Driving Tour Of Ireland Itinerary
Alex’s Travel Ireland Blog
Alex is a freelance writer and a historian, his thoughts here on his driving tour of Ireland with friends is a perfect love letter to the Emerald Isle. Alex’s passion for things and places he loves bleeds through in his writing style which is perfectly suited to emotive retelling and storycraft. Please enjoy this guest post. For details on how to hire Alex please use the contact us.
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Driving Tour Of Ireland Itinerary
Day One: Dublin
Land in Dublin and see as much as you can, pick your top three ‘must see’s and get them in. Organize your car hire and make sure you spend the evening somewhere lively to get a taste of Irish hospitality.
Car Hire In Ireland Tip: the person whose name the car rental is in (and who drives!) must be at least 24! There are other age restrictions and some *very alarming* increases in cost for certain age brackets – make sure you look these up before choosing a company!
Day Two: Limerick for Lunch and Killarney
Im about two and a half hours drive from Dublin is Limerick, it’s a great place to stop for lunch. There is so much to see in Limerick that stopping for lunch should take a few hours! You can drop by a 13th Century Riverside Fortress, St Mary’s Cathedral, and even a fairy garden!
Killarney is only an hour or so further down the road and has so much to offer. Incredible houses, Ross Castle, but also the incredible Killarney Lakes.Do Your Research! Grab the Ireland Lonely Planet Here!
Day Three: Gap of Dunloe, Dingle, Beach Visit
Only 30 minutes out of Killarney is the Gap of Dunloe. This incredible scene is definitely worth the quick jaunt south because the water, the mountains, the bridge – and the overall awe that this horizon inspires deserves a visit.
You can then head back north through Castlemaine and curve along the coast for about an hour and a half and head to Dingle. Great name, Greater place. The sheer cliffs and curving roads might be too much for those with vertigo but the charming streets and the harbor will win you back.
The Beach Visit portion is up to you as there are a few different places near by to explore. While you might not associate beaches with Ireland immediately this is definitely an assumption that needs to be challenged – the beaches in County Kerry are gorgeous!
Day Four: The Castles and Moll’s Gap
Castle Day! Well okay more than castles but, also castles. Within a decent drive from Dingle there are several castles to explore. While you can definitely spend the whole day castle hopping, you can also pick one or two to focus on and spread them out!
Moll’s Gap is on the N71 road from Kenmare to Killarney, and it is a stunning way to head back east for the final day in Dublin.
Day Five: Dublin for Departure
Spend what time you have on the last day catching the things you didn’t have time for on your first day, hunting out last minute gifts and souvenirs, or looking up the places you’ve been told about on your trip!
If you don’t have time to pick a souvenir for yourself while there, head on over to Etsy and check out some of the incredible artists who are Irish, based in Ireland, or just love it as much as you did!
Our Driving Tour of Ireland
“Everything’s more Ancient in Ireland isn’t it?”
Is a line so cliched it could only be a joke. And it is. Delivered by John Finnemore in the BBC radio cult classic Cabin Pressure, it is a set up for the sardonic response of “not the airports” delivered so masterfully be Roger Allum that transcribing it onto the page fails to do it any justice.
Sidenote if you want to wow the Benedict Cumberbatch fan in your life, get them the boxset of Cabin Pressure to show them just what the Hollywood megastar was up to back in the day…then get the boxset for yourself because it really is amazing.
Expectations Of Travelling in Ireland
This somewhat silly line spoken by a somewhat silly character works because it contains a kernel of truth, or rather a kernel of jokey popular stereotyping. Ireland! It’s rather quaint and twee isn’t it? For many, to go beyond Dublin and the big cities, is to go beyond the pale (literally) into the land of stereotypes. Ancient ruins, fairies, and drunk over friendly locals.
This isn’t an issue unique to Ireland, most tourist-heavy countries suffer under touristic delusions. See the UK and the Guards, Holland and the Tulips (yes… tulips) and New Zealand and the Hobbits.
