There’s something terribly romantic about flying into Dublin. The compact, laid-back city awaits a few miles down the road, packed with old-fashioned pubs, modern restaurants, and 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. 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. You’ll only be hitting the high points but, as high points go, they’re hard to beat.
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, get a map from your concierge, and then head out on foot.
Stay south of the River Liffey and head down Dame Street to Dublin Castle, home of 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 handsome granite architecture and two of the main sites of Ireland’s National Museum (a third one is on the west side of the city). The Archaeology museum has an extraordinary hoard of ancient gold, while the Natural History building contains an array of objects from the ancient past. It’s a short stroll from here down to St. Stephen’s Green. Rest your weary toes and soak up the floral view here, before strolling up Grafton Street for some 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 north to the river, then take a right and walk along the noisy, vibrant waterfront to the landmark Ha’penny Bridge. Walk across and head east on O’Connell Street, where you can walk past its many statues to the bullet-ridden columns of the General Post Office, site of the 1916 Easter Rising. After exploring its displays, head farther up O’Connell Street to the Dublin Writers Museum, which bookish types love for its extensive display of memorabilia. Let someone else do the work in the evening, either on a walking tour—such as the Irish Music Pub Crawl, perhaps—or some good-natured scares aboard the Dublin Ghost Bus. Those in search of less organized fun may prefer the simple, atmospheric pleasure of An Evening of Food, Folklore & Fairies.
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. 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 town 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
Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city, is less than an hour south of Kilkenny—you’ll get there with plenty of time left for sightseeing. Have a quick look around some or all of the Waterford Treasures museums, before dropping in for a tour of the House of Waterford Crystal. After lunch, you have a choice—either head to Cork, Ireland’s busy second city, or Kinsale, a quieter harbor town near Cork that has lately become a foodie destination. Each has plenty to keep you busy for the rest of the day and good hotels in which to spend the night.
Days 5 & 6: The Ring of Kerry
If you’re not allergic to touristy things, you could stop at Blarney Castle on your way out of Cork in the morning; otherwise, on to 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, filled with historic sites and tiny villages, but you’ll have to brave the masses. If you have 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 it to make that goal.
Alternatively, you could just explore the short section of the Ring that runs from lovely Kenmare to the bucolic peace of Killarney National Park. Here you can indulge in a buggy ride around the lakes and drink in beautiful landscapes.
Day 7: County Clare
Time is short now, so as you drive through County Clare, promise yourself to come back someday and do it justice. For now, 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). Then you’ve another choice: Spend the rest of the day exploring Bunratty Castle—where medieval fortress meets historical theme park—or marveling at the otherworldly limestone landscape of the Burren. Either would be a perfect, quintessentially Irish end to your all-too-short trip.
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