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Ireland Itinerary and Site Recommendations

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Ireland in mid-May, but we are struggling to finalize our itinerary. We will be flying into Dublin and staying for 5 full days (not including travel days coming or going), and we will likely rent a car, unless we find alternative options. Our initial list was long and we want to see it all, but I know we need to concentrate on just a few areas with our short time frame.

Can anyone recommend or help me narrow down a good area to focus on where we can see a variety of sites but not be overwhelmed cramming it all in?

We would love to see amazing coastal views and scenic landscapes, a few castles, and some historical sites.

Some of the options we are considering include a day in Dublin (either day 1 or 5), heading south toward the Rock of Cashel, possibly the Blarney Castle (or is this an overrated tourist attraction we should skip?) and Kinsale, then possibly west toward Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula. We may also look for another castle or two somewhere in there.

We are struggling with finalizing this route because we would also love to see the Cliffs of Moher or the Slieve League Cliffs, but both of these locations are obviously quite a distance from the Eastern areas we are looking at and simply would not be very doable.

Are there any lesser known cliffs on the Eastern or South sides of Ireland that might be another option to visit and fit with our possible itinerary?

Or is there an alternative route altogether on the West side of Ireland that we might consider that could include one of the cliffs?

I feel like we may just need to step back and start over with new options to consider. I know this may sound a little scattered, but any suggestions for routes or sites or ways to streamline 5 days so that it is actually doable would be appreciated!

Thank you! 

Posted by
1700 posts

From one of your earlier posts I see that you're from Boston. Most flights arriving from the US land in the early morning after an overnight flight. If that's the case for you then you can "steal a day" by heading directly to Galway upon arrival, spend a night there to recover from jet lag and any lost sleep, then start fresh the next morning by collecting your car and beginning your journey. Most here advise against driving the first day anyway so you could make better use of your time by spending what's essentially a recovery day in Galway rather than Dublin.
From Galway you could explore the very pretty Connemara region before heading south along the coastal road via Doolin and Kilkee. That route is also quite pretty on a sunny day and would take you right past the Cliffs ... if you must - I'm not a fan. There's a nice cliff walk at Kilkee which is also a nice place to grab a picnic lunch and enjoy the beach promenade.
From there you'd have the option of visiting Dingle and/or the ROK before heading back to Dublin. The Skellig Ring Road is a scenic detour off the ROK and features the Kerry Cliffs - another beautiful seascape that's not as overrun as Moher.
Time and interest permitting you could drop your rental in Killarney or Cork and train back into Dublin. It's a bit less hassle that way.

Posted by
479 posts

We can second Robert's vote for Kerry Cliffs as an alternative to Moher and, in general, the ROK.

Posted by
56 posts

We spent a full 2 weeks and it wasn't enough time! We flew into Shannon but decides to skip the Cliffs of Moher and opted for the Cliffs of Kerry. They were magnificent and you could count the number of people at the site! Also, not to far down the road is the Kerry Chocolate Factory with the most amazing strawberry champagne truffles. The Slea Head drive around dingle was our favorite road travel of the trip. I'm sure whatever you plan will be wonderful.

Posted by
221 posts

Another vote for Robert’s suggestions. We loved the Kerry Cliffs and were underwhelmed by the Cliffs of Moher.

Posted by
130 posts

DEFINITELY miss Blarney Castle - it is very over rated.

Actually you could probably spend your full five days based in Galway. Take either the bus or train from Dublin to Galway.

• Spend a day doing the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren (wonderful limestone scenery). Do this as a circular tour . Take the N67 to Ballyvaughanand then RR477 & R478 through Doolin to Lahinch where you pick up N67 to Milltown Malbay. Now head back to Galway along R460to Gort and then N18 back to Galway

• Spend a day around Connemara - take the coast road R336, R340, R342, R341 to Roundstone with its tiny harbour and views across the Twelve Bens and then continue to Clifden. Make sure you do the Sky Road Drive here.

https://www.activeme.ie/guides/sky-road-scenic-route-map-and-guide-clifden-connemara-co-galway-wild-atlantic-way/

On a good day this must rank as one of the best short drives in the world. If time allows continue to Kylemore Abbey

https://www.kylemoreabbey.com/

and then back to Galway on R344 and N59.

• Spend a second day around Connemara - Take the N59 and visit the ruined Aughnanure Castle.

http://www.oughterardtourism.com/attractionsaughnanurecastle.htm

At Maam Cross take the R336 to Leenane (also shown on some maps as Leenaun) and think about taking a Killary Harbour Boat trip.
https://killaryfjord.com/

Now continue on R335 through Louisburgh to Westport , Return to Galway on N59 via Leenane

• Spend a day visiting one of the Aran Islands. Many visitors say this is the highlight of their holiday.

https://www.aranislands.ie/

• Splash out with a Medieval Banquet at Kinvarra Castle one day.

https://www.dunguairecastle.com/castle-banquet/

Tie in a visit to the medieval walled town of Athenry with its ruined castle and priory.

http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/west/athenrycastle/

http://monastic.ie/history/athenry-dominican-priory/

RETURN TO DUBLIN - either drop the car off and take train or bus back
OR drive back. If you do this, make a break at the early Christian site of Clonmacnoise on the way back to Dublin. It is wonderful!

https://www.irelandsancienteast.com/discover/stories/featured-stories/clonmacnoise

Posted by
2225 posts

If you'd like to see the Cliffs of Moher, and I highly recommend it, see them early or late-before tour buses arrive, or after they're gone.

