Ireland is a place just like you imagined in your dreams – endless green fields, dramatic ocean landscapes, majestic castles, and hidden leprechauns to guide you through narrow roads and misty valleys.
As ambassadors for the Magic of Traveling, it was high time that we visited this magical land. So we took the opportunity of those recently appeared Sofia – Dublin Ryanair flight deals and rented a car to enjoy the capital of Ireland and mostly the amazing countryside in a way we love to travel – a road trip. We even spent Christmas Eve and Christmas there so the holiday spirit was with us all the time.
Our eight full days were hardly enough to explore the Southern part of the country and the capital and its surroundings. Anyway, we are happy that we managed to drive on the Wild Atlantic Way and take in the views. We took huge amounts of hot soup, too. Our trip took place in December, the weather was actually way better than the weather in Bulgaria, and we only had two days of rain and mist. Lucky us, right? This is the leprechauns’ job!
So we present to you our itinerary for 8 days in Ireland, starting and ending in Dublin. Below you can find practical details and DIY tips.
Click on the upper left corner of the map to open in Google Maps and see our full road trip itinerary.
Day 0: late night arrival – car pickup from the airport – go to sleep in Dublin
There was the last rental car services guy standing and waiting for our little-delayed flight at the airport. As soon as he gave us the keys he was gone. We came back looking for him 10 minutes later – to correct one of the papers stating we took a totally different car. Anyway, we arranged that on the phone two days later – it was a “standard” mistake. We had no issues with that later.
We found out the most basic thing – that tap water is drinkable. Something so essential, but we never check this out beforehand. So we have to test it on the field and see if the test was successful the next day.
Day 1: Dublin – hidden castle – Glendalough – Kilkenny – Waterford
It was a sunny day so we hurried to finish our interesting conversation with another tenant of the Airbnb house we booked. We were thinking that weather could quickly become bad for exploration so we set off south. Our destination was Glendalough. However, first, we decided to disobey the GPS and follow the navigation to some castle. After riding on narrow lanes of type L (check below for road types) and some dirt roads it was obvious that the castle was not there. Or was it just invisible? We had lovely time taking pictures of the frosty field and the old gates leading to the invisible hidden castle.
Glendalough was one of the first lovely little towns in Ireland we visited. We didn’t know that Ireland was full of lovely little towns and villages with colorful architecture and peaceful surroundings. The Glendalough Monastery dates back from long enough to keep the remains of dark times and prosperity. And we visited the greenest graveyard ever. After a short hike, you can reach a mirror-lake to enjoy the mirror effect of the beautiful scenery, or of yourself.
Rural to city
After some abandoned castle ruins and majestic views, we reached the colorful city of Kilkenny. This was the first time we struggled to find a parking spot (it was Sunday – most of the parking are free). Eventually, we found a spot next to the cathedral. Then we hurried to explore the Kilkenny Castle and its yard before sunset (at around 16.00 o’clock it was already darkish). This is where we realized that having lunch between 12 and 15 o’clock was a waste of daylight, and after 15.00 it was definitely not lunch. We would have to think more about our eating habits on this road trip.
We reached Waterford at dark. After taking a stroll along the river and the city’s Christmas fair, we entered a pub for our first Guinness beer and first deep-fried typical Irish dinner. And we’re big fans of darts tournaments ever since.
Day 2: Waterford – Rock of Cashel – Cork – Cobh – Cork
After a complimentary tea from the hostel and a snack-breakfast on the go, we arrived in the sleeping town of Cashel for a visit to the popular Castle Rock of Cashel. Amazing place, amazing views, hiking options. We stole a moment with the nearby and not-so-popular castle (more of remains of a castle) and continued to Cork.
Cork is big industrial city and parking in the center on Monday turned out to be a challenge. We were afraid that our plans to quickly explore the pedestrian part together with the English Market will be ruined. But once again the invisible leprechaun helped us. We found a paid parking to park the car, walked on the streets and got oriented without a map. We even found some super delicious organic soup and wraps and managed to leave the parking within 1 hour. So we avoided paying a double fee and we left Cork and its traffic jams just in time to reach the harbor town of Cobh before sunset.
Charming little surprise
Cobh has those steep streets with houses lined up. Houses that are just the same, except for their color. So the harbor, the sunset, the neat houses, the last rays over the town on a hill – this was pure magic! We visited a local coffee shop to warm up and grab a hot drink and a muffin before visiting the Titanic Experience. Cobh (was called Queenstown before) was the last stop of Titanic. We were assigned personalities of different Cobh passengers and together with them we virtually boarded the ship and experienced it like they probably did. It was encouraging at the end when we realized our personas survived the tragedy.
