Best of Ireland South Chauffeur Drive Tour 15 Days
14 Night Tour From $5,353 pps
This tour arrives into and departs from Shannon, but can be customised to include Dublin as an arrival/departure point.
Destinations / Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Shannon, Limerick and Adare
This tour will take you all around southern Ireland, from the natural splendours of the Ring of Kerry to the ancient and mysterious monument of Newgrange nestled in County Meath in the eastern regions of Ireland. You’ll witness breath-taking historical monuments, charming cityscapes and the ever present welcome that the Irish are so well known for.
Arriving in Shannon airport, it’s straight on the road once you’ve met your expert driver and guide but with a relaxed first leg of your journey; and a journey where you’ll have your first experience with the arresting rural landscapes of Ireland. On the way towards the southwest you’ll be passing through Limerick city and the village of Adare. Limerick City is a bustling urban delight situated at the mouth of the River Shannon (Ireland’s longest river). King John’s Castle is one of Limerick’s most famed monuments and rightfully so. Nestled in the heart of the city on its very own island home, the fantastic 13th Century structure hosts a range of exhibitions and castle tours, which breathe life into the esteemed history of the castle. King John, after whom the castle was named, was once “Lord of Ireland”. He used the building for minting his own coins and today, visitors can receive their very own souvenir coin as a reminder of their visit.
All around the city of Limerick you’ll find a fascinating combination of the old and the new. Georgian streetscapes combine with modern buildings creating a strange mix but one that really works. A stroll along the newly completed boardwalk treats visitors to stunning views of the north bank of the River Shannon, whilst walking down the marina you can stare out along its south bank.
For a glimpse at what Limerick has to offer in terms of culture, drop into the Hunt Museum. One of a kind art pieces and antiques from the Neolithic age to the 20th Century make up the exhibitions of this magnificent museum. Roman, Greek and Egyptian civilisations all make an appearance and even works of art by Yeats, Renoir and Picasso.
In Limerick you’ll find a whole host of attractions and an eclectic selection of shops and restaurants. Time will slip away as you experience the charm of this wonderful city and before you know it, it will be time to head on to Adare as you edge ever closer to Kerry.
Adare is the proud bearer of the title: “Ireland’s prettiest village”. This wonderfully picturesque rural village does its part to keep the Irish traditions alive. In Adare you’re never far from a friendly smile or a hopping music session, so even if you’re only visiting for the pleasant scenery you’ll leave with the warmth of true Irish charm.
The best place to start your visit to Adare is its heritage centre. Whatever your question, the staff are there to point you in the right direction. The heritage centre is also home to an insightful exhibition, which delves into the village’s enthralling past. Wandering around this quintessential rural village, you’ll feel magically transported into a simpler time. The local’s up beat charm is a breath of fresh air, winning you over and willing you to extend you stay in this peaceful and beautiful village.
But Kerry still lies ahead, so it’s back on the road as you push further south, making your way towards Killarney. You’ll find your accommodation in this wonderful town, which makes a perfect base for touring both the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.
Day 2: The Dingle Peninsula
Your journey through the south west of Ireland gets underway today. Enjoy your full Irish breakfast, the fresh Kerry air and think of the spectacular scenery that lies in wait, from the coastal beauty of the Dingle Peninsula to the astonishing variety and captivating landscapes, which make up the Ring of Kerry. It’s off to Tralee first - the perfect launching pad for a coastal drive around the Dingle Peninsula and a fascinating town in its own right, which is well worth giving the time too.
Tralee is known the world over for the Rose of Tralee festival. This annual event is has become a large scale celebration and culminates every year with the crowning of a new “Rose”. Beautiful women from all over the world come home to Ireland and Tralee to put their pride on display – their love of their Irish roots. Although this festival may only come once a year, the sentiment of the gathering – that of cultural pride – is kept alive all year round by Siamsa Tíre. Based in Kerry, Siamsa Tíre is Ireland’s National Folk Theatre. Their performances draw from every aspect of traditional Irish culture, using language, music, song and dance to tell their story.
Tralee is full of heritage sights and attractions with historical significance and if you’re intent on seeing them all you can’t go wrong with the Tralee Heritage trail. Along this wonderful tour you will be brought to all the main areas of interest that the town has to offer. It’s the perfect way to enjoy Tralee to its fullest before setting off to explore the Dingle Peninsula.
Stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean, the Dingle Peninsula is a large mass of land, which measure around 48km (30 mi). The spine of the peninsula is lined with mountains, including Slieve Mish and Mount Brandon (Ireland’s second highest peak), whilst the coast is comprised of sheer cliff faces and vast beaches.
The scenery in this area is truly stunning, but you’ll also find a plethora of intriguing centuries old monuments vying for your attention along the way. On the edge of a towering cliff face stands Dunbeg Fort – an elaborate stone structure, which dates back to the Iron Age. Whilst the Gallarus Oratory provides further mystery - comprised of precisely stacked stones, this structure is completely water proof despite the lack of mortar being used.
From here you're driver can take you along the Slea Head Drive, where you’ll find even more of that rugged and natural scenery that the Peninsula is so famous for. The stunning views along this circular drive include Inishtooskert, the most northern of the Blasket Islands off the coast of Kerry. Also know as “the Sleeping Giant” looking out at this great island, past Kerry’s Coastline is truly a magnificent experience. Following the drive will bring you around full circle and back to Dingle town.
While you’re in the vicinity, it would be shame not to visit its most famous local – Fungi the Dingle Dolphin. Fungi has been roaming the waters near Dingle’s coast since 1984, befriending fishermen, surfers and swimmers alike. Boat trips are available if you’re interested in getting up close and personal with the friendly dolphin or you could take a trip up Ballymacadoyle Hill and admire the wonderful views from afar.
As you’re winding down that evening, give your taste buds a chilly albeit delicious treat with Killarney’s famous Murphy’s Ice Cream. Established by brothers Sean and Kieran in 2000 you can try some of the weird and wonderful flavours, which make their ice creams truly special. The brothers are constantly playing with flavours to come up with new and interested combinations so you’re sure to find something new to tickle your taste buds. Dingle is a truly wondrous place and you may even find yourself staying for dinner in one of its restaurants or pattering around the streets before getting back on the road.
Arriving back at your accommodation with visions of your day’s findings still buzzing around your head let the quiet calm of the south west lull you into a deep sleep as you dream of the Ring of Kerry and the surprises it might bring.
Day 3: The Ring of Kerry
Your second day in Kerry is sure to be just as action packed as the first. It’s advisable to give up a whole day to exploring the Ring of Kerry because of the vast amount of things to do and see in the area, so luckily you have plenty of time to explore.
Simply put, the Ring of Kerry is home to some of the most amazing scenery in Ireland. Also known as the Iveragh Peninsula, this area is famed for its stunning views and the sheer amount of attractions that you’ll find located all within this single scenic drive.
All of these elements combine to make the Ring of Kerry one of the most magical and intimate places in Ireland. The more you explore the more you will come to understand why this wondrous place inspires so many. So without further adieu… the Ring of Kerry awaits.
Journey to Moll’s Gap and gaze upon the majestic MacGillycuddy’s Reeks (Ireland’s talent mountain range). Stare out from Ladies View as the infinite horizon runs into the distance. Or make a visit to Rossbeigh’s golden sands, a beach with immersive surrounding panoramic views.
Nestled in the heart of the Gap of Dunloe you’ll stumble up a quaint cottage adorned with the name Kate Kearney. Kate Kearney’s Cottage was where the legendary Irish beauty of the same name once lived. Here you can switch to the preferred mode of transport for exploring the gap of Dunloe – a pony and trap. A traditional trip like this is always a treat and makes the magical experience of the Ring of Kerry all the more exciting. Later on in the day if you find yourself hankering for some tradition Irish food and music, you can’t go wrong with Kate’s. This fantastic venue does its very best to keep her spirit alive with dancers and musicians that compliment their superb traditional grub.
No visit to the Ring of Kerry would be complete without a side-trip to Killarney. This buzzing area is another fine example of a rural Irish town land with cheerful locals going about their day to day. From here you’ll be a short trip from Killarney National Park, where you’ll find even more expansive scenery and beautiful landscapes. Whether you’re walking or decide to hire a bike or horse and trap this beauty of this lush demesne is truly epic. It’s also a great place to have a picnic if you need to get your energy up.
From Killarney National Park you’ll be able to enjoy the scenic delights that are the Lakes of Killarney. From the shores of these three lakes : Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and the Upper Lake you can enjoy views of Muckross House, Muckross Abbey and the 15th Century Ross Castle.
