Go off the beaten track on this self-drive history and cultural tour of Ireland that takes you to some of the country's most beautiful regions and noteworthy landmarks. From Dublin, you'll visit ancient burial mounds, travel the Wild Atlantic Way, hike through national parks, and tour historic castles. For a bit of fun, you'll enjoy nights out at local pubs and walking tours of vibrant cities like Galway and Dublin.


  • Visit ancient burial sites in western Ireland
  • Drive the famous Wild Atlantic Way
  • Go hiking and stargazing in national parks
  • Tour colorful cities like Dublin and Galway

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Dublin, Drive to County Meath & Hill of Tara Kilmessan
Day 2 Drive to Sligo, History & Nightlife Sligo
Day 3 Visit Knocknarea & Carrowmore, Sligo Walking Tour Sligo
Day 4 Drive to Westport, Wild Nephin & Stargazing Westport
Day 5 Drive to Galway, City Tour & Cliffs of Moher Galway
Day 6 Drive to Birr via the Hidden Heartlands & Leap Castle Birr
Day 7 Drive to Dublin, City Tour Dublin
Day 8 Visit Trinity Long Room, Tour the Medieval Quarter Dublin
Day 9 Depart Dublin  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Dublin, Drive to County Meath & Hill of Tara

Visit the ancient Hill of Tara in County Meath
Welcome to the Republic of Ireland! Though this nation has only been independent of the UK since 1921, its history and culture date back around 10,000 years to the very first settlers. Ireland really came into its own during the Middle Ages, and many structures and remnants of this era still stand all across the country today.
You'll waste no time seeing some of these awe-inspiring historical landmarks. Upon arrival at the airport in Dublin, pick up your rental car and set off on the 20-minute drive northwest out of the city into County Meath. Here, you'll visit the Hill of Tara, an ancient seat of power. This site has been used for more than 5,000 years for ritual, burial, and assembly. By hiking up the 509-foot (155-m) hill, you'll join a long line of royalty and even visit the inauguration site of the ancient High Kings of Ireland. At the summit, you'll be greeted with breathtaking views over rolling pastures out to Trim Castle.

Speaking of which, later you can explore the grounds of Trim Castle, Ireland's largest Anglo-Norman fortification when you come down. The impressive 20-sided tower was commissioned all the way back in the 12th century during the Norman invasion of Ireland. You can now stroll along modern walkways that provide a bird's eye view of the castle's interior, allowing you to appreciate the sheer size and impenetrable thickness of the castle walls. After touring the castle, you'll drive a few minutes to the village of Kilmessan, where you'll overnight. 

Day 2: Drive to Sligo, History & Nightlife

Get up close to Classiebawn Castle on Mullaghmore Beach
Get up close to Classiebawn Castle, on Mullaghmore Beach
In the morning, hit the road on a 2.5-hour drive from Kilmessan up to the northwest coast of Ireland and Sligo. This beautiful county sits right on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way, the famous scenic route that runs 1,553 miles (2,500 km) along the west coast. At this end of Ireland, you'll be treated to magnificent mountains, rugged coastal scenery, and historic castles.
If the weather is agreeable, you can stop at one of Sligo's beaches like Mullaghmore, a long, wide stretch of crescent sand perfect for sunbathing. You can also visit the 18th-century Classiebawn Castle, once the holiday home of a member of the British royal family who was assassinated in 1979. There are other historic landmarks in the area, like the burial tomb of Queen Maeve, the former Queen of Ireland. You can also visit Glencar and the Devil's Chimney, which is Ireland's tallest falls at 393 feet (120 m).

At the end of the day, you'll continue to the charming town of Sligo, where you'll overnight. In the evening, head to a local pub for dinner and to catch some traditional Irish music performed by locals. If you like, keep the night going with a bit of a pub crawl around the whiskey and cocktail bars in town.

Day 3: Visit Knocknarea & Carrowmore, Sligo Walking Tour

Visit Knocknaree Hill, atop which the "Queen of the West" is buried
After breakfast at the hotel, you'll head out on a full-day tour to learn more about Sligo's history and culture. First, you'll travel to the Cúil Írra Peninsula and Knocknarea, an imposing, 1,050-foot (320 m) hill. Atop it is a sacred cairn (burial mound), the final resting place of Queen Maeve, a ruthless, fearless warrior monarch. She lived from around 50 BCE to 50 CE and reigned over the area for around 60 years. While here, snap photos of the incredible views from the hill out over the peninsula. 
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Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Afterward, you'll visit Carrowmore, Ireland's biggest cemetery of megalithic tombs. Also located on the Cúil Írra Peninsula, here you can walk among the stone tombs as well as forts and standing stones. The origins of these monuments reach far into prehistory–the oldest among them is 6,000 years old.
Then you'll return to the town of Sligo and learn about some of its more macabre histories on an interactive walking tour. Let by an expert local guide, you'll dive right into Sligo's ominous past and learn about the town's turbulent history, which includes chilling accounts of war, executions, jailbreaks, disease, and other grisly tales. You'll even discover Sligo's connection to Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic novel, "Dracula." After the tour, you'll retire to your hotel.

Day 4: Drive to Westport, Wild Nephin & Stargazing

Westport's charming town center
Westport's charming town center

In the morning, you'll leave Sligo and drive about 1.5 hours and 62 miles (100 km) south to Westport, a charming town nestled in an Atlantic inlet. It features a historic center filled with Georgian architecture, stone bridges, and a tree-lined promenade on the banks of the Carrowbeg River. After checking into your hotel, feel free to stretch your legs on a walk around town as you browse Westport's colorful shops.

