I am among 31.5 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry (25%, courtesy of my paternal grandmother). I explored the magical green land that makes up a fourth of my story for the first time on a 10-day road trip. I was treated to incredible sights and friendly people from cities large and small, parks, scenic drives, and the breathtaking Wild Atlantic Way. I started in Dublin and circled the country with stays in Arthurstown, Killarney, and Galway. I hope my itinerary will help you plan your visit to Ireland!

Sunrise Dublin Ireland
Sunrise over Dublin. Credit: Bill Boese

The Route


Getting There

My wife and I arrived in Dublin after a short flight from Reykjavik, Iceland. We took advantage of Icelandair’s stopover to spend a few days there and then continued to Ireland. We took the Aircoach bus (Route 700) from Dublin airport to our hotel in the center of Dublin. We did not need a car to see Dublin, everything was accessible on foot or by tram.

Driving in Ireland

We picked up our rental car when it was time to leave Dublin for our next destination. Normally, I try to avoid driving while traveling, I much prefer trains and other forms of public transportation. However, if you are an independent traveler wanting to see Ireland, you will need a car to get to most places, particularly on the coast. In Ireland, you drive on the left side of the road and in the right side of the car, which felt strange to me, I found the driving manageable however. Remember, everything is reversed. In addition to the road and the car, on multi-lane highways, the far right lane is the passing lane. Lastly, be prepared for roundabouts. They are everywhere, far more common than traffic lights. Always yield to traffic already on the roundabout as you approach and be sure to use indicators when exiting.

Be sure to check with your auto insurance provider about coverage in Ireland. My existing US policy covered nothing, so I purchased insurance from the rental company. Though it was expensive, I opted for “Premium Protection“. I was glad I did. I scraped along the sides of curbs and hedges on some of the narrower country lanes and it was a relief to know that I would not have to pay extra for any damage.

Day 1: Dublin, North of the Liffey

We stayed in the Holiday Inn Express on O’Connell Street in Dublin for the first two nights. It was clean, convenient, and centrally located, and included breakfast.

We arrived on a gray cool late September afternoon. We warmed up with vegetarian Pho for lunch at the excellent Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Kim. It was a great find very near our hotel on Parnell Street.

The first stop on our walk was the nearby Garden of Remembrance. It is a memorial to those lost in the fight for Irish freedom and it was opened on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Note the mosaic on the bottom of the cross-shaped pool, it recalls the ancient Celtic tradition of throwing weapons in the river after a battle. There are memorials everywhere in Dublin, to their Civil War, Independence, World Wars, and the Famine. I realized then how little I knew of Irish history.

Statue by Oisin Kelly in the Garden of Remembrance. Credit: Bill Boese

After the garden, we walked across the street to the Hugh Lane Gallery. It contains an impressive collection that includes Irish artists as well as works from great and familiar names from the last few centuries. Irish-born Francis Bacon’s London art studio has been meticulously moved to the gallery where it is on display. It was interesting to view the chaos in the cluttered studio where the artist worked.

Next, we walked west along Henry Street, a pedestrian street filled with shops and restaurants. We were surprised at the crowds in late September, the “shoulder season”. We strolled along Capel Street and sampled the food shops and stores. There were a variety of cultures and ethnicities represented there. Dublin was a very multicultural city indeed.

It was multicultural and vegan-friendly as well. We enjoyed a few vegan donuts and tea at The Rolling Donut near O’Connell Bridge.

We had time for one last stop, so we took the long walk west to Phoenix Park. Unfortunately, the late hour and setting sun did not leave nearly enough time to see it all. We were grateful for the tram back to our hotel.

Day 2: South of the Liffey

We started our walk south on O’Connell, past the line of Hop on Hop Off buses, and crossed the Liffey. We spent the day walking the streets south of the river. Our first stop was the Trinity College library, famous for its Long Hall and Book of Kells. We had purchased tickets in advance, but there was still a long queue at the entrance. We were led through a winding path of displays describing the creation of the Book of Kells. Eventually, it led to a room where one of the ancient books was displayed in a glass case. It was a remarkable achievement of 8th-century art. The Long Hall was impressive as well, towering and wooden and stacked to the high ceiling with ancient volumes.

The Long Hall
The Long Hall. Credit: Bill Boese

Trinity College campus itself is a mix of very old buildings wedged in between much newer concrete slab modernist ones that look like they were from the 60’s or 70’s. The campus was full of visitors on a Wednesday morning, mixed in with college kids walking to class. It must be odd to spend 4 years at university in the middle of a tourist attraction.