Muckross House and Gardens is definitely worth a peek during your visit to the park. This restored Victorian house dates back to 1843 and comprises a massive 65 rooms. A walk around the estate’s gardens will reveal a sunken garden, stream garden, Arboretum and much more. Summer visitors are in for a colourful treat as blossoming red and pink Rhododendrons accentuate the sophisticated charm of the gardens.
After a long day delving into the many treasures of the Ring of Kerry, drop by the nearby town of Kenmare (“The Jewel on the Ring of Kerry”). Strolling along the pathways of this heritage town you’ll find colourful craft shops and over 30 restaurants lining the streets tempting you with their very own local produce. It’s a beautiful little spot and the perfect place to wind down that evening before heading to your Kerry accommodation for one last night.
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 on the story of to how the stone was endowed with such power, but all agree that 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 than its famous stone.
The castle itself, which was built nearly six hundred 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 just a snippet 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 of Cork 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 confines 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, you can get your guide to 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.
Day 5: Waterford and Lismore
It’s another new day and of course, that means another delicious Irish breakfast to fuel you on your journey around the Ireland. Once you’re packed up and are ready to embark from Cork, your route will take you to the coast and to Waterford City.
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 from 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 into Lismore’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.
Moving on up the coast, you’ll finally reach the city of Waterford. Dating back to 941 AD, Waterford 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. 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.
That night you’ll be staying in Waterford, so make sure to check out the local restaurants and pubs for a spot of evening entertainment, before slipping under the covers dreaming about the wonders that await you on the rest of your journey.
Day 6: Kilkenny City
From Waterford to Kilkenny, you’ll be back on the road again with your expert driver at the helm. You’ll only be on the road for roughly 40 minutes, but the rolling countryside views will ensure the journey flies by. Arriving at Kilkenny you’ll find a culturally rich city that has plenty to offer and keep you entertained.
Kilkenny is often referred to as the medieval capital of Ireland and after visiting Kilkenny Castle you’ll know why. 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.
The Smithwick’s Brewery tour 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 Waterfall is 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 attraction Dunmore 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.
Back in the city there is 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 so you’ll be in for a lively night in Kilkenny before hitting the hay.
Day 7: Dublin via Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains
Heading back to Dublin from Kilkenny, why not detour through Wicklow and discover the “Garden of Ireland” for yourself?
On your way, you can take the road through Carlow and visit Browne’s Hill so you can take your picture with the largest Portal Dolmen in Europe. Dating back to the 4th Century and measuring 6.1 m (20 ft.) in length, it really is a true wonder hidden in the county of Carlow. Wicklow’s most historical asset comes in the form of Glendalough or “the valley of the two lakes”. The sight not only boasts some stunning scenery, but also a world famous Monastic Site with Round Tower and a selection of walking trails, including The Wicklow Way.
The valley was carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age, and the two lakes from which Glendalough 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.
From Glendalough, you can get your driver to take you along the Sally Gap on your way to Powerscourt Waterfalls. Taking this route you can enjoy spectacular views of the Wicklow Mountains and the dark waters of Lough Tay and Lough Dan. This will bring you to Powerscourt Waterfall (6km/3.7 miles from the main Powerscourt estate). It’s Ireland’s highest waterfall standing at 121km (75 miles) and truly a sight to behold.
Once you make it to Powerscourt Estate you will head along a mile long 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.
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.
If sight seeing has worked up your appetite, head on to Johnnie Fox’s Pub - a slight diversion as you head back to Dublin but well worth it. Johnnie’s serves up a delicious meal with a side of traditional Irish music. Getting from Wicklow to Dublin is a short drive (less than an hour), so you’ll be in the capital in no time for a good nights rest before exploring this fantastic city.
Day 8: Dublin City
Dublin – home to Ireland’s capital city, a place of diversity, history and culture. It’s hard to believe that contained within Ireland’s third smallest county, you could find so much you’ll have plenty of time to discover what this thriving urban cityscape has to offer.
Trinity College Dublin is always a great place to start. 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 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 as well as a truly special day trip from the capital.
Day 9: Newgrange and the Boyne Valley
The Boyne Valley is only a short trip away from Dublin City and there is plenty to do and that will keep you occupied for a whole day, making it the perfect day trip.
