Ancient Ireland Self-Drive Tour 8 Days
7 Night Tour From $999 pps
This tour arrives/departs from Dublin but these arrival/departure points can be customised to include other airports such as Shannon.
Destinations / Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Dublin
From Dublin Airport to the busy streets of the City Centre, once you’ve arrived, picked up your rental and relaxed into your new surroundings, you’ll most likely want to take a brief stroll around to take in the friendly atmosphere and culture that Dublin City is so famed for.
From the cobbled streets of Temple Bar to Dublin’s elegance of Georgian Dublin, you’ll find historical gems around every corner, but you’ll also meet the people of Ireland for the first time. From bustling crowds making their way around the capital to friendly faces going about their day-to-day you’ll find something special in the upbeat charm of this proud nation.
Ireland’s capital city has over 1000 years of history and originated as a Viking township on the banks of the River Liffey. The place is literally chock full of sites and attractions with historical importance taking you from the Viking and Norman times right up to the modern day. A trip on the Dublin Hop on Hop off bus tour is a great way to see many of Dublin’s treasures including The Book of Kells - a lavishly decorated 8th century manuscript, which now resides in Trinity College Dublin. The college itself boasts much significance in its own right as Ireland’s first university (established in 1592) and is worth a visit for its exceptional architecture alone.
Another great way to get an overview of the City and enjoy some of its famous attractions is to jump aboard the Viking Splash Tour. Traversing Dublin in these unique vehicles, on land and in water, you can admire the fantastic architecture of Georgian Dublin, Christ Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral; and plethora of other significant historical landmarks.
Although for the authentic Viking experience, a visit to the Dublinia exhibition is essential. Situated in the heart of Dublin city at a crossroad where old Dublin and contemporary Dublin collide, you’ll find fascinating exhibitions covering Viking Dublin and Medieval Dublin, all brought to life by magnificent artifacts.
Taking to Georgian Dublin by foot, you can visit the Irish Museum of of Modern Art or the beautiful greenery of The Phoenix Park (home to Arás an Uachtaráin – where the President of Ireland resides). Walking tours along the cobbled walkways in Temple bar will bring you back to its mediaeval routes and a visit to Kilmainham Jail will see you exploring its unique links with the Easter Rising of 1916.
Breaking up the day with a little refreshment, drop by the Guinness Storehouse for a sip of the “black stuff” or treat yourself to a sample of hot whiskey at the Jameson distillery. During both of these fascinating tours, you’ll discover the intriguing histories behind these two famous brands.
If you’d prefer to unwind with a spot of retail therapy, then you can’t go wrong with Powerscourt Centre, just off Grafton St. where you’ll find a fantastic variety of shops, restaurants and cafes. As an added bonus, the centre itself is an elegant Georgian Townhouse, with tours available so you can explore the wonderful interiors of its grandiose ballroom and gallery to name but a couple.
Although a little further out from the city centre on the north side of Dublin, the Butlers Chocolate Experience is a must see for anyone with a sweet tooth. It’s the ultimate chocolate discovery tour where you can see the Butlers factory in operation – home to Ireland’s favourite chocolatier. If you don’t have the time to make it out to the factory, don’t worry, as there are several Butlers chocolate shops in the city centre if you want to have a taste.
If you’re on lookout for some entertainment that evening Dublin will not disappoint. The rich culture that Ireland is know for is at its strongest in the capital and you’ll be spoilt for choice with numerous theatres, traditional Irish music nights and even storytelling sessions - like the Brazen Head’s Food, Fairies and Folklore night - to keep you on your toes.
As the night stretches on and your first day in Ireland comes to an end, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve already traversed several centuries and discovered some of Ireland’s riches.
- Dublin Literary Pub Crawl
- Glasnevin Cemetery Historical tour
- Merry Ploughboys Irish Night
- Experience Gaelic Games
Day 2: Kilkenny City
There is an instant change in the scenery as you depart from Dublin and make your way to Kilkenny. This is rural Ireland and what a site it is. From miles of green fields that seem to last forever to secluded country house and picturesque villages, this hour and a half drive is sure to fly by.
Before venturing into this fantastic city you can visit Kilfane Glen and Waterfall - the perfect place to relax before exploring all that the “Medievela Capital” has to offer.. Let the serenity of this 18th Century romantic era garden wash away your troubles. Or if you’re looking for a more natural attraction Dunmore Caves are again a short trip away, complete with a visitor centre to compliment the quiet beauty of the caves themselves.