The next stop was the National Gallery. Dublin has an abundance of great museums, and they all seem to be free to enter. They feature Irish art as well as contributions from artists from all over the world.

There were small tweed shops in the vicinity of the museum. The tweed jackets and suits made me wish I had someplace to wear them to, so I could justify buying one. I settled for a wool driver’s cap from Kevin & Howlin. Everything in the shop was beautifully made.

On our walk, we visited many small parks, called greens. St. Stephens Green is the principal among them, with statues of notables such as James Joyce, and W. B. Yeats. The pond was peaceful and calm. Full of ducks, swans, moorhens, and coots all hoping for a bite of food from people eating their lunch.

St. Stephens Green
St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Credit: Bill Boese

It started raining in the afternoon so we went to The Long Hall, a pub on my list to visit, for a Guinness and an Irish coffee. Established in 1766 with an interior that dates from 1881, it is steeped in history and the color red. We sit in one of the old red leather booths.

We breezed by Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle but did not go in on account of time. After visiting the famous Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square, we decided to call it a day.

Statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Squar
Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square. Credit: Bill Boese

We enjoyed an excellent vegetarian Persian dinner at Zaytoon on Lower Camden Street. After that was the long walk back to the hotel as the day faded away. The next morning I looked out the hotel window as the sun rose over Dublin.

Day 3: Dublin to Glendalough, Arthurstown

It was time to leave Dublin. We picked up our rental car at a Europcar agency in Dublin and I started nervously for our first stop of the day, Glendalough Cathedral, in Wicklow Mountains National Park. We were looking forward to spending time in nature after a few days in the city, and we were not disappointed. After visiting the ancient cathedral and graveyard ruins, we walked a short way to a trail along the nearby Glendalough Upper Lake.

Glendalough upper lake
Glendalough Upper Lake. Credit: Bill Boese

The trail along the water was wide and pretty amongst the trees. Once we got a few hundred meters from the parking lot and road we left almost everyone behind. There were birds and a strong smell of pine trees like you wish your house would smell at Christmas when you bring home that real tree. The smell was piney but subtle, like a high-quality candle. We walked to the Miner’s Village at the far end of the lake. With two hours of driving ahead of us to Arthurstown, we left the park in time to arrive before dark.

Arthurstown: A Surprise

We were not sure what to expect when we arrived in Arthurstown. We didn’t know anything about it. It was not a town that featured in any of the online itineraries or travel guides. All we knew was that it was a small town with a quaint-looking bed and breakfast located on the path around Ireland we planned to travel. It was somewhere vaguely midway between Dublin and Killarney. We drove into the parking lot of our accommodation for the next two nights, the Glendine Country House.

The view from Glendine Country House
The view of Arthurstown from Glendine Country House. Credit: Bill Boese

It was a stately vine-covered home among farmers’ fields. The receptionist greeted us warmly and showed us to our room at check-in. It was large, clean, and well-decorated, with a small table for two next to a bay window overlooking the town and the River Barrow. Arthurstown is a small village, and there was no restaurant for dinner. We drove to nearby Duncannon, another lovely small village on the water, and had a nice meal at The Strand Tavern.

There may not have been a restaurant for us in Arthurstown, but there was a pub, The Kings Bay Inn. I was curious to visit the local pub in Arthurstown, so after dinner, we left our car at the B&B and walked down the hill to the pub. We walked into the small bar. There were a handful of patrons involved in lively conversation on a Thursday night. My wife and I were immediately noticed and correctly appraised as visitors. However, in no time we were involved in multiple conversations with Siobhan the writer, Charles the farmer, and a few others whose Irish accents and spirited tones made them somewhat difficult to understand. Charles was insistent I not leave until he had the chance to buy me a beer. I could not pass up that offer. Mary, the proprietress lit a coal fire in the nearby fireplace and we spent a lovely few hours at the local pub. It was a wonderful random and happy experience that could have only happened in a small town local pub.

To stumble across such a quaint, unexpected gem of a little town was a surprise. Venturing off of the beaten path can be very rewarding.

Day 4: The Hook Peninsula

Arthurstown is near the top of the Hook Peninsula. It is a small prominence in the southeast of Ireland that juts out into the ocean between two bays. We woke to heavy sideways blowing rain. Fortunately, breakfast in the cozy dining room of the Glendine was wonderful. Eating at the B&Bs was always a nice experience. Sitting down, facing your partner in a small dining room, and taking your time to talk and have coffee was so much more pleasant than the kitchen island at home. We had gotten advice the night before at the pub regarding the sights in the peninsula, and once the weather abated we set off to find them.

