Ireland

THE ULTIMATE 7-DAY IRELAND ROAD TRIP

Planning the Perfect Ireland Road Trip on a Budget

Two girls sit arms around each other facing a pond, Ireland
The start of a perfect Ireland road trip

Land of the leprechauns, Guinness and P.S. I Love You, Ireland should be on every traveller’s bucket list.

I’d heard that Ireland was a lot like New Zealand. And in a way, it is. Except as well as sweeping green hills and stunning landscapes, Ireland also has castles. And a rich, fascinating history stretching back hundreds of years. And Irish accents, which, let’s be honest, are a little more pleasing to the ear than the broad kiwi accent.

Ireland was everything I imagined it to be, and more. 

You could easily spend a month travelling around Ireland (or longer, if you plan to head to Northern Ireland as well). But if you’re short on time, or if Ireland is just one stop on your European adventure, one week in Ireland is enough time to get a taste of what this magical country has to offer.

No matter how long you’re in Ireland the best way to make the most of your time is to hire a car. With it’s ridiculously scenic landscapes Ireland is made for road trips, and a car will give you the freedom to stop off at every castle ruin or picnic spot you come across. Trust me, there’s a few. 

Planning your own epic 7-day Ireland road trip? Dive straight in to this guide for everything you need to know to plan an Ireland road trip. From when to go, tips for hiring a car and the perfect 1-week Ireland itinerary, you’ll be ready to go before you know it. Go on, get to it!

Girl wearing black jacket stands on pier facing out to lake, Ireland
Killarney National Park, Ireland

WHEN TO GO TO IRELAND

Let’s be honest, the weather is not one of Ireland’s highlights. No matter when you go you’ll need to bring a raincoat, but for the best weather plan your trip between April-September. July and August see the largest crowds and highest prices, and as the weather isn’t guaranteed at any time, it’s better to plan your trip for the shoulder seasons. We went at the start of March and the days were mild, though the weather was quite wet.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT RENTING A CAR IN IRELAND

There are a few things you should know about renting a car in Ireland to make your road trip as smooth as possible. 

Firstly, Ireland, like the UK, drives on the left. Coming from New Zealand this was fine for me, but if you’re used to driving on the right it’s something to take into consideration. Irish country roads can be narrow and traffic minimal, so it’s important to make sure you’re confident driving on the left side of the road. 

Renting a car in Ireland is a lot easier (and cheaper) if you know how to drive a manual. Automatics can be in short supply and are considerably more expensive than manuals. As the roads in Ireland can be narrow in places I recommend getting the smallest car possible. Trust me, it’ll make it a lot easier. 

We spent €54.60 on a small automatic car, which worked out to be just over €10 per day. Dublin Airport is the best place to rent your car as it has the biggest hub of brands. We used Skyscanner to search for the best deal and ended up booking a car with Budget. 

Girl in green jacket walks down path towards Blarney Castle
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

IRELAND ON A BUDGET

Ireland, like a lot of Western Europe, isn’t the easiest country to visit on a budget. To make it easier for you to plan your Ireland road trip, I’ve broken my spending down into categories.

Accommodation
In one week we spent €160.90 each on accommodation, working out as roughly €23 per night. We stayed exclusively in dorm rooms ranging from 6-10 beds, and for the most part didn’t really find them good value for money. With the exception of Black Sheep Hostel in Killarney the hostels in Ireland were pretty average, but if you’re on a budget you don’t have much other choice.
Car Hire
Car hire in Ireland was cheaper than I thought it would be, and cheaper than renting a car in Scotland. We spent €54.60 on our hire car for the week, and an additional €25 for excess car hire insurance. Our fuel total for the week was €89.65. We spent roughly €20 on parking. So overall a spend of roughly €189.25 for car hire-related costs.
Food
Food in Ireland is expeeeensive. We alternated between buying groceries for breakfast, cheap pub lunches and nice dinners. Overall in one week we spent €290 each. Alcohol in Ireland is moderately priced but if you’re having multiple drinks per night it’ll push your spending up. 
Activities
One of the main appeals of Ireland is it’s stunning landscapes and natural attractions. Luckily for you, they’re (mostly) free! To give you an idea of costs, the most expensive attractions we went to were the Guinness Factory tour (€19.50) and Blarney Castle (€18). In total we spent €50.50 each on attractions and activities.

IRELAND QUICK TIPS

Currency: The currency in Ireland is the Euro (EUR). If crossing the border into Northern Ireland be aware that the currency there is the Great British Pound (GBP). 

Language: The Republic of Ireland has two official languages; English and Irish (Gaellic). While some road signs will be in Irish there will always be an English translation, and English is widely spoken all over Ireland.

Credit Cards & ATM’s: Finding an ATM is as easy in Ireland as it is at home, with most credit cards widely accepted. It’s worth carrying a small amount of cash on you to pay for smaller purchases and tips.

Plugs: In Ireland, the power plugs and sockets are type G, the standard voltage is 230 V, and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. Ireland uses the same plugs as the UK. 

