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Posted by on Oct 20, 2009 in Accommodation, Budgeting, Q&A, Transportation | 28 comments

A Beginners Guide to Planning an Ireland Itinerary

Submitted by Wendy

If you are just starting to plan your first trip to Ireland, it can be overwhelming to come up with an itinerary. The questions of where to go and how long to stay can leave you buried in a pile of travel books and internet links. If this sounds like the beginning your trip, then the following itinerary outlines may be of interest to you.

The Basics

For First Timers, a southern loop around the island is a good introduction to Ireland; it has an excellent mix of scenery, towns and options that cater to visitors. It’s best to take at least 10 days for such a tour, this number just happens to extend beyond the one-week vacation most US citizens allot and the more ideal length of two weeks of travel.

With only a week and flying into/out of Dublin, time is extremely limited and distance – how far you can go versus how far you want to travel each day – must be considered. Driving in Ireland is not like driving in the US. Short distances can take a long time because of small winding roads, traffic, etc.  Even the larger “motorways” can be slow due to traffic, accidents or just taking in the beautiful scenery and unfamiliar roads and signage. Visitors should expect to get lost at some point during their trip; it’s all part of the Irish Experience.

If you only have a week, it’s best to do one of two options: cover as much as of the island as possible with single night stays along the way OR plan on a series of bases along your route with multi-night stays that allow you to experience these areas with a bit more depth.

It is also important to be aware that Ireland has two major airports, Dublin on the east coast and Shannon on the west coast. Choosing the right airport or flying into one and out of the other can dramatically improve your experience and reduce unnecessary backtracking.

I’ve compiled two itineraries that offer a good “taste of Ireland.” The first option works best for those who like to see as much as possible or are okay with being on the go the entire trip… it’s an aggressive itinerary. Realize that you are sacrificing volume for quality – a lot of Ireland will be viewed through the car window. The second option means you’ll see fewer “big sites” in favor of more local experiences.

Itinerary 1: Southern Loop of Ireland – starting and ending in Dublin, moving each night

southitinerary1

Click to Enlarge

Day 1 – Kilkenny
Pick up your rental car at Dublin airport and head to town of Kilkenny. It’s a relatively quick drive (about 2 hours) and the town has plenty to interest you for the rest of the day with Kilkenny Castle and other historical buildings. There are several places just outside Kilkenny to visit such as Dunmore Cave and Jerpoint Abbey. Don’t do too much though, you’ll want a nice early start then next day.

Day 2 – Kinsale
Head to the seaside village of Kinsale making a couple of stops along the way. Main places of interest are the Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, Blarney Castle, Cobh and Cork to name a few. There is no way you will fit in all these, but you could visit one or two. Kinsale also has a couple of forts nearby as well to visit.

Day 3 – Kenmare
The “long way” means you drive along the coast of Western County Cork and into County Kerry. Several stops can be made on the trip or you could opt for a side trip to the scenic Mizen Head or Dursey Head peninsulas, for example. Or you can drive directly to the town of Killarney for the sights you find there. The “short” way is to stick mostly to the main road (N22) between Cork city and Killarney. Although Killarney offers easy access the areas destinations, I prefer to stay in nearby Kenmare, especially during the busy summer season. A stop at Blarney Castle is an option on this route.

Day 4 – Clare
The first half of this day will be taken up driving from County Kerry to County Clare. Three to four hours depending on your route.

If you travel the land route through Limerick City, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park offers much to see and is worth even a quick stop. From Bunratty, head out to the coast to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, and if time permits, try taking some time to explore The Burren. The villages of Doolin, Lisdoonvarna or Ballyvaughan all offer great places to spend a night.

Alternatively, you can head up the Clare coast via the car ferry that crosses the Shannon River from Tarbert in County Kerry to Killimer in County Clare. You could travel to the Cliffs first, then move onwards to Bunratty or just head to Bunratty and experience the medieval banquet or Irish Night there. There are many lovely B&Bs in the Bunratty.

Day 5 – Galway
If you missed the Cliffs of Moher on Day 4, today is the day to go. You can take a half-day to visit the Cliffs and the Burren or just hit the Cliffs en route to Galway town for some great shopping and night life. If shopping isn’t your thing and you have the time, tour the beautiful Connemara region west of Galway town. Still stay in or near Galway however, if only for the many good restaurants, pubs, music and craic in the evening.

