After all the road trips we’ve done in Ireland this year, exploring a naturally fertile southwest laden with stunning scenery is the one to take the prize. Firstly, it was because we were finally allowed to travel within the country. Second, the opportunity to devote our time to exploring Ireland’s Southwest corner. where we took photographs of beautiful castles, jumped off rocks, enjoyed comfortable silences and had meaningful conversations that were unforgettable.
We had an array of conditions in our time spent outdoors including plenty of rain showers, powerful surf, and moody light; it was enough to be outdoors, every sunrise and every trip didn’t have to be perfect.
I will never forget waking up just before sunrise and seeing a new day begin. I will always remember family dinners consumed while sitting on the campervan floor and listening to the rhythmic tapping of the rain. I will never forget staying up late and watching the stars shine bright.
Yes, we have been to the southwest part more times than I can count, but the trip as a family of three was just a matter of time. Travelling with a campervan was such a convenient way to explore Ireland; nothing like having everything you need in one place to go where your heart desires.
An amazing 2-week itinerary through Ireland’s Southwest
If you have found yourself reading this blog post, you must be planning a road trip around Ireland! This particular route will point you in the right direction. Still, you can feel free to make your schedule and modify our itinerary to suit your needs and budget.
Do you have two weeks to spare, and are you looking for an epic itinerary for your wild Irish adventure? Why not devote your time to this simple yet insanely adventurous trip around the southern part of the island where some of the best Irish attractions and sights are located?
This road trip itinerary takes you in a clockwise direction starting in Dublin and ending in Dingle and includes many popular tourist attractions as well as lesser-known places. However, if you are fortunate enough to have more than two weeks, you can even push further up the coast and include the Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and Sligo, from where the driving distance back to Dublin is only 200 km.
Day 1-2: Begin your trip by arriving in Dublin
Most of the travellers from overseas usually arrive in Ireland through Dublin Airport where they rent a car and head off to explore the beautiful countryside, Ireland is famous for. Alternatively, it’s possible to extend your trip by flying into Belfast Airport located in Northern Ireland or shorten it by flying into Shannon Airport situated in County Clare. Always check Skyscanner for affordable flights.
No trip to Ireland can be complete without visiting the infamous city of Dublin, drinking a pint of Guinness in a dimly lit pub, and visiting some of its classic tourist attractions. You can spend as much time as you desire in Ireland’s capital, but we wouldn’t suggest more than 1-2 nights. First – the accommodation costs in Dublin are sky-high, and if you are on a tight budget, then it’s wiser to reduce your time in the city. Second – the most beautiful places in Ireland, whether you are keen on seeing Killarney’s pristine lakes or the staggering Cliffs of Moher, are located outside of the city.
Noteworthy things to do in Dublin: Trinity College and the Book of Kells | The Guinness Storehouse | Dublin Castle | Jameson Distillery | Pheonix Park | Temple Bar | St. Patrick’s Cathedral | Ha’penny Bridge | Christ Church Cathedral
Day 3: Travel to Cork via Cashel
Make an early start for a drive to Ireland’s second-largest city Cork, stopping along the way to stretch your legs and admire the beautiful Rock of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel – also known as St Patrick’s Rock or Cashel of the Kings is located in the town of Cashel and once used to serve as a fortress for the kings of Munster until it was donated to the church.
The spectacular site, set on the outcrop of limestone, is open all year round and in the surrounding gravesites, you’ll be able to find many beautiful high crosses as well as admire fantastic views of the countryside which is part of the Golden Vale region.
You can visit the Rock of Cashel for free on the first Wednesday of each month. Otherwise, the entry is €8.00 for an adult. A word of warning for photographers – you are not allowed to use drones at the national sights in Ireland.
Day 4: Explore Cork City and visit Cobh
Once you arrive at one of Ireland’s oldest cities that are full of charm and plenty of tourist attractions to keep you busy for days, make it your base to explore Blarney Castle and to visit Cobh (pronounced Cove) – the last port of call for Titanic or meet the various animals at Fota Wildlife Park. You’ll love the fact that most attractions are within a short walk from each other and that’s why walking is the best way to see the city.
One of Europe’s best-known vegetarian restaurants Café Paradiso is located in Cork and if you need a break from Guinness, you’ll be pleased to indulge in its craft beer scene started by Beamish and Murphy’s. You can also visit the 18th-century market, which is Ireland best known covered food market, and taste local produce. Smoked fish, artisan cheeses, and handcrafted chocolates are just a few things you’ll find amongst the well-stacked stalls.
Top sights to see in Cork city: The English Market | Patrick’s Hill | St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral | Fitzgerald Park | St. Anne’s Church | Cork City Gaol | Crawford Art Gallery
Day 5-6: Drive to Mizen Head
Leave Cork early for yet another exciting day ahead as you’ll be heading to Ireland’s most southerly point Mizen Head, located in County Cork. If you are short on time, then the fastest route to reach the visitor’s centre and to see the dramatic cliffs is to travel via R 586. The distance is 124 kilometres, and it can take up to 2 hours to reach the edge of Europe. Still, then you’ll miss out on seeing some of Ireland’s most beautiful villages, barren landscapes, and miles of rugged coastline.
Located about 26 km southwest of the town of Schull and connected to the mainland by an arched bridge, Mizen Head is Ireland’s most southwesterly point, in addition to awe-inspiring views you can often see dolphins, seals and humpback whales splashing in the waters below. Positioned atop a high cliff is the Mizen Heads Visitors Centre is a fantastic place to visit. There’s an extensive exhibit of maritime artefacts, a navigational aid simulator, and a wildlife photo collage. You can even have a peek inside the station keeper’s quarters.
