During our month-long stay in Dublin, The Husband and I knew we wanted to rent a car for a few days and see western Ireland. We rented a small SUV from National Car Rental in St Stephens Green and I prepared myself for driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car (car €373 total, plus €70 in gas).
I did get my International Driving Permit before we left the States, but the rental company didn’t ask to see it. I thankfully didn’t get pulled over by the Garda, so it stayed in my bag the entire time.
Day One- From Dublin to Kenmare
- Rock of Cashel (€8)
- Lunch in Cork (€50)
- Kenmare for the night (€123)
We left Dublin around ten in the morning and headed out of the city. Our first stop was Rock of Cashel, a group of medieval buildings up on a hill. We elected to do the self-guided tour, which didn’t include a tour of Cormac’s Chapel. That is only accessible with a guided tour. The line for the ticket booth was pretty long, but we were able to buy tickets online while we were waiting and skipped most of the line.
We stopped for lunch in Cork. It was convenient, as we were heading to Kenmare and it was essentially on the way. We parked in a parking garage (€2, street parking is nearly impossible) and headed to Gallagher’s Pub for lunch. After a delicious meal (best peas I’ve had this trip!) and a pint (half-pint for me) we walked around the English Market, the oldest covered market in Europe.
Alternative option: Stop at Blarney Castle and see the Blarney Stone
After a nice walk around Cork, we got back into the car and headed for Kenmare. It’s the perfect spot to stay to get an early start on the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. We checked into the bed and breakfast at O’Donnabhain’s Pub. It was a cute little B&B and in the perfect location to walk around Kenmare. The picturesque little town is full of shops and pubs, plus some great parks and nature. The waiter where we had a drink suggested we walk around Reenagross Woodland Park, and it was the perfect outdoor walk after spending the day in the car. We also checked out the pier, a great spot for bird watching and seeing cute little Irish cottages.
Day Two-Kenmare to Tralee
- Partial Ring of Kerry (€0)
- Killarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (€0)
- Town of Dingle (lunch, €40)
- Dingle Peninsula with stops (€9 for both stops)
- Stay at Ballyseede Castle Hotel (€292, plus €100 for dinner and drinks)
We enjoyed the included breakfast at O’Donnabhain’s before heading out for the day. We started by doing part of the Ring of Kerry drive. The Ring of Kerry can take 4-6 hours to do the whole thing, and has some scary parts where the lanes are narrow and the cliffs are a far fall down. We opted to save the scary driving for the Dingle Peninsula instead.
We drove the Ring of Kerry from Kenmare to Killarney, with a stop in the Killarney National Park to see the Torc Waterfall. It was a gorgeous drive, with just a few narrow areas to prepare me for the Dingle Peninsula. There are plenty of areas to stop and pull over on the drive to enjoy the views.
Alternative option: Drive the whole Ring of Kerry and stay an additional night in Killarney
After Killarney National Park, we headed toward the town of Dingle for lunch before driving the Dingle Peninsula. We stopped and got gas, and discovered the deliciousness that is 99 Ice Cream. It’s Irish vanilla soft serve with a flaky chocolate bar. The ice cream is so creamy and the vanilla is perfect. Don’t sleep on the ice cream when in Ireland!
Dingle is an adorable and colorful town, in the center of the Dingle Peninsula. After finding street parking, we walked around the town before having lunch. Thanks to my delicious ice cream I wasn’t super hungry so I had the seafood chowder and it was so good. It was chock full of local seafood. After lunch, we headed back to the car and began the drive around the peninsula.
Pro tip: Drive clockwise so you don’t have to pass tour buses on the narrow road
We started the two-ish hour drive around the peninsula, on Slea Head Drive, and almost immediately made our first stop. These drives are full of gorgeous views, and cool things to check out. We stopped at The Fairy Fort, where they have forts from the 1,000’s AD, but more importantly, you can feed sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, and ponies! For a €2.50 entry fee, you get a tub full of food to feed the animals.
After our food was gone, we continued the drive, only to stop almost immediately again, at the Beehive Huts. These stone huts, also called forts, lios, and ráth, were built around 1200 AD. They were mainly used by farmers, with structures for their families and their livestock. The huts are located up a pretty steep climb, which gives you a great view of the water.