Safety: Overall, Ireland does not have a high risk of crime, though there are cases of bag snatching and pickpocketing in bigger cities like Dublin. Don’t worry about it too much, just take the same precautions as you normally would while travelling.

7-Day Ireland Road Trip Itinerary

  • Dublin: 2 Nights
  • Galway: 2 Nights
  • Killarney: 2 Nights
  • Cork: 1 Night

Dublin: 2 Nights

Any visit to Ireland should start in Dublin. A city where you’ll find cathedrals smack-bang next to pubs, Dublin has a quintessentially Irish charm. On first glance it’s not the most picturesque place, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find ancient universities, crumbling (but still stunning) Georgian architecture and witty Dubliners ready for a night on the town. 

Man plays traditional Irish music in Temple Bar pub, Dublin
The Temple Bar, Dublin

Top Things To Do In Dublin

A night on the town is, of course, an essential part of any Dublin itinerary. Though it’ll be filled with tourists and the drink prices are high, The Temple Bar is a great place to down a pint or two. Located in the busy riverside neighbourhood of Temple Bar, the pub is famous for having over 450 rare whiskies. The Temple Bar offers a range of traditional live Irish music most days of the week.

While we’re on the subject, another fun, alcohol-related activity in Dublin is the highly rated Guinness Storehouse. Fittingly, for a country with such an ingrained drinking culture, the Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s number one attraction. Spread over 7 floors the museum takes you through the history of Guinness in Ireland, and ends at the sky bar on the top floor. Grab a pint and enjoy panoramic views of Dublin. Tickets to the Storehouse start from €19.50. 

Into history? Dublin has tonnes of it. Though the city has numerous cathedrals and churches, one of Dublin’s quirkiest (and most macabre) attractions is St Michan’s Church and it’s mummy-filled crypt. Or, if that’s not your thing, you could check out Trinity College. With sprawling grounds and lovely buildings, Ireland’s oldest surviving university is well worth a visit. 

Stay: We stayed at Abigail’s Hostel. While it was a little drab and lacked personality, the hostel was in a great location, only a short walk from Temple Bar and the city centre. Plus, they had a free breakfast. We paid €32 per night for an 8-bed female dorm with ensuite. 

Eat: Keen to try one of Ireland’s favourite dishes? Head to Leo Burdock’s for some of the best fish and chips in the city, with salty chips heaped with vinegar.

Dublin street with colourful signs and cathedral in background, Ireland
Girl in black jacket faces away to Dublin cathedral
Hand holds two tickets to Guinness Storehouse against grey background, Ireland

Dublin to Galway

You don’t need a car in Dublin. The capital city is small and easy to get around on foot, and having a car would likely be more of a nuisance. Instead, plan on picking your hire car up as you leave Dublin. There’s multiple direct buses to the airport from the city centre, and it’ll save you the hassle. 

When you’ve got your car, it’s time to hit the road! First stop; Athlone.

A small town on the River Shannon, Athlone is about a 1.5 hour drive from Dublin. While you’re there make sure to check out the medieval Athlone Castle, with its impressive views and battlements. Feeling peckish? Stop off at Bastion Kitchen for fantastic homemade baked goods and soup. Seriously, it’s worth going to Athlone for the food alone.

Galway: 2 Nights

Blast that cheesy Ed Sheeran track, we’re headed to Galway!

Honestly, Galway wasn’t what I expected. I think I had pictured a tiny Irish town complete with Gerry-esque singing Irish men and cosy pubs. Thanks for that, P.S. I Love You.

Well, Galway is actually a city, and a rather large one for Ireland. As a city, there’s things to do, and it’s worth a day exploring. But the appeal of Galway comes when you escape the city. 

Half an hour from Galway you’ll find Dunguaire Castle, a 16th century tower house perched at the edge of Galway Bay. While you’re there make sure to walk over to the small, quaint town Kinvarra. 

Aside from checking out Galway’s main attractions, like the Spanish Arch and Galway Cathedral, the highlight of our time in Galway was undoubtedly the food. Ireland’s best brunch can be found in Ard Bia at Nimmos, a fantastic Irish restaurant with great food and great service. Afternoon tea at Cupan Tae is a must. With teas in every flavour and a salted-caramel, tea-infused, popcorn-topped panna cotta on the side, Cupan Tae is something out of a fairytale. 

Girl wearing greying beanie sips hot chocolate out of cup with blue flowers, Galway
The perfect afternoon tea, featuring tea kettle, hot chocolate, and popcorn-topped dessert, Galway
Girl sits on a rock facing towards Galway Bay and castle, Ireland
Dunguaire Castle, Galway

Stay: We stayed at Woodquay Hostel. The rooms were clean, the staff friendly, and the hostel was well-located close to the city centre. We spent €21 per night for a 6-bed mixed dorm with ensuite. 

Galway to Killarney

The Cliffs of Moher

Next up we’re hopping back in the hire car and heading to one of Ireland’s most famous natural attractions.

