When you say green rolling hills, one word comes to mind: Ireland. It offers a stunning array of natural splendor to help you embrace the countryside by hiking, camping, and kayaking. From industrial Belfast to country B&Bs and charming castle hotels, Ireland is full of character, a rich history, and friendly, outgoing locals sure to win you over—over a pint (or two) of Guinness.
During this eight-day adventure, you'll start in the capital city of Dublin before making your way down south to Kilkenny and, finally, Cork. You'll pop into the country's best pubs, pour a few pints at the brewery, venture off the beaten path to small towns and historic castles, and even embark on a private tour of a salmon smokehouse.
Days 1-3: Dublin
Once you arrive at Dublin Airport, you'll spend the first three days exploring the capital city. Small but bursting with energy and character, Dublin is replete with as much history and architecture as pubs and friendly locals. The river Liffey bisects the city, and elegant Georgian architecture surrounds the famous squares where locals congregate to escape the urban beat. With a wide range of activities, like touring the library at Trinity College and pouring yourself a pint at the Guinness factory, Dublin has something for everyone. It also has recently become a rising tech hub of Europe, with giants like Facebook and Google making it their new home. And Amazon isn't too far behind—they've announced a new campus at Charlemont Square, which is set to open in 2022.
Best things to do in Dublin
- Embark on a private pub tour for some pints and whiskey
Immerse yourself in the convivial spirit of Dublin at its Victorian pubs, Teeling Distillery, hidden cocktail bars, and, of course, the Guinness Brewery. As part of the city’s epic pub walking tours, you’ll also pass historical sights to get oriented on your first day.
- Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Constructed between the 12th and 13th century, St Patrick's Cathedral is Ireland’s largest and grandest church. It’s a highly sacred space, due in part to the baptizing ceremonies that took place under the guidance of St. Patrick himself. The church has a long and drawn out history that includes several restorations, the most notable of which is visible from the flying buttresses reminiscent of the Neo-Gothic era. Highlights include Swift’s grave, Latin epitaphs, and the Boyle monument.
- Visit the Book of Kells in Trinity College
Located on Trinity’s campus, the Old Library is a bookworm’s paradise. Stacks of books, old-fashioned ladders, and gorgeous interiors make the library truly breathtaking. Within the library, be sure to visit the Book of Kells, the immensely famous, handwritten copy of the four Christian Gospels. Though you can only see a couple of pages, it’s worth it to witness such an amazing preservation of work from 800 AD. We suggest booking ahead to decrease wait time to see the book and explore the library.
- Learn about the 1916 Easter Rising at the General Post Office (GPO)
The General Post Office is a must-visit historical landmark located along Dublin’s iconic O’Connell Street. It’s a striking example of Georgian architecture and the location of a 1916 strike by Irish rebels fighting for independence. We recommend allocating at least one hour to explore the indoor exhibits, with additional time to marvel at the exterior facade.
- Explore the Guinness Brewery and Jameson Irish Whiskey Distillery
The Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery are two of the most popular spots to visit for first-time and repeat travelers to Dublin alike. On a tour, you’ll learn about the complex brewing and distilling process—and enjoy a beer and whiskey tasting at the end.
- Enjoy a traditional Irish breakfast
Bacon, sausages, baked beans, eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, toast with butter and/or marmalade, tea...the works. Popular spots include Kilkenny Café and O’Neills Pub & Kitchen.
- Walk around Dublin's iconic Temple Bar
This neighborhood, which is located on the south bank of the River Liffey, is known as Dublin's "cultural quarter" replete with countless restaurants, cafés, bars, and shops. Don't miss the Irish Photography Centre, the Irish Film Institute, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, the Project Arts Center, and the Irish Stock Exchange.
- Relax and recharge on St. Stephen's Green
Ireland’s best-known public park, St. Stephen’s Green is a Victorian-era green space spread over 22 beautifully-manicured acres. Over 3.5 kilometers of walkways run through the park, with a waterfall and Pulham rocks on the western side, as well as an ornamental lake and a number of sculptures. If it rains, run for cover in the lakeside shelter, a romantic, Victorian-Swiss structure in the center of the park.
Interested in a full-day adventure outside Dublin? Consider an excursion to the Cliffs of Moher alongside a travel guide, or Glendalough (a glacial valley with walking trails that weave through the Wicklow Mountains).
Where to stay in Dublin
- The Westbury Hotel
The Westbury is conveniently located just five minutes from the Little Museum of Dublin and around 10 from the Dublin Castle—making it the perfect home base from which to explore the city. But we wouldn't blame you if you wanted to stay in for an afternoon. The airy, comfortable rooms are outfitted with pillow-top mattresses, custom wool carpets, marble bathrooms with heated floors, and designer toiletries. Certain suites also boast four-poster beds. Be sure to pop by the 30s-era cocktail bar and brasserie.
