We know the summer is ~ kinda ~ ruined. We’re just as devastated as you that your holiday plans didn’t work out. You might not be sitting on a beach sipping Cosmopolitans, partying it up on a Budapest pub crawl or chilling out on a yacht trip in Albufeira- but let’s look on the BRIGHT SIDE! This may be your first and only opportunity to really explore our little island. What you’re about to read is the ultimate Irish road trip, for the Irish. You can find lots of blog posts online for tourists, but how often is it we explore Ireland ourselves? This is the ultimate collection, a 10 day trip that will take you throughout the country, to see the weird and wonderful bits of the country, some things you may never have heard of, some things you’ve heard of but never experienced and some things you’ve done but might as well have a go again.
Beginning in County Dublin, the Great Irish Road Trip is one big circle around the country. We start from Dublin, heading southbound, through the Wicklow mountains, down to the sunny-south-east, to the Rebel City, along the Wild Atlantic Way northbound until the tip top of Donegal, across Northern Ireland and back down by Meath, returning to Dublin.
Day One: Wicklow
Day Two: Wexford and Kilkenny
Day Three: Cork
Day Four: Clare
Day Five: Limerick
Day Six: Galway
Day Seven: Sligo
Day Eight: Donegal
Day Nine: Belfast
Day Ten: Meath
DAY ONE: WICKLOW
Pack up the car the night before and head off in the early morning. We begin in Dublin, heading southbound on the M50. The aim of Day One of the great Irish journey is to get acclimatized to the idea that wilderness isn't far outside of the capital at all. We're surrounded by greenery! The day will eventually take you to Glendalough to be reacquainted with the outdoors, but there are lots of stops and fun bits on the way.
You have two options on the first leg of the journey, depending on what kind of driver you are. The first will require to exit the M50 at Firhouse, for the scenic route through the Wicklow Mountains: the Sally Gap. A road that was created after the Irish rebellion of 1798; built by the British Army forces looking to flush rebels from the hills, and to this day is known as the Military Road. On this journey, you’ll see the Glencree valley, the dark waters of Lough Tay, Kippure Mountain and Glenmacnass Waterfall. If you’re looking for a good stop along the way, Glencree’s Visitor Centre was originally built to house soldiers guarding the pass (and now a centre for Peace and Reconciliation), and the Glencree War Cemetery is a resting place for German soldiers who died in Ireland. Only a half an hour outside of Dublin, the Sally Gap is an excellent reminder of how close we will live to sprawling Irish landscape and peace and quiet so close to the Irish capital. It’s a windy and twisting road, so if you’re not a confident driver it may not be the route for you.
Alternatively, don't turn off at Firhouse and instead continue down the M50 to take the N11 to Kilmacanoge through to Ballybawn where you’ll find Powerscourt Estate. This is an excellent route to take, especially if you’re feeling a bit peckish as the House and Gardens hosts an Avoca Terrace Café alongside a range of stores that have an extensive Irish collection of homewares, giftware, clothing, furniture and plants. The 13th century house has had many restorations and is steeped in history. You can take advantage of skip the line tickets to a guided tour of the house or go for a ramble in the expanse of Powerscourt gardens. Only a short distance from the main estate you’ll also find Powerscourt Waterfall, the highest in Ireland. The area is also a haven for the Sika deer, which were introduced to Ireland in 1860 by Lord Powerscourt, a beautiful animal that you’ll be glad you got the opportunity to see.
Whether you chose the Sally Gap or Powerscourt Estate as your route to Wicklow, you’ll find the first of the weird and wonderful parts of Ireland a 30 minute drive southbound from either.
Victor’s Way is on the road to Glendalough, it’s a self-described “Indian Sculpture Park” that’s been in its location for five years, but you may not have heard of it. It consists of an eclectic and bizarre mix of sculptures of Indian figurines including a starving Buddha, several statues dedicated to the elephant god Ganesha, a large python and a vagina dentata (don’t ask, just go see it). It was designed as a a contemplation (or meditation) space for lone adults between the approx. ages of 28 and 65 who feel the need to take some quality time out for R&R&R (i.e. rest, recovery & spiritual reorientation). All the sculptures were designed in Roundwood and then hand cut in a dedicated workshop in Mahabalipuram in South India. The park is owned and maintained by Victor Langheld, born in 1940 in Berlin who travelled across Asia extensively before coming to Ireland to sponsor the construction of the park. He has designed most of the sculptures and continues to curate the park and welcome visitors. It’s an intriguing, weird place hidden in the Wicklow mountains, but kinda refreshing and, if nothing else, a great spot for an Instagram post that will have everyone asking “that’s in Ireland?” (You could just pretend you nipped off to India for the weekend).
