This was my second trip back to Ireland, and I was determined to see even more of this beautiful country. I decided to embark on a 12-day solo road trip in Ireland covering 1100 KM. If you are looking for a beautiful spot to challenge yourself, taking a solo road trip in Ireland is a great way to do it!
A solo road trip in Ireland is a great way to connect with nature, and yourself.
The plan: 12 days, 7 cities: Dublin, Galway, Tralee, Killarney, Cork, Kilkenny and Swords.
- Traveler: Heather
- When: September 2021
- Duration: 13 days with travel
- Chicago, IL, to Dublin, IE
- Solo trip
- Vacation, not budget
- Rented a car
- Carry-on only
- I used Booking.com for all of my accommodations
- Pros: I saw a lot
- Cons: It was pretty exhausting
- Conclusion: Totally worth it
- What I would do better: Better car rental prep. I’d have done fewer cities and stayed at least two nights in each one.
If you want to skip to a particular city open the table of contents below.
Days 1-3: Dublin and Howth
I had been to Dublin before and done the tourist highlights: Whiskey Museum, Trinity College, Guinness Museum, Temple Bar area. I wanted to do some different things this trip. I arrived around 7 a.m. on an overnight flight nonstop from Chicago to Dublin with my backpack and wheeled carry-on suitcase. I picked up a Leap-Card at the airport store right near baggage claim, which is the card you use to board all buses and trains in Dublin. I had loaded the app onto my phone before I left the U.S., and it was very easy to load my card right onto my phone by tapping the card to my phone. I have a whole post on using public transportation you can read; I’ve learned a lot, but it’s still my biggest challenge.
Molloys Apartments — I rented a 194 sq ft single room in a third-floor walk-up. It was tiny but worked fine for me. The bed was a small single bed that was fine for me, I’m 5’2, but if you were much taller it would be short. The location is close to bus stops and the train; a local called it a “dodgy” area but I felt fine. I also didn’t really stay out after dark much. It’s located on the north side of the river and about a 15-minute walk to the Temple Bar area. There was a great Thai restaurant, coffee cafe, grocery store, pharmacy, convenience store, and shopping all within a block. The bar that is on the first level was not open when I was there, so I can’t comment on any noise issues. They provided a fan, which was nice as I was there in early September. Note for US residents: You won’t find screens on the windows. I was so afraid a bird would fly in, but they didn’t!
Day 1: Dublin
I had about three hours to kill before I could drop my bags so I drank a lot of coffee and had a lovely croissant at L’Aine My Love, walked down to the grocery store down the street where there was another coffee cafe inside, and sat there and drank even more coffee. I needed it! Finally, I was able to drop off my bags and take off!
- L’Aine My Love — coffee and croissant
- South Great George Street — random shops
- Molly Malone Statue
- Iveagh Gardens — beautiful Victorian gardens
- St. Stephens Green
- Sophie’s Restaurant Bar and Terrace — excellent rooftop view and cute cocktails
- Ha’Penny Bridge
- Temple Bar Area
- Urban Brewing — Pizza and Beer
Day 2: Dublin
I used the bus system with moderate success on Day 2. I still did a lot of walking thanks to getting off too early, or too late at almost every stop. I am HOPELESS with public transportation but I keep trying! If you want quick list of things to do in Dublin in addition to some of the ones posted here, I have a 10 Things to Do in Dublin piece that takes a more in-depth look.
- Phoenix Park / Saint James — Fascinating history to this park.
- Dublin Zoo — I enjoyed watching the families watch the animals!
- Dublin Botanical Gardens — GORGEOUS.
- I ended the day with a date at The Long Hall; he was charming! Yes, you read that right. I opened my Bumble dating app and got a match!
Day 3: Howth
On the advice of Andy, my charming date in Dublin, I skipped my planned day at the art museum and took the train to Howth. Howth is about a 30-minute train ride via the Dart from Dublin and has a hiking trail that Andy said would not disappoint, and he was right. Once I was in Howth I found the signs for Howth Cliff Walk. Here’s a little tip: There is a beach called Tiny Hidden Beach that is down a very steep path to the sea. It’s a scary little jaunt but absolutely worth it. My favorite part was watching people strip down to their skivvies and swim! The cliff walk was breathtaking. I arrived pretty early in the morning, and there was still dew on the plants and on the many, many spider webs. While I’m not a fan of spiders, it was absolutely beautiful to see all of the webs in the early morning sun. The wild heather covering the hillside in shades of purple interspersed with yellow wildflowers just took my breath away. The climb down to the Tiny Hidden Beach was terrifying but my favorite part! After I got back to Dublin I was exhausted and had dinner at the Thai diner across from my accommodations.
- Howth Cliff Walk
- Thai Spice — the restaurant across from my accommodations in Dublin
Day 4: The Journey to Galway
This was the hardest day of my trip. I was renting a car and needed to get back to the airport to pick it up. I took the bus back to the airport but I either didn’t take the right bus or got off too early. Regardless I ended up within the eyesight of the airport but I couldn’t WALK to it. There were a bunch of busy roads and no walkways. On top of that, it started to rain. After walking back and forth along a small stretch of the road unable to get where I needed to go. In tears of frustration, I called an Uber and had them literally drive me three minutes to the airport. Sweaty and rain-soaked, I made some mistakes with my car rental. I have those noted at the bottom of the blog as well as in my Do’s and Don’ts When Renting a Car blog.
Once I had my keys in hand, I headed to Galway.
The drive to Galway was a learning experience. The highway was a great place to get comfortable. I rented an automatic so I wouldn’t have quite so much to think about, but I still white-knuckled it for the first two days. Take your time, and get comfortable. I have driving tips at the bottom of the blog.
Ash Grove House — I was on the top floor in a single room with a small twin and the tiniest shower I’ve ever been in. It was adorable! Great hosts and fantastic breakfast. Walking distance to downtown Galway.
In Galway, I unloaded my luggage and walked into town (about a 10-minute walk from my accommodations).
I won’t go into detail about my night in Galway other than I spent about two hours walking up and down the lovely streets, then popped into the Dew Drop Inn. The bar manager promptly became my friend, and we bar-hopped the rest of the night.
Kylemore Abbey is about an hour and a half northwest of Galway. I took off early in the morning, despite my slight hangover. The drive was gorgeous. After the drive from Dublin to Galway, I was feeling pretty confident driving and starting to enjoy it!
The drive takes you through Connemara National Park along several beautiful lakes. Watch out for sheep! They literally lay along the road in the park.
Kylemore Abbey is a photographer’s dream. It’s a stunning bit of architecture with an unusual history; owned by several generations it has had several uses, starting as a residence and has been home to Benedictine nuns for the last 100 years. It’s literally nestled in the mountains, and words nor pictures do it justice. You can read more about Kylemore Abbey on their official website. I’ll just say, it is very much worth taking a day to drive out to this 1,000-acre estate. The walled gardens are dreamy, and I spent about five hours just exploring the grounds.
The tour of the abbey is not very extensive, but it is informative and definitely worth taking the time to learn the history.
There is a restaurant on-site, and the food is excellent. I had a lovely lunch on the patio.
At the end of the day, I drove back to Galway and ate near my accommodations.
Day 6: Journey to Tralee
I left early again this morning and headed to Tralee, and made these stops along the way:
- Dunguaire Castle — This was converted to a single women’s residence in the 1970s. An interesting stop and very scenic.
- Cliffs of Moher — I spent about three hours walking along the cliffs, checking out the visitors’ center and exploring this area. I met tourists from all over the world; everyone took one another’s pictures with the breathtaking cliffs behind us. There are several walking paths and then the path extends to areas that are more of a “walk at your own risk” area. I went down those and felt safe, but I was very, very cautious. Not everyone is; be safe be smart and don’t “do it for the gram” if it puts you or others at risk.
- Tralee — I had dinner at the Grand Hotel, which was overpriced and not very good, but then I had beers at Paddy Mac’s Pub while I watched soccer with the locals and that was a lot of fun. I met a nice couple who were out for the night and got to hear about their life a bit. She was a nurse and their move to Tralee was a move to “the city,” which amused me as it’s such a charming little town. I love talking to locals and hearing about their lives.
Tralee Brenners — This was the first really nice stay of my trip with a full-on hotel room. The hotel was a bit dated but nice and clean. You park at a church down the street, which is FREE after 5 PM.
Day 7: Dingle Peninsula — 30-Mile Bike Ride
I stayed in Tralee to put myself close to Dingle. It was about an hour’s drive, and I left early to make my 9 a.m. appointment to get my bike. I rented a bike from Dingle Electric Bike Experience. I parked up a hill and walked down to the little shop and down an alley. I waited about 10 minutes and John, a friendly older Irish man, met me at the little garage where the bikes are stored. I had done very little planning other than reserve my bike so John was kind enough to give me a map and mark points of interest along the way. He also gave me a quick lesson on how to ride an electric bike as I’d never been on one before. It was fun!
