Discover the splendor of the Irish landscape, and the atmospheric castles that embellish it, on this active two-week road trip. As you drive clockwise from Dublin, there are opportunities galore to explore the great outdoors. Hike on enchanting trails through remote mountain ranges, cycle the riverside Waterford Greenway, kayak under the stars, and set off on horseback from neo-Gothic castle grounds.


  • Visit epic Irish castles, including Birr Castle with its award-winning gardens
  • Check into Kinnity Castle, now an elegant hotel with sprawling grounds
  • Walk across Ireland's longest rope bridge at the Kells Bay coastal estate
  • Stay at the colorful coastal village of Doolin and take a dolphin watching trip
  • Go hiking an horseback riding in the beautiful Sliabh Bloom mountain range

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Dublin Dublin
Day 2 Drive to Castledermot, Explore Carlow, Visit Walsh Whiskey Distillery Castledermot
Day 3 Cycle the Waterford Greenway, Drive to Kinsale Kinsale
Day 4 Explore Kinsale, Night Kayaking on Lough Hyne  Kinsale
Day 5 Scilly Walk & Seafood Lunch, Drive to Killarney Killarney
Day 6 Killarney Lake Boat Trip & Black Valley Killarney
Day 7 Kells Bay House & Gardens, Drive to Tralee Tralee
Day 8 Hike the Tralee to Camp Route Tralee
Day 9 Drive to Doolin, Cliffs of Moher & Doolin Caves Doolin
Day 10 Dolphin Watching in Carrigaholt Doolin
Day 11 Drive to Birr, Kinnity Castle Stay & Sliabh Bloom Mountain Walk Birr
Day 12 Horseback Riding from Kinnity Castle Birr
Day 13 Castles of the Hidden Heartlands, Drive to Dublin Dublin
Day 14 Depart Dublin   

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Dublin

Discover the merry atmosphere of the Temple Bar district 

A Céad míle fáilte: welcome to Ireland! You'll touch down in Dublin, at the mouth of the River Liffey, home to more than a third of the Republic of Ireland's population. For a small capital city, it packs a lot of personality. You'll find architectural splendor and a proud literary culture combined with youthful energy and zest for a good old time.

The day is yours to explore at your own pace. Begin on O'Connell Street, a fashionable suburb built in the 1700s and now the city's thoroughfare. Pay a visit to the statue of James Joyce leaning on his walking stick, affectionately known to Dubliners as "the prick with the stick." Visit Wood Quay, the site of archaeological excavations in the 1970s and '80s that revealed the largest Viking settlement outside Scandinavia. End your day in the Temple Bar district, where a bohemian music and arts community guarantees a jubilant atmosphere any time of year. 

Day 2: Drive to Castledermot, Explore Carlow & Visit Walsh Whiskey Distillery

Huntington Castle
The 17th-century Huntington Castle and its landscaped grounds

Pick up your rental car today and drive to Castledermot, around 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Dublin. Take the scenic route through the mountains of County Wicklow, where you could pull over and hike a section of the Wicklow Way. Castledermot sits at the edge of the mountain range, but before checking into your hotel, drive a little farther south to explore neighboring County Carlow.

This region is known as Ireland's Ancient East, for the castles and ruins scattered across its rolling green landscape. Pull up at Huntington Castle, a 17th-century fortress with splendid grounds roamed by peacocks. Go back in time and visit the evocative ruins of Carlow Castle, constructed in the early 1200s to guard a vital river crossing. Then visit Browneshill Dolmen, a megalithic portal tomb over 4,500 years old, dramatically set on a hill.

Another optional activity is a guided tour of the Walsh Whiskey Distillery. Established by a husband and wife team, Walsh Whiskey is leading a renaissance in Irish whiskey. Try its premium and super-premium, triple-distilled craft whiskeys, Writers' Tears and The Irishman. Both have gained critical acclaim and helped put Irish whiskey back in the limelight.

Day 3: Cycle the Waterford Greenway, Drive to Kinsale

Copper Coast - Waterford/Dungarvan Greenway
The Waterford Greenway cycling route ends at the coast
An hour's drive brings you down to Ireland's south coast this morning, to cycle along the Waterford Greenway, 29 miles (46 km) of glorious, car-free road. The picturesque route follows an old railway line from Waterford City, through the foothills of the Comeragh Mountains and into the pretty harbor town of Dungarvan. A choice of bikes, including e-bikes, are available for hire in Waterford.
Leave the city behind as you pedal along the bank of the River Suir. The road passes Mount Congreve Estate Gardens, an 18th-century Georgian estate, where you can take a break for tea and scones on the terrace. You'll also pass the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway, which offers rides on a vintage open-air locomotive. After returning your bike, continue driving for about two hours as you make your way 93 miles (150 km) west along the coast to lay your head in the harbor town of Kinsale.
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Day 4: Explore Kinsale, Night Kayaking on Lough Hyne 

Explore the colorful center of Kinsale on foot

Spend the morning getting to know the colorful town of Kinsale, known as the site of a pivotal battle in 1601 between the Irish, Spanish, and English. Start your day by visiting Desmond Castle, a classic urban tower house in town. Then, stretch your legs by hiking on the Old Head of Kinsale Loop and ascending the lighthouse viewing platform for unforgettable Atlantic views. If the weather's good, check out the region's glorious beaches. The sheltered bay of Oysterhaven Beach is perfect for kayaking, standup paddleboarding, canoeing, and swimming.

