So you’ve got one week in Ireland and you want to make the most of it. Have I got the 7-day Ireland itinerary for you! There are so many things to do in Ireland that — even moving at break-neck speed — you won’t manage to cover it all in just a week. In fact, I’ve been to Ireland three times and still haven’t even made it to Northern Ireland, save for a quick dip across the borderline that you’ll get in my itinerary below.
You’ll want to hire a driver or rent a vehicle when you’re visiting Ireland. It’s a road-tripping paradise, with some of the world’s most scenic roadways. I built a self-drive tour of Ireland itinerary that you may also want to reference if you have longer than seven days in the Emerald Isle or if you prefer to mix and match itineraries.
If you’re arriving from North America, you’re likely landing in Dublin, so that’s where we’re kicking things off:
DAY 1 of your 7-day Ireland itinerary
Ah, Dublin. Ireland’s capital and the country’s biggest city. (Not to be confused with Belfast, which is the capital of Northern Ireland.) It’s a spectacular example of an old European city that’s alive with modernity, sharply contrasting urban vibrance on one hand while boasting historical significance, architecture and culture on the other.
Don’t mistake Dublin for merely your landing place and jumping-off point. A visit to the Republic of Ireland isn’t complete without spending at least a day exploring this magical city.
Where to stay in Dublin:
- The Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel in South Dublin. It’s a four-star castle with modern amenities, so you can trust that your old-world castle experience will be a comfortable one. You’ll be within walking distance to a few attractions (like Killiney Hill) if you stay here, which is always nice after being in transit for many hours
Things to do in Dublin:
- The Guinness Storehouse — I don’t care if you loathe beer or have never sipped a Guinness in your life…you MUST check off the Guinness Storehouse when visiting Dublin for the first time! It’s just something you do — trust me. It actually gave me an appreciation for the stuff, and I’m not a beer girl at all. There are seven floors to explore here, so carve out a reasonable amount of time to immerse yourself in the history of this iconic Irish bevvie. The second floor is where you’ll have an opportunity to go on a multi-sensory tasting journey, but for me the most interesting part of the Guinness Storehouse experience is on the third floor: the Guinness World of Advertising, where you’ll meander through 80 years of best-in-class print, digital and TV campaigns
- Killiney Hill and the Druid’s Chair — be sure to head here at either sunrise or sunset to get the most incredible panoramic views of Dublin. Climb to the top of the Druid’s Chair and take it all in (fair warning: you may become overwhelmed with emotion)
- EPIC:The Irish Emigration Museum, the world’s first fully digital museum — tucked into The CHQ Building, a 19th-century vaulted warehouse near the River Liffey, you’ll walk through some of Ireland’s history, digitally interacting with the various installations
- The River Liffey — Ireland’s most famous river, which flows through the centre of Dublin to its mouth at Dublin Bay. Medieval settlements set up along the river, prizing it for commerce and its obvious trade advantages. These days, the Liffey is used as a water source and for recreation and it’s lined with many Dublin attractions, like Ha’penny Bridge, Temple Bar and Christ Church Cathedral
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral — much like my suggestion that you should visit the Guinness Storehouse even if you aren’t a beer lover, I’m also recommending a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral even if you aren’t religious. As the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland — some say the very heart of Ireland — for more than 800 years, it’s pretty epic. Unlike some cathedrals, which are free to visit, you’ll need a ticket to get into St. Patrick’s, but the self-guided tour is worth the few Euros it’ll cost you. The cathedral is Ireland’s finest example of Gothic architecture and going inside is a must. You’ll get an audio guide (available in English, Irish, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Mandarin) to better understand the church’s significance and the beauty of its stained-glass windows, 4,000-pipe organ and its Bell Tower, among other features
- A distillery tour — even after three years, I was still dreaming of the The Dubliner Irish Whiskey & Honeycomb Liqueur we sampled during our Dublin Liberties Distillery tour, so I picked up a bottle at the airport before flying home from this recent trip. I’ve done a number of distillery tours over the years and my top three are all in Ireland, and this is one of them. Known for centuries as “Hell,” the Liberties area of Dublin was outside the city walls and was an anything-goes kind of place that welcomed all walks of life and was home to every kind of business, from printing presses and tanneries to brothels and bars. Housed in an old mill from the 1700s, the Dublin Liberties Distillery is now a leading-edge craft whiskey distiller
- Grafton Street and St. Stephen’s Green — you may not be able to afford shopping on Grafton Street but you should definitely window shop. Think of it like London’s Bond Street or Toronto’s Yorkville area; it’s fancy and expensive with stores like Brown Thomas (part of Galen Weston’s retail empire that also includes Holt Renfrew here in Canada). But it also makes for excellent people-watching and is full of buskers. It’s pedestrian-only, so leave the rental at your hotel when it comes time to explore here. Saunter down to St. Stephen’s Green, a 22-acre park and public square adjacent to Grafton Street, filled with statues and memorials important to Ireland’s history
Where to eat in Dublin:
- High tea or dinner at the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel will both impress
- Urban Brewing offers delicious microbrews and serves up one of the most memorable dishes I’ve had in Ireland — a pork belly bao
- The Liquor Rooms — in the U2-owned Clarence Hotel — is an award-winning speakeasy that was so tough to get into when I visited years ago that I booked dinner at the Clarence just to have the restaurant manager walk us into the bar after our meal. The cocktails here are *chef’s kiss*!
