Filled with history, culture, nature and yes lots of beer and whiskey, southern Ireland is the perfect place to plan a road trip vacation.
A road trip through Ireland is the best way to take in all the things that make Ireland so great and will make it easy to fall in love with a country that cherishes its history and holds on tightly to its traditions.
Visiting Ireland feels like you went back in time a few hundred years. There are castles just about everywhere, each town is filled with historical marvels and the locals seem to be living a laid back, friendly lifestyle. Ireland has so much to offer from fun city life to gorgeous nature and cute fishing towns.
If you are planning a trip to Ireland, our road trip guide is here to help you plan your travel itinerary with the top 20 suggestions for things to see and do on your vacation.
Map of the top destinations in Ireland:
Typically a trip will start in either Cork or Dublin, depending on your arriving flight. I started my 7-day road trip from Cork so that’s the route I will follow in the Ireland vacation guide below.
20 best things to see and do in Southern Ireland:
- Visit The Rock Of Cashel
- Grab a Guinness at the famous Temple Bar
- Explore downtown Dublin
- Spend a few hours at the Ashford castle gardens
- Explore the Friary of Ross ruins
- Stop at the Saint John The Baptist Church on the way to Cliffs of Moher
- Spend a few hours hiking at Cliffs of Moher
- Visit the cute city of Ennis for some local Irish traditions
- Stop by the Bunratty castle for a beer
- Make your way down to Conor Pass and Dingle Peninsula
- Continue on to Slea Head drive
- Take a hike up to Devil Horns and see the Coumeenole beach on your way back
- Stop by the photographic Dunquin Harbor
- Visit Ross Castle for a lesson in history
- Relax at the Muckross house gardens
- Go for a scenic drive through the Killarney National Park
- Gain eloquence by kissing the 500-year-old Blarney stone
- Have lunch at the Blackrock Castle restaurant
- Enjoy the grandness of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral
- Walk around Cork and have your last Guinness before heading out
1. Visit The Rock Of Cashel
Kick off your road trip by visiting the grand Rock of Cashel historical site. The Rock Of Cashel is located on top of rolling hills in a small town. Visitors can tour through the castle or take a walk around its green hills with sheep roaming around just about everywhere.
2. Grab a Guinness at the famous Temple Bar
Temple Bar is a historic district in downtown Dublin filled with pubs, cobblestone streets, and narrow alleys. One of the most popular tourist destinations in this district is the red Temple Bar. It’s a fun place to stop by for a drink, take in traditional Irish pub scene and hang out with tourists and locals alike.
3. Explore downtown Dublin
Downtown Dublin is an exciting area filled with many amazing historical landmarks, great food, and amazing nightlife. Most of the attractions in Dublin are located within a few minute walk from each other and it’s easy to get around by foot.
Some of the most popular things to see in Dublin are Jameson Distillery, Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, Christ Church Cathedral, Molly Malone Statue and National Museum of Ireland.
Compared to many other European destinations, Dublin is relatively cheap when it comes to food and lodging. On top of that, many historical attractions in downtown Dublin are free.
If you are in no rush, you could spend a few days walking through the streets of downtown Dublin, visiting its landmarks and grabbing a Guinness at one of the friendly local pubs.
4. Spend a few hours at the Ashford castle gardens
After spending some time in downtown Dublin, start heading west. The drive from Dublin to western Ireland is a few hours long but there isn’t much to see along the way. The first significant stop on the west coast is the Ashford castle. The Ashford castle is very well kept and has been turned into a luxurious upscale hotel but visitors are allowed to roam around its pristine perfectly trimmed gardens for free.
5. Explore the Friary of Ross ruins
As you drive away from the Ashford castle, you will be able to spot the Friary of Ross ruins in the distance. One of the advantages of road tripping in a car is that you can always change your course and visit places that you spot from the road.
The Friary of Ross has no entrance fees, no attendants and usually also no people visiting it. While most castles and ruins are operated as a business, the Friary of Ross can be explored without any restrictions and completely for free.
6. Stop at the Saint John The Baptist Church on the way to Cliffs of Moher
Ireland is filled with many churches, some of which are still actively used for worship. One of these churches along the southern part of Ireland is the Saint John The Baptist church in Ballyvaughan. This church is a reminder that the lines between the past and present are not so well defined and that the history in Ireland is still in making.
7. Spend a few hours hiking at Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher is one of the top things to see on the western coast of Ireland. Make sure to set aside at least a few hours to explore and hike around the cliffs. While most tourists tend to hang around the entrance and its main walkways, the best views are located further down the path. Visitors can hike north or south along the cliffs and the views are amazing in either direction. The further you go, the better the views and the thinner the crowds will get.
