Road trips are always a great way to explore a new destination especially if you are passionate about adding a little spontaneity to your itinerary. There is nothing quite like being able to stumble across some hidden gems as you explore an unfamiliar landscape and discovering breathtaking sites that are only possible if you are willing to hit the road. All of this epitomizes the reason we had to experience an Ireland road trip during our recent visit to the Emerald Isle.
By the end of this post, we are convinced that anyone visiting Ireland in the near future will 100% agree that the ONLY way to explore this beautiful country is by renting a car and hitting the open roads. Ireland is a relatively small country but don’t let this fool you! Even though we packed a lot into 7 action-packed days, we still left Dublin en route back to the States knowing that we had left an awful lot behind. It’s just the nature of a country like Ireland that despite its size, there is plenty packed into this small space.
Hopefully, our guide will give you a few ideas of how to spend a week exploring some of Ireland’s finest attractions. This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do in Ireland but if you love the idea of a road trip around Ireland, keep reading on because we have a few spots worth experiencing that may surprise you!
Europcar Ireland Road Trip
Let’s start with the rental car. For those of you that are familiar with renting a car at an airport, there are plenty of options to choose from. However, when researching the various options available at Dublin Airport, we realized that there was really only one option for us – Europcar Ireland! When we heard that this company was voted “Europe’s leading car rental company,” we knew that this was one that we had to experience during our visit to Ireland.
If you are looking for a high-quality vehicle from a well-reputed company, look no further than Europcar Ireland. We can well and truly attest that it is the best car rental in Ireland though of course, I’m sure others would argue otherwise. With over 60 years of experience in the rental car industry, you can be sure that your upcoming visit to Ireland will be catered for and you will have no issues exploring the very best this beautiful nation has to offer.
From the efficient and friendly customer service that we experienced at Dublin Airport to the gorgeous Hyundai I40 vehicle that we used for our week-long road trip, Europcar Ireland was the perfect partner to ensure our visit to Ireland was everything we had hoped for and more!
When we were researching Europcar Ireland, we noticed the following four components that I think every rental car company should strive for:
- Excellent customer service
- 24-hour roadside assistance
- No hidden charges
- Only new rental cars
It’s fair to say, Europcar Ireland kept their word with all of these and we had nothing but a great experience with them! We realize that everyone has very different experiences with rental car companies but we can only share the experience that we had and if you are planning a road trip around Ireland, Europcar Ireland is definitely a company we can recommend.
Before you start contemplating exploring every inch of Ireland in only one week, you need to be realistic! I will be the first to admit that we headed to Ireland with aspirations of conquering every corner in much the same manner as we experienced our Iceland road trip during the summer.
However, we soon realized that this wasn’t going to happen and had we opted to try and drive all around Ireland (and Northern Ireland), it would have been a serious mistake and we would have missed out on a bunch of awesome experiences.
Our focus during this trip was to explore south Ireland and in particular, the south-west corner and a stretch of the iconic Wild Atlantic Way. If you know anything about Ireland’s natural scenery, you will know that much of the breathtaking landscapes can be found along the Wild Atlantic Way with the effects of the Atlantic Ocean crashing against those iconic cliffs. We wanted to explore all of this but also add a few other spots along the way.
Here is a brief overview of the itinerary we followed, bearing in mind that we were primarily attending Ireland for the TBEX travel bloggers conference in Killarney.
- Day 1 – Dublin to Wicklow Mountains National Park to Athlone
- Day 2 – Athlone to Killarney
- Day 3 – Killarney to Dingle (Day Trip)
- Day 4 – Explore downtown Killarney
- Day 5 – Killarney National Park
- Day 6 – Killarney to Adare to Cliffs of Moher
- Day 7 – Limerick to Cliffs of Moher to Dublin
Here is a map that outlines the route we followed.
As you can see, there is A LOT of Ireland that we didn’t see but realistically, a week is only long enough to see a small amount, especially if you want to get out of the car and explore some of the natural beauty on foot. We strongly recommend this approach as regardless of the weather (be prepared for wet, windy and cold conditions), this is the BEST way to experience Ireland’s finest landscapes.
