If you are planning a southern Ireland road trip, I hope you will be inspired by my five-day itinerary driving a loop from Dublin around southern Ireland via Galway and back to Dublin.
The best way to see Ireland is to self-drive along the narrow roads of villages and country lanes and the occasional motorway between cities.
I absolutely love this Ireland road trip itinerary, taking just long enough to stop at a pub (or two) for lunch, to photograph the beautiful countryside, to pull over and dash into a little shop or a castle that took our fancy…
But if you’d like a Game of Thrones road trip in Northern Ireland from Belfast, visit Ireland.com for some more ideas.
My cousin Kate and I had a ball driving around this very little country and this post covers my picks for the best places to stop and stay and some fun things to do on a fabulous self driving Ireland tour. (See our route on the map below).
For St Patrick’s Day fun facts, including that St Patrick was not actually Irish, you might like this post, including how they dye the Chicago River bright green every year.
If you only have 5 days in Ireland, this itinerary is for you!
It starts in Dublin, goes around the south coast to Cork, via the Waterford Crystal Factory, then a kiss of the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, skims above the Ring of Kerry (an optional 179km loop in south west Ireland and visiting the stunning Killarney National Park – if you have more time) before visiting the cute seaside town of Dingle, a night in Limerick, visiting the rugged Cliffs of Moher, and finishing in beautiful Galway before dropping the car back in Dublin.
If you want to test your knowledge with a car game (or your kids have a school project!) you will be amazed at these 25 little known facts about Ireland.
As you can see from this map, you could do this entire trip in 13 hours, but we took five days!
>> By the way, if you love a campervan road trip, click on this link to find campervan sites in Ireland and all the info and things you need to know for renting a camper.
The cool thing about an Ireland road trip is driving here is really easy!
The roads are well signed, they drive on the left (if you’re from New Zealand, Australia or Britain, you’ll feel like you’re at home) and cute, colourful villages make for great pit stops and photo opportunities at every turn. (But you will find random round-abouts in the middle of highways!)
Ireland is a small island to the west of the UK. At its widest it is only 275km, so theoretically you could drive west from Dublin to Galway in two hours. Except you wouldn’t. You’d take the long way round and spend a week (or two!) exploring southern Ireland.
This road trip I did is only four nights (after we had stayed in Dublin for a few nights first) and to be honest, it was too quick to really do so many gorgeous places justice.
I’d take at least seven nights, as well as about three nights in Dublin, next time. If you need some packing tips for Ireland read this post.
So with my GPS from home (we weren’t using our phone data), preloaded with UK maps, and the recommendations of friends ringing in our ears, my cousin Kate and I set off on our whirlwind tour.
Day 1. Dublin
Starting in Dublin, we loved Temple Bar, which isn’t a single bar but a neighbourhood of hopping bars with live music to tap your toes to all night. It’s a very touristy area, but as we were tourists, we loved it. We found it very safe, but if you’re concerned and wonder is Dublin safe you can read more here.
Wander along the cobble stone streets and you’ll find plenty of places to choose from for shopping, dining, drinking and making much merriment. It’s honestly one of the best things you’ll do in Dublin!
Tip: Head here for a night out – or an afternoon out and you’ll soon realise everyone in Ireland is musical!
I also did a photography tour in Dublin. This had been on my wish list for ages, so it was great to finally make it happen.
My tutor, Darren McLoughlin (of Panoramic Ireland), allowed me to pick my location and time frame, so I decided to learn how to capture the sights of the melee of Dublin’s busy Grafton Road. It’s a pedestrianised street edged in shops and a magnet for street musicians. You can click the link to that post (above) of what I saw – and what I learned!
Oh and you can’t possibly stay in Dublin and not visit the Guinness Storehouse and learn how to pour a pint (in 119.5 seconds!)
Another tip: We found the Hop on Hop off bus excellent to 1) get our bearings, and 2) to get around easily from attraction to attraction.
I’m a big fan of these orientation bus trips in any city that I visit and if you get a 2-day pass, use it the first day to get familiar with where things are and the second day use it as a taxi to return to the places you want to spend more time at.
My one regret was not seeing the ancient Book of Kells at Trinity College. That’s on the bucket list for my next visit.
When we left Dublin to embark on our road trip we only got 20-minutes down the road before our first stop of the tour for morning tea at the stunning grounds of Powerscourt Estate.
