Best of Ireland Self-Drive Tour 11 Days
10 Night Tour From $1,089 pps
This tour arrives into and departs from Dublin, but can be customised to include Shannon as an arrival/departure point.
Destinations / Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Dublin
Take a deep breath as you leave the terminal at Dublin airport and breathe in the fresh Irish air for the first time. You’re in the capital of Ireland and this veritable mixing pot of culture and tradition is a joy to explore. Car collected and headed for your accommodation you’ll be itching to get out and about as scenic teasers fly by on the other side of your window. Busy streets packed with Dubliners from all over the world show that the “Céad Míle Fáilte” (“thousand welcomes”) is sill strong here. You know you’re in Ireland when you pass by homely Irish pubs adorned with the artistic handiwork of John Gilroy – creator of the iconic 1930/40’s Guinness adverts. “My Goodness my Guinness”, you’ll have to fit in a pint or two of the “black stuff” while you’re here.
It can be hard to know where to start, but luckily there are plenty of ways to see the best of Dublin. The Dublin Bus Hop On Hop Off bus tours are the perfect way to make sure you fit in as much of this bustling city as possible. They’ll bring you to all the major attractions and once you’ve gotten you’re ticket you can come and go as you please.
The Viking Splash Tour is a twist on your run of the mill expedition. On land and in water you’ll see the highlights of Georgian Dublin, Christ Church,and St. Patrick’s Cathedral and you’ll even wade by a recording studio where the likes of U2 have laid down tracks.
Or if you prefer to ditch the wheels and wander around the old fashioned way, the Dublin Tourist Board have a whole range of free iWalks (guided tours recorded as podcasts) available for download so you can ramble around the city while the soothing voice of author Pat Liddy fills you on the history of Dublin.
Make sure to schedule in a visit to Trinity College Dublin on your first day in Ireland. This is one of Dublin’s premier visitor attractions and not without reason. Within the grounds of Ireland’s first ever college (established in 1592) you’ll find stunning architecture, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, The Oscar Wilde centre, “The Book of Kells” and arguably the “greenest grass in Ireland”. There are also regular walking tours around the campus where you’ll discover all the history and intricacies of this esteemed university. “The Book of Kells” resides in Trinity’s Old Library. This book, which is a 9th Century gospel manuscript contains lavish illustrations and is accompanied in the library by an exhibition – “Turning Lightness into Dark”.
For the art-lover Dublin has a whole host of museums and art galleries from the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle to the National Museum of Archaeology or the Irish Museum of Modern Art. What’s more, entry is free, so there’s no excuse not to sample some of the more artistic delights our “Fair City” has to offer.
As you journey from one highlight to the next, immersing yourself in the electric atmosphere of Dublin City you’ll find yourself in need of crossing over the River Liffey. So why not take a walk over the Ha’penny Bridge (or the Liffey Bridge as it is sometimes referred to), which has been aiding pedestrians over the river since 1816. 200 years ago you would have paid your dues (a ha’pennies worth to be exact) to William Walsh, who built the bridge when his ferries went into disrepair, but nowadays you’re free to come and go as you please. It’s also a great place to whip out your camera and get snap happy with stretching views down the river that are just begging to be captured on film.
Taking a break from sight-seeing, Grafton St. (Dublin’s favourite shopping district) has every thing you need to relax. Visit Bewley’s Café and enjoy an Irish coffee in a favourite venue of many of Dublin’s literary greats. Venture down Wicklow St. to find quaint bistros and the Powerscourt Shopping Centre, which boasts the perfect combination of variety and a stunning setting or maybe go alfresco with a picnic in St. Stephen’s Green. Once you’re refreshed, it’s back on the trail again seeking out all that Dublin has to offer.
As the day draws on you might find yourself hankering for that pint of Guinness, but fear not because the Guinness Storehouse has got you covered. During the tour you’ll discover all the history behind this famous brand and get an insight into the magic behind the “black stuff”. Or maybe you’d prefer a hot drop of Whiskey? The Jameson distillery has got just what you need. Learn about John Jameson and the inspirational story behind his world-renowned whiskey, topped off with a tasting session.
The sun may begin to dim as it tucks in for the night, but that doesn’t mean your fun has to end there. In fact for the full Dublin experience you have to witness the thrilling ambience of its nightlife. So it’s off to Temple bar - often referred to as Dublin’s cultural hub. As you walk around the narrow cobbled streets (a feature which has been preserved from medieval times), lilting Irish melodies will waft through the air beckoning you into one of the many Irish pubs with regular sessions. Or maybe you’ll get a sniff of some steaming fresh Irish grub. Either way, Temple Bar is a great place to while away the evening whether you’re in The Old Storehouse at one of their daily sessions or sharing a pint and a story with one of the friendly locals.
