Ireland. Perfect scenery, friendly people, and a deep appreciation of history, music, and literature. Below is a one-week itinerary for Ireland, which I followed a few years ago. I am not an expert on Ireland, so this isn’t a “recommended” itinerary. There are as many travel itineraries as there are travelers, and this, simply, is mine.
Before you go, consider reading up on the history and politics of Ireland. You can find my recommended reading list here. Much to the chagrin of my husband, I receive no incentives for any recommendation on this site. My opinions and travel costs are entirely my own.Day 1: Arrival in Dublin
Transportation: If you aren’t planning on renting a car, and you are cheap like me, then take the Air Link # 747. It leaves from just outside the main terminal of Dublin airport every 20 minutes, and travels to the main tourist areas. The cost is 6 euro per person one-way.
Breakfast: We dropped our bags in our hotel located near Christ Church, and then we walked over to The Bank on College Green. This gorgeous former bank, built in the late 1800s, is where my husband first fell madly in love with the “Full Irish” breakfast, which can be found on many menus. It includes grilled bacon, sausage, roasted cherry tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, black & white pudding, a fried egg, baked beans, hash browns and toast. I did NOT have the Full Irish breakfast, as I am pretty sure I would still be full. How can one person eat that much food?The Book of Kells & Trinity College: There are magnificent libraries in this world that fill book lovers with silent awe and reverence. The Old Library at Trinity College is one of those libraries. Not only is the library spectacular, but it houses the famous Book of Kells, which is a medieval manuscript considered to be one of Ireland’s greatest cultural treasures. You may make reservations in advance.
Cocktails at the Shelbourne Hotel: This ornate hotel is steeped in Irish political history. Enter the lobby and picture Michael Collins, one of the most important leaders in the fight for Irish independence, walking through the rooms and up the grand staircase. The “Constitution Room” is where the Irish Constitution was drafted in 1922. I can think of no better first-day activity than sitting in the Shelbourne Hotel, sipping a fancy cocktail, and imagining that you are witnessing events from the 1920s. When you are finished, walk across the street to St. Stephen’s Green, the large public park in the center of Dublin.Dinner: We had dinner at the Millstone, which is a charming and intimate restaurant within walking distance of the main tourist sites in Central Dublin. Years ago, Dublin was not known as a foodie destination, but restaurants like the Millstone have changed that perception.
Day 2: Dublin
Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour: Some may pooh-pooh these tours, but I adore them when they are done well. On a hop-on, hop-off tour, a bus travels a mapped route around the main tourist sites of the city, and you can hop-off and hop-on as many times as you desire during the period covered by your ticket. The tours sometimes have live tour guides, and other times have taped guides in many languages. When done properly, as they are in Dublin, the hop-on, hop-off tour is a fantastic orientation to a new city.
Kilmainham Gaol: Kilmainham Gaol is one of the reasons that you need to read, or at least watch some movies, about the Irish fight for independence. This is a solemn place where leaders of the Irish struggle were both imprisoned and executed. You cannot leave Dublin without visiting Kilmainham Gaol and paying your respects to fallen heroes.Music in Temple Bar:After a weighty morning at Kilmainham Gaol, I was supposed to visit more serious cultural sites. However, my husband and I decided to spend a few hours drinking pints (wine for me!) and listening to music in the Temple Bar area. Ireland prides itself on both its music and literature, and spending a few hours with the music of this country is time well spent.
Dinner: We had dinner at the Winding Stair, which is a cafe and an independent bookstore. This was a recommendation from my sister, and the food was delicious. This is another small restaurant, so ensure you have a reservation. Bonus: If you are coming from the Temple Bar area, you access the restaurant by crossing over the famous Ha’ penny Bridge.Day 3: Newgrange Passage Tomb and the Hill of Tara
Newgrange: If you enjoy being awed by the accomplishments of ancient people, spend a day visiting Newgrange, which is located in the Boyne valley. Built 5,000 years ago, it is a large, prehistoric “passage tomb.” The clever people who built this tomb ensured it would be illuminated at sunrise during the winter solstice. My tour into to the tomb was led by an Irish woman who artfully brought the history and wonder of Newgrange to life, so much so that several tour members ended up with tears in their eyes. I can neither confirm nor deny that I was one of those crying. I will say that Newgrange, which is older than the pyramids and Stonehenge, is one of my all-time favorite tourist sites in this world.While normally I am an independent tourist, I opt for a tour if I feel it will add substantially to my experience. I arranged to take the Newgrange and Hill of Tara tour offered by Mary Gibbons. The tour begins in Dublin, and provides transportation to both Newgrange and the Hill of Tara, which is where the ancient Irish kings were crowned. This tour is heavy on history, which is why I took it and why I would highly recommend it.
Dinner: We dined at The Church, a cafe and bar in Dublin. As attendance declines, churches across Europe are being repurposed for other uses. In this case, St. Mary’s Church has been converted into a beautiful bar and restaurant.
Day 4: Drive to Kinsale
Day four was supposed to be comprised of the Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle. Both of these sites date back to the 1100s, and are said to be impressive. Instead, life had other plans. We picked up a rental car and headed out of Dublin in the morning. As we drove, I realized I had a terrible ear infection. We cancelled our plans and sped towards Kinsale, where our hotel was booked for the night.