8. Visit the cute city of Ennis for some local Irish traditions
Some of the best local experiences are the ones that are the least expected. An unplanned stop in one of the small towns could lead you to an arts festival, dancing on the street and explore new things that you might not find at the main tourist spots.
9. Stop by the Bunratty castle for a beer
If you like food, beer, and history, the Bunratty castle is the perfect place for you to visit. One of the main attractions at the Bunratty castle is the daily medieval dining banquet along with the outdoors pub. The banquet serves food and live entertainment and takes place every day but reservations are required.
After the show, visitors can grab a drink next door while enjoying the amazing unobstructed views of the castle at Bunratty Bar.
10. Make your way down to Conor Pass and Dingle Peninsula
Conor Pass is a narrow, windy stretch of road leading into the Dingle Peninsula where drivers going both directions must share the one-lane road. It is known to intimidate tourists driving into the Peninsula with narrow passing areas and steep drop-offs but it offers many amazing views along the way (if you dare to look away from your steering wheel).
11. Continue on to Slea Head drive
The Slea Head drive is one of the most scenic coastal drives in Ireland. You don’t really need a detailed plan to road trip around this peninsula but the recommended route is from south to north. The views are breathtaking all around and the crowded parking lots will indicate which places are the most popular stops.
12. Take a hike up to Devil Horns and see the Coumeenole beach on your way back
A popular destination in the Dingle Peninsula is the Devil Horns hike. This hike follows a narrow path along a cliff and ends overlooking a row of rocks lined up in the ocean. From the parking lot, visitors can also walk down to the Coumeenole beach and watch the waves crash against the shore.
13. Stop by the photographic Dunquin Harbor
With its windy narrow road and tall, pointy rocks, Dunquin Harbor is one of the most photographic spots in the Dingle Peninsula. Visitors can park and walk down closer to the water but the most popular location to capture photos of this harbor is located from the top of a green hill right behind it.
14. Visit Ross Castle for a lesson in history
Ross Castle has one of the most complicated histories in Ireland. It’s so ancient and complex that a whole room is devoted to it at the castle with historical timelines, drawings, and family trees. Take a tour of the castle, learn its history, then immediately get confused by the complexity of it all and forget anything you learned.
15. Relax at the Muckross house gardens
The Muckross House is a mix between a castle and a mansion. It’s very well kept, has beautiful gardens surrounding it and even a small zoo on the premises. It’s the perfect place to have a relaxing day, bring a book and enjoy some fresh air.
16. Go for a scenic drive through Killarney National Park
Ireland is green, there is no secret in that. Driving through Ireland feels like it’s all just one never-ending green forest. But although Ireland is filled with luscious green trees just about on every road, it does have its own designated Killarney National Forest in the southern part of it. Make sure to set aside some time to explore this park, visit the waterfalls and the beauty of Ireland’s nature.
17. Gain eloquence by kissing the 500-year-old Blarney stone
Have you ever dangled high above the ground, upside down, and kissed a 500-year-old stone? I didn’t think so. But you sure can do that at the historical Blarney Castle in Cork. In fact, thousands of tourists line up every day and wait for hours to get a chance to plant a wet one on this stone. The legend says it will bring eloquence to those who do but to tourists it’s just a fun and weird thing to add to their trip.
18. Have lunch at the Blackrock Castle restaurant
If you are looking for a place to dine like a king, at the Blackrock castle guests can enjoy lunch or dinner right in the castle’s courtyard. The menu includes a variety of items from Fish and Chips to Lamb Tagine and Steaks.
19. Enjoy the grandness of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Just a few minute walk outside of the busy downtown Cork lies one of the grandest churches in Ireland. Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral is a beautiful gothic castle with soaring towers and intricate details and should be on top of your list of the best things to see in Cork.
20. Walk around Cork and have your last Guinness before heading out
Similar to Dublin, downtown Cork is filled with energy, liveliness and caters to tourists. The cute historical streets are filled with pubs, amazing restaurants, and shopping opportunities. After road tripping through southern Ireland, it’s the perfect place to grab some food, a beer and relax for the night before heading back home.
While most tourists hang around Dublin and take a few tours out to the main attractions, the best way to submerge yourself into Ireland’s culture is by experiencing it first hand through a good old-fashioned road trip. By being on your own schedule and leaving room for unplanned detours, you may come across some unexpected surprises along the way.
If you’ve got a week, a rental car and lots of excitement for history, follow our guide to experience the best that Ireland has to offer.