Photo: copyright Michelle Escobar
Your mission: You’ve got five days in Ireland and need to do and see and experience as much as is humanly possible. Where do you eat? What do you see? How do you get there and how long will it take? Don’t worry, Waterlily Weddings is here to help!
Behold, your guide complete with food suggestions, things to do, and other info to help you plan an epic 5 day adventure in Ireland. But before we begin, we must address a couple of assumptions:
(1) Where To Begin: Now, you can fly into Ireland through two major airports: Dublin (the east) and Shannon (the west) among the smaller ones also available throughout. Since most people fly into Dublin, we’re going to operate on that assumption here and start you off and end you in Ireland’s capital city.
(2) How To Navigate: The good news is you can totally navigate the entire island, or at least the great majority of it, and in five days. The “bad” news is you’ll need a car to do it. So second assumption is you’ll be renting a car.
(3) Not Counting Travel Days: Usually you’ll be taking the red-eye into Ireland from America or Canada and by the time you rent your car and get settled into your hotel, the first day is lost. And you’ll usually flight out early in the morning on your return. So, we’re not going to count those here; these are 5 days of actual exploration, starting bright and early on your first day waking up in Ireland.
(4) Breakfast: The majority of places you stay in Ireland come with a full Irish breakfast or version thereof. Assuming you fuel up properly we’ll hit the road running each day and look forward to lunch and dinner!
Your 5 Day Epic Ireland Tour can be broken down as follows:
DAY 1: Dublin
DAY 2: Kilkenny, Tipperery, Cork (southeast)
DAY 3: Kerry (west)
DAY 4: Cork, Clare, Galway (closer to north, western)
DAY 5: Athlone, Kildare, Offaly, Meath (center); Dublin
You’ll see everything from east to west, south towards north, and everything in the middle. You’ll get culture, history, art, and music; walking and exploring and driving all over. You’ll eat at the oldest pubs in town to the cutting edge of Irish cuisine. You’ll drink teas and Guinness, learn a bit of Gaelic, and be fully clothed in woolen sweaters by the end of your trip. In short: by day 5 you’ll be honorary Irish and planning your trip to come back. Be forewarned this adventure is not for the feint of heart. It’s a lot of driving, a lot of exploring, but the efforts will be worth it! I promise! Let’s being!
DAY 1: EVERYTHING ABOUT DUBLIN
Photo copyright: Michelle Escobar
Quick Facts: Capital of Ireland; Celtic settlements but originally founded by Vikings in 8th century; center of art and culture, poetry, and politics; known for its architecture; people are charming and friendly and very witty (sharpen your humor before engaging); famous people include Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, playwright Samuel Beckett, and the birthplace of Dracula writer Bram Stoker.
Why You Should Go Here: Ireland’s capital has a lot of history and culture, making it a must-see on any Irish vacation. From the Georgian architecture to modern buildings, medieval cathedrals to bustling shops and cafes in Temple Bar, there is much to see and do. One can easily spend a long weekend here and still want more.
What To See: The best way to attack seeing Dublin is to define what most interests you — architecture, history, art, or natural beauty — then build your day around that. Throughout the city are statues and important works of art. Some, like the Molly Malone statue is a pilgrimage of sorts for the quintessential tourist. Still many others like the hare sculptures and various others are hidden throughout the city and parks. Grafton Street is the premier bustle of Dublin city. Boasting restaurants and tea cafes, freshly cut flowers and Victorian brownstones, it’s where historic Dublin meets modern city. Dublin Castle is a stop for the politically minded visitor, and various museums dedicated to art, literature, and music are throughout the city to serve your interest. Still overwhelmed? Here are some ideas to see to help get you started:
- St. Stephen’s Green: For a welcomed reprieve from the hustle and bustle of a city, visit the Victorian gardens of St. Stephen’s Green. Walk among the grounds, flowers, and statues sipping on a tea or coffee and enjoy the tranquility of Dublin’s most gorgeous gardens. If you’re traveling with kids, this is a lovely place to take them to blow off some steam. For more information check here.
