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Plan Your Perfect Ireland Itinerary (Without The Stress) With Our Handy 4 Step Guide

Plan Your Perfect Ireland Itinerary (Without The Stress) With Our Handy 4 Step Guide

Mapping out an Ireland itinerary tends to be the most stressful part of planning a trip to Ireland.

If you’re currently in FFS-WHY-IS-THIS-SO-HARD mode then chill. The guide below is going to make planning your Ireland trip eeeeeeeasy!

I’ve been living in Ireland for 31 years and I’ve spent a good chunk of my holidays spinning around Ireland. I’ve whacked the tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years into this guide.

If you take 5 minutes to read it (OK, maybe 10…) you’ll leave with two things:

  1. A clear idea of how to go about planning your perfect trip
  2. Sample itineraries that you can follow (if you want to) from start to finish

Disclaimer: The best Ireland itinerary? There’s no such thing!

You’ll find a thousand blogs online that claim that they visited the ‘Emerald Isle’ and that they followed the ‘best Ireland itinerary’. Fair play to them!

The fact is, however, there really is no ‘perfect’ vacation itinerary for Ireland online. The best itinerary for Ireland is going to be completely subjective based on what YOU do and don’t like.

For example, your friend might want to see as many Irish castles as possible during their trip while you might want to revolve your schedule solely around the best walks and hikes.

The perfect itinerary for Ireland is…

The perfect Ireland vacation itinerary is the one that gets you excited and that ensures that you visit places that YOU want to see and experience.

The problem that people often run into when they’re planning their trip is that they have a list of places that they want to visit, but they’re not sure on the route to take or what’s possible.

Below, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to follow that’ll help you plan your perfect Ireland itinerary. It’ll make the process straightforward and painless and it’ll banish any stress.

Planning your perfect itinerary for Ireland in 4 steps

Planning your trip, regardless of whether you’re spending 5 days in Ireland or 10 days in Ireland, doesn’t have to be a painful process. However, for many, it is.

You only need to read the various Ireland forums on Tripadvisor to see how stressed many people get when it comes to jotting down their Ireland road trip.

I’ve been planning trips for friends and randomers for a long time now and I do it in a fairly structured way that ensures as little hassle as possible is experienced. Below, you’ll find the exact steps that I use.

Step 1: Locking in the foundations of your trip

the irish road trip

Photo by luizandrade (shutterstock)

You can’t plan your Ireland itinerary without having the foundations/the bones of your trip locked down. When I refer to the ‘foundations’ I mean things like when you’re visiting and how long you’re here for.

I go into how to do this in detail (without any BS) in our guide to planning a trip to Ireland. You’ll find a handy 11-step process to follow that’ll make planning your vacation in Ireland easy!

In a nutshell, before you start thinking about locking in an itinerary, you need to have a few things set in stone:

It’s important that you have all of the above decided on in advance of planning out your Ireland itinerary. Why? Well, you’ll need each of the above if you want to map out a route.

For example, deciding where you’re going to fly into will give you a starting point for your road trip and knowing how you’re getting around will rule certain places in or out.

Step 2: Plotting out where you want to go

sunset on achill island

Photo by Mike Hardiman (Shutterstock)

OK, so you have your starting point (where you’re flying into), now it’s time to look at where you’re going to visit while you’re here.

Now, if you’re thinking, ‘Surely it’s better to decide where you’re going to be staying first and then decide where to go’ bear with me!

The absolute easiest way to map out your route is to first whip open a Google Map and to then plot out the places that you most want to see. Jot down absolutely everywhere.

No, really! Don’t worry about what’s possible and what isn’t at this point. Just whack down everywhere that you think you’d like to visit during your time here.

Struggling to decide where to visit? Hop into our guide to the 32 counties of Ireland to quickly find the best places to visit.

Step 3: Look for clusters

mullaghmore castle

Photo by Gareth Wray

Looking for clusters on your map is a really handy way to put the bones of your road trip itinerary together. Clusters help you understand where to base yourself from.

The best approach to this is to first look for the nearest cluster to your starting point. Let’s say, for example, you’re flying into Belfast and your first two clusters are scattered across Northern Ireland.

Happy days. Find a base/place to stay that’ll allow you to explore both of these clusters. Following this approach helps you build up a list of places that will form your various different bases.