- Conrad Dublin
The Conrad hotel is housed in a contemporary brick building just across the street from the National Concert Hall and within walking distance from the Book of Kellys at Trinity College and the Guinness Storehouse. The comfortable, stylish rooms come with wood floors, flat-screen TVs, free Wifi, and—in suites–added living space. There's an onsite brasserie, lounge, and craft beer pub. All guests enjoy complimentary breakfast and tea tastings.
- The Wilder Townhouse
This boutique hotel is located on the quaint, tree-lined Adelaide Road just 3 km from Dublin Castle and 2 km from the National Gallery of Ireland. The townhouse itself dates back to the Victorian era, with a red-brick facade to entice you in. The modern, well-appointed rooms feature free Wifi, flat-screen TVs, and designer toiletries. Onsite dining includes The Gin and Tea Rooms, as well as The Garden Room for breakfast or a light afternoon bite.
Interested in exploring Airbnbs instead? Your Journy trip designer can help you out with that, too.
Days 4-5: Kilkenny
After three packed days in Dublin, you’ll embark on the two-hour drive southeast to Kilkenny. Established in the 6th century and known today as Ireland’s Medieval City, Kilkenny is celebrated as much for its well-preserved churches and monasteries (St. Canice’s Cathedral and Black Abbey Dominican priory are two of the most popular) as its creative spirit (leave room in your suitcase for pottery, paintings, and jewelry from one of the main shops along its quaint, winding lanes).
Best things to do in Kilkenny
- Visit the Burnchurch Castle & Tower House
This impressively well-preserved tower house is a must-visit during your time in Kilkenny. Dating back to the 15th century, it was built by a branch of Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds and spans six stories high. The circular turret has remained intact, as have the numerous complex passages between the walls of this imposing structure (including a “secret room” on the fourth floor).
- Explore the Kells Priory ruins
This Augustine priory, which is located along King’s River about 15 km south of Kilkenny, is composed of a collection of medieval tower houses that make the site look more like a fortress than a place of worship. Nicknamed “Seven Castles,” the ruins date back to the 14th-15th centuries and consist of a church, chapel, prior’s residence, and domestic buildings sprawled across four acres of land.
- See how glass is blown by hand at Jerpoint Glass
Although Jerpoint Glass dates back to just 1979, it draws on 2000 years of Irish glass blowing tradition. During a visit, you can witness glass blown by hand as the flowing, red-hot molten glass is transformed into Jerpoint shapes. What sets this studio apart is that each piece is hand-finished to lend the glass a uniquely soft rim and smoothness.
- Purchase natural textiles made from Galway sheep's wool at Cushendale Woolen Mill
Six generations of the Cushen family have devoted themselves to this mill, which churns out biodegradable, sustainable, fully traceable (from fleece-to-fabric) products. They draw on a time-honored weaving heritage that dates back to 1778, although the first woolen mill was established on this site in 1204 by Cistercian monks. Among their products on offer include scarves, throw blankets, stoles, cushions, and more.
- Stock up on handmade Irish homeware at Mosse Pottery
Mosse Pottery was established by Nicholas Mosse in 1976 after years spent training in England and Japan. His goal? Create beautiful yet functional pottery in the style of Irish Spongeware, which was the traditional, 18th-century style of pottery in Ireland when shapes were applied with a cut sponge. Everything you could need for your home is here, from tableware (bowls, mugs, plates, etc) to homeware (vases, lamps, dog bowls, etc).
- Take a day trip to Waterford
In the sunnier southeast corner of the country sits Waterford, a 40-minute drive from Kilkenny. Spend the day exploring Reginald's Tower, walking along the Copper Coast Global Geopark (named for the metal-mining industry that once flourished here), and touring Bishop's Palace.
Where to stay in Kilkenny
- Mount Juliet Estate
This luxury resort encompasses a grand, Georgian-style mansion, cottages, and a stone lodge—along with an elegant onsite restaurant, brasserie, and bar. On the grounds of the estate is an 18-hole golf course, equestrian center, indoor pool and spa, and shooting/archery center. And after a day of activities, there's nothing better that retiring to your country-style suite complete with supremely comfortable four-poster beds.
- Butler House & Garden
The ivy-covered Georgian mansion that houses the 14-room Butler House & Garden was the former home to the Earls of Ormonde. It's just three minutes from the Kilkenny Tourist Office and Castle grounds—a location that truly can't be beat (some suites even boast castle views). Despite its long history, there are no shortage of modern amenities, including flat-screen TVs and free Wifi. Breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea are served in the converted stables of Kilkenny Castle.
Days 6-8: Cork
Day six will have you taking the two-hour drive from Kilkenny to Cork, the second largest city in Ireland (and third by population). The city centre, which was once fully walled, sits between the two channels of the River Lee, with quays and docks leading outwards towards Lough Mahon, Cobh, and Cork Harbour, one of the largest natural harbours in the world. Originally a monastic settlement, Cork significantly expanded in the early 900s at the hands of Viking invaders. Today, it’s known for its youthful population of students from University College Cork (UCC), bustling markets, coastal forts, and medieval towns.