DAY 2 of your 7-day Ireland itinerary
Day two of your 7-day Ireland itinerary will take you to Cavan, Rossnowlagh and Bundoran — and, technically (however briefly), into Northern Ireland.
After a leisurely breakfast, depart Dublin for Cavan and stop for a lunch break at The Atrium Bar in the Cavan Crystal Hotel. The setting is beautiful and food here is delicious and inexpensive. You’re going to need some food in your belly for what’s to come!
Surfing in Ireland
Now it’s time to get back on the road and head to Rossnowlagh on the Wild Atlantic Way for an afternoon of surfing. If you’re like me and have only surfed once before (in Tofino; one of the best things to do on Vancouver Island), please take a lesson with Rossnowlagh Surf School. Even though the bay in Rossnowlagh is relatively calm and remarkably warm considering it feeds from the Atlantic ocean, you need to understand the basic mechanics and you’re going to need a wetsuit and a surfboard, so you might as well package it all up with a lesson, too. This is considered one of the best places to learn to surf in all of Europe, and having spent two hours in its consistent surf, I understand why.
Sitting on Rossnowlagh Beach, the Sandhouse House Hotel is a surfer’s lodging paradise. But even if you aren’t a hotel guest, you can book a detoxifying seaweed bath at the Marine Spa to soothe your post-surfing muscles. For 30 Euros, you’ll get 30 blissful minutes soaking in a claw-foot tub filled with warm water and long strands of organic seaweed that’s been harvested by hand. The treatment is said to increase circulation and promote healing, and although it took me a few minutes to accept that I was willingly crawling into seaweed when I’d ordinarily be chased out of any body of water full of the stuff, it was ultimately a really relaxing experience.
The final stop on today’s journey is Bundoran, where you can check into the Great Northern Hotel and enjoy dinner in the Hill Top Restaurant. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean’s beautiful Donegal Bay, this property has an 18-hole golf course onsite. Rooms are basic but comfortable, and the grounds are spectacular at sunset.
DAY 3 of your 7-day Ireland itinerary
Today’s adventure will take you to Glenveagh, Cruit Island and Ardara.
Glenveagh National Park
First up is Glenveagh National Park, about 1.5 hours from the Great Northern Hotel. So wake up and enjoy a traditional Irish breakfast at the hotel before heading out. The park is nestled amidst the rugged landscape of the Derryveagh Mountains in County Donegal and is home to a series of well-maintained recreational trails, a Victorian castle and stunning gardens along Lough Veagh. (A “lough” or loch is simply a narrow seaway.)
You can walk from the Visitor Centre to the castle and gardens, or take the easy way out like we did and hop on the shuttle bus that frequents the centre all day. There are plenty more opportunities for breathtaking nature hikes that venture out from the Glenveagh Castle & Gardens grounds.
Pro Tip: It’s definitely worth noting that you should time your visit around having lunch at The Synge & Byrne Tea Room in the castle courtyard. It’s more casual café than proper tea house, but the food and drinks are excellent.
