With empty roads and a landscape of spectacular cliffs, windswept castles, and dreamy pastures, Ireland is made for driving. A warm welcome awaits in the cozy towns and villages, including Doolin, the country's traditional music capital. It's easy to get around on your own, so set off in a rental car to create your own adventure on this 11-day itinerary. You'll start and end in Dublin, driving clockwise for a stretch on the Wild Atlantic Way, learning about Ireland's fascinating history and traditions as you go.


  • Visit atmospheric castles, including the "haunted" Leap Castle
  • Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, visiting beaches and fishing villages
  • Stay in colorful Doolin, the traditional music capital of Ireland
  • Take a sea voyage around County Clare's Cliffs of Moher 
  • Walk in the wild beauty of Connemara National Park 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Dublin, Walking Tour & Kilmainham Gaol Dublin
Day 2 Drive to Cork, Visit the Rock of Cashel & Blarney Castle Blarney
Day 3 Drive to Killarney, Visit Skellig Ring & Portmagee Killarney
Day 4 Explore Killarney National Park Killarney
Day 5 Drive to Doolin, Hike the Cliffs of Moher Doolin
Day 6 Cliffs of Moher Sea Cruise, Lahinch & Distillery Doolin
Day 7 Ferry to the Aran Islands, Drive to Galway  Galway
Day 8 Day Trip to Connemara National Park Galway
Day 9 Discover Castles of the Hidden Heartlands Birr
Day 10 Drive to Dublin, Jameson Whiskey Tasting Tour Dublin
Day 11 Depart Dublin  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Dublin, Walking Tour & Kilmainham Gaol

Christ Church Cathedral

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 a youthful energy and zest for a good old time.

Led by an expert guide, you'll start off on a walking tour to get to know the city's fascinating past, which stretches back to 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.

Next is 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 2: Drive to Cork, Visit the Rock of Cashel & Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle Ireland
The ruins of Blarney Castle

Today you'll pick up your hire car and drive to Cork, Ireland's southern hub, 161 miles (259 km) from Dublin. Halfway along this three-hour journey, you'll reach the small town of Cashel in County Tipperary. Make a stop to stroll around the Rock of Cashel, a medieval ecclesiastical site of Gothic and Romanesque-style buildings and a 12th-century round tower.

Then, continue to the "Rebel City" of Cork, which has a long history of challenging authority and honoring an independent spirit. Across both sides of the broad River Lee, you'll find a walkable city of grand Georgian avenues and charming 17th-century alleys. Cork is arguably Ireland's culinary capital, so make the most of its cafés and bakeries (especially in the cool Huguenot Quarter) and restaurants (head to the Victorian Quarter, around MacCurtain Street).

Later, there's the option of visiting Blarney Castle, a 15-minute drive from Cork. The evocative ruins date from the 15th century, on the site where a 10th-century wooden castle once stood. Nature has gloriously taken over, with creeping plants across the inner stone walls and pockets of woodland around the grounds. Its most famous asset is the Blarney Stone: according to Irish legend, kissing the stone imparts the kisser with the "gift of the gab" (meaning, great chat!).

Day 3: Arrive in Killarney, Visit Skellig Ring & Portmagee

Fishing boats at Portmagee

It's onward bound today to Killarney in County Kerry, a 90-minute drive from Cork. This pretty town, on the shore of Lough Leane, makes an excellent base for a couple of days' exploring. In the town itself, visit the neo-Gothic St Mary's Cathedral to see its vivid stained-glass windows, then stroll around the peaceful Franciscan Friary. In the evening, you can catch live music at Killarney's pubs, with shows nightly in the summer and several times a week in spring and fall. 

Drive for another hour and a quarter, and you'll hit the fishing village of Portmagee along the west coast's Wild Atlantic Way. Painted houses line the harbor wall, and from spring through fall, sightseeing boats set off for the Skellig Islands 8 miles (12 km) out to sea. A hike up to the top of the Kerry Cliffs is well worth the effort for the knockout coastal views. A great way to take in the mountains, cliffs, and spectacular beaches, like St Finian's Bay, is on the 20-mile (32 km) road loop known as Skellig Ring.

As an alternative to Killarney, you could stay the night in Portmagee. It offers similar perks: fantastic food, comfy beds, and plenty of live music in its pubs. The Moorings Hotel is a favored spot by visitors, located 30 seconds from the pier and opposite Valentia Island. With its seafood restaurant and frequent gigs in the Harbour Bar, it's the place to eat, drink, and be merry.

Day 4: Explore Killarney National Park

Ross Castle on the shore of Lough Leane
Plan your trip to Ireland
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

There are plenty of ways to spend the day around Killarney, which is blessed with a wild landscape of mountains, lakes, and forests. Drive along the Gap of Dunloe, a dramatic narrow pass between the mountain ranges of MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain. Or, immerse yourself in the sublime Killarney National Park, which was the first national park in Ireland when it launched almost a century ago. 

If a castle adventure is calling, look no further than the medieval Ross Castle, the 15th-century seat of the O'Donoghue Clan. Visit the Victorian mansion Muckross House and have lunch in its conservatory café looking out to the Walled Garden, then walk around the ruins and cloisters of the adjacent Muckross Abbey.

Then, head back to Killarney town to spend the night. Your local expert can help you choose somewhere to settle in for a well-earned meal. Consider Cronins on College Street, a family business that goes back to 1957. The laid-back Porterhouse gastropub is perfect for walk-ins, and you can't beat the cozy Laurels pub when the weather's rough. Stonechat Restaurant, just off Killarney's High Street, offers a casual take on fine dining. 

