When I was planning our trip to Ireland, I could only find 2 or 3 good itinerary blog posts. It was so hard to figure out things like, “So if we drive from Dublin to Kilkenney, can we see these three things, then move on to Cork? Or do we spend the night in Kilkenney?” I spent HOURS scouring the Ireland Tips for Travelers Facebook group for an itinerary that was the right length and hit all the major spots I wanted to see. I just wanted one perfect 8 day Ireland itinerary to follow! So I created my own.
It was pretty overwhelming to try to narrow down everything we wanted to do. I feel like three more days would have been much more ideal to see everything we wanted to see at a more relaxed pace. For example, I gave up trying to get to Cork, Killarney, and Dingle Peninsula. You really have to decide if you’d rather run run run to see everything on your list or take things slower to spend more time getting a feel for each place.
In this case, I chose to take things slow because we would be driving on the other side of the road for the first time, and Irish roads are famous for being narrow and curvy!
After a lot of research, and knew I had a few priorities:
- Stay at a castle, and not on a Saturday night so that it would be cheaper.
- Cliffs of Moher
- A full day to explore around Galway
Finally, I just gave up trying to make things perfect and just did my best! I had things planned by the day, but in the end, we adjusted things on the fly because of some bad storms that came through in the middle of our trip. That’s why I’m SO glad we rented a car — absolute freedom to adjust!
So, here we go — our 8 day Ireland itinerary!
8 Day Ireland Itinerary
Land in Dublin at around 10AM
Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left our luggage and walked into Dublin to explore St. Stephen’s Green & Grafton Street. We had lunch in St. Stephen’s Shopping Centre, which is just beautiful. As soon as we got the email that I room was ready, we rushed back to get a little nap in before dinner!
Before we had lunch, we popped into a few different cell phone shops to find the best deal on an Irish sim card. We went with Vodafone and had service pretty much everywhere. This was WAY more affordable than giving Verizon $10 a DAY for an international plan.
I HIGHLY recommend Trinity Townhouse Hotel. It was very affordable, very stylish, and VERY comfortable. It’s also perfectly located — you’re super close to great restaurants, Trinity College, Temple Bar, and other great shopping.
After a 5 hour nap (oops!), we headed out to explore Temple Bar and find some food! We went to The Shack, which is right next to THE Temple Bar. It was super quiet when we were there, but the staff was friendly and the food was great.
On our second day, we had the full day to explore Dublin. My highest priority in Dublin was to see the Long Room Library at Trinity College.
I followed advice from Maps & Lattes and booked the earliest entry tickets (9:00am). We got there about 15 minutes early, so we were almost first in line (a tour group got ahead of us). When we went into the entry, it’s a gift shop with an exhibit for the Book of Kells to the right and stairs to the Long Room entrance on your left. Instead of getting herded into the exhibit, we booked it up the stairs. We were rewarded with an absolutely empty Long Room. It was incredible!! An absolute dream come true. Well, except for the 2 librarians who complained that “they need to MAKE people go to the exhibit first!” Sorry bud. If you’re open, you’re open!
After gazing at books and chatting with a very NICE librarian, we set out to breakfast. Le Pain Quotidien had beautiful interior, so we popped in there! It’s very organic and fresh, and I had the best waffle of my life.
From there, we went to Dublin Castle and found that booking a guided tour was not much more than a regular tour, so we booked a 2:00PM tour and headed onward to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We paid 8 euro each to go inside, and we learned a lot! There was a video playing on the right side that told you a lot about different parts of the church, like the Door of Reconciliation, Jonathan Swift, and the fact that the Guinness family did the restorations that saved the church in the 1860s. Very well worth it to watch the video to know what you’re looking at!
We walked down to Christ Church Cathedral, but we didn’t pay to go in. It was time for our Dublin Castle tour!
We don’t do a ton of guided tours when we travel, but I do like to know what we’re looking at! The tour of Dublin Castle was pretty short (less than 45 minutes because the basement was being restored), but we learned a lot and got to see the old chapel.
After our tour, we walked to see the Georgian townhouses and Merrion Square. It was lovely, but a little underwhelming, and I do wish we had popped into the National Gallery instead.
After another little jet lag nap, we found Sheehan’s Pub. It was packed on the ground floor, so we were lucky to get a table! It was nice, and we had a great chat with our waitress from Spain.
On our way back to the hotel, we popped into The Ivy for drinks. It’s such a chic vibe in there! I would definitely recommend grabbing some sort of meal or drinks there just to enjoy the decor.
8 Day Ireland Itinerary
On our second full day of exploring, we got picked up by Enterprise by 9:30 so that we could start our road trip! We rented through Malachy at My Irish Cousin, and then you deal with Malachy and Enterprise.
Driving in Ireland was, as everyone advised, SO worth it. Renting with Malachy was also well worth it because as soon as we hit the M50 and got going about 120kmh, our wonderful little Hybrid Corolla had this terrible shake to it. We were headed to a pretty rural area before getting to Kilkenny, a larger city, for the night. So basically, no one could really help us without derailing our day. Of course, Enterprise encouraged us to call roadside service, but Robert and I knew we were having a bigger issue. It wasn’t something that could be fixed on the side of the road. So . . . we pressed on! Knowing enough about cars, we knew were safe, especially when we got off the M50 and onto more rural roads.