Thanks to the infamous Derryveagh Evictions of April 1861, land was usurped to make room for construction of Glenveagh Castle a few years later. Since the 1890s, the castle’s widow focused on creating a deer stalking attraction and hundreds of deer still call the site home. In 1983, the last private owner of the castle bestowed it and the gardens to the state and it is now a national park that Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service looks after.
Green thumbs will appreciate the thought and care put into creating and maintaining the extensive garden network surrounding Glenveagh Castle — which, in its day, had eight full-time gardeners — and even those who wouldn’t know a Rhododendron from a Eucryphia will fall in love with the Walled Garden, which was alive with colour when we visited this summer.
Rock climbing in Ireland
For adventure seekers and landscape lovers alike, it’s time to push on to Cruit Island to check out (and climb!) The Rosses. That’s right, don your grippiest running shoes and stretchiest leggings because you’re going sea-cliff climbing with instructor Iain Millar of Unique Ascent. Whether you’ve been climbing for years and you’re looking to brave some of Ireland’s most challenging summits or you’re a never-ever like this gal and you’re simply looking to check off your “do something every day that scares you” box, Iain’s your guy. Er, guide.
Sea stacks, cliffs, sheer drops off the side of rugged granite mountains…whatever suits your sense of adventure, Iain can make it happen. One important note for the more cautious set: Ireland doesn’t allow any permanent climbing aids like belay station anchors to be hammered into the rock faces, so you’ll watch in awe as Iain shoves nuts and camming devices into crevices to support the rope on which you will soon belay.
As someone who sports a lot of leg strength but a pitiful amount of upper-body strength, I found descending the rock face fun and exciting (and ultimately quite easy). I don’t typically have a fear of heights but climbing over the ledge connected to Iain — and life itself — by only a series of ropes and metal prongs and clips sent my heart racing. However, once he instructed me to extend my legs and just “walk” down the side of the mountain backwards, with the Atlantic’s waves crashing hundreds of feet below, I felt serene and loved the feeling of cheating death.
Then it was time to go back up. Yeah, that. Remember: as someone doing this for the first time, you probably don’t have proper climbing shoes and the Atlantic winds creating those waves below are nothing to sneeze at. But Iain’s calm direction and unfailing sense of humour — when you’re shouting “how the F–K am I supposed to get back up?” from what is merely dozens of feet due south but feels like you must be deep in the Earth’s core — promises success. You really will get back up. In my case, it was slow (and, frankly, terrifying at times as my stupid feet slipped out from under me and my fingers failed to catch a slight bend in the rock) and the longest 13 minutes of my life.
If this all sounds just a bit too adventurous for your liking, fear not; you can certainly just visit Cruit Island to soak up the panoramic views of its golden granite sea cliffs and sandy beach. No need to put your life in the hands of a rope.
Ardara, Co. Donegal
That’ll be just about enough to close out day three of your 7-night Ireland itinerary. You can stop for the night in Ardara, just a 45-minute drive from Cruit Island, and rest your head at the Nesbitt Arms Hotel. This family-run, 49-room boutique hotel has a 180-year history and is an easy walk to Eddie Doherty’s Handwoven Tweeds (a master weaver who uses Donegal wool to hand-weave pure wool blankets and tweed) as well as the brand new Ardara Distillery, which I gawked at from a distance and wished we had time to visit.
Around the corner from the hotel, dinner at Nancy’s Bar is also a history lesson as you learn that the McHugh family’s seventh generation is running the joint. Known for its oysters, if the crab claws are on the menu the night you’re there, do yourself a favour and order two plates.
DAY 4 of your 7-day Ireland itinerary
Settle in for another scenic drive and get your camera ready for day four in Ireland, because Carrick, Sliabh Liag (a.k.a. Slieve League) and Donegal Town are a-calling.
Slieve League by land and sea
Teelin is a Gaeltacht village in Carrick (population 250!), and home to both the Teelin Pier and The Rusty Mackerel, where the next part of your 7-day Ireland itinerary continues. Irish is the predominant language here, and I don’t mean English with an Irish accent! I mean, Irish Irish. As in Gaelic’s sister and one of the oldest languages in the world.
