7 Days in Ireland: A Guide for First Time Visitors
A seven-day vacation in Ireland is a chance to enjoy the island's natural beauty, explore great castles and get lost on its famously challenging roads.
Fortunately, plenty of people in Ireland are ready to offer advice to lost souls with inaccurate GPS directions.
Unlike Disney World, the best attractions in Ireland do not all exist in one place. They lie in many places across the island.
But the size of the island makes visiting those attractions a fairly simple matter. This is especially true in the southern half of the island, which has more major highways than the northern half.
They make reaching each destination much faster for someone trying to do as much as possible in seven days.
At its widest point, Ireland is 174 miles from the west coast to the east coast. It is 302 miles from the northernmost point to the southernmost.
Getting from one destination to the next during a seven-day visit often will take no more than an hour or two of driving.
Day 1: Dublin: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College
Day 2: Rock of Cashel; Blarney Castle
Day 3: Cork; Kinsale
Day 4: Ring of Kerry; Killarney National Park
Day 5: Bunratty Castle; Cliffs of Moher
Day 6: Galway; Brú na Bóinne
Day 7: Dublin: Kilmainham Gaol, National Botanic Gardens
Planning the 7-Day Itinerary
Creating an itinerary means choosing locations and attractions that fit an efficient time schedule.
Vacation planners may read about a place that ranks as a top attraction, but it is not sometimes possible to visit because of the time it takes to get there. One example is the ferry ride over to the Aran Islands.
Seeing the most and best attractions in the least amount of time also means using the highways as much as possible.
Any itinerary usually starts and stops in Dublin because most visitors from other countries such as the U.S. and Canada will be flying into and out of Dublin Airport.
The fact that Dublin is the first and last day is not a problem because the city has enough activities for visitors to do for at least two days.
There is plenty to do outside of the city as well. The list below will fill the week.
Getting Around Dublin
The traffic in Dublin is so bad that even current and former Dubliners say they don’t want to drive through the city.
Street signs are few or hard to see. Street names change often. The roads are narrow and crowded.
Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College are all located within a long walk of each other.
Trinity College is located by the River Liffey. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a little more than one mile or 2.3 kilometers southwest of the college.
Guinness Storehouse is about one mile or about 1.7 kilometers west of the cathedral.
Guinness Storehouse has public parking on site, while paid parking options are near the cathedral and college.
Simpler options include taxis or the many tour buses that roam the city.
Day 1: Dublin: Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College
Dublin and Ireland’s No. 1 tourist attraction is Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate, according to the company.
Visitors take an informative self-guided tour of the former location of the famous brewery, see how the company makes stout and get a pint of the dark stuff at the end of the tour. They get to drink it on a rooftop bar with a lofty circular view of the city.
Worth noting is that the land lease of Guinness Storehouse goes for 9,000 years.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Another lofty view -- this one spiritual -- is found at the massive St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The exterior of the building is impressive, while the interior is inspiring.
The site dates back to 1191, and the current building dates back to 1220.
Trinity College Library / Book of Kells
Trinity College in the heart of Dublin has the Book of Kells and The Old Library.
Book of Kells is “Ireland's greatest cultural treasure and the world's most famous medieval manuscript,” according to the exhibition website.
The book is a colorfully decorated copy of the four Gospels representing the life of Jesus.
The exhibition has large transparencies, explanations of the historical meaning of the books and the book itself.
Visitors who see the Book of Kells also in the Old Library can visit the Long Room, an elegant and historic depository of 200,000 books in tall oak bookcases.
Favorite Ireland Attractions
If you have been to Ireland, what was your favorite attraction? If you haven't been there, what do you want to see the most?
Day 2: Rock of Cashel; Cahir Castle; Blarney Castle
Rock of Cashel
Driving about 90 minutes southwest along E20 and M8 will take visitors to the Rock of Cashel, one of the most photographic castle ruins in Ireland.
The Rock of Cashel in Cashel, County Tipperary, dominates the landscape in its location on a wide green hill next to the town of Cashel. Its history reputedly dates back to the 5th century AD.
Most of the structures on the site survive from the 12th century onward including the round tower, High Cross, Gothic cathedral, a 15th century castle and Hall of the Vicars Choral.
There is no escaping the fact that Ireland has many great castles, some of which are crumbling and others that stay in good shape.
Cahir Castle belongs on the latter list. It lies about 15 minutes south of the Rock of Cashel along M8. Tours last about 30 to 40 minutes.
One hundred kilometers or about an hour’s drive farther southwest on highway M8 will bring tourists to Blarney Castle in County Cork.
