Looking to take a trip to the Emerald Isle, but not sure where to start? This itinerary has lots of great tips for how to spend a week in Ireland!
Living in the Philadelphia area, Irish pride is everywhere. Claddagh rings abound, I have more than one friend with an Irish-inspired tattoo, and there was a gift shop of Irish trinkets less than a mile from my first apartment. Like many cities in the American Northeast, over the centuries Philadelphia has seen tens of thousands of immigrants arrive from the Emerald Isle. (I would say “welcomed,” but unfortunately that wasn’t always the case.) Now, even generations removed, many of my neighbors still feel an acute connection to their ancestral homeland.
After experiencing Ireland for myself, I can understand why people would be proud to trace their heritage to this beautiful, welcoming isle. The rolling hills are just as green and idyllic as the songs suggest. It’s a land where you can feel its history in your very bones. Dramatic sea cliffs and stunning vistas take your breath away. The people are warm and friendly. And is there anything more lovely to listen to than a lilting Irish brogue?
I first visited Ireland as a part of a multi-generational trip with M and his parents. After an unforgettable week in Scotland, the four of us couldn’t wait to continue our adventure in the Emerald Isle. Join me today as I share the first half of our week in Ireland, with tips for how to have a fantastic Irish adventure of your own!(Note: some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which means that I may earn a small commission from your purchase at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting Full Life, Full Passport! You can find the full disclosure here.)
How to Spend a Week in Ireland:
The Itinerary at a Glance
Day 1: Belfast
Day 2: The Northern Coast and Giant’s Causeway
Day 3: Galway and the Connemara Peninsula
Day 4: The Cliffs of Moher and Killarney
Day 5: Killarney and the Ring of Kerry
Day 6: Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, and Enniskerry
Day 7: Glendalough
Day 8: Dublin and Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Belfast
We arrived in Ireland after a short flight from Glasgow, landing in Dublin in the morning. Our first order of business was to pick up our rental car, after which we set off for Northern Ireland.
It’s an easy two-hour drive from Dublin to Belfast – or it would have been had our rental car not had a case of the shakes. Within minutes of hitting the highway, M’s dad noticed a persistent tremor in the steering wheel. The vehicle was rattling, as well, to the point where we ended up calling the rental car company and making arrangements to meet a mechanic
I won’t bore you with the entirety of our rental car saga, since it ended up plaguing us for days before we finally swapped out the car in Limerick. Suffice it to say that our mechanical delay meant that we didn’t arrive in Belfast until well after noon. The tardiness of our arrival, coupled with our fatigue after a busy week in Scotland, meant that we were more ready for a nap than sightseeing. We grabbed lunch – lured in by the cheeky sign below – and headed straight to our Airbnb.
Our home in Belfast was an apartment located in a primarily residential neighborhood. It had two floors with lots of living space, a fully stocked kitchen, onsite parking, and laundry facilities. Our excitement was somewhat dampened by the fact that it was a bit dirty, but it still served our purposes for our short time in the city.
Mama M immediately took on the arduous task of attempting to do laundry in the all-in-one washing machine and dryer. There are a lot of things that Europe does well, but America still wins by a landslide in the laundry equipment department.
I’m disappointed that we didn’t have more time or energy to properly explore Belfast. It’s an interesting place, with a hardened edge to it that we hadn’t experienced thus far on our trip. The city is beautiful in some ways, rough-and-tumble in others. While it wasn’t long ago that Belfast was high on the list of places too dangerous or unstable to visit, now it’s absolutely worth putting on your itinerary.
Of all the things to do in Belfast, the most interesting to me were visiting the Titanic museum and taking a black taxi tour.
I’m not fanatical about all things Titanic, but it’s hard to escape the legend and romanticism of the doomed luxury liner. This most famous of ships was built in Belfast, and today an excellent museum sits in the spot where she was first put to sea. Titanic Belfast offers lots of interactive options to immerse yourself in the fascinating history of Titanic‘s construction, sailing, and ultimate demise.
One of the best ways to learn more about Belfast’s tumultuous history is by taking a black taxi tour. Also called black cab tours, this unique experience involves being driven in a black London-style taxi to visit the multitude of political murals around the city. Belfast was at the center of the Troubles, the violent sectarian conflict between loyalists (mostly Protestant) who favored Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom and republicans (mostly Catholic) who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland and unite the island. It was a bloody mess, viewed as either a guerrilla war for independence or a terrorist uprising depending on which side you were on.
During the Troubles, dozens of murals were painted across Belfast. These murals served as propaganda for each side, marked territories of different sectarian groups, made political points, and illustrated historical events. Many still remain and provide a glimpse into the history and political climate of the time.