Drive to the Teelin Pier where you’ll hop aboard one of the vessels belonging to Sliabh League Boat Trips. From here, you’ll set off to experience the majestic Sliabh Liag cliffs from the water. If you’re a guest on the Nuala Star, bring along your swimsuit and you can even take a dip at the foot of the cliffs (yes, really!).
Pro Tip: If you tend to get sea sick, be sure you pop a Gravol ahead of time; a few members of our group found the bobbing boat tough on their tummies. (I, on the other hand, had my sea legs on and loved every minute of it!)
Sliabh Liag (pronounced “sleeve league”) are Ireland’s highest sea cliffs — even taller than the incredible Cliffs of Moher in County Clare — and also claim to be the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, with the Bunglas cliff face rising more than 600 metres (that’s about 2,000 feet!) above sea level. Most visitors experience the cliffs from the lookout points above, but seeing these ancient rock formations jut out of the Atlantic ocean from below is perhaps even more impressive. From above, it’s also hard to spot all of the random sheep navigating the rock faces or the gorgeous waterfalls making their way into the bays.
Onto the Sliabh Liag cliffs — from above! Seriously, if you’ve gone to the trouble of seeing them by boat, you absolutely must experience them from up high, too. Start at the Visitor Centre where you can book a seat on the shuttle bus instead of walking up, up, wayyyyyy up (45 minutes up, to be precise) to the top where there’s no public parking available. There are public washrooms here and a series of boards sharing Sliabh Liag’s history.
I personally prefer the overall look and feel of the Cliffs of Moher (which I covered in my self-drive tour of Ireland post), but Sliabh Liag is spectacular on a clear day. Especially if you take the time to head up the trails to some of the harder-to-reach viewing points. You don’t need hiking boots but a sturdy pair of running shoes or a set of Blundstones will be useful up here.
It’s said that Sliabh Liag was a place for pilgrimage before Christianity arrived in Ireland, and once you turn your face to the sun and breathe in the sea-salted air around you, it’s not hard to understand why; there’s a peacefulness that’s impossible to ignore. It’s a nature-lover’s gallery with 360-degree views that no camera can adequately capture.
If you don’t head up beyond the shuttle’s parking area viewing area known as Bunglass Point, you’ll miss the exceptional Giant’s Chair and Table, an impressively huge pair of sea stacks so named for their shapes.
On your way back down to the car park, be on the lookout for the huge Éire sign, placed in stone to act as navigational aid for allied aircraft flying through the Donegal Corridor during WWII.
Before leaving Teelin, stop for lunch at The Rusty Mackerel. A traditional Irish pub, decorated with plaques and mugs seemingly covering every square inch of the place, The Rusty Mackerel will greet you with a toasty fire and its tell-tale bog turf smell — especially welcoming if your morning has been on the cool or rainy side. I loved the seafood chowder here and the brown bread that accompanied it.
The best hotel in Donegal Town
You’ll be exploring Donegal Castle tomorrow morning, so staying centrally in “The Diamond” means you can leave the car parked and walk to the castle in just a couple of minutes. The Abbey Hotel is a good hotel in Donegal Town and you won’t even need to leave to eat dinner or enjoy some “trad” (traditional Irish) music.
Although the lighting choices in The Market House Restaurant in The Abbey Hotel may give you a headache, the seafood is literally fresh off-the-boat each day and the cocktails are fab. We were so excited to try the restaurant’s signature “steak on a stone” but found the steak lacking in flavour and as fun as the piping hot stone-cooking experience might be, it needs to end with a better taste. So, skip that and run straight for the Killybegs crab and prawn linguine. Because OH EM GEE — it’s an outstanding plate of pasta. A side of garlic cheese potatoes and salt ’n’ vinegar onion rings may not sound like the ideal accompaniments for pasta, but no bother — get ’em anyway.
The Abbey Bar was ALIVE as we walked passed after dinner. Cheerful music, lots of dancing (kids included!) and so much laughter seeping into the hallway — it was wonderful and every bit as stereotypically Irish as you can imagine.
DAY 5 of your 7-day Ireland itinerary
Sadly, you’re at the tail end of your 7-day Ireland itinerary, but day five is a good one! On today’s agenda: Donegal Town, Mullaghmore, Cloyragh and Sligo.
Put on your walking shoes because you’re heading just up the road to Donegal Castle — appropriately situated on Castle Street. But first, grab a java at the Old Stone café — it’s really good stuff.
