My husband and I went to Ireland for our annual kid-free trip in the summer of 2013, doing a driving tour of Ireland, and the magic of it stayed with us for a long time. It was such a special trip that we decided to repeat our 7 day Ireland road trip itinerary with our children nine years later in the summer of 2022. With limited time there (about a week to be exact, after the travel days), we had to pack a lot in for a whirlwind trip. Yet even then, both times we were amazed at all that we were able to do and see, without feeling too rushed or stressed. After doing it twice, our Ireland itinerary is pretty tried-and-true, so we are sharing our self drive Ireland itinerary to help you plan your own ultimate Ireland road trip in 7 days.
A few notes before we jump into our 7 day driving tour of Ireland itinerary:
- This article contains information from our original 2013 trip as well as updates from our 2022 trip. Therefore you might see a few different hotel and lodging recommendations for the same areas (based on our experiences during the two trips).
- For both trips we visited during the summer (August the first trip and July the second). The highs were a comfortable 70 degrees (as opposed to the humid 100 degrees in Texas) with some (but not much) rain.
- Since our first trip was without kids, we included more adult activities (like distillery tours). Conversely, the second trip we included a few more family-friendly activities. You’ll see both here in this article to help you pick and choose your ideal Ireland itinerary.
- Today’s post includes our overall road Ireland trip itinerary. We have a few separate articles detailing our time in Dublin and our Ring of Kerry drive. Be sure to check those out for lots of specific recommendations for those two areas on your ultimate Ireland road trip.
Ireland travel tips:
Like with any foreign trip, I recommend you do a little research on etiquette in Ireland before you visit. It’s important to know how to tip, and the acceptability of things like PDA (Ireland is the opposite of Spain in this matter), and how to properly return the favor if a round is bought for you at a pub. Here are some links with some helpful advice: TripAdvisor (tipping), USA Today (misc. etiquette), eDiplomat (cultural etiquette).
Driving around Ireland was definitely the way to go. We got to see so much of the beautiful countryside, and had the opportunity to stop in several small towns along the way that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. That being said, there are definitely some things to consider when choosing to do a driving tour of Ireland:
- They drive on the other side of the road AND car
- Many roads are VERY narrow (practically a single lane)
- There are a lot of roundabouts (instead of the 4-way stops that we are used to in the US)
- In case you don’t have reliable cell or GPS service (this improved a LOT in the nine years between our trips, however), I recommend getting a good map. The Complete Road Atlas of Ireland (by Ordinance Survey of Ireland; affiliate link) was worth every penny on our first trip.
- There are many toll roads. If you don’t want to deal with this, you can set your GPS to “avoid tolls” (we did this on our second trip), which will take you through some cute cities while detouring from the main toll route. We didn’t mind this at all, as it didn’t add too much time to our itinerary and enabled us to see more of the country this way. However, if you find yourself in a hurry to get to your next stop, the tolls are a little faster.
- I also recommend a good playlist for your drive to provide a soundtrack. My husband was tasked with creating the playlist, and he nailed it for us. See the Ireland drive playlist at the bottom of this post.
More Ireland travel planning Resources:
High-level Ireland itinerary:
I’m sharing details and recommendations for the full 7-day driving tour of Ireland below, but first, here’s a high-level snapshot of our time.
- Days 1 and 2: Fly into Dublin, spend two nights while exploring the capital city
- Day 3: Rent a car and drive from Dublin to County Cork, visit Kilkenny and Blarney Castle, spend a night in Cork
- Days 4 and 5: Drive from Cork to County Kerry, spend two nights in the area, with a full day spent driving the Ring of Kerry
- Day 6: Drive from County Kerry to County Galway, visiting the Cliffs of Moher while en route, spend a night in Galway
- Day 7: Drive to Connemara and Clifden to explore before driving all the way back to Dublin, return rental car, and spend a final night in Dublin
- Day 8: Fly out of Dublin
Detailed Ireland trip itinerary
Here are our detailed reviews and recommendations by day and location for our Ireland itinerary 7 days road trip.
Days 1 and 2: Arrival and exploration of dublin
These first two days of our ultimate Ireland road trip itinerary include the day you arrive to Dublin and exploration of Dublin, with two nights at a hotel. Depending on how early you arrive on the first day, you may be able to fit more activities in. If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to check out our separate article on Things to Do with Kids in Dublin for more details on kid-friendly activities in Dublin, including where to stay and how to get around.