Day 6 – Dublin
The drive from Galway to Dublin can take as little as three or as many as four hours. There are stops to make if you like; the monastic ruins of Clonmacnois is along the way while the castle at Trim requires a bit of a detour. You may choose to drive directly to Dublin. Once in Dublin city, you won’t need the car any longer, but if you stay outside downtown Dublin, you may want to hang on to it.

Day 7 – Dublin
For those who give themselves a full seven days in Ireland, they can enjoy a whole day to explore Dublin departing for home on Day 8. Dublin is well worth a full day of exploration. The Hop On, Hop Off bus tour is ideal for an overview of the city. The Books of Kells, the National Museum, Kilmainham Goal and shopping, even if just window shopping, on Grafton Street are all top picks.

Extending Your Stay
This route also also works for a longer stay – ten days to two weeks is best. In this case, you can include several multiple night stays along the way. You can also do the above route in reverse, starting with a drive to Galway and working your way counterclockwise back to Dublin (see the next itinerary below.)

Itinerary 2: Southern Loop of Ireland – multiple night stays in several bases, starting and ending in Dublin

 

Click to Enlarge

Day 1 – Galway
From Dublin airport, pick up your rental car and drive directly to Galway. Warning – this may be a tough drive for some international travelers, especially if they have difficultly sleeping on the flight. Stop as often as needed to stay safe, and once you make it into Galway, you can (hopefully) check into your B&B or hotel right away. You then have the rest of the day to explore Galway town.

Day 2 – Galway
Connemara is the area West of the town of Galway, and it’s a lovely scenic area that is well-worth a day to explore, either on your own or by bus tour (the Galway tourist office will help you with this). You can enjoy staying overnight in your same accommodations as the previous night.

Day 3 – Bunratty
This is a great day to travel south and explore County Clare. This will be your only single-night stay of your trip as you make your way from Galway into Clare. The Burren, the Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park are all top places to be seen in Clare.

Day 4 – Kilkenny
Drive to Kilkenny but include several stops along the way. The Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle and the Swiss Cottage (also in Cahir) are well worth a stop. You may also want to include several destinations around Kilkenny (Dunmore Cave or Jerpoint Abbey) before ending your day in Kilkenny town. There’s plenty to see in Kilkenny such as the Castle, shopping, pubs and other historic sights. Stay overnight in or near Kilkenny.

Day 5 – Kilkenny
A second day in this area means you can make a day trip as you like – for those who insist on a visit to Blarney or would like a long driving tour of the Wicklow Mountains. Another suggestion is the Crafts Trail around Kilkenny with a stop in Carlow or Kildare. You will not run out of interesting things to see and do in and around Kilkenny. Stay a second night in Kilkenny.

Day 6 – Dublin
Time for Dublin! If you stay in town, you won’t need the car; if you stay outside of Dublin, say in Malahide north of the city, and you may want to keep it so that you can do a half day trip to Trim or the Hill of Tara. Otherwise, just enjoy Dublin and don’t worry about driving.

Day 7 – Dublin
Some lucky folks have a whole day to explore Dublin departing for home on Day 8. Dublin is well worth a full day of exploration. The Hop On, Hop Off bus tour is ideal for an overview of the city. The Books of Kells, the National Museum, Kilmainham Goal and shopping, even if just window shopping, on Grafton Street are all top picks.

Making Your Own Plan
Either of these itineraries also work if you are flying into and out of Shannon airport. You can include Dublin if you like, but those who fly in and out from Shannon often tend to stick more towards the West. Making a large loop up to Galway and a second loop down into Kerry will easily fill two weeks; a single week means keeping your loops smaller.

Wendy lives with her Irish-born husband in Southern California. When she’s not enjoying her local Gaelic Football, she is planning her next trip to Ireland.

Photo Credit Ballyvaughan 6096.jpg, originally uploaded by Trevor S.

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28 Comments

  1. Wow! My husband and I want to travel to Ireland within the next couple years, and this is an excellent guide on how to start planning our trip. I would be interested in hearing what your thoughts are about traveling during certain seasons of the year. Is winter cold and miserable? Is summer too crowded? What are your thoughts?

