With its breathtaking natural beauty and welcoming atmosphere, Ireland is an incredible place to visit for any amount of time.
Luckily, with its compact size and (usually) well-maintained roads, it is easy to see a lot of Ireland even if you are short on time. If you have five days to spend in Ireland, you can explore the southwest and discover the incredible history and scenery of counties Wexford, Cork, Kerry and Galway before rounding out your trip with a day in Dublin.
The best way to make the most of your time is to rent a car on your way out of Dublin. While trains and buses do connect most Irish towns and villages, the schedules can be spotty, and the travel time will cut into precious exploration opportunities. While a car is not at all necessary in Dublin itself (and can be more of a hassle than a help), you will appreciate having the flexibility of your own car while transiting through more rural parts of Ireland.
Ready to plan the ultimate five-day trip to Ireland? Here is your guide to where to go, what to see and do, plus where to stay during each stop along the way.
Day 1: Dublin to Cork
Fly into Dublin and pick up a rental car to set out on your Irish road trip. Depending on what time to land, aim south, and try to make it to Waterford in time for lunch. The historic town claims to be one of the oldest settlements in Ireland and can trace its history back through Viking times. Treat yourself to a blaa—a local soft bread roll filled with bacon from Walsh’s Bakehouse (34 Mount Sion Ave)—then explore the downtown area. Known as the Viking Triangle, thanks to its 1,000-year-old landmarks and museums, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about the history of the town. Before leaving, stop into the House of Waterford Crystal to learn more about the dazzling cut crystal goblets that were first made right here.
After getting a taste of Waterford, hit the road to see one of Ireland’s most famous castles. The Blarney Castle (and its infamous stone) lie just outside the city of Cork, about a 2-hour drive further south. The castle offers a chance to stretch your legs and see the impressive tower that was built in the 15th century. Legend has it that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone will be blessed with the “gift of the gab” and become incredibly skilled at flattery. All you have to do is be brave enough to hang down over the rampart to kiss the infamous rock slab.
With a castle under your belt, make your way to Cork for the night. The lively town considers itself the second capital of Ireland, and there is always something to do. For a good night’s rest, check into the Clayton Hotel Cork City, which sits right on the quays and offers comfortable, updated rooms as well as a heated indoor swimming pool.
Day 2: Killarney and the Ring of Kerry
Stop for breakfast at Cork’s English Market before bidding goodbye to Ireland’s second-largest town. The second day of your Ireland itinerary will take you to the green landscapes of County Kerry, with the first stop in Killarney, just over an hour’s drive west.
Killarney’s charming storefronts make it a popular stop for visitors to the Emerald Isle. Though the town can sometimes be a bit crowded, there is plenty of space to escape the crowds in Killarney National Park, a conservation area that has the distinction of being Ireland’s first-ever national park. Wander the paths along Lough Leane, and be sure to seek out Ross Castle. The stately stone tower house is one of the main attractions in the area, along with nearby Muckross Abbey.
However, the main adventure of the day still awaits because it is time to take on the Ring of Kerry, one of Ireland’s most iconic road trips. The 111-mile loop starts and ends in Killarney, so plan to spend the entire afternoon exploring the route that leads past incredible landscapes. The first stop should be at the Torc Waterfall, leaving plenty of time to continue on to admire the vistas at Ladies View and the Gap of Dunloe. Depending on how quickly you make your way, you can also plan to explore the little villages of County Kerry along the way.
Elated from completing the route, head back to Killarney to stay the night. The Ross Hotel is a trendy place to rest your head or to stay up late, taking full advantage of their buzzing Pink Lounge, which is filled with colorful chandeliers and an impressive gin collection.
Day 3: Dingle and Slea Head Drive
Slow down on your third day by departing Killarney for the quieter roads of Dingle. Stop for a swim at Inch Beach and then seek out the ruins of Minard Castle. Far from the crowds at other castles, Minard sits on a boulder-strewn beach that seems untouched by time.
Continue to the town of Dingle, which has a lovely waterfront area where you may be lucky enough to spot Fungie, the resident dolphin. Dingle may be small, but it has quickly become known as a major foodie destination in Ireland, and there are specialty coffee shops and gourmet ice cream parlors to be enjoyed alongside traditional pubs.
The road around Dingle makes up part of the Wild Atlantic Way and has spectacular scenery. To see some of the most westerly corners of Ireland, drive the 30-mile loop known as Slea Head Drive. Stop at the so-called Famine Cottages to learn about life during one of the most challenging periods in Irish history, before continuing to the incredible vistas at nearby Dunquin Harbor. The Gallarus Oratory is also an intriguing detour during your trip around the peninsula.
For a special tipple at the end of the day, plan a visit to the Dingle Distillery to try a local whiskey or stop into Foxy John's, an establishment that is a typical hardware store by day, but becomes a pub at night.
Plan to spend the night in Dingle for a taste Irish village life. Browne's B&B is a beloved bed and breakfast with friendly owners and views out over the bay.
Day 4: The Cliffs of Moher and Galway
Get an early start to have the road of the Wild Atlantic Way all to yourself as you set out due north for the Cliffs of Moher. One of the top things to see in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare are an unforgettable natural attraction in County Clare.
The seaside cliffs stand 650 feet above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Park and walk across the street to find the entrance to the visitor’s center, which boasts exhibits describing the geological history of the jagged cliffs. For the best view, walk along the windswept cliffs and climb to the viewing platform inside O’Brien’s Tower. If you want to continue the stroll, you can walk along the cliff path to the town of Doolin.
However, to see as much as possible, it is better to hop in the car for Galway. The harbor city has long appealed to students, artists, and poets, who all contribute to making the scenic center an eclectic stop when visiting in Ireland. Widely pedestrianized, the historical center is an ideal place to explore on foot, giving yourself time to stop at any coffee shop, pub, or book store that catches your eye.
Stay the night in Galway to take full advantage of the lively atmosphere. All of the best pubs in the area are known for their traditional Trad music sessions, so you will be able to catch a musical performance any day of the week. The Park House Hotel has four-star accommodation within an easy walk to the main areas of the city and is a great home base while in town.
Day 5: Dublin
Drop off the rental car to explore the compact capital of Dublin on foot on your fifth and final day in Ireland. The Irish city set along the Liffey has world-class museums, a famous castle, attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, and an excellent restaurant scene. Plus, when the sun goes down, the fun keeps coming as the pubs fill up for the night.
Start the day with a trip to Dublin Castle to learn more about how the history of Ireland was shaped by the different forces that have controlled the fortified walls over the centuries. Then, head off to the Guinness Storehouse for an educational tour that ends with a taste of the black stuff. You can even learn how to pull the perfect pint of Guinness yourself, then savor the beer in the stunning top-level bar with views across the city.
After lunch, plan to wander down O’Connell Street to take in the busy city atmosphere and admire the towering Spire. If you want to break away from the crowds, keep going to St. Stephen’s Green for a stroll through the park. The walk will take you through some of the classic Georgian neighborhoods where you will catch sight of some of Dublin’s famous colorful doors.
The area around St. Stephen’s Green is brimming with national museums covering everything from art to natural history, or you can pop over to Grafton Street to satisfy a shopping itch.
As the day winds down, catch a few more hours of Irish pub culture with a trip to the Temple Bar area of the city. Full of popular bars and live music seven days a week, the neighborhood is an almost mandatory stop for a night out when visiting Dublin. Join in and sing along at one of our favorite local pubs.
Now, after five full days in Ireland, you have earned a great night’s sleep—preferably at one of Dublin's best hotels.