Your visit to Dublin will be packed with fond memories, unforgettable sights and sounds, but you still have the treat of a full Irish breakfast ahead of you the next morning. You’ve seen the best of Dublin and tomorrow you will continue on your trip to see the Best of Ireland.
- Phoenix Park
- Kilmainham Jail
- The Brazen Head - Food Fairies, and Folklore Night
- Butlers Chocolate Experience
Day 2: Powerscourt, Glendalough and Kilkenny City
The sheer amount of things to do and see in Dublin could keep you busy for a week, but then you’d miss out on Ireland’s vast and beautiful countryside. So today, it’s time to leave Dublin and head into rural Ireland. Along your journey to Kilkenny City you will be introduced to the quaint villages which and expansive green pastures, which make up the Irish countryside.
Although your ultimate destination today is Kilkenny, there a few things to check off your list before you get there. First up is thePowerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, which is located to the south of Dublin and around a 40 minute drive from the city centre. Upon arrival you will find yourself heading up the mile along avenue leading up to the Palladian house, flanked by some 2,000 beech tress.
Ahead of you lies 47 acres of magnificent gardens and a glorious house, which rose from the ashes back to its former glory after a fire in 1974. Within the walls of the house you can view an exhibition which covers the history of the estate in its entirety, whilst outside you can meander through the various gardens, all delicately maintained. Just down the road from the estate you’ll find Powerscourt Waterfall. This is Ireland’s highest waterfall standing at 121km (75 miles) and truly a sight to behold.
While you’re in the area, drop by Enniskerry village. You’ll find tiny local pubs like Ye Olde Bray Inn and acres of green in this relaxed village. Also on you way back to the Capital you’ll be brought through Bray - a quaint seaside town with calming promenades, beautiful beaches and even a scenic cliff walk along the eastern side of Bray Head.
Taking the Sally Gap, you’ll be making your way towards Glendalough. On this route you can enjoy spectacular views of the Wicklow Mountains and the dark waters of Lough Tay and Lough Dan. The valley ofGlendalough was carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age, and the two lakes from which the area gets its name were formed when the ice eventually thawed. During the 6th Century, St. Kevin founded, what is now one of the most impressive monastic sites in Ireland. The remains of some of the building and structures from this site are still standing, including St. Kevin’s Church and a stone cross.
Forward to Kilkenny City or the medieval capital of Ireland. At the heart of this charming city you’ll find Kilkenny Caste. Dating back to the 18th Century this intricate structure boasts a variety of contrasting styles of architecture.
You will find the structure towering over the “high town” of Kilkenny City and a crossing on the river Nore, daring you to come and explore its many secrets. Room by room, the Castle Tour delves into the castles history punctuated along the way with a whole host of unique paintings and furnishings.
Smithwick’s Brewerytour in Kilkenny invites visitors to see the working factory of this most famous ale. Smithwick’s trade secrets have been passed down over 300 years, originating with John Smithwick. His is an inspirational story, fraught with hardship, courage and an unwavering determination. John was left an orphan after the Irish rebellion, but undeterred by his situation, he strove to make something of himself, and today what started out as a local family brewery is still going strong. Also included in the tour is a visit to St. Francis Abbey, which dates back to the 12th Century and can be found on the same site as the brewery.
If you’re looking to take a break from urban Kilkenny,Kilfane Glen and Waterfallis a short drive from Kilkenny (30 minutes drive), and it’s the perfect place to relax. Let the serenity of this 18th Century romantic era garden wash away your troubles. Or if you’re looking for a more natural attractionDunmore Caves are again a short trip away from Kilkenny (45 minutes drive), complete with a visitor centre to compliment the quiet beauty of the caves themselves.
Visitors to Jerpoint Park can experience estate country pursuits in a unique heritage setting from pony and trap rides, sheep dog demonstrations, fishing for salmon and trout on the River Nore, horse riding across open countryside with breath taking views, before soaking up the regal atmosphere of Belmore House Tea Rooms and sampling the delicious homemade delights.
Back in the city there are a number of walking tours and trails from the Tynan Walking tour (an adventure of all things medieval in Kilkenny) to the Castlemorris Wood Walk (just one of a whole range of scenic walks available to visitors of the area).
