A few years ago, some friends asked us to tell them what we would do if we had either 8 days or 10 days to see Ireland. We gave it some thought and came up with the ideas here. They opted for the 10-day tour, and they loved it. Hopefully, you will enjoy one of these options, as well. Before you leave, you may want to pick up a copy of the latest copy of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Ireland. As many times as we have been there, this is still our “go-to” book!
DAY 1: Arrive at Shannon airport. After picking up your rental car, head to Dromoland Castle for 2 nights in an authentic Irish castle hotel. This is a short drive and will get you situated easily. In the late morning or early afternoon drive to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park for an easy trip through Ireland at the end of the 19th century. This is a complete village incorporating shops and a whole range of domestic architecture from a laborers cottage to an elegant Georgian house. The centerpiece of the place is Bunratty Castle built in the 15th century and well preserved. The pubs and restaurants are great places to sit and people watch. Try the vegetable soup at the pub toward the end of the main street – it’s great! When your energy starts to level off you can return to your own castle for a great dinner and a good night’s rest.
DAY 2: This is the day for the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. A short drive from your hotel on the northwestern coast of County Clare lies the Burren, one of Ireland’s most beguiling landscapes of limestone crags and caves, dotted with Iron Age burial mounds. Travelling from Clare’s county town of Ennis and through the pretty village of Corofin brings you to the derelict Leamanegh Castle where you turn towards Ballyvaughan, passing the iconic Poulnabrone Dolman and the magnificent show caves at Aillwee.
Ballyvaughan is a quaint little coastal village. From here you can explore the Green Way, the old footpaths across the Burren and take a trip to the lively towns of Lisdoonvana and Doolin, whose local pubs are renowned throughout Ireland and the world for their rich tradition in Irish folk music. Outside of Doolin are the famous Cliffs of Moher, where the sheer cliff faces measure up to 214 m. (almost 700 ft.) and can be seen on picture postcards throughout the country. You can stop for lunch or dinner in Doolin at Gus O’Connor’s pub or Cruise’s Pub and Restaurant in Ennis on your way back to Dromoland.
DAY 3: Today you will drive to the southern coast of Ireland to the gourmet city of Kinsale. You will be taking the N20 toward Cork. On the way, you have some choices to make. In Limerick, you could stop to see King John’s Castle, a 13th-century castle with good audio-visual exhibitions on the history of the city, including Viking excavations. Just after you enter the N20 you will also see signs for the village of Adare, a place some believe to be the prettiest village in Ireland. It’s a great detour for some coffee in the morning. If you are anxious to move on south you can go directly to any of the following places. Blarney Castle is on the way, so you can stop here, kiss the blarney stone and acquire eloquence. A short walk from the castle is the pretty village green with welcoming pubs and a number of craft shops. A short drive from Blarney Castle is the city of Cobh pronounce ‘cove’. This charming Victorian town lies on Great Island. It has a rich marine history outlined in the Queenstown Story exhibition in town which includes a section on the Titanic. It is from here the immigrants left Ireland and the luxury cruise liners like the Titanic stopped before embarking across the Atlantic. From Cobh, you may want to tour the Old Midleton Distillery a few miles away. This is a great tour with tasting in an authentically preserved 18th-century distillery. Then it’s on to Kinsale for your gourmet meal. You will be staying at Actons Hotel on the waterfront with dozens of gourmet restaurants at your doorstep.
DAY 4: A great day in Kinsale. This historic maritime town of winding cobbled streets, houses one of Ireland’s best collection of restaurants specializing in seafood. The town has a busy marina loaded with yachts and pleasure cruisers, though its maritime history stretches long back to when the Spanish were defeated here by the English in the 16th Century Battle of Kinsale. The splendid Charles Fort dating from this time lies out on the old head peninsula, just before you come to the prestigious Old Head of Kinsale Golf Course. Also in town find Desmond Castle and the International Museum of Wine – here you will see the prison that housed Americans taken during the Revolutionary War and be able to trace the roots of the wine industry through several Irish families who relocated throughout the world. Some of the best restaurants include, The Blue Haven Hotel, Max’s Wine Bar and Man Friday, overlooking the harbor.