Overlooking the River Eske, Red Hugh O’Donnell built the castle in the 15th century…aaaaaaand later set it ablaze so it would never fall into the hands of the English. Alas, that plan sorta failed and an English captain took ownership and commissioned the castle’s various improvements.
As castles go, this is a pretty small one and won’t take long to visit. So if you’ve got kids in tow and you really want them to experience an old Irish castle, this is a good option.
Before you leave Donegal Town, be sure to spend some time wandering around The Diamond. It’s the town’s main square (well, diamond), quite compact and full of shops, cafes and restaurants. It centres around a prominent obelisk that celebrates the Four Masters — a set of Gaelic historians led by Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, author of The Annals of the Four Masters (written in the 1630s).
Other things to do in Donegal
Walk back toward The Abbey Hotel and keep walking until you stumble upon the Donegal Pier. Around here, you’ll find the Red Hugh O’Donnell Commemorative statue, and a bit farther on is what remains of the Abbey of Donegal.
In 1474, Nuala O’Connor — daughter of the King of Thomond — requested that her husband build a Franciscan monastery along the river’s edge. Sadly, she died just before its completion and was laid to rest in the O’Donnell vault onsite. When you walk deeper into the abbey’s site, you’ll find the obvious cemetary around it. In addition to Nuala, several Celtic chieftains, bishops and even a Franciscan friar are among the dead who are buried here.
In its time, Donegal Abbey wasn’t just used for religious purposes, but also educational and political ones. You’ll have to close your eyes and put the ruins back together in your mind, but this is what fascinates me so much about visiting Europe — the sheer oldness of it all.
If you have lots of extra time and want to keep walking, the Donegal Craft Village is about 30 minutes farther on foot (one way). More pressed for time but you’re a craft fair kind of shopper? Skip shopping in The Diamond and drive to the Craft Village before you leave for Mullaghmore.
I loved meeting some of the makers and checking out their one-of-a-kind wares. Two of the biggest standouts here are The Pear in Paper, which uses centuries-old printmaking practises with a restored treadle-based letterpress from 1872, and the McGonigle Glass Studio, comprised of three sisters who are all artists in their own rights. I bought a beautiful keepsake necklace here with my initial embedded into a glass pendant, surrounded by meaningful charms; for less than 50 Euros, it’s my kind of souvenir.
OK, enough shopping! Time to depart Donegal Town for Mullaghmore and get out into nature again.
I had two favourite days in this 7-day Ireland itinerary, and this was one of them because of Mullaghmore. I wish we’d spent the night here and had more time for this awesome little beach town!
Start by doing the Mullaghmore Head Coastal Walk — which can be done as a slow drive if you prefer, but the best views are on foot. Since this walk is a mix of footpaths, off-road walking trails and public roads, unless you have a driver, you’ll need to find somewhere to park your rental vehicle. (Try the Pier Head Hotel if you can’t find an open lot.) This is quintessential Ireland: rolling green landscape with waves from the Atlantic crashing onto craggy rocks; here, they were sediment deposits on ancient river deltas about 300 million years ago.
The entire loop will take about an hour but you can also do a small section and see some of the highlights in much less time, if need be.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, you absolutely MUST have lunch at Eithne’s by the Sea. On a warm, sunny day it’s worth waiting for patio seating to get a street-side view of the pier, harbour and ocean. Buzzing with activity, lunch becomes an experience — and not just because Eithne herself might be serving you (as she did us during our visit). Mullaghmore lobster is a menu feature, which is sourced from the Lobster Pond next door, so order something — anything! — with lobster. (The seafood tasting plate was ah-mazing.) It doesn’t get fresher than this.
Sun-worshippers will appreciate the 3km-long sandy Mullaghmore Beach. It sits along a sheltered edge of a bay that’s part of the Atlantic Ocean, offering protection from big deeps and waves. There is some parking here, but on a summer weekend, expect it to fill up quickly.
But if you want a bit more adventure in the Atlantic ’round these parts, you’re in luck. There’s standup paddleboarding and SCUBA diving right off the pier, and we saw loads of people jumping from the side of the pier itself into the chilly water below. Best of all, though, is the little sauna by the beach called Sabhna Saunas; it’s a wood-fired sauna big enough for up to four guests and you can’t miss it if you’re looking at the tiny beachfront in the pier’s alcove, directly in front of the Pier Head Hotel.
