Road Tripping South Ireland
Have you ever wanted to uncover the hidden gems of the emerald isle? Fantasize about driving down thin country lanes passing castle ruins and finding fairies? Well that’s exactly what I wanted to do so I spent seven days exploring the delights of south Ireland by car. If I had longer I would definitely have lingered longer in certain places but here’s my suggested itinerary and route to follow for a week in southern Ireland:
Dublin – Waterford – Cork (Kinsale, Cobh, Adare) – Limerick (Cliffs of Moher) – Galway – Dublin
Dublin: A logical place to start is Dublin, the Capital is an easy place to fly into and secure a car plus it’s worthwhile a few days of exploration.
If you enjoy strong alcohol stop by the famous Guinness factory or the Old Jameson Distillary where you can tour and taste. History buffs must go to Trinity College to ogle at the architecture and of course wander around the Long Hall Library. Housing 200,00 of the oldest books, including the Book of Kells this barrel roofed building will make you feel like you’ve been transported to another world.
Dublin – Waterford
Head south toward Kilkenny but make sure you stop by Powerscourt Estate. This beautiful House has it all, stunning gardens, waterfalls, kitsch shopping, afternoon tea and views that will take your breath away. I’d like to think I am an experienced stately home visitor and tea drinker and Powerscourt is one of my favorite places for both in the world. It’s a must stop on your way down south.
Now if you have great map reading skills or a Sat Nav, Guinness Lake is worth tracking down. Named because of its likeness to the dark beverage- in both color and shape- it’s nestled in the countryside between marshes and fields. Now I will admit my map reading skills were not on par that day and although we didn’t make it to the actual lake we did drive above it and even that was pretty cool. It also gives you a great opportunity to see more of rural Ireland, the small back roads, stone walls and endless fields.
This beautiful seaside town is Irelands oldest and has a lot of Viking history. There are loads of activities but it’s also a brilliant place to bimble, which is my favorite way to explore!
Firstly this town is home to Waterford Crystal, one of the world’s finest crystal companies. Take the opportunity to see how these perfectly cut vases and stunning chandeliers are made and ogle at the striking pieces they have on display in their visitor center. Even if you can’t afford to take home a crystal creation you will definitely be able to find the money for a tour!
Almost opposite to the Waterford center is Bishops Palace. Built in 1743 this building would still make an enviable home today. Converted into a museum that displays furnishings from the 18th century all the rooms are authentically modeled based on a Georgian townhouse and a great exhibit of history. They have one of the best talking tours I have ever been on, taking you from room to room and delighting you with stories from the past. Once you’ve been transported to another era take your time to reflect in the cozy tea room downstairs.
For your afternoon activity see the sights of the Viking triangle. A self-guided tour that takes you through narrow streets via a range of cultural and heritage sights. It is the perfect way to see the best of Waterford and learn about its history along the way. You can pick up a map at the tourist information or check out their website for an online version and interactive tour. Highlights include Reginalds Tower a 12th century monument, Greyfriars municipal art gallery who house exhibits within a church, the Medival museum and several cathedrals and churches. Take your time, stop for lunch and wander in the stores as you meander the Viking triangle and see the best Waterford has to offer.
Waterford – Cork
Wherever you drive around Ireland there are ruins, waterfalls, fields and historic monuments. You could spend an entire day just pulling over at every brown sign you see. Some indicate long walks, others are view-points or the entrance to some magical kingdom. I swear I found a fairy den nearly every day! On the drive down to Cork we stopped several times to get off the beaten track and see some more of the hidden gems Ireland has to offer. Again get your map reading skills ready because some of these sound easier to find than they are!
Mahon falls is an 80m waterfall that spills dramatically over jagged stones and is surrounded by rugged countryside and the odd sheep. It’s a little tricky to find but once you are on the single track road you’re going in the right direction. There is a little car park to pull into before walking to the waterfall. The track itself isn’t strenuous but it is further than it looks. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to really take it all in and snap some awesome pictures. Take a wind break or light jacket as it does get a little chilly and the area is exposed.
A worthwhile stop is Ballysaggartmore, here you will definitely find fairies. Park at the side of the road and get ready to explore. Follow the moss laden path through the forest and listen to the trickling streams. You will eventually come to a concrete arch which opens out onto a Rapunzel like tower and bridge. These beautiful gothic style structures were built by a love struck husband for his wife. Unfortunately he ran out of money to complete the adjoining castle he had hoped to build but what remains is stunning. Create your own fairytale story here before looping back round to the car.
Continue along down towards Cork and depending on your timing you might be able to have a look around and grab a beer before everything closes.
Cork is the biggest southern city and boasts a full high street, supermarkets and chain stores. The center is beautiful as regards the architecture and historic buildings that are scattered around. But for me using Cork as a base to see some of the smaller towns and quaint villages was the best decision.