Meath (or the Royal County as it is more affectionately known) was once the territory of the High Kings of Ireland. The area known as the Boyne Valley houses the largest and most decorated megalithic sites in all of Ireland. These sites were erected before Stonehenge in England and the great pyramids in Cairo. They contain great passage tombs, standing stones, barrows and other impressive structures.
The most famous of these is Newgrange. From this passage grave’s elaborate stone carvings to the tomb itself it’s hard not to be in awe of the mystery, which surrounds this massive structure. Besides the scale of this megalithic monument there is another reason why so many visitors flock to Newgrange every year. A phenomenon of sorts happens here annually during the winter solstice: 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 spectacle lasts a mere 17 minutes, beginning around 9am on these specific dates. There is no denying the strangely mythical air which hangs in Newgrange making this one daytrip, which will leave a lasting impression.
Access to the structure is available by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne visitor centre, which is worth taking time out to enjoy in its own right. The visitor centre has been ingeniously constructed to blend in with tis surroundings, preserving the natural scenery, which surrounds it. A whole range of audio/visual presentation, exhibitions and replicas (including a full scale model of the chamber at Newgrange) are available here so you can dissect every aspect of the fascinating megalithic monuments, which populate the area. There’s also a great little café here so you can refresh before you continue exploring.
There are also numerous other Cairns (passage graves) from the megalithic period dotted around Loughcrew near Newgrange. Divided into two groups Carbane West and Carnbane East, these cairns feature many excellent engravings. Loughcrew gardens on the other hand provides the perfect setting for a stroll with its 6 acres (2.4 hectares) of magnificent landscaping including St. Oliver Plunkett’s family church and Tower House at its centre.
Don’t think that just because you’ve seen Newgrange that it’s time to head back to Dublin. There are a whole host of fantastic historical structures in the Boyne Valley that will keep you busy all day. Slane Castle for example is just a short trip away. Set on an estate of 1,500 acres (607 hectares), this castle was the setting for a famous historical romance between King George IV of England and Elizabeth, the first Marchioness Conyngham. Guided tours of the castle now offer a unique whiskey tasting sessions, where you can sample some of Slane Castle’s very own Irish whiskey.
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.
Meath 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 back in Dublin, look forward to the following days of your tour which will take in the rest of Ireland’s fascinating past.
Day 10: The Irish Midlands
Today begins your journey cross country to the west coast and although the road may be a long one, you’ll have more than enough to keep you occupied along the way. Besides the beautiful countryside scenes that you’ll be passing through, there are also a number of attractions dotting the route and first up is one of Dublin’s bordering counties - Kildare.
Here you can visit the National Stud. Established in 1946 the stud holds a key role in the development and promotion of Irish bloodstock. This is the only stud farm in Ireland, which is open to the public and here you’ll also find the Japanese Gardens (famed as one of the most famous Japanese Gardens in Europe), Saint Fiachra’s Garden (complete with lakeside and woodland walks) and the Horse Museum (a modern art exhibition, which breathes life into the Sport of Kings). You can also swing by the Kildare Village boutique outlet centre if you want pick up a few souvenirs or grab a bite to eat.
From here 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.
Also in Westmeath you’ll 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.
Next up on your route will be Clonmacnoise - a 6th Century monastic settlement founded by St. Ciaran and located in Westmeath. Along the eastern bank of Ireland’s longest river (the River Shannon), you’ll be in awe of the fantastic stone structures, which make up this historical site: the ruins of a cathedral, and seven churches (10th – 13th Century), two round towers and intricately carved stone sculptures. Here you’ll also find the single largest collection of early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe, some of which are on display in the visitors centre along with the original high cross of Clonmacnoise.
Visitors to the centre are also treated to a multilingual audio/visual tour, which tells the story of Clonmacnoise, along with exhibitions, which study the landscape, flora and fauna of the region. Arriving in Dublin that evening it’s time to wind down and enjoy the many friendly locals and restaurants the capital has to offer.
Finally the last stop off on your route, before your touch down in Westport for the night is 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.
The drive from Ashford Castle to Wesport will take just under an hour, but the route will treat you to amazing panoramic views of Lough Garra and Lough Mask. Your journey around the west of Ireland has just begun, so rest up and look forward to exploring the picturesque town of Westport in the morning.