- City Hall: Built between 1769 and 1779 by the Guild of Merchants, it is a wonderful example of Georgian architecture, for which Ireland is world-famous. Tours include a history of Dublin from Vikings to present, the great sword and mace of Dublin, and Lord Mayor’s chains and medieval manuscripts, costumes and more. Admission is free in 2016.
- Trinity College: For the history minded and academic, a must-visit to Ireland’s oldest university. Check out the Book of Kells and an astonishingly beautiful library. For more information check here.
- Natural Museum of Ireland: For an excellent insight into Irish history, archeology, art, and natural history, this is a one-stop catchall. For more information check here.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral: One of Ireland’s oldest medieval buildings, built in 1220, named after the patron saint of Ireland, the cathedral is known for its exquisite stained glass work and mosaic tile flooring.
- Christ Church Cathedral: Dublin’s oldest building, it was founded in 1030 by Viking king Sitriuc and incorporated into the Irish church in 1152. Noted for its medieval architecture, floor tiles, and world famous 12th century crypt (one of the largest and oldest in Britain and Ireland). Houses medieval manuscripts and treasures from Dublin’s history, and collection of original costumes used from Showtime’s show, ‘The Tudors’ (starring Ireland native Jonathan Rhys Meyers), which also filmed many scenes here.
- Guinness Factory: Take a tour to see how Ireland’s most famous beer is made, then enjoy a pint at Gravity Bar for an unparalleled panoramic view of Dublin. PS The Guinness Beef Stew here is unparalleled in the country. For more information check here.
- Jameson Distillery: Take a 50 minute guided tour of Ireland’s most famous distillery. Complete your visit with a tasting and bring home a souvenir bottle of the black barrel complete with personalized label (you can only get this in Ireland!). For more information check here.
- Dublin Bay: If you seek a bit of reprieve into natural beauty, check out the panoramic views of the bay. Try to time it at sunset for a spectacular vista, especially on a sunny day. It’s no wonder many people choose to get married here. Howth Head especially in summer boasts the most spectacular views of the bay, and is carpeted with colorful wildflowers. If you love lighthouses, take a stroll down to the Bailey Lighthouse and on a hotter day, take a dip right into the water!
Photo: copyright Michelle Escobar
Selfie Points: Patrick Kavanagh Statue, Molly Mallone statue, Ha’penny Bridge, Temple Bar, Graffton Street, River Liffey
Navigation Notes: To see the heart of the city, your best bet is to do a Hop On – Hop Off pass. This is one of the official tour buses that run throughout Dublin. This double-decker, bright green bus has stops throughout the city. Begin at any point in the tour by finding a clearly marked and conveniently located loading spot and make your way to the top of the bus if you can, the best place to take pictures! Your guide will take you around Dublin, pointing out the sights and landmarks and telling you the history and stories behind them. They will usually at some point also break into song and invite you all to join in. The tour stops at various points in the city; you can remain on the bus or get down to explore that part on foot. Either walk to the next loading part or return to hop back on. We love this option because you can see a great deal of the city in about 2 1/2 hours, all without the hassle of having to find a spot and pay for parking.
If you’re up for it especially if the weather is nice, you may be interested in exploring Dublin by boat! Dublin Bay Cruises offers a 75 minute cruise birthing out of Dublin Bay and Dun Laogaire Harbours. See the beautiful views of the bay including Howth Head and Ireland’s Eye, Dalkey island and historic landmarks like Martello tower and James Joyce Tower. A tour guide will give you the history of the landmarks while you enjoy a beverage of your choice.
For some exercise, put on a trusty pair of shoes (or rain boots) and explore the city on foot. Dublin is extremely navigable on foot. Just get a map of the city and have at it, or combine a bit of on-foot expedition with a boat or bus tour for the day.
Eat & Drink: Anchor House serves the best Irish breakfast in the city. A bit of Guinness beef stew and pint of Guinness is a perfect lunch at Gravity Bar at the Guinness Factory. Need some tea? Bewley’s Oriental Cafe is a must (reopens in 2016; check website for details!). Grab a pint at The Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub. For dinner make you way to Temple Bar and pop in to one of the local cafes and pubs for an authentic meal and local music. Klaw serves up some of the best fresh seafood; cockles and mussels alive alive ohhh!!