In the outskirts of Cork was the longest building in Ireland, once a hospital. Now it’s a residential building and we were sleeping in this castle-like venue thanks to the owners of the apartment who enlisted it in Airbnb. Ironically, this was one of the cheapest accommodations we had in Ireland and the most royal at the same time.
Day 3: Cork – Kenmare – Ring of Kerry – Portmagee
This day was supposed to be the magnificent start of the Ring of Kerry – a 180-km route through some of the best views.
Well, it went differently for us. The leprechaun-angel was taking the day off, leaving us to enjoy the gray skies, the rain, and the mist. We started strong in the otherwise colorful Kenmare town, where the vegetarian Irish breakfast gave us the power to survive the constant drizzle and the sad looks of the horses with carriages we were passing.
Still, we managed to enjoy some waterfalls and forests, lake views and curvy narrow roads along the ring. Maybe it was a good thing there was mist. This way we were not so scared by the Molls gap. You can understand from the name why it could be very scary. To support gender equality, Nace took a look at the Lady’s view and got empowered. Driving along the coastline, the weather was getting worse and the views were getting even better. We stopped at a seaside resort town just to stroll on the beach promenade. Stupid idea! The wind was trying to blow us away, and the waves looked somehow not inviting for a swim.
Weathers getting worse
The culmination of the extreme-weather day was our little detour to Staigue Stone Fortress. A good thing about bad weather is that there aren’t may crazy heads to venture to old fortresses. So the single-lane, sometimes dirt road was all for us. The thing was that the fortress and the area were getting flooded. So we had to be even more crazy to hurry down the road until it existed as a road and had not yet turned into e flowing muddy river.
We left the Ring of Kerry to head to Portmagee and the Ring of Skellig where another wonderful country house was waiting for us. It turned out to be only 5-minutes walk away from one of the best views we have ever seen. And the little-town atmosphere, fresh seafood, and delightful beers contributed to our happiness after the wet and cold day. And we are writing this by the fireplace, by the way.
Day 4: Skellig cliffs view – Rossbeigh beach – Inch beach – Dingle – ferry to Kilrush
The leprechaun got us to see the most magnificent cliffs in Ireland, the Skellig Cliffs. Dramatic ocean waves crashing, forming streams of foam and drops of water – it’s like rain but running from the ground to the skies. With views to magical islands like Puffin Island, Skellig island (did you watch the end of Star Wars, episode 7?) and other floatable only during summer months islands and seas – it is a dream come true!
The end of our trip to the Ring of Kerry was much sunnier. With the help of our navigation that tends to give us shortest distances – we took a strange detour resulting in a one-lane downhill ride to an amazing long sandy beach, the Rossbeigh beach. We were the only people on the beach, in the resort village, or in the area at all. Still, it was too windy for a swim.
Dive into a humble peninsula
We crossed to Dingle peninsula – famous for its abnormally beautiful nature (and that’s a serious title in Ireland) and some archaeological finds. We were attracted to book a boat trip from the only town on the peninsula, Dingle, to see the famous local Fungie dolphins. It turned out to be a stunning boat trip around the harbor – and Fungie turned out to be a particular bottle-nosed dolphin, not the whole family or the species. So our buddy Fungie, a.k.a the Dingle dolphin is world-famous for his friendliness and appearances whenever there are people around. We managed to spot him quite a few times for our one-hour trip and it took us a few more hours to realize it’s one dolphin and he’s a celebrity. Hope he’s smarter than us.
We finished the day with a ferry ride to County Clare and Kilrush (not much going on at evenings but a still charming town). It was a very rainy ferry trip but we had another Airbnb catch with a lovely host who had considered every little detail and most importantly – told us amazing unknown places to visit. So we had a packed itinerary for the next day…
Day 5: Kilrush – Kilkee – Loop Head – Cliffs of Moher – Burren – Galway
We reached Kilkee while there was plenty of sunshine and wind – with that combination we enjoyed the views and a short hike over the cliffs. Another dramatic scenery just for ourselves. On the road, we got the company of several rainbows, rain, and sun, and we reached the deserted Loop Head Lighthouse. Magnificent place, where you can walk all the way down to dangerous cliffs and enjoy panoramic views. We hurried to the much more popular and crowded Cliffs of Moher. Even with all the people and that nasty wind, and the entrance fee – it was worth it and we wish we had more time and better weather to explore the cliffs and the whole reserve.
Some mystical exploration
Burren is a concept. They say nobody really knows where exactly the land of Burren is. We like the photos we saw from there. So we set the Burren National Park to the GPS and ended up lost on narrow L-roads and what looked more of a dirt road than a place to drive your car… Just before sunset, we reached private properties with those endless karst landscapes and stone structures. We were just on time for the final rays of the setting sun and some cute little ponies. True luck, even without clovers in our pockets!
