Ireland: The BEST 7-Day Road Trip Itinerary
Self-Driving Tour of Southern Ireland
Is Ireland on your travel bucket list? I was able to check it off of mine when I visited Ireland last summer. I found Ireland to have everything I dreamed about: ancient and storied castles, fun Irish pub culture, delicious seafood, breathtaking scenery, gorgeous vistas, and of course, forty shades of green!
To experience Ireland attractions like a local, follow this road trip itinerary to see the Best of Ireland in 7 days!
A great way to see the some of the best sights and attractions that Ireland has to offer is to fly into Shannon Airport, rent a car, and tour the entire southern part of the Emerald Isle on a self-guided tour.
Ireland is the perfect country for driving. There are lots of charming towns along the way, each worth a stop and a visit no matter which route you choose to explore. Check out the Shannon, Kinsale, Killarney, Galway, Doolin itinerary for a perfect seven-day vacation!
Shannon to Kinsale
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, where 19thcentury Irish life is vividly recreated, is only 10 minutes from Shannon Airport and a great first stop. The park features over 30 buildings in a “living village” setting complete with pub, post office, school, doctor’s house, hotel, and varied shops provide the main focal points of the park.
Durty Nelly’s, Ireland’s most famous pub is adjacent to the castle where you can enjoy good food from the bar.
Next, travel south through lush farmland of County Limerick into County Cork, passing through the villages of Croom and Charleville. Approximately 5 miles north of Cork City, you will enter the village of Blarney, home of the renowned Blarney Castle. The grounds of Blarney Castle are magnificent and if you care to climb to the castle ramparts, you can kiss the Blarney Stone. Beware though, kissing the stone can result in wild hairstyles!
After a full day of Irish fun at Bunratty and Blarney Castles, next head to Kinsale for your first night’s stay. Kinsale is a delightful harbor town that has retained much of its old-world charm and character. Enjoy an evening walk along the yacht marina area which boasts excellent restaurants and traditional pubs.
Recommended hotel: Trident Hotel
Recommended pubs: The Spaniard Inn or Greyhound
Kinsale to Killarney (3 nights)
From Kinsale, follow the stunning coastal route west to explore the heavily indented coastline of West Cork. With an estimated drive time of 5 hours (stops not included) you will pass through numerous towns and villages as well as have opportunities to stop and enjoy local sights and attractions.
Along the way, you will pass through the delightful town of Timoleague with its Franciscan Abbey dating back to 1312. The abbey is free to visit so be sure to stop and take in the sights.
Next up, Mizen Head is Ireland’s most southerly point and incorporates a visitor center, keepers house with engine room display, a suspension bridge, and the famous 99 steps. The Mizen is known for its beautiful wildflowers and sightings of wildlife, dolphins, whales, seals, and migratory birds.
From Mizen Head, continue on to Dunmanus Castle, the best preserved of the O’Mahoney strongholds from the 15thcentury.
Continue the drive to Kenmare, a magnificent town that has a rich history of lace making and sits at the point where the River Roughty opens into the estuary of the Kenmare River. The shops along the main road are worth a stop.
From Kenmare to Killarney, travel the easier drive via Kilgarvan, which will take about 45 minutes.
Recommended day trips from Killarney:
The Ring of Kerry is a journey through some of the country’s most outstanding scenery. It’s a 112-loop that can be driven in either direction. The International Hotel offers bus tour options right from the front desk if you would rather leave the narrow road driving to a professional driver.
The Killarney National Park can be explored on day two where you can spend an entire day enjoying all the park has to offer. View abundant wildlife, environmentally significant woodlands, fish for trout, or view some of the migratory birds in the area.
The Gap of Dunloe tour is another popular attraction in Killarney. Take a leisurely pony and trap ride along the seven-mile route to the shore of the Upper Lake at Gearhameen where you can enjoy lunch at Lord Brandon’s Cottage. Afterward, the Gap boats wait to steer you through the Long Range to the famous Meeting of the Waters where you can shoot the rapids and go through Lough Leane to Ross Castle.
Muckross House and Gardens is another Killarney option that is free to tour.
Other day trips options include The Dingle Peninsula, The Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle.
