Ireland is one of those countries that pulls you in right from the start. It’s full of joy and colour, everywhere you look. It’s an unsuspecting land full of promise. If you haven’t been before, you could be forgiven for thinking that it only ever rains and that it’s dreary and grey – but boy, would you be wrong!
It baffled me while in Ireland, that people starting replying to my Instagram stories and posts saying, “What?? THIS is Ireland?” or “I am heading to the UK this summer but after seeing this, I’m going to book a trip to Ireland and come check it out.”
My work here is done, people.
This article will be a useful read if you want to come to Ireland, hire a car and take a road trip for a week. I was lucky that the Irish Tourism Board helped me to plan a fantastic itinerary. We pretty much did everything they recommended and more. You simply must visit all of these places below!
In total, we completed 1600 KM and the entire schedule is here for you in this article.
Before we start, let’s talk Irish weather.
During my 6 weeks in Ireland in 2015, I did encounter rain and wind but the weather was far better than I had expected. If you try to start a road trip through Ireland with the expectation of daily sunshine, you will indeed be disappointed. However, go with zero expectations and you will find that different weather can positively affect the way you perceive your trip.
A bit of fog and rain makes it look moody and a bright blue sky makes it feel optimistic and cheery. My favourite is when the sun comes out after a period of rain and the fog finally disperses. You’ll see 50 shades of green and the mountain ranges will absolutely glisten. That is what I call the luck of the Irish!
The best 7-day itinerary for you:
DAY 1: Start in Galway City and experience live Irish music in Galway’s pub scene
We flew into Kerry because it was the cheapest. I found a 9-euro flight with RyanAir. It was practically free! I’m pleased to report it ended up costing me exactly €9 as I carried my baggage on board. If you’ve seen this funny Aida video on YouTube, you’ll know about the pain associated with flying on budget airlines.
From Kerry airport, we drove 3 hours north to Galway City which would be our base for the first two nights.
We used Hertz for our car rental in Ireland and got a nice zippy automatic for our seven-day trip. I’d highly recommend paying the extra money and getting an automatic car. With the number of times you’ll be driving through narrow roads, stopping and starting, you’ll be glad!
We were booked at the Galway Nest Boutique Hostel and let me tell you, this place is a real gem. It was a former nursing home now converted into a super cool pad, freshly renovated. I was travelling with my friend Lisa and we had a private double room with our own bathroom. We paid €60 per night and this included free Wi-Fi and breakfast.
Their breakfast was akin to going to a French café for breakfast. They had beautiful pastries, croissants, and delicious yoghurt with granola and fruit and for three euros, a perfect flat white.
Are you a fan of Ed Sheeran? He filmed his music clip ‘Galway Girl’ at O’Connor’s pub which is one street away from the Nest Boutique Hostel. Definitely a must-see venue on any epic road trip through Ireland. You will not believe your eyes when you see the incredible array of memorabilia inside – a hoarder’s paradise!
We finished day one by visiting three Irish pubs with my old Galway friends Dave, Simon and Oscar. If you’re up for a bit of ‘craic’, then these are my recommendations:
The Universal to begin your night with some modern cuisine at pub prices.
The Crane Bar to get your Irish vibe started. I was spoken to randomly by about fourteen thousand people here, all of whom asked me why my poor German friend had adopted my Australian accent. (Live Irish music here.)
Tig Coili for when you’re a few pints of Guinness in and it’s time to get the party started! (Also with live Irish music.)
Galway is the perfect choice to use as a base because you definitely need to visit the Connemara National Park region.
DAY 2: Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey & Clifden
‘Let’s seize the day!’ I said to Lisa. The alarm rang at 7:30AM and we headed straight for the hostel’s reception desk to steal the manager Sarah’s best ideas. Luckily for us, she was happy to share her secrets and she gave us the perfect plan, which I’m sharing with you below.
Start in Galway city and your ultimate goal is to do a big loop. You’ll notice that my Google Map for this section of the road trip ends in Ballyconneely. From there, if you want to keep exploring, do it. We had run out of sunlight by then so we went straight home. Every little town I have marked on the above map is a place where we stopped and took pictures.
Like this jacket? This is the Helly Hansen ‘Kirkwall’ raincoat which I now have in forest green, yellow and bright blue. It’s 100% waterproof! Click here to check it out.
Every little stop on the map is full of charm and it’s the best way to see the entire region. You’ll drive through rich, auburn-infused valleys, along lakes, through forests, by the beach and through magical Irish towns. The added bonus is you’ll see little Irish cottages along the way.
Kylemore Abbey is a very popular spot in this area – it’ll have you feeling like you’re in a fairytale.
Our day began with rain and ended with gorgeous sunshine. Lucky us!