While you can certainly visit the murals on your own, I recommend taking a black taxi tour. Having a local driver narrate the experience will make all the difference in helping you understand the complex history and emotion around each mural and the events they depict. My biggest regret about my time in Belfast was that it did not include a black taxi tour.
Other Things to Do in Belfast
- Fans shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the many Game of Thrones filming locations located in Northern Ireland. An easy day trip from Belfast can take you to such places as the Dark Hedges (the Kingsroad) and Old Castle Ward (Winterfell).
- Step back in time with a visit to Crumlin Road Gaol. Dating from the mid-19th century, this prison was home to a number of notable prisoners and played an important role in Northern Ireland’s history. Ghost tours are also available, if that’s your thing.
- Take a walk through the Cathedral Quarter, which is full of fun bars, restaurants, artist studios, and more. There is also plenty of street art to adorn your Instagram feed.
- Still looking for inspiration? Check out this great post from Riana over at Teaspoon of Adventure about how to spend 24 hours in Belfast!
Tips for Arriving in Ireland
- Although we started in Belfast and ended in Dublin, it’s usually easier and less expensive to fly into and out of a single airport. We chose Dublin, but the two cities are so close that you can easily price compare.
- Renting a car in Ireland can be more complicated, and in some cases more expensive, than in other countries. Part of the problem lies in the insurance requirements. The vast majority of Irish rental cars are returned with some degree of damage, mostly thanks to all those picturesque narrow, winding roads. Thus, extra CDW insurance is mandatory. This article does a great job explaining everything you need to know about these insurance requirements as well as other tips for renting a car in Ireland.
- If you choose to drive yourself on your Irish vacation, rent the smallest car that can comfortably fit you and your luggage.
- I always recommend having at least your first night’s lodging booked when you arrive in a new country. The last thing you’ll want to do when embarking on a new adventure is worry about finding a place to stay. This is especially true after a red-eye flight, when energy and patience may be low.
Day 2: The Northern Coast and Giant’s Causeway
With a day of rest under our belts and (we think?) clean laundry in our suitcases, we were ready to set off on our Irish adventure. First on the docket was a road trip through Northern Ireland, with the goal of crossing into the Republic of Ireland for two nights in Galway.
Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast is a gorgeous stretch of sea cliffs, crashing waves, and picturesque little towns. It’s the perfect place to take a leisurely drive, stopping often for photos or just to admire the dramatic coastline. Our first destination was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Located about an hour north of Belfast, this stomach-churning attraction stretches from the mainland out to a little island. It was originally constructed in the mid-18th century by salmon fishermen but now sees more tourists than fish.
The rope bridge is not for the faint of heart. It’s almost seventy feet long and spans a hundred-foot drop to the rocks and water below. It costs £9 for the pleasure of defying death.
Once you’re on the island, though, you can really appreciate the beauty of the coastline. Everywhere you look are beautiful, teal-colored water and rocky green crags. The island is yours to wander, though you should take care not to get too close to the steep drops at its edges!
The island is a popular destination, but if the weather is nice and the island uncrowded it would be a great place to just sit and enjoy the scenery.
Unfortunately for us, it was drizzling as we crossed onto the island and soon began to rain in earnest. As a result, we didn’t linger long. At any rate, we were anxious to make it to the Giant’s Causeway.
The Giant’s Causeway is an incredible geological formation located along the coast. Tens of thousands of basalt columns of varying sizes crowd together at the edge of the sea. They fit together seamlessly at the corners like they were cut and placed there by human hands.
The area is actually the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, but legend holds that Irish giant Finn MacCool built the causeway across the North Channel to answer the challenge of a fellow giant in Scotland. Some say that he defeated the giant, but the other version of the story is more colorful. It tells that Finn saw the size of the Scottish giant and fled back to Ireland, where his wife disguised him as a baby. When the Scottish giant saw the size of “baby” Finn, he was terrified at how huge his father must be. He scrambled back to Scotland, destroying the causeway along the way to prevent the massive giant from following him.
The Giant’s Causeway is one of the most popular tourist sites on the island, and for good reason. Geologically, it’s fascinating. I was amazed at how a volcanic eruption could result in such a unique and unnatural-looking landscape.
For the most part, you are free to wander the rocks, though some areas are restricted for safety reasons. While the most impressive collection of stones are clustered in one large area, there are also some trails and pathways to roam that give you additional views of the columns, hills, and rocky coastline. Don’t miss the Giant’s Boot, a foot-shaped rock that looks like it was left behind on the shoreline Cinderella-style.