We drove south, through the narrow roads and small villages lined with thatched roof houses to the bottom of the peninsula, to the Hook Lighthouse, which claims to be the oldest intact operational lighthouse in the world. When we arrived the wind and rain had returned in force with the surf crashing over the rocks. It was good weather for the business of a lighthouse, but not so great for being outside, walking, and taking pictures. Fortunately, the weather cleared as we turned north to complete our perimeter of the peninsula and visit Tintern Abbey. Ireland is full of history of the type that does not exist in a relatively new country like the US, where I live. The abbey was another of many ancient ruins we saw in Ireland. This one was established over 800 years ago as a monastery, then was a private residence from the sixteenth century to the mid-twentieth.

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey. Credit: Bill Boese

The best preserved and maintained aspect of the residence was the extensive Coclough Walled Garden.  It was festive, full of vegetables, squashes, kale, onions, cabbage and chard. There were still some lavender flowers hanging around. I took the opportunity to rub them on my hands and face. We were among only a handful of visitors that day at the abbey. It was quiet and peaceful and well worth the trip.

With a few hours of daylight remaining, we decided to drive an hour north to visit Kilkenny. We arrived on the busy High St. at dinner time on a Friday night. After struggling to find a parking space we had some time to walk near the Castle and among the High Street shops. We had dinner at Anatolia, a nice little Turkish restaurant with good vegetarian options. After dinner darkness was advancing, and the drive back to Arthurstown in the dark loomed. Kilkenny was nice, but we did not have enough time to visit it. We would have been better served to spend the whole day on the Hook Peninsula.

I cannot overstate how pleasant a surprise Arthurstown and the surrounding area was. It was scenic, friendly, and small but had all the history and sights of the busier parts of Ireland. My wife and I agreed we could have spent a week there.

Day 5: Arthurstown to Killarney

We had one last very nice breakfast at the Glendine. We went downstairs early and sat at the table for two by the front window. I had eaten full Irish Breakfasts for several days running, so I tried the porridge. It was delicious. It was rich, served with brown sugar and a cute little pot of Baileys Irish Cream to add to it. This was a very nice treat. I vowed to do the same thing at home (and I did). We packed up and filed away our handwritten receipt, signed the guest book, and started for Killarney, 3 and a half hours by car to the west. In the parking lot, we vowed to return someday.

The drive was pleasant and scenic at times, through small towns and deep green fields bordered by darker green hedgerows. Ireland’s nickname “The Emerald Isle” is no hyperbole, it was the most deeply green-hued place I have ever seen. Our only planned stop along the drive was Cork, which we anticipated reaching at lunchtime. We did reach Cork at the forecast time but had not anticipated its size (it’s the second-largest city in Ireland) or the crowds that filled its downtown streets on a Saturday afternoon. I attempted to find parking near the English Market but none was available. After some fruitless circling the crowded downtown, we agreed it wasn’t for us and returned to the route to Killarney.

We arrived in the early afternoon. Cows crossed the street in suburban Killarney, near our stay for the next three nights, Algret House B&B. It is a converted home in a residential neighborhood and a stone’s throw from the center of Killarney. The owner Greta greeted us and was very pleasant. Having been in the car all day, we were eager to walk into town. It was a little offputting initially. It was choked with people out on a Saturday night. Killarney needed more time to explore and appreciate, it turned out. We found our daughter a nice long tartan skirt in a wool shop. Then it was time for dinner at a restaurant recommended in guidebooks, Bricin Boxty House. Boxty resembles a potato pancake and is served in different ways. in our case, it was served filled.

Day 6: Slea Head Drive

The Route:

Killarney is near the starting points of two well-known scenic routes on the west coast of Ireland, Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula, and the longer Ring of Kerry, south of it. We chose the shorter Slea Head Drive, partly due to online reviews but also because it minimized the time on narrow windy coastal roads. We had perfect weather for our day trip. Though driving in Ireland had been stressful at times, we were glad to have our own car. It allowed us to spend all day touring the peninsula at our own pace. The alternative would have been to board one of the many tour buses that left for both destinations from Killarney.

We planned to access Slea Head Drive from nearby Dingle. Along the way to Dingle, we stopped for a few photos at Inch Beach, a long expanse of beach enjoyed by surfers and campers, parked on the sand. If the agenda wasn’t full, we could have easily spent hours there.

After passing through Dingle, we saw the signs for Slea Head Drive and soon were on our way. We proceeded around the loop clockwise, which is recommended as large tour buses drive in the same direction. Much of Slea Head Drive, particularly the southernmost part, is only wide enough for one car. There are areas to pull over to allow an oncoming driver to pass. We found ourselves backing up on occasion to allow a car to pass in the other direction.