Marrying the idea of traditional Irish music and a walking rail is the Kilkenny Traditional Irish Music Trail. Once more, you will be hosted by local musicians as they bring you from session to session in Kilkenny’s most popular and lively traditional pubs. The two hour tour will see you learning about the various traditional instruments, listening to local renditions of Kilkenny folklore and basking in the energetic atmosphere. If you prefer the D.I.Y .feel of finding sessions there are plenty of pubs to choose from in the area such as Matt the Miller’s and Murphy’s, which host sessions on a weekly basis.
Day 3: Lismore and Waterford City
With another morning comes another delicious Irish breakfast to fuel you on your journey around the Ireland. Once you’re packed up and ready to embark from Kilkenny, your route will take you to the coast and to Waterford City. Dating back to 941 AD, Water ford is the oldest of Ireland’s cities. Each brick is loaded with historical importance or a secret long forgotten. The city has strong links with the Vikings as well as the historical figure Strongbow, whose arranged marriage to Aoife (daughter of Dermot Mac Murrough – King of Leinster) changed the course of Irish history forever.
History aside, for any visitor to Waterford the most obvious starting point is the House of Waterford Crystal - home to the elegant crystal ware, which is known the world over for its beauty and craftsmanship. Taking the factory tour you’ll get an up close and personal look at the various stages of the process, which results in these intricate works of art. Watch the craftsmen at work as they demonstrate an art form, which they have perfected since the companies humble origins dating back to 1783.
After a short meander along Waterford’s quays, taking in the panoramic views of a port where merchant ships once unloaded their cargo, you’ll come across Reginald’s Tower(part of the Viking Triangle). This structure is one of Waterford’s trademark buildings – a round tower, housing a Viking exhibition. The displays feature many intriguing artefacts dating back to the Viking era in Waterford’s long and celebrated past.
Jumping forward through time and into Georgian Waterford, the Bishop’s Palace covers the history of Waterford from 1700 to 1970. Here you can really get a feel for what it was like in Waterford during that time. In fact, outside of Dublin, Waterford boasts the most impressive displays of 18th Century architecture in all of Ireland. The Bishop’s Palace is also home to the oldest piece of Waterford Crystal in the world – a decanter made in the 1780’s.
Before leaving Waterford City, swing by the People’s Park – Waterford’s largest and most impressive park. This relaxing and picturesque setting is the perfect place to unwind, take a relaxing stroll or enjoy an open air picnic so you’re sure to be refreshed before you continue on to Lismore.
The heritage town of Lismore is roughly an hour drive from Waterford and is the perfect midway point for a stop off on your way to Cork. Rows of welcoming shop fronts and cafes line the streets of this pleasant rural town. Here you’ll find Lismore Castle and St. Carthage’s Cathedral, two of the town’s main attractions. Back in 636 AD a monastery founded by St. Carthage once stood on this very site and today you’ll find the Cathedral, a monument to the saint who dwelt here so long ago. Set atop a hill and with stunning greenery on all sides, this majestic building is well worth the visit.
Just down the road is Lismore Castle. This recently renovated structure dates back to 1172 and was built by Prince John of England. You’ll be treated to something really special in this magnificent castle, whether you explore the expansive cultivated gardens of the estate or head inside to the west wing, which houses a contemporary gallery space.
Make sure to drop intoLismore’s heritage centre before you hit the road again. Here you’ll find a craft shop that has everything from Irish knitwear to recipes, so if you’ve been looking for a gift or souvenir, you’re bound to find something that takes your fancy here. The friendly and knowledgeable staff who run the centre are also on hand to fill you in on the various walking trails in the area and the history of the town.
Slip under the covers in your Cork accommodation that night and let your mind wander to the wonders that await you on the rest of your journey.
Day 4: Cork City and the Blarney Stone
With the break of another day comes the promise of another region to be explored. Today you will venture into the heart of Cork.
First it’s time to get up close and personal with one of Ireland’s most loved visitor attractions – the Blarney Stone. There are many variations as to how the stone was endowed with such power, but all agree that a kissing the stone will award you with the gift of the gab. Year after year visitors come to Blarney to do just that, but once you’re there you’ll realise that there is so much more to Blarney that its famous stone.
The castle itself, which was built nearly 600 years ago by Cormac Mac Carthy – one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains – is home to a whole array of attractions that will really give you something to talk about with your new found gift of the gab. The Wising Steps, The Battlement View, Badgers Cave and Rock Close are a snipped of the many wonders for you to explore at Blarney.
