Planning on taking a day trip from Dublin, but can't decide which direction to set out in? That's not an uncommon problem – partly due to the fact that you can get literally anywhere in Ireland (and back) in a day.
But let us be realistic, day trips are not just about getting there, taking a selfie, then heading back. They are about experiencing a place (or places) fairly nearby, not about having an exhausting road trip. So for the purpose of choosing the best day trips from Dublin the following rules have been applied: the destination should to be worth visiting, be able to keep you entertained for a while, and must be within reasonable reach of the Irish capital, so that drive time does not become longer than the time available to spend at the location itself.
And starting with this idea in mind, here are the seven best day trips from Dublin:
The Boyne Valley: More than Newgrange and Tara
"Boyne Valley Drive": the signs guiding you onwards on the route through Ireland's East, mainly the county of Meath, traditionally start in Drogheda, and from there will guide you to the site of the Battle of the Boyne and Oldbridge Estate. Then you'll head on to Brú na Bóinne, the "Bend of the Boyne". The great ancient monuments here of Newgrange and Knowth are accessible by guided tour — plan to make time for this, though this will eat into the hours.
The next stop usually is the famed Hill of Tara, though reality often does not live up to the hyped-up expectations of visitors. But consider the excellent café, bookstore, and artist's studio for a refreshing pit-stop. The next attractions on the Boyne Valley Drive are then Trim, with its massive Norman castle, the cairns on Loughcrew near Oldcastle, the heritage town of Kells, and the ruined monasteries of Mellifont and Monasterboice.
How to Get There: The drive from Dublin’s city center will take about ninety minutes to the Bru na Boinne Visitor Center via the M1. There is no recommended public transport connection for the whole Boyne Valley, but daily organized tours from Dublin to Newgrange and Tara are available from several providers, usually bookable in larger hotels or tourist information centers.
Tayto Park: Family Fun
This is strictly for those who can spend an entire day at a theme park. Tayto Park — erected in honor of Ireland’s most prominent potato crisp — offers much more than a crunchy munchfest. The park is home to the Cuchullain rollercoaster, the largest wooden rollercoaster in Europe, dedicated to Ireland’s greatest hero. Ireland’s stock villains, the Vikings, provide entertainment with a water ride. And from kiddies’ rides to adrenaline-pumping zip-lines and climbing parcours there is enough stuff to keep you entertained for a whole day. Add to that a zoo with an exciting collection of wild animals, including big cats, and the hours will fly by in no time.
How to Get There: The drive from Dublin’s city center will take about thirty minutes to Tayto Park via the M2. Public transport connections are available on routes 103 and 105 by Bus Eireann.
Historically associated with Saint Brigid, who might also have been a goddess, Kildare Town celebrates the “Mary of the Gaels” with a cathedral, a round tower, statues, and an impressive Holy Well. And then there are the horses — County Kildare is horse country, and the Irish National Stud Museum is located here. Visitors can also enjoy acres of parkland and the town's very fine Japanese garden. Should your taste run to less culture and more couture, however, Kildare Village is the place to go, a huge outlet center with all the big names
How to Get There: The drive from Dublin’s city center will take just under an hour to Kildare Town via the M7. Public transport connections are by Bus Eireann (route 300, roughly an hour), or by Irish Rail (less than half an hour from Heuston Station).
The Wicklow Mountains: Glendalough in the Middle
The Wicklow Mountains are an area of outstanding natural beauty, part of which is protected as a national park, and many Dubliners head for these hills for some weekend walking and relaxation. During the week, however, and especially on cooler days, you’ll find yourself in the middle of nowhere. Even signposts are rare on the winding, undulating roads that meander past bogs and hillsides.
A tour of the Wicklow Mountains comes highly recommended as a day trip alone. Though you might choose to head straight for the monastic settlement of Glendalough, where Kevin sought solitude, and where today a sprawling medieval complex and some gorgeous lakeside walks await the visitor, for free. Again, avoid the weekend… the spectacle of cars queuing for a long time to get into the car park is not a “must see”.
How to Get There: The drive from Dublin’s city center will take at least ninety minutes to Glendalough via the N11 and Roundwood – much longer if you take the scenic route via the R115 and across the Sally Gap (which is recommended). There are public transport as well as day tour connections offered by St. Kevin’s Bus Services, see their website for details.
Howth: A Picturesque Fishing Community
Dublin’s easiest day out would be a quick ride to Howth, on the northern fringes of Dublin Bay. The town is a small fishing village, the last stop on the DART line, and a favorite spot for Dubliners who need to recharge their batteries. Especially recommended are Howth Castle (though the interior is not open to the public), the Howth Cliff Path Loop (this can also safely be tackled by those new to exploring the wild) , a walk to Howth Harbour Lighthouse (with its great views towards Ireland’s Eye and the coast north of Dublin), and a visit to Saint Mary's Abbey (with notable tombs and graves).
How to Get There: Take public transport — the DART service will carry you to Howth Railway Station. Or hop on a Dublin Bus 31 — stops are in Howth Harbour and at Howth Summit. The journey should take thirty to forty minutes.
Clonmacnoise, Plus the Shannon and Some Whiskey
For a longer day out, start early and head off to Clonmacnoise, an ancient monastic site right on the banks of the River Shannon. This was built on one of the most important trade routes, where the river was crossed by the Esker Way. This magical place in County Offaly with its churches, round towers, and ancient pilgrims’ way, winding past high crosses, will enchant you.
Afterwards, head to the bustling town of Athlone for a good look at the Shannon locks and Lough Ree to the north. Then take a relaxing drive back to Dublin, but make sure to head into Kilbeggan, for a visit of the old distillery. The restaurant next door also comes highly recommended for traditional Irish food in generous portions!
How to Get There: The drive from Dublin’s city center will take about ninety minutes to Clonmacnoise via the M4, M6 and N62. There is no recommended public transport connection.
Bray and Greystones
The coastal towns of Bray and Greystones aren't super exciting. True, there is a seafront, Greystones still retains some of that “fishing village” character, and Bray still oozes the genteel atmosphere of a Victorian vacation spot. But stay long enough to head south on Bray’s fabulous promenade, and push past the incline, because here the walk to Greystones starts, following the cliffs, at times high above the Irish Sea, with the occasional goat clambering on dangerous rocks. This is one of the best bracing walks to be had in the metropolitan Dublin area, even if technically you're already in County Wicklow. If you do the cliff walk in both directions, reward yourself in one of the many pubs near Bray’s promenade!
How to Get There: Again, take public transport. The DART service will carry you to Bray Railway Station in around 45 minutes. You can make your way back from Greystones directly via DART as well, with 53 minutes journey time to Dublin.