Where to Stay
Option 1: Maldron Hotel Parnell Square (stayed during our first trip without the kids). I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again. The hotel was in walking distance to everything we wanted to do in Dublin, and the room was clean, modern, and comfortable. I really liked the contemporary décor. The staff was also very nice, and even allowed us to check in early since our flight arrived really early in the morning and we were exhausted. The Irish breakfast was also good.
Option 2: Hilton Dublin (stayed during our second trip with the kids). I’m a Hilton gal, so I always love an opportunity to stay at one while travelling. We can always expect consistent levels of quality, cleanliness, and service with Hilton wherever we’re staying around the world. If you’re looking for the best hotels in Dublin for families, Hilton Dublin is a great choice. We had a spacious family room that included two conjoined hotel rooms: one king bed room for the adults, and another room with two twin beds for the kids. Both were comfortable and well-appointed with beautiful views of the canal. Located in the city center, Hilton Dublin is easy walking distance to lots of restaurants and activities, as well as St. Stephen’s Green. We loved the on-site Charlemont Bistro for dinner and in-room dining, as well as the breakfast buffet. Read more in this post on Things to Do with Kids in Dublin.
What to Do
For more details on what to do with kids in Ireland, see this article on Things to Do with Kids in Dublin.
Guinness Storehouse. This was a great experience, and one we definitely recommend. A visit to the Guinness Storehouse is a modern, interactive experience that takes you through the history of Guinness and the many steps of the brewing process. You also get to enjoy beautiful panoramic views of Dublin from the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor where you can enjoy your complimentary pint. Not to mention, Guinness just tastes better in Ireland than it does in the states. If you know, you know.
The Old Jameson Distillery. This was a fun tour for sure when my husband and I visited Dublin without the kids. We learned a lot about how whiskey ages and how Jameson is different from other whiskeys. I was also surprised how tasty whiskey and ginger is, which I got to try for free at the end of the tour (and then continued to drink over the course of our trip in Ireland, when not drinking Guinness, of course). The best part for us, though, was the Premium Tasting that we kicked in an extra 22 Euro each for. It was a private tasting of some AMAZING reserves. Wow! We loved them all, especially the Jameson Distillery Reserve!
Day Trip to Howth. On our first trip, our friend from the area recommended we take the train to the quaint seaside town of Howth, which was a great idea! We ate lunch at The Summit Inn in Howth, where we had our first Guinness of the trip, along with some absolutely incredible fish and chips. The people here were also very friendly and helpful. In Howth I also tried my first Jammie Dodgers (affiliate link) biscuits, which I became subsequently addicted to for the remainder of the trip.
Walking Around. There is so much history, and so much to see, old and new, in this city. Just take some time to wander around. Near our hotels we had Trinity College, numerous statues, squares, and districts, Dublin Castle, and the Temple Bar area.
Dublin Castle. Dublin Castle is “the nerve centre of historical power in Ireland.” We loved our quick visit here with the kids to learn more about the history of the site, which has served as a headquarters of administration for the English, British, and Irish governments’ presence in Ireland.
Dublinia. This was one of our favorite family activities in Dublin. Dublinia is a kid-friendly museum on Dublin’s Viking and Medieval history. Very hands-on and interactive, history is taught in an engaging way for little ones. One of the highlights for our kids was getting to wear a Viking helmet for a photo opportunity. You can also cross a walkway to Christ Church Cathedral from inside the museum.
Christ Church Cathedral. The nearly 1000-year-old cathedral (originally a Viking church) is rich with history and heritage, the space is beautiful, and the acoustics are incredible if you’re fortunate enough to visit while a choir is performing (like we were).
St. Stephen’s Green. This lovely Victorian park is a serene, green oasis in Dublin’s city center. It is free to enter, including the playground, which has separate areas for smaller and older children. We recommend a picnic by the lake as a fun family activity in Dublin.
Phoenix Park. Whether you plan to visit the zoo or just want to catch the fresh air in one of the largest public parks in Europe, add a visit to Phoenix Park to your list of things to do with kids in Dublin. We enjoyed strolling the grounds with its lovely flowers, waterways, and wildlife, letting the kids stretch out at one of the on-site playscapes, and exploring the historic sites and monuments.