There are two ways these stereotypical expectations can go badly wrong. embrace them too much and a country can create a tacky and saccharine tourist trap nightmare, go too far the other way and a harsh rejection of expectations can leave the visitor with a bad case of Paris syndrome.
It was this dilemma that afflicted me as I travelled to Ireland this autumn. As someone with distant Irish heritage (through a great grandmother who was Irish, or had an Irish Setter) I have long been one of those persons obsessed to a cringy degree with Ireland and Irish culture, a proper “Hiberniabo.”
Yet I was secretly terrified, as I flew in to Dublin with several friends to see the Republic for the first time in my life, that I would be met by a barrage of plastic leprechauns and buried under Riverdance CDs, or a grim rejection of all my naïve imaginings. The reality that unfolded over the trip was that the experience was amazing and a stunning example of how to find the balance in leaning into stereotypes without taking the piss.
Arriving in Dublin
We had decided to strike out from Dublin for our travels. After the obligatory stop at the Guinness factory, we spent only a short time in the capital before heading for County Kerry and Killarney. Dublin itself was beautiful, not wholly dissimilar to any other big capital but not without its own unique charm.
Dublin gave me the first taste of the Irish experience, friendly locals, charming pubs and lots of history, but significantly I didn’t feel that it was overselling it. Sure, the gift shop of St Patrick’s Cathedral selling “Celtic shot glasses” gave me pause but the experience of Dublin didn’t feel like it was a false authenticity, Dublin felt charmingly Irish because it is Irish and charming.
Moving out of Dublin on a road trip towards the Southwest coast, two things became obvious. Firstly, Ireland is astonishingly easy to traverse. Our trip to Killarney took a grand total of six hours, which included a three-hour detour to Limerick for lunch on the Midwest coast, almost the opposite side of the country to Dublin but such was the quality of infrastructure that the trip was barely an inconvenience.
Tarmac infrastructure is rarely on the forefront of most traveller’s minds but when well designed roads can take you from one part of the land to another on a journey through absolutely jaw-dropping scenery it is certainly something to enjoy. And Ireland really is jaw-dropping.
Seeing The Kerry Mountains
At the risk of hyperbole, there is a part of me that makes me want to suffer a sudden bout of selective amnesia so that I can get the chance to see the Kerry Mountains suddenly appear in front of me again. It was a sight of such drama and spectacle. We came around a gentle bend on a hill to be faced with the huge peaks dominating either side of the valley below with the sun cresting over the furthermost reaches. Ireland really is beautiful and the very roads are designed to serve this beauty up on a plate.
The ring of Kerry is designed for this purpose. A vast ring road around the county with turnoffs strategically placed to allow a curious traveller a detour to a new place of interest. Convenient transportation to beauty and memories served with tactful understatement. Few, if any, of these remarkable sights had much in the way of over-the-top signs or similar additions that can leach the majesty from natural wonders.
Tourism In Ireland
You’ll know you’ve reached Ladies’ View, Mol’s Gap or any other of the innumerable natural or manmade wonders, not because of the signage but because the spectacle hits you right in the face and you’ll spot the cluster of other marvelling viewers joining you.
There are some shops and tourist trinkets to be found but they had the sense to stay in the background, allowing a visitor the chance really to take in the magnificence. “There you go, what a sight!” they seem to say, “and when you’re done marvelling at this, why not pop in for a cup of tea. And since you’re here, how about a nice postcard or two?”
It’s tourism that lets the actual sites do the talking. Whether those sites be natural or man made wonders.
Ireland in Ruins
Yes ancient Ireland, land of haunted castles, has plenty of historical ruins of all kinds. However, how Ireland presents these ruins once again plays into Ireland’s understated majesty and tourist trapping genius.