Allow enough time for a scone and jam on the veranda, a browse through their gift shop, and ideally an extra hour to roam the gardens that sprawl as far as Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance.
I regret not having time for the gardens and would love to have wandered through the pet cemetery to pay respects to ponies, cows and Doodles Chow who have been lying here for years.
Day 2. Cork
Driving time: Dublin to Cork – just under 3 hours
Where to stay: Gabriel House
I only included Cork because this is near Waterford, where the Waterford Crystal factory is and I thought I’d pick up a cheap memento. Wrong!
I was wrong on the “cheap”, but touring the factory and meeting the guys who train for eight years to be Waterford crystal cutters is fascinating. If it’s cheap (in one of the nearby gift stores for example) it’ll be fake.
Tip: Two nights here would be better in Cork city (considering we checked into our B&B at dinner time). We didn’t have much time to be able to browse the shops, visit museums, ring the bells at St Anne’s Church, shop at the English Market (the oldest of its kind in Europe), and have dinner at a traditional Irish pub.
However I had some kissing to do, so we shot off bright and early the next morning to Blarney Castle, just 10 minutes away.
Then a full day of driving to Limerick via Dingle on the west coast.
Day 3. Limerick via Dingle
Driving time: Cork to Dingle – 2 hours 20 mins
Driving time: Dingle to Limerick – 2 hours 15 minutes
OR Driving time: Cork to Limerick (and forget Dingle) – 1 hour 30 minutes
Where to stay: George Hotel
On our way to Limerick we went via cute-as-a-button Dingle on the Dingle Peninsula. Sadly the rain was coming in sideways so we found a pub (it’s never too hard in Ireland) and had a yummy lunch before leaving Dingle to the elements and heading two hours drive away to Limerick.
If you have more time (and the weather is nice!) you might like to do the Slea Head Drive, a loop road from the green hills of Dingle and rated one of the top things to do from here. You should allow around three hours to stop and take photos on your way round.
Limerick dates back to the year 812 and is built on the River Shannon with both an historic and a new part.
Fans of author Frank McCourt can take an Angela’s Ashes walking tour and The Locke Bar is a really nice waterfront pub serving traditional Irish music and hearty fare, so I’d suggest heading there of an evening.
Day 4. The Cliffs of Moher
Driving time: Limerick to the Cliffs of Moher – 1 hour 30 minutes
The Wild Atlantic Way is 2,600km of west-coastal roads stretching top to bottom from Donegal to Cork on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a rugged, untamed and breathtaking scenic road trip.
Fortunately for me, there was hardly any traffic on the snippet of the Way on the remote roads we drove today so I could stop to take photos every 200 metres.
The Cliffs of Moher is a pilgrimage for road trippers and only an hour from Limerick or Galway (in a triangle), so we set off for here after brekky in just over an hour and spent another two hours wandering around admiring the views out to the Aran Islands and taking copious photos.
Tip: Stay in Limerick another night so have some time after your day at the cliffs to look around.
Day 5. Galway
Driving time: Limerick to Galway – 1 hour 20 minutes
Where to stay: G Hotel
If I did this road trip again, I’d base myself in Galway for three or four days and take day trips from here (which could also include the Cliffs of Moher). Or you even spend two days in Galway and not run out of things to do.
The G is a glamorous hotel with a spa over the 2 top floors and really cool decor with art and rooms designed by iconic milliner Philip Treacy. One of the best hotels in Galway.
Galway is also the cutest city I saw in Ireland with brightly-painted shops and pubs standing shoulder to shoulder along cobblestoned streets spouting off from Eyre Square. Buskers add to the ambience, or pop into a pub for a shindig and a pint.
I also met some Kiwis over here playing rugby for Connacht under coach Pat Lam, so you’re never far from home!
From Galway it’s only a two-hour drive to Dublin, so take your time and stop when the mood strikes (or ask your concierge for tips).
Day 6. Dublin
Driving time: Galway to Dublin – 2 hours 20 minutes
Where to stay: Clontarf Castle
I’ve ended with Dublin again as you’ll probably need to be back here the night before you fly home from Dublin Airport.
We stayed in the amazing Clontarf Castle on our final night. A real fair dinkum, honest to goodness castle. Of course it’s been totally made over into a hotel with cosy rooms and cool bars and a restaurant and sits on the outskirts of Dublin with plenty of tales to tell.