For 15 Euros per person, you get 40 minutes of sauna time. Grab your flip flops, swim suit and a towel and rotate between the cool Atlantic and the hot sauna. It’s a really neat concept and since you might be sharing with others, it’s a good way to meet new people, too. The couple we met, for example, told us about Bishop’s Pool; just a three-minute drive from the sauna, they described it as a deep, natural rock pool that drops into the Atlantic — safe for swimming. I’m leaving this info here so you make time to find it, since we couldn’t. It sounds amazing!
Benbulbin, Ben Bulben — wherefore art thou, Benbulben?
No matter how you spell it, Benbulbin has to be on your Ireland itinerary. You won’t miss this unique mountainscape from the highway in Cloyragh, but getting upclose and personal is worth the effort, too. Sometimes called the Table Mountain, Benbulbin’s shape is unmistakeable in the Irish landscape. The most distinctive peak in the country’s Dartry mountain range, Benbulbin was formed during the Ice Age by massive glaciers.
The Benbulben Gortarowey Forest Walk is fairly easy as unpaved trail walks go, and you’ll be rewarded on the way there with incredible views of the Benbulbin formation and Donegal Bay on the way back.
Just 6km away, Drumcliffe Church — whether the actual church itself is open or closed when you arrive doesn’t matter — is the final resting place of Nobel Prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats. As an English Lit major, it was a pretty cool discovery since Yeats is widely revered as one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century.
If you’re a waterfall chaser and you think you can make the timing work, Glencar Waterfall is easy to access and stunning — and it’s not far from Benbulbin.
Sligo is in County Sligo. It might also be referred to as Sligo Town. I know, I know — it’s a bit confusing. The main thing you need to know is that when I write about Sligo in this section, I’m talking about Sligo the city, not the county that encompasses the city along with many others.
The Clayton Hotel in Sligo was one of the best we stayed in during our one week in Ireland. It was really nicely updated, boasting extremely spacious rooms with great amenities; it’s a true four-star property unlike many of the other hotels in Ireland that call themselves four-star but really operate and appear more like three-stars. Plus it’s only a five-minute drive from the centre of town, so if you want to go out for a bite or a drink and leave the rental at the hotel, a cab ride is only going to run you about eight Euros (one way).
Built in 1848, you’ll know the minute you pull up to the main doors that you aren’t at a purpose-built hotel. It’s much too old and grand to have been a hotel from the start. Before we knew better, the Clayton would have once been called an “insane asylum.” I was hoping for some haunted feels, but no such luck. It was just a nice, clean hotel with great water pressure.
Oh! And if you’re travelling with kids, the Clayton Hotel has the most adorable fairy trail. They have actual fairy houses hidden throughout the grounds and you can collect a map from the front desk and go looking for fairies! Not gonna lie…it’s tougher than it sounds.
My favourite restaurant in this 7-day Ireland itinerary is in Sligo — the Bridgefoot House Restaurant. It’s not huge, so make a reservation. Food is sourced locally for this interesting menu that plays on the owner and head chef’s time in kitchens as far-reaching as London, Sydney and Dubai, and menus change seasonally to ensure the freshest dishes make their way to tables.
It’s hard to make food recos because it’s all changed between my visit and this blog post, but I assure you that we tried A LOT of the starters, mains and desserts among the five of us and the whole table shared and raved about each thing that emerged from the kitchen. Everything was excellent. And when you’re talking about upwards of 15 dishes, that’s worth noting.
Before you jump in a cab or call your driver to retrieve you from your food coma, walk north on O’Connell St. and turn right on Wine St. You’ll immediately find Hyde Bridge, which is really lovely at night with the lights from Sligo’s downtown core flickering in the water below. There’s even a statue of Yeats just across the bridge if you’re so inclined.
If you’re still not ready to call it a night, this is where you want to be — it’s pubs and bars at what seems like every corner. We happened to exit into the streets the night of the Sligo Summer Festival, which was a rip-roaring, honky-tonking tribute to All Things Country Music! I’m not sure if this area is always so high-energy but it’s worth checking it out after dinner just in case.