Broadly speaking there seem to be two types of ruins in Ireland. The first are the actual ruins. Collapsed Keeps and towers often jutting out from the landscape like some ancient lighthouse in a sea that long since forgot its purpose, or buried in some ancient forest as it reclaims the land humans dared claim for themselves.
These ruins instill a wonderful sense of drama and in many countries, they would have the spotlight shone on them as the beacons of a fascinating past, complete with gift shops and car parks. In Ireland though, they are simply part of the landscape, some reason consigns them to the background tapestry builds up the picture of Ancient Ireland.
Ross Castle and Stagiue Castle – preserved and wonderful
On the other hand, there are the sites that are preserved, designed as tourist destinations for visitors to enter and explore and it is in these ruins that Ireland’s uniqueness really comes into its own. Two sites in particular; Ross Castle, a medieval Towerhouse, and Stagiue Castle, an iron age hill fort, demonstrate this well.
In the former, great pains had been taken to present the Castle in its historical context. Although access was restricted to much of the building, there was a room open to the public detailing the history of the site in its entirety, including its decay and restoration by the Irish government, and restoration really is the word. The castle looked as if it had been plucked straight out of the 15th century.
Aside from a visitor’s entrance and the room dedicated to the castle’s history, there was almost nothing in the way of modern touches immediately apparent to any visitor. And no pressure to pay for the privilege for exploring history either. It was possible to visit the castle, marvel at its beauty, and then leave without spending a single penny.
This was even more apparent at Stagiue castle. Iron age hill forts deserve their own special place in the pantheon of amazingly cool places but Stagiue castle stands out as truly extraordinary.
While the castle is astonishingly well preserved, visitors are nonetheless encouraged to clamber up the walls and poke around inside the tiny antechambers that are what remain of this once major social and political hub. Once again, aside from a small sign giving a brief but highly detailed history of the site, there are no modern intrusions.
The only indicators of modern civilisation are a small cluster of modern houses and cars at the end of the valley – that manage to have no impact on the spectacular views offered by this relic out of time – and a stack of hand painted postcards of the site with an honesty box next to them.
To be sure, some of the places we visited somewhat oversold their local attractions (the town of Dingle had a veritable armada of ships designed to let you meet local wildlife celebrity, Fungie the dolphin) and there was plenty of tourist trinkets available to the discerning customer but none of it overshadowed or tainted the authenticity of the attractions.
In Ireland, or at least in Kerry, the traveller is encouraged to wonder at the sites on display without being pressed to part with money or taken out of the experience in some other way. Part of this is down to the sheer beauty and history of Ireland requiring basically no work to make it tourist friendly but it is thanks to the locals as well.
The True Charm Of Ireland – The People
The cynically minded might think the lack of visitor engagement may make it seem that the people were unfriendly and unwelcoming but nothing could be further from the truth. We all know the stereotype of the over-cheery, drunk Irishman, a stereotype born out of colonialist propaganda.
Whilst the Irish are certainly welcoming, friendly and good humoured in a way that lifts the spirit, they are so in a way that is not irritating to the hungover or to misanthropes like me. More than welcome to leave you to your devices then invite you to party afterwards. And they really do know how to party.
In Dublin a night of live music and street to street bonhomie was expected. It was a big city filled with students and with a reputation as a party town. In Killarney by contrast, we were warned to expect little. “You’ll be in for a quiet one tonight lads” assured our cab driver. By which he meant, the live music only carried on until midnight. Everywhere we looked we found cheap alcohol and a warm welcome and where else could one find bouncers actively inviting patrons into a live music venue just to get them out of the cold? This was only Killarney, a relatively sleepy town with not much else going on and yet the bars were thrown open and everyone was having fun. On a Monday night.
Truth be told, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface in this long, rather rambling, screed of just what a majestic place Ireland is to visit. I was lucky enough to go with good friends and have good weather but the truth is Ireland really is something else. A spectacular place to visit that feels magical but also just like home, an experience many travellers look for and is just so hard to find.
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