Blarney is also well known for its woollen mills. Now Ireland’s largest gift store, Blarney Woollen Mills stocks the best of the best in quality Irish gifts from Waterford Crystal, Belleek China and Aran Sweaters to Celtic Jewellery; and Irish linen and lace. It’s the perfect one stop shop for all things Irish so if you’ve been looking for somewhere to stock up on souvenirs, now is your chance.
After taking in all the splendours Blarney has to offer, it’s off to Cork City –a culturally diverse city with a wealth of attractions. The history of the city can be dated back to the 7th Century when it was founded by St. Finbarr. You’ll find excellent examples of centuries old architecture around every corner including St. Anne’s Church (complete with its 300 year tower and home to the Shandon Bells) and St. Finbarr’s Cathedral.
The imposing castle like structure ofCork City Gaol is a must see for any visitor to Cork. Back in the 19th Century, this building acted as a prison and through a unique exhibition experience, visitors can peer into the past and see what life was like in Cork from both sides of the prison walls. Also within the confine of Cork City Gaol Is the Radio Museum – home to an impressive collection of archived reels from Ireland’s national broadcaster as well as a restored 6CK Radio Broadcasting Studio.
If you’d prefer to get out in the open, the Fota Wildlife Park might be just the thing for you. Located in Cork harbour and a mere fifteen minute drive outside the city, this attraction is well worth the short trip. No two trips to Fota are the same. Free roaming animals populate the park and are sure to surprise, thrill and bring a smile to your face. The park is also home to some highly endangered species such as the European bison.
Before you make the return trip to your accommodation for the night, swing by Kinsale or Cobh. These seaside towns have got just the trick whether you’re looking to eat out or just take a stroll along Cork’s golden sands. As another action packed day in Ireland comes to an end it’s back to Longueville House for another night of indulgence in some of Ireland’s finest accommodation.
Day 5: The Ring of Kerry
The sunlight will peak through your curtained window, waking you gently and reminding you of the adventures that lie in wait outside. Kerry is famed for the Iveragh Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry as it is better known. This unspoiled and almost magical area has been attracting visitors for years. You’ll want to go at your own pace exploring the area because there is just so much to take in.
From expansive beaches to rich heritage links to ancient Ireland and some of the finest scenery in Ireland, this is one day trip that you will not be forgetting anytime soon. Venture along the pass through the majestic MacGillycuddy’s reeks, visit the restored Bog village, admire the roaring Torc Waterfall or take in the panoramic views from Ladies View. These are but a handful of attractions that will literally stop you in your tracks as you make your way around the Ring.
Within the confines of Killarney National Park, you’ll also find Muckross House and Gardens, another of Kerry’s most popular attractions. Intensive restoration work on this stunning Victorian house, means that today many of the rooms exist in their original form. To give those walking feet a rest, rent out a bike and zoom around the rest of Killarney National Park, taking in all the sights and sounds of this wonderful setting, which is bursting with nature and enchanting scenery.
A Sunken Garden, Rock Garden, Stream Garden and Arboretum all provide for beautiful viewing in Muckross Gardens and those who visit during the months of April and July are in for an extra treat as the gardens blossom with vibrant red and pink Rhododendrons. Right beside Muckross House you’ll also find Muckross Traditional Farms, which portray a working recreation of traditional farming methods and the day to day habits of a rural community in 1930’s Ireland.
Nestled in the Gap of Dunloe you’ll find Kate Kearney’s Cottage - former home to the legendary Irish beauty of the same name. Visitors are treated to a night of Irish music like no other. You’ll be served up a delicious traditional dinner - the perfect compliment to the live music and costumed dancers, which has earned the cottage such wide spread acclaim.
Watch as the musicians skilfully play their instruments willing them to produce lilting tunes and creating an electric atmosphere. Fiddles, pipes and tine whistles spur on the dances as they display their vast repertoire from jigs and reels to the famous “Brush Dance”.
Or for a more mobile music experience, you can take a trip with the Killarney Music Pub Crawl, which promises “Craic and Ceol”, just the cure after a long two days sightseeing. Again you’ll be lead on the tour by a couple of local professional musicians as you’re shown around two of Killarney’s most loved pubs: O’ Connor’s Pub and Courtney’s Bar. Discover the local folklore, sing along to all your favourite Irish ballads and enjoy a pint Kerry style on this engrossing tour.
Day 6: The Dingle Peninsula
You may have seen the Ring of Kerry, but this scenic region of Ireland’s south-west still has a few more tricks up it s sleeve. After another delicious Irish breakfast to set you up for the day, it’s time to get back on the road and make your way towards Tralee.
