From dramatic cliffs to storied pubs, Ireland is one of the world’s most popular destinations. We first visited in 2011 for our six year wedding anniversary and enjoyed Dublin so much that we moved there eight months later! We spent two and a half years working on the Emerald island, giving us the opportunity to experience much of the country firsthand. People often ask us how they should spend a week traveling around Ireland. So we decided to break down a perfect week in Ireland, suitable for different travel budgets and interests!
Dublin: Days 1 & 2
Ireland’s capital of Dublin is home to a million people. It is small in comparison to major European capitals like Paris and London. If you only have a week in Ireland, 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 major 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 their 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 good ‘craic’ (Gaelic for “great times”). Pass on drinking Guinness in Temple Bar (a local tip) and save that for neighborhood Irish pubs. You should also have a walk around Trinity College, conveniently located in the center of Dublin. It’s the country’s oldest and most prestigious university, sporting a beautiful campus.
Best Museums 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 one of the best private book collections in the world. There’s great exhibits 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.
National Museum of Ireland- Archeology has an impressive collection of artifacts from pre-historic Ireland as the well as the Viking and Medieval periods.
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 moving history lesson for those interested.
Where to Stay in Dublin?
First, you need a place to stay. It’s a good idea to book a hotel with free cancellation in advance. If prices change and you find a better deal, you can easily cancel your reservation and book another one. Here are our hotel and bed and breakfast recommendations for Dublin:
Shelbourne Hotel is Dublin’s most historic 5-star luxury hotel, as several US Presidents and many foreign dignitaries have stayed there. The hotel is a 5 minutes walk from many of Dublin’s famous attractions, like Trinity College, Grafton Street, National Gallery, National Library and National Museum. They have a wonderful cocktail lounge and great dining options. Even if you’re not a guest, swing in for high tea and enjoy a lovely view of St. Stephen’s Green.
The Merrion Hotel is a 5 star hotel furnished with Georgian decor and Italian marble bathrooms. Awarded 2 Michelin stars, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud serves gourmet French influenced cuisine overlooking the gardens. The hotel also has an infinity pool and spa. Rooms feature city or garden views.
Kilronan House is a family run, award winning B&B in Dublin’s lovely Georgian Quarter. Grafton Street (Dublin’s main shopping street) and St. Stephen’s Green are a just 5 minute walk away. They offer free parking too – you don’t need a car in Dublin though! Some of their rooms are a little dated but their Irish breakfasts in their beautiful dining room are fantastic! We enjoyed our stay at Kilronan House when we recently re-visited Ireland.
Clayton Hotel Ballsbridge is a popular hotel for conferences. It’s location is walking distance from St. Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street. This is also a good mid-ranged price hotel in Dublin for those that don’t like bed and breakfasts. We stayed there on our most recent visit to Dublin in October, 2018.
ABC House Dublin offers 3 star accommodation in a quiet neighborhood in North Dublin. Rooms offer reasonable comfort for those that don’t want to spend a fortune on accommodation. Their Irish breakfasts hit the spot. We spent a week at ABC House Dublin while searching for our apartment when we first moved to Dublin.
Egans House is another quintessential Irish bed and breakfast in the north of Dublin. Glasnevin Cemetery, the National Botanic Gardens and Dublin Zoo are a few nearby attractions. We enjoyed our stay at Egans House when we first visited Ireland – before we lived there.
Families and groups of friends will find the best deals on short term apartment rentals in Dublin. If you’ve never used Airbnb, sign up here for free and receive $55 credit off your first stay! Be sure to book places with consistently good reviews for the best experience.
Generator Hostel is conveniently located right next to the Jameson Distillery (fun!). Generator is a reputable chain of hostels in Europe known for being clean and having a fun atmosphere.
Where to Eat and Drink in Dublin
Casual Dining in Dublin:
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.
More Upscale Dining in Dublin:
Cafe en Seine is an impressive restaurant and bar that transforms into one of the most popular nightclubs in town at night. 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.
Car Rentals in Ireland
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, utilize the hop on hop off bus, catch public transport and use taxis & Uber. Sites like 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 if you’re traveling from the US or Canada). Automatic cars aren’t very common in Ireland, and if you want one, you’ll 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.
Guided Tours from Dublin
This 3 day Southern Ireland Tour including Galway and Kerry from Dublin starts at $298.67. This tour includes visits to Connemara, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, Dingle Peninsula, Killarney and Ring of Kerry. Those are a lot of magnificent places, so after spending 2 days in Dublin, this tour would be a great idea for days 3-5.
A day tour to Giant’s Causeway and Belfast in Northern Ireland is another great option, but it is a full 8 hour day. A Northern Ireland Highlights Day Trip Including Giant’s Causeway from Dublin starts at $89.26. Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a picturesque highlight of that tour. For those that want to see a lot, these two tours can round out a perfect week in Ireland.
If you’re looking to drive and see the country at your leisure, and you only have a week in Ireland, you may want to skip Northern Ireland for the west and southwest of the country. You can also utilize trains and buses if you don’t want to take multi-day tours or drive yourself.