We continued on the drive, and soon came to the cross at the southwest corner of the loop. Many people were stopped there, but I just grabbed a quick photo as we drive by. After the cross, the road began to narrow and increase in traffic, and the scary driving began.
There are so many more places to stop, you could spend hours doing this 30 mile drive. I was getting sick of driving, and The Husband didn’t want to drive. If we had more time, we would have stopped at Kruger’s Pub, Ireland’s most westerly pub, some of the beaches, and the view of the Sleeping Giant, an island that looks like the silhouette of a sleeping man. When we weren’t terrified of falling off the cliff, we made a few quick stops to see the view, and even saw a Eurasian Kestrel floating in the air!
The views, although gorgeous, did start to get a little repetitive. As we left the Slea Head Drive, we were glad we didn’t also do the entire Ring of Kerry. After completing the loop and driving back through Dingle, we headed to Tralee to stay at the Ballyseede Castle Hotel. We enjoyed dinner and a drink at the hotel bar before heading to bed. Driving on the right side of the car, left side of the road, in an unfamiliar car, along a cliff, was exhausting and I was ready to relax.
Day Three- Tralee to Galway
- Ferry (€20.70)
- Cliffs of Moher (€14)
- Galway (Hotel €184.50, dinner and drinks €80, parking €10)
We left Ballyseede after a delightful breakfast and headed to the Cliffs of Moher. You can either drive around to Shannon and up, or take the car ferry across the River Shannon. Since I love boats and saving time, we opted for the ferry. It runs every half hour during the peak season, so it was easy to plan the drive. You have to buy the ticket online, and instead of timed, it’s good for a year. The ferry ride was only 20 minutes and you could barely feel it moving. It was on time and efficient, with quick and easy loading and unloading.
It was pouring our whole ride to the Cliffs of Moher, but we were determined to go. We bought tickets online as soon as we got off the ferry, since they are timed. We arrived right in the middle of our allotted time and began the very wet walk to the cliffs. Because it was raining so hard, and so foggy, you couldn’t see anything very well. We checked out the first two viewing areas, but the visibility got worse the higher we went. We decided we saw enough and headed back to the car.
Pro tip: If you are traveling anywhere that is cold or wet, invest in an Arc’teryx jacket. Despite the blowing rain, we were dry under our jackets.
After drying off and warming up, we headed to Galway for the night. We had dinner at The Dough Bros Wood Fired Pizza while deciding where to stay for the night. Since it was still raining and we wanted to check out the pubs, we decided on the Harbour Hotel. It was a decent price, had good reviews, and was a short walk to the main area. The bed was large and comfy (king beds in Europe are often queen size by American standards).
After dropping our stuff off in the room, we headed out. Galway is known for their lively pubs and live music. However, it was still pouring out so we did our best and went to a few pubs before heading back to the hotel. We really liked The King’s Head and A Bunch of Grapes. We wanted to spend more time walking around but it was just too miserable to stay out.
Day Four- Galway to Dublin
- Athlone Castle (€20)
- Phoenix Park (ice cream and espresso €7)
We left Galway the next morning and headed back to Dublin. The guy at hotel reception suggested stopping at Athlone Castle, since it was about halfway to Dublin. The drive is only about two hours total but we figured if locals recommended it, we should do it. The castle played a crucial role in Irish history, and the interactive museum taught us more than we would even need to know about Irish history. It was a great experience and the perfect way to stretch our legs on the final drive of our journey.
We had some time before our car was due back, so we stopped at Phoenix Park in Dublin. It’s a huge park that is much easier to see with a car. We stopped and saw the Victorian Kitchen Garden and had ice cream by the Ashtown Castle. We drove through the rest of the park, opting to skip the zoo for now because of time, and headed back to return the car.
Overall, we felt like we saw most of what we wanted to see in the three nights, four days we had the car. Of course, there is always more to see but you have to draw the line somewhere. For first time visitors to Ireland, we thought we saw everything we needed to see and didn’t feel like we missed out.
I was really nervous about driving, but I got used to it quickly. It had been almost four months since I drove last, so I would probably have been nervous regardless of where we were. The car and the road signs constantly reminded you to stay to the left, and most things were marked well. The left lane is the slow lane, which took a minute to get used to, and I constantly tried to buckle my seat belt from the wrong side. Overall, it was fine and not worth stressing about and definitely not worth skipping things because of a fear of driving.
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