Slea Head Drive sign
Follow these signs on Slea Head Drive. Credit: Bill Boese

A word about GPS and mapping applications: it is better to simply follow the Slea Head Drive signs than to navigate by GPS from stop to stop. This is because the GPS will occasionally route you directly to the next stop, rather than keeping you on the more scenic Slea Head Drive. The drive features many locations used in the filming of Star Wars movies, when driving there, be like Luke, turn off the computer.

Dunmore Head. Credit: Bill Boese

A full and thorough description of the sights along Slea Head Drive would fill an itinerary of its own. It was a drive where the views of the ocean, cliffs, beaches, and Blasket Islands caused us to pull over for pictures all day long. Here are the highlights from our drive:

  • Ventry Beach: A nice quiet small beach with views of the green hills
  • The Beehive: A collection of ancient stone huts overlooking the water. They were used as filming locations for Star Wars Episode VIII.
  • Slea Head/Dunmore Head Viewpoint – More cliffside and ocean views, and another Star Wars location.
  • Blasket Visitor Center – Oceanside cliffs with views of the Blasket Islands with green hills all around. We took a walk along the cliffs through farmers’ fields to the ruins of an ancient church.
  • Clogher Strand – A small circular beach surrounded by cliffs and rocks. Photographers gather there to capture pictures of the large waves crashing into the rocks.
  • Gallarus Oratory – A rare example of an ancient but intact stone building, most likely used as a church, over 1,000 years old.
Blasket Island Ireland coastal view
The view from the Blasket Islands Visitor Center. Credit: Bill Boese
The Gallarus Oratory. Credit: Bill Boese

Day 7: A Day in Killarney

The morning featured another very nice B&B breakfast. The owner Greta explains she has been doing this for 30 years. I ordered the full Irish breakfast the previous day. Greta took notice, “Good order, it’s Sunday, and Irish people only eat full Irish breakfast on Sundays, not every day”. I had been eating it most every day up to this point, until now. So sheepishly, on Monday, I went for just scrambled eggs and bacon

The weather forecast for the day called for rain, so fearing bad weather we decided to stay in Killarney We rejected the option of the Ring of Kerry drive. We had seen the Dingle peninsula on a great day, we saw no point in trying something similar again. I was relieved to have a day without a long drive. Killarney, at first sight, looked like a tourist town. On closer inspection, having been there a few days, it was a remarkable little town. Despite the throng of tourists, there were nice little residential neighborhoods, and schools. There were quaint little shops and pubs and restaurants all within a short walk’s distance.

But the main thing that seems to make it so livable is the presence of Killarney National Park. I’ve never seen a place where the entrance to a national park is in the middle of a city.  You could be sitting in your house in Killarney working from home in the morning, then get an hour break, and jump on a bike, or take a walk in a national park full of birds and historical ruins and be back in time for the 2 PM call. I know of no other place like it. Central Park and every other city park I have ever seen are too crowded and not nearly as wild. There were posted warnings everywhere to stay away from rutting red deer.

Ross Castle
Ross Castle, Killarney National Park. Credit: Bill Boese

We spent several leisurely hours walking for miles in the park, along the river, on the banks of a lake, in and around the ruins of a medieval castle. Birds were everywhere. It was all very pleasantly uncrowded. Locals were jogging and walking their dogs. Tourists were being pulled along in “Jaunty Cars”, horse-drawn carriages. There was a large antlered male red deer, with many females, in a group of smaller deer in front of us. All in the middle of town. After walking until we were tired and hungry, we exited the park and were deposited on the High St. in town for lunch.

In the afternoon we took a short drive to Muchross Abbey. It is within the park but an hour’s walk too far for this time of day. A bicycle would have come in handy. The abbey features a giant yew tree growing through the cloister’s courtyard.

The yew tree in Muckross Abbey.
The yew tree in Muckross Abbey. Credit: Bill Boese

Next was a drive to Tesco to resupply snacks for the last few days in Ireland. I scored a major victory in finding a large bag of dried fruit for use in Irish Christmas Pudding. I started looking forward to making my Christmas pudding, now made with Irish dried fruit purchased on the trip.

Day 8: Killarney to Galway

The end of the trip was drawing near. We repacked and reordered our suitcases to facilitate access to clean clothes for the last few days. We went down to breakfast one last time and said goodbye to Greta. She talked about the weather, and how it seemed to be rainy. In truth, no one, not even the meteorologist, seems to know what the weather will be like in Ireland until the weather happens.

