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 get your rental car and 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, it’s great. When your energy starts to level off you can return to your 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.
DAY 3: Drive from Dromoland to your Killarney B&B today. On the way skirt Limerick and take the scenic N69 along the Shannon. Stop in Foynes for the Flying Boat Museum to glimpse that historic era of aviation and sip an Irish Coffee in the museum’s coffee shop. It was here that Irish Coffee was invented. Continue down the N69 through Tralee and on to Killarney. Your B&B should be ready for check-in between 2 and 6 pm.
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 boulderstrewn 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. Best restaurants in Killarney include Gaby’s on High Street for seafood, the Cooperage Restaurant on Old Market Lane, and the Old Presbytery at Cathedral Place. Also, ask your hosts at the B&B for the most up to date recommendations.
DAY 4: 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. Two of the liveliest pubs are Buckley’s Bar on College St. and The Laurels on Main St. 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 5: 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 its worth making a trek in land along the winding, coach free, mountain passes before taking the inland R568 road or getting back on the N70 coastal road to Kenmare. You can save Kenmare for another day if time is short, in that case take the shorter R568.
DAY 6: 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. The Half Door Restaurant in Dingle is great for lunch.
DAY 7: Today head toward Kenmare (Kenmare is a great place to stop on the way back for a pint at The Purple Heather, the town center pub) and then Glengarriff (home town of the actress Maureen O’Hara). 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. This magical landscape is often described as Ireland in a nutshell. Your first stop is Castletownbere, the peninsula’s principle 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. Depending on time you can continue to the tip of the peninsula where you come to Dursey Island, there is nothing on the island but sheep but the trip by cable car makes the experience worthwhile. On the way back skirt Kenmare Bay on the other side of the peninsula past rich birdlife and graceful scenery to the town of Kenmare. Then it’s back to Killarney.
DAY 8: Leave Killarney today to head back to the Shannon Airport for the night. From Killarney take the N21 back toward Limerick, stop at the pretty village of Adare. This is a great place to stop for coffee or a pint and visit their Heritage Center. By the main bridge is the restored Augustinian Priory founded in 1315 and Desmond Castle, the 13th century feudal castle on the banks of the River Maigue. You can then carry on to Limerick, the city famous as the backdrop for the movie, Angela’s Ashes. King’s Island was first settled by the Vikings and boasts two of Limerick’s most historic landmarks, King John’s Castle and St. Mary’s Cathedral. The castle is 13th century and has an excellent exhibition of the city’s history. The Cathedral is 12th century. Nearby George’s Quay has good views across the river, restaurants and outdoor cafes. From here you can drive to your B&B for the night. Ask there for dinner recommendations for your last night.
DAY 9: 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.