Places to visit in Ireland and how to plan a road trip

Image of Ashford Castle
Ashford Castle

The perfect destination

With the introduction this month of direct non-stop flights from Perth to London, Ireland is more accessible than ever and now on our radar. But it’s not just about getting there. Having heard so many wonderful things about Ireland and seen snippets of its beauty in many movies, we feel we owe it to ourselves to visit Ireland at least once in our lives. With so many must see places to visit in Ireland we want to make the most of our trip.

We are sure we’re not the only ones trying to put together a great trip and want to make sure we include the most beautiful places to see in Ireland.

Image of green pasture in Ireland

Forty shades of green

Image of red phone box outside country pub

I wonder if this is became the watering hole for some of the ex-students?

How to plan a trip to Ireland

Are you also planning a trip to Ireland and have no clue where start? Is your head is spinning?

A good starting point is to build a bucket list of the most popular things to see and do, compiling a list of places to visit in Ireland. Then research to find an itinerary that works for you. Do we take the stress free option and go with a guided tour where we can sit back and relax?

One such company is CIE Tours, a well established company that has been providing travellers luxury coach tours for over 85 years. It sounds incredible to allow someone to handle the baggage at each location and tour each sight with a well-informed guide.

As good as it sounds, we prefer the freedom to stay longer in a particular destination and find we don’t always like to visit all the must see places that a lot of other travellers enjoy seeing.

Image of headstones at Glasnevin Cemetery

Glasnevin Cemetery is in the Top 3 Dublin attractions

Why choose a road trip?

Researching further, we found CIE Tours have other options. Go as you please, independent travel sounds like it would suits us better. The idea of a trip that is self-drive definitely sounds more our style. With this option we will have the freedom of exploring independently at our leisure and making our own choice of which cities to visit in Ireland. So it looks like we’ll be applying for our first ever international driving license.

We’d recently done a short road trip to see some cute little gnomes in a pristine, rural setting. So a longer, overseas road trip that includes some wonderful places to visit in Ireland known for its leprechauns, forty shades of green and the wonderful shamrock. Sounds perfect!

The other reason we are very comfortable with a self-drive road trip in Ireland is that they drive on the same side of the road as we do in Australia, the left hand side. Did you know historically, this is the original defensive driving? In medieval times the driver held his sword in his right hand and rode on the inside to protect against an oncoming swordsmen. Interesting!

Image of Dublin Castle

The Record Tower of Dublin Castle, dates back to the 13th century

Places to visit in Ireland


Our plan is to start our list of places to visit in Ireland with Dublin. We will stay a minimum of a few days and maybe as long a week or two, taking in the must see sights on foot and utilising a 48 hour hop on hop off ticket while we are there. For 21.25 Euros we’ll see the Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol, Jameson Distillery, Dublin Castle, the Writers Museum, the Docklands, Glasnevin Cemetery and of course we’ll share a drink or three at the famous Temple Bar.

Image of Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin is now a Museum and a top landmark to see in Ireland

Dublin is the capital of Ireland and is said to have the laid back atmosphere of a small town, making it biggest little city of Europe. Dublin is a great city for anyone interested in history, architecture and literature. Medieval castles, Georgian architecture, cobblestone streets and vintage pubs, this is the perfect location to begin your Irish holiday. Well suited to Literature lovers of WB Yeats, Rudyard Kipling and other literary legends, Dublin is associated with four Nobel Prize Winners. This city cares deeply for the written word and is embedded in the naming of bridges and plagues and the statues of many dedicated to writers and famous authors. In 2010 Dublin was named the fourth UNESCO City of Literature in the world alongside 27 other cities with literature in their blood.

Reflecting the city’s pride in literary heritage 3 bridges crossing Liffey River, are named after world class writers and the most popular sights, the Book of Kels at Trinity College and the Dublin Writers Museum are high on our list.