Kinsale is a sweet harbor town filled with colorful buildings, coffee shops and individually owned stores. You can while away a morning here stopping for tea and cake and admiring the sail boats and yachts. Just a couple of miles from the center is Charles Fort, historic ruins still surprisingly in tact. Make sure you take a jacket though because despite the views the wind can get very blustery up here. If you visit over lunch or later in the evening make sure to enjoy some of the award winning food served in Kinsale, if you time it right you might even coincide with the annual gourmet festival.
Having enjoyed the burst of colors and brilliant bimbling get back in the car and prepare yourself for yet another quaint town. To reach Cobh you should take the tiny cross river ferry, not only will it shorten your journey but it’s a lot of fun as well! Just a little while longer and you will reach Cobh, a beautiful harbor town that was the last stop on the Titanic’s ill fated journey.
As you approach and pass ice cream stores, sweet shops and a pavilion it feels ever the quintessential Irish town. Look up however and you will be sure not to miss the strikingly huge cathedral that is perched atop of the hill. It is stunning in both size and detail,
follow the signs up the somewhat steep hill and you will be rewarded for your efforts as you admire the delicate carvings, stained glass windows and gargoyles perched along the roof. The promenade is a perfect place to enjoy some fish and chips or a selection of soft scoop ice cream from across the road. It looks out across the water and has plenty of benches to sit and eat, read or write your travel diary. Depending on how long you want to stay here there are multiple museums, exhibits and a heritage center, including one about the Titanic. Once you’ve taken in the stunning sights you can either ferry back to Cork or take the road that runs above.
Cork – Limerick
Amongst the many castles that Ireland boasts, Blarney is one of the most well known. More than just a castle the grounds are absolutely stunning, they have seasonal blooms, a poison garden and ample picnicking areas. The castle can be accessed by some very steep, curving stairs that lead you up to the famous blarney stone. If you are willing to get on your back and lean over a gap that drops to the floor to kiss the famous stone it is said you will gain the gift of eloquence. Once you’ve acquired your new powers wander into the village center and check out the small stores and the woolen mill. If you can’t find an authentic rug or set of doilies in here then you are out of luck.
Continue north and head to the Lough Gur heritage center where you can discover 6,000 years of history. Not only do they have a little museum but it’s a great area to take a walk, admire the lake and enjoy the countryside whilst learning about the past.
Not far from here is the small town of Adare. A picture perfect main street lined with thatched cottages, renowned for being one of Ireland’s prettiest villages it’s not hard to see why. The best part of it all though, many of the cottages are small stores and art galleries so you can go inside and check them out. Whilst I was there someone was getting married in the medieval church which just added to the picture perfect image. They have a wonderful park with tree lined avenues and wrought iron benches to enjoy. This definitely makes the list for top bimbling towns.
One thing to note about Ireland is they still very much respect Sunday as being the day of rest, they are still a very religious country- which makes for great church spotting, but does mean a lot of businesses are closed on Sundays. And this is the problem I encountered when I visited. I had intended to visit the milk market and Limerick museum but as they were closed I explored the streets admiring the architecture instead. I came across a great park that had a small art gallery on the edges which was great and river offers some great sights too.
Limerick – Galway
The west coast driving was some of my favorite. The coastline is so rugged, there a random ruins, small home owned businesses selling wool products, fossils and smoked fish and of course plenty of fields full of sheep. Along this route you will come across the famous Cliffs of Moher. Now I was surprised at how many people were here. After traveling for so long, barely passing another car, I hadn’t expected the sheer quantity of tourists. There will be a queue to park, and the ticket will act as your entry. Full disclosure- I think the tickets are very expensive for viewing a natural formation. Don’t get me wrong the sights were beautiful and you can walk right along the ridge which was an amazing experience but if it isn’t top of your must do list you may consider giving this a miss.
Continuing north you will eventually reach Galway. This is probably my favorite city of the trip, it has a really local feel bursting with pubs, music and joviality you can’t help but enjoy yourself here. It seems to burst with culture yet is small enough to have a real communal atmosphere. I enjoyed a great pub dinner with a pint of Guinness here and had some great conversations with the locals. This is definitely a place I’d love to come back to and explore more.
Galway – Dublin
For your final day return back to Dublin and if you have time check off any of the activities you didn’t have time for at the beginning or enjoy a final pub meal and a pint.
After spending seven days driving around this wonderful island I asked myself ‘Why have you waited so long to visit?’ I absolutely adored southern Ireland, the abundance of small towns, the history, remains and relics alongside the friendly locals, feel good atmosphere and of course afternoon teas. It is the perfect place to bimble, learn more about another culture and their history and stand in awe at the sheer age of some of their buildings. I thought this would be a one time visit to check the country off my list but I’ll be honest, I can’t wait to go back and explore more of what this beautiful place has to offer.
Let me know where you had your best adventures!