Shop Here: Graffton Street — known for its shops and boutiques, street performers and cobbled stones — it’s charming and you’ll be sure to find something to take home.
DAY 2: A TRIP INTO THE PAST — MEDIEVAL IRELAND in TIPPERARY & CORK
Quick Facts: You’ll be driving through 3 counties today: Tipperary, Kilkenny, and Cork (maybe 4 if you end up in Killarney that night). Wicklow is known as the “garden of Ireland,” for its lush woodlands and gardens of various colors and displaying a variety of flora and fauna, including waterfalls. Rock of Cashel is a ruin unlike anything in the world and a must-see when coming to Ireland. Imposing and unique, it is worth at least a stop for a quick tour and some spectacular picture. The cobble stoned streets of medieval town Kilkenny is a lovely stop along the way with fantastic boutique shopping and cute cafes. And no trip to Ireland is complete without kissing the Blarney Stone! You can stop further south in seaport town of Kinsale for the night or push onward west to Killarney to stay on track!
What To See: Southern Ireland begins to change into rolling green hills and little villages, as you begin your journey into Ireland’s past. Glendalough National Park is a jewel in Ireland, boasting some spectacular scenery especially if you plan to visit in spring through fall months. Given the time constraint, you’ll probably have to pick an area in Wicklow to focus on before making your way further south. Be aware that times closing times vary for the season for Rock of Cashel and Blarney so plan accordingly!
- Glendalough Monastic City, Co. Wicklow: Housing an impressive collection of monastic ruins, this is how this “city” came to be. Dating back to the 12th century, Glendalough houses some of the most picturesque and historically important ruins in all of Ireland. Check out Glendalough National Park and mines while you’re there if you have time.
- Powerscourt House and Gardens: This grand estate was recently voted one of the top 10 in the world for its construction and incredible gardens. It also happens to house Ireland’s tallest waterfall on the grounds. For more information check here.
- Rock of Cashel: Imposing cathedral fortress that is The Rock is easy to spot from the highway. Sitting atop a hill in Co. Tipperary, the Cashel of Kings was the seat of the high kings of Munster and reportedly where St Patrick himself converted the high king in 5 AD. Known not just for its historical importance, the structure itself is incredibly well preserved, and a window into Ireland’s celtic and historical past. An absolute must see on your list. For information check here.
- Kilkenny: A medieval-style town with imposing castle and fantastic food and boutique shopping is Kilkenny. Take a quick tour of various cathedrals and churches (St. Mary’s and St. Canice), round towers, and city walls dating well back into the middle ages. John’s Bridge and Green’s Bridge are landmarks if you can get to them. You’ll notice many of the buildings are built with darker stones. Known as Kilkenny marble, these black stones are locally quarried and in fact, were used in the new tomb for Richard III (re-buried in England recently).
- Blarney Castle: Another must-stop on any Irish tour is Blarney Castle, the castle itself is one of Ireland’s best preserved ruins. The gardens are equally impressive. You can easily spend hours here from exploring the castle to the grounds. And don’t forget to kiss the Blarney Stone!
Selfie Points: the Rapunzel-esque round tower at Glendalough, front of Kytler’s Inn, base of the hill with The Rock behind you, kissing the Blarney Stone!!
Navigation Notes: driving by car; Dublin to Glendalough: approx. 1 hour 6 minutes; Glendalough to Kilkenny: 1 1/2 hours; Kilkenny to The Rock: 1 hour; Rock of Cashel to Blarney Castle: approx. 1 hour 10 min; Blarney Castle to Killarney: approx. 1 hour 20 min
Picture: copyright Michelle Escobar
Eat & Drink: Enjoy a quick lunch and pint while conversing with the locals at Kytler’s Inn, one of Ireland’s oldest pubs. You may even see the ghost or two while you’re there! Make your way to the gardens at Blarney Castle and Gardens and grab a tea and freshly baked cakes and scones at the café. Or enjoy a fuller meal at Blarney Woolen Mills restaurant.