On our way to Kilkenny, we wanted to stop at Powerscourt House & Gardens & Glendalough. Unfortunately, I screwed up the order and directed us to Glendalough first. That meant we PASSED Powerscourt and had to back track about 30 minutes to see it later in the day. SO! If you do this, definitely hit Powerscourt on the way to Glendalough!
That said, Glendalough was beautiful. There’s a bed and breakfast/hotel there with a pretty big restaurant inside. From there, you can hit the nice trails to the lower lake and upper lake. I wish had more time and better weather — we would have hiked all the way to this over look above the larger upper lake. But it was pretty rainy and windy at this point. We were treated to some gorgeous rainbows, but we also needed a nice warm lunch before we headed on!
I would recommend spending more time at Powerscourt than we did. We were pressed for time as it would be getting dark, so we skipped the audio tour. I wish we had done it! The house actually has a really interesting history. It’s still being run by three descendants of two of the original owners, the Slazengers and the Winfields. Back in 1974, a fire ripped through the house after millions in renovations had JUST been finished to make Powerscourt a self-sustaining tourist attraction. Talk about sad!!
While we didn’t get to see the spectacular gardens in early March, it was still really beautiful to walk around. I’d say if you’re going to go, do the audio tour and tell me all the stories after!
Once we finished closing down Powerscourt, we rushed over to the Powerscourt Waterfall. It’s VERY beautiful, and we were basically the only people there. Be prepared to pay to see it though!
As the sun set, we journeyed on to Kilkenny to stay at the Pembroke Kilkenny Hotel. They had free parking nearby, which was great! Plus, we could see Kilkenny Castle’s rooks from our window. 🙂
That morning, we had a guided tour of Kilkenny Castle. The funny thing is, especially looking back at our photos from the tour, this was probably the most uncrowded castle tour we’ve ever done. It was AWESOME. Basically, the handful of people on our tour were the only people in the castle. It was so nice to be able to look at everything!
We didn’t get a ton of time to explore Kilkenny because we had to solve our car issues by noon. Luckily, I called Enterprise at just the right time. They had ONE automatic car getting returned around 11:30, so we rushed there after our tour to switch.
Once we got the car situation sorted, we headed onward toward the Rock of Cashel. I didn’t think this would be as cool as it was! Seeing it from the road was awe-inspiring. It just looks so cool up there!
We ran from the wind and rain down to a little restaurant called Ladyswell. I loved it there! Everyone who came in seemed like a regular and was greeted by name, including a man named Seamus. How perfectly Irish is that?
That evening, we arrived at a bed & breakfast I read about in my Frommer’s guide. This was . . . kind of a mistake for us! The bed and breakfast is known for the restaurant, the Mustard Seed. But being very peculiar about food, we didn’t have dinner there. We definitely wasted an opportunity, but I can say that the included breakfast was absolutely lovely.
While we did have a nice enough stay and great breakfast, this stop was just a way to get closer to Dromoland Castle for our falconry school appointment the next morning. If that’s your goal, I would recommend staying in Limerick or Adare UNLESS you want to try out dinner at the Mustard Seed. There would probably be much more to do and see! When we passed through Adare, we thought it was very cute.
8 Day Ireland Itinerary
This was the day I was MOST excited about: the start of our castle stay at Dromoland! We had a “hawk walk” at 11:00, so we arrived early expecting to just leave our bags in the car until our room was ready. Instead, we were immediately upgraded to a deluxe room that was ready. Plus, a sweet man named Aidan brought all of our bags to the room and parked our car while we got ready for our hawk walk.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our hawk walk was private. I had thought we would be in a group! But all of the bookings are private, so Robert and I got to ask our guide, Michael, all the questions and call our hawk, Brian, to us so many times.
After flying Brian and learning all about Harris hawks, we went to the mews, which is where the other raptors live. We got to meet Peregrine falcons, a kestrel, the other hawks, and three different types of owls. We got to hold Pickles, the cutest little owl. It’s easy to say that we were in love!
After LOVING our hawk walk, we had lunch in the Gallery. It was, of course, lovely! Then since the sun was out, we grabbed some bikes from the club house and road all over the golf course and castle grounds. We explored the castle while it was raining, relaxed by the fire, checked out their wedding space (of course!) and had dinner in the Gallery. (We did not feel fancy enough for the formal dining room!)
This was the day that got a LITTLE frustrating because we had to make a lot of decisions and change our plans. But again, this is why I 10/10 recommend renting a car. If we hadn’t, we would not have gotten to see the Cliffs of Moher at all.
The day was very stormy and rainy, but after a lovely breakfast in the formal dining room, we said good bye to our castle and headed to Doolin. I guess I had hopes that it would clear up OR maybe I was just being stubborn about making things go the way I planned.
When we got out of the car at a little hotel and restaurant in Doolin, it was so windy that I could barely get a breath in. There was a bus load of people inside, and it was miserable outside. We kept checking the Met Eirrean radar, and it was not looking any better for a few days. After driving out to the Doolin Pier just to see what the coast was looking like, you could barely walk or see. So, I decided that we could continue on to Galway, check out the city, and get checked into our AirBnB.