  2. In terms of weather, summer is usually the best time to go… but it’s also the most crowded. However, if you are going to go to Ireland next year then then summer is probably best. Tourism is down in Ireland so a “crowded” summer is probably not going to be all that crowded at all, at least compared to previous years.

    When we go I prefer to go in the “shoulder seasons” which means Spring time (after Easter) to May or September through October. Prices for just about everything are lower than for high summer seasons but most sights are still open. You can get better weather then in the summer even (not quite as warm) but you also risk some colder storms. But, you don’t go to Ireland for the weather so prepare for the worst, hope for the best and take what ever you are given! ;o)

    My favorite time of year to go (so far) is April or early May. September is my second choice.

  3. As an Irish citizen, I would sincerely recommend flying into Shannon from the US, apart from anything else, when you return you can be precleared at Shannon Airport, which means you are treated as a domestic passenger on arrival in the States – no queues!!

    Once in Shannon, I would spend as much time as possible on the West Coast as this is the true Ireland. Dublin has quite an amount to offer but it is more of a European experience whereas the West Coast is particularly Irish – slow moving, no need for a watch, home of Irish music, friendly and stunning scenery. You could litterly knock on a door for directions and be engaged in great chat!

    Wendy sets out an excellent itinerary but other places to take in, if possible, are the Ring of Kerry, Dingle/Conor Pass in Co. Kerry; Westport in Co. Mayo (north of Galway) and Donegal, all of which have the same rugged scenery and cead mile failte (thousand) welcomes.

    As for when to travel, there can be great offers off-season when you can stay in a 5star castle hotel (Dromoland Castle Co. Clare), Adare Manor (Limerick), Glenlo Abbey (Galway), Ashford Castle (Mayo and near where the Quiet Man was made) for as little as €100 (and less in some cases) per night and play on stunning golf courses, particularly at Dromoland and Adare. You can still expect good deals next summer as hotels are extremely competitively priced because of the down-turn and reduction in visitors.

    Weather-wise, anytime is a gamble but for off season try February when it can be very crisp and wonderful skies (you can get the good weather back home). In the summer, June has been the best weather in recent years but it is always a bit of a gamble but safest bet is June/July/August – bring your rain coat just in case. Anyway, the bad weather is why we have such good pubs – great shelter from the rain!Safe travels and we will have the welcome on the mat for you here for sure!

    • Excellent advice from one who knows!! Have been to the Emerald Isle twice. Late Aug–Early Sept., 2010…Pure Magic! Then again late Oct–early Nov., 2012….felt a little more at home. I told my husband as we planned the trip the first time that I did not care what all we did or how much golf he played, the only thing I wanted strongly was to spend at least one night in a castle. Always a dream of mine since being a child. We found 2 day packages at Dromoland which included golf, 2 nights stay in the gorgeous suite and fantastic dinner and 2 awesome breakfasts banquets for a very good price. Thoroughly enjoyed. Exploring the grounds I LOVED, imagining the history, enjoying the solitude and unique natural beauty. We made it a Must Stop the 2nd time and got even better rates for being later in the year. Everything was incredible the entire trip. We mistakenly thought we could see most of Ireland in 2 twelve day trips, because after all it’s a smallish island. WRONG!! SOO much more to see and I’m very glad of that because I want to come back again and again!! P.S. Finding family ancestors by accident just outside Enniskillin was an incredible treat! Just great advice you gave, Thank you, Martin!

  4. Martin – thanks for your suggestions. I agree with you on flying in to Shannon… the airport itself is a completely more relaxed experienced over Dublin. I just hope the trend of fewer flights to Shannon stops soon.

    JoAnna – you’re in for a wonderful time. Winters are pretty mild, but if you’re used to Nevada winters, you’ll find it cool and wet. As for it being crowded, where you go makes a huge difference as well.

    Thanks for the post, Wendy.

  5. Another thing to remember about winter in Ireland: the days are quite short, and not all of the places that you’d like to visit will be open (or they’re open for limited times). But, in my opinion, there’s no bad time to visit Ireland! (I might be a little biased…)

    I concur about flying into Shannon – much less stress than flying into Dublin. Hopefully, at least two of the legacy carriers here from the U.S. will continue to fly non-stop into Shannon.