Shop Here: Kilkenny, Powerscourt House, and Blarney all have spectacular shopping. The cobble stoned streets of Kilkenny are filled with boutiques, jewelry stores, and local craftsman for the perfect souvenir. If you make it to Powerscourt House, relax with a spot of tea and freshly baked goodies while you shop at Avoca for some high end Irish swag. A luxurious colorful tartan blanket or artisanal soaps are the perfect gifts to bring home for loved ones. Blarney Woolen Mills is a huge one-stop-shop for your souvenir needs. Located conveniently in the shadow of Blarney Castle itself, you will find everything from authentic wool aran sweaters in various styles and colors, to home goods, country shirts for men to classic kitschy Irish souvenirs for kids and adults alike.
DAY 3: INTO THE WEST — “THE KINGDOM” in KERRY
Quick Facts: County Kerry, or “The Kingdom” as its known, sits at the southern part of the world famous Wild Atlantic Way, one of the famous driving routes in the world. It contains the western most point in Ireland — Dunmore Head — and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. From jetting cliffs to black lakes, bright green farmland to black pined woods, Kerry is one of the most beautiful places on earth, it is no wonder it has inspired poets and musicians for millennia.
Photo: copyright Michelle Escobar
What To See: Filled with lakes and a varied topography, kind people and the seat of Irish hospitality, one could easily do a ten day trip in Kerry alone and leave wanting to stay and see more. The challenge here will be picking a couple of things to see and do out of the very many options available. Natural beauty here is the key, so plan to be outdoors and explore, even in the rain. Many outdoor activities are available here, from fishing and boating to falconry and riding horses, but if you want to stay in your car and sight-see, that won’t disappoint either. To see the most from your car, try driving the Ring of Kerry. Your best bet is to pick a few places to hit and really immerse yourself in these places. A boat tour runs from Ross Castle to Innessfallen, then takes you through the Gap before taking you back to Ross. Take the quick drive back to Muckross to explore the house and gardens and abbey, or drive the short 15 minute route across the way and hike up Torc Mountain. If you want some real immersion into the wild west of Kerry, drive straight towards the see and immerse yourself in the peninsulas. Mingle with the locals at the small villages, grab a trusty pair of hiking boots and get down the cliffs and to the sea. If you’re in summer months, consider taking a boat ride to the Skellig islands; they aren’t open year round and are truly spectacular.
- Gap of Dunloe: A mountain pass accessible only by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage sits in between McGillicuddy’s Reeks and the Purple Mountain and among five lakes. The natural beauty and sense of peace here has drawn visitors for hundreds of years. Pack a picnic and take a horse-drawn carriage ride down through the gap. A truly memorable place that will stay with you forever.
- Ross Castle: 15th century tower house and landmark of Killarney, seat of the O’Donoghue clan.
- Innisfallen Island: An island in the middle of Lough Leane housing the well preserved ruins of the Innisfallen Monestary (640 AD); famous Annals of Innisfallen written here by the monks, reported place of Brian Boru’s education. Peaceful and tranquil, not often visited by tourists makes it a lovely spot to visit and get connected with the spirit of Ireland. Accessible only by boat (there are boats for hire at Ross Castle).
- Muckross House & Gardens: Located in the heart of Killarney, this estate home turned museum is a must visit for the Downton Abbey fans. See how they lived “upstairs” versus “downstairs,” and take a tour of the beautiful garden. Relax in the sun for afternoon tea. A fun way to tour the grounds is taking a horse-drawn carriage about!
- Muckross Abbey: Located on the grounds of Muckross House is the 1448 Franciscan abbey. The ruins today houses the remains of the O’Donoghue clan and a beautiful stoic yew tree that sits in the courtyard.
- Dingle Penninsula: The westernmost part of Ireland (and arguably Europe) is where land meets see. Rocky cliffs give way to sandy beaches below as turquoise waters blast against the dark sandstone of the cliffs above. Many movies have been filmed here, including Far and Away.
- Beara Penninsula: Driving route through charming seaside villages gives way to a historically important and archaeologically rich area starting from nearby Kenmare.
- Torc Waterfall: A legendary waterfall at the base of Torc Mountain in Killarney National Park. For commanding views of Kerry, hike up the trail to the top of the mountain!