Tralee is known the world over for its Rose of Tralee festival. This annual event sees “Roses” from every corner of the world converging in this truly special town to compete for the coveted title of the Rose of Tralee. Above all else the festival is a celebration of Irish heritage and of our Irish brothers and sisters, who despite being scattered around the globe are always welcome home.
Although this festival may only come around once a year, its sentiments are constantly upheld by the people of Tralee. Siamsa Tíre is Ireland’s National Folk Theatre. Based in Tralee they strive to keep the Irish spirit alive all year round with their diverse shows, which draw from every aspect of traditional Irish culture, using language, music, song and dance.
Another essential when visiting Tralee is the Tralee Heritage trail. This comprehensive route will take you right around the town, hitting on all the main areas of interest and attractions in this fantastic town land.
Pushing further west will take you towards the Dingle Peninsula. This mass of land, which stretches for roughly 48km (30 mi) juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and has some of the most beautiful coastal drives you will ever experience in Ireland. The Peninsula is home to the mountain range of Slieve Mish, Ireland second highest peak (Mount Brandon) as well as various cliffs fronts and beaches.
The area is literally teeming with lush landscapes and arresting views of your natural surroundings, but you’ll also find a host of archaeological wonders here. From intriguing Iron Age structures likeDunbeg Fort to theGallarus Oratory(a church, which is speculated to have been built between the 6th and 10th Centuries) there is no end to interesting sights in this wonderful rural area.
Driving up along Slea head, Dingle’s rugged scenery is at its most prominent. Along this circular drive you can gaze upon Inishtooskert – the most northern of the Blasket Islands, which lies just off the coast of Kerry. From the distance this hulking island mass resemble a “Sleeping Giant” giving way to the islands nickname. The full circuit will bring you right around to Dingle town. Within this fishing and farming community you’ll find a number of pubs, each with its own unique character from the modern to the truly traditional where five is a crowd. A walk thought the hilly streets of this picturesque town is a must, taking in the brightly painted houses and the stretching views from the harbour.
With the sights and sounds of the Dingle Peninsula still fresh in your mind’s eye you can happily set out on the route back to Kenmare Park Hotel, where you can snuggle up for the night in your Victorian retreat.
Day 7: The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher
Rejuvenated and raring to go, it’s time to bid adieu to Ireland’s Southwest. You’re off to the witness first hand the majesty of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren Region in Clare. Along the way you can drop into the quaint village of Adare. Hailed as “Ireland’s prettiest village” you will be astounded at how much there is to do in this most picturesque of rural settings.
The locals have a strong tradition of Irish music and live music can be found in the various pubs around the village on different nights of the week and during the summer months, The Adare Heritage Centre hosts their very own live sessions. The Heritage Centre is also the place to go if you need any information or assistance, and you can rest assured that all help comes with a complimentary smile.
Nearby to the village you’ll find Curraghchase Forest Park, Stonehall Visitor Farm, Lough Guy Heritage Centre and Carrigogunnell Castle. It’s hard to know where to start with so much to see, but the calming atmosphere of this beautiful village will guide you as you take in all the stunning scenery the area has to offer.
As you finally make your way into Clare, edging ever close to the Burren Region, take some time to see another of this areas most loved attractions: Bunratty Castle. This 15th Century castle is the acclaimed setting for the 19th Century Bunratty Folk Park. Built in 1425 and restored to its former medieval glory in 1954, Bunratty Castle is the ultimate medieval fortress in Ireland. Within the castle hang many 15th and 16th Century tapestries, furnishings and works of art, which really create a sense of authenticity. You will feel transported as you wander around the vast castle halls and for a truly unique experience you can also attend the Medieval Banquet - a night of rich food and entertainment.
The Bunratty Folk Park will see you surrounded by 19th Century living. You’ll be interacting with all the locals - the Bean an Tí (Woman of the House), the Policeman, and Schoolteacher as you discover the ins and outs of their daily routines. As you walk from house to house you’ll be immersed in a wonderful bubble of sights sounds and senses, making this a truly enchanting experience for all ages.
Weary from your travels you may want to pop into Durty Nelly’s(just beside the castle) for a pick me up before the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. The history and heritage surrounding Durty Nelly and her public house date back to 1620 and include: a toll bridge, an Irish wolfhound and a miracle cure. For years travellers have enjoyed the hospitality and warmth of this one of a kind pub and now with live Irish music 7 days a week, you can’t help but be lured into Nelly’s cosy welcome.
