Starting from Dublin, this itinerary takes you on an anti-clockwise self-drive adventure around the Emerald Isle. Delve into history and folklore as you explore Ireland's dramatic landscape over 11 days. The trip includes guided tours of Boyne Valley's ancient sacred sites, "haunted" Leap Castle, and a walk around Dublin's Medieval Quarter. On the west coast, you'll discover the enchanting setting that inspired the poetry of WB Yeats.


  • See the ninth-century Book of Kells at the atmospheric Trinity College Library 
  • Visit sacred sites and some of the world's oldest monuments in the Boyne Valley
  • Take off to the west coast's County Sligo and explore the heritage of poet WB Yeats
  • Learn the myths and legends of Irish folklore in Knocknarea and Carrowmore
  • Discover Ireland's epic castles in the unspoiled Hidden Heartlands region

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Dublin, Introduction to Dublin Tour  Dublin
Day 2 Dublin's Medieval Quarter, Book of Kells & Trinity Long Room Dublin
Day 3 Tour the Hill of Tara & Trim Castle Dublin
Day 4 Drive to Boyle via the Boyne Valley & Ancient Sacred Sites Boyle
Day 5 Drive to Sligo, Visit Castles Along the Way Sligo
Day 6 Explore County Sligo: Beaches & Classiebawn Castle Sligo
Day 7 Drive to Galway City via Knocknarea & Carrowmore  Galway
Day 8 Explore Connemara National Park Galway
Day 9 Drive to Birr via Clonmacnoise & Castles of the Hidden Heartlands Birr
Day 10 Discover Leap Castle, Return to Dublin & Tour Kilmainham Gaol Dublin
Day 11 Depart Dublin  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Dublin, Introduction to Dublin Tour

Dublin's Mellows Bridge reflected in the river
Dublin's Mellows Bridge

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.

Today you'll get to know this lively capital city through the lens of a Dubliner, joining a local historian to weave through the streets on a two-hour walking tour. Your guide will explain the city's fascinating past, which stretches back to at least the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century. You'll delve into the heart of the Medieval Quarter, where the millennia-old Christ Church Cathedral stands in pride of place, then pass by the "younger" 900-year-old St Patrick's Cathedral.

Discover the 18th-century architecture of Georgian Dublin, which peppers the city and takes its most impressive form in Dublin Castle. Make your way through the Temple Bar district, where a bohemian music and arts community guarantees a jubilant atmosphere any time of year. Then, visit Wood Quay, the site of archaeological excavations in the 1970s and '80s that revealed the biggest Viking settlement outside Scandinavia.

Day 2: Dublin's Medieval Quarter, Book of Kells & Trinity Long Room

Flowers blooming in front of Christ Church Cathedral
See the Christ Church Cathedral on a tour of Dublin's Medieval Quarter

Explore Dublin's Medieval Quarter with a local guide. This tour involves a closer look at the magnificent Christ Church Cathedral, built in 1030 CE by the Viking king of Dublin. The cathedral contains the tomb of Strongbow, the Norman warlord who conquered Dublin and initiated the Anglo-Norman involvement with Ireland. You'll also check out the cathedral's crypts, which hold effigies of knights and relics of saints.

After the tour, you'll have a chance to experience the fun side of the Medieval Quarter and hit its characterful bars. Some local favorites include The Lord Edward, The Bull and Castle, and Darkey Kelly's, named after the local 18th-century brothel keeper Dorcas "Darkey" Kelly, who, according to records, came to an unfortunate end. The bar staff will gladly share these tales as you sip your pint of Guinness.

In the afternoon, take a stroll around the university campus of Trinity College. Its elegant white bell tower is one of the symbols of the city, but another of Dublin's iconic sights lies behind closed doors: the Book of Kells. On display in Trinity's library, this remarkable Christian manuscript is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to 800 CE. In the library's wood-built Long Room (used as a filming location for the "Harry Potter" movies), you can walk among 250,000 of Ireland's oldest books and documents.

Day 3: Tour the Hill of Tara & Trim Castle

Walk in the footsteps of history at Trim Castle

On a small group tour, you'll leave the city and venture into the rural land of County Meath. Only 20 minutes drive from Dublin, it's Ireland's ancient capital and a place of sacred and mythical landmarks. With your guide, you'll discover its Neolithic monuments and learn the stories of brave knights, castles, kings, monks, and ancient civilizations.

