrived in Kilronan, the largest village on Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands.

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

I really can't say enough about our time on Inishmore: from our innkeeper to our tour guide to the couple we met for an unforgettable night out at the pub, everyone we met was welcoming and helpful. [Read more about our time on Inishmore here.]

High points on Inishmore include Dun Aengus (an Iron Age fort on the edge of 300-foot cliffs), the Man of Aran Cottage (which featured in a movie filmed on the island in the 1930s), and the Seven Sisters (the ruins of a large monastic site). If you're brave, you can take a dip in the water on Kilmurvey Beach, but the water is very chilly!

You can do any one of the Aran Islands as a day trip, but to get the real flavor of the islands, I recommend an overnight stay. We loved our experience at Tigh Fitz Guesthouses, which was an easy walk to Kilronan. The vast majority of the tourists leave on the afternoon ferry, so you'll practically be one of the locals...especially if you're there in the winter like we were.

*Note: I didn't include the Cliffs of Moher on this itinerary since the cliffs near Dun Aengus are just as impressive without all of the crowds. Instead of devoting another day on Ireland's mainland for the Cliffs of Moher, we decided that our time was better spent on the Aran Islands: we got the beauty of the cliffs with Iron Age ruins and a complete immersion in the Gaelic culture that is still alive and well on the islands. Leaving the Cliffs of Moher behind was a tough decision, but, ultimately, one we were glad we made.

Overnight: Kilronan, Inishmore

Day 5

Galway
Must see sights: Quay Street, Galway Cathedral

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

So, don't do what my husband and I did. After a super fun night out at Kilronan's only open pub, we had to get up incredibly early (again) to get on the ferry. I don't think we were quite fully sober yet, but we couldn't miss the morning ferry since we had plans in Galway and beyond.

I'm normally not a big drinker, so that night out had me hurting (and, at one point, questioning my life choices as I clung to the walls of the ferry's tiny bathroom). The horrible weather that morning made a rough ferry ride even worse, and, as a result, we were moving very, very slowly when we got back to the mainland.

By the time we arrived in Galway, we were feeling a bit better, and decided to walk around the town for a bit. Galway is small, but that's fantastic for those (like me!) who prefer to explore a place on foot. Quay Street and its shops and restaurants are a must-visit, and, if you like awe-inspiring structures, the Galway Cathedral is beautiful.

After getting to know Galway a little, we headed just outside of the city for our rendevouz with a castle where we would be spending the next two nights. [Read more about our time at the castle and other AirBnB + VRBO properties here.]

Overnight: Galway

Day 6

Cong + Connemara
Must see sights: Connemara horses, Ashford Castle, the Quiet Man Cottage

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

We'd left our second day in the Galway area open, so we decided to follow our AirBnB host's suggestion of Connemara National Park. Even if I'd planned the day to the minute, I couldn't have had a better time.

On the way to Connemara, we did a quick The Quiet Man tour since my husband is a huge fan of both the movie and John Wayne. Head into the small village of Cong, where you can see the cottage from the movie, take a photo with a bronze statue of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, and have a pint in Pat Cohan's bar. Nearby Ashford Castle has picture perfect grounds, where you can have afternoon tea and plan out the rest of your day.

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

We were able to see working peat fields (a traditional source of fuel for the Irish), Kylemore Abbey, and the wild, stark beauty of the Connemara region. Since we were traveling in the deep off-season, we had another day where we went miles before passing another car.

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

On a warmer day, you could do a picnic inside the national park grounds, or see if you could find the Connemara horses that roam these hills (if you can't find those, you're sure to come across plenty of sheep in their stead--even in the middle of the road!). Even on a cold day like the one we visited, the drive is breathtaking and well worth a day of your Ireland road trip. [Read more about our time in Connemara here.]

Overnight: Galway

Day 7

Slane
Must see sights: Newgrange, Knowth, Slane Castle

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

For our last day before we hit Dublin, we ventured back towards the eastern coast of Ireland. I'd read about Newgrange, a historic site that's older than both the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge.

The site and the visitors center are on opposite sides of the river, which led to some confusion, but once we figured that out, our tour at Newgrange was one of the highlights of our Ireland experience. [Read more about our time at Newgrange here.]

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

I would devote several hours to the visitors center and the tour at Newgrange; plan on spending a full day here if you're visiting when nearby Knowth is open as well.

After you're done learning about this fascinating time in Ireland's history, wander through the small downtown of Slane and pop into Slane Castle (only open during the summer).

Overnight: Slane

Day 8

County Louth + Dublin

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

On our Slane-Dublin road trip leg, we broke up the last few miles of driving by visiting two historic places: Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice. Mellifont was built in the mid-12th century for an order of Cistercian monks, while 5th century Monasterboice was the area's religious center before Mellifont was built.

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

After that leisurely morning exploring religious ruins, we spent most of the early afternoon returning our rental car at the airport and heading back into town via the inexpensive and punctual Airlink Express. One of the stops was near the O'Connell Street Bridge, which was perfect since our VRBO apartment was just a quick walk town the street near Ha'penny Bridge.


The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

After getting the key from our VRBO contact, we put our suitcases in our apartment and headed out into the city. Our first stop was to Trinity College since I love visiting colleges and universities when I travel (I'm special like that). The Book of Kells exhibit was temporarily closed, so we made a note to come back the next day.

With our newfound time, we went to Dublin Castle to sign up for a tour there; luck was on our side, and it was free admission day! We had to wait a little while for a later tour, but it was worth it to save a few euro.

*Note: we skipped one of Dublin's most famous stops, the Guinness Storehouse, since we'd already done a distillery tour earlier in the road trip.

Overnight: Dublin

Day 9

Dublin

For our last full day of sightseeing, we needed to accomplish a lot. We were first in line for the Book of Kells and the Long Room Library at Trinity College; as an English major, seeing both had been on my bucket list for a long, long time. I'm happy to say that both lived up to the hype and were well worth the entrance fee.
The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com


Next up, we headed to the National Museum of Ireland: Archeology, where we were both captivated by the Bog People exhibit and the impressive carved longboat (which dates to 2500 BC).

After learning so much, we decided not to stop there and made a quick stop at the Natural History Museum to see giant moose skeletons and a massive variety of taxidermied creatures. Weird, but fun (and free)!

We did a little shopping, grabbed dinner and then spent several rollicking hours out in Temple Bar, singing along with the live bands and sampling a few brews.

We also wanted to go to the Kilmainham Gaol, the Dublin Writers Museum, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, but we ran out of time. I'd suggest adding on another full day in Dublin if you want to ensure you see those as well.

Overnight: Dublin

Day 10

Departure

With a sad heart, we packed up our new souvenirs (including some marshmallow candies and a chocolate sheep that our daughter still talks about!) and made our way to the Airlink Express pickup spot veerrrry early that morning. Even though there weren't many people stirring at 5:30 in the morning on O'Connell Street, I'm happy to say that we felt quite safe waiting for the bus (which isn't always the case when you're holding suitcases and clearly look like an out-of-towner).

All in all, I think we managed to hit the best of Ireland on our road trip itinerary, and the only thing I would do differently would be to stay even longer!

Have you visited Ireland? What did you see or do on your trip that you would recommend?

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

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