From the Giant’s Causeway, we still had a long five-hour drive before we reached Galway. We traveled south, passing through the town of Londonderry (also called Derry) before crossing into the Republic of Ireland. At the time, the only real indicator that you’d crossed an international border was that we were suddenly driving on the opposite side of the road and distance was now measured in kilometers rather than miles. This may change, however, depending on how the details of the British exit from the European Union (Brexit) are negotiated. These land borders between Ireland and Northern Ireland are a major sticking point and could cause problems and delays for future visitors
Brexit was the last thing on our minds as we drove south through brilliant sunshine and rolling green fields. The views out the window were postcard-perfect: sweet little villages, verdant pastures, and the occasional herd of sheep or cattle.
We were about halfway to Galway when my mother-in-law caught sight of a castle in the distance. She was so intrigued by it that we decided to turn off the highway and see if we could get a closer look. I wrote about this adventure in much more detail in this post, but suffice it to say that our little detour ended up being one of our favorite memories from our trip to Ireland. The turnoff took us out to the edge of the Mullaghmore Peninsula. There, we found ourselves standing wonderstruck as rainbows arced over our heads, waves crashed and churned against rocky precipices, and the castle was bathed in an evening glow like something out of a fairy tale.
It was truly incredible. If you ever get the chance to experience a sunset on the Irish coast, take it.
Finally, we returned to the highway. After a quick stop in Sligo for a bite to eat, we pushed on to Galway. Our home for the next two nights was the Western Hotel. This homey spot is located within walking distance of Quay Street, the main tourist drag, while still being far enough away to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep.
Sleep was the only thing on our minds as we made our weary way to our rooms. After a full day of sightseeing and a five-hour drive, we were excited to collapse into the Western’s comfy beds.
Tips for the Antrim Coast:
- The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is only about an hour and fifteen minutes from Belfast, making it and the Giant’s Causeway an easy day trip. Driving the whole way to Galway was the right thing for our itinerary, but I generally wouldn’t suggest packing that kind of drive into your day.
- The drive between Carrick-a-Rede and Giant’s Causeway only takes about fifteen minutes, so it’s easy to do both in one day. There are also other sights along the Antrim Coast worth visiting, so consider taking a full day and staying in the area.
- Wear sturdy shoes to visit both the Causeway and the rope bridge. Any amount of rainfall can make the grass and rocks very slippery. Always watch your step as you explore both sites and pay attention to posted signs.
A shuttle is available between the Giant’s Causeway visitor’s cent er
- It’s free to access the stones,
thougha guided tour and some exhibits in the visitor’s center will cost you £12.50 for adults and £6.25 for children. Discounted tickets can be purchased in advance here.
- Derry / Londonderry is worth a stop if you have the time. The city was a flashpoint during the Troubles, so it’s a good place to learn about that tumultuous period in Irish history.
Day 3: Galway and the Connemara Peninsula
You would think that we would have had enough driving after our trek from Belfast to Galway, but we still found the energy to set off the next morning. Galway sits at the edge of the Connemara region, an area that still holds tightly to traditional Irish culture and language. We wanted to see a little bit of the countryside, which I’d read was very beautiful, and try to experience this historic way of life.
We followed the R336 along the coastline, admiring the scenery and stopping occasionally for a closer look. It was a lovely day, with intermittent clouds rolling through to accentuate the moody, wild landscapes.
The countryside was quaint, with stone fencerows crisscrossing rugged green fields like a patchwork of lumpy gray ribbons.
When planning our trip to Ireland, I had entertained the notion of venturing the whole way to Kylemore Abbey. This stately monastery sits in a dreamy location along a lake in western Connemara. It also features walled Victorian gardens, guided hikes, and other fun things to do.
Unfortunately, we only had a day to spend in this part of the country, and we didn’t want to miss out on everything Galway had to offer. After grabbing lunch in a roadside pub, we made the decision to turn back. I’ll just have to save the abbey and the rest of Connemara for my next trip!
Upon our return to Galway, M and I set off on our own to take in the sights. Galway is a fun town with a lively energy that’s contagious. Pedestrian Quay Street and its surrounding avenues form the main tourist center, boasting lots of shops and restaurants. As with any highly-touristed area, the quality and offerings are hit-and-miss, but it made for a fun and colorful stroll.
At night, Quay Street comes alive with the sound of trad music: traditional Irish folk tunes played on drums, accordions, fiddles, and the like. After enjoying a delicious date night dinner at Oscar’s Seafood Bistro, M and I found a crowded pub to enjoy some music. Pints in hand, we spent hours rubbing elbows with locals and tourists alike and tapping our feet to the frenetic music. It was the perfect I
Tips for Galway and Connemara:
- Kylemore Abbey is only an hour and a half from Galway, so it’s not hard to visit during your stay. If you’d like to tour the abbey and grounds, adult entry is €14 and students are €9.50.
- If you’re a beer fan, don’t miss the chance to grab a pint of Galway Hooker, a local favorite.