Finally onto the Burren. This truly unique area of limestone rock covers mountains, valleys and stream, each as awe-inspiring as the last. There is a beautiful contrast between the natural flora and fauna and the ancient man made megalithic tombs, which predate the Roman and even Egyptian civilisations. Before you trek out into the unknown, you can visit the Burren Visitors Centre in nearby Kilfenora, where you’ll get an introduction to the many secrets of the Burren.
The Burren Smokehouse is just a ten minute drive down the road from Kilfenora so drop in and sample some of their acclaimed smoked salmon, see the original kiln used at the smokehouse and browse their range of products, which include various crafts and delicacies from the Clare region.
From the Burren to the Cliffs of Moher your trip today is packed full of scenic eye-candy. Atop the cliff, the panoramic views of the Aran Islands, The Twelve Pins, The Maum Turk Mountains and Loop Head will take your breath away. The visitors’ centre, which has been aptly named Atlantic Edge, can be found close to the cliffs within an underground building. Various studies of the cliffs are on display here focusing on four main themes: Ocean, Rock, Nature and Man.
While you’re in the area, why not pop into Doolin Cave. Less than ten minutes drive up the coast from the Cliffs of Moher you’ll find this fascinating cave, which is home to the longest stalactite in the northern hemisphere, measuring 6.54m (20 feet).
Also along the coast is Lahinch. If you’re up for a spot of water sports or just a stroll on the beach, a visit to Lahinch is a great way to take in Clare’s beautiful coastline. Every year, budding surfers visit Lahinch’s golden sands to catch some waves, so whether you’re there to join in or just spectate, there’s definitely fun to be had. The town also boasts two golf courses (Lahinch Championship Course and Lahinch Castle Course).On both you’ll find yourself teeing off with a backdrop of stretching coastal scenery, so if you have the time a quick round is a must.
With the best of Clare captured forever in your minds eye, you’ll be back on the road again and heading north to Galway City for your next overnight. The illustrious “City of Tribes” is one of the prides of the West coast and your thrilling tour will continue tomorrow as you explore Galway’s City streets.
Day 8: Galway City
Your room will fill with morning light as you adjust your eyes and begin to wake. Nothing can beat the feeling as you slip from the grasp of a world of dreams and step back fully into reality, coming to your senses and remembering that you are still on the holiday of a lifetime. You’re in Galway City and it’s just begging to be explored.
The west of Ireland is steeped with rich heritage and for proof of this you need only visit the Galway Irish Crystal Heritage Centre. On the shores of Galway Bay, the master craftsmen of Galway Crystal continue to produce beautifully detailed crystal, which has been long known as one of the world’s favourite Irish brands. Gathering inspiration from the lush countryside that surrounds them and the folklore and traditions passed down through generations in Galway. At the heritage centre the whole range of crystal ware is available so you can take home your very own piece of Galway.
Finally you’ll arrive at Galway City and the cultural heart of Ireland. This charming city is brimming with heritage, culture and folklore. Weaving through the side streets browsing the hand crafted wares on offer you’ll be in awe of the rich architecture and medieval nuances. Friendly faces greet you around every corner and a magical spirit lingers in the air. The mysteries of the Claddagh Ring are rooted in this very region. From where the iconic symbol of two hands clutching a crowned heart originated people can only speculate, but the tradition remains true. Just make sure you show your true feelings in the way you wear your ring:
When worn on the right hand with the crown turned inwards tells that the wearers heart is yet unoccupied, but when worn with the crown turned outward this reveals that love is being considered. Worn on the left hand with the crown turned outwards shows all that the wearer's heart is truly spoken for.
Within the City you can check out the Galway City Museum, which contains two major exhibitions. One explores the rich heritage of Galway and the other displays works of art from prominent Irish artists from the second half of the 20th Century. Add to this the Spanish Arch, Galway Cathedral, Brigit's Gardenand you’ll start to get an idea of just how varied and wonderful a place Galway City is.
If you fancy some evening entertainment, you’ll be pleased to discover Galway’s strong ties with traditional Irish music. There must be something in the water, because there are an uncanny number of extremely talented musicians, dancers and singers roaming the Connemara/Galway region. The Tig Colli pub in Galway City is one of many favourites for such impromptu sessions!
For now it’s back to your accommodation for the night. The beauty of all you’ve seen in the west of Ireland will drift through your dreams as you get ready for the “savage beauty” that is Connemara the next day.