DAY 3: Galway to the Cliffs of Moher, Lahinch and Dingle
Admittedly this day was a bit of weather-write-off. We had to leave Galway at around 10AM so that we could make it to Dingle with enough time to look around. Although Google Maps was estimating around 3.5 hours, with those tiny Irish roads and the occasional traffic, you sometimes need to add a couple of hours.
In saying that, I really wanted my friend to see the Cliffs of Moher, which I’d seen years ago. We decided to take a detour and check them out. The only problem was as soon as we arrived; the check-in centre told us it was a ‘code-yellow’ day. It felt like code yellow was death-defying madness with enough wind to pick me up and send me straight to China. We opted to give the cliffs a miss this time. Interestingly, I know someone who went a week later and it was perfectly calm. My tip: be spontaneous on the day!
After the cliffs, we stopped for lunch at Joe’s Café in Lehinch, which is a surfing town. Joe’s is a surf-shack café serving really great food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We then headed straight for Dingle and although we’d lost some time, we at least made it to Dingle Benner’s Hotel with enough time to have a little wander around at dusk.
Benner’s was a great choice! It felt like something out of a movie with mahogany chairs, fireplaces and reading areas. Our room was huge, lovely and warm and we decided to eat there for both dinner and breakfast the next morning. I checked their rates online for you and it looks like they charge anything from €150 to €290 per night during peak season. In summer, Dingle is said to be a real hub – packed pubs, live music and a really friendly spirit in the air.
Dingle: the Irish town full of colour
A special thank you to Jessica at Benner’s reception for helping us to decide exactly how to plan our next day: a morning in Dingle and the Ring of Kerry.
DAY 4: Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, Kenmare and Killarney
As we’d not had much time the day before, we decided to start our Ring Of Kerry trip later in the day and make use of our first morning of full sunshine. Dingle was the right choice for this kind of weather! What an absolutely charming town – it’s no wonder this is often the highlight for most people visiting the area.
My special tip if you have more time up your sleeve: head to the Dingle Peninsula to see beautiful rolling green hills and dramatic cliffs similar to that of the Cliffs of Moher.
After leaving Dingle, we headed for Inch Beach, where my German sister-in-law first learned to surf. With such astoundingly good weather, we sat and took in the view for a while.
Where to stop during the Ring of Kerry:
Although we only drove through, Killorglin looked like a great little place to stop for lunch.
As you make your way down the coast, if you’re running well for time, you can visit Valentia Island. How?
Drive across the free bridge from Portmagee. Or drive onto the car ferry from Renard Point to Knightstown. Valentia Car Ferry runs a continuous shuttle service every 10 minutes, operating April-September, Monday – Saturday 8:15AM-10PM and Sunday 9AM-10PM. Fares: cars – single 5 euro, return 8 euro.
The town of Portmagee is close to the Kerry Cliffs, which are an absolute MUST. I cannot stress this enough. They are about a ten-minute drive from Portmagee and while I’m sure the cliffs are busy during summer, we had the entire area to ourselves (in January). Jessica (from Benner’s Hotel) was right, they were mindblowing!
Wearing the Helly Hansen ‘Boyne’ parka (above). Click here to see it: Helly Hansen Boyne Parka
I was given this jacket to try out for those colder climates and I can safely say that with a scarf, mittens and boots, it fared well in 0 degree temperatures and snow. You can wear this up to around 18 degrees I’d say. It’s 100% waterproof (trust me, I’ve tried it) and it’s also cool and warm at the same time, depending on your weather.
(I don’t receive any commission for recommending this jacket by the way – I just like to work with brands which offer products in the following three categories: style, practicality and waterproof.)
After the Kerry Cliffs, we decided to make our way along the southern part of the Ring of Kerry, ultimately making our way towards our next accommodation planned for our road trip through Ireland. We stopped in Kenmare for a late lunch at O’Donnabhain’s Bar and Restaurant and had a well-deserved salad and glass of cider.
We had planned to drive to our next hotel in Killarney via the Killarney National Park but it was already late so we made the executive decision to do it the following day.
Making haste, we drove straight to Killarney and stayed one night at the Fairview Guesthouse. Our junior suite was gorgeous and felt very upmarket. We got a small discount on our room but according to their website, their rooms are around €99 per night.
In Killarney, we went for a Guinness on the main street. It’s packed with pub after pub after pub – they’re all full of live Irish music too!
DAY 5: Killarney to the West Cork Peninsula and Castletownshend
This was another great day for nature. Once we left Killarney, we drove straight for the Killarney National Park stopping first at the big lake at Muckross. After this, we enjoyed the drive towards Molls Gap, which is a stunning piece of scenery in itself.
