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The Best 8-Day Road Trip Itinerary in Ireland

The Republic of Ireland was country #7 and our last country before temporarily heading back to the U.S. after our six-month digital nomad journey through Europe. After spending the entire Spring and Summer in warm sunny countries on the sea, we wanted to end with a destination that would slowly ease us back into autumn in Seattle, where we spend part of the year, and Ireland did just that! I noted many parallels between Ireland and the Pacific Northwest, including beautiful nature, copious shades of green everywhere, grey skies, and drizzly days that sometimes turned into torrential downpours. But there were two things that pleasantly surprised us about visiting Ireland: first, the food was outstanding with a great influence from other countries’ cuisines, and second, the people were unbelievably friendly! I have a theory that the further North you go into countries with cold and dreary weather, the less friendly people are (though Canada has also smashed this theory with its friendly folk.) One of the most popular sayings in Ireland is, “there is no such thing as strangers, just friends we haven’t met yet.” This should give you an idea of how wonderfully welcoming the Irish are.

We were pleasantly shocked by the incredible diversity of cultures and people from other countries! For some reason we were naively expecting the majority of the country to be Irish, but Dublin and Cork in particular, was like visiting London or New York in terms of cultural diversity! In our first 24 hours, we met people from: Spain, Poland, Croatia, Romania, Moldova, China, Portugal, Brazil and Hungary! Many Europeans come to Ireland to learn English.

If you’re keen to see rugged natural beauty, towns filled with castles straight from a children’s fairytale book, friendly, jovial people with a really fun accent, and deep, rich, fascinating history, then Ireland is the country for you! What was really fun about visiting Ireland is that we began our digital nomad journey in Europe, on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal. When we landed, I remember thinking that this must be what Ireland looked like. Low and behold, six months later we ended our journey in Ireland!

Though Ireland is very popular amongst tourists, it didn’t feel commercialized at all. It felt very authentic and maintains the preservation of Irish culture. The best way to see this island country is to take a driving road trip. In this blog post I’ll cover the perfect 8-day itinerary to cover all the major sights and towns in the Republic of Ireland. Note that you can do this itinerary either clockwise or counterclockwise.

Before we jump into the road trip itinerary, here are 23 things you should know before embarking on your trip to Ireland.