If you're interested in a nighttime adventure, go kayaking under the stars on the saltwater lake of Lough Hyne, in the southwest corner of Ireland. This guided tour begins at dusk and encapsulates the mystical atmosphere of Ireland, with bioluminescence glowing in the water, seabirds flying above, and the scent of honeysuckle drifting through the breeze.

Day 5: Scilly Walk & Seafood Lunch, Drive to Killarney

Charles Fort is one of Ireland's biggest military installations

Lace up your hiking boots this morning and head off on the Scilly Walk, a three-hour round trip that showcases Kinsale in all its glory. Pick up the Lower Road, descending a hill until you reach the glistening waters of Kinsale Harbour. The walk continues along the water's edge, giving you a front-row view of the town's historic sites.

Carve out time to explore the star-shaped Charles Fort (circa 1682) one of the country's largest military installations, named after King Charles II of England. Its dimensions are awe-inspiring, with some of the outer defenses measuring 53 feet (16 m) high.

When you return to town, settle in for a seafood lunch and a relaxed afternoon. Harborside restaurant Man Friday uses local fishermen's fresh catches for its contemporary menu: think Kinsale gin-cured salmon or seabass ceviche. In the summer, their decking area is the perfect vista for a last look at the town. Then, jump back in the car for 1.5 hours as you drive 57 miles (91 km) northwest to Killarney, your base for tomorrow's activities.

Day 6: Killarney Lake Boat Trip & Black Valley

Take a boat trip across Muckross Lake in Killarney National Park

Start the morning with a boat trip across one of Killarney's lakes for panoramas of the surrounding mountains. Relax as you watch the sights from your modern, heated, glass-covered boat, guided by a local captain. You'll have a chance to disembark in the remote Black Valley, which gained its name in the 1970s for being the last place on the mainland to be connected to the electric grid. This area is known for its waterfalls and charming six-arch bridge across the Gearhameen River.

After, drive to the Gap of Dunloe, a dramatic narrow pass between the mountain ranges of MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain. Or if you're up for a longer adventure, take the Skellig Ring road around the entire Iveragh Peninsula, a distance of around 112 miles (180km). This route has everything from mountain passes and steep clifftop-hugging roads to quaint villages where you'll find delicious food and friendly locals. Drive at your own pace and stop as often as you wish. Then, it's back to Killarney for another night.

Day 7: Kells Bay House & Gardens, Drive to Tralee

Kells House
Admire the beachfront setting of Victorian-era Kells Bay House
Spend some time at Kells Bay House and Gardens, a Victorian-era hunting lodge restored as a beautiful beachfront mansion set on a Blue Flag beach of Dingle Bay. Its position on the Gulf Stream creates a microclimate that allows exotic plants to thrive: its tree-fern forest, similar to those in Tasmania, attracts horticultural enthusiasts from around the world. If brave enough, walk across the SkyWalk, Ireland's longest rope bridge.
You'll then take a 30-minute drive to Tralee, located about 57 miles (91 km) north. The mid-sized town of Tralee is the capital of County Kerry and a great place to discover the wonders of this western region. You can learn about Irish history, customs, and traditions at the excellent County Kerry Museum and discover the area's rare ecosystems at the Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre. Over the next two nights, you'll also have the chance to mingle with locals over pints and traditional music at the town's lively pubs.  

Day 8: Hike the Tralee to Camp Route

Hike through the foothills of the Slieve Mish Mountains 

Set out on foot today for around four hours of scenic hiking along the Tralee to Camp route. Leaving your guesthouse, you begin your walk beside an old canal and backcountry paths along the Dingle Way and Kerry Camino walking routes. You then continue west on the foothills of the Slieve Mish Mountains before joining what was once an old road to Dingle. Passing the 12th-century archaeological site of Killelton Oratory, you then continue to the village of Camp. After, catch the bus back to Tralee. The walk is around 12 miles (19 km) and involves some height gain, so bring good walking shoes for those rocky and muddy mountain and grass trails. 

Day 9: Drive to Doolin, Cliffs of Moher & Doolin Caves

Colorful traditional cottages in Doolin, located next door to the famed Cliffs of Moher

Today's 2.5-hour drive takes you to the lively port village of Doolin, located 109 miles (176 km) north in the heart of the Burren region. For many, it's their favorite village in the west, with an inspiring coastal setting, brightly painted houses, and trad music frequently playing in its celebrated pubs. It's hailed as the home of traditional Irish music, after all! Bring an appetite, as Doolin is also renowned for its gastronomic delights, especially traditional Irish dishes like stews, veggie soup with soda bread, and potato cakes.  