Recommended hotel: The International Hotel
Recommended pubs: Murphy’s Bar, The Laune Bar, or Danny Mann Bar
Killarney to Galway (2 nights)
For a full day of Ireland sights, get up early and travel from Killarney to Galway via the Cliffs of Moher. The majestic cliffs are without a doubt one of Ireland’s most spectacular sights and overlook the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of West Clare.
The cliffs lay claim to one of the most astonishing views in Ireland and on a clear day the Aran Islands are visible in Galway Bay as well as the valleys and hills of Connemara region. The Cliffs of Moher rise from Hag’s Head to the south and reach their highest point just north of O’Briens Tower.
After a full day at the cliffs and good night’s rest in Galway, be sure to visit the Galway Cathedral with its 145-foot-tall dome, a prominent landmark in the city skyline.
Are the Cliffs of Moher a Tourist Trap or Must Visit Destination? Find out here!
Another favorite day trip close to Galway is to take a 45-minute ferry ride out of Rosseveal Harbor to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. Once on the island, you can choose to either walk, bicycle, or hop on a small bus tour. Inishmore is like a step back in time and offers unique geology and archeology as well as fun and activity. A visit to the stone fort of Dun Aengus to view the three concentric walls of the fort round out your day on the island.
Relax on the return ferry to Galway, return to your hotel to freshen up after a day on the island then head out for some local seafood at one of the many restaurants.
Want to spend more time in Galway? These day trips from Galway just might pique your interest.
Recommended hotel: Park House Hotel
Recommended pubs: An Pucan, Monroes’ Tavern, The Crane, or The Quays Bar and Restaurant
Galway to Doolin
From your hotel in Galway, head south toward the village of Kinvara, where you will find the Dunguaire Castle. This castle has stood for hundreds of years on the site of the 7thcentury stronghold of Guaire, the King of Connaught. Continue on to Ballyvaughan and through the Burren Region.
The Burren is an area of limestone rock covering majestic mountains and tranquil valleys with gently meandering streams. Formed some 340 million years ago, you can see undulating swirls, tiers, caves, hollows, and bare rock, classical features of a karst landscape.
From here travel south to Aillwee Caves, a stunning creation formed by the meltwaters of the prehistoric ice age. A full day can be had here when you include a cave tour, woodland walk, mountain walk, potato bar, café, farm shop, garden center, story-telling evenings, and cheese making demonstrations.
Continue on to the picturesque village of Kilfenora where you will find the Burren Center where you can learn about the formation of the Burren region and continue to Doolin.
Doolin is a small fishing village, also known as Fisherstreet, located on a sandy bay. Doolin is world-famous for its wealth of Irish folk music. There are many pubs and restaurants to be found here.
If you did not visit the Aran Islands while in Galway, you have another chance to catch a ferry operating from Doolin Pier.
Recommended hotel: Ballinalacken House Hotel
Recommended pubs: Gus O’Conner’s Pub, McDermotts Pub, or McGanns Pub
Doolin to Shannon
The drive from Doolin to Shannon will take about an hour if you travel directly there. If you have time before your flight out, there are some sightseeing stops along the way.
The Burren Perfumery was founded 35 years ago at the center of a quiet valley in the heart of the Burren. At the perfumery, you can select from a range of contemporary floral waters that evoke the scents and mood of the Burren area.
The Burren Smokehouse is the place to sample local smoked salmon and learn about how salmon is smoked, view the demonstration kiln, and get a peek at the oak shavings used in the smoking process.
If you missed Bunratty Castle and Folk Park earlier in your trip, you can enjoy a side trip now since it is only 10 minutes from the Shannon Airport.
If you have time, the Bunratty Medieval Banquet is a superb way to round out your Ireland visit where you can enjoy the entertainment of the Bunratty Singers as well as a delicious four course meal; a pleasant balance of contrasting Irish meat dishes as used during the period and accompanied with red and white wines.
During the meal, the castle Butler and Ladies delight you with snippets of music and song, and after the meal, the highlight of the evening is an entertainment program filled with a variety of Medieval and well-loved Irish songs.
I really enjoyed my recent trip to Ireland and followed this exact itinerary. It was a great way to see a truly picture-postcard-beautiful country. I hope I get to visit again one day!
Next time, I hope to explore the lively pubs in Dublin. Check out this 2-day Dublin itinerary!
If you have visited Ireland, or want to visit the lovely Emerald Isle, be sure to comment below and share your thoughts.
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