- Uragh Stone Circle: One of the many stone circles found in Ireland, although it is not the largest, it is arguably the most beautiful. Situated in a 360 panoramic view of lake and mountain in Kenmare, Uragh is a spiritual place. Check out more pictures of Uragh and Kenmare here.
- Skellig Michael: An island off the coast housing a 6th century monastery ruin, the island is only accessible a few months in the year. If you find yourself in Ireland at the time, worth the trip for the insanely beautiful views.
Selfie Points: a sheep in the pasture; base of Torc Waterfall, the wishing bridge at Gap of Dunloe, place a cross or penny in the courtyard of Innessfallen, the top of Skellig Michael after climbing the steps (and if you see a puffin, take a puffin selfie!)
Navigation Notes: Center of Killarney to Ross Castle: 5 min drive (15 min walk); Killarney to Gap of Dunloe: approx. 20 min; Killarney to Uragh stone circle: approx. 1 hour; Killarney to Dingle Penninsula (center): approx. 1 hour; Killarney to Torc Mountain (base): approx. 20 min
Eat & Drink: Wharton’s Traditional Fish & Chips in Kenmare (the best on the island), Treyvaud’s on High Street in the heart of downtown Killarney (upscale Irish with a dose of traditional); Moriarty’s in Gap of Dunloe; The Smoke House (Killarney) — get the lamb burger! If you’re planning a day to visit Innisfallen and the Gap, we recommend visiting the bakeries and food stores in Killarney; make yourself a picnic of foods from freshly baked soda bread, good Irish butter, homemade preserves, roasted ham, Irish cheeses, fresh apples and a slice of cake (or two!) and jug of cider to bring along to enjoy by the lakeside.
Shop Here: Downton Killarney has many shops and wonderful for shopping, you will find something for sure. If you make your way down to the coastline make sure you visit local shops for handmade goods.
DAY 4: DANCING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD — CLIFFS OF MOHER, DOOLIN, BUNRATTY
Quick Facts: Known as the musical capital of Ireland, Doolin (and the surrounding area) is the father of traditional Irish music. Found literally everywhere, from pub to street is a talented singer and musician ready to embrace you into the fold of traditional Irish culture. Located just east of Doolin is a national park known as The Burren. The unique landscape is part geological curiosity and part window into the past, housing over 90 burial tombs of the ancient Celts. In between sea and land you’ll find Bunratty Castle, a 15th century fully refurbished medieval castle. Complete with medieval folk village and dinner banquets, you can take a step back into medieval Ireland for the night.
What To See: As you depart Killarney and Co. Kerry, you will make your way north into Co. Clare and Galway. You’ll notice the hills get higher, the grass get more golden in parts, and the cliffs along the coast getting taller and taller. Located just to the east of Doolin is a national park known as The Burren.
- The Burren: Pulnabrone Portal Tomb, Karst dome, various ancient celtic burial mounds and tombs are among the many historically important ruins in the Burren. In fact, over 90 ancient burial tombs are located here, giving the Burren the nickname “The Cemetery”. The landscape itself is like from a different plant: rough limestone in various patterns beaten by the wind juxtaposed with tender bright wildflowers growing in crevices, the Burren landscape stretches west to the sea. Three-quarters of Ireland’s species of flowers are found in the Burren. It is a complex system of living and dead, ancient and new, a place of curiosity and wonder.
- The Cliffs of Moher: Probably Ireland’s most visited and photographed location, the Cliffs are situated seemingly on the edge of the world. Sitting high over the Atlantic Ocean at over 700 feet tall at the highest point, the cliffs provide a commanding view of the Atlantic ocean and on a clear day, other parts of Ireland and islands.
- The Burren Smokehouse: Watch as authentic Irish smoked salmon is prepared in an authentic, hundreds of years old kiln! Take some home to share with friends and family. For more info check here.
- Bunratty Castle: 15th century tower fortress, it stands today as Ireland’s best preserved medieval castle. Today it houses over 450 medieval artifacts, furniture, and treasures that can be viewed by the public. The castle itself sits in the middle of a recreated medieval village. Visitors are invited to walk about the grounds, including a Victorian style garden and folk park where reenactors are busy recreating medieval life for today’s tourist. If you can spare the evening, get tickets for an authentic medieval banquet! From toasting with mead made right here in Ireland to a feast of roast meats and pinch of snuff, you will make new friends at the table as you delight in the musical stylings of local artists playing medieval instruments and singing.