A highlight is the Hill of Tara, Ireland's most sacred patch of turf and an ancient seat of power. Historians believe it's been in use for more than 5,000 years as a place of ritual, burial, and assembly. You're joining a long line of royalty by climbing the 509-foot (155 m) hill, as legend says it's also the inauguration site of the ancient High Kings of Ireland. Your reward for the climb is an awe-inspiring panorama of rolling pastures and relics of the past, including Trim Castle.

Come back down to earth to explore the castle more closely, stepping into the grounds of Ireland's largest Anglo-Norman fortification. Hugh de Lacy ordered the building of this massive 20-sided tower, a leading figure in the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century. Modern walkways allow you to look down over the interior of the keep—a chance to appreciate the sheer size and impenetrable thickness of the castle walls. You'll then head back to Dublin for another night of merriment before starting your road trip tomorrow.

Day 4: Drive to Boyle via the Boyne Valley & Ancient Sacred Sites

Sunset Newgrange
Sunset at the ancient tombs of Newgrange

Collect your rental car in Dublin and set off on your self-drive adventure, starting with ancient landmarks of the Boyne Valley within County Meath. Stop at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Brú na Bóinne, which consists of three massive burial tombs: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. All three feature Stone Age rock formations thought to be aligned with key celestial events. In fact, sixty percent of all European Stone Age art is at this site. You can learn more about it at the visitor center's museum.

Drive an hour west to the Loughcrew, known as Slieve na Calliagh ("Hills of the Witches") in Irish, and explore the atmospheric 200-acre (81 ha) range of rolling hills. They're topped with a cluster of tombs from 4 BCE, some decorated with rare megalithic art. Nearby, take a look at the equally revered Church of Saint Oliver Plunket, named for a 17th-century archbishop martyred for his faith. The Plunket family still runs the tearooms.

Press on another 90 minutes deeper into Ireland's interior until you reach Boyle in County Roscommon, where you'll spend the night. This charming country town makes for a comfortable stay—but the main reason people pay a visit is for Boyle Abbey, the ruins of a Cistercian monastery that dates back to 1161. Its cloisters' epic archways have survived, as have some of the intriguing stone carvings on the abbey walls.

Day 5: Drive to Sligo, Visit Castles Along the Way

MacDermot Castle (The Rock) Lough Ree
The eerie island setting of McDermott Castle

Today you'll make your way to Sligo on the west coast's Wild Atlantic Way, around half an hour north of Boyle. En route, stop off to see McDermott Castle, which occupies a tiny green island in the middle of Lough Key. This was once the seat of the powerful McDermott Clan and was rebuilt as a summer house in the 18th century. Take a boat tour or on-site visit to learn more.

Driving through a remote landscape of mountains and lakes, stop off at Lough Gill's eastern shore on the Sligo-Leitrim border. Here, you can visit Parke's Castle, which has been restored to its original 17th-century style. A little farther north is the smaller lough (lake) of Glencar, where it's worth a stop to marvel at Glencar Waterfall. This 164-foot (50 m) fall looks ethereal with its fine white spray and features in WB Yeats'  poem "The Stolen Child."

As you drive into Sligo town from here, you'll pass the flat-topped mountain of Ben Bulben, the location of the finale from an Irish mythology tale called the Fianna Cycle. Once you get to Sligo, you'll discover a creative town at the heart of all this beauty—artists, musicians, and writers have long flocked here to be immersed in its striking scenery. Visit the Yeats Building in the center to learn about how Sligo inspired the writer WB Yeats.

Day 6: Explore County Sligo: Beaches & Classiebawn Castle

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A misty morning over Classiebawn Castle, Mullaghmore

County Sligo epitomizes the drama of the Wild Atlantic Way, with its windswept headlands and powerful waves crashing onto wide golden shores. The green hills and misty mountaintops of the affectionately dubbed "Yeats Country" seem to roll into the sea. This ancient landscape is also dotted with historical sites, with cairns, graves, castles, and monuments surviving the elements for centuries.

If the weather's dry, take a walk on one of Sligo's beaches, like Mullaghmore. As well as being famed for some of the world's biggest surfable waves, you can see the eerie-looking Classiebawn Castle. This was the holiday home of British Royal Louis Mountbatten until he was assassinated nearby in 1979. Other prized beaches include Strandhill, Rossnowlagh, and Streedagh, where locals surf, standup paddleboard, and kayak.

Day 7: Drive to Galway City via Knocknarea & Carrowmore  

Sunset over Galway's colorful harborfront 

You'll probably have seen Knocknarea by now, the 1,050-foot (320 m) mound that dominates County Sligo's skyline. This morning, you'll ascend up to its crowning glory, the tomb known as Queen Maeve's Cairn. This queen of the west reigned for 60 years, sometime between 50 BCE and 50 CE. She spends her eternity here, reportedly upright and wearing her armor. As Knocknarea stands on the peninsula of Cúil Írra Peninsula, its summit also delivers incredible ocean views. Next, pay a visit to Carrowmore, the biggest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland, also on the Cúil Írra Peninsula. 