Be clear about how you’ll get from A to B

When you’re looking for clusters, have transport in the back of your mind constantly. If you’re planning on renting a car in Ireland and exploring, you can ignore this advice.

Actually, if you’re on a guided tour or if you’ve splashed the cash and have a private driver, you can ignore this, also. However, if you’re using public transport to get around, you need to be careful.

The quality and availability of public transport in Ireland will vary from place to place. If you’re relying on it for getting around, spend some time at this point understanding how you’ll move from cluster to cluster.

Be patient

This stage in planning your Ireland itinerary can be the most time consuming, as you may need to research day tours from X place or see where a train goes to, etc.

Take your starting point and find the nearest cluster to it. That’ll be your first base. Decide how long to stay there for and then move onto your second cluster, AKA base two.

Keep following this process for planning your trip and you’ll eventually have an Ireland vacation itinerary to follow. Need to run yours by someone? Send it to me in the comments below!

Struggling? Be realistic and prioritise!

The biggest causer of stress amongst people planning their Ireland itinerary, in my experience, is that they try and pack in everything.

You need to be very realistic about what you can and can’t do during your visit. Yes, this’ll mean not seeing some places but it’ll ensure that you enjoy the time that you’re here for.

If you’re wondering whether it’s possible to see X, Y and Z places during your visit, open up a second Google Map and use it to understand the distances between each place.

This tends to be an easy way of ruling places in and out, for example, if you’re here for three days the chances of you seeing the Dingle Peninsula, the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands are pretty unlikely.

Step 4. Deciding on a final route for your Ireland road trip

glenveagh castle

Photo by alexilena (Shutterstock)

At this point, you should hopefully have a fair idea of the route that your Ireland vacation itinerary is going to take. Now, it’s all about tightening it up and mapping it out.

I find that the best way to do this is in Google Sheets, personally. Pop in day 1, 2, 3, etc. and list out where your base will be and where you’ll be visiting.

If you’re using public transport or day trips to see certain places, you should take note of it here, also, to avoid any confusion down the line.

If you’re struggling to decide on how many things to do each day, work out how far they are from each other and try and get a rough sense of how long you’ll spend at each place. Here’s a quick outline of a 4 day Ireland itinerary.

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Base Killarney Killarney Doolin Doolin
Things to do Dingle Peninsula Ring of Kerry Cliffs of Moher Aran Islands
Dingle Town National Park Doolin Cave  
Slea Head Drive   Doonagore Castle  

Step 5. Locking in accommodation

Aghadoe hotel

Photo via the Aghadoe

Once you’ve decided on your Ireland itinerary, it’s time to book accommodation. It pays to shop around when it comes to deciding where to stay in Ireland.

For groups of 3 or more, Airbnbs can work out at a steal as you’re deciding the cost between you. This can be the best approach for those of you doing Ireland on a budget.

If you’d prefer to stay in B&Bs, use a comparison website to get an idea of where they are in the place that you’re visiting and then use Google to find their official website.

8 times out of 10 they’ll give you a better rate if you get onto them directly. If you’re in a different country, you could always fire them off an email.

And that’s a wrap on mapping out your Ireland itinerary

Hopefully, these steps will have made creating your Ireland itinerary a bit more straightforward. If they did, let me know in the comments below.

If they didn’t and you thought it was a load of sh*te, let me know, also! Below, you’ll find ready-made Ireland trip itineraries that you can follow.

They’re packed with things to do (everything from Trinity College and the Blarney Stone to the Rock of Cashel, the Dingle Peninsula and loads more) and advice on where to eat, sleep and drink.

Ireland vacation ideas: Ready-made self drive Ireland itinerary guides

places to visit wicklow

Photo left: PhilipsPhotos. Right: RR Photo (shutterstock)

If you’re here for ready-made itineraries that you can (literally) follow from start to finish, you’ll find the final section of this guide very useful. Below, you’ll get a heap of itineraries for Ireland that are:

  • Detailed (hour by hour)
  • Packed with full routes
  • Full of advice on where to stay, eat and drink

There are itineraries for every length of trip, from 48-hour weekend adventures to bucket list one-month trips. Dive on in!

48-hour itineraries

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t see much if you’re only getting to visit Ireland for 48 hours. Yes, it’s a tiny amount of time, but you can still have a great time.