Visitors to Jerpoint Park can experience estate country pursuits in a unique heritage setting from pony and trap rides, sheep dog demonstrations, fishing for salmon and trout on the River Nore, horse riding across open countryside with breath taking views, before soaking up the regal atmosphere of Belmore House Tea Rooms and sampling the delicious homemade delights.
There are also a number of walking tours and trails for you to choose from in Kilkenny from the Tynan Walking tour (an adventure of all things medieval in Kilkenny) to the Castlemorris Wood Walk (just one of a whole range of scenic walks available to visitors of the area).
Once you arrive in Kilkenny City, it’s off to enjoy one of Kilkenny’s main attractions: Kilkenny Castle. The structure is almost 18 centuries old and stands dramatically over a crossing on the River Nore and the “High Town” of Kilkenny City. A tour of the castle is a must for any visitors to Kilkenny. This complex structure features many varying styles of architecture and just as varied a history too. Starting at its gateway, the Castle Tour will take you from room to room providing you with insights into the architecture, furnishings, and paintings which make this castle so special.
St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower is another of Kilkenny’s impressive heritage sites. Founded in the 6th Century, this structure boats intricate stained glass windows and carved tombstones – many of which are one of a kind pieces. The round tower adjoining the cathedral proudly carries the title of oldest standing structure in Kilkenny City and if you aren’t afraid of heights, climbing up to its top level will give you epic views of the entire city.
The Smithwick’s Brewery tour offers another taste of the rich heritage in Kilkenny. This brand of ale originated with John Smithwick in 1641. John, who was left orphaned after the Irish rebellion, carved out his story with determination, courage and loyalty. The success of Smithwick’s local family brewery, which began producing ale in 1710, gave John a sense of what is important in life. His experience and trade secrets have been passed down over 300 years, 9 generations of Smithwick men, and you have the chance to take a tour of their working brewery in Kilkenny. The tour also includes a visit to the remarkable 12th Century St. Francis Abbey, which is on the site of the brewery.
Enjoy one last hurrah in Kilkenny with the Traditional Irish Music Trail. Hosted by two musicians, you’ll be brought along a session tour of some of Kilkenny’s legendary pubs. Over the course of two hours you’ll experience the warmth of the local music scene, learn about the history of traditional instruments, share in the chat and of course get treated to a few of your favourite songs.
With the silhouette of Kilkenny Caste growing ever smaller in your rear view mirror, it’s time to get back on the road and head towards Cork where you’ll be staying for the night.
Day 3: Cork, Kinsale and Blarney
Today you will begin your journey around Cork. Cork is Ireland’s largest county and its locals (or Corconians) have some of the biggest personalities in Ireland. You’ll feel instantly welcome in the south-west of Ireland as the people of Cork win you over with their charm and wit.
Aside from the local hospitality, you’ll also find some of the most breath-taking and rugged scenery in the whole of Ireland. The City of Cork itself is rich with history. Much like Venice, the city is constructed upon water with some of the main streets being built over channels. Despite the fact that the city centre is built on an island in the River Lee, the whole city is completely accessible by foot.
The city dates back to the 7th Century and was founded by St. Finbarr. Many examples of centuries old architecture still exist including the 300 year old tower of St. Anne’s Church (home to the Shandon Bells) or St. Finbarr’s Cathedral (a monument to its namesake featuring stunning French Gothic spires). For a snippet from the city’s more recent history, you need look no further than the English Market, whose stalls have been packed with foods from the world over, since Victorian times.
One of Cork’s most memorable tourist attractions is Cork City Gaol. Steeped in history, this building is a castle like structure and once acted as a prison back in the 19th century. Today this unique heritage centre see visitors stepping back in time to discover what life was like in Cork from both sides of the prison walls.
The second attraction you’ll find here is the Radio Museum. Situated in the former Governor’s House, this unique experience incorporates a restored 6CK Radio Broadcasting Studio along with a plethora of archived reels from the RTÉ Collection (Radio Telefís na hÉireann – Ireland’s national television and radio broadcaster).
You’re coming up to the midpoint of your ancient tour of Ireland and what better way to mark the occasion than with a kiss. Whilst kissing a stone may not sound like the most romantic thing you’ve ever done, this is theBlarney Stone – the endower of the gift of eloquence, so it may be more special that you’d anticipated. For years this stone has been attracting visitors from around the world, hoping to sneak a smooch and test the legend that those who kiss the stone will acquire the “gift of the gab”. And whilst they may have come for the stone, many leave with fond memories of the castle and its surrounding grounds.
Within this ancient site, built over 600 years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains: Cormac Mac Carthy, you’ll find plenty to explore with the Battlements View, the Wishing Steps, the Witches Stone, Rock Close and Badgers Cave. These are just a handful of the other attractions for you to explore at Blarney that will give you plenty to talk about with your new found gift of eloquence.
Blarney is also famed for its woollen mills, which is now home to Ireland’s largest gift store, stocking the best of the best in quality Irish gifts, stocking Waterford Crystal, Belleek China, Aran Sweaters, Celtic Jewellery, and Irish linen and lace. So if you’re looking for some gifts to bring home or even a souvenir or two for yourself, it’s the perfect one stop shop for all things Irish.
Just under a 45 minutes from Blarney is the charming medieval fishing village of Kinsale. If you’re looking to sample some gourmet seafood then Kinsale has some of the best seafood restaurants in Ireland. If you’re not in search of something fishy, the narrow streets of this quaint village are also lined with shops, galleries and plenty more to keep you entertained before you head towards Blarney Castle.
Moving on from Cork, you’ll be heading to Kerry for the night, where another night of sound sleeping will have you refreshed and ready to tackle the Ring of Kerry the next day.
Day 4: The Ring of Kerry
Spurred on by the prospect of more ancient wonders to unravel, the Kingdom of Kerry is your next destination and here is where you will discover The Ring of Kerry (or the Iveragh Peninsula as it is also known). This area is famed for its stunning views and the sheer amount of attractions that you’ll find located all within this single scenic drive. You’ll want to fit in as much as possible so it’s always best to dedicate a full day to exploring the ring.
The sheer scale and wonder of the Ring of Kerry make this one of the most magical and intimate places in Ireland. The more you explore the more you will come to understand why this wondrous place inspires so many as the echoes of words spoken long ago resonate within the hidden crevasses of the Iveragh Peninsula.
Head to Moll’s Gap and gaze upon the majestic MacGillycuddy’s Reeks (Ireland’s talent mountain range). Look out from your perch at Ladies View as an infinite horizon stretches into the distance. Or make a visit to Rossbeigh’s golden sands, a beach with immersive surrounding panoramic views.
Hidden away within the Gap of Dunloe you’ll find a quaint little cottage, the very premises that was once owned by Kate Kearney – a legendary Irish beauty. Many will attest that the only true way to fully experience the gap is to traverse it with a pony and trap; and Kate Kearney’s Cottage honours this sentiment with tours embarking from the homestead. Later on in the day if you find yourself hankering for some tradition Irish food and music, you can’t go wrong with Kate’s. This fantastic venue does its very best to keep her spirit alive with dancers and musicians that compliment their superb traditional grub.
You can’t visit the Ring of Kerry without a side-trip to Killarney. This buzzing area is another fine example of a rural Irish town land with cheerful locals going about their day to day. From here you’ll be a short trip from Killarney National Park, where you’ll find even more expansive scenery and beautiful landscapes. Whether you’re walking or decide to hire a bike or horse and trap this beauty of this lush demesne is truly epic. It’s also a great place to have a picnic if you need to get your energy up.
From Killarney National Park you’ll be able to enjoy the scenic delights that are the Lakes of Killarney. From the shores of these three lakes : Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and the Upper Lake you can enjoy views of Muckross House, Muckross Abbey and the 15th Century Ross Castle.
Muckross House and Gardens is definitely worth a peek during your visit to the park. This restored Victorian house dates back to 1843 and is comprised a massive 65 rooms. A walk around the estate’s gardens will reveal a sunken garden, stream garden, Arboretum and much more. Summer visitors are in for a colourful treat as blossoming red and pink Rhododendrons accentuate the sophisticated charm of the gardens.
After a long day delving into the many treasures of the Ring of Kerry, drop by the nearby town of Kenmare (“The Jewel on the Ring of Kerry”). Strolling along the pathways of this heritage town you’ll find colourful craft shops and over 30 restaurants lining the streets tempting you with their very own local produce. It’s a beautiful little spot and the perfect place to wind down that evening before tucking snuggling up at your accommodation.
