Let us preface all of this by saying, 5 days in Ireland just isn’t enough! The country’s beauty will draw you in and make you want to stay for much, much, longer (like, can we move there?). However, it is small enough to be able to navigate both the island’s East & West coast and take in its most famous attractions in this amount of time. After all, we did! So, we are taking you on a 5 day driving tour of Ireland, sharing where to spend your time, and what you can skip over, if you must. From the best cocktail bars, of which there are quite a few, to the most luxurious lodging (anyone ever dreamt of staying in a castle?!), to the rolling hills of green, this is how you should spend 5 days in Ireland.
Getting There & Getting Around
If you want to see a large portion of the country, we recommend flying in and out of separate airports. Had we thought farther ahead, instead of jumping at a sweet flight deal in-and-out-of Dublin, this is what we would have done. Hind sight truly is 20/20. Our suggestion? Fly into Shannon on the West coast of Ireland. It’s only 30-40 minutes from the first hotel on our itinerary (as opposed to 3 hours). And as we have said above, we are all about making the most of your precious 5 days in Ireland.
When it comes to getting around, RENT A CAR. No seriously. Don’t be intimidated by the whole left side of the road, right side of the car thing. There are plenty of country roads and wide highways to get your bearings on, so as long as you have someone to help navigate, and remind you to look the other way when making a turn, you will be fine. Since you aren’t there for long, you really don’t want to waste any time waiting for busses. Plus, you will want to pull off in tiny towns and stop for scenic views, which just isn’t possible when taking public transportation or guided tours. Just double check that you reserve an automatic, unless you can drive a stick, in which case, more power to you.
OK, you have arrived in Ireland, are sitting in your shiny rental car, and are ready to hit the road. Where to first? Check into Adare Manor for the warmest possible welcome to the land of the Irish. After being greeted by charming men in top hats, and ushered inside under the shield of an umbrella (if the forecast is as damp for you as it was for us!), you will lay eyes on the spectacular lobby, if you can even call it that, of the manor, and the heavenly oaky scent wafting through the air is just as magnificent—which we bottled up and took home with us in a candle from the gift shop. The incredible property is a stone masterpiece full of centuries-old art and refurbished original fixtures and word work that will take your breath away. It’s no wonder it is a Leading Hotel of the World. If you are at all jet lagged from the journey, schedule a tea time, for actual tea, not golf ;), in the drawing room. If a cup of Earl Grey doesn’t awaken you, the atmosphere will, as you won’t be able to stop gawking at the elegant surroundings or impeccable gardens right outside.
It may seem odd to start your travel itinerary with a day at the hotel, but after arriving at Adare Manor, you will see why we encourage it. Plus, it will give you time to adjust and settle in. You can take bikes to explore the grounds, or meander them by foot. Make your way to The Carriage House for Dinner, which is a short blissful walk from the main manor. The semi-casual fare is approachable, but everything at Adare is done with such finesse that it will feel like fine dining. Don’t head back to your room too quickly, because a visit to the basement cocktail bar is not to be missed. If you are in the mood for the best concoction of your life (who isn’t?!) make your way downstairs to The Tack Room and ask the best bartender in the world (no, really) to craft you something according to your palate. You won’t be disappointed by the taste or looks of it. It was such an enjoyable experience that we stayed late into the night, chatting with the friendly staff, snacking on candied nuts, and perusing the creative menu. See why we encouraged a bit of caffeine earlier on?
You’re on vacation so sleep in! The cloud-like mattress at Adare won’t side against it. Make your way to the incredible Gallery for breakfast under a chandelier (do you feel like royalty yet?) and take a cup of coffee to go before preparing to bid adieu to the dreamy digs. It is time to practice those driving skills as you make the 2 hr jaunt to the Cliffs of Moher. Ahh, yes. This is probably a good time to re-mention that this is a 5 day driving tour of Ireland, so get used to being in the car. To be honest, driving through the gorgeous countryside was one of our favorite parts; seeing the fields of green and passing by goats, cows, and castle ruins is an experience in and of itself. So, queue up Ed Sheeran and enjoy the ride.
The Cliffs of Moher is the signature sight of Ireland. Images of these cliffs decorate post cards, google searches, and airplane TVs, and anyone who knows you went to Ireland will ask if you saw them. And boy, are they something to see. Behold their beauty by walking along the *in-fenced* pathway, likely with many other tourists, and pausing to snap a photo—or a hundred. They jut out high above (we’re talking hundreds of feet) their rocky shores, and the vibrant green grass against the cool blue water is nothing short of breath taking.