All you need is a solid plan of action. We’ve created a clatter of 48 hour guides that’ll ensure that you get the most out of your time here. Here are the most popular ones:

The most popular of these guides tends to be our guide to a weekend in Kerry. If you follow it, you’ll see everywhere from the Ring of Kerry to the Dingle Peninsula (a lot of driving is needed).

Check out all of our 48 hour guides here. Note: we’re adding new 48-hours guides constantly, so if you don’t see a guide for a place you fancy visiting, it’s likely en route!

Ireland itinerary 5 DAYS

So, one of the most common requests that we receive is from people asking for help on planning 5 days in Ireland. 5 days can be a tricky amount of time.

It’s not a huge amount of time, but it’s enough to squeeze in some decent exploring IF you have a nicely planned itinerary. If you read our 5 day guide, you’ll be given 5 different ways of spending 5 days in Ireland.

There should be an itinerary in there that appeals to everyone visiting for this length of trip.

A sample 5 day itinerary

  • Day 1: Wicklow (National park, the Sally Gap, Lough Tay)
  • Day 2: Carlow (The Nine Stones, Huntington Castle, and Gardens, more)
  • Day 3: Kilkenny (Kilkenny Castle, Dunmore Cave, Smithwick’s Experience) 
  • Day 4: Wexford (Hook Lighthouse, Loftus Hall, and more)
  • Day 5: Waterford (Waterford City, the Copper Coast, and more)

Ireland itinerary 7 days

Spending one week in Ireland? Lovely. 7 days is a solid amount of time to explore Ireland, given the size of the island. I’m going to sound like a bit of a broken record here, but your 7 days will be all the better if you have a plan laid out in advance.

We’ve published a detailed guide to spending 7 days in Ireland – it contains 5 different routes that you can take. I’ve given you things to do each day, advice on where to eat, and recommendations on pubs to visit and places to stay.

An overview of our 7 day itineraries

  • Itinerary 1: Dublin, Wicklow, Tipperary, and Kilkenny
  • Itinerary 2: Waterford, Cork, and Kerry
  • Itinerary 3: Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo
  • Itinerary 4: Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo, Donegal, Derry
  • Itinerary 5: Meath, Louth, Down, Armagh, Antrim

Ireland itinerary 10 days +

If you’re visiting Ireland for 10 days I’m pretty damn jealous. 10 days offers you so much space for planning an unforgettable road trip.

It also gives you plenty of time to linger in places and have some chill time, also. We’ve two different guides that you can use if you’re visiting Ireland for 10 days:

Still not sure where to visit? Here’s a bit of inspiration!

If you’re still struggling for Ireland vacation ideas, the below section should give you a heap of ideas of places to visit and things to do.

I’ve going to pop in ten places in Ireland that I’ve been to many times before and that I’d happily visit many, many times again.

1. The Aran Islands

aran islands ireland

Photos: L – Gareth McCormack. Centre – Gastro Gays. Right – Chris Hill

There are few places in Ireland that shock the senses as much as the mighty Aran Islands (Inis Mor, Inis Oirr and Inis Meain).

You’ll find towering cliffs, ancient forts, buzzy pubs, fantastic food and plenty of brilliant walking and cycling routes that boast endless scenery.

2. The Inishowen Peninsula

inishowen scenic drive

Photo by Paul Shiels/shutterstock.com

If I could retire anywhere in Ireland, it’d be on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal. This little corner of Ireland is a little off the beaten track and it boasts a bounty of breath-taking scenery.

If you’re in search of peace, quiet and a landscape that looks like it was whipped straight from an oil painting, carve out time in your Ireland itinerary to visit here.

3. Mountains

slieve binnan

Photo by James Kennedy NI/Shutterstock.com

If you’re fond of a walk or hike, Ireland’s home to mountains of all shapes and sizes, from the massive Carrauntoohil in Kerry to the more accessible Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland.

If you can, try and factor in some time to hike on your Ireland itinerary. You don’t have to commit to a long hike – there are plenty of shorter hikes in Ireland.

4. The Ring of Kerry

the skellig ring in kerry

Photo by Tom Archer

The Ring of Kerry tends to make it onto many Ireland trip itineraries, and there’s no real surprise why. This route is home to an almost endless number of places to see and things to do.

