Discover some of Ireland's most iconic natural landscapes on this unforgettable 11-day road trip. Starting in the capital of Dublin, you'll strike out toward the west coast to admire the beaches, castles, and villages of Connemara and County Clare, then hop on a ferry to the remote Aran Islands. Your trip winds down in Killarney with kayaking and cycling around the national park, before circling back to Dublin for a final night on the town.
Admire the Book of Kells in Dublin's Trinity College
Enjoy fantastic views when tackling the Diamond Hill Trail
Connect with your spiritual self on the Aran Islands
Explore part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Killarney National Park
Arrive in Dublin, Book of Kells & Trinity Long Room
Ancient Christian Sites in the Boyne Valley
Drive to Clifden & Connemara
Hike the Diamond Hill Trail
Drive to Doolin, Hike the Cliffs of Moher
Ferry to the Aran Islands
Drive to Killarney, Discover Killarney National Park
Explore Killarney & the Ring of Kerry
Kayak on the Lakes of Killarney
Drive to Dublin via Wicklow Mountains National Park
Day 1: Arrive in Dublin, Book of Kells & Trinity Long Room
Welcome to Ireland! Upon arrival in Dublin, pick up your rental car and continue to your hotel. Once you've checked in and dropped off your bags, you have free time to explore Ireland's capital. It's a walkable city plus there are bikes available to hire through the city's bike-sharing scheme. You could also arrange a tour, go on a distillery experience, or head to the Guinness Storehouse for a perfectly-poured pint. If you're excited by the city's literary history, Dublin is also home to the Museum of Literature Ireland. Alternatively, an open-top, hop-on-hop-off bus is a great way to quickly get acquainted with the city.
The Book of Kells at Trinity College is also a must-see. This remarkable illuminated manuscript is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to 800 CE. It contains the four Gospels of the New Testament and was created by Irish monks. Visit the Long Room in the college's library too, which was used as a filming location for the "Harry Potter" movies. Here you can walk among 200,000 of Ireland's oldest books and documents, and see the original 15th-century Brian Boru Harp. This is featured on the Guinness logo, and has become the official emblem of the Irish Republic.
Day 2: Ancient Christian Sites in the Boyne Valley
Take a day trip outside the city to learn more about the early Christian sites in the Boyne Valley of County Meath. Located an hour northwest of Dublin, there are plentiful historic sites here that date back more than 5,000 years, including astronomical and burial chambers. Highlights include the Hill of Tara, which was a seat of political and military power around 2,000 years ago, and the nearby Hill of Slane, said to be where St Patrick defiantly threw down the gauntlet to pagan druids by lighting the Paschal fire. You'll also see a well-preserved tower in the ruins of a Franciscan Monastery here, dating back to 1512.
Continue to Monasterboice, an early Christian settlement with the remains of three stunning high crosses, which are said to be the most beautiful and intact in the world. Towering over the crosses is the impressive Round Tower built in the early 10th century. You'll see two handsome early Christian medieval fortified abbeys too: Bective Abbey, and Fore Abbey, one of the largest medieval abbeys in Ireland. Don't miss the two ancient Irish rag trees located in the grounds of Fore Abbey, where people still tie pieces of cloth in the branches said to cure sick loved ones.
Day 3: Drive to Clifden & Connemara
It's time to leave Dublin today and strike out west toward the beautiful Connemara region, located in County Galway. The 3.5-hour drive will take you roughly 50 miles (80 km) through Ireland's heartland to discover an area of rugged, unpolluted coastline, mountains, lakes, and pretty towns and villages. When you arrive in the region, take your time and stop to visit some highlights, like Aughnanure Castle, once the seat of the fierce warlike clan the O'Flahertys, or Kylemore Abbey and its stunning Victorian walled garden.
After exploring, eat lunch in nearby Letterfrack, then continue to Clifden, Connemara's largest town that boasts a picturesque coastal setting and a lively selection of shops, galleries, potteries, cafés, restaurants, and bars. After settling in at your accommodations, you could spend the afternoon visiting one of the nearby quiet white sandy beaches, such as Coral Beach, around an hour's drive south, or discovering more of the town on foot.
Day 4: Hike the Diamond Hill Trail
Plan your trip to Ireland Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Stretch your legs today and take in some fantastic views over the coastline and mountains of Connemara National Park by tackling the Diamond Hill Trail. The figure-of-eight circuit starts and ends at the national park visitor center and is well-maintained with two loops that connect midway. It should take you around two to three hours to compete on wooden boardwalks through bogland on the lower route and with spectacular views from the upper route after you've climbed to the summit of Diamond Hill. Refuel in the evening with a hearty meal back in Clifden, then head to one of the local pubs for some live music.
