9. Ireland: 5-Day Escape to the Southwest Tour
Discover the scenic splendor of southwest Ireland on a comprehensive 5-day tour of The Burren, the Dingle Peninsula, and the fabled Ring of Kerry. Stop at historic castles and monasteries, and wander the colorful fishing villages to sample fresh seafood. Enjoy dramatic views from the Cliffs of Moher, and stroll along the vast stretch of Inch Beach watching the local surfers. Transportation is by small minicoach, with accommodation in quaint bed and breakfast guesthouses for a more intimate experience.
Depart Dublin and head west through the farmland and peat bogs of Kildare and Offally counties. Stop at Locke’s Distillery, reputedly the oldest legal distillery in the world. Sample the local whiskey to experience the true spirit of Ireland. Continue west to the mighty Shannon River, and vist the early Christian site of Clonmacnoise. Admire its collection of churches, stone crosses, and round towers. After an afternoon stop in a traditional pub in one of the attractive villages, travel to Galway City to check into your base for the night. This lively student town has no shortage of good pubs and restaurants to enjoy in the evening.
From Galway City it’s only a short drive along the coast to The Burren, one of Ireland’s great natural treasures. Marvel at the limestone pavements, barren hills, and rare flora. See Christian settlements and ancient stone monuments. You will spend most of the morning exploring this unique area, stopping in Kilfenora for lunch. Known as the “Town of the Crosses,” there will also be time to visit the old cathedral before driving to the Cliffs of Moher. Marvel at this natural beauty, where the cliffs drop almost 700 feet into crashing Atlantic Ocean waves. Take a walk along one of the cliff top trails, and watch the seabirds at work. Alternatively, visit the award-winning environmental exhibition to learn about the region’s ecology.
Then, travel south through County Clare, passing the famous golf course and beach at Lahinch to catch the ferry across the Shannon Estuary and into County Kerry. Go to the beautiful lakeside town of Killarney, your base for the next 3 nights. The pubs here are great for food and most have live music in the evenings.
Today, you will explore the Dingle Peninsula, one of the most scenic parts of Ireland. Your first stop in this heartland of Gaelic culture will be Inch Beach, a vast expanse of sand facing the Atlantic Ocean popular with surfers. From here, increasingly narrow roads lead onto the peninsula itself, through the town of Dingle and out to Slea Head. This is an area of ancient forts and dwellings that date back thousands of years. Visit some of the best examples along the way.
Enjoy views of the Blasket Islands as they rise dramatically from the sea. Marvel at the mountains of the famous Ring of Kerry to your south. Weather permitting, time will be allotted for a walk on the beach or along the cliff tops. Learn why the area is important in Gaelic literature. Then, head back to Dingle town with its brightly colored buildings and busy harbor. Spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure, before returning to Killarney. If the weather is good you could enjoy an evening walk in Killarney National Park, just on the edge of town.
Today, you will take one of the world’s classic routes, the 100-mile Ring of Kerry. Depart Killarney and enjoy the views to Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain. Join the coast road through Glenbeigh and Kells to Cahersiveen. Possible stops along the way include Daniel O’Connell’s birthplace, and the ring fort of Cahersiveen. Go to the little fishing village of Portmagee for a lunch of local seafood. Alternatively, cross to the island of Valencia and visit the Skellig Experience to learn about the small community of monks who once lived on the nearby rock island of Skellig Michael.
In the afternoon, stop in picturesque Waterville, a favourite holiday destination for Charlie Chaplin. Stop again at the top of the Coonmakista Pass for one of the best views in Ireland. From here, the road drops down to sea level, where you will visit Derrynane House, the family home of Daniel O’Connell. You can stroll in the gardens and down to the beach, as well as look inside the house itself. Continue around the Ring, stopping at Moll’s Gap and Ladies View. There will also be time for a short walk to the Torc Waterfall before returning to Killarney.
The final day of your tour heads east through the mountains of West Cork and the market town of Macroom. Then, drive along the Lee Valley to Blarney Castle. Visit the castle and take one of the woodland walks to the mystical Rock Close. Explore the village of Blarney, stopping for lunch and a bit of shopping. There may even be time to kiss the famous Blarney Stone, although in peak season it can be very busy.
In the afternoon, head to the Rock of Cashel to see the medieval monastery complex high above the town. Finally, go to Kilkenny, a bustling city with a fine castle and park, as well as some lovely riverside walks. Visit the National Craft Centre, or just hang out in one of the pubs for a last Guinness. Hit the road again for the final leg of your journey, arriving back in Dublin at approximately 19:30.