    BTW, this is a great article, Wendy. Thank you for taking the time to write and submit it!

  6. I am planning a trip to Ireland in July 2010. I can’t wait. Is it best to skip Dublin? I am more interested in the “real” Ireland and plan on flying using Shannon. I would like to know if there are any exceptional bed and breakfasts to stay in near the Ring of Kerry and how hard is it to drive on the left! Also, what about any great castles to stay in. I have talked to a local travel agent and gone on the internet but the information is enormous. I have 7 days with an additional 2 for flying in and out. I plan to take it as leisurely as possible. This way I can always come back!

  7. Lisa,

    You’ve got a quite a few questions packed in there. I’d recommend stopping by the Irish travel forums at http://www.IrelandYes.com and http://www.IrelandExpert.com. The folks there will be able to help you sift through all the info.

    My Quick Answers are:

    Dublin: it depends – if you’re spending most of your time in the West, I’d say it’s just fine to save it for another trip. If you go – here are some tips http://irishfireside.com/2009/11/02/things-not-to-do-in-dublin/

    Kerry B&Bs – Both Michele Erdvig and Pat Preston at the sites above have outstanding accommodations listed on their sites. I’d trust their recommendations.

    Driving – it’s a challenge, but after a day behind the wheel, most people adapt well. Rick Steves gives some good tips at http://www.msntravelclub.com/2009/10/28/go-left-young-man-driving-in-great-britain-and-ireland-by-rick-steves/

  8. Joann; You are in for a wonderful time. My husband and I had our first trip to Ireland this past September. I definitely agree with Wenday that travel time in Ireland is NOT the same as here in the U.S. I thought the backtracking time of 1 1/2 hours to Dingle from Killarney would be not problem but it really took up more time than I expected. It is true that the roads can be very winding so therefore driving times are longer. BE SURE to take time to view the scenery, something I wished we had done more of. Just stop off to the side of the road, when there is a spot, and take it all in. Flying in and out of Shannon is the way to go. This puts you closer to the real Ireland and you see more of the countryside. I can’t wait to go back and will keep checking the air fares in the next year or so to make a return trip. ENJOY!

  9. Planning a cycling trip – 6 weeks in Cork, Kerry and Clare in late May/June. Any advice regarding distances that are reasonable to plan. We’ll stay several days in one location and then move to another area to explore. I don’t want to overestimate how far we can ride in a day – we want to explore and enjoy our riding.

  10. best thing is to hike around that peninsula called Howth or something like that. you can train from dublin straight out, hike all around it and train back in a morning. then go to guiness brewery for several free beers. yep, thats about it. please bug my sister inlaw- Kelly Fitzgerald

  11. I was very happy to have stumbled upon this site, but I have questions from a different point of view. In the summer of 2012, I’m planning to fly into Dublin, bike to Sligo for 2 weeks at the Yeats Instituted, and then spend 2-3 more weeks cycling through the rest of the country. First, is bicycling on main roads legal? or am I going to have to take smaller roads (probably more scenic, but adding to my distance)? Is it reasonable to expect to do 40-60 miles every day? Will I get rained on every single day? Etc., etc. — at this point, I’m not even sure of what questions to ask. If anyone has any knowledge of / hints about my proposed expedition, please feel free to email me. Thanks, and happy trails to all of you!

    • Hi Dave.

      Cycling on our main roads is against the law and you will have to use secondary roads. 40-60km a day is reasonable juding by some of previous my guests. In relation to the weater no comes for good weatewr so its best to be prepared. Ive done a search and failed to find it but if you can get to a irish tourism office they have specific cycling maps for all of Ireland. Just make sure you cycle some of the Ballyhoura Region.

      http://www.shannonregiontrails.ie/FindaTrail/Cycling/CycleHubs/TrailName,9774,en.html

      The above site is a good site overall

      Enjoy !!!

      • Hi Dave, you are not allowed to cycle on the motorways but after that you are fine. check out the cycle hubs in Ireland, we have 1 in Ballyhoura named Kilmallock Cycle Hub. Seeing as you will be in Sligo you are prob better off staying on the west side of the country and i would recommend Ring of Kerry and the Beara Penisula as well as the contrast of the Ballyhoura region. Weatherwise, bring light rain jacket and baselayer with jersey as its not cold, it just may rain. I cycle with a club here and its absolutely brilliant. In summer you have real long days so dont panic about time and 60 km per day is easily doable. Enjoy your stay, Ireland is a great place :-)

  12. Such a pity that you tour skips Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford City is a most beautiful historic city, with so much to offer. It’s very well worth a visit, you’d be so welcome.

