Driving in or out of Dublin along the big, bland motorway, it’s easy to dismiss the region immediately surrounding the city’s urban sprawl. However, you’ll find plenty to do within an hour’s drive north, south, or west of Dublin. Rural landscapes, ancient ruins, stately homes—some of Ireland’s most iconic sights are surprisingly close to the city. And although it’s possible to see any of them on a quick day trip, some fine hotels and restaurants reward visitors who opt to stay overnight instead.
North of Dublin, you’ll find the remnants of ancient civilizations at prehistoric sites Newgrange and Knowth. A short distance away, the green hills around the Boyne Valley hold the long-lost home of early Irish kings, who once reigned with a mixture of mysticism and force.
West of Dublin is Kildare, Ireland’s horse country. Even if you’re not into horseracing, a couple of handsome stately homes and interesting historical sites make this area worth checking out.
South of Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains rise from the low, green countryside, dark and brooding. A beautiful region, dotted with early religious sites and peaceful river valleys, the hills are perfect for a day trip from Dublin, and make a good starting point for a driving tour of the south of Ireland.
Dublin's Southern Suburbs
Heading southward along the bay, the bustling harbor town of Dún Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Lear-y) is quickly followed by the more upscale seaside towns of Dalkey and Killiney. All have been collectively nicknamed "Bel Eire" for their beauty and for the density of Irish celebrity residents. You could spend an afternoon wandering all three, or just pick one and linger there for a day. Dún Laoghaire has lots of shopping, as well as a long promenade and a bucolic park. Killiney has a picturesque, cliff-backed expanse of beach. Pretty little Dalkey is a heritage town with two tiny castle towers, a lovely medieval streetscape, and lots of charming pubs, gourmet restaurants, and pricey little boutiques.
If you're traveling to Ireland by ferry from Holyhead, Wales, your first glimpse of Ireland will be the port of Dún Laoghaire. Many people decide to base themselves here and commute into Dublin each day. It's certainly quieter and more picturesque; if you're not staying out late at night (the trains stop running just before midnight, and a taxi will cost quite a lot), you'll save some money over similar luxe accommodations in Central Dublin. And therein lies some really good news for travelers (though not so much for the local economy): hotel prices in these districts have plummeted in the last year or two. Top hotels that previously charged hundreds of euro per night, now cost a fraction of that -- often under €100, even in high season, which puts some extremely fine places to stay within reach of those without money to burn.
Dublin's Northern Suburbs
Dublin's northern suburbs make a convenient base for travelers via Dublin International Airport, and there's much to do here, with a delightful assortment of castles, historic buildings, gardens, and the beach to keep you busy. The towns of Drumcondra and Glasnevin have good hotels.
Just north of Dublin, the picturesque suburbs of Howth and Malahide offer panoramic views of Dublin Bay, beautiful hillside gardens, and many fine seafood restaurants. Best of all, they are easily reached on the DART. Farther north along the coast, but only 20 minutes from Dublin Airport, lies the bustling and attractive harbor town of Skerries. Skerries is a convenient and appealing spot to spend your first or last night in Ireland; or stay longer and explore all this area has to offer, including a resident colony of gray seals.