Dedicated to Irish mythology, the National Leprechaun Museum in Dublin opens up what really lies behind the well-known folklore of the cultural icons, the leprechaun, rainbows and the magical pot of gold.

Image of the Long Room in the Library at Trinity College in Dublin

The Long Room in the Library at Trinity College in Dublin

Wicklow Mountains

One of the places I’ve wanted to visit is Wicklow’s green mountains which I first saw watching Braveheart and was reminded again of this area in PS I Love You. The unspoiled mountain landscapes will make for some Instagram worthy photo opportunities along with the glacial lakes, heather fields and boglands. But the jewel in the crown of this area for me will be a visit to Glendalough’s 10th century monastic round tower settlement in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains.

Ireland Road trip, what to see and where to go

From Dublin our road trip will begin with a CIE Independent Touring Self Drive holiday. We can plan our own itinerary of places to visit in Ireland, creating the perfect holiday for us and can choose our accommodation from a range of deluxe castles, elegant manor houses and cosy inns, travelling at our leisure in a rental car.

Image of coastline road in Ireland

Beautiful coastline sets the scene for a great road trip


Our drive will take us through the Midlands to Waterford which will be our first stop. We could choose to stop at Rock of Cashel but prefer to head straight to Waterford, a seaport in the southeast, only a 2 hour drive away. Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city and home to the glittering immaculately crafted Waterford crystal where we plan to take a tour. There is also a 45 minute tour of Waterford we’d like to take that covers 1000 years of history from the Vikings to the Victorians.


From Waterford we’ll drive to Cobh which is the famed last port of call for the Titanic in 1912. We all saw that movie, right? So this is enough reason for me to add Cobh to my list of places to visit in Ireland. Cobh is a pretty, colourful town, with a famous deck of cards and St Colman’s Cathedral with its gorgeous stained glass windows and 49 bell carillon. After checking out the Titanic Experience we will make our way a short drive away to Cork where we plan to stay a night or two.

Image of colourful houses of Cobh

Pretty, colourful houses and St Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh


In Cork we’ll visit the famous English Market and make the most of the gourmet food capital of Ireland. We plan to check out the Cork City Courthouse, University College Cork and the Lewis Glucksman Art Gallery. Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral has the largest church organ in Ireland, elaborate sculptures and mosaics and from the 1690 Seige of Cork a Cannonball. Yes, you did read that correctly, cannonball.

Image of Fin Barre Cathedral in Cork

Can you believe this cathedral houses a cannonball?


Whilst in the area we will visit Kinsale, the prettiest town in all of Ireland known for its rows of colourful shops. This will definitely be a joyful town to wander. We love colourful places, like Burano and we think Kinsale will be a fun place, so also including it on our list of places to visit in Ireland. We plan to spend a few hours leisurely strolling along the harbour and depending on the weather, head along the Old Head of Kinsale. With the backdrop of rugged cliffs we can take some wonderful photo memories. On the very tip is the Old Head Lighthouse, an ancient fort and a memorial. The memorial is on the site where the RMS Lusitania sunk in 1915 and in memory of the 1198 people who perished after the ship they were aboard was torpedoed.

Image of rows of colourful shops in Kinsale

Colourful shops in Kinsale

Image of memorial for Lusitania

Lusitania memorial

Ring of Kerry

Next on to Ring of Kerry for what is billed to be the most scenic drive in Ireland where a more than 600 metre highway runs along the picturesque coastline. Sights include Ireland’s tallest mountain, several lakes and a stone fort constructed without mortar.

Image of Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry


To the western most point of Ireland we’ll drive to Dingle Peninsula and a take a short cruise of Dingle Bay. The harbour has views of the mountains as a backdrop and the town is famous for its pubs, fishing and Gaelic is as common as English there. The coastline has 500 monastic stone huts and remnants of Bronge Age settlements. Surfing and windsurfing are popular activities at Dingle’s beaches.