What to pack: Given its coastal location, the site is exposed to natural elements and can often feel breezy and chilly. Make sure you wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Wear light layers, and comfortable trail shoos that work well for the trails.
Entrance fees: Adult: €7.50, senior and students €6, children: €4.50, a child under 5: fee and family: €25
Things to know: Parking is free of charge and there is a lovely cafe and a gift shop on-site too.
Day 7: Explore Beara Peninsula
Less famous than the nearby peninsulas of Kerry and Dingle, Beara Peninsula – Named after a Spanish Princess – is scattered with plenty of pretty villages and numerous exciting attractions. Located in Ireland’s Southwest the rugged peninsula sweeps across two counties, and the best way to uncover its sights is to follow the 92-mile-long Ring of Beara route.
As the peninsula’s small winding roads are too narrow for the large tourist buses, it’s often referred to as Ireland’s best-kept secrets. It’s a haven away from the well-trodden tourist trail where along the way, you can stop at the colourful village of Eyeries, walk through Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve and take a boat to Garnish Island.
Another place worth visiting on the peninsula is the twisting and turning Healey Pass that winds north through high mountain peaks formed during the Ice Age, around 115,000BC. Located at an elevation of 334m and created in 1847 during the famine years in order to help prevent starvation, Healey Pass is one of Ireland’s greatest drives.
Top sights on the peninsula: Garnish Island | Dunboy Castle | Healey Pass | Allihies | Dursey Island | Gleninchaquin Park | Derreenataggart Stone Circle
Day 8-9 Drive the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry, a trendy 179 km circular route cutting through the countryside, national parks, and valleys, takes you on a fascinating road trip around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. You can quickly complete the scenic circuit within three to four hours, but in all honesty, you’ll be mad to go at such a rapid speed.
One hundred eleven miles might not be that much to drive by American standards, but don’t underestimate its narrow roads packed with lots of attractions, tour buses, and other travellers. The most popular place to start the loop is Killarney and if you are on a self-drive adventure, try to go in counter-clockwise to avoid the traffic with the coach buses travelling in the other direction.
Skelling Micheal is one of the main attractions along its scenic route. The popularity of Skelling Michael hugely increased after the scenes for two of the Star Wars movies were filmed on the island. A trip to Ireland’s UNESCO site, located 12 km off the Kerry coast offers visitors an opportunity to visit the 6th-century monastic site sitting 200 m above sea level. Sadly, to guarantee passenger safety, the Office of Public Works decided to close access to the site for the year, and we didn’t get a chance to see it.
Top places to see on the drive: Killarney National Park | Torc Waterfall | Gap of Dunloe | Glenbeigh | Ring Fort Portmagee | Moll’s Gap
Day 10: Explore Killarney National Park
Ireland’s oldest national park is located in County Kerry and many people from all over the world flock to this scenic location to enjoy a blend of lakes, woodlands, mountains, and castles. Due to the quality and high ecological diversity Killarney National Park, which is also home to the tallest mountain range in Ireland and the only herd of native red deer, was deemed a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1981.
Killarney is famous for its lakes that are surrounded by rugged mountains and within its 4,300 hectares, you’ll find a wide variety of wild birds, mammals and reptiles. Keep your eyes open for the Kerry slugs, the Downy emerald dragonflies and the Purple hairstreak butterflies.
Top sights to see in the park: Ross Castle | Killarney Lakes | Muckross House | Torc Waterfall
Day 11-12: Discover the beauty of the Dingle Peninsula
Finish your Southwest road trip with a visit to the rugged Dingle Peninsula, situated in County Kerry. Make an early start and travel via R561 onwards Ireland’s most scenic peninsula where the highest road in Ireland known as Conor’s Pass is located. The Dingle Peninsula is an excellent spot if you love outdoor adventure and if you are a keen landscape photographer, you’ll be spoiled for scenic views too. Dingle Peninsula is a great option to add to your southwest road trip itinerary as there is plenty of opportunities to explore the rural side of the country.
Slea Head drive, a very scenic 30-mile loop drive that can be found on the far western end, is one of the best parts of the peninsula, and depending on how long you plan on stopping, can take anywhere from half a day to a couple of days to drive. Keep in mind, the roads are narrow and curvy and you have to drive on the left side.
A collection of beehive huts, Star Wars filming sights, historical churches, scenic beaches, forts and old cottages abandoned 165 years ago during the famine are just a few things you’ll be able to see along the way. Dingle town, Tralee and Killarney are all great places to base yourself on the peninsula if you plan an overnight stay.
Top places to see: Dunquin Pier | Slea Head Drive | Connor’s Pass | Dingle Town | Inch Beach | Mount Brandon | Great Blasket Island | Dingle Whiskey Distillery
Day 14: Head back to Dublin Airport
Unfortunately, at one point or another, your great Irish road trip has to come to an end. You can choose to drive back to Dublin and fly out from Dublin Airport, or you can travel to Shannon and fly out from Shannon Airport (SNN).
While it is tempting to use the last day of a trip simply to soak up a few last vacation vibes and blow off the responsibilities awaiting us at home, it’s wiser to be prepared for your flight back home. Make sure you don’t over-schedule and try to avoid packing in a frenzy right before you leave.
Here are a few tips you can use to escape the last day of vacation blues:
- Charge your phone and other electronics
- Stock up on in-flight entertainment and snacks
- Find your travel documents
- Get ahead of stuff to do at home
- Take the day off after your trip
- Start packing before your trip is over
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever visited Ireland’s southwest? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting an Irish adventure and have travel-related questions!