Ireland is home to some of the friendliest and wittiest people you’ll encounter. We first visited Ireland in 2011 for our six year wedding anniversary and loved Dublin so much that we moved there six months later. We spent 2 and 1/2 years working on the Emerald island, giving us the opportunity to see a lot of the country. Recently we’ve been asked by several people who are planning trips to Ireland, how they should spend a week. So we decided to break down the perfect week in Ireland!
Dublin: Days 1 & 2
The capital of Ireland is just a million people and if you only have a week, two days in Dublin are enough to see many of the highlights. For convenience, you may want to consider a hop on, hop off bus tour that will take you to many of the big attractions at your leisure. The Guinness Storehouse, next to the Guinness factory is a must for some, and this is very worthwhile for one of the best views of Dublin from the 7th floor Gravity Bar, which has a beautiful panoramic view of Dublin. We’ve previously written on our favorite pubs in Dublin for microbrews, and if you like beer, be sure to try some Irish stouts and reds that aren’t mainstream elsewhere in town.
A stroll through St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square parks is lovely, especially when the weather is decent. And a pub crawl in Temple Bar, is of course, great ‘craic’ (Irish for “great times”), just skip drinking Guinness in Temple Bar (a local tip) and save that for neighbourhood Irish pubs. You should also have a walk around Trinity College, conveniently located in the center of Dublin, as it’s the country’s oldest and most prestigious university, sporting a beautiful campus.
5 of the Very Best Attractions in Dublin:
Dublin Castle was the seat of the United Kingdom’s government until it was handed over to the Irish. You can take an hour tour to see beautiful state rooms, including the impressive room where the President of Ireland is inaugurated.
National Gallery of Ireland (free admission) is home to an impressive collection of works. Don’t miss Caravaggio’s ‘Taking of the Christ,’ it’s a compelling and very famous painting.
Chester Beatty Library (free admission) is a fantastic museum featuring exhibitions on the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Natural History Museum (free admission) houses an impressive and extensive zoological collection that has changed little in over a century. This is a throwback that all ages can appreciate.
Kilmanhaim Jail is now a museum but previously housed many Irish political prisoners who fought for the nation’s freedom. It offers an important and somber history lesson for those interested.
Where to Eat and Drink
The Brazen Head is Ireland’s oldest pub dating back to 1198 and over the centuries has been frequented by Irish literary giants like James Joyce and Jonathan Swift, and the revolutionary Michael Collins, who was the leader in liberating Ireland from British rule. Brazen Head oozes centuries of history and is a great place to watch live traditional Irish music, albeit it’s a bit touristy.
O’Neill’s is a quintessentially fun Irish pub that offers a fantastic carvery, fish n’ chips, a vast beer selection and features live music nightly. In 2 and 1/2 years in Dublin, we probably ate and drank at O’Neill’s at least 10 times.
Lotts is a fun, and less tourist pub where you can try a plate of Dublin Coddle, an interesting local favorite, or the lamb shank, one of our personal favorites.
For the perfect pint of Guinness (a favorite talking point of some Irish) in another historic pub, head to O’Donoghues, which features live Irish music seven nights a week.
Cafe en Seine is an impressive restaurant and bar that turns into one of the most popular nightclubs in town late. This is a beautiful establishment that even my 85 year old father enjoyed. Depending on the time you go, this is a place all ages can appreciate.
The Bank on College Green is a beautiful venue for cocktails and they serve excellent food. As you might guess from the name, it was previously a bank.
Where to Sleep
Generator Hostel is conveniently right next to the Jameson Distillery (fun!) and is part of a reputable chain of hostels in Europe that are known for being clean and having a fun atmosphere.
ABC House Dublin is a little outside the center of Dublin but offers reasonable comfort for those that don’t want to spend a lot to sleep. We spent a week here while searching for our apartment when we first moved to Dublin.
O’Callahan is a small chain of centrally located, comfortable hotels with good breakfasts. Trinity College often puts job applicants and guests up in these hotels.
Shelbourne Hotel is Dublin’s most historic upscale hotel, as several US Presidents and many foreign dignitaries have stayed here. They have a nice cocktail lounge, cafe and restaurant. In the afternoon you can swing in for high tea and enjoy a lovely view of St. Stephen’s Green.
You should only rent a car when you’re ready to leave Dublin. Dublin is a small city and for most, a car will be more hassle than it’s worth within the city limits. You can walk, do the hop on hop off bus, catch public transport and utilize taxis when needed. Sites like momondo.com and hotwire.com are great for finding car rentals, just be advised that prices quoted are generally for stick shift vehicles (so you’ll have to do everything on the opposite side). Automatic cars aren’t very common in Ireland, and if you want one, you may be charged as much as €40 ($43 US) per day extra.
Half Day Trips Outside Dublin if You Don’t Want to Drive
The towns of Bray and Howth are both accessible via the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) commuter rail. You can reach the Wicklow Mountains via bus to enjoy a great view of Dublin and the surrounding coast. Glendalough is also fantastic for a day trip and Saint Kevin’s Bus can take you there to enjoy the picturesque lakes and historic medieval ruins at your leisure.
Galway & the Cliffs of Moher: Day 3
Galway is like a miniature version of Dublin with less museums, containing some wonderfully authentic Irish pubs and eateries. It’s fantastic for a stroll and to spend the night before heading to the most visited place in Ireland, the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs of Moher draws over a million visitors annually and during our time in Ireland we visited twice, once by rental car from Dublin, and the other on a guided press trip with Paddywagon tours. Depending on your comfort level with driving on the opposite side of the road, both are good options that you can read about in our previous articles!
Dingle & the ‘Ring of Kerry’: Days 4 & 5
At this point, you may want to slow down a little bit to enjoy your vacation and the lovely town of Dingle is the perfect place to base yourself. While County Clare is phenomenal, County Kerry has so much breathtaking beauty to take in on the ‘Ring of Kerry’ drive and more. And the town of Dingle is one of the best and most laid back Irish towns that’s perfect for unwinding when you return from exploring the seaside and countryside of County Kerry. Keep in mind that many Irish roads, particularly on the ‘Ring of Kerry’ are very narrow and some people are intimidated about driving in Ireland (we were ourselves, also because most rental cars are stick shift, and saw a couple friends personally struggle with driving). If you’re not a confident driver you should probably book a tour so someone else does the hard part and you just enjoy the view out the window and at stops.
Lakes of Killarney, Cork, Copper Coast & Kilkenny Castle: Days 6 & 7
Killarney is a lovely Irish town that rests between two beautiful lakes. Drive here for an afternoon stroll and explore the lakes and beautiful waterfalls nearby. You could spend a night either here or in Cork.
Cork is Ireland’s second largest city and arguably the culinary capital of the country. A must visit in Cork is the English Market, where you’ll find a wealth of treats to buy in Ireland’s best market (strangely nothing in Dublin rivals the Cork market). Just outside Cork is another of Ireland’s most attractions, Blarney Castle, where you can kiss the famous Blarney Stone
The Copper Coast is a gorgeous and unspoiled drive where you’ll barely encounter any other people, let alone other tourists. You can stop here on your way to Kilkenny.
Of course, not everyone travels the same and people have different interests. Political buffs should visit Belfast and then visit the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Giants Causeway. You could substitute days 6 and 7 for the itineraries included in the previous posts. In terms of other interests, Ireland is especially a great country for equestrian and golf aficionados.
If you’d like a personally tailored perfect week in Ireland to suit your style and budget of travel, get in touch with us and we can do the leg work in terms of organizing your plane tickets, accommodation, tours and activities that would save you money and time if you handled it yourself!