The Cliffs of Moher are located along the wild Atlantic Way in County Clare. These imposing cliffs have faced the Atlantic Ocean for over 350 million years, and it’s definitely an awe-inspiring sight. Only, the Cliffs of Moher weren’t the highlight of our 7-day Ireland road trip (as we had kind of expected them to be).

Unlike many natural attractions in New Zealand, and indeed the rest of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher have been over-commercialised, with a visitors centre, cafe and multiple tour buses churning out tourists. Even in early March the cliffs were busy. Plus, you have to pay a parking fee of €8 per adult. 

Overall? The Cliffs of Moher are still a stunning natural wonder and are worth a visit, but it’s not quite what it’s cracked up to be. 

A castle on top of the hill at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Killarney: 2 Nights

Killarney is everything I imagined Ireland to be. Castle ruins, breathtaking scenery and cosy pubs… Killarney has it all. More than any other place in Ireland, Killarney stole my heart.

A small town in County Kerry, Killarney is undoubtedly on the tourist trail in Ireland. But that hasn’t diminished any of Killarney’s magic. While in Killarney make sure to wander the small town, and check out the impressive St Mary’s Cathedral. Opt for a traditional Irish pub meal at the Laurels Pub, or join the locals for a pint at Courtney’s Bar.

Girl in black jacket walks down path past Dingle Cliffs, Ireland

The biggest adventure to be had in Killarney lies outside the small town. In Killarney National Park, Ireland’s first national park, there are numerous things to do. If you’re into hiking (and have the time) there’s plenty of walking trails. 

Short on time? Make a day of it by hitting Killarney’s main sites, then head to a few more nearby. Dunquin Harbour (located on the coast just past Dingle) has all the splendour of the Cliffs of Moher – with nowhere near the crowds. A day probably isn’t long enough to fully appreciate the drive around the Ring of Kerry, so if you’re feeling brave instead make for the Gap of Dunloe and the Black Valley. 

Closer to town Ross Castle and Torc Waterfall are Killarney must-sees. 

Ross Castle sits against a moody Irish backdrop of hills and lake, Ireland
Ross Castle, Killarney National Park

Stay: While a lot of the hostels in Ireland are distinctly average, Black Sheep Hostel in Killarney is one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. It’s a little expensive – we paid approx. €30 per night for an 8-bed mixed dorm. But it’s SO worth it. The hostel – voted the best in Ireland by Hostelworld in 2019 – is charming, colourful, and a little bit hippy. Plus, they offer a free breakfast. 

Killarney to Cork

Did you even go to Ireland if you didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone? Ok, in the dawning days of Covid-19 it wasn’t something we wanted to do, but Blarney Castle is still worth a visit.

Located a little outside of Cork City in County Cork, Blarney Castle is a huge, sprawling estate dating back almost six hundred years. Blarney Castle as it stands today was actually the third castle to be built on the site, and was built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster. After you’ve explored the dungeons and kissed the stone, take time to wander the gardens. Tickets to Blarney Castle are €18.

After you’ve had your castle fill head to Cobh for a bite of lunch. This pretty seaside town is famous for being the Titanic’s last port of call in 1912, and the town even boasts a Titanic-themed attraction. 

A girl wearing green jacket takes a photo on her phone of Blarney Castle, Ireland
Blarney Castle, Ireland. Can you spy the Blarney Stone?

Cork: 1 Night

Ireland’s second-largest city is the last stop on our 7-day Ireland road trip. In a way, Cork reminded me of Dublin. It’s got that same gritty feel that Dublin has. Cork also features beautifully fading Georgian architecture, numerous art galleries and arguably the best foodie scene in the country.

Seriously – the dinner we had in Cork was the best we had in Ireland. Market Lane is a classy Irish restaurant with produce sourced primarily from the local English Market. Go hungry and save room for dessert. Their bread and butter pudding is out of this world.

It’s bound to be good if the Queen has been, so make sure to check out the English Market. The quirky covered market was established in 1788, and today sells a range of produce, breads and freshly caught seafood. 

Another of Cork city’s most popular attractions is the Cork City Gaol, where you can check out what it was like to be a prisoner in Ireland in the late 19th century. Ring the Shandon Bells in St Anne’s Church, learn about Irish whiskey at the Jameson Experience or spy the giraffes and zebras at Fota Wildlife Park. 

A castle sits on top of the hill, Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Ireland is one of those countries where the legends feel true. I don’t know if it’s the landscapes, dramatically beautiful and endlessly green. Maybe it’s the people, with their lovely Irish accents and lovely Irishness. Or maybe it’s the freely flowing pints of Guinness. Whatever it is, there’s something in Ireland that makes you believe in magic, just a little. 

A week-long road trip through Ireland is enough to get a taste of what the country has to offer. But I promise, after a week you’ll be dying to go back. 

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The Ultimate 7-Day Ireland Road Trip
The Ultimate 7-Day Ireland Road Trip

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