Best things to do in Cork
- Tour Blarney Castle
Situated just outside Cork’s city centre is the 15th century Blarney Castle—or the ruins of it, at least. The main draw? The Blarney Stone. Legend has it that if you kiss this magical stone, you’ll be granted the gift of eloquence. There are also various themed gardens, including the “poison garden” where poison ivy, wolfsbane, ricin, and mandrake grow wild.
- Explore The English Market
Be sure to leave yourself enough time to wander the iconic, Victorian-era English market, meet some of its traders, and enjoy food tastings. You’ll find pretty much everything here, including meat and fish, veggies, fruit, cheese, spices, and baked goods—in fact, most of Cork’s best chefs source their produce from this very market. If you’re feeling adventurous, taste dried, salted ling fish or drisheen (blood sausage pudding with a distinct gelatinous consistency)—two Irish specialties.
- Visit Ummera Smokehouse
It’s here where you’ll meet Anthony—a charming Irishman with a dry sense of humor. He’s been organically smoking farmed salmon from Ireland’s west coast for years. During the tour, you’ll learn how he wet-cures the salmon and how oak sawdust lends a smooth flavor to the fish. At the end, you’ll gather around an outdoor farm table to taste a variety of smoked foods along with three local ciders brewed by Anthony’s brother-in-law at Stonewall Cider.
- Visit St. Anne’s Church
From atop the tower of St. Anne’s Church, you can take in one of the best views of the City overlooking River Lee. While you’re up there, you can also ring the 18th century bells, which rose to fame with the song, Bells of Shandon by Francis Sylvester Mahony.
- Embark on an adventure along the Wild Atlantic Way
This idyllic, bucket list-worthy coastal route (the first designated road drive in Ireland) is the perfect day trip. It extends from Donegal to Cork, covering roughly 2500 km on the country's rugged western seaboard along the Atlantic Ocean. We recommend beginning in Kinsale for the quaint art galleries, boutiques, and craft shops before continuing your Ireland road trip through Coolmain Beach, Timoleague (home to the Ummera Smokehouse mentioned above), and Clonakilty. From there, make your way to Skibbereen, Baltimore Village (a haven for sailors come summer), and Bantry.
- Take a day trip to Killarney National Park
Dedicated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1981, Killarney National Park boasts the highest mountain range in all of Ireland (MacGillycuddy's Reeks), world-famous lakes, the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park, and the Muckross House and Gardens—a 19th century mansion outfitted with period furnishings and artifacts.
Where to stay in Cork
- The River Lee Hotel
As you would guess, The River Lee Hotel sits on the banks of the River Lee, just a short walk from Cork's city centre. The River Club restaurant embodies a New York vibe in the bar, an aura of sophistication in the Grill Room, and a relaxed Mediterranean feel on the riverside terrace. There's also The Cocktail Bar, a chic take on a mid-20th century cocktail lounge (think hand-carved mahogany bars, white marble tops, and rare whiskeys from throughout Ireland). A full Irish breakfast and afternoon tea are available, with a spa, indoor pool, and fitness center onsite as well.
- Hayfield Manor Hotel Cork
This upscale, converted manor house embodies the stately charm of the Irish countryside. And while it feels like you're far away from everything when you're relaxing on the property grounds (especially in the spa, indoor pool, and outdoor hot tub), in reality you're just over a ten-minute walk from Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral and Cork Butter Museum. The individually-decorated rooms offer free Wifi, flat-screen TVs, and even golf putters! Dining-wise, there's an elegant Irish restaurant, plus a laid-back Mediterranean bistro. Full Irish breakfasts are available as well.
What to know before you go
- Currency: Euro
- A service charge is occasionally included on restaurant bills. If not, tipping is expected (10-15% is acceptable).
- Credit cards are just as widely used in Ireland as they are in the US—except when it comes to cabs.
- For transportation from Dublin airport into the city centre, consider Aircoach. It's a cheap and comfortable bus service that runs 24 hours a day. Taxis are also fairly inexpensive (€15 to €24).
- Uber is in Ireland, but it can only be used to hail licensed cabs.
- Although Dublin is a fairly walkable city, there's a fabulous bus network (Dublin City Bus) and tram/light rail system (Luas Tram) to get around.
- Do not confuse an Irish person for a British person, or vice versa. The United Kingdom is comprised of Northern Ireland (not the remainder of Ireland), as well as England, Scotland, and Wales.
- Ireland has a notoriously wet climate, so layers (and an umbrella) are a must.
A little more of this and less of that? Interested in spending more time exploring the Ring of Kerry, or the Dingle Peninsula? Want to go up to Northern Ireland to see the Giant's Causeway, walk the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, or scope out where Game of Thrones was filmed? Interested in the Rock of Cashel or the Ross Castle? What about the Aran Islands or Connemara National Park?
Journy's got you covered with a custom-built itinerary tailored to your unique tastes, preferences, and priorities.