Heading back to the direction of Kenmare again, we made our way towards our next accommodation, stopping on the way at Glengarriff, Bantry, Skibbereen and Baltimore. Finally, after a long day of driving, we were close to our next accommodation: visiting Celia from ‘The Yellow House’ in Castletownshend.
This is where the story gets interesting. We thought we were on the right path and with the sun going down, we knew we had to find the Yellow House quickly. Put it this way – this part of Ireland is the West Cork Peninsula and it’s full of beautiful, albeit tiny and narrow lanes without any signage. Celia had sent us her directions with pictures but all it takes is one wrong turn and you have no clue where you are.
Insert friendly lady living in ‘another’ yellow house. ‘Hi! Do you have an accommodation booking for us tonight?’ I said hopefully. ‘Errrm, what do you mean?’ she replied.
Sensing our desperation, she asked to look at our directions. Luckily as she was a local, she knew exactly where to go and without haste, she threw her four kids into the car and drove us ten minutes up the road. What a sweetie!
We checked into the ‘real’ Yellow House and our host Celia welcomed us with the fireplace going, a cup of tea and some biscuits. We sat with her in the living room for an hour chatting about her accommodation hosting and her photography course business.
Celia’s house is part of the ‘Welcome Standard’ set up by the Irish Tourism Board to help visitors find alternative accommodation than just standard hotels. If you’re looking for a homely and pretty rural Irish getaway, the Yellow House is a lovely choice. It’s €40 per person per night including a privately cooked breakfast just for you.
Celia even had a breakfast menu that we could select from – it was a lovely experience. Her house overlooks one of my favourite areas of Irish landscape to date: Toe Head and Sandy Cove. If you are in the area, you really must check it out. It was void of tourists in January and seemed like a very quiet and peaceful area. The only thing to keep in mind: the driving was a little difficult at times.
I bet you didn’t think THIS was Ireland…
DAY 6: West Cork Peninsular/Castletownshend to Cork City via Kinsale (you can add on Cobh if you’ve got spare time).
The sun was out and we were ready to head to our final destination on the Ireland road trip itinerary: Cork City for the last two days. I couldn’t possibly drive straight to Cork without first visiting one of Ireland’s most colourful towns: Kinsale.
This was a personal recommendation from a friend of mine. She used to fly to Cork regularly for work and Kinsale was her favourite town in the area. She recommends the Spaniard Inn for lunch but we didn’t manage to make it there. Instead, we ate at a healthy restaurant called the Lemon Leaf. I’ve since read that Kinsale is one of Ireland’s most foodie towns and I highly recommend spending more than a few hours here!
After Kinsale, we drove straight to Cork City where we checked into Hotel Isaacs. Again, another stellar recommendation! This was probably my favourite place to stay during the whole trip, mainly because our room was simply to die for and the location was top notch.
Hotel Isaacs was right in the centre of town, surrounded by great businesses like Shelbourne Bar, which does whisky tastings and Gallagher’s Gastro Pub (see above) for a beautiful meal. It’s also right underneath Cask, one of Ireland’s most award-winning cocktail and tapas restaurants.
We went to all three places mentioned above and had not only delicious food and drinks but top-notch service too!
CASK: Ireland’s award winning cocktail bar.
DAY 7: Cork City to Cobh and then back to Kerry Airport
It was sadly our last day, but we made the most of it. Our flight wasn’t until 4PM, so we woke up early, grabbed a takeaway coffee from the Cork Coffee Roasters and headed for Cobh.
Cobh is famous for being the last port of call for the Titanic before it plunged to its death, and a beautiful stop for a road trip through Ireland. We visited the Titanic Experience Museum and went to the Titanic Restaurant for lunch. Cobh is actually pronounced ‘Cove’ and used to be called just that back when it was under British rule. It changed its name to ‘Queenstown’ after the Queen paid a visit, then shortly after independence from Britain, it went back to the Irish Gaelic spelling of ‘Cobh’.
Something to note: there is one street directly in front of the big cathedral which looks a lot like the Painted Ladies in San Francisco. Want to find it? Look for Mount Crozier and enjoy this row of colourfully painted homes.
After Cobh, we drove straight back to Kerry airport, full of energy from our last week in Ireland. Oh, what an adventure!
I hope this article has been packed full of information for you for a road trip through Ireland and I hope it will be shared countless times for anyone who is looking to do something similar on the Emerald Isle.
I will always make an effort to visit Ireland again and again. It’s quite literally my third home and I always feel safe and very happy in this country.
Thanks to all those wonderful people we met who made this the experience of a lifetime and a very big thanks to the Irish Tourism Board for working with me on this project. I’m sure you’ll see me again soon 🙂
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Looking for even more information? I’ve written earlier pieces on Ireland: