We love to fly into Dublin, knowing that the compact, laid-back city awaits a few miles down the road, with its old-fashioned pubs, its modern restaurants, and its absorbing sights all laid out for walking. If you've never been here, a couple of days in Dublin make for a quick primer on Ireland. It's just enough time to do some shopping on Grafton Street, head up O'Connell Street to the General Post Office, and discover the Georgian beauty of St. Stephen's Green and Merrion Square. It's not nearly enough time, but you can give the surface of the city a good brush in a couple of days, and then head south to Kilkenny and Wicklow, on to Waterford, Cork, and Kerry, and up to Clare for a quick glance before the clock runs out. It is only hitting the high points but, as high points go, they're not bad. This kind of trip is quite high energy, but it's not completely exhausting.

Days 1 & 2: Arrive in Dublin 

If it happens that you're arriving from North America, you start with an advantage: Most flights arrive early in the morning, which effectively gives you an extra day's sightseeing. Check into your hotel, say yes to any tea and scones offered, take a minute to relax, and then head out on foot. Get a map from your hotel and then just start walking. Stay south of the River Liffey, and head down Dame Street to Dublin Castle, which holds the magical Chester Beatty Library with its vast collection of gorgeous illuminated manuscripts. Later take in St. Patrick's Cathedral and the vibrant green quadrangles of Trinity College, before heading down to Merrion Square, with its impressive granite architecture and the ancient gold on display at the National Museum. It's a short stroll from here down to St. Patrick's Green, where you can rest your weary toes and soak up the floral view, before strolling up Grafton Street for a last bit of shopping before collapsing in your hotel.

On Day 2, have a hearty breakfast in your hotel before striking out for the trendy cultural hub of Temple Bar. Stroll down Parliament Street to the river, then take a right, and walk along the noisy, vibrant waterfront to the effervescent arc of the Ha'penny Bridge. Head across and down to O'Connell Street and walk on up past its many statues to the bullet-ridden columns of the General Post Office, where the 1916 Easter Rising was based. After exploring its displays, head farther up O'Connell Street to the Dublin Writers Museum, which bookish types will love for its extensive display of memorabilia. It's a few doors down from the small but mighty Hugh Lane Gallery, where you can marvel that such a strong collection of classical pieces was ever owned by one man.

Day 3: South to Wicklow & Kilkenny 

It takes less than 2 hours to drive from the hustle and traffic of Dublin to the peace and quiet of the Wicklow Mountains, and it's well worth the trip. Drive through the town of Enniskerry to the great estate of Powerscourt on the south end of the village. After lunching in its Avoca Café, head on to Glendalough and feel your soul relax in the pastoral mountain setting of this ancient monastic retreat. From there drive on to the colorful village of Kilkenny, where you can spend the rest of the day shopping in its pottery and crafts shops and exploring noble Kilkenny Castle. This is a good place to spend your first night outside of Dublin.

Day 4: West to Waterford & Cork 

Set off west to the coastal fishing villages of County Waterford, looking out along the way for the charming village of Dunmore East and the alluring beaches of Ardmore. Stop in for a little browsing and lunch in Waterford Town, stopping on your way out at the Waterford Crystal Factory before heading west to Cork. If castles entice you, stop at Dungarvan, midway between Waterford and Cork, and spend some time wandering through the sturdy walls of King John's Castle. From there, head on to explore the delightful Cork coast. Introduce yourself to busy Cork City and smaller, quieter Kinsale, the self-proclaimed gourmet capital of Ireland. Either one would be an ideal place to spend the night.

Days 5 & 6: From Cork to Kerry 

Start Day 5 by heading west to the wilder section of Cork. It's a sprawling, political, complex area, and well worth taking some time to understand. Consider taking a tour of the area in the morning, to get a more in-depth look at it, although foodies might prefer to indulge in a half-day cooking class at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Walkers might want to add a day to their journey, in order to spend some time exploring the countryside on foot. There's plenty to do, and even touristy Blarney Castle is interesting to explore.

At your own pace, move on into County Kerry, at the southwest tip of the island. Here the most popular place to explore -- and one of the busiest tourist spots in Ireland -- is the Ring of Kerry. It is a beautiful drive, but because of the preponderance of tourist buses, not everybody will want to make it. Others will brave the masses to see extraordinary countryside, with its plethora of historic sites and tiny villages. If you've the stamina, the entire Ring is doable at a reasonable pace over 2 days, although you'd have to skip pretty much everything else around here to do so.

If it's quiet you're after, you could instead take the short section of the Ring that runs from lovely Kenmare to the bucolic peace of Killarney National Park, where you can indulge in a buggy ride around its lake and leave only your footsteps. Golfers with a bit of money to burn will want to play a round at the Waterville Golf Links, surrounded by soft sand dunes at the edge of the sea. You can then spend the afternoon shopping in Killarney if you're bored with the car by now, or drive around the Dingle Peninsula.

Day 7: County Clare

Time is short now, so you won't be able to see as much of Clare as it deserves. But make a promise to yourself to come back someday, and head for the perilously tall Cliffs of Moher where the view seems to stretch all the way to America (although the price to park will make you shiver). You can lunch in the town of Ennis, and then decide whether you'd rather spend the rest of the day exploring the touristy but interesting offerings at Bunratty Castle or marveling at the otherworldly landscape of the Burren. If it's the latter, strike out for the R480 road, which offers the best immediate gratification, as it winds its way through the extraordinary limestone landscape. What a way to end your trip!

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.