When planning a cross country road-trip, most people would think to plan a trip within their home country, if big enough. There would be no language barrier, you could still drive on the same side of the road, and there would be no need to worry about customs and immigration control. In the US, a road trip is a staple of American culture- people set out on road trips across the country as a right of passage. Most of the time in a convertible. Personally, I’ve always wanted to drive through the Irish countryside. Farm traffic and rolling landscapes filled with sheep and plumes of thick fog seem like ideal driving conditions to me (not literally, but still an ideal venture).
I’ve planned out, and gone almost as far as booking this trip, just out of sheer excitement about the Southern Irish countryside. Maybe in a year or two I can make it happen. The whole trip lasts about 10 days, but could very well be extended to include a bit of the Northern Irish areas. All of the prices that are listed are approximations based on information gathered from the hotel/ activity websites. Rates and availability of each hotel or activity may vary by season, but this trip can easily be altered to adapt to any season.
Day 1: Depart the USA from John F Kennedy Airport in New York
Arrival at Dublin Airport
The total flight time is about 7 hours, best to sleep on the plane to avoid jet lag (more on that later) .When you arrive to Dublin, its best to rent a car from the airport and head toward your hotel. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, Irish locals are typically friendly and will help where they can
Tip: When renting a car in Ireland, be aware that the driver’s seat, steering wheel and pedals, will be on the opposite side from what you are used to in the US. Also, you will be driving on the opposite side of the road from the US. It’s a good idea to practice a few passes around the airport parking lot before heading out onto main roads. Be cautious of the times in which you may revert to your normal driving style; when you are tired or jetlagged, if you are distracted, or if you make any quick decisions (defensive driving). It may take a day or two to get used to, its like skateboarding goofy style, but with a car.
Hotel: I chose two potential Hotels while in Dublin:
#1 Temple Bar Inn- has a central location to downtown Dublin & major sights, can be a bit noisy in the area, and offers modern amenities and style. Ear plugs are provided to help those recovering from jet lag. Close to bars and nightlife
#2 The Mercantile Inn- a quaint hotel, above a rustic Irish bar, the noise level can be a bit high, but the central location and old-timey decor are fantastic. This is a good choice for a few nights in Dublin as it will give you an old-school Irish pub/ Inn experience.
Prices for these hotels are similar, you can expect about $500USD/ 2-3 nights
Day 2: Explore Dublin
Who could visit Ireland without spending a day or two wandering the streets of Dublin? The hometown of Guinness, St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Irish Whiskey Museum. Granted, a great deal of the activities in Dublin surround drinking and alcohol, there are plenty of non-alcoholic things to do. You can visit St Stephen’s Green, a Victorian-era Garden, Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison that housed rebellion leaders from the 1700s, and Dublin Castle, a national heritage site, built in the 13th century which housed the seat of English government in Ireland until 1922. Mix those sights in with a bit of the Jameson Distillery, and the Guinness Storehouse and you’ll have yourself a day filled with drinking and Irish heritage
Tip: Look for the large red bus with the phrase ‘Hop-on, Hop-off”. This bus will allow you to buy a ticket and ride to various sites around the country and get on and off the bus at stops around the city. This will be the best way to spend the least amount of time driving and more time sightseeing. There is even a second floor, so if the weather is clear, head up on top to see the streets of Dublin from a second floor bus!
Day 3: Drive about 2 hours and 40 minutes to Galway from Dublin
Galway is a well-populated harbor city on Ireland’s western coast. It offers traditional pubs, folk music street performers, a downtown area for shopping, nightlife, and is close by to national landmarks such as the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren. The drive to Galway will take you through the Irish countryside, although you will be on a major highway the majority of the trip. Quay street is located in one of the oldest areas of the city and is center of life for pubs, shopping and occasional festivals. Within driving distance of the city are various castles, some double as hotels, which serve as a desired location for accommodations while visiting Galway
Hotel: The hotel I chose was Glenlo Abbey Hotel.