Pictures: copyright Michelle Escobar (left) and Aspect Photography (right)
Selfie Points: The Cliffs of Moher, with the band in a pub in Doolin, next to a random boat in Connemara, firing a canon at Bunratty Castle
Navigation: Killarney to Bunratty Castle: approx. 1 hour 40 min; Bunratty to Cliffs of Moher: approx. 1 hour; Cliffs of Moher to Doolin: approx. 15 min; Doolin to The Burren: approx. 20 min;
Eat & Drink: Enjoy local seafood fair and toast with your new friends while listening to traditional Irish music; O’Connor’s Pub, McGanns Pub, and McDermotts offer the quintessential Doolin experience. Enjoy a pint (or three) at Durty Nelly’s pub and join in the singing with the locals after taking in the medieval banquet show at Bunratty Castle. For more information on the show check here.
Shop Here: You must get an Aran sweater from a local shop in Doolin (or better, take a boat trip to the Aran Islands). There are a few shops at the Cliffs where you can get locally made jewelry and goods. And if you didn’t have time to shop Blarney Woolen Mills, don’t fret; they have a small store here right in the castle village.
DAY 5: BACK EAST — OFFALY, KILDARE, and NEWGRANGE
Quick Facts: Newgrange is a circular burial mound located in the Boyne Valley (Co. Meath) dating back to 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. It remains a spiritual mecca for many people. Kildare dates back to the 5th century. St. Brigid founded a monastery here that became one of the three most important Christian foundations in Irish history.
What To See: The scenery will begin to fall back into valleys and fields as you make your way back east towards Dublin. You are now entering back into ancient Ireland. Filled with Celtic culture and early Christian monastic ruins, the countryside will be dotted with ruins and seemingly innocuous smaller hills that are actually age-old burial mounds. The Rivers Shannon and the Boyne run through here, legendary both in history and in song. As you make your way across Ireland towards Dublin you will have two natural stopping points: Kildare and Offaly. Take a moment to stretch your legs before continuing on to Meath, and finally back to Dublin.
- Kildare: On your way towards Dublin you can stop in Kildare. St. Brigid’s Cathedral is worth a visit, St. Brigid’s Well, as is architectural curiosity, the Wonderful Barn.
- Bir Castle: Offaly. Example of Anglo-Normam architecture in Ireland. The castle and gorgeous grounds are a perfect stop stretch your legs on your way back to Dublin. If you’re traveling with kids, it’s extremely kid-friendly. For more information check here.
- Clonmacnoise: 6th century monastic ruin with cemetery, it was an artist hub in early medieval Ireland. Today it houses impressive ruins on the River Shannon, and some of Ireland’s best kept High Crosses.
- Newgrange: No better insight into the life and ritual of ancient Ireland can be found save for Newgrange. Located on picturesque and serene gardens alongside the Boyne, Newgrange sits formidably atop the countryside and is visible from the road as you approach. For the historian and curious visitor, Newgrange is a place of peace and wonder. For more information check here.
Navigation: Bunratty to Newgrange: approx. 2 hours 30 min; Bunratty to Offaly/Clonmacnoise: approx. 1 hour 35 min; Newgrange to Dublin Airport: approx. 30 min
Eat & Drink: Indulge in locally sourced produce, cheeses, and meats at the café in Bir Castle. Sip an Irish coffee as you relax in the gardens, then treat yourself to an evening as you make you way back to Dublin. If you make your way up to nearby Athlone be sure to stop in to Sean’s Bar. At 900 years old it is the oldest bar in Ireland and Europe!
Shop Here: Kildare village boasts an outlet mall, but some Celtic jewelry from Meath might be in order.
This should at least get you started planning. Remember to research closing times for exhibits and landmarks before your trip; they often change with the season! If you’re traveling with a group, inquire about group discounts or look into scheduling a small group private tour. Pack your bags and get your cameras read for an adventure of a lifetime!