Day 5: Bunratty and the Cliffs of Moher
Over the next 24 hours you will be treated to some of the grandest natural treats in the West of Ireland. Bags packed and leaving Kerry behind you it’s time to explore Clare and the Burren region.
This truly unique area of limestone rock covers mountains, valleys and stream, each as awe-inspiring as the last. There is a beautiful contrast between the natural flora and fauna and the ancient man made megalithic tombs, which predate the Roman and even Egyptian civilisations. Before you trek out into the unknown, you can visit the Burren Visitors Centre in nearby Kilfenora, where you’ll get an introduction to the many secrets of the Burren.
The Burren Smokehouse is just a ten minute drive down the road from Kilfenora so drop in and sample some of their acclaimed smoked salmon, see the original kiln used at the smokehouse and browse their range of products, which include various crafts and delicacies from the Clare region.
From the Burren to the Cliffs of Moher your trip today is packed full of scenic eye-candy. Atop the cliff, the panoramic views of the Aran Islands, The Twelve Pins, The Maum Turk Mountains and Loop Head will take your breath away. The visitors’ centre, which has been aptly named Atlantic Edge, can be found close to the cliffs within an underground building. Various studies of the cliffs are on display here focusing on four main themes: Ocean, Rock, Nature and Man.
While you’re in the area, why not pop into Doolin Cave. Less than ten minutes drive up the coast from the Cliffs of Moher you’ll find this fascinating cave, which is home to the longest stalactite in the northern hemisphere, measuring 6.54m (20 feet).
Also along the coast is Lahinch. If you’re up for a spot of water sports or just a stroll on the beach, a visit to Lahinch is a great way to take in Clare’s beautiful coastline. Every year, budding surfers visit Lahinch’s golden sands to catch some waves, so whether you’re there to join in or just spectate, there’s definitely fun to be had. The town also boasts two golf courses (Lahinch Championship Course and Lahinch Castle Course).On both you’ll find yourself teeing off with a backdrop of stretching coastal scenery, so if you have the time a quick round is a must.
Continuing to explore Clare you’ll find Bunratty Castle – a 15th Century castle, which is the acclaimed setting for the 19th Century Bunratty Folk Park. Built in 1425 and restored to its former medieval glory in 1954, Bunratty Castle is the ultimate medieval fortress in Ireland. Within the castle hang many 15th and 16th Century tapestries, furnishings and works of art, which really create a sense of authenticity. You will feel transported as you wander around the vast castle halls and for a truly unique experience you can also attend the Medieval Banquet - a night of rich food and entertainment.
The Bunratty Folk Park will see you surrounded by 19th Century living. You’ll be interacting with all the locals - the Bean an Tí (Woman of the House), the Policeman, and Schoolteacher as you discover the ins and outs of their daily routines. As you walk from house to house you’ll be immersed in a wonderful bubble of sights sounds and senses, making this a truly enchanting experience for all ages.
Weary from your travels you may want to pop into Durty Nelly’s (just beside the castle) for a pick me up. The history and heritage surrounding Durty Nelly and her public house date back to 1620 and include: a toll bridge, an Irish wolfhound and a miracle cure. For years travellers have enjoyed the hospitality and warmth of this one of a kind pub and now with live Irish music seven days a week, you can’t help but be lured into Nelly’s cosy welcome.
As the entertainment dies down for the night it’s off to bed in Clare. You're veering ever closer to the end of your ancient tour of Ireland, but their are still many delights yet to come.
Day 6:Galway City
Day six of your tour will give you the comfort and time to explore Galway City at your own pace. The origins of the city can be traced back to 1124 and Dún Bhun na Gaillimhe (Fort at the Mouth of Gaillimhe), which was constructed at the time by the King of Connaught (the Western province of Ireland).
During the middle ages the city was ruled by The Tribes of Galway and became a principal Irish port for trade with Spain and France. The City contains many monuments harking back to the medieval days, which add to the charm of this picturesque and lively city.
Wandering through its streets you’ll find a variety of locally owned specialty shops stocking all sorts of locally made crafts from pottery to jewelry and even hand knits. Although the prospect of rambling around this thriving city is never too daunting as the city centre is still quite compact.