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. EPIC was universally recommended as a family activity in Dublin, and after our visit, we understand why! The museum itself is incredibly interactive and engaging, making it ideal for anyone visiting Dublin with kids. When you arrive you’re given a passport to stamp at each exhibition you visit. This became a really fun game for our family while we also learned about Irish culture, history, and the far-reaching influence Irish men and women who left the isle have had on the world.
Where to Eat
Kingfisher. This place was recommended to us by a friend from Dublin. I believe they boasted the best fish and chips in Dublin, so we had to try it. My husband tried the fish and chips, and they were indeed amazing. I tried the chicken curry, which was also delicious. The restaurant was also located right by our hotel in Parnell Square (and near several pubs), which was convenient.
Copper Alley Bistro. If you are in the vicinity of Christ Church Cathedral, this cozy restaurant is right across the street and offers a delicious meal. I had an incredible Seafood Bisque, my husband enjoyed his fish and chips, and the kids very much enjoyed their chicken sandwich and pasta lunches.
Day 3: Drive from Dublin to County Cork via Kilkenny and Blarney
After picking up our rental car early in the morning, we drove to County Cork for this part of our 7 day Ireland road trip, where we would spend the night. On the way we visited Kilkenny for lunch and some exploration, visited Blarney Castle and Gardens (to kiss the famous Blarney Stone), then had dinner before checking into our hotel for the night.
What to Do
Kilkenny Castle. A very impressive castle, well-maintained with beautiful gardens. One of the cool things about Kilkenny is the medieval history right in the middle of the quaint and friendly town.
St. Canice’s Cathedral. It is like stepping backwards through time when you enter these grounds – magic! Make sure you bring your camera, because the cemetery and building are amazing to photograph. We were so happy to stop here on our way from Dublin to Cork.
Shop. There are a lot of adorable shops in Kilkenny, and it is a small enough town to walk around and peruse.
Where to Eat
Kyteler’s Inn. One of the best meals we had in Ireland was at Kyteler’s Inn in Kilkenny as we were traveling from Dublin to Cork on our driving tour of Ireland. The story of the inn dates back to 1263, and the current establishment is from 1324! The story of Dame Alice is worth researching. You can feel the history in here. I tried the lamb stew, which was hearty and seasoned to perfection. My husband tried the bangers and mash, which was perfect. This was one of our two best meals during our trip to Ireland, and definitely worth the visit (so much that we visited again when we did our Ireland road trip with our kids)! Try the local Smithwick’s while you’re here; it’s a tasty pint.
What to Do
Blarney Castle and Gardens. Yes, this is a very touristy thing to do, but I recommend it anyway! Not only were the castle grounds beautiful and the castle really cool (lovely views, and fun to learn about), but kissing the stone was a highlight of both of our trips to Ireland. This was a bucket list item for me, and it was incredibly surreal leaning back and kissing the stone, like I had read about since childhood. I was so glad to have done it that we decided to do it again when we visited with the kids. A heads up: even though the guides are holding you and you have guardrails, it is still a little scary leaning that far backwards while high on top of a castle. Also, keep in mind that they move you through the queue pretty quickly, so have whoever’s with you ready with camera in hand to take a photo. Besides kissing the stone, I recommend checking out the standing stone circle, the Witch Stone, and wishing steps. There is a lot of cool supernatural lore around the grounds.
Where to Eat
Muskerry Arms. This was the first restaurant we came across after visiting Blarney Castle, and man, was I glad we found it! It was one of the best meals we had in Ireland, and a great choice for dinner after visiting the castle and grounds. My husband tried the fish and chips (he was on a mission to find the best fish and chips in Ireland so got it almost everywhere we ate). The fish and chips at Muskerry Arms was one of the best he had in Ireland. I had The Tavern Hot Bite Platter (Osbornes Local Traditional Butchers Home Made Sausages, Black & White Pudding & Chicken Goujans & Home Cut Chips & Filo Prawns With Dipping Sauces). You will not regret eating here!
Where to Stay
Cork International Airport Hotel. I am glad I read the reviews on TripAdvisor for this one… I would never have expected this from an “airport hotel.” It was more of a classy, boutique hotel than your usual airport hotels, with unique décor. Also, the Irish breakfast was the best we had during our trip to Ireland. The rooms were clean, updated, and comfortable, and the service was great. We were so pleased that we decided to stay here again during our second trip to Ireland with the kids. They have a kid’s play area with lots of fun activities to keep kids entertained during your stay.