Image of Dingle coastline

Stunning rugged scenery off the Atlantic coast

Cliffs of Moher

The following day it’s on to the stunning Cliffs of Moher which soar 200 metres above the Atlantic Ocean and on a clear day the Aran Islands can be seen. This is the most visited natural attraction so its only natural we’ll add this to our list of places to visit in Ireland.

Image of Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction.


Best known for its galleries, shops, winding lanes, cobblestone streets and of course Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl. Galway is a major centre for traditional Irish music and has a thriving pub scene.

Image of colourful house and signs in Galway

Looking for M and Js wedding?

Image of Dunguaire Castle in Galway

Dunguaire Castle in Galway

Image of boats on the water in Galway

Boats on the water in Galway

Aran Islands

Off the coast of the mouth of Galway Bay are the three Aran Islands of Inishmaan, Inisheer and Inishmore. The inhabitants here have maintained a traditional lifestyle compared to the mainland. Horse drawn buggies carry passengers from the stone cottages to the limestone clifftops on the largest island of Inishmore as it is restricted to 100 vehicles. This will possibly be the most remote of the places to visit in Ireland for us. 

Image of ruins at Inishmore, Isle of Aran

Ruins at Inishmore, Isle of Aran


Our main reason for heading to Cong will be a night or two at Ashford Castle. For us this is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland, a fairytale medieval castle surrounded by beautiful grounds. It is one of the places to stay that is highest on my list, Kings, Queens, even the Beatles have stayed here.

Image of Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle in Cong

Image of aerial view of Ashford Castle

Aerial view of Ashford Castle


Donegal has some seriously dramatic landscapes and is the perfect place for hillwalkers to explore. There is a 15th century castle and the ruins of Donegal Abbey. Built in 1474, it offers spectacular views over Donegal Bay from the Headland where it is situated. Around the bay there are several nice beaches, including a surf beach.

Image of old church Donegal

An old church in Donegal

Giant’s Causeway

Located on the northeast coast of Ireland at the base of steep cliffs is a natural rock honeycomb formation of more than 37,000 hexagonal columns. It is believed it took 60 million years of erosion for nature to mould the geometrically perfect stepping stones to their present shape. If the weather is fine we would also like to get a boat across to Rathlin Island to see the cute little puffins. We would also check out Dunluce Castle and I’ve heard that from the Castle or Giant’s Causeway is a great spot to check out the Northern Lights if the conditions are right. It would be unforgettable to catch a glimpse.

Image of interlocking hexagonal columns at Giant's Causeway

Stepping stones at Giant’s Causeway are truly spectacular


Finally, our last city to explore in Ireland is Belfast. We will visit the shipyards where the Titanic was built in 1912 and enjoy some time exploring the city. We want to have a stay at Galgorm Resort where you can see starry nights and a first for us, this hotel offers a Gin Library. One of the oldest attractions in Belfast is the St George’s Market, a covered Victorian market. The Crumlin Road Gaol which opened in 1845 is another placed we want to explore.

Image of Sculpture outside Titanic Experience

Sculpture at Titanic Experience in Belfast

Image of Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

Walking tours

There’s no better way to explore some of the Emerald Isle’s breathtaking beauty than on foot. With narrow cobbled streets under foot, there’s so much to see. Take a leisurely stroll and soak up the charms of the compact cities and stop along the way to recharge your energy with a Guinness or two at one of the thriving bars.

Image of Temple Bar in Dublin

Temple Bar in Dublin

Hire a bicycle

If you’re active you can take a scenic bike ride, cycling and winding your way through absolutely jaw dropping landscapes with lush, green rolling hills and get in harmony with nature.