After you catch your breath, make your way another hour and a half’s drive to Galway. Yes, this is the town that gave its name to a few popular tunes, and it is well worth a pit-stop or more. Here, you will feel Ireland’s city and rural life come together. There are dozens of walking streets lined with pubs, shops, and street performers. This is definitely your best place to find traditional Irish music, from step dancers to fiddle players. Roam the streets in the afternoon and pop into a pub for supper to catch some tunes and Fish & Chips. The lively atmosphere will likely make you want to stay out, hopping from pub to pub, and we would encourage it.
Next, make your way farther North to a property also part of the Leading Hotels of The World whose reputation precedes it. Ashford Castle in County Cong, is a short 45 minutes drive from Galway but feels incredibly remote. The castle, once owned by the Guinness family (yes, that Guinness) is awe-inspiring from first entry. Set on a lake, and surrounded by towering trees, Ashford is easily one of the most serene places we have ever visited. Speaking of serene, its spa, which was awarded Overall Spa of the Year 2018, is the picture of peaceful. The ornate walls and chandeliers over the pool make it worth a visit even if you don’t indulge in a treatment, but if you did stay out all night in Galway, a dip in its pool may be just what you need ;).
Once you have settled into your room, all of which on the property are unique and fit for royalty, and enjoyed the welcome rum punch, throw on a pair of wellies and raincoat, complimentary to use during your stay, and take a tour of the grounds. Just walking them is utterly enjoyable, but you can also picnic on the lawn if the weather is nice or take a boat ride around the lake to learn a bit more history of the region. There are multiple dining options on property for dinner, but before your reservation be sure to pop into the bar for a martini! Delightful post dinner activities entail a game of ‘snooker’ in the billiards room or a film showing in the theatre clad with red velvet loungers and popcorn for all.
Indulge in a traditional Irish breakfast at George V before leaving Ashford Castle for a cross-country trip back to Dublin, which will take you just under 3 hours. Don’t forget to kiss the countryside goodbye, because once in Dublin, you will spend the rest of your time in Ireland in the heart of a city. To start, check the iconic Guinness Storehouse off your list. The Irish stout’s factory is much more of an interactive experience than traditional museum and it is well worth the 30ish Euros, we think. Especially, if you make it through the multi-level factory to the Gravity Bar at the tippy top, where you can enjoy a pint of perfectly poured Guinness with 360° views of Dublin’s magnificent skyline. If you don’t think you like Guinness now, it is impossible not to enjoy it in a setting like this.
After you’ve emptied your pint. Head for dinner at Roberta’s, a modern Italian terrace restaurant in Temple Bar. Dine on wood fired pizzas and delectable pastas under a pitched glass ceiling. Right outside, the Temple Bar area of Dublin (also an actual bar) is known to draw crowds of tourists to its many bars and pubs to take part in Irelands favorite past time. It’s worth a walk down but we have other ideas for a post-dinner drink, if you are in the mood… You are in Ireland, after all, so we will consider that rhetorical. Take a short walk from Roberta’s to The Liquor Rooms, a circus-inspired basement cocktail bar that promises atmosphere and tasty libations. And if you feel like you’re sitting amongst locals, it’s because you likely are, as this was a popular recommendation from the renowned bartender back at Adare Manor.
Rise and shine, it’s your last day in Ireland! Although the rest of the city may not rise early for brunch, you should! Head for brunch at Isabelle’s and make someone order the Chicken & Waffles… we know, we know, this sounds so American, especially when paired with a mimosa. BUT, would you believe us if we said they were the best Chicken & Waffles we have ever had? You better.
Walk off breakfast by heading to Trinity College nearby to take in the Book of Kells in The Long Room. Be sure to check the hours it is open daily, because we found ourselves trying to go on a bank holiday, and unfortunately missing our chance to view the incredible library and the old text housed there for the sake of making our flight. Sigh. Hence, why we are writing this guide. In the afternoon, we recommend one of two things depending on your energy level.
1. A pleasant stroll, or nap (or both), through St. Stephens Green. It is a beautiful park to relax in and enjoy, and during the summer months maybe even catch some live music. 2. A more lively stroll down Wexford Street where you should most definitely pop into Opium for a drink in the Botanical Garden. Walk straight on through the restaurant to get to it in the back. Then, when you are ready for food, walk back through and find a table to enjoy some pan-Asian fare. Another fun place for for casual drinks and food down the street? The Bernard Shaw is both a beer garden and stomping grounds for some yummy food trucks.
You did it. You saw a whole lot of of the country with just 5 days in Ireland. Well we did… but we would recommend this trip to any and everyone for its mix of luxurious accommodations, rich culture, stunning scenery, and kind people. But most of all, the itinerary promises a slew of good times and sights you won’t soon forget. For more European travel, see our Paris travel guide or road trip through England too!