Day 5: Drive to Doolin, Hike the Cliffs of Moher
Get back on the road this morning for the 2.5-hour drive south to lively Doolin, set at the foot of the majestic Cliffs of Moher. Located 90 miles (145 km) down the coast from Clifden, this popular village is known for its brightly painted houses, a pretty coastal setting, and as the home of traditional Irish music (you'll find no shortage of celebrated pubs with live trad music in the evenings). It's also known for its food, with traditional Irish dishes such as stews, vegetarian soup with soda bread, and potato cakes featuring on menus.
Drive around 4 miles (7 km) south of Doolin to the mighty Cliffs of Moher in the afternoon. Rising from the raging Atlantic to 700 feet (214 m) at their highest point, standing here is like teetering at the world's edge. If you'd rather walk, you can hike there from Doolin Harbor to the village of Liscannor. You could hire a local guide too if you'd like to learn about the area as you stroll. Alternatively, descend 125 steps to travel back in time 350 million years at the famous Doolin Caves, where you can see the largest stalactite in Europe, and the only one of its kind in Ireland.
Day 6: Ferry to the Aran Islands
Many islands dot the Irish coastline, and today you'll set sail to the Aran Islands for an exciting day trip. The history of these islands is both geologically and culturally rich, and the 1,300 people who call the islands home consider Ireland's Gaelic language their native tongue.
There are three islands: Inis Oírr (East Island), Inis Meáin (Middle Island), and Inis Mór or Inishmore (Big Island). You can disembark the ferry on any of the three. If you choose to explore Inishmore, the best way to get around is on two wheels (bicycle hire is available). Plan a stop here at Kilmurvey Beach and pop into the adjacent row of craft shops to stock up on Aran-made souvenirs. Once you arrive back in Doolin, you may feel uplifted. Local legend says that being on the Aran Islands means you're on the path to connecting with your spiritual self!
Day 7: Drive to Killarney, Discover Killarney National Park
Set off first thing to drive around 116 miles (187 km) south to Killarney, which will be your base for the next three nights. After the 2.5-hour drive, get checked into your hotel and spend the rest of the day exploring the surrounding Killarney National Park. Part of the Kerry UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this 30,000-acre (12,140 ha) reserve boasts lush landscapes, incredible cascades such as Torc Waterfall, and spectacular hiking trails. The town of Killarney also offers a variety of outdoor activities, including kayaking, falconry, biking, hiking, and boating around the lake.
If you feel like stretching your legs, hire a bike through Killarney Bike Rental on the edge of the park, where they'll equip you with a free map that showcases the best photo spots, hidden trails, and historical landmarks that Killarney and County Kerry have to offer. Use this to explore and to set your own itinerary. As you cycle through the park, you may come across the impressive ruins of Muckross Abbey, which dates back to the 15th century, or the charming Ross Castle on the shores of Lough Leane.
Day 8: Explore Killarney & the Ring of Kerry
Today, you can explore the parts of Killarney that you didn't make it to yesterday. Drive along the Gap of Dunloe, a dramatic narrow pass between the mountain ranges of MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain. Or head to the Victorian mansion, Muckross House, and have lunch in its conservatory café. Alternatively, tackle the famous Ring of Kerry driving route, which should take around five to six hours, allowing for stops, or four without. Highlights along the journey include the picturesque towns of Sneem, Waterville, and Glenbeigh, plus the stunning Iveragh Peninsula.
Then, head back to Killarney town for a well-earned meal and a rest. Some popular loacl options for dinner include Cronin's Restaurant on College Street, a family business that dates back to 1957, or the laid-back Porterhouse gastropub. If the weather isn't being kind, The Laurels Pub is a cozy option, while Stonechat Restaurant, just off Killarney High Street, offers a casual take on fine dining.
Day 9: Kayak on the Lakes of Killarney
Discover the beauty of the Lakes of Killarney on today's gentle kayak tour. With a knowledgeable guide, learn about the fascinating geology of the lakes, admire spectacular scenery, see nature close-up, and discover the historical importance of Ross Castle. You'll also learn how the landscape surrounding you was formed and, most importantly, will experience how fun kayaking is in these scenic surroundings!
Day 10: Drive to Dublin via Wicklow Mountains National Park
It's time to head back to the starting point of your tour in Dublin today. The 189-mile (304 km) drive northeast should take around 3.5 hours, but it's worth stopping en route in Wicklow Mountains National Park, where you stretch your legs and can enjoy the great outdoors on a hill walk or hike. This is Ireland's largest national park and you'll be able to admire its flora and fauna, or head to the ancient monastic settlement of St Kevin in the picturesque Glendalough Valley.
Once you're back in the capital, make the most of your last night in Ireland with a celebratory dinner in one of Dublin's creative restaurants, or catch some live music in one of the city's friendly, buzzy bars.
Day 11: Depart Dublin
It's time to say your goodbyes to Ireland. When the time comes, you'll return your rental car and head to Dublin Airport for your flight home. Safe travels!