Mother Nature doesn't shy from the dramatic around these parts, and around 4 miles (7 km) south of Doolin, you'll find the mighty Cliffs of Moher. Rising from the raging Atlantic to 700 feet (214 m) at their highest point, standing here is like teetering at the world's edge. Another famous landmark is the labyrinthine Doolin Caves. Descend 125 steps to travel back in time 350 million years, as you enter this secret underground world. See how a single continuous drop of water formed the largest stalactite in Europe and the only one of its kind in Ireland.

Day 10: Dolphin Watching in Carrigaholt

A bottlenose dolphin plays in the waves of a boat

Drive for an hour down the coast from Doolin, for a day trip to the wildlife-rich bay of Carrigaholt, at the mouth of the Shannon Estuary. Board a boat with the company Dolphinwatch, for a two to three-hour ocean voyage to spot Europe's largest group of resident bottlenose dolphins. As these waters are a Special Area of Conservation, the dolphin encounter success rate is one of the world's best, 

As you sail past spectacular cliffs and sea stacks sculpted by the Atlantic, look out for other marine wildlife, such as gray seals, peregrine falcons, choughs, and gannets, and chattering nesting sea birds. The skipper will talk you through the history of the bay and beyond, which is rich in maritime folklore. If you like, book a sunset sailing and sip a glass of wine as you do your wildlife watching.

Day 11: Drive to Birr, Kinnity Castle Stay & Sliabh Bloom Mountain Walk

Check into the majestic Kinnitty Castle Hotel
A two-hour drive takes you inland for 71 miles (114 km) to reach the heritage town of Birr, where you'll get to be the king or queen of your own castle tonight as you check into the Kinnitty Castle Hotel. It's a 19th-century Gothic revival castle, but the history books first recorded a castle here as early as 1209. Stroll around the 650-acre (263 ha) grounds, or boot up and head up to the adjacent Sliabh Bloom Mountains. Pick up the forested Slieve Bloom Way trail to pass the imposing ruins of Glinsk Castle
You could also arrange a guided tour of nearby Leap Castle, in County Offaly, said to be Ireland's most haunted castle thanks to its savage history of battles, murders, and in-fighting among the O'Carrolls of Ely Clan. A member of the Ryan family, the castle's current owners, will tell you the castle's tales and explain their preservation efforts.

Day 12: Horseback Riding from Kinnity Castle

See the Slieve Bloom Mountains by horseback as you set out from the grounds of Kinnity Castle

Saddle up today, and explore this rolling green region by horse or pony. Your steed will meet you in the grounds of Kinnitty Castle, with a guide from the Birr Equestrian Centre. You'll trot off into the Slieve Bloom Mountains, to explore this magical alpine landscape of rivers, waterfalls, valleys, glens, and woodlands. No other Irish trail ride offers such varied terrain. Famous beauty spots include the Glendine Gap, Glenletter Valley, and the Ridge of Capard. Afterward, you'll return to Birr, where you'll spend the night.

Day 13: Castles of the Hidden Heartlands, Drive to Dublin

Carton House
Wander through the ornate interiors of Carton House

Today's 87-mile (140 km) drive from Birr to Dublin will take you through an area of Ireland known as the Hidden Heartlands. This remote and unspoiled region feels as far from fast-paced living as possible—its windswept hills and fairy-tale pools, threaded by empty roads, make it a road trip utopia. 

You'll also have the chance to check out any castles or sites that are still on your wish list. Birr Castle and Gardens has a clutch of fun features across its 120 acres (49 ha) of award-winning grounds. Discover Ireland's biggest treehouse and the Great Telescope, a creation by the Third Earl of Rosse in the 1840s that was the world's largest telescope for over 70 years.

Along the 1.5-hour drive east, you could also stop at Carton House in Maynooth. This majestic house was once the ancestral seat of the Earls of Kildare. Carton covers an area of 1,100 acres (445 ha) and is a fine example of a Georgian parkland landscape. Then, check into your Dublin hotel and head out for one last toe-tapping night in the capital.

Day 14: Depart Dublin 

Sunset colors over Dublin's River Liffey

For one last dose of Irish history, take a walk around Dublin's Medieval Quarter. This is the oldest part of the city, encompassing the area around Christ Church, St Patrick's Cathedral, and Dublin Castle. The castle was built in the early 13th century on the site of a Viking settlement, and you can still see a relic from this time in the Record Tower, which has 13-foot (4 m) thick walls.

Then, it's time to head to Dublin Airport to return your rental car and catch your flight home. Safe travels and slán go fóill (goodbye for now).

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Map of Ireland Castles & Hiking Road Trip - 14 Days
Map of Ireland Castles & Hiking Road Trip - 14 Days