While you’re making your way around this famous city, your attention will be drawn to the bmany attractions that surround you. Galway Cathedral, which began construction in 1958 on the site of an old jail features beautiful architecture drawing inspiration from the renaissance (demonstrated in its dome) and also Christian Art with mosaics and rose windows featuring prominently.
A visit to Galway City Museum is always sure to impress. The museum is divided into two main exhibitions. The rich heritage of Galway is covered in “Fragments of a City”, whilst “On Reflection” is a collection of work from the most prominent Irish artists from the second half of the 20th Century. Here you’ll also find a statue of the famous poet Pádraic Ó Conaire.
The museum can be found beside the Spanish Arch. This beautiful piece of stonework was originally intended as an extension of the town wall from Martin’s Tower to the bank of the river Corrib, in an effort to protect the town’s quays and was constructed in the main by Wylliam Martin in 1584
Also in Galway is Brigit's Garden, a unique getaway. 11 Acres of wildflower meadows and woodland are waiting for you. Themed in the 4 Celtic Seasons this garden is worth a visit at any time.
Before packing in for the night, make sure to check out Galway’s pub scene. Many of the locals host regular sessions, so if you haven’t yet gotten the chance to experience the thrill of live traditional Irish music, now is the time. Who knows you may even be treated to rendition of “Galway Bay”.
Day 7: Clonmacnoise and Newgrange
You should be well rested after your two nights in Galway, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the trip back to Dublin will be uneventful. On your way back to the capital you’ll be stopping off in Newgrange and maybe even Clonmacnoise if you have the time.
Clonmacnoise is a 6th century monastic settlement founded by St. Ciaran and located in Westmeath on the eastern bank of Ireland’s longest river (the River Shannon). This monastic site is steeped in history and it really does have it all: two round towers, the ruins of a cathedral and seven churches dating back to the 10th – 13th century. You can also marvel at the various stone sculptures and Western Europe’s largest collection of early Christian graveslabs, not to mention the monumental high cross of Clonmacnoise, which has become synonymous with the area.
Just a short 35 minutes drive away you’ll find the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience in Westmeath. This is Ireland’s last remaining example of a small pot distillery. It may have shut down in 1957, but today visitors are invited to watch the restored machinery at work and learn the secrets behind Kilbeggan Distillery’s 200 years of triple distilled whiskey.
One thing which you can absolutely not miss before heading back to Dublin for your last night in Ireland is Newgrange The megalithic passage grave at Newgrange features elaborate stone carvings and the tomb itself predates the Roman civilisation, England’s Stonehenge and even the pyramids of Egypt. In the heart of Meath (the aptly nicknamed “Royal County”) this is where the High Kings of Ireland once congregated.
Visitors can gain access to Newgrange by guided tours, which are available at the Brú na Bóinne visitor Centre. Something quite spectacular happens at Newgrange on the winter solstice every year. There is an opening above the entrance to the passage of Newgrange, called a “roof-box” and from December 19th – 23rd each year, with the rising of the sun a beam of light penetrates this “roof-box”.
As the sun rises higher the beam widens within the chamber until the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. This jaw-dropping display last a total of 17 minutes and beings around 9am on these specific dates. This ancient site and archaeological wonder is surrounded by a truly magic air and is a must see for annoying travelling through the Irish midlands. Your photo album will fill up as you take some snaps in this stunning location.
The Brú na Bóinne visitor centre has been constructed ingeniously to blend in with its surroundings so that the natural scenery is left unspoiled. The centre is open all year round and treats visitors to a variety of audio/visual presentations, exhibitions and replicas including a full scale model of the chamber at Newgrange. There’s also a great café here if you feel like putting up your feet taking five.
That evening it’s back to Dublin so why not mark your last night in this wonderful and mysterious country with a pint. Regaling each other with the stories of the legendary monuments you’ve visited you will rest easy that night, safe in the knowledge that these will be memories which will last a lifetime.
Day 8: Departure from Dublin
If you have time to spare before heading back to Dublin airport you may be able to fit in one or two sites that you missed out on earlier in your trip. Or maybe a spot of souvenir shopping is in order and what better place than Grafton St. – Dublin’s premier shopping district.
Your tour of Ireland complete, packed with all the ancient Celtic sites we have to offer you’re sure to have a broad smile across your face as you wave goodbye to the land of Saints and Scholars, knowing that you can relive your trek through time with all the memories and photos you’ve collected along the way.