  13. Great site with good information. Thanks

  14. A really wonderful post! Thank you for taking the time to post such a detailed and useful itinerary Wendy.

  15. Lough Gur is one of Ireland’s archaeological and historical gems. The beautiful and enchanted lake lies 21 km south east of Limerick city. It unfolds in beauty with its placid waters and rugged hills – a fairyland ancient habitation sites, megalith tombs, crannogs and castles and one of Europes best Stone circles.

    http://www.loughgur.com

    Lough Gur can be found with in the Ballyhoura Regions famed for having 10% of the national looped walks and Boasts Europes Largest Mounatin bike park at 96km

    http://www.ballyhouracountry.com

    The spirit of the Irish cant be found in its bustling citys, but in the heart of its people, country side and homes, so why not stay at a B&B.

    http://www.theoldbank.ie

  16. I am solo backpacking the UK this summer…How easy is it to do the 2nd route without a car…Is there something similar using trains and busses? I have about 15 days total in Ireland.

  17. Circumstances mandate a trip the first week of November. I am told it will be coolish-cold. How many of the attractions will be closed? We are mostly interested in seeing the beauty of Ireland plus Waterford, Jameson and Guinness. Thoughts?

  18. Just did your itinerary 1 in May. Took us 12 days and enjoyed some B&Bs and a castle stay. Added in Dingle coast to make the trip complete. Great time. Thanks for the tips!

  19. My husband and I are going to Ireland this December for a wedding in Dingle. We will be in Dingle until December 29th. Then we plan to travel Ireland until we leave out of Dublin 1/4. What do you think is the best itinerary for us?

  20. Hi I am working on my trip to Ireland. We are going in Sept!! I am flying in to Dublin and then flying out of Shannon. My question to you is how many days in each place, I will be in the country for a total of 7 days
    Dublin 2 Waterford 2 Dromoland 2 and then Ashford 1 or should I do Dublin 1 and Ashford 2? Or manybe skip one of these places alltoghter, and just stay longer in another. I like high-end hotels, horses and all things old like books, antiques, and neat old places! My husband wants to bike ride and golf.

    Thank you :)

  21. Hi everyone,

    My fiance & I are going to be doing the Southern Loop of Ireland -and wanted to know if you think it’ll be ok to do it backwards. Reason is we are getting married in Galway on July 18, 2014 so we want to do evetything & finish up there. If we fly into Galway or Shannon & drive to Dublin & start the loop there would that make sense?

  22. Hello everyone!
    I am working on planning a first-time trip to Ireland and I was ecstatic to come across this post. My boyfriend and I will be in Ireland for a total of 10-11 days. We fly into Dublin the morning of March 26th and depart mid-morning on April 5th. We are interested in a trip similar to Itinerary 1, but are wondering how best to add our extra days into it. Also, is an itinerary like this doable during the time we are coming? I know we are coming before the high tourist season, so some places may not be open/available to see. As for accommodations, we are interested in B&Bs and would also love to stay in a castle. Any information would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time,
    Tiffany :)

  23. Hello! So excited to have come across this forum, I hope it is still active! My husband and I are planning our 5 year anniversary trip to Ireland this summer. We are flying in and out of Shannon to spend our time on the west coast as was recommended to us to see the “real Ireland”. We haven’t booked hotels/B&Bs yet. We will be there for 8 days/7 nights total. We were thinking of staying in Killarney, Dingle, Doolin, and Clifden, being sure to spend some time in Galway during our travels. When I began planning exactly the breakdown with time spent in the car, etc., it almost seems like too much running around. We were considering skipping Clifden as it is the furthest north. Does anyone have any opinions/recommendations on one of these places to cut out of the trip so we can take everything in at a leisurely pace (without picking up and running to the next place), we are leaving our 3 year old with my parents for the first time ever and are looking to have a lot of downtime on this trip to just enjoy the scenery. Any advice is much appreciated, and thank you so much in advance!!!

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