23 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Ireland

  1. In Ireland, you’ll drive on the opposite side of the road, like in Japan, Australia or the UK. This means that the driver is on the right side of the car, meaning for a manual car, you’ll have to shift with your left hand. If you’re not comfortable with this, you may consider a bus tour or hiring a private driver. Sasha did all the driving and got the hang of it in about a day, until it became second nature
  2. Ireland is actually split into two countries with their own separate governance: The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. If you’ll be visiting both countries, do note that the currency changes once you cross over! The Republic of Ireland uses the euro, and Northern Ireland uses the pound sterling. We skipped Northern Ireland due to time constraints, though we heard wonderful things about it
  3. Unlike in most other countries, the left lane is the slow lane (because everything on the road is opposite)
  4. The Republic of Ireland is one of four countries who does not allow you to cover car insurance on your credit card unless you have a letter from your credit card company. If you do not arrive with a letter, you will need to pay an extra €25 per day, so plan ahead
  5. If you take your rental car into Northern Ireland across the border, you’ll need to pay an extra €35 (only a one-time fee, not per day); check with your rental car company, as the fee amount may vary, and be sure to tell your rental car company your plans, as crossing the border requires additional paperwork
  6. A Shanna Key is a storyteller. The Shanna Key was nomadic, and would go around telling stories, which is how they earned their accommodation for the night. Folks would gather around the fire with neighbors and listen to the Shanna Key’s stories, which were typically sad. The Shanna Key would present a menu (like a repertoire) and the audience would select the story they wanted to hear
  7. Irish people are unbelievably friendly and joyous with a grand sense of humor; you will immediately feel welcomed almost everywhere you go, and they’ll likely have you laughing at their jokes in no time!
  8. Drivers are very nice and understanding that tourists may not be used to driving on the opposite side of the road; you won’t hear much honking, unlike in Italy where honking is a way of life
  9. The phrase for “thank you very much” is “thanks a million” – you’ll hear this all the time
  10. Don’t try to impress an Irish person by showing off your Irish accent – they will not be amused
  11. The Great Potato Famine was from 1845 – 1849 with 1847 being the worst year. Ireland made a mistake when they changed the rules on subdividing land; rather than giving the land to the eldest son, they divided the plots between all sons, so because of the multiple subdivisions, land became no longer valuable. The Potato Famine was known to the locals as “big hunger” rather than famine because it can’t be a famine in a country filled with food. Plenty of food was being grown within the country, but they were selling it to England to make money
  12. The pub music culture has only come about recently since tourism spread to Ireland; before, a pub was just a smokey filled bar with drinking but no live music
  13. Speaking Irish (Gaelic) is revered and is even considered cool amongst youngsters and teenagers. Folk music is something that they love, cherish and honor rather than feel embarrassed by
  14. There are around 40 million Americans with Irish heritage, so visiting Ireland is like a homecoming to many visitors
  15. Ireland is unbelievably immaculate. There are even contests and awards for what they call “Tidy Towns” – you’ll see the gold medal winners proudly display the plaque upon entering their county
  16. Driving around nearly the entire republic, we never saw a single home or building in disrepair, not even an old roof or a house that needed a paint job; it looked as though every single home on the island was built yesterday
  17. Signs are listed both in Irish and English
  18. “We’re like white Jamaicans – it’s an “ish” culture; music will start at 9ish” – times are merely suggestions
  19. TIP: pack open-toed sandals or rain boots because the weather changes on a dime, and when it pours, your shoes and socks will soak through and you’ll be miserable for the rest of the day
  20. The island feels quiet, old and somber; like it’s putting you to sleep. Ireland is a giant lullaby; their way for saying “slow traffic” is “traffic calming
  21. There are lots of B&Bs around the island – even though nowadays we have Google Maps, if you ever get lost, don’t hesitate to just knock on someone’s door and have a chat with a local
  22. Locals really like when you reverse the normal statement of “oh, I’m of Irish heritage!” – instead, ask them if they’ve got any family in the U.S. It’s a great conversation starter, and they’ll appreciate you asking them about their heritage
  23. FUN FACT: The Irish were responsible for bringing Halloween to America. Around the time of the Potato Famine, many Irish immigrated to America, bringing with them their traditions. The Celts believed that the souls of the dead would return to co-mingle with the living, so they wore masks and lit fires to scare them away (what we now know as the Jack-O-Lantern). They would also carve radishes (which became pumpkins in America since they were a widely available crop in the autumn harvest)

8-DAY ROAD TRIP ITINERARY IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

DAY 1: Arrive Dublin

DAY 2: Dublin –> Cork

Drive time: 2 hr, 45 min

DAY 3: Cork –> Killarney
Drive time: 1 hr, 20 min

DAY 4: Killarney

DAY 5: Killarney –> Galway
Drive time: 2 hr, 35 min

DAY 5 – 6: Galway

DAY 6 – 8: Galway –> Dublin
Drive time: 2 hr, 15 min

Here’s a map of how the itinerary looks:

DAY 1 – DUBLIN

We flew in from Split, Croatia, so we were already accustomed to the time zone, but we had an evening flight, so we overnighted at the Holiday Inn Dublin Airport, which is an excellent option if you need something close to the airport on your way in or out, as it’s less than a 15-minute drive from the airport. Now before you scoff at a recommendation to stay at a Holiday Inn, this one is brand newly built and was surprisingly beautiful, unlike a typical Holiday Inn chain in the U.S. It included breakfast, was very spacious, modern and a great place to rest for the evening before embarking on our road trip. This itinerary both starts and ends in Dublin, so at the end of the itinerary you’ll find more details for a few days in Dublin.

DAY 2 – CORK

Apple’s European headquarters are located in Cork (Ireland’s corporate tax rate is about half of other countries in Europe, so it’s attractive for big corporations), and we found many expats living in Cork from various European countries.