I rode the Dingle Peninsula loop, which is a roughly 30-mile trek, You can read more about the loop in this great article in Smithsonian Magazine. This is a really detailed look at the route! I definitely made many stops to take in the sights. My favorites were Slea Head Beach and Coumeenoole Beach! I met a lovely mother/daughter pair from South Africa doing the same loop and we all had lunch together at a pub along the way. The daughter was doing a semester in London, and they had decided to do a little holiday beforehand. They were very sweet.
I returned my bike at the end of the day, left Dingle and drove to Killarney.
In Killarney, I stayed at Killaran House, an inexpensive bed and breakfast. In all honestly, I wouldn’t rebook this. It was on a very busy road and hard to locate. Parking was almost impossible, and the host was just ok. The location wasn’t great for grabbing dinner either.
Day 8: Killarney — Gap of Dunloe
I thought I’d take it easy on day eight, so I booked a last-minute group tour to hike the Gap of Dunloe … not realizing it was a seven-mile hike!
You have the option to walk, or to take a horse carriage. If you take the horse carriage you will need cash, and it’s an additional cost. There is a restaurant at the end of the hike, but it too is cash only. I didn’t use cash my entire trip and was thankful I had some protein bars stashed in my pack and had my full water bottle with me; otherwise, I would have been miserable. Always take out some cash, even if most places take cards!
The hike was challenging — not hard, but not easy, and as part of my tour, we took a boat ride back across three lakes. You can also book this boat ride directly through Gap of Dunloe Traditional Boat Tours. You can Uber to the entrance of the park, do the hike on your own, and just hire for the boat part. I had booked a tour that picked me up in downtown Kilarney and was driven up to the park.
The lakes are gorgeous, and the tour guides are super knowledgeable. It’s a family-run operation for the last three generations, and they live on the land.
Killarney Heights Hotel — This place was really nice, my room was GORGEOUS and after pretty bare accommodations for most of the trip, I treated myself to room service and a big bubble bath. I absolutely ate soup, mashed potatoes, and tiramisu for dinner. It was nice to have a luxurious stay after that hike.
Day 9: Cork
Rochestown Hotel — This hotel was a big disappointment. I had booked this hotel as sort of a rest day. I had planned to use the pool and spa and didn’t realize until I checked in that the pool and spa were by appointment only (COVID) and closed early. My room was tiny and run down, and the “cool lights” that were supposed to be a nice feature of the room were broken. It was expensive (for this trip) and completely overpriced. I could have moved rooms but I was so exhausted I didn’t have it in me. I did go into Cork and wandered around and took pictures. It’s a cute little town — I mean, they all are, that’s why I love Ireland!
I was just plain exhausted from the previous few days and took it easy. I had dinner at my hotel and just rested. At this point, I’m starting to feel like I’m crazy for all I have booked into this trip.
Day 10: Waterford
I woke up rested and headed to Waterford, which I loved. Waterford does an annual festival called Waterford Walls, which is a public art festival. There are murals all over town. Home to famous Waterford Crystal I actually wandered into a little local shop with a few artisans who made crystal items and I bought gifts for all three of my kids. I got to meet one of the glassblowers, and we talked for an hour. I would have loved to have spent a full day in Waterford but I had booked a hotel in Kilkenny. I drove to Kilkenny and stayed in the most luxurious hotel with a big fluffy robe and drank wine in my room after a hot bubble bath. Very needed!
Day 11: Kilkenny
Hotel Kilkenny – LOVED IT. Very nice room, a great restaurant, lovely hotel.
I loved Killkenny almost as much as Waterford. Thoroughly charming; these were the highlights:
- Kilkenny Castle. I enjoyed this tour and make sure you check out the gardens!
- I stopped at several cafes and shops.
- St. Mary’s Church
Then it was time to drive to Swords, which is where I stayed before my flight back home, due to its proximity to the airport.
Old Borough Hotel — There is almost no parking; I got lucky and parked in front of the dumpster. I’d find out ahead of time if there is other parking nearby. It was very noisy, as it’s above an active restaurant. If you need quiet to sleep, this is not the place. My room was BEYOND beautiful and unique, and for that reason alone I would stay again.
Day 12: Fly back to the U.S.
