by Todd Sparks
This past March, my wife and I spent one week furiously planning a last-minute road trip around the southern half of Ireland. (Before you get any ideas, last-minute trips overseas are really not a common thing for us, but luckily, very specific conditions made this one possible.) It turned out to be a surprisingly great itinerary—almost definitely due more to an incredible country than our planning prowess—, so in case anyone happens to find themselves in a similar situation and short on time, look no further.
A few notes before we get started: 1) we arrived on a Sunday morning and left the following Sunday morning, totaling seven full days and seven nights. 2) We packed a lot into those days, so if you’re inclined to enjoy some extra leisure time, adjust accordingly. 3) For several reasons, our trip started and ended in the same city—Dublin. This might not be ideal for some, but I’m glad it worked out that way for us. 4) We stayed in various types of accommodations, including a hotel, B&B, castle, church, and working farm. Looking back, that diversity added an extra layer of experience to our short time there; Airbnb proved to be a great resource. 5) Coincidentally, in the months preceding this trip I grew—if I do say so, myself—an excellent red beard. Though not required, I would recommend doing the same, if possible.
Day 1 | Dublin
We arrived at Dublin early the first morning, dropped off our bags at the hotel, and began exploring the city by foot. After a long night on the plane, a full Irish breakfast at Brick Alley Café was one of the most satisfying meals of the trip. With only a day and a half in Dublin, we stuck to exploring the most well-known areas of the city, including Temple Bar and the St. Stephen’s Green areas. The Old Library at Trinity College, which houses the Book of Kells exhibition, was a highlight.
Day 2 | Dublin – Dalkey – Glendalough – Stoneyford
Our second day in Ireland happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, but after a good dose of festival crowds the night before, we got a head start on the road. We made a few stops on the way to our B&B in Stoneyford, including brunch in Dalkey, a great little seaside town just outside of Dublin, and Glendalough, an Early Medieval monastic settlement nestled in an impressive glacial valley. I can’t say enough good things about our accommodations or hosts that night at Lawcus Farm Guesthouse, so I’ll leave it at “you really should stay there.”
Day 3 | Stoneyford – Kells – Kilkenny – Cashel – Kinsale
We started our busy third day by exploring the medieval ruins of Kells Priory, just a few minutes down the road. Like several of the stops we made on the trip, it was free and we had the whole place to ourselves (a great combination.) From there, we made a quick visit to Kilkenny and then headed on to the Rock of Cashel, a picturesque hilltop cathedral. We arrived at our lodging in Kinsale just in time to take a walk around the small fishing village before dark.
Day 4 | Kinsale – Kenmare – Killarney – Tralee
After an early breakfast at The Old Presbytery, we walked the grounds of Charles Fort before jumping on the scenic route towards Tralee. This drive included a couple quick stops in Glengarriff and Kenmare before jumping on the Ring of Kerry and heading through the Killarney National Park, which offered unbelievable views around every tight curve; one of which was a cyclist with a “Power T” backpack! We arrived at the “haunted” Ballyseede Castle—our home for two nights—well after dark, but in time for a beef pie by the fire.
Day 5 | Tralee – Dingle – Killarney – Tralee
Instead of driving the rest of the heavily-trekked Ring of Kerry, we opted to explore the Dingle Peninsula and couldn’t have been happier about the decision. Some local advice routed us through Conor Pass on our way to the seaside town of Dingle. The Slea Head Drive—which begins and ends in Dingle—was stunning (a word I don’t think I’ve ever used) and included ancient beehive huts along the way. After a late lunch in town, we headed back down to Killarney to visit the Muckross House & Gardens and the [also-haunted?] Muckross Abbey, which was admittedly very eerie to walk through alone at dusk.
Day 6 | Tralee – Ennis – Galway – Athenry
A lengthy drive to the Cliffs of Moher (or, “The Cliffs of Insanity,” to any Princess Bride fans) on Day 6, which included stops at Bunratty Castle and lunch in Ennis, was well worth the trip. From there we headed to our accommodations at a restored 200-year-old church in Athenry, before heading to Galway for dinner and a stroll.
Day 7 | Athenry – Dublin
Our last day in Ireland was spent checking out a few places just outside of Dublin and hitting some spots that we missed on our first time around. The Guinness Storehouse tour was one of the pricier stops on our trip, but was plenty justified by the rare view over Dublin from the rooftop Gravity Bar, an appropriate place to wrap up the week-long journey.
So, there you have it. No doubt, there are countless other ways to spend a week in Ireland, and my guess is that you would be hard-pressed to pick a bad one. But, if you want to make the most out of a short visit to the country (stay longer, if you can!) start with this Google map of our trip, and make it your own.