Day 4: Explore Cork and drive to county Kerry
On your drive from Cork to County Kerry (to explore the Ring of Kerry) there are some cool things to do and see. In addition to visiting the town of Cork, here are a few stops you can add as quick detours on your Ireland driving route. There are many druid stone circles and standing stones to see and visit in this part of Ireland, so we added a few of them to our 7 day Ireland road trip itinerary.
What to Do
Old Midleton Distillery. We didn’t make it here, but had originally planned to during my husband and my kid-free Ireland trip. Whiskey connoisseurs will want to add a visit to this distillery to your driving tour of Ireland.
Castlenalacht Standing Stones. These are located on private property, but can be seen and photographed from the road. They are very impressive to see! Search for them on Google Maps to get the location.
Knocknakilla Stone Circle. This 3500-year-old stone circle is great because you can actually visit and walk around them. There is a small car park at the foot of a hill with a path that will lead you to the stone circle and standing stones. There are also beautiful views and scenery driving to the stones. Plug it into Google Maps to find the location, which is near Macroom.
Where to Stay
Option 1, Killarney: Castlerosse Hotel and Golf Resort (stayed during our first trip without the kids). This hotel was a great value, especially for its stunning grounds and location, and its proximity to the Ring of Kerry. In fact, it’s on the Ring of Kerry, right near Killarney National Park, Ross Castle, and Muckross House (some nice stops when visiting the ring). At the time we visited we felt the rooms could use an update, but they were not dirty or disheveled. The view from our room was unbelievable, overlooking the hotel’s golf course and the national park. The Irish Breakfast was also very good, and there was a nice-looking pool and fitness area, though we didn’t have time to use them (as we spent most of our time in this area on the ring).
Option 2, Kenmare: 3 Bedroom Thatched Roof Cottage near Kenmare (stayed during our second trip with the kids). We stayed in this fabulous cottage in Kenmare when we came back to Ireland with the kids. It was perfect for our family of 4, though it can accommodate up to 6 guests. Not only was the location perfect for accessing our Ring of Kerry driving route, but we also had easy access to both Kenmare for dining and shopping and Killarney for anything else we could need. The cottage itself was comfortable, spacious, clean, and cozy, and located in a quiet area. The real star here was the view from the dining room – I won’t ever forget the feeling of enjoying breakfast with that view! Aside from that, we really appreciated the personal touches from our hosts, which included a few local provisions for the fridge and pantry, and visits from their adorable and sweet golden retriever dogs, who became fast friends with our kids during our visit. I would definitely stay here again and can’t recommend it enough, especially if you’re visiting Ireland with kids.
Where to Eat
PF McCarthy’s. This popular restaurant in the center of Kenmare’s shopping and dining area has live music in the evenings and a beer garden in the back. We enjoyed our stews, fish and chips, burgers, and pints of Guinness here.
Day 5: the Ring of Kerry
After checking into your lodgings the evening before, plan to spend an entire day driving and exploring the Ring of Kerry, then staying at your lodgings for a second night before continuing your self drive Ireland itinerary.
RING OF KERRY:
What to Do
There is so much to do and see on the Ring of Kerry that we created a separate article dedicated to our recommendations. Check it out here: Driving the Ring of Kerry (route, highlights, and tips). The article includes all our must-see Ring of Kerry stops and restaurant recommendations for a day driving the Ring of Kerry.
Day 6: Drive to county Galway and visit Cliffs of Moher
If you get up early enough, you can see a few more of the Ring of Kerry must-see stops and attractions you might have missed on day 5 of your 7 day Ireland road trip before heading towards County Galway, where you’ll visit the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare en route before spending the night in Galway.
CLIFFS OF MOHER:
What to Do
Cliffs of Moher. We were advised not to miss the Cliffs of Moher during our trip to Ireland, and that advice was good as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. These massive, majestic, picturesque cliffs were another highlight of both our trips and a must in your Ireland itinerary. It is just an absolutely stunning view. We have seen some beautiful places on this planet during our travels, and the Cliffs of Moher is up there towards the top of the list. They have restaurants on-site if you’re hungry for lunch while you’re there, or you can at least grab an ice cream cone for a fun treat.
Where to Stay
Option 1: Clayton Hotel (stayed during our first trip without the kids). Since we spent so much time at the Cliffs of Moher and driving through The Burren on our first trip, we didn’t get much time to explore Galway that time, but we did have a great experience at the Clayton Hotel. The on-site restaurant was delicious (I had an amazing smoked salmon panini with local salmon), the décor and rooms were contemporary and clean, and the service was nice. This felt like a good business travel hotel, which was fine for us since we had to head out early the next morning to get the most out of our final day of our driving tour of Ireland.