I stumbled into the White House Inn reception area in Kinsale and asked if I had any hope of seeing a doctor that day. The words were barely out of my mouth before a lovely woman was on the phone getting me “sorted out.” When the good people of Ireland fix you, and you begin to notice your surroundings, it turns out that Kinsale is a beautiful seaside town. I highly recommend an evening in this charming place.Day 5: Drive to Killarney
Rental Car Tip: Rent the tiniest car on the lot, and pack as small a bag as possible. If you want to take a scenic ride in Ireland (and you do), then you will be driving on unbelievably small roads. For the same reason, load up on the car insurance offered by the rental company. I know, I know. Usually you don’t do that. Well, do it anyway in Ireland. Welcome to Day 5 of our Ireland trip!
Michael Collins Center: We took the N71 road all the way from Kinsale to Killarney. Our first stop on this scenic drive was the Michael Collins Center, which is a family run interpretive center on the life and history of this larger-than-life man. This is not a flashy operation, to say the least, but I enjoyed it because I have a keen interest in Michael Collins.
Drombeg Stone Circle: The Drombeg Stone Circle is an impressive megalithic circle located off the N71 on teeny-tiny roads. (I warned you about these roads!) The Circle is comprised of more than a dozen large, very tall stones. At any of these prehistoric sites, the most interesting part to me is pondering how these ancient peoples managed to move such massive stones. There is evidence that the Circle, like Newgrange, was built to align to the winter solstice.Bantry House: We shook things up a bit by visiting a fancy Irish estate dating from the mid-1700s. We still had miles to drive before we hit Killarney, so we only toured the grounds and not the house itself. The view from the top of the gardens is breathtaking, and there is a little cafe where you can indulge in a drink and a snack. Day 5: The Dingle Peninsula
We toured the Dingle Peninsula on Day 5 as a day tour from Killarney. As everyone knows, the drive around the Dingle Peninsula is a singularly beautiful journey along coastlines, villages and historic sites. Here is our big secret: We are the only people on the planet who did not love the Dingle Peninsula. We have only ourselves to blame. In a rookie mistake, we spent all of Day 4 driving to Killarney, and then we spent all of Day 5 driving around the Dingle Peninsula. It was, clearly, TOO MUCH DRIVING.
So, this is just a word of warning. Driving in Ireland is not for the feint of heart. Short distances based on mileage turn into long journeys on rural roads. Vary your activities so that you don’t spend all of your time in the car. I think we would have enjoyed Dingle much more if we reversed Day 5 and Day 6. Also, bring lots and lots of cash to the Dingle Peninsula. There weren’t a whole lot of credit card machines or ATMs to be found.
Day 6: Hiking in the Killarney National Park
One of my best memories of Ireland was hiking in the Killarney National Forest. The town of Killarney itself is a wee bit touristy. And, by that, I mean it felt like Irish Disneyland. I had a few qualms about staying in Killarney until I discovered Killarney National Park. We took a Gap of Dunloe tour for ease of transportation, because the hike generally ends far from where it starts.
The majority of tourists do not actually hike. They hop on pony carts for a drive through the Gap of Dunloe. My husband and I opted for the two-hour hike instead, and I loved every minute. As soon as the pony carts passed us by, we were by ourselves in that stunning park. At the end of the trail, we all boarded boats for a cruise through a gorgeous Lake in the Killarney National Park to our final pick-up spot.
See what I mean? If we had flipped Day 5 and Day 6 on the itinerary, we might have enjoyed driving around Dingle after a fantastic day of hiking. One tip: If you are going to do the walk through the Gap of Dunloe, be sure to bring a hiking map with you. It is an easy walk to navigate, but a map will provide reassurance that you are going in the right direction.Dinner: The Malton Hotel, Killarney Wine Rooms. I think we can all agree that the perfect end to a day of hiking and boating can be found in a place called “Wine Rooms.” The Malton is an upscale hotel in the middle of Killarney, and it had delicious wine, food and great service.
Day 7: Michael Collins Ambush Site
On our last morning in Ireland, we drove to the site where Michael Collins was ambushed and murdered before catching our flight to Scotland out of Cork. At this point, you may well be wondering if I am obsessed with Michael Collins. The answer is yes. The site can be found on the 585 south off the N-22 on the road to Cork.Up until this point, we had successfully avoided getting killed while driving on the left side of the road. Apparently, we were so overwhelmed by seeing the Michael Collins ambush site that we pulled out onto the RIGHT side of the road. I forgot that my job as the navigator was to continually say, “Stay to the left.” This is an actual task you should assign to the navigator, because it is easy to fall back into right-side-of-the-road habits.
As we merrily drove along oblivious to our mistake, we almost collided with an industrial truck. I am proud to say that my almost-last-thought was selfless. I felt remorse that we were going to kill the guy in the truck. He was going to die with us, and it was all our fault. Luckily, he was adept with dealing with idiot American drivers, and he expertly swerved at the last minute and avoided us. He didn’t even honk. Such nice people, the Irish.