The name Blarney Castle may sound like a tourist trap to some people, but the castle is impressive and the gardens surrounding it even more so. Don’t forget to check out Blarney House at the rear of the gardens.
And yes, people do kiss the Blarney Stone -- or at least pretend to kiss it -- to gain the gift of the gab.
Day 3: English Market in Cork; Kinsale
The next day offers a quick trip over to Cork for the English Market, which claims to be “Ireland’s Most Famous Covered Food Market.”
Although the market’s main focus is food, it also offers plenty of other merchandise as well.
The next step in the journey is a winding 20-mile, 36-kilometer drive to the seaside town of Kinsale.
Kinsale is a historic port and fishing village that also serves as a bed and breakfast getaway for many Irish and foreigners alike.
Visitors will find pleasant, colorful shops lining a small number of roads that wind around the harbor.
On the day of this visit, leisurely eating ice cream cones, sitting by the water’s edge and watching the boats was one of the most popular activities. Casual is the theme.
Day 4: Ring of Kerry; Muckross House and Gardens; Killarney National Park
Ring of Kerry
A 90-minute drive takes people from Kinsale to Killarney at the start (and finish) of The Ring of Kerry.
The ring is one of the most popular natural attractions in Ireland. It isn’t a single attraction, but rather a 100-mile scenic drive around County Kerry.
The drive includes Killarney National Park and various other attractions such as Muckross House and Gardens, Lough Leane, Ross Castle, Ladies View, Torc Waterfall and many other stopping points.
Muckross House and Gardens is an excellent two-hour stop. Ladies View is a sobering mountainous view of the park. Torc Waterfall is a minor attraction and worthy of a visit only if extra time is available.
Day 5: Bunratty Castle; Cliffs of Moher; Doolin Caves
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park has more tourist trappings than another other place on the itinerary, but it doesn’t overdo it.
The castle is in better shape than Blarney or Cashel and includes plenty of insights about the lives of the former inhabitants. Guides dressed according to the times provide informative tours.
Cliffs of Moher
The cliffs rank among the most popular attractions in Ireland thanks to their imposing drop and expansive views.
Visitors can limit themselves to the main viewing points and the guard tower. More adventurous visitors can walk along the goat path by the cliffs’ edge.
Be aware that the winds can be strong and chilling at times even during late spring or early fall.
A mere 15 minutes to the north of the Cliffs of Moher is Doolin Cave and home of the Great Stalactite, at 23 feet the longest free-hanging stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere.
Although the cave and the stalactite don’t rank among the most popular attractions in Ireland, it is a convenient side trip for anyone visiting the Cliffs of Moher.
Doolin Cave is found in the town of Doolin, which offers ferry service to the Aran Islands. It also is famous for its traditional Irish music.
The Aran Islands are famous for their natural beauty and the preserved way of life for the people who live there.
Visitors take about a 45-minute ferry to reach the islands. Inis Mor is the largest and most visited of the islands.
A tour is doable in a single day. Doolin Ferries has a day-trip option that leaves at 10 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m. Another option is an overnight stay in an Inis Mor bed and breakfast. The ferry schedule has several options including ones that leave at 1 p.m. and return at either 11:30 a.m. or 4 p.m. the next day.
Day 6: Galway; Brú na Bóinne
Whether travelers leave the Aran Islands on day five or day six, they may want to plan on a return to modern civilization mixed with old Ireland in the city of Galway.
The city is not known for tourist attractions but rather for atmosphere -- food, pubs and music.
From Galway, it is a two to two and a half hour drive along highways M6 and M4 back to Dublin.
Brú na Bóinne
Anyone with the time and the energy may want to make a side trip off highway M4 and go about 30 minutes north of Dublin AIrport to Brú na Bóinne in County Meath.
Brú na Bóinne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 35th century BC and predates the Egyptian pyramids, according to World Heritage Ireland. It is The site is a complex of chamber tombs, mounds, standing stones and other prehistoric enclosures.
Day 7: Dublin: Kilmainham Gaol, National Botanic Gardens, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin Zoo
A return to Dublin for the flight out of Dublin Airport doesn’t mean the end of the journey or things to do.
Depending on flight times, Dublin offers several other popular attractions that lie within a reasonable distance to the airport and nearby hotels.
The National Botanic Gardens is 15 minutes south of the airport and just north of the city.
Dublin Zoo is 20 minutes away from the airport on the west side of the city.
A few minutes farther yet within the city itself is St. Stephen’s Green, the popular public park.
Farthest south is Kilmainham Gaol, the historic former prison that is now a museum.
Map of Ireland Attractions
© 2015 Scott Bateman