This was not a budget trip. This was my biggest trip of 2021, and I indulged myself. I made some mistakes too, such as the rental car situation, which you’ll read below.
All in all, this was a great trip, and I pushed myself pretty hard. I had some moments where I was too tired to think straight. I’m really glad I got to see a lot of different towns in one trip and I got to meet quite a few locals. I was up early almost every morning, went hard all day, and most nights except the one night in Dublin and the one night in Galway, I was in bed pretty early.
Transportation and Accommodations — General Insights
- Pricing research using Google Flights
- Booked direct through Aer Lingus
- Chicago, Illinois, to Dublin, Ireland
- No checked bags/one-wheeled carry-on and the Tortuga Set Out backpack as my personal item. I’m honestly shocked it went through as a personal item, but it did. I was thankful to be able to store it in the overhead. I packed far too much.
- Cost of flight: $406
Accommodation choices used in this trip
- Everything was booked using Booking.com. It makes it really easy to keep track when everything is stored in one app.
- Bed and breakfasts — A room in a house or similar-style building, similar to a hotel but generally “homier” with a small dining area
I used public transportation in Dublin. This was a combination of bus, train and light rail. Google was great in helping me find the right bus, and their bus stops are marked well with numbers. I still regularly got off at the wrong stop.
Dublin is very walkable! I put in a lot of miles on my feet.
Tip: Before you leave the airport, pick up a LEAP Visitor Card and download the Leap App. The card can be found at the gift shop by the front door. It’s the best deal on the LEAP card and you can use it for all public transport. You just tap your card to your phone and load up your app. The app uses TFI, so you can just use your phone to tap in on the bus, or at the train station. Super handy! Want more tips on public transportation? We’ve got many!
I booked through Expedia using Avis. I made a couple of big mistakes. Even though I had called my credit card company to verify they would insure the rental car, upon pick-up I was told Citi Card no longer covers rental cars in Ireland. I didn’t yet have my Sim card for Ireland so the desk agent thoughtfully let me use his cell phone to call Citibank. I called to verify and, sure enough, they didn’t. This was incredibly stressful and buying insurance on the spot is expensive.
If you cannot get coverage through your car insurance company or any of your travel credit cards, BUY IT BEFORE YOU LAND. Do not risk it. The roads are so narrow, and cars get hit all the time. We have a whole blog on renting cars, and a lot of those lessons I learned on this Ireland trip.
Other helpful tips:
- Book direct through the rental car company if you can find a good price.
- Pay for insurance when booking!
- Read all fine print: Can you pay with a debit card? How much will they put on your card as a hold? Same with credit cards. And does your coverage include every model of vehicle?
- I can drive a stick but still paid extra for an automatic, I was SO GLAD when I was driving on tiny roads with lots of traffic and navigating to have one less thing to think about.
- When you pick up your car, take pictures of EVERYTHING. Inside, outside, TRUNK. Make sure you have a spare tire and a jack.
- Put all paperwork in the glove box.
Driving Tips in Ireland
- The driver’s seat is on the right.
- Cars drive on the left.
- Familiarize yourself with where your turn signal, lights and other features are before you take off.
- Adjust your mirrors. (I forgot until I was on the road!)
- Roundabouts are everywhere. Read up on how to properly use a roundabout if they are not prevalent where you come from. They are well-marked on what lane to be in, but it helps to study the best practices before you go.
- You enter the roundabout to the left. Use the outside lane if taking the first exit, otherwise use the inside lane.
- Roads in some spots are very narrow, especially when going through towns. Cars also park willy-nilly, so just take it slow. Stop and let others pass if the road is too narrow for both cars go to through at the same time.
- On highways or busy roads, if you are going slower than the posted KPH (and I was at first!), pull over when you can, to let local traffic pass you.
- I used the phrase “left tight, wide right” when turning as a verbal reminder. It helped.
- I hit another car’s mirror with my mirror in the first town I drove through; it happens.
- Be aware; take it slow.
- Enjoy it. It really is enjoyable to have the freedom of driving. I had to be brave, but that’s the fun of travel for me — pushing myself!
- I didn’t drive at night — that was a personal choice, but I preferred to get to the city I was going to, park and walk.
Costs: Budget in USD
- Airfare: $406
- Hotels: $1,249
- Food/Drink: $1,000
- Souvenirs: $300
- Car: $800
- Activities: $200
- Fuel: $130
- Total: $4,085
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