Glenlo Abbey is one of various castles that visitors can book to stay in, it offers extensive grounds for fishing, golf, cycling, archery, falconry and many other activities that vary based on season. It is located about ten minutes outside of galway by car, and sits on a 138 acre estate. Taking part in activities such as falconry and archery are sure to transport you back in time, 800 years ago, to rural Ireland.
Prices vary greatly based on length of stay and season, best option is to choose a package for 3-4 nights that will grant access to estate activities and accommodations. (Estimated price ~$1,200USD/ 4 nights)
Day 4: Rest & Relax
By the time day 4 rolls around, you may be feeling a bit tired from all the on-the-go activities this far. This day is dedicated to taking a nap, eating a few heart Irish meals and perhaps wandering the estate grounds at Glenlo Abbey or leisurely strolling through downtown Galway. It’s incredibly important to plan days of rest while traveling, especially when your trip is a bit more fast-paced. Take advantage of the leisure activities at the estate such as strolling through the gardens, or even partake in a lesson in falconry.
Day 5: The Burren and Cliffs of Moher
The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher are two national landmarks that are generally visited together by large tour companies. The Burren is one of the smallest national parks of Ireland, and contains a variety of landscapes that are strange compared to the lush green hills surrounding it. Literally translated, The Burren, means Boireann- or ‘rocky place’ in Gaelic. The Burren contains landscapes of glacial-era limestone with cracked pavements, rock formations, caves, cliffs and many archaeological sites. This place is incredibly unique and offers a much different perspective on the country.
The Cliffs of Moher are the picturesque, two-thousand feet high, fog covered cliffs that many people think of when they begin planning a trip to Ireland. Those who have seen the cliffs, have said that they are a breathtaking illustration of raw nature at its finest.
Tip: The Cliffs of Moher are known for being notoriously foggy. For the best visibility, it is best to visit the cliffs in the afternoon, when the chances of fog will be a bit lower. Best to take a tour of The Burren in the morning and visit the Cliffs of Moher in the afternoon or early evening. This will allow for better visibility and a lower number of tourists in the area. Bus tours are available leaving from Galway, but exploring the nuances of The Burren and the awe of the Cliffs of Moher on your own time might be a bit more satisfying.
Day 6: Drive 2 hours 40 min to Killarney National Park from Galway
This leg of the trip will take you through Limerick and on down to the Southern corner of Ireland. Again, you will mostly be driving on large highways, but the picturesque Irish countryside will be in view for the majority of the journey. Killarney National Park was the first national park of Ireland and provides a natural habitat for many species of flora and fauna. It is common for a light, showery rainfall to occur for much of the year, so a pair of sturdy shoes and light raincoat will do wonders. The park itself is one of the oldest, forested places in the world, there is evidence that shows human inhabitants dating back to the Bronze Age. Ruins of early human settlements have been discovered within the park by local archaeologists studying postglacial human existence. It is a part of the Ring of Kerry, a scenic route that takes you along various scenic and historical sites in country Kerry.
On the Northern rim of Killarney National Park lies the towns of Killarney and Aghadoe. In Killarney, you can find colorful buildings and architecture, rustic lodgings and many 19th century structures such as St Mary’s Cathedral. You can even book a jaunting car, which is drawn by a horse, to take you around the scenic areas of the park including the Gap of Dunloe and Torc Waterfall.
Hotel: The Killeen House Hotel
This hotel lies just outside of Killarney is only a twenty minute walk (5 minutes by car) outside the entrance to the national park. This hotel was built in the 1800’s and functioned as a rectory for the majority of its life. It boasts Edwardian architecture and style, and in inner decor is rustic and reminiscent of Gaelic traditions. The building was bought in 1922 and converted into a hotel for tourists to get a feel for Edwardian era Ireland. There is a highly regarded restaurant on-site, Rozzers Restaurant. This hotel offers simple amenities, a great location and beautiful landscape views.
Prices can vary, however a general estimation of about $500/ 2-3 nights is common
Day 7: Explore Killarney National Park & Local Town
This day is all about hiking, exploring and taking in the natural landscape of Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry. Start off your morning by venturing into town to book a jaunting car expedition into the national park. Take in the natural wonders of the Irish natural landscape. Many of these jaunting car tours will take you through the Gap of Dunloe, which is a narrow pass through the mountain ranges of Killarney National Park. It is considered a part of the Ring of Kerry, and is easily one of the most memorable experiences in this location. Another interesting landmark is the Ross Castle, which can be explored free of charge. Built in the 15th century, it is a Middle-Age era castle, which serves as the quintessential example of an Irish stronghold.