Day 11: Mayo
Welcome back to the west of Ireland – a treasure trove of culture, activities and of course more of that arresting scenery, which you will already have seen so much of. This final leg of your journey will see you exploring Mayo before travelling south through Galway and the Connemara Region and then finally onto Clare for a fitting finale.
You’ll be waking up in Westport this morning, a truly unique town nestled on Mayo west coast. It’s the mix of the old and new that makes Westport so special. Traditional shop fronts and pubs line the streets, standing as a reminder of a time gone by, alongside more contemporary structures, which embrace the modern way of life. Georgian buildings, tree lined malls and a populace comprised of ever friendly townsfolk - there truly is no other town in Ireland that boasts the same charm as Westport.
One of the town’s most popular attractions is Westport House and Gardens. Built in 1730 on castle ruins this fascinating estate contains over 30 rooms, dungeons and some beautiful 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.
Westport stands at the foot of Croagh Patrick – a looming mountain where Saint Patricks 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 back in the spirituality of the site where Patrick is said to have built the church. As stunning the views may be of Croagh Patrick, the climb can be quite intense, so luckily there is an information centre at the foot of the mountains, which houses a variety of displays. Here you’ll find in-depth information on the various archaeological discoveries, which have been made on the mountain.
North of Westport you’ll find Céide Fields, home to a stunning visitor centre (which has received Ireland’s architectural award) but also boasting a truly one of a kind archaeological experience. Visitors to Céide Fields, can immerse themselves in a vast prehistoric landscape covering blankets bogs, dramatic cliffs and beautiful coastlines. The visitor centre itself houses a number of exhibitions, audio-visual shows and offers guided tours so you can discover all the mysteries, about the boglands and the hidden Neolithic structures, which lie preserved beneath.
Back in Westport for the night, if you’re itching for a session, there are plenty of live music venues and pubs with musicians dropping in regularly to play a few tunes and add to the lively atmosphere. Enjoy the night and get a good nights rest as the trip south through Connemara lies ahead, a region of unparalleled natural beauty.
Day 12: The Connemara Region
Now that you’ve seen Mayo, it’s time to get yourself acquainted with the some of Ireland’s most spectacular scenery and the Connemara region. Kylemore Abbey is first on your route as you head southbound. Along the way you’ll pass through the Maam Valley, which in its own right has a number of fascinating and arresting sights.
In the shadow of the Maamturk Mountains, Maam is a quaint wooded townland 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.
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.
Just beside Kylemore Abbey, you’ll find the 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.
Edging ever closer to Galway City where you’ll be staying the night, it’s time to enjoy the spectacular scenic delights of the Sky Road. 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.
Finally arriving in Galway City that evening, why not take a quiet stroll around your new surroundings once you’ve checked into your hotel. Among other things, Galway is triumphed for its sumptuous cuisine, in particular its seafood. So if you’re up for sampling some of their famous dishes, you’ll be spoilt for choice as you ramble around this bustling city that night.
Day 13: 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.
Galway City is 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.
The west of Ireland is truly steeped with rich heritage and for proof of this you need only visit the Connemara Celtic Crystal Visitor Centre. In the quaint town of Moycullen, just 7 mi (12 km) from Galway City, the master craftsmen of Connemara Celtic 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.
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 final leg of your journey and the return to Clare.
Day 14: The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher
Over the next 24 hours you will be treated to some of the grandest natural treats in the West of Ireland. Bags packed and leaving Galway behind you it’s time to explore the Clare and the Burren region. From Galway, you’ll be heading back south, taking a beautiful coastal route back to Clare.
The Burren is a 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 captivating area.
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.
Continuing to explore Clare you’ll find Bunratty Castle – a 15th Century castle, which 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. 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 seven days a week, you can’t help but be lured into Nelly’s cosy welcome.
As the entertainment dies down for the night it’s off to bed. You’ll be staying in Clare that night, your last night in Ireland, before your trip home.
Day 15: Departure from Shannon
Unfortunately it’s time to say goodbye to the Emerald Isle. From east to west you’ll have seen some of the most spectacular scenery that that Ireland has to offer, explored charming cities and quaint town lands. The experiences you’ve gathered over the last two weeks will stay with you for a lifetime – a constant reminder of your home away from home, always a mere thought away, ready to put a smile on your face.