Day 4: Cliffs of Moher and Killarney
We were sad to leave charming little Galway behind, but it was easier knowing that one of Ireland’s most famous – and most impressive – attractions awaited us. By mid-morning, we would be standing on the precipice of the Cliffs of Moher.
An hour and a half south of Galway, pounded by centuries of wind and waves, the Cliffs of Moher rise to impossible heights above the sea. Stretching for almost ten miles along the coast, the cliffs are over seven hundred feet at their tallest. They’re a must-see on any Ireland itinerary, and it doesn’t take long to understand why.
Like me, you have probably seen photos of the cliffs, but I was awed to find that they fail miserably at doing them justice. The cliffs far more massive – both in height and in how far they stretched toward the horizon – than I expected. My jaw literally dropped as we walked up the paved pathway and they came into view.
The main viewing area at the Cliffs of Moher is spacious and well-constructed, so there are lots of places to admire the scenery or take photos. Walking along the stone pathways allows you to view the crags from a number of angles, each one more stunning than the next.
All of this natural drama, however, draws hordes of visitors. Particularly in summer, you may find that the viewing platforms and walkways can get pretty crowded.
Happily, unpaved trails stretch out in either direction from the main tourist area. Walking even a short distance along them is highly recommended; not only do the different angles change your perspective of the cliffs, but I found that I could best revel in their grandeur when I left the crowds behind.
We chose to take the southern trail, which runs off into the horizon along the spine of the cliffs. You can walk as far as you’d like along the perilous edges, and there are also a couple of spots where you can pause to sit and just be awed. I felt like I could sit all day and watch the endless waves crashing into the indomitable walls of rock. All in all, the exercise, fresh air, and marvelous views did wonders for the soul.
Finally, though, we decided to head back to the car to continue on our way to Killarney. The drive took about two and a half hours and passed through some pretty towns, including the storybook village of Adare. You could easily have spent a week in the area we covered in this single day.
We had booked another homestay for our time in Killarney. Its official name was Gallan Eile, but after meeting our host we began to simply refer to it as “Frank’s.” His place was by far the best Airbnb we booked during our whole Scotland and Ireland trip. It sits on a hillside with striking views out over Killarney National Park, and the inside is warm and cozy. We felt at home immediately.
Frank welcomed us warmly upon arrival with a bottle of wine, a bowl of fresh fruit, and a plate of homemade scones all waiting in the kitchen. This delighted us, but even more impressive than his hospitality was Frank’s knowledge of the local area. This man literally wrote the book on the abundance of things to do in Killarney. Guidebooks and pamphlets galore bear his name, and there was a thick binder of information on the coffee table for our use. He was more than happy to chat with us about how to spend our time in Killarney, and we certainly took full advantage of his generosity and expertise.
After finally taking our leave of Frank, and at his recommendation, we went to The Jarvey’s Rest (now called Major Colgan’s) for some dinner. There, we had a seafood chowder that was so delicious it was practically life-changing. It basically ruined other seafood chowders for me forever. The name of the restaurant has changed, but my sister visited in September of 2019 and assured me that the chowder is still incredible!
Tips for the Cliffs of Moher and Arriving in Killarney
- Between Galway and the Cliffs of Moher is an area called the Burren. This rugged, rocky landscape is a remnant from the last ice age. We didn’t have time to stop, but there are plenty of historic sites and hiking opportunities if you do.
- Make sure to dress in layers when visiting the Cliffs of Moher. The wind can be strong and chilly coming off the water. Sturdy shoes are also recommended, especially if you plan to wander the paths along the cliffs. The main viewing platform is wheelchair-accessible.
- For a small fee, you can climb to the top of O’Brien’s Tower at the north end of the main visitor area. Save your money; we found that getting a couple of stories higher didn’t add much to the already spectacular view.
- Keep an eye on small children and, in my case, adrenaline-junkie husbands. Most of the cliff faces lack any sort of railing and can be unstable.
- Between the car park and the cliffs themselves are some services, including a cafe with views of the cliffs, a visitor’s center, and a nice gift shop.
- For a different perspective, take a boat trip to see the Cliffs of Moher from the water. Cruises are available out of Doolin (below). I can only imagine how small I would feel staring up at those massive rock faces from the sea below.
- The town of Doolin, about seven kilometers north of the Cliffs, is a center for traditional Irish music and may be worth a visit.
- Major Colgan’s also offers a show of traditional music and dancing accompanied by a three-course dinner. It happens four times a week from May to October. Advance reservations encouraged.
We found so many amazing things to do in Ireland that I couldn’t fit them all into one post! Check back next week for the conclusion of our week in Ireland, where we visit Killarney, drive the Ring of Kerry, explore the ancient fortification of the Rock of Cashel, and hike through beautiful Glendalough.
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This article about how to spend a week in Ireland was originally posted on October 15, 2019, and was last updated on October 25, 2020.
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