Dublin to Wicklow Mountains National Park
Our Ireland adventure started the moment we arrived at Dublin Airport and we collected our car. We had no time to catch up on sleep and instead, we headed out of Dublin and towards Wicklow Mountains National Park.
If this is your first time to Ireland, you will likely want to spend some time in Dublin. We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit when we spent 48 hours in Dublin but it’s all personal preference and dependent on your travel plans. Iconic locations such as the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle, Old Jameson Distillery and Book of Kells inside Trinity College will always be popular but we would also encourage you to visit some of the amazing churches in Dublin…you won’t be disappointed, especially if you love history and architecture!
Rather than taking a direct route, we opted to pass through a couple of smaller towns to immediately capture a sense of the local culture and we are thankful we did this.
If you need to grab cash or perhaps visit a few more renowned locations such as Tesco, Costa (for those that need a chain coffee spot – hey, we love Costa!) or even McDonald’s, why not head to the town of Bray which offers plenty of things to do that may encourage you to spend more time there exploring.
The town of Enniskerry is a relatively small village in the heart of County Wicklow but despite the size, the quaint appearance is certainly worth exploring. This is also a great spot to grab lunch before heading into the heart of the national park.
We resisted the temptation of spending too much time in Bray or Enniskerry except for a quick visit to the impressive Christ Church, which for anyone that loves architecture is a must-see spot while passing through this coastal town. Our journey deep into the national park, however, was interrupted by our desire to visit Ireland’s tallest waterfall.
Just a short drive from Enniskerry is Powerscourt, a waterfall that measures almost 400 feet tall and is definitely a distinctive sight that you won’t want to miss.
Located on the River Dargle, this waterfall may not have the size or power of some of the world’s iconic waterfalls but this is certainly an experience you won’t forget as you roam around the base of this natural feature and perhaps enjoy one of the many hiking trails around this landscape.
Wicklow Mountains National Park is a vast landscape and certainly one that you could probably spend a week alone exploring. If you love the outdoors and are ready to hit some awesome hiking trails, this is a part of Ireland that you will immediately fall in love with.
Our visit was obviously cut short but we did take a gorgeous scenic drive through the heart of the park and on several occasions couldn’t resist pulling over to take pictures of the breathtaking scenery. We even stumbled across an aspiring golfer using the national park as a driving range…not something that I would recommend!!
The latter part of the day was spent driving through more of Ireland’s gorgeous countryside as we made our way from the national park to Athlone where we spent the night at the amazing Hodson Bay Hotel! After 36 hours of being awake, we were certainly ready to catch up on some sleep and this was the perfect place to accomplish this.
If you are looking for the perfect place to stay in Athlone, look no further than Hodson Bay Hotel! Luxury accommodation at an affordable rate in a gorgeous setting makes this the ideal option for folks road tripping around Ireland yet still wanting to enjoy a relaxing hotel stay.
Athlone to Killarney
Athlone may not be the first Irish town you think about exploring but after spending the night here, we decided to spend a few hours exploring this medieval city. Athlone Castle dates back to the 12th-century and today, visitors can explore the remains and admire gorgeous views of the town center. The Parish of St. Peter and St. Paul is another iconic attraction in Athlone directly opposite the castle and just taking a stroll around this town is worth your time.
The drive from Athlone to Killarney took a little over 3 hours and although our initial plan was to head west to the Cliffs of Moher, we instead opted to change our itinerary and head directly south. Killarney was our base for the next three days because of the conference but regardless of this, we found this to be a great location to explore some of Ireland’s finest attractions in the south-west corner of the country.
Whether you are ready to explore Dingle, Killarney National Park or the Ring of Kerry, the town of Killarney is the perfect spot to experience all of these and more. The town of Killarney is vibrant and has plenty to offer visitors in terms of things to do both during the day and at night.
Killarney is home to a variety of gorgeous hotels but we think we have found something that is far better than any hotel options! Luxquisite Properties are 5-star luxury, self-catered accommodation options throughout Killarney.