Image of bicycles for hire

Experience, explore and enjoy Ireland on a cycle

Road tripping

Road tripping through Ireland will be truly truly spectacular, from the dramatic landscapes of castles and coastal cliffs to the iconic sites and world-class museums. Along the way we’ll marvel at the architecture and experience some of the most popular things to see and do in Ireland.
The beauty of a road trip is being able to escape the cities whenever we want and head out into majestic landscapes of the countryside. This sounds ideal for us, taking our time and just enjoying the impressive scenery. Taking a self-drive trip in this gorgeous countryside we will not only see striking backdrops of the forty shades of green, but as we make our way around the must see places to visit in Ireland, we can stay in places once occupied by royalty. Imagine a night in an ancient castle dating back hundreds of years. Ashford Castle is high on our list of romantic castles to stay, having seen it in many movies, a five star castle nestled in the hills.

Image of Kylemore Abbey Castle in Galway

Kylemore Abbey Castle Galway

Taking a road trip makes it easy to escape the heavy traffic of the popular sights and we’ve included some off the beaten track places away from large crowds. The mesmerising beauty of spectacular landscapes along the wild Atlantic Ocean, pristine lakes and impressive mountain ranges will surely leave me speechless and my camera clicking. I know the intriguing history relayed by our knowledgeable guides will continually educate and entertain us. I’m sure their charming and quirky accents will too.

What to eat in Ireland

The food in Ireland will be another bonus. Many towns will lure us off the motorway and the food served in their restaurants will make us glad we stopped. We are expecting our bellies will be well satisfied with hearty local food and of course all the tasty beverages like Guinness and whisky. Travellers only have to walk into a local pub where the people are genuinely friendly to feel right at home. Imagine sitting down with a meal of corned beef and cabbage, potatoes boiled in their jackets, a few pieces of soda bread with lashings of butter and a pint of frothy Guinness on the side. Something that makes my mouth water is the thought of a beef and Guinness pie, topped with golden flaky pastry and a hearty Irish stew is something I can’t wait to try too.

Irish food is simple, hearty and follows the seasons with spring lamb, summer fish, winter soups and stews and a year round serving of the Irish pratie, the humble potato. Whether used in an Irish stew with mutton, mashed in Colcannon, grated for Boxty or using leftover mash for a sweet apple treat, the potato is highly regarded in Ireland.

Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle because of its lush pastures with shamrocks and the colour that stood out in images from NASA’s satellite.

Image of Connemara scenery

Paradise in Connemara

Final thoughts

The Emerald Isle appears to be a gem of a place and we can’t wait to see if Ireland lives up to its reputation. We’ll learn about the rich Celtic culture and explore the varied landscapes. This road trip will be a sociable experience as the Irish have a reputation of being friendly and witty. As long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. It is often referred to as the land of saints and scholars and know we’ll have a grand time. When I think of Ireland I think of Leprechauns, harp music, Aran sweaters, Shamrocks, and St Patrick. And of course the Irish vernacular just draws you in. We’ve all heard the accent where it sounds more like terty tree than thirty three and the country’s main religion sounds like catlick not Catholic.

The allure of the country is its charming towns and the contrast of the country is as rocky and rugged as it is gentle and green. The country’s sweeping coastline and fairy tale romantic castles cast a spell of enchantment over those who visit.

Image of ruins of Muckross Abbey in Killarney

Ruins of Muckross Abbey in Killarney

The more we research the more we’re intrigued with what this small country has to offer. Every great road trip consists of stopping along the way to sample great tasting, local food. Finding great unique accommodation is something we always enjoy. For castle lovers there is devastatingly beautiful fairytale castles. For history lovers the country is bursting with history. It will be great to stroll around, stepping back in time, exploring and learning about the history.

Image of green boat by the waters edge

By the waters edge in Galway

We are so looking forward to hitting the road and enjoying the amazing scenery Ireland has to offer. There is so much to see and do. For us the list we have put together are the best things to in Ireland. There are so many driving routes throughout the country that we can’t wait to explore Ireland on four wheels and appreciate being able to coordinate all this through a reliable company like CIE Tours self-drive programs.

If you’re looking for a great place to travel in 2018, visiting Ireland should be top of your list. Have you already visited Ireland and looking to visit again? If you have some recommendations of places we should add to our list please leave a comment below.