Day 9: The Connemara Region and Mayo
Now that you’ve seen Galway, it’s time to get yourself acquainted with the some of Ireland’s most spectacular scenery and the Connemara region. Take the Sky Road as you cruise towards Kylemore Abbey and you’ll be astounded by your exquisite natural surroundings – breath taking views of the islands Inishturk and Turbot along the coastline; the moss covered walls of the Old D’Arcy Castle and the towering twelve Bens jutting into the skyline behind the town of Clifden. Clifden is itself a jewel in the scenic delight that is Connemara. You’ll find it nestled amidst rugged peaks and elegant coastlines making it well worth the visit, if only for a jaunt or a spot of lunch in a picturesque setting.
Continuing on your expedition around Connemara, at the foot of the Druchruach Mountain (529m/1,736ft), in the very heart of the Connemara Mountains, you’ll find Kylemore Abbey and Walled Gardens. An aura of romance surrounds the estate. Explore the illustrious and spectacular grounds, which were originally built in 1867 by Mitchell and Margaret Henry as a means to fulfil their wish to someday live in Connemara (which they visited numerous times after their honeymoon there). Ramble through the same beautiful grounds, which stand as a testament to the couples’ love for each other and the beauty of the region; and discover its rich history involving tragedy, gambling debts, royal visits and engineering initiatives.
Kylemore Abbey is open to visitors all year round and within its confines you can enjoy the Abbey itself, pottery studio, the Gothic Church, restaurant, the Victorian Walled Gardens and a selection of lake and woodland walks. There’s also a craft shop if you feel like getting a memoir of your visit and your very own reminder of this stunning region.
In the Connemara region you’ll also find Connemara National Park – a captivating expanse that covers some 2957 hectares (that’s roughly the same surface area as 7,304 American football fields). You’ll find mountains, heaths and woodlands in this scenic domain, alongside megalithic court tombs, a 19th Century graveyard and Tobar Mweelin - a well which was Kylemore Castles main source of water in the 1800’s.
Discover the flora and fauna of this spectacular park or venture up to the heights of the mountains with the four walking trails on offer. Learn about this vast and beautiful area In the Connemara Landscape exhibition or just breathe in the nature and relax in one of the parks many picnic areas. Time will stand still as you enjoy this immersive expanse.
From here you can visit Maam Valley. In the shadow of the Maamturk Mountains, Maam is a quaint wooded town land which is beside some great fishing lakes. Dotted around the area you’ll find many pre-historic and early historic sites and Killary Fjord – the only one in existence in Ireland. The Western Way is the prefect way to soak up all the area has to offer as this walking trail takes you from the southern end of the Maam Valley right up to the ancient site of Mámean. Around this area you’ll also find “Leaba Pháirc” (Patrick’s bed), a rock recess and “Tobar Pháraic” (Patrick’s well), which mark a place of pilgrimage. The latter of which, was once believed to cure livestock and some human ills.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of the Connemara Region, but the road to Mayo lies ahead and you’ll be spending the night here before the final leg back to Dublin. You’ll be aiming for Westport, but before you get there you can enjoy the splendour of Ashford Castle. This magnificent estate is home to one of Ireland’s grandest castle hotels, but the expansive 350 acre (142 hectares) of parkland grounds is also home to some captivating gardens. The layout and the design of the grounds, which were originally conceived in the 19th Century have been preserved and make for an intriguing visit regardless of whether you’re a garden enthusiast or not.
You’ll find Westport at the foot of Croagh Patrick - A looming mountain where Saint Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days in the 5th Century. On the last Sunday of every year, roughly 15,000 pilgrims climb to the top of the mountain to enjoy the spirituality of the site where Patrick is said to have built a church.
Set against the stunning backdrop of Croagh Patrick, Westport is an undeniably wonderful town. Its charm lies in its mixture of the traditional and the modern. You’ll love the Georgian buildings, tree lined mall and traditional shop fronts, housing the friendliest staff you’ve ever met, which make this town so special. One of the town’s favourite attractions is Westport House and Gardens. Built in 1730 on castle ruins this fascinating estate contains over 30 rooms, dungeons and some arresting gardens. Guided tours are available or you could just drop in for some afternoon tea and bask in the fresh country air of the west.
If you’re itching for a session, there are plenty of live music venues and pubs in Westport with musicians dropping in regularly to play a few tunes and get add to the lively atmosphere. Enjoy the night and get a good nights rest as the return trip to Dublin is a lengthy one, albeit packed with attractions at every turn.