DAY 5: Today marks the beginning of several scenic drives for the days ahead. Once again you will have several choices to make of what you would like to do. Leaving Kinsale you will head west along the coast on the R600 to the N71 arriving first at Bantry Bay home to the Earl of Bantry at Bantry House and Gardens. The gardens are lovely, and the house contains many antiques and fine collections of art and china. There is a French Armada Centre in the carriage house. From here proceed to the towns of Bantry (O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant is good for lunch) and Glengarriff, Maureen O’Hara’s Irish home. At Glengarriff, you can hop a boat to the beautiful garden island of Garinish. It’s a scenic boat ride and a delightful exotic garden to hike around once on the island. The Beara peninsula is also on your route today. If scenery is top on your list you may want to forego Bantry House for more time to do the peninsula. This magical landscape is often described as Ireland in a nutshell. Your first stop is Castletownbere, the peninsula’s principal town and fishing port, with a number of stone circles, colorful pubs and trips to Bere Island. McCarthy’s bar is another good lunch stop. Continuing to the tip of the peninsula you come to Dursey Island, there is nothing on the island but sheep but the trip by cable car makes the experience worthwhile. Then skirt Kenmare Bay on the other side of the peninsula past rich birdlife and graceful scenery to the town of Kenmare. This is charming town worth a stop for coffee or a pint. (If time is getting short you can also make a stop in Kenmare when you do the Ring of Kerry) Then it’s on to Killarney for the next few days.
DAY 6: Killarney is a great town. You will find a number of good restaurants and pubs with music here, so save some energy for your evenings out. Spend today at Killarney National Park and the Lakes of Killarney. A cruise on the Lough Leane, a hike around Torc Waterfall, a tour of Ross Castle and Muckross House will keep you busy today. Muckross House is one of the finest country homes in the country, rich in art, history, antiques and gardens. There is also a fine craftshop there and a working farm.
DAY 7: One of the most popular scenic routes of Ireland is around the Inveragh Peninsula, better known as the Ring of Kerry. The route is usually traveled anti-clockwise, from Killarney to Kenmare. This route takes you through the colorful town of Killorglin, home to the famous Puck Fair, where once a year the town crowns a goat as King Puck of Killorgline. The road hugs the coast heading south towards the breathtaking Valencia Island and the fishing village of Portmagee where you can take a boat tour to see the 5th-century monastic settlement on the Skellig Rocks. Further along, the road brings you to one of the most scenic views in Kerry at Caherdaniel where Derrynane House is situated, once home to one of Ireland’s greatest statesman, Daniel O’Connell. On the eastern end of the peninsula the roads get narrower and the scenery wilder, around the pretty painted town of Sneem. If you get the chance, it’s worth making a trek inland along the winding, coach free, mountain passes before taking the inland R568 road or getting back on the N70 coastal road to Kenmare.
DAY 8: Another fabulous scenic adventure is the Dingle Peninsula. Along the northern coast of Kerry lies the atmospheric Dingle Peninsula, a timeless land that holds a special place in the Irish consciousness. Take the day to explore its coastline of rugged cliffs and fabulous sandy beaches, stopping at the main town of Dingle where you can take a cruise in the bay and maybe meet Dingle’s most famous resident, Funghi the dolphin,
DAY 9: Leave Killarney for the Gap of Dunloe, glaciers carved this dramatic mountain pass, which is popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The route through the gap offers fabulous views of the boulder-strewn gorge and three small lakes. Have lunch at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. If time permits you can also stop at the Dunloe Castle Hotel with the castle ruins on the grounds and gardens. Leave here for your last night near the Shannon airport. On the way up the N69 stop in Foynes for the Foynes Flying Boat Museum to glimpse that historic era of aviation and sip an Irish Coffee in O’Regan’s Restaurant, the museum’s coffee shop. It was here that Irish Coffee was invented. Be sure and say “hello” from us to the staff – we support this museum and take care of their website!
DAY 10: Sadly, it is time to depart for home. But while in the Shannon airport, be sure to get one last taste of Irish Coffee at the airport bar. Until recently, the restaurants and bars at Shannon Airport were still operated by the late Dr. Brendan O’Reagan and family, who operated the original restaurant at the flying boat terminal you saw yesterday in your visit to the museum. Take a last good look at Ireland, but we know that after this great trip you will vow to come back again.
Now that you have your creative juices running, here are some more suggestions for tours of Ireland.