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12 Responses

  1. This article really made me want to visit Ireland and definitely on a road trip. Thanks for all the detailed info on the different cities Lyn, Ring of Kerry looks AMAZING!
    Kostas Chiotis recently posted…Comment on 7 Unique Irish Dishes You Can’t Find Elsewhere by Outdoor Activities to Try In Wales – 7 Fantastic Ideas – pretravels.comMy Profile

  2. Thanks for the great article. Ireland is very high on my list and I hope I can make it one day. In any case, I pinned your article as reminder

  3. Karen says:

    Ireland is so beautiful and your photos really capture that. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing. #MondayEscapes

  4. We’d love to explore more of Ireland and you’ve done a good job of highlighting some of the best places to see. I think that it can be quite difficult for visitors to decide when’s the best time to visit Ireland as the weather is notoriously rainy. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles
    Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles) recently posted…Best Things to do on Oahu, HawaiiMy Profile

  5. I’m originally from the north of Ireland. This is a nice guide, and I definitely agree that an independent self-drive tour is vastly preferable to coach trips, most of which tend to focus on the more twee and over-touristy aspects of Ireland. Note that the Rathlin Island puffins are nesting ONLY between spring and mid-summer, and you won’t see them at any other time of year. Also I have never, ever seen the northern lights from Ireland despite having lived there most of my life. Finally, corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish meal; it was popularised by Irish Americans. If you see it on a menu then the restaurant is probably catering for mass tourism and I would try to eat elsewhere. Just somethings to bear in mind when planning your trip. Enjoy Ireland!! #FarawayFiles
    Jonny (daisythebus) recently posted…Luxembourg’s “Kalktuffquelle” in winterMy Profile

  6. I’ve never heard of the Ring of Kerry but it certainly looks beautiful!! I definitely need a re-do trip to Ireland as my first was total shit! My husband and I often talk about doing a big two week road trip (hopefully) and this definitely hits lots of the places we want to see! Definitely pinned! #FarawayFiles

  7. Hilary says:

    We road tripped around Ireland two years ago, and it was amazing. Our favorite part was Belfast and at the Antrim Coast. The Black Taxi Cab Tour we took was one of the best we’ve ever taken. I wouldn’t miss, Blarney Castle just outside Cork, and Killarney in the West.. If you’re a GoT fan, or even if you’re not, The Dark Hedges in the north was spectacular. I would have loved to see the Aran Islands and Dingle, but ran out of time. #farawayfiles
    Hilary recently posted…Bucket List Item: StonehengeMy Profile

  8. You know, I’m rather embarrassed to say that I’ve never visited Ireland… even though I lived in London for two years, more than a decade ago. (It was so much closer then than Cape Town, where I’m now!) But I’m certain I’ll still make my way there one day as it’s such a beautiful country and doing a road trip sounds just perfect. Definitely pinning your post. Thanks!
    Birgit | Groove Is In The Heart recently posted…Why would you want to visit Novi Sad!?My Profile

  9. We are always huge fans os roadtrips; if only for the flexibility. But your incredible photos alone are enough to tempt me into exploring Ireland more. #MondayEscapes

  10. Ireland has been on my bucket list since I was a teenager… since I fell for an Irish boyband called Westlife! Although I might have outgrown Westlife, Ireland is still very much on my must-visit list and your post solidifies that. I keep waiting for a flight deal so that I can finally head out there!
    Bryna | Dotted Line Travels recently posted…Temples of Angkor: Beng MealeaMy Profile

  11. I love how you’ve shown the colour of Ireland. Such an evocative post. I would love to do a self-drive tour of Ireland. We did one of our own tooooo long ago and would love to go again.

    • Lyn says:

      Thanks for your comment Jan. I think of Ireland as a very colourful place, I’m sure it has way more than just green. We’ve never done a roadtrip other than briefly here in the southwest so looking forward to it.

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