If you are feeling a bit adventurous and are in physical condition to hike a rocky mountainside, visiting the Torc Waterfall is a very rewarding experience. The terrain to reach the waterfall can be a bit rocky an include a fair number of stairs, therefore if you are not in the physical condition to hike a mountainous terrain, your best bet would be to wander the green pastures and visit some of the local farm animals (feed some sheep?)
Day 8: Drive 1 hour and 30 minutes to Cork from Killarney
This will be your final driving leg of the trip, from Killarney to Cork, which should take no more than two hours with traffic or less than ideal road conditions. On the way, feel free to make a pit stop at the Blarney Castle, or make a day out of it on your last day in Cork. Cork is a small city situated on River Lee and connected through a network of bridges. Cork harbor served as one of the largest national harbors for Ireland and still does today. Cork is the home of one of Ireland’s largest higher education institutions, University College Cork. While much of the city has been expanded to include things like a major airport and the University, much of the old fishing and monastery village heritage remains. Some of the major sights to see while in and around cork include The Blarney Castle, architecturally notable sites such as the Red Abbey, a Medieval-era, gothic style, religious heritage site, St Mary’s Cathedral, and St Fin Barre’s Cathedral both Victorian-era gothic style structures. Each site offers insight into a time long ago, of medieval knights, kings and queens.
After arriving at your hotel, relax, grab dinner or leisurely walk the city of Cork
Hotel: Hotel Isaacs Cork : This hotel is located in the center of the Victorian quarter of the city, close to public transportation and Patrick’s street, the hub for shopping, pubs and nightlife. Nearby sites of interest include the cathedrals, The English market, the Cork Opera House and the Cork Gaol. The interior decor is modern and includes touches of irish and gaelic heritage in its traditional Cask Bar.
Pricing range about $150USD/night, but can vary based on availability and season
Day 9: The Blarney Castle & Rest
By day 9, you may be feeling a bit fatigued; take this day at your own pace. Wake up and grab breakfast at the onsite hotel restaurant or venture out onto the city streets to find a small cafe to grab a bite. Once you are well rested and ready to explore a little, take a 20 minute drive to The Blarney Castle & Gardens. A human- constructed stronghold has been standing on this site since the 10th century. However, the one we see today is the third building, a medieval-era castle, originally used as military stronghold. Throughout history, the castle has changed ownership a great number of times, at one time, Queen Elizabeth I sought to hold the castle.
You can wander the castle, its underground passageways and its surrounding gardens at your own pace. There is a small fee for admission, but you can easily make a day of exploring the grounds. And of course, the crowning jewel of the Blarney Castle is the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that kissing the Blarney Stone will give you the gift of eloquence. Over 200 years worth of statesmen, literary moguls, legends and royalty have climbed the stairs to plant a kiss on the stone. Years ago, visitors needed to be held and lowered by their ankles, while dangling upside down to kiss the stone. These days, there is a railing to hang onto and en employee to help lower you down and pull you back up, as well as safety bars. Seems like a fair price for the ‘gift of gab’.
Day 10: Depart Cork Airport For JFK, New York
On day 10, pack up your bags and catch another long 7+ hour flight home to New York. By this time, you should have had a full Irish road trip and exploration experience, plenty of photos and the memories of a lifetime. The airport in Cork is smaller than that of Dublin, but international flights to New York are flown regularly. Plan ahead, and book flights early to avoid a long drive back to Dublin airport.
Extensions for this trip can include additional days in Dublin, a visit to the seaside fishing village of Doolin- a folk music hub, as well as a major extension to explore London and southern England. Total trip cost can vary, but for accommodations, flights, excursions, and car rental, you can estimate about $6,000. This is a high estimate,including mid-level to luxury hotels. This trip can absolutely be done for far less!