Day 10: The Boyne Valley
The road from Mayo back to Dublin may be a long one, but you’ll have more than enough to keep you occupied along the way. Besides the beautiful countryside scenes that you’ll be driving through, there are also a number of attractions dotting the route as it takes you to the Boyne Valley, just outside Dublin.
Taking a slight detour off the direct route you can visit Boyle Abbey in County Roscommon. This Cistercian Monastery dates back to the 12th Century and is impressively preserved. The structure features wonderful Romanesque and Gothic architecture, making it a truly stand out example of medieval art. The site also features a restored 16th/17th Century gatehouse, which houses an exhibition.
Your route will next take you through the midlands of Ireland. This region of Ireland is known for its low lying plains and beautiful waterways. In fact County Westmeath - where your next stop off awaits - is also known as the “Lake County” due to the large number of lakes in the area. The most famous of these lakes are Lough Owel, Lough Ennell and Lough Derevaragh. The latter of these is featured in Irish folklore in the story of the Children of Lir. The legend tells of Bodh Derg and his four children, who were transformed into swans by their evil stepmother Aoife and then doomed to remain in these forms for 300 years.
In Westmeath you’ll also find Kilbeggan Distillery in Westmeath. This is Ireland’s last remaining example of a small pot distillery. It may have shut down in 1957, but today visitors are invited to watch the restored machinery at work and learn the secrets behind Kilbeggan Distillery’s 200 years of triple distilled whiskey.
Getting back on the road and continuing on to Dublin, there are a few more stop offs, which are well worth checking out. First up on your route is Slane Castle. Surrounded by a 1,500 acre estate, this magnificent structure is steeped in history and aside from the main guided tour visitors can also have a tipple and take part in a whiskey tasting tour.
From here you can head to Newgrange, which is a short ten minute drive away. The megalithic passage grave at Newgrange features elaborate stone carvings and the tomb itself predates the Roman civilisation, England’s Stonehenge and even the pyramids of Egypt. In the heart of Meath (the aptly nicknamed “Royal County”) this is where the High Kings of Ireland once congregated.
Visitors can gain access to Newgrange by guided tours, which are available at the Brú na Bóinne visitor Centre. Something quite spectacular happens at Newgrange on the winter solstice every year. There is an opening above the entrance to the passage of Newgrange, called a “roof-box” and from December 19th – 23rd each year, with the rising of the sun a beam of light penetrates this “roof-box”.
As the sun rises higher the beam widens within the chamber until the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. This jaw-dropping display last a total of 17 minutes and beings around 9am on these specific dates. This ancient site and archaeological wonder is surrounded by a truly magic air and is a must see for annoying travelling through the Irish midlands. Your photo album will fill up as you take some snaps in this stunning location.
The Brú na Bóinne visitor centre has been constructed ingeniously to blend in with its surroundings so that the natural scenery is left unspoiled. The centre is open all year round and treats visitors to a variety of audio/visual presentations, exhibitions and replicas including a full scale model of the chamber at Newgrange. There’s also a great café here if you feel like putting up your feet and taking five
Finally before heading back to Dublin for the night, drop into the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre. In 1690 the Battle of the Boyne was fought between two rival claimants of the English, Scottish and Irish Thrones. The battle raged across the River Boyne and in many regards has gone down in Irish history as one of its most famous battles. The centre is located in the recently restored 18th Century Oldbridge House and houses a number of displays, exhibitions and replica 17th Century weaponry to give you an insight into why this is one battle which will be forever etched in the annals of Irish history.
The Boyne Valley is an experience in living history. The mystery of these monuments still draws us to them, to trace the spirals they carved, to stand in these sacred places and to share for a moment an ancient view of the world: the world of “the island of Saints and Scholars”. After a good night’s rest, look forward to the following days of your tour which will take in the rest of Ireland’s fascinating past.
It will be clear sailing from here on back to Dublin. When you get back to the city you can head for a quiet pint in Temple Bar, where you’re sure to catch a music session. Drink in the atmosphere, enjoy your last night in Ireland and relive all the amazing memories, which you’ve gathered along the way.
Day 11: Departure from Dublin
As you greet the Irish morning for the last time and tuck into your full Irish breakfast, take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come. From coast to coast you’ll have seen and experienced the best of Ireland. Think of those chance acquaintances along the way, who made your special journey all the more unforgettable These eleven short days will forever stay with you so even as you fly out of Dublin airport you can know that a little piece of that Irish magic will always be I your heart.