We stayed at The Belmont, a 5-bedroom “mansion” in the heart of the town with two other bloggers and this was undoubtedly one of the many highlights of our trip to Ireland. If you love technology, you cannot help but fall in love with these “smart” homes!
Ready for more details on the amazing Belmont House? Check out why we think Luxquisite Properties are the best option for self catering in Killarney.
Killarney to Dingle
If you have watched the movie Leap Year, you will know that Dingle is famous for being the iconic location where Amy Adams ended up. Although this may not be the most accurate representation of Dingle given its location on the west coast, it certainly makes this a popular location for visitors to Ireland.
However, we would argue that regardless of whether you choose to visit the Dingle Peninsula in search of a movie scene, this part of the Wild Atlantic Way is spectacular enough to justify a visit on its own.
The quirky fishing village of Dingle is renowned for being the home of a resident dolphin that goes by the name of Fungie. Whether you are fortunate enough to see Fungie in the waterfront or simply prefer to stroll around and meet the locals as you enjoy the sights of the town, Dingle is definitely a town worth visiting on a day trip from Killarney.
The drive over from Killarney will take around one hour, though you will likely want to allocate some time to explore the popular Inch Beach before you arrive in Dingle.
One of the best reasons to explore Dingle is having the opportunity to experience the Slea Head Drive. A number of breathtaking panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean can be found around this drive and for the Star Wars lovers out there, you will want to add this to your Irish itinerary given that Ballyferriter is a spot used in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
Spending a little over 48 hours in Killarney for the TBEX conference gave us the opportunity to explore the sights and attractions of this town.
Whether you are looking to enjoy a little retail therapy at the Killarney Outlet Centre or perhaps enjoy the gorgeous architectural design of the various churches throughout the town, Killarney is definitely a great place to enjoy both urban and rural life.
A variety of restaurants are available including a very “southern” Rob’s Ranch House but our favorite spots is undoubtedly The Shire. A Lord of the Rings themed pub in the heart of Killarney, The Shire is the perfect place to enjoy a couple of pints, preferably one of the local brews well-acclaimed by their association with Gandalf, Bilbo, and Frodo.
Killarney National Park
Renowned as the “Jewel in Kerry’s crown,” Killarney National Park is a haven of natural beauty waiting to be explored. A scenic drive to enjoy a Killarney National Park tour en route to the town of Kenmare offers several opportunities to enjoy iconic attractions.
Torc Waterfall may only stand at 70-80 feet in height but in conjunction with the scenic woodland surrounding this natural attraction, it is well worth exploring as you begin your adventure through the national park.
Several viewpoints by the Killarney lakes, notably Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and Upper Lake, are worth visiting and you can easily spend several hours relaxing by the shores of each of these natural landmarks. As you drive deeper into the national park and climb higher, the stunning overlook known as the Ladies View offers a breathtaking view of the valleys, lakes, and hills below.
Did you know that the Ladies View derived its name from Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting visit in 1861? A fun fact but regardless of your desire to know the history behind this, you cannot help but fall in love with the scenery!
Killarney to Adare
After an awesome three days in Killarney, our road trip around Ireland continued as we headed towards the infamous Cliffs of Moher. Our journey saw us pass through what we later found out to be one of Ireland’s prettiest towns – Adare. If you love quintessential Irish towns with thatch cottages and accompanying gorgeous architecture, Adare is the place you will want to visit.
As we passed through the heart of Adare, we immediately realized that we had to stop and explore. The beauty of many of these Irish towns is that you can park, take a quick stroll to capture a sense of the town and then continue on your journey.
Of course, to really appreciate the beauty of the town, you may want to spend several hours or even overnight but this will be personal preference and how you want to customize your itinerary.
An architectural wealth of scenic beauty
When I read the above summary of Adare, I realized that as an avid lover of architecture, I would immediately fall in love with the town. From the medieval monasteries to the aforementioned thatch cottages that have been transformed into boutique shops, coffee shops, and cafes, Adare is a town that will instantly capture your imagination.