NOTEWORTHY SIGHTS IN CORK:

  • Blarney Castle
  • English Market (400 years old – used to allow in only English people; Irish were not allowed)
  • University Cork College
  • St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
  • Cork Walks – goes through Elizabeth Fortress to walk along the walls (free entry)

WHERE TO EAT IN CORK:

  • Nectar Coffee
  • My Goodness (vegan – inside the English Market) – they make their own soil and use filtered rain water for all of their drinks, respecting the natural life cycle of production rather than a single line of unsustainable production

DAY 4 – 5: KILLARNEY & DINGLE PENINSULA

Though of all of Ireland is a giant microclimate, Killarney is especially so. It can be sunny with a double rainbow one minute, and then less than half a minute later without any warning whatsoever, pouring sideways rain. We stayed at The Lake Hotel, an historic hotel established in 1820! Killarney is a wonderful part of Ireland with a calming feel that keeps you on your toes with its hilariously inclement weather throughout the day.

NOTEWORTHY SIGHTS IN KILLARNEY

  • Ring of Kerry (takes 3.5 hours without stopping)
  • TIP: drive counterclockwise to avoid the tour buses and go with the flow of traffic (100 miles)
  • Kahergal Stone Fort
  • Kerry Cliffs
  • Derrynane Beach
  • Torc Waterfall (inside the national park)
  • Muckross House & Gardens – lovely place to enjoy a stroll
  • Ross Castle
  • Ring of Bera (just South of Kerry)
  • Dingle Peninsula
  • Slea Head Drive (starts and ends in Dingle Town – less than one hour to drive it without stopping, but with stops, between 2 – 3 hours)
  • Irish famine cottages – actual cottages that still stand, that are staged like a cottage would be during the famine years. I thought it was pretty creepy and definitely would not have gone in by myself, as it’s completely abandoned and there were no other visitors there
  • Ce Dhun Chaoin / Dunquin Pier (pronounced Kay-doon-keen) – pyramid rock formations from the coast and a nice beach

WHERE TO EAT IN KILLARNEY

  • The Fish Box – the best fish and chips in town! There was a 30-minute wait, but it was worth it!

DAY 5 – 6: GALWAY & THE CLIFFS OF MOHER

NOTEWORTHY SIGHTS IN GALWAY

  • On the way to Galway, visit the Cliffs of Moher (3 hours from Killarney)
  • Connemara National Park
  • Quay Street
  • Latin Quarter
  • Spanish Arch (underwhelming but historic)
The famous Cliffs of Moher

WHERE TO EAT IN GALWAY

  • Little Lane Specialty Coffee
  • Temple Bar (not to be confused with THE Temple Bar in Dublin) – vegan, nice masala chai, local kombucha, friendly staff
  • John Keogh’s Gastropub
Irish soda bread is a must-try food in Ireland

DAY 6 – 8: DUBLIN

Downtown Dublin

NOTEWORTHY SIGHTS IN DUBLIN

  • The Hungry Tree at King’s Inn – if you like bizarre sights, this is a fine example of nature taking over; it’s literally a giant tree in the middle of a park, consuming a bench – the bench has been sucked into the tree
  • Oscar Wilde Monument
  • Trinity College (go to the library to see the Book of Kells) – you’ll need to book tickets online prior to arrival. There’s a QR code you can scan outside the building; they’re timed tickets with entry each half hour
  • National Gallery
  • Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Ha’Penny Bridge
  • Spire – a giant structure in the middle of the city center. Dublin loves their naughty rhymes, so this piece of “art” has many nicknames, including stiletto in the ghetto and erection at the intersection (I told you, the Irish have a great sense of humor!)
  • Dublin Gardens and Chester Beatty Museum (free entry)

WHERE TO EAT IN DUBLIN

  • Teng – breakfast (two locations)
  • Il Vicoletto (Italian) – call ahead to make reservations as they book up every night

WHERE TO STAY IN DUBLIN

Zanzibar Locke Hotel – this was a hip and chic hotel with a cafe and co-working space downstairs. Zanzibar was by far our favorite accommodation during our entire stay in Ireland because it’s right smack in the middle of all the action, yet still very quiet at night.

In conclusion, Ireland was the perfect ending to our European digital nomad journey abroad. After being back in the states and visiting our families over the last two months, we are now headed back to one of our favorite countries to visit during winter…VIVA MEXICO! The digital nomad journey continues…

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