Day 5: Drive to Doolin, Hike the Cliffs of Moher

Doolin village, County Clare

Drive north up the coast for two hours and 45 minutes to reach the lively port village of Doolin, your base for the next couple of nights. For many, it's their favorite village in the west of Ireland, with an inspiring coastal setting, brightly painted houses, and bands frequently playing in its 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. You can walk from Doolin to the Visitor Center and then take the shuttle back or park up at the slightly closer point of Hags Head (or if you're feeling ambitious, hike the 9-mi/14 km round-trip along the cliffs).

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 6: Cliffs of Moher Sea Cruise, Lahinch & Distillery

Cliffs of Moher Sea Cruise
The Cliffs of Moher sea cruise

Time to see the Cliffs of Moher from a new perspective—aboard a boat around their base. The three-hour sea cruise sets off from Doolin and traces the Wild Atlantic Way coast. Sea level is the only way to truly appreciate the cliffs' height—the people walking along the trail above appear no bigger than ants. If you're traveling as a group, you can choose a bespoke sailing aboard a high-speed RIB boat. Boat trips run between March and October. 

Want even more action on the water? The seaside town of Lahinch, just south of the Cliffs of Moher, is a golden stretch of storm beaches and prized for surfers, kayakers, and paddleboarders the world over. It's considered the beating heart of Irish surfing, so you'll find lessons to suit every level and plenty of options for equipment hire.

There's plenty to do farther afield in County Clare, too, from a perfumery to a goats' cheese farm, a chocolate factory to art galleries. Not far from Lahinch is the JJ Corry Irish Whiskey Distillery, at a family farm where a women-only team take care of the whiskey-making process. Step inside their tasting barn, where a guide will share insights into the history of whiskey in County Clare—and the brand's namesake, JJ Corry, who enjoyed a thriving whiskey business during the 18th century. 

Day 7: Ferry to the Aran Islands, Drive to Galway

A farmhouse on Inishmore

You'll set off for Galway today, a 90-minute drive up the coast. But first, there's time for one more adventure from Doolin—a trip to the Aran Islands by ferry. The history of these islands is geologically and culturally rich. Their deep Celtic and Christian roots mean the land is dotted with ancient ruins and sacred sites. And with traditions holding strong, the 1,300 people who call the islands home consider Ireland's Gaelic language their native tongue.

You can disembark on any of the three islands: Inis Oírr ("East Island"), Inis Meáin ("Middle Island"), or Inis Mór/Inishmore ("Big Island"). If you disembark on Inishmore, the best way to get around is on two wheels (bicycle hire is available). Take a rest at Kilmurvey Beach and pop into the adjacent row of craft shops to stock up on Aran-made souvenirs. You might find yourself feeling uplifted after docking back in Doolin—local lore says that being on the Aran Islands means you're on the path to connecting with your spiritual self.

Once you arrive in the city of Galway, there's a whole different pace to enjoy. This medieval maritime hub is now the bohemian capital of Ireland, prized for its art scene, street performances, live music, and buildings painted in primary colors. 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: Day Trip to Connemara National Park

 Kylemore Abbey in Connemara

Spend the day getting to know County Galway. The jewel in its crown is Connemara National Park, an hour and 20-minute drive northwest of Galway city. Trails weave through an otherworldly 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 trail 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. 

Walk on Coral Beach, which is made up of calcified seaweed that looks like millions of pieces of fine-bleached coral. The sheltered, clear water is perfect for swimming in the summer months. 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 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 city for the night.

Day 9: Discover Castles of the Hidden Heartlands

Kinnity Castle
Kinnity Castle in the Hidden Heartlands

It's time to say farewell to the west coast and begin the journey east, but there's still time for one more overnight stop on your way back to the capital. For a sheer sense of awe, consider exploring the Hidden Heartlands. This remote and unspoiled region of Ireland feels as far from fast-paced living as you can get. Its landscape of windswept hills and enchanted pools, threaded by empty roads, makes it a road trip utopia. 

There are castles upon castles to discover as you travel. Wander the halls of the 19th-century Gothic Kinnitty Castle, commune with ghosts in Leap Castle—known as the most haunted place in Ireland—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 largest treehouse, as well as the Great Telescope, a creation by the Third Earl of Rosse in the 1840s that was the world's biggest telescope for over 70 years.

Day 10: Drive to Dublin, Jameson Whiskey Tasting Tour

Ha'Penny Bridge Dublin
Dublin's Ha'Penny Bridge 

After arriving back in Dublin, check into your centrally located hotel. A fun activity for your last day is to get to know one of Ireland's most beloved exports on a one-hour tasting tour at the Jameson Distillery. Sample premium whiskeys exclusive to this distillery and peek into the office of John Jameson himself (known locally as JJ), the founder of this company that has become the world's best-selling Irish whiskey.

More of a Guinness lover? Consider the Guinness Storehouse. This site continues to be one of the world's most popular tourist attractions, and you'll see why as soon as you step foot into the factory. Learn how the popular beer has been brewed for centuries and enjoy a pint at the top with panoramic views of the city. The evening is at your leisure to dine out and hit Dublin's toe-tapping taverns. The city's pub culture is an experience in itself, with centuries-old bars, nightly live music, and a festive atmosphere year-round. 

Day 11: Depart Dublin

The Long Room at Trinity College

It's departure day, but before you leave, take a stroll around the historic campus of Trinity College Dublin. 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, you can walk among 250,000 of Ireland's oldest books and documents. Then, it's time to head to Dublin Airport to return the rental car and catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Irish Traditions Self-Drive Road Trip - 11 Days
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