Later, you'll head north of town to Wild Nephin National Park. Within this 58-square-mile (150 sq km) protected area are soaring mountains, peaty boglands, and thousands of acres of conifer forests. A hike along its wooden boardwalks is one of the best in the country, as you'll have the Atlantic Ocean on one side and blanket bogs on the other.

After dinner in the park, enjoy an evening of stargazing. An area of 58 square miles (150 sq km) within the Nephin wilderness was officially accredited as a Dark Sky Reserve in 2016. Information signs here direct you to the best spots to gaze up at the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and (in winter) the constellation of Orion. On clear nights more than 4,500 stars glitter in the light pollution-free skies.

Day 5: Drive to Galway, City Tour & Cliffs of Moher

The bustling streets of lively Galway
Discover Galway, one of the cultural centers of Ireland
Today's 1.5-hour drive takes you roughly 50 miles (80 km) south to Galway. This city is the heart of Ireland's west, with artistic, musical, and culinary scenes that are second to none. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and can then venture out and discover Galway on a self-guided tour. 
Perhaps take a stroll through the Latin Quarter, which is filled with boutiques, restaurants, and the best pubs and live music in the city. Walk under the Spanish Arch, which dates to the 16th century and was once visited by Christopher Columbus. Check out the traditional Claddagh Village, which is renowned for its romantic Claddagh ring design. Galway was named a European Region of Gastronomy in 2018, so there's fantastic food of all types to be found in this lively city.
In the afternoon, continue on to the Cliffs of Moher, an iconic symbol of the Wild Atlantic Way. These towering sea cliffs rise 698 feet (213 m) in places with sheer walls that drop right down to the Atlantic. You'll have the option to explore this natural wonder on a guided or self-guided tour. Moreover, you can opt to see the cliffs on a hike or by boat. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Galway.

Day 6: Drive to Birr via the Hidden Heartlands & Leap Castle

Tour Leap Castle, the most haunted place in Ireland

Wake up early for a pleasant breakfast in Galway. Then it's time to hit the road again toward Birr, located about 60 miles (96 km) inland. The drive takes just over an hour, but take your time as you wind through the area known as Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. This unspoiled region of the interior spans counties Kildare, Laois, Offaly, and Kilkenny. It has peaty boglands, soaring mountains, trickling streams, green valleys, and thick woodlands. Even the quaint riverside towns and villages in this area seem right out of a bygone age.

A great off-the-beaten-path tour is to visit the historic castles of the Heartlands. Wander the Gothic halls of 19th-century Kinnitty Castle, or walk the stunning Slieve Bloom Way through green forests as you pass through the imposing ruins of Glinsk Castle. Hike up to the ruins of the Rock of Dunamase, a ninth-century Celtic fortification overlooking the valley of the O'Moores. Or visit the imposing beauty of the 12th-century Kilkea Castle, famous for being one of Ireland's oldest inhabited castles.

One firm fixture on the day's itinerary is a stop at Leap Castle, in County Offaly. Regarded as the most haunted place in Ireland, the castle was built in the late 13th century on the site of an earlier fortification and has been involved in many battles over the centuries. Over the years, it's also been the site of brutal murders and savage in-fighting among the O'Carrolls of Ely Clan. After taking a guided tour of the castle, you'll continue to the nearby village of Birr, where you'll overnight.

Day 7: Drive to Dublin, City Tour

Walk along the historic streets of Dublin
Leave Birr behind as you get back on the road for a final 1.5-hour, 85-mile (137 km) drive back to Dublin. This captivating metropolis is at once traditional and modern, famous for its history, culture, music, and cuisine. Upon arrival, drop your rental car, then head out and discover Dublin's myriad treasures on a guided tour.
During this two-hour excursion, you'll visit highlights like City Hall, Trinity College (whose famous alumni include Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett), the 18th-century St. Mary's Church, 15th-century Dublin Castle, and the former House of Parliament. You'll also visit some of the liveliest areas around town, including the Temple Bar district and the Italian Quarter, which boasts some of the best restaurants in Dublin. Finally, you'll stretch your legs on a walk along the River Liffey and down historic O'Connell Street.

Day 8: Visit Trinity Long Room, Tour the Medieval Quarter

Long Room Trinity College
The Long Room at Trinity College
While Trinity College is a fascinating historical landmark in its own right (it was founded in 1592), even more impressive is its Old Library. The Long Room (main chamber) is 235 feet (65 m) long, takes up two levels, and its shelves are lined with around 200,000 books. On a tour today, you'll see the jewel in the collection's crown: the Book of Kells. Dating back to 800 CE, this tome was created by Irish monks and contains the four Gospels of the New Testament. The illustrations are breathtaking, incorporating Celtic, Byzantium, and Saxon artwork.
Afterward, you'll continue the history theme on a walking tour of Dublin's Medieval Quarter. Led by an expert guide, you'll visit the oldest part of the city, which encompasses the area around Dublin Castle, Christ Church, and the 12th-century St Patrick's Cathedral. The first stop is at St Audoen's Church, which dates to 1190 and is the oldest parish church in Ireland. (There are amazing views of the city from its bell tower.) Nearby are the remains of Dublin's medieval fortifications and the majestic St Audoen's Gate, which has remained intact since the 13th century.
After the tour, you can continue exploring the Medieval Quarter, which boasts exceptional bars and restaurants along its ancient streets. Some favorite local haunts include The Lord Edward Fitzgerald, The Bull and Castle, and Darkey Kelly's, where you can pop in for some live music. 

Day 9: Depart Dublin

Sun setting over the River Liffey in Dublin

As Oscar Wilde said, "it's always painful to part from people one has known for a brief time." And unfortunately, today you must bid farewell to Ireland. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up at the hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!

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