DAY 6 of your 7-day Ireland itinerary
Ignore the fact that it’s day six of seven and focus on the fact that you still have Achill, Mulranny and Connemara and to explore — all in one day!
Today, you’re going to see the Irish countryside in a new way: on bicycle! You don’t have to be a strong cyclist for this ride at all. It’s mostly flat with hard-packed limestone gravel on a dedicated rail trail called the Great Western Greenway. Clew Bay Bike Hire will not only provide all the rentals you need (helmet included), but they’ll also send you out with a guide who will narrate several parts of the ride and also ensure you make it from point A to point B.
The Great Western Greenway
We started near Achill Sound and did only about 14 of the 44 total kilometres that make up the Great Western Greenway, which was plenty of time to take in Ireland’s iconic emerald-hued undulating hills, lots of sheep and the country’s famous bogs. There’s a reason the New York Times voted this trail one of the top three cycling trails in the world. There are a few easy bridges and heaps of photo opps along the way. It was a beautiful ride and I can’t impress upon you enough that if you can ride a bike, that’s enough experience to do this.
If you want to do the same ride, end at the Mulranny Park Hotel. With the Great Western Greenway in its backyard and looking out into Clew Bay at the front, the hotel spearheads something called the Gourmet Greenway — which is essentially a food trail along the Greenway that showcases several of the area’s food producers. You can enjoy lunch here after peeking around at some of the hotel’s lovely communal areas.
Things to do in Connemara
Connemara is about an hour from Mulranny, and you’ve got a couple of great options here within 15 minutes from each other: Kylemore Abbey and the Killary Fjord. Depending on your pace, you might be able to do both but if you’re a bit tired from your morning bike ride, you might prefer to just choose one and be a tad more relaxed today.
For those who love architecture, pristinely manicured gardens and guided historical tours, Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden is your best choice. You’ll step into the Victorian era with restored rooms fit for royalty and learn about the Benedictine nuns (the first of which arrived in 1920) who still live and work onsite today. The gardens are a masterpiece that at one time employed 40 gardeners to maintain; it’s a glorious example of one of the last Victorian walled gardens built in Ireland. Take a quick, five-minute walk from the Abbey to check out Kylemore’s 14th-century-style neo-Gothic church — built as a gift from the original owner for his wife. There’s also wonderful dining onsite where you can pop in for tea or coffee; The Garden Tea House or Kylemore Kitchen will welcome you with the most delicious scones and brown bread.
Killary Fjord, on the other hand, is ideally suited to tourists who yearn to be out on the water soaking in the crisp, clean air — and hoping for dolphin sightings. (None during our visit, sadly.) This boat tour takes you through Ireland’s only glacial fjord on a purpose-built — and fully licensed! — cruise ship named Connemara Lady. There’s no need to worry about sea sickness on this vessel; she moves slowly and surely and the passage is sheltered and, therefore, exceptionally calm. I’d never seen a mussel farm before this boat tour, so majestic landscapes aside, that was neat. If you want to hear the recorded narration, though, keep in mind that you’ll want to sit inside the boat.
Whatever you do, don’t leave Connemara without seeing Aasleagh Falls. We didn’t have time to go right up to the falls themselves but took it all in from the road, and it was like something out of the most magical parts of The NeverEnding Story. After all, if David Attenborough thought this was a good spot to get some BBC footage, you can be sure it’s a beauty.
Picture it: a spectacular waterfall pours over the side of a glacial ledge, plunging into the riverbed below and surrounded by the unmistakeable green that is Ireland. But wait — because there are horses roaming freely, eating grass and happily taking photos with visitors. There are no fences to speak of and the horses, with their long manes blowing in the Irish breeze, aren’t even wearing halters. It’s like something from a storybook and my jaw fell agape seeing it all unfold together.
You’ve got a bit of a trek ahead of you as you head to Galway, so buckle up for the 1.5-hour drive. On our original itinerary, we stopped for the night in Salthill but we didn’t spend enough time there nor did we eat anywhere noteworthy enough to really warrant including it in this 7-day Ireland itinerary. Instead, I’m sending you straight to Galway where you should absolutely, positively book a fabulous, Instagrammable room at The Dean Galway.