From Ladies View and Moll’s Gap to Valentia Island, Kenmare and loooooads more, your spin along this stretch of road will pack a fine punch.

5. Castles, castles and more castles

belfast castle

Photo by Ballygally View Images (Shutterstock)

If you nip into our guide to the best Irish castles, you’ll discover an almost endless number of ancient structures to pop onto your Ireland itinerary.

From the Rock of Cashel and Trim Castle to Dunluce and Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, there’s no end to the number of castles that you can explore.

6. The Northern Ireland coastline

torr head ireland

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Many people visiting the Northern Ireland coast only visit the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge and Ballintoy Harbour.

Don’t get me wrong, all of the above are well worth a visit, but there’s also plenty more to see. Places like Whiterocks Beach, Murlough Bay and Torr Head are all well worth a visit.

7. Cliffs

highest cliffs ireland

Photo by Junk Culture/shutterstock.com

When you hear the words ‘cliff’ and ‘Ireland’ in the same sentence, you tend to think of the Cliffs of Moher. However, there are plenty more cliffs in Ireland worth visiting.

The likes of Slieve League in Donegal and the Kerry Cliffs in, unsurprisingly enough, Kerry, are just two that are worth adding to your itinerary for Ireland.

8. Historical sites

hook head lighthouse

Photo by Neville Murphy via Failte Ireland

If you’re looking to soak up a bit of history during your time in Ireland, you’re in luck – there are heaps of historical sites scattered across the island.

Places like Hook Lighthouse in Wexford are Waterford City (the oldest in Ireland) two of thousands of historical places worth seeing.

9. County Dublin

cliffs in Howth

Photo by Cristian N Gaitan/shutterstock.com

Many people that visit Dublin never make it outside of the city, which is a shame, as it’s in the wider county that you’ll find the best that the capital has to offer.

From the viewpoint on Killiney Hill to the Howth cliff walk, Malahide Castle, Ticknock and the Hellfire walk, there’s much more to Dublin to see and do.

Now, make sure to carve out time to see the likes of Trinity College, Kilmainham Gaol, etc. but don’t whittle away too much time in the city.

Frequently asked questions about creating the perfect Ireland itinerary

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years from people planning a trip to Ireland and wondering where to go and what to see.

Below, I’ve popped in some of the most FAQs. If you have a question that I haven’t included, pop a comment into the comments section below and I’ll try to help

The best way to see Ireland for the first time?

The best way to see Ireland is something that’s likely to cause a lot of debate. If you read our guide to getting around Ireland, you’ll know that I’m fond of combining a car with public transport.

You should take some time to consider the pros and cons of the different ways of exploring Ireland. How you get around is going to have a significant effect on your trip/overall experience.

For example, if you’re a nervous driver, is renting a car going to result in you worrying for the duration of the trip?! Would you be happier on a guided tour where you can sit back and enjoy the ride?!

Is Rick Steves Ireland itinerary good?

So, if you’re an American planning your first Ireland vacation itinerary, then the chances are you’ll be familiar with Rick Steves.

If you aren’t – Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality from the US. He’s become the go-to guide for people (mainly from the US) visiting Ireland.

We regularly get emails from people debating taking one of the Rick Steves Ireland tours. The emails tend to come from people that are worried about spending a lot of cash and not being happy at the end of the trip.

By all accounts, Rick Steves Ireland itinerary guides are pretty good. I’ve spoken to many Americans, in particular, visiting Ireland for the first time who swear by Rick’s itineraries.

I’ve also scanned several of the reviews, and they’re excellent. This is arguably the best way to see Ireland if you’re visiting from the states and you only want to use a tour provider.

What are the must see places in Ireland?

This is going to be completely subjective, i.e. what I deem as being incredible the next person may deem as ‘Meh’. However, since you asked, the best places to visit in Ireland are:

  • Keem Bay on Achill Island
  • Geokaun mountain and Fogher Cliffs on Valentia Island
  • Wicklow National Park (spent many days hiking and walking here)
  • The summit of Croagh Patrick
  • The Inisowen Peninsula in Donegal
  • Kenmare (a mighty little town at the heart of heaps of scenery)

How many days should I spend in Dublin?