Best Way to Get From Dublin Airport to Dublin City Center
If you want to save money on a taxi or Uber, catch the Airlink bus. Airlink (aka route 747) is an express coach service operated by Dublin Bus, which also runs the city’s public bus service. The Airlink is an express service with fewer stops that transports passengers from Dublin Airport to Dublin’s main bus station Busaras, O’Connell Street in the city centre and finally to Heuston Station, one of Dublin’s main train stations. 747 buses depart every 15 or 20 minutes, from 5am to 11.30pm (11.20pm Sundays). Check the Airlink timetable for updated schedules.
6 Day All Ireland Tour
If you’re looking to see as much of Ireland as possible in a week, with the least amount of headache navigating tricky roads, consider this 6 day All Ireland Tour combining train travel with guided bus tours. Prices start at $1,543 per person. It’s a busy itinerary, so this is not ideal if you prefer a slower pace of travel during your week in Ireland. Below we break down options for those that want to spend some time exploring Ireland independently, as well as adding on some shorter tours.
Galway & the Cliffs of Moher: Day 3
Galway is like a miniature version of Dublin. A coastal town with some wonderful Irish pubs and restaurants. 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. You may also want to consider visiting the picturesque Aran Islands from Galway too. Swing by McDonagh’s in Galway (pictured below) for delicious Galway Bay oysters and other tasty seafood.
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 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.
While not in Galway, luxury travelers and those visiting Ireland for a honeymoon or anniversary should consider staying at Dromoland Castle. This was the ancestral home of the Dromoland O’Briens, whose lineage goes back 1,000 years to Brian Boru, the only High King of Ireland. This is a stay fit for royals, with great on site dining options. It’s close to everything County Clare and County Limerick have to offer too.
Guided Tours from Galway:
You can catch the train from Dublin to Galway (check the schedule on the Irish Rail website), and plan some day tours from Galway, if you don’t want to drive a car.
Consider a Cliffs of Moher Day Trip from Galway, Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher Day Trip from Galway Including Cliffs of Moher Cruise and Shore Excursion: Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands and the Burren from Galway. Prices for these tours start from $68 US per person.
Also consider a Galway Food and Drink Walking Tour. Enjoy Irish stew, local cheeses and fresh seafood while learning and chatting over a pint of Guinness or Irish coffee. Galway is one of the best destinations in Ireland to enjoy traditional Irish food. This tour starts at $90.73 per person.
Dingle & the Ring of Kerry: Days 4 & 5
Another great seaside Irish town on the west coast is Dingle. While County Clare is phenomenal, County Kerry also has so much breathtaking beauty along the Dingle Peninsula and nearby Ring of Kerry drive. Dingle is one of the best and most laid back Irish towns that’s perfect for relaxing in your bed and breakfast and enjoying some great local pubs and restaurants.
Keep in mind that many Irish roads, particularly on the Ring of Kerry are very narrow and some people are intimidated about driving on the left side of the road. 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 views out the window and at stops.
Dingle Peninsula Tour from Dingle is a great tour to enjoy the scenic beauty without the hassle of driving. Highlights include the majestic Slea Head Drive and Conor Pass. You will historic sites like Dunbeg Fort, Gallarus Oratory, and Kilmalkedar Church. The tour starts at $59.72 per person.
Dolphin and Whale Watching Tour from Dingle. Experience the thrill of observing whales and dolphins on a 4-hour cruise around Dingle Bay. The tour starts at $72.45 per person.
Lakes of Killarney, Cork, Copper Coast & Kilkenny Castle: Days 6 & 7
Killarney is a charming Irish town nestled between two lovely lakes. Drive here for an afternoon stroll through town, have lunch and check out beautiful Torc Waterfalls. You could spend a night either here or in Cork. Killarney is even closer to the Ring of Kerry compared to Dingle and offers more accommodation options. So if you want to do the Ring of Kerry drive, you can also base yourself in Killarney over Dingle for a couple days. You can then follow this with a stay in Cork.
Guided Tours from Killarney
Ring of Kerry Day Tour including Killarney National Park from Killarney. This 9-hour tour of the spectacular Ring of Kerry departs from Killarney. The tour includes coastal gems like Dingle Bay, Inch Beach, and the quaint villages of Waterville and Sneem. Killarney National Park is also on the itinerary – a wonderland of mountains, lakes, world-famous gardens. You’ll stop at Molls Gap and Torc Waterfall in the national park. This tour starts at $35.34 US.
Killarney National Park and Lakes of Killarney Boat Tour. Experience Killarney National Park on a covered boat tour around Lough Léin, the largest of Killarney’s three scenic lakes. Take in local sites like Ross Castle and wildlife like white tailed eagles and red deer. This tour starts at only $15 US.
Cork is Ireland’s second largest city and arguably the culinary capital of the country. A must visit in Cork is the English Market, which is Ireland’s best market (no Dublin market rivals Cork’s central market). Just outside Cork is another of Ireland’s most popular 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. You can stop here on your way to Kilkenny (home of Kilkenny Castle, one of the best in Ireland). The Copper Coast is a hidden gem that many Irish people aren’t even aware of. The Copper Coast is an ideal addition to a week in Ireland itinerary for those that want to avoid crowds, while not sacrificing a scenic coastal drive.
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 in Northern Ireland. You could substitute days 6 and 7 for the itineraries included in our articles mentioned here. This is another ideal way to round out the perfect week in Ireland.
Ireland is also a wonderful country for equestrian and golf aficionados. And it strikes a perfect balance for those looking for libations inside, as well as picturesque hikes and drives outside. So it’s a great vacation for nearly everyone!
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