DAY 7 of your 7-day Ireland itinerary
It’s the last day of your 7-day Ireland itinerary and I know you’re sad. I’m sad for you. But good news is afoot: you get to go to Galway and County Kildare today!
If you can squeeze out even one extra day, this is where I’d add on more time — Galway. I freaking LOVED Galway. In fact, I think it’s my favourite city in Ireland so far. It’s practically humming with activity.
What to do in Galway
I hope to expand this section after another visit to the Emerald Isle when I have an opportunity to spend more than just a few hours in Galway City, since I moved at breakneck speed to take in as much as possible in this awesome city. (Did I mention how much I love this place?!)
Here are some things to do in Galway City:
- Do a self-guided walking tour; start at The Claddagh area and head north toward the city centre, popping into Katie’s Claddagh Cottage (a thatched cottage modelled after what would have originally stood here in the midst of the area’s fishing village) for a poke around. From here, cross over the River Corrib using Father Griffin Road and look for the Spanish Arch and a nearby Banksy mural. Just beyond the Spanish Arch, The Long Walk is one of Galway’s most famous landmarks and it’s not a long walk whatsoever! Look for the colourful row houses facing the river and then spin back up toward the pedestrian-only area using Dock Street. The Latin Quarter is arguably one of the best places I’ve ever been to in all the times I’ve been to Ireland, and you could easily spend most of your day here. Shops, buskers, cafes and even churches — this place has it all! Lined with cobblestone, Galway’s medieval heritage really shines in The Latin Quarter. Some notables here include: the Aran Sweater Store (get your Aran-knit goods here!); Coffeewerk + Press (a coffee shop downstairs and a design studio and shop upstairs, featuring — without question — the best coffee I had the entire week); Murphy’s Ice Cream (sooooo good); and Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh store (head to the back for the astronomically small Claddagh ring museum that houses the world’s smallest Claddagh ring)
- Find The Browne Doorway in Eyre Square — as the plaque outside this protected doorway reads: “this monument is a reminder of the great architecture in the days of Galway’s civic opulence.” The former entrance bay the 1627 Browne House, the Renaissance doorway is one of only two in the city that have survived; it was relocated to Eyre Square in 1905
- Have lunch in Sophie’s at the Dean Hotel — definitely the best cocktails we had in Ireland in one of the most fabulously designed spaces. The vibe is Art Deco and the execution is exquisitely modern
- Do the Galway City Distillery — Coolest.Distillery.EVER! Whether you come for the full Flavour Academy experience and walk away with your DIY custom-made, juniper-based gin or book a table in the bar and play around with gin-based concoctions thanks to the in-house ingredients, you’re in for a treat. Of special note, the Galway City Distillery is inspired (pr perhaps enchanted) by the lunar cycles and everything at the place centres around them
And as awesome as Galway is…
Stay in a castle in Ireland
You know you want to. Nay — you know you need to. That’s right, when in Ireland, stay in a castle! And, sure, I suggested another castle hotel stay way back on day one of this 7-day Ireland itinerary, but it’s nowhere near as castle-y as the one that’s going to take you from Galway to Straffan where you’ll find the 13th-century Barberstown Castle.
I love the history of this castle that’s transformed over the years into a 55-room hotel. Built in 1288 (I know, right?!), it’s had only 37 owners — including Eric Clapton. As you walk the halls, you’ll see each owner’s name inscribed on suite doors paying homage to all of them. But the OG owner, Nicholas Barby, is rumoured to be buried in the castle walls. And that’s not the only reason some say parts of the castle are haunted!
The only 13th-century architecture that remains is the tower, so it’s fascinating to walk around and through the castle and its grounds to see how various owners have renovated and upgraded different sections, culminating in what stands there today. And with new owners at the helm with ambitious plans (such as a “penthouse” suite on the top floor of the tower), the coming years will be magical ones for Barberstown.
Bonus: staying the night at Barberstown Castle before your flight home puts you just 30 minutes from the Dublin airport. Too bad it’s time to go home…
That’s it! Your one week in Ireland has come to a close. And, just like me, you know you’ll be back one day.
DISCLAIMER: Tourism Ireland arranged many of these travel details to help facilitate content. At no time have they been able to review or approve this review/itinerary; opinions and suggestions are my own.