The GPS said Galway was 2.5 hours away. The skies were dark and heavy. We had no planned stops along the way. Limerick was directly in the path but the persistent rain would make for difficult walking and sightseeing. The drive was relatively easy, mostly on highways. M and N roads. I was less anxious driving than in the beginning, but I was still grateful when I got on a highway and the GPS indicated I had a long distance to go until the next direction or turn. It was never more than 30 or 40 km but each one provided a little relief that I wouldn’t be dealing with narrow country roads for a little while.

We arrived at the Connacht Hotel in Galway, it was large and corporate and located in a busy suburb of Galway. Its meeting rooms were full. But it was clean and well-kept and would do for our last two nights in Ireland. The weather was gray and drizzly. The combination of weather and fatigue from several weeks of travel (we visited Iceland before this) stopped us from taking the local bus to the center of Galway. Instead, we walked to a nearby cafe across the road, the Full Duck, to pick up sandwiches for dinner later. We spent the afternoon and evening in the hotel catching up on photos and writing in the handwritten journal I take on every trip.

Day 9: Cliffs of Moher

We woke up to heavy rain, and a forecast for more. The plan was to drive 1.5 hours to the Cliffs of Moher, it was the last big item on the Ireland list, but we were unsure. We watched out the window of the hotel. It was rain, wind, followed by bright sunshine then wind and rain again. At noon we decided to give it a try, we didn’t want to spend the last day of the trip in the hotel.

The drive was challenging, with intermittent rain, but always scenic and very green. I wasn’t getting better at driving on the left-hand side of the road, just more comfortable, as I would hit at least one more curb on the drive. The route took us through cute small towns. We stopped for a photo of the thatched roof of the Merriman Hotel. The desolate rock hills of The Burren contrasted with the emerald green farmer’s fields. It was one of many memorable drives through Ireland.

Cliffs of Moher Ireland
The Cliffs of Moher with O’Brien’s Tower in the distance. Credit: Bill Boese

We finally arrived at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center. The skies had fortunately cleared to sunny, but the wind was howling. It was 55 degrees but the 30 mph wind made it feel much colder. But we were there, we made it and we soldiered on.

The scenery was dramatic, with long views of the water and nearby islands. There were tall cliffs with trails along their edges, full of walkers, above the sea. We were bracing against a howling wind as we walked into the visitor center which looks to have been built into the side of a hill, covered in grass. I was surprised no sheep or cows were walking on it. As it was time for lunch I found the crowded snack bar and a stack of homemade Guinness and steak pies.

Fortified, we walked out and uphill on the path along the cliff. By the water, the view was better than advertised. The Cliffs of Moher and Slea Head Drive provide the scenery that postcards are made of. We shared the route with numerous cows, ubiquitous in Ireland. In lower sections of the cliff, dips or shallows, the breeze was funneled into something much stronger. It was difficult to walk in these sections. In one valley a small trickle of a waterfall was trying to flow down the cliff but the onshore wind, which was forced up and over blew the falling water over the top of the cliff and then sideways across it. It looked like a scene from a hurricane. Everyone struggled through the 50 ft section of sideways water and wind. It was a waterfall in reverse.

The view south of the Cliffs of Moher. Credit: Bill Boese

After a sufficient walk along the scenic cliffs, we agreed it was time to return to the hotel. We had squeezed the last little bit of fun and adventure out of the trip.

We had dinner at the Connacht Hotel restaurant, more extravagant than any meal we ate on the trip, but worth it. I ordered a good Irish whisky and said goodbye to Ireland.

Day 10: The Journey Home

Our flight back to the US departed from Dublin Airport. We were in Galway. When planning the trip, the drive to the airport did not seem like a burden. However, we spent time stuck in Dublin rush hour traffic near the airport, then struggled to locate the car rental return. In addition, I never found a gas station near the airport. It was an accumulation of small things that led to a stressful experience. I would have been better served by spending the last night in Dublin, dropping off the rental car the day before, and taking a bus or taxi from Dublin to the airport. By the time I arrived in the US, I was exhausted from the early wake-up and long day of travel. The first few minutes back in my car were spent in confusion as I quickly unlearned the driving habits I picked up in Ireland.

Final Thoughts

Ireland was full of awe-inspiring nature, history, great food, and friendly people. I am happy to have experienced the country where part of my family history derives. Driving across and around the country added to the sense of adventure, I would not have done it any other way. My only regret is that we only had 10 days to spend there. I look forward to returning, spending more time on the Wild Atlantic Way, and visiting Northern Island. I hope this itinerary helps you plan your trip and discover this amazing country!

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