You are of course still dependent on the weather (fog) cooperating, however when we arrived late on a summer afternoon there were perhaps a half dozen others there, and that's all. The sea was roiling, the wind was blowing-it was fantastic!

Photos here:

https://thecedarchest.smugmug.com/Sample-Gallery/i-gC5fcqC/A

Posted by
10 posts

How exciting! I've been eager to return to Ireland ever since my wife and I visited two years ago. The Irish were so warm and welcoming, and when we visited at the end of April, the natural beauty was astounding.

Robert's suggestion of flying into Galway and recovering there before working your way toward Dublin should make for a calmer first day. We rented a car and did a big loop starting in Dublin: Dublin to Dingle (2 nights) to Aran Islands (2 nights) to Kilfenora (1 night) to Newbridge (1 night) to Dublin. There were times during the trip when we felt like we packed too much in, especially on the first day as exhaustion began to set in well before we arrived in Dingle. We managed, but...

We had an amazing time overall. Based on your interests (and assuming you'll have a car), I'd recommend the following (purely in order of our itinerary above):
1. the ruins at Rock of Dunamase outside Portlaoise. Combined with the small church and graveyard at the bottom of the hill, it made for a super scenic stop, and because it's off the beaten path (we learned about it from a service station employee who we asked for directions elsewhere), we had it all to ourselves. 
2. Rock of Cashel was a nice stop, but we preferred the less crowded Hore Abbey that's just a few minutes' drive away.
(We skipped the Blarney Castle; based on the footage of Blarney from Rick Steves' show, it seemed like it'd be way too crowded for our liking.)

  1. Driving Rick Steves' Dingle Peninsula Loop Trip. We stopped at a ring fort and beehive huts, but our highlights were the seaside graveyard at Ventry Bay and the Gallarus Oratory.
    We wish we'd seen more of Dingle town itself, but we lingered a bit too long at a lot of these places to arrive back before the town shut down down for the evening.

  2. Driving the Wild Atlantic Way. We saw the sections in/around Dingle and toward Doolin by way of the Tarbert-Killimer ferry. This will get you your amazing seaside views and beautiful landscapes; the rugged Irish coastline is powerful and gorgeous!

  3. The Aran Islands. This was the absolute highlight of our trip! You're considering the Cliffs of Moher; we did not make it there (we passed them on our way to catch the Doolin2Aran ferry), but after spending two nights on Inis Mor, I don't feel I missed anything by not stopping at the cliffs.  The Aran Islands will get you more amazing coastal views (go right up to the edge of those cliffs and look down!), beautiful landscapes (and livestock), and historical sites. We spent a lot of time on foot here, and it was a lovely way to experience the islands. 
    Our Aran highlights: the Cloch Memorial on Inis Oir (we spent a few hours on that island before heading to Inis Mor for two nights); Dun Angus (since we spent the night on the island, we had it to ourselves by arriving before the first tourist ferries of the morning); the Seven Churches; and Dun Eochla. We intended to visit the Black Fort but found a quiet outcrop nearby where we decided to picnic and just sit and take in the view for a couple hours.

  4. Hill of Tara. Again, beautiful landscape and historic site. A friendly family from the nearby town of Naas engaged us in conversation, and we had a lovely time talking with them. When they left, we explored more of the site on our own. It felt quite magical as dusk approached, and we could see why the Hill of Tara was such a key location in Ireland's history. 

Our wish list for next time:
-seeing more of Dingle town itself
-a longer visit in Galway
-Trim. We drove through it on our way back to Dublin, and it seemed like a lovely small town.
-Newgrange
-return to the Aran Islands

Sorry this is so long; I hope it helped. It's definitely a challenge to trim an itinerary, but Rick Steves says to assume that you'll return to the place you're visiting :)

Happy travels!

Posted by
20 posts

Thank you so much for all the fantastic ideas! I will look into possibly driving down the west coast instead of the east coast. I hadn't initially been drawn to Galway, but some of the ideas for things to see in that area sound lovely! The Kerry Cliffs sound amazing. If we end up going to the southern peninsulas I'll definitely add that to the list instead of Moher.

I've always wanted to visit Kinsale, but is it worth giving up to visit the western side of Ireland instead?

Posted by
130 posts

Kinsale was very much on everyone's itinerary a few years ago as it marketed itself as the 'food town'. It seems less popular now. It all comes down to personal choice and I have to admit it isn't one of mine...

Posted by
378 posts

I’m with wasleys. Kinsale is nice but if this is a first visit, prioritize the west coast.

Posted by
34 posts

Last summer we really enjoyed the Dunguaire Castle tour, along with the evening medieval dinner, which was excellent. It is just outside Galway in Kinvarra. Westport is a lovely town, great traditional music, great drives out to Achill Island area. Driving around the Dingle area is always enjoyable. Kinsale is nice, but a long way from Dublin with only 5 days to spend. Near Dublin, the Newgrange tour is great, and in Dublin during the evening the Brazenhead Pub (claiming to be the oldest pub in Ireland) has a dinner and storytelling event that is a lot of fun. Your time will fly by. We spent 31 days in Ireland and still wished we had more time!!! Set a pace that is comfortable for you, and enjoy the country and people.

Posted by
1 posts

Hello Jcspixiepen
You can visit one of the best and most popular Giants Causeway and also Visit attractions like Dunluce Castle and, Old Bushmills distillery and Summon your courage to cross the nail-biting Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. At the Giants Causeway climb the fascinating stones and admire the scenic splendour of the surroundings.