Option 2: CastleHacket House (stayed during our second trip with the kids). We stayed at this historic manor house for just a night during our second Ireland road trip and thoroughly enjoyed our experience! The two-bedroom Upper Apartment was spacious and had everything we needed for a comfortable stay. The Irish breakfast was also delicious with friendly and helpful service. Our favorite part of the stay (aside from the gorgeous house and grounds, which were very nicely updated yet still maintained the historical charm) was reading about the rich and long history of the house and castle that the hosts included in our welcome information. It felt like we were stepping back in time, yet with all the comforts we could need. I would stay here again. Note: they are not equipped for infants or really young children, but it worked out well for us with our kids (aged 12 and 10 at the time).
Where to Eat
Galway city has a number of different restaurant options. I recommend checking out the Quay Street area, where there are restaurants and pubs for all different tastes, one right after another. It’s also a good opportunity to see and experience some of the city life by going into town for dinner.
day 7: Visit Connemara and Clifden, return to dublin
Before driving eastward back to Dublin, get up early and drive west through Connemara and to the seaside town of Clifden on your final full day of your 7 day driving tour of Ireland.
What to Do
Kylemore Abbey. Even the Connemara Loop drive leading towards Kylemore Abbey is stunning. After seeing the beauty of the southwest in County Kerry, it was lovely to see equally beautiful, yet different (and described as “wild”), scenery in the northwest. Kylemore Abbey is one of the highlights of the Connemara region. We didn’t have the time to go inside the Victorian abbey (we chose to spend more of our time in Clifden), which has been a Benedictine monastery since the early 1900s. However, we were able to park and enjoy the views of and around the main buildings briefly without a ticket. The abbey has a really romantic history, which I recommend reading before your visit.
What to Do
Clifden Castle. A visit to these castle ruins by the bay is highly recommended! It is one of the best-kept castle ruins (is that an oxymoron?) we have ever explored. Accessible via a 10-minute walk from a gate near the car park, you can go in and around the ruins and imagine what life must have been like for the residents of this stately home built in the early 1800s.
Alcock and Brown Landing Site. This is the site of the landing of the first successful non-stop transatlantic flight and the Marconi Wireless Station, which boasts the first commercial transatlantic telegraph service. Both monuments, along with several other historical markers, are accessible via a walking trail from the car park.
Where to Eat
Mitchell’s Restaurant. Since Mitchell’s was purported to have the best seafood in Clifden, and with Clifden being a seaside town, we had to try it for lunch. It was delicious! I had some yummy fish cakes with a side of seafood chowder. My husband had fish and chips (again), and while it wasn’t the best fish and chips he had in Ireland (remember he ate it at almost every meal for comparison), it was still really good. The restaurant was a little nicer and the menu pricier than the pub food we had throughout the majority of our Ireland road trip, but it was a nice change.
RETURN TO DUBLIN:
After your time in Clifden, get back in the car for one of the longest straight drives on your Ireland road trip itinerary. It will take just under 4 hours to get back to Dublin from Clifden. We recommend stopping for dinner in any of the cities along the way before getting back to the capital city to return your rental car. We personally stayed one more night (this time at Hilton Dublin Airport) before catching an early flight home the next morning.
Ireland road trip Playlist:
- “Rocky Road to Dublin” – The Dubliners
- “Tobacco Island” – Flogging Molly
- “Irish Celebration (P Smoov Remix)” – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
- “Drunken Lullabies” – Flogging Molly
- “Waxie’s Dargle” – The Pogues
- “What’s Left of the Flag” – Flogging Molly
- “Irish Rover” – The Clancy Brothers
- “The Leaving of Liverpool” – The Pogues
- “”Sunday Bloody Sunday” – U2
- “The Wild Rover” – The Dubliners
- “Molly Malone” – Irish All-Stars
- “Seven Deadly Sins” – The Dubliners
- “Arthur MacBride (New Recording)” – Paul Brady
- “The Fields of Athenry” – The Dubliners
- “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” – Dropkick Murphys
- “Oh Danny Boy” – Castlecomer
- “The Auld Triangle” – The Pogues
- “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” – Flogging Molly
If you have Pandora or Apple Car Play, you can also play The Dubliners Radio station for a great playlist similar to the one above.
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