One of the traps that people planning an Ireland itinerary tend to fall into is how they allocate their time here. Many people that fly into Dublin will carve out three days in their itinerary for the capital.

Two days in Dublin is more than enough to see the main sights, both in the city and across the wider county. Any more time spent in Dublin is, in my opinion, a waste.

What tourist traps should I avoid?

This is a topic that tends to cause a lot of debate and it all depends on what you call a ‘tourist trap’. For example, if you read my guide to the Cliffs of Moher, you’ll hear me call it a tourist trap.

Places like the Dark Hedges (there’s no fee for visiting) in Northern Ireland attract and disappoint tourists. Why? Well, the vast majority of pictures that you see online are so heavily edited that you’re led to believe they look a certain way.

For the most part, you can dodge including tourist traps in your Ireland itinerary if you just do a bit of research in advance. Read reviews and see what others are saying.

What ‘tourist favourites’ should I include in my Ireland itinerary?

If you’re looking for the old reliables, make sure that you factor in some time to visit the Cliffs of Moher, the Rock of Cashel, the Blarney Stone, the Giants Causeway, the Ring of Kerry, Muckross House, the Aran Islands and the Dingle Peninsula.

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Brian

Friday 6th of August 2021

Hello. Thanks for all your posts. They are very informative and helpful.

One questions, when planning can we assume the driving times we see on Google Maps are more or less accurate? I know there are a lot of country roads and I didn't know if this was taken into account by Google.

Thanks again!

Heather Cripe

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Hello Keith,

I’m just writing to thank you for doing this. I do not have a set date for when I can come to Ireland but reading the info you provided and the extensive comments you’ve answered, I almost feel like I’ve been to Ireland already! I know that’s when I can finally plan my trip, this website will be my go to for planning my trip! God bless you Keith!

Keith O'Hara

Monday 19th of April 2021

A fine message to wake up to! Thanks a million Heather - I'm glad you found it useful. Hopefully your visit is just over the horizon.

Cheers from a cold and sunny Dublin!

McKenna

Sunday 17th of May 2020

Hi Keith, I am planning to take my grandparents to Ireland next spring. My grandmother has always wanted to go and never got the chance to travel. However, they are not in the best of health and I don't think they could handle walking an hour+ (which seems to be the best/only way to see some of the main spots you mention in your recommended itineraries).

Do you have any recommendations for best places to go that don't require much of a hike? My Grandparents would love: beautiful landscapes, local places that don't feel touristy (they always manage to make friends with locals while out eating, etc), places of historical significance.

Keith O'Hara

Sunday 17th of May 2020

Hey! A lot of people planning a visit to Ireland have this problem, but it can definitely be worked around.

Say, for example, they're very limited mobility wise, if you took them to Donegal, there's plenty of places where you can literally drive right up to for an incredible view.

Here's a couple of examples:

- The Slieve League Cliffs: you can drive right up to the 'main' view - Ballymastocker Bay: you can pull in on the road above and grab an incredible view - The Inishowen 100 drive: there's an endless number of great views on this (the one at Tra Na Rossan is unreal!

If you're looking for lovely little towns, you can't bate Ardara (Nancy's pub, in particular, is lovely!).

I hope this helps!

Lynda rendell

Wednesday 29th of April 2020

Hi Keith Just found your page. It’s brilliant My husband retires 2021 and we are planning on visiting his great great grandfathers Museum in Mayo His mother’s birthplace in Connemara and auntie in Newlawn we then want to end up in Galway and Dublin Have you any advice of B&B pubs en route to these places We are hoping to go for 15 days so any advice or help would be greatly appreciated we will be travelling from Heathrow Airport UK We’ve never been to Ireland before so we are really really looking forward to it thank you

Emma

Sunday 12th of April 2020

Hi Keith

I hope you’re well.

I was planning a visit for July but that doesn’t look likely to happen on the current climate which has left me with one very upset 14yr old. So I thought we would look into rescheduling for October ?

We’re hoping to fly into Belfast, and fly out of Dublin with a visit to family in New Ross along the way. I was planning on 5-7 days whilest keeping costs to a minimum. We have been offered a place to stay in New Ross with family so as many nights there as possible would be great.

We are looking to sight see and ideally visit Galway and maybe Londonderry. Can you recommend an itinerary?

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