From castles and ruins to pubs and spa treatments, photographer Lisa O’Dwyer shares her favorite places and things to do in her home away from home. This is the perfect ten day itinerary for sightseeing, eating and sleeping in Ireland
From Lisa: Although I am American, Ireland is my home and part of my heart. It is where my husband and I lived for ten years (we met while I was teaching English in Japan), where my two boys were born, where we visit family every year and it’s also where I started my photography business. Read along as I share with you the perfect ten day itinerary. And I’ve even added a few extra options if you decide to stay for two weeks.
How to Get There:
Instead of Dublin or Belfast, be adventurous and fly into Shannon Airport! My husband grew up in County Clare, and we fly into that airport often, it’s a beautiful part of the country without the hustle and bustle of a big city. Rent a car! Public transportation (trains and buses) is not as convenient in Ireland as it is in other European countries. Driving will also give you the ability to see hidden places off the tourist map. Driving on the left with hedgerows on your sides is not as scary as you think it is. Just go for it!
Where To Stay:
This depends on your budget, but I would take the opportunity and stay at least a night in a historic building. Dromoland Castle and Adare Manor are two gorgeous properties near the Shannon Airport. If you’re on a budget, AirBNB or a B&B are perfect alternatives. You can also just drive around, there are signs posted everywhere.
If you arrive in the morning, I suggest taking a nap. This will help set your body onto the Irish schedule and your jet lag won’t be as bad. Spend the first day exploring the area you’re staying in, go for a walk around your neighborhood. Then sit back by a turf fire, have a scone, an Irish tea and soak in the atmosphere. Try to tour Bunratty Castle and Folk Park this day.
The first place to visit is The Burren. This is a limestone Karst landscape that used to be the bed of an ancient ocean. It is an otherworldly landscape, lunar almost. You will feel the spirit of Ireland’s ancient past here as you walk around a prehistoric dolmen called the Poulnabrone Dolmen which dates back at least 5000 years.
Next, head over to the nearby town of Ballyvaughan. Go into Monk’s Pub and relax by the turf fire, order a Guinness or Murphy’s stout and a steaming hot bowl of their famous seafood chowder. It comes with the most delicious Irish brown bread and butter!
When you pull yourself away from this fantastic pub, head to the Cliffs of Moher. The view here is incredible and worth the walk! Stay the night in one of the coastal towns like Doolin. Or drive to Galway – a vibrant college town (my husband went to University here) and home of the Claddagh ring.
If you don’t spend the day in Galway, take a ferry to the Aran Islands. Explore the islands by bike, on the island of Inishmore you will see the prehistoric fort of Dun Aonghasa. You might hear people speaking the Irish language here as it is part of the Gaeltacht- a region where the Irish language is protected. Stay the night at a whitewashed cottage with a thatched roof on one of the islands, or head back to Galway for a night out.
Heading north towards County Sligo you’ll have some flexibility to plan according to your interests. If you’re into wild untamed landscapes and horses, go west for about 2 hours into Connemara, the home of the Connemara pony. You’re sure to find plenty of trails to hike and places to go horseback riding. If movies are more your thing, go north for about an hour into County Mayo and tour the area around Cong, where the famous film The Quiet Man was made. Leenaun is also near these places and was the set for the movies The Field and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. You can either spend the night in Connemara, or head up to Sligo.
One of my favorite hidden treasures of Ireland is the Voya Seaweed Baths in Sligo. Take a walk by the sea while awaiting your seaweed bath appointment. The Voya products are sold worldwide in the finest spas and are made with the rich therapeutic Irish seaweed harvested here in Sligo.
After lunch in Sligo town, head over to the prehistoric passage tomb and stone circle site at Carrowmore. Literary buffs will delight in visiting the sites associated with poet WB Yeats. We loved staying at the Aughris Beach Bar B&B and hanging out in the 300 year old thatched roof pub.
From Sligo, cut across the country into the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast. You’re officially in the UK now, not the Republic of Ireland. This is an ideal time to learn about the history of the island of Ireland. I’d recommend a guide through Black Cab Tours. It will also take you to see the shipyard where the Titanic was built. And be sure to stay the night in Belfast.
Now, head back into the Republic of Ireland and on towards Dublin. There is so much to see in Dublin, you should stay at least 2 nights. Try to take in the seaside fishing village of Howth and enjoy a lunch of traditional fish and chips from the famous Wright’s of Howth.
If you stay in the Dublin City Centre area, you can park your car and walk to all the sights. Your first stop should be the National Museum of Ireland. Not only is it an amazing museum of Irish archeology and history, it’s free! Be sure to visit the bog bodies, the Celtic gold, and the Vikings exhibits (many Irish cities such as Dublin were founded by the Vikings).
Take a stroll down Grafton Street and stop into Avoca for lunch and shopping. Then head down towards St. Stephen’s Green for some people watching. At night, enjoy the craic (Irish word for: fun/entertainment) at a pub like O’Donohue’s or Kehoe’s. On your way out of the city, stop at the Guinness Brewery or Jameson Distillery.
Next you should get on the M7 motorway towards Portlaoise. Just after Kildare, start looking for the signs for the Rock of Dunamase. This is another hidden treasure of mine. We lived only 20 minutes away from this historic site and used to take our kids here for walks. It is simply magical! Hike up to the ruins of castle buildings, and look down across the lush undulating valleys below. You will see a small stone 18th century church. This is one of my favorite photographs that I have ever taken
If you’re staying for 2 weeks, head to Glendalough and the Sally Gap in County Wicklow from here. Then on to Cork or Kerry. If you’re only visiting for 10 days, you should drive to Nenagh from Dunamase and book a room at Ashley Park House for the night.
Spend the day walking around Ashley Park House. There is a beautiful moss covered forest and a lake with picturesque rowboats. Make sure to stay here for dinner, it’s a foodie’s dream!
You will probably have an early start to get to the airport, which is an hour away. Say goodbye to The Land of a Thousand Welcomes, and vow to return to see more.
All words and images by Lisa O’Dwyer.