Following our short visit to Adare, our journey to the Cliffs of Moher continued though we later found out that our ability to change our itinerary spontaneously would be critical. Arriving at the Cliffs of Moher, we realized that the foggy conditions were not going to allow us to see much in terms of the cliffs.
I posted several images on social media indicating that we were visiting the “Cliffs of Fog” rather than Moher but thanks to a friendly assistant, she told us that we could come back the next morning and use the same tickets for reentry.
We opted to stay in Limerick at the Maldron Hotel which was another affordable and relaxing option. Regardless of whether you choose to stay in a local bed and breakfast or you prefer to be in the heartbeat of a town/city, Ireland is not short of options!
We always find Booking.com to be a great resource to find great deals, especially if you don’t book in advance and prefer to be a little more spontaneous (that’s exactly how we always travel!)
Cliffs of Moher
Road tripping through Ireland will not only take you to iconic attractions but it will also allow you to stumble across some spontaneous gems that you may never have experienced if you opted for an alternative form of transportation.
An overnight stay in Limerick saw us head back to enjoy a Cliffs of Moher tour but not before we paid a quick visit to Clare Abbey in Ennis. The ruins of this 12th-century civil parish have been transformed into a burial ground and it’s just one of those attractions that when you visit, you realize how much history is surrounding you.
Visiting Ireland is, of course, more than just about the history but it’s pretty astonishing how much there is everywhere you look in terms of the architecture and infrastructure. Ireland is clearly a proud nation and one that continues to embrace the history and preserve all of the ancient, medieval structures that help today’s travelers understand what life was really like in past centuries.
A worthwhile stop on our journey to the Cliffs of Moher but with better weather conditions, we were ready to see the majestic cliffs and confirm that they really are as spectacular as everyone indicates.
I am sure you frequently hear about locations that are “tourist traps” and many travelers prefer to head “off the beaten path” rather than visiting iconic locations but we are always firm believers in making your own judgments, just as we prefer to do ourselves. We will always give you our honest opinions and when it comes to the Cliffs of Moher, yes, they really are as spectacular as the stereotype!
We were incredibly fortunate to visit on a morning where the fog was just lifting so we had the opportunity to see the “reveal” of the cliffs and the sight is pretty magical. You could easily spend all day here hiking along the coast (please be careful if you get close to the edge of the cliffs as there are spots that do not have any barriers!) and admiring the beauty but just a few miles down the road, Moher Cottage offers the finest coffee in Ireland, so be sure to pay a visit here before continuing your road trip.
Our initial plan was to leave the Cliffs of Moher and head to Galway for the afternoon before driving back across to Dublin. However, given all of the positive reviews about Galway, we figured it would be better to save this for another trip rather than trying to see everything in just a couple of hours.
The journey back to Dublin saw us visit a couple of impromptu attractions. Corkscrew Hill offers breathtaking views through the Irish countryside and then you get to experience why it’s named this when you drive through the valley.
Dunguaire Castle in the town of Kinvara is a 16th-century tower house and is possibly one of our favorite castles that we stumbled across on this road trip.
7 days in a country like Ireland may seem like quite a bit of time to explore but the reality is you need to be smart with your decisions and the itinerary you put together. Iceland was a very different experience because we were predominantly sticking to the ring road but Ireland is unique with regards to having so many “country” roads where the speed limit is restricted (and honestly, even if it wasn’t, there are not too many straight roads in Ireland!)
If you are smart and put together an itinerary similar to what we did, you can have an amazing experience around Ireland. Our road trip was everything we could have wished for and we cannot wait to return to have another epic driving experience around the Emerald Isle.
There are a lot of options when it comes to rental car companies and it’s feasible that you will already have a brand that you prefer but if not, we strongly recommend Europcar Ireland as a great solution for your rental car needs around Ireland!
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Europcar Ireland for partnering with us and providing us with a rental car for the week in exchange for consideration of a blog post review. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.
This post also contains affiliate links and should you choose to make a purchase via one of our links, we may receive a small commission. This income helps A Brit & A Southerner continue to explore and share inspiring stories.