Galway is famous university town with active social and nightlife and nice harbor views. The weather didn’t allow us to take in the views (drizzling, again), but we venture out to explore the lively streets of Galway with its restaurants, bars and pubs and its lively traditional Irish music. We absorbed as much as we could, including beer, culture, and non-local wine.
Day 6: Galway – Bunratty Castle – Limerick, King Johns castle – Castleroy
The skies cleared for us just in time for the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park – a place from a fairytale. We took narrow staircases to every chamber and every place in the castle and learned more about the аrchitecture and way of living decades ago. Did you know, that salmon-fishermen’ houses are blue for a reason?
We regret that we had to leave the fairy-woods and the playground for leprechauns but there were no more banquet-dinner options available so we said goodbye to Santa (giving our presents for the good children) and continued to Limerick.
The King John’s Castle was a highlight of our visit to the city, together with a warm nice pub with Bluemoon beers.
The castle looked rawer, maybe more realistic so we could imagine what life was like (and some ghosts from people from that times helped us).
We continued for a movie night at home at the nearby town of Castleroy, where we watched the darts tournament with a glass of wine and popcorn.
Day 7: Castleroy – Dublin center tour – Temple Bar- John Kavanagh pub – Porterhouse Temple bar
At Christmas Eve we had to make sure that we have stocked up enough food for two days (as Christmas was supposed to be the closed day for everything). We were rushing to buy food, have quick lunch and head to the center of the city where everything is supposed to be. The Trinity College Library (holding the book of Kells), the Guinness storehouse (holding a few beers for us), and a lot of other POIs were closed so we just walked and walked and enjoyed from outside everything. Then it was time to hang out a little in the Temple Bar District.
There we started our version of the “12 pubs, 12 drinks” Christmas tradition. You have to visit 12 pubs and have 12 drinks while following some strange rules. Well, we did it with fewer pubs as a lot of them were closing earlier, but we did it with style and some new friends we met through Couchsurfing. So it was a delightful and full of beer Christmas Eve.
Day 8: Dublin – Trim Castle – Newgrange – Dublin
Merry Christmas! We woke up with no hangover, which comes to prove beer is fine in Ireland. Although forecasts promised another gray day, we left Dublin to check out the Trim Castle. It was drizzling so we decided to wait for the Newgrange observatory and have a picnic lunch there. The weather at Newgrange didn’t help for taking walks or having a picnic. So we ate in the car while observing the ancient observatory. We had never had such a Christmas lunch before, but you know, when life gives you lemons…
We returned to Dublin just in time for the sunset and to look for and navigate to some open gas stations, which as an adventure itself.
Day 9: return car to airport – fly to Sofia
Our car was supposed to be white in color. Well, on return, not much white was left of it. And this was only after 2 days of rain, few drizzles and 1609 km on the road. The leprechaun enchanted the person who checked the vehicle. He made no remarks on the car. So now we are looking forward to the company to unblock our credit card, so we can tell everyone that renting a car in Ireland is no bigger deal than renting a car anywhere in Europe.
Congratulations! You made it all the way to here! Now some tips how you can do an amazing road trip in Ireland in winter yourself!
Do It Yourself, tips and tricks, fact file:
- take warm clothes – you’ll need them – that includes wind- and waterproof jacket
- forecast turned out to be correct
- take good shoes for walking/hiking in mud/water/slippery surfaces
extra insurance – we never buy this, but this was the first time for it. Fortunately, we didn’t have to use it
inspect the car very well – notify the company representative if you notice some scratches
GPS – as they can’t remove it from the car (it was incorporated), we used it for free together with offline Google maps
drive on the LEFT
roads could be very narrow – M for motorway, N for normal way, R for road (things start to get funny), L for lane (pro-drivers only), if you see no sign or name -> you must be very adventurous
relaxed drivers – it was a pleasure of not being road-harassed anyhow in this country. Maybe it’s related to the tons of greenery around which relaxes the eyes and the soul
Castle-like accommodation – yes, you can sleep in an Irish castle for few bucks (Airbnb)
Country houses – they are even more wow, just go to the countryside or smaller towns
Big cities – Galway, Dublin – look for parking facilities in the bigger cities – unless you want to spend the evening in search of a parking spot
Stats: 1609 km, 140 euro fuel, 332 euro fee + 90 full protection fee
Toll taxes: 8 euro (total of 4 times charged)+ M50 toll is automatically charged
Well, this was our road trip itinerary for Ireland. We can’t wait to organize a road trip in Northern Ireland!
Thank you, our dear leprechaun, for our the magical moments and the little (for that time of the year) rain!
Have you been to Ireland? Did you have a leprechaun-angel to guide you? Let us know in the comments below!
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