Then it's onward bound from Sligo to the city of Galway, two hours south. This maritime medieval city was once controlled by the 12 merchant families known as The Tribes. Now Ireland's bohemian capital, colorful Galway, is associated with the arts, live performances, street theater, and live music. Head to the quayside to walk beneath the Spanish Arch and continue to Galway Bay—this relaxing stroll offers distant views of the Burren, a hilly limestone landscape across the water in County Clare.

Day 8: Explore Connemara National Park

Killary Fjord
The dramatic landscape of Killary Fjord in Connemara

Spend the day getting to know County Galway. The jewel in its crown is Connemara National Park, a 1.5-hour drive northwest of Galway. Trails weave through a mystical landscape of mountains, woods, beaches, and interconnected lagoons, across 4,942 acres (2,000 ha), in an ever-changing light. Discover remnants of ancient settlements as you hike, including 4,000-year-old megalithic tombs and markings of former grazing areas. Take the path up the isolated peak of Diamond Hill for one of Ireland's best views across the Twelve Bens Mountains, Kylemore Abbey, and the ocean beyond.

Near Diamond Hill is the spectacular clifftop Bunowen Castle, which served as one of the castles for Grace O'Malley, "the Pirate Queen," in the 1500s. Or, take a closer look at Kylemore Abbey. Built in 1867 as a romantic gift, the mansion's rooms have been restored to their Victorian glory. For lunch, you're spoilt for choice with pretty villages and hamlets to pull up for a bite: popular spots include Leenane, Renvyle, Roundstone Harbour, and Costelloe. After your day's exploring, head back to Galway for the night.

Day 9: Drive to Birr via Clonmacnoise & Castles of the Hidden Heartlands

Stop at the sixth-century monastery of Clonmacnoise along today's drive

Today you'll drive from Galway to Birr, a journey of 62 miles (100 km). On the way, make a stop at Clonmacnoise or Cluain Mhic Nóis in Irish, which means the "Meadow of the Sons of Nós." This sixth-century monastery was founded by St Ciaran and was one of Ireland's most important monastic schools for five centuries. Its scattered ruins of gray stone will transport you to a bygone era.

For a sheer sense of awe, spend some time exploring the Hidden Heartlands. This midlands region has featured prominently throughout Irish history. It was in South Leitrim that the Irish defeated the Normans in 1270 during the Battle of Áth-an-Chip. As well as historical tales to fire up the imagination, the landscape of windswept hills and fairy-tale pools, threaded by empty roads, makes it a road trip utopia. 

There are castles upon castles to discover along the way. Wander the halls of the 19th-century Gothic Kinnitty Castle, or walk through the lush forest of Slieve Bloom Way to pass the imposing ruins of Glinsk Castle. Birr Castle and Gardens has a clutch of fun features in its 120 acres (49 ha) of grounds. It's home to Ireland's biggest treehouse, as well as 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. The castle sits on a river bend in the laid-back heritage town of Birr, which is where you'll spend the night,

Day 10: Discover Leap Castle, Return to Dublin & Tour Kilmainham Gaol

Leap Castle
Brave Ireland's "most haunted" Leap Castle

Your local expert will arrange a guided tour of Leap Castle in County Offaly this morning, said to be Ireland's most haunted castles thanks to its savage history of battles, murders, and in-fighting among the O'Carrolls of Ely Clan. It was built in the late 13th century on the site of an earlier fortification. A member of the Ryan family, the castle's current owners, will tell you the castle's tales and explain their preservation efforts.

Drive back to Dublin, and take a self-guided trip to Kilmainham Gaol, which functioned as a prison between 1796 and 1924. A visit here will take you on a journey through Irish history, as you'll learn the stories of the folk who've dwelled behind its bars—from ordinary criminals to those involved in momentous events. Most of Ireland's political revolutionaries have done time at the Gaol, so you'll get an overview of Ireland's complex political past, from the 1798 Rebellion and the 1916 Easter Rising to Anglo-Irish War (1919-21) and the Irish Civil War (1922-23).

Day 11: Depart Dublin

The bridge to Synod Hall, Dublin

Your time on the legend-rich Emerald Isle has come to an end, but hopefully, it won't be your last visit! Head to Dublin Airport to return the rental car and catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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