My original plan had been to drop off our rental car in Galway on our last full day, explore the city all afternoon, then take a late train back to Dublin to catch our flight Thursday morning. Since we had the freedom AND Malachy arranged for us to keep our car longer, we decided to try the Cliffs again on our last day, then drive to Dublin that evening.
Once in Galway, we went to the shops I wanted to hit like Thomas Dillon’s (for an original Claddagh ring!) and Charlie Byrne’s Book Shop (AMAZING!). We also got to try Dough Bros Pizza that I had about. It was delicious, and I loved their whole story and the vibe of the space.
Unfortunately, it was getting late and things were closing. Plus, it was miserable out. SO much wind and cold and rain! All of the shopkeepers were like, “This is awful, even for us!” So we went to our AirBnB in Oranmore to hunker down for the night.
While I adored our AirBnB by the sea on Oran Island, I do wish we had stayed IN Galway to get to enjoy the night life a little more. Oranmore is 20 – 30 minutes outside of the city, depending on traffic. However, it was really beautiful and calming to walk up and see the ocean every morning. Plus, Brenda was a fabulous host.
8 Day Ireland Itinerary
Met Eirrean wasn’t predicting the BEST weather on this day, but we decided to chance it to get to drive up to Connemara for the national park and Kylemore Abbey.
Kylemore was high on my list of things to see because one, it’s gorgeous. It’s a castle in the forest, surrounded by the most beautiful loughs and mountains. Two, it’s in Connemara, which was EPIC to drive to. Seriously, it was our favorite drive of the whole trip, even over the Wild Atlantic Way and Wicklow Way.
After seeing the gardens (lovely, even in March), we headed to the Connemara National Park visitor center. This is where our hike on the Diamond Hill upper train began! We grabbed sandwiches from the little shop and up we went!
Truthfully, hiking Diamond Hill was Robert and I’s absolute highlight from the trip, maybe even over our castle stay. It was pretty tough in some spots — there was a rock scramble AND we got caught in a little squall when we were almost at the top. I DID fear for our lives for a hot second because there is NO shelter and NO cover from a storm! But luckily, another couple from Michigan caught up to us, and we braved the storm together! They were the ONLY other people we saw up there until we got back down. It was so worth it. And best of all, it was one of the ONLY free things we ever did. HAHA
Our final day full day in Ireland was our final chance to see the Cliffs! The weather looked pretty good, so we took our shot.
We had some tips about parking in certain places that would be free, but it was all gated up. We thought, “To hell with it” and just paid 8 euro each to park at the Cliffs of Moher visitor’s center. I’m glad we did! They charge per person for you to park there, then you have to show your ticket to get into the visitor’s center where they have food and bathrooms and some educational stuff about the cliffs. I had read online and in Facebook groups that no one checks your ticket, but someone was checking when we went in.
We had a little bit of sunshine on our second attempt, but we still managed to get caught in a very windy, very scary hail storm on our way back to the visitor’s center. The walk from the visitor’s center to Doolin was closed because of recent landslides, so we took the walk south to Hags Head near the town of Liscannor.
Unfortunately, there is NO shuttle that runs from Hags Head to the visitor’s center during the off season — I called to verify that with the visitor’s center before we left. However, I did see a little parking lot that I had researched on the Liscannor side. I’m not sure how to get to it, but it looked like you could get to it unlike other lots we tried. If we were there during peak season, I would have TRIED to park in Liscannor, walked to the visitor’s center, then taken the shuttle back to Lisannor. Keep in mind, your plans can change depending on if parking is still allowed or available.
I would do the same from the north — walk from Doolin to the visitor’s center — but who knows when that trail will be deemed safe and reopen. If you’re planning a trip, there’s no harm in calling the visitor’s center before you go to see if they have the shuttle running or trails open.
We changed out of our soaking wet clothes, grabbed some sandwiches, and started the 3 hour journey back to Dublin. (That’s another reason I’m glad we just paid for visitor’s center passes — we were SOAKED and desperate for a warm place to change!)
That night, we returned our car to the Dublin Airport location, then took the hotel shuttle to the Clayton Hotel. Since our flight was at 8:45AM, I wanted to stay near the airport at a hotel with a complimentary 24/7 airport shuttle. After a long week of road tripping, we were ready for an easy night! The Clayton was very updated, chic, and stylish. If you want to stay near the airport, I highly recommend it!
8 Day Ireland Itinerary
We had a 9:10AM flight back to Dulles by way of London, so we got up nice and early to get to the airport. Looking back, we almost got there TOO early, but since we were traveling just as the Coronavirus quarantine started getting serious in Italy, we were afraid of what we would find when we got there.
We feel very lucky that our journey home was 100% normal. Our flight back to Dulles through Heathrow was super empty, just like the flight there.
So, that’s our 8 day Ireland itinerary! It was pretty detailed, but I wanted to give you all the tips and advice in case you’re planning your own trip! If you want to see more photos and the stories attached to them, check out the full blog post.