A road trip from Dublin to Killarney? This popular route can be a fast-track experience—it is little more than an hour by plane, can be done in just over three hours by train, and in around four hours by car. But, then again, you should consider making it a whole day if you drive. Because it can be a road trip indeed, taking in some famous Irish sights, shopping, and a bit of curiosity. So, let us assume a starting point anywhere in Dublin, where the orbital motorway M50 will be our take-off point (and mind the tolls, which you will have to pay if you cross the Liffey on the M50). You will exit the M50 at Junction 9, leaving Dublin behind you, and heading westward on the N7 (later M7).
The whole distance you are to cover now is 297 kilometers, which will take you around 3:45 hours driving time alone. If you are planning to do the (strictly optional) detour to see Ormond Castle, the distance will be 365 kilometers, with a drive time of nearly five hours. On short days you may have to be quick about your visits at the attractions listed, around midsummer you can take your time (provided your lodgings in Killarney are already booked).
The Museum of Style Icons
After leaving the M50 and driving nearly 30 kilometers, you’ll be approaching Exit 10 on the M7, signposted for Newbridge—get off here, head into Newbridge and make your way to Newbridge Silverware. Unless you want to do some shopping here, or have a snack in the excellent café, head straight for the “Museum of Style Icons”, a weird and wonderful experience.
Because in Newbridge an eclectic collection of dresses and accessories worn by some of the greatest stars has been assembled. You’ll see costumes and clothing worn by The Beatles (those suits from “A Hard Day’s Night”), Tippy Hedren (her suit from “The Birds”), Audrey Hepburn (the cocktail dress from “Breakfast at Tiffany's”, for instance), Michael Jackson (a red vinyl shirt, no less), Grace Kelly (her dress from “High Society”), Liza Minelli (that stage outfit from “Cabaret”), Marilyn Monroe (a chiffon jacket from “The Prince and the Showgirl”), Elvis Presley (his jacket from “Speedway”), Princess Diana (the dress worn during the state visit to India in 1992)… and more. Great for movie buffs and fans of nostalgia.
Address: Athgarvan Road, Newbridge, County Kildare
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 9 AM to 6 PM, Sundays and Holidays 11 AM to 6 PM
Entry Fee: free
Time Needed: budget for an hour
After your visit, rejoin the M7 and keep going west.
The Historic Town of Kildare
About ten minutes later you’ll be leaving the M7 again, at Exit 13 for Kildare. Here you have a veritable choice of what to do, the most obvious being a good look at Kildare Town itself, a historic place with links to Ireland’s most important female saint, Brigid of Kildare, abbess, bishop, and maybe goddess. Walking around Kildare, an easy thing because of the compact size of the town, you will be reminded of Brigid several times—artworks and installations in her memory are scattered around town. But her presence is (maybe) most closely felt in St. Brigid’s Cathedral, which tends to dominate the center anyway. So much so that the fine round tower right next to it is almost forgotten. As is Kildare Castle, an overgrown tower house somewhat hidden away off the main street.
Some people will, however, debate the importance of the cathedral, and instead prefer the quaint and recently restored Saint Brigid’s Well just outside town, near the Irish National Stud. This certainly is worth a visit, with its modern statue, a fine landscaped garden, and living evidence of (almost pagan) folk devotion to the “Mary of the Gaels”. A good place to breath and relax.
Time Needed: depending on your interests, between 30 minutes and two hours
The Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens
The big visitor draw here (apart from actual horse racing, County Kildare is ground zero for the sport in Ireland) remains the Irish National Stud, a government-owned working stud farm with a museum, landscaped woodlands, and a stunning Japanese garden to boot. An excellent place for horse and nature lovers and an insight into the quirkiness of horse “science”. The exhibition on the astrological influences once heeded here is nothing but hilarious.
Be warned, however—the stud and gardens are good for a day trip on their own. So if you are running to a tight schedule, you might start budgeting your time now!
Address: Brallistown Little, Tully, County Kildare
Opening Times: daily 9 AM to 6 PM
Entry Fee: Adults 11.50 €, Children 6.5 €, concessions available
Website: Irish National Stud
Time Needed: at least an hour, two to three for a full visit
The Kildare Village Outlet Center
There is, however, another big magnet in the neighborhood (which may attract females most)—the Kildare Village, an outlet center of epic proportions right next to the motorway. If you are traveling light, yet with big suitcases (and pockets), you may want to stop here as well. On offer are, amongst others, goods by Armani, Barbour, Boss, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, Crabtree & Evelyn, Diesel, DKNY, Escada, Falke, Fossil, French Connection, Gucci, Guess, Heidi Klum Intimates, Jaeger, Karen Millen, Lacoste, Le Creuset, Levi's, Longines, Louise Kennedy, Lulu Guinness, Polo Ralph Lauren, Samsonite, Superdry, Swarovski, Swatch, The North Face, Timberland, Tissot, Tommy Hilfiger, Versace, Villeroy & Boch, and Zwilling. Be warned: prices are not necessarily that competitive compared to home, as the discounts start with high Irish retail prices.
Address: Nurney Road, Kildare Town, County Kildare
Opening Times: 10 AM to 8 PM daily, extended opening hours until 9 PM on Thursdays and Fridays
Website: Kildare Village
Time Needed: from a quick look to ages
After your visit to Kildare (and if you still have money to continue your vacation), rejoin the M7 and keep going west. After a while, the M8 splits off in a southerly direction—take this motorway.
The Rock of Cashel
After around an hour you will approach Exit 7, leave the M8 here heading straight into Cashel, following the signs to the famous Rock of Cashel. One of Ireland’s most stunning historic places (though the best view of the whole attraction is from a distance), and certainly worth a stop-over in any circumstances. The stony outcrop was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster until Muirchertach Ua Briain donated it to the church in 1101. Today it is famous for its collection medieval art and architecture, with the majority of buildings dating from the 12th or 13th century.
Oldest (and tallest) of these is a round tower of 28 meters height, built around 1100. Cormac's Chapel (named after King Cormac Mac Carthaigh) was built between 1127 and 1134 as a sophisticated Romanesque church with the help of German craftsmen. The chapel is currently completely enclosed in a rain-proof structure for preservation reasons—a necessary measure, but not necessarily a nice sight. The cathedral on the Rock of Cashel was built between 1235 and 1270 with a central tower and adjoining a residential castle. Comparatively young is the Hall of the Vicars Choral (15th century), restored and now used as the entrance to the complex (which is walled all around).
Address: Cashel, County Tipperary
Opening Times: generally between 9 AM and 4.30 PM, longer in the summer
Entry Fee: Adults 8 €, Children 4 €, concessions available
Time Needed: one to two hours
After your visit to the Rock of Cashel, rejoin the M8 and keep going southwest.
On to Killarney
If you have time to spare, feel free to leave the M8 again at Exit 10, for a quick look at Cahir Castle, or a long detour to Carrick-on-Suir and the splendid Ormond Castle, this will add about 90 minutes to your schedule. And that schedule is the long drive to Killarney, nearly 150 kilometers from Cashel, and taking two hours.
In any case, here are the directions: you follow the M8 until exit 12, there you switch onto the N73 towards (and around) Mitchelstown. Continue on the N73 until you reach Mallow, where you switch onto the N72 towards Killarney. And now you have earned a good rest—explore Killarney in a jaunting car or maybe drive the Ring of Kerry tomorrow.