The final stop of Day One is just fifteen minutes down the road, where you'll find Glendalough. It may be a while since you’ve ventured into the Wicklow wildness and this is your prime opportunity. Glendalough is in the Wicklow National Park on 20,000 hectares of mountain scenery with many roads crossing through it. A lot of the National Park has no facilities and is left mostly untouched and natural. Glendalough has many way marked trails/routes from easy to difficult. The Visitor Centre in Glendalough sells a Trail Guide for only 50 cents. The maps list nine marked routes with the shortest distance being a few kilometres and the longest 11 kilometres. You can park at the Visitor Centre and start your walk from there (parking free on weekdays, charges apply for weekends) or there are parking facilities at the Upper Lake with charges applying all year round. The Visitor Centre is approx. 2km from the Upper Lake which can be accessed by walking on the pedestrian and scenic Green Road.Toilet facilities and food are available from the parking area at the Visitor Centre and at the Upper Lake.
If you've forgotten your hiking boots or you're looking for something more exciting than just a hike, Hollywood Horse and Pony Trails offer a half day ride (on a horse) up the Glendalough mountains, beginning just 25 minutes from the Glendalough Visitor Centre.
After a day of hiking or riding of Irish wilderness, your accommodation for the night is Glendalough Glamping, just ten minutes away from local restaurants and cafes and a 10 minute drive from Glendalough visitor centre. The accommodation provides 2-sleeper huts with free WIFI, private parking, barbecue facilities and a garden. The dining and bathroom facilities are located on the site too, in an actual house. It's like your really experiencing the outdoors, with the luxury of a wooden wall and a bed that's not located directly on the floor. If you're not a Glamper, Wicklow has a lot of accommodation on offer from B&Bs to hotels dotted throughout the area.
For your evening activities (unless your knackered and just want to cuddle in your hut) we highly recommend The Wicklow Heather, just 10 minutes away from Glendalough Glamping. The restaurant hosts a real Irish menu to get you warmed up. Their signature dishes include confit of duck with Clonakilty black pudding with a poached hen egg and mustard hollandaise, pan-fried chump of Wicklow lamb served on a bed of champ with a rich rosemary jus and delicious free range Irish chicken roasted with a lemon and herb stuffing with a light chicken gravy served with steamed baby carrots. YUM. Our favourite thing about the place is their Writer's Room, that holds first editions of James Joyce's Ulysses, published in Paris in 1922. Alongside first editions of the works of Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker's Dracula, W.B Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heany. Can you even name another Irish writer?
DAY TWO: WEXFORD & KILKENNY
On Day Two of the Great Irish Road Trip, after a good rest in your hut, start the day early (you'll need to, you've got a long day). The journey continues southbound, out of the Wicklow mountains. Before you leave, it might be useful for the young-at-heart to note that, along the way, you'll first pass Clara Lara fun park, which may be of interest to a few of you who want to relive your childhood days or are short enough to still take advantage of some of the rides.
The last stop in Wicklow, a 30 minute drive from Glendalough Glamping is in the town of Avoca, home to the Avoca Handweavers, the owners of the shops and restaurants you'll find throughout Ireland. The original mill still stands on the banks of the River Avoca, since its foundation in at least 1723 when it was used for grinding corn for bread and spinning and weaving wool. In the 1920s, the mill was inherited by three sisters who introduced the beautiful range of colours on show today. These products were the original Avoca export, used for waistcoat for King George VI and baby blankets for the children of Queen Elizabeth. In 1974, the mill was taken over by Donald Pratt to save it from closing and they were the family influential in beginning the exportation of rugs and throws to the UK, now famous for their quality and branding. The company has a number of women's clothing ranges which it sells through its own stores designed by Amanda Pratt, as well as wholesaling in Ireland and internationally. It now employs two generations of the Pratt family who have dedicated their lives to the Irish brand. It's an excellent stop for a little bit of lunch, to pick up a gift for your mother or some snacks for the journey ahead.
Only 30 minutes down the road you'll find our favourite thing in ALL of Wexford, maybe even Leinster if we're serious about it.
Seal Rescue Ireland
Seal Rescue Ireland is the island's only organisation that works to protect seal and marine life in Irish waters. They're a charity that works around the clock to rescue, rehabilitate and release native seals found sick, injured or orphaned across the coast of Ireland. They respond to reports nationwide and aim to rehabilitate the pups back to full health so that they can be returned to the wild.
SRI strives to promote ocean conservation and sustainability through proactive education, community engagement and research programmes, in order to protect our marine environment and all life within. When you visit them, in Castletown, you can take advantage of a range of experiences they have on offer including their new immersive programme that gives you the unique opportunity to see their adorable seal pups up close, get involved in their rehabilitation, and help get them one step closer to being released back into the wild! Your one-hour experience will begin with a behind the scenes tour of the hospital where you’ll assist their skilled staff in preparing feeds and other enrichment items to keep seals happy, healthy and mentally stimulated while in care. You will then be led out to the rehabilitation pools for the chance to feed the seals, watch them dive and compete for fish, and develop the skills they’ll need to flourish in the wild! You can book the experience ahead of time by visiting their website here.
Wells House and Garden
For those looking to get stuck into a bit of Irish history, there's no better place than the Strawberry County. Less than a 30 mintue drive from Seal Rescue Ireland along Wells House and Gardens is the first on the list, which is a great spot for those interested in old houses and the Irish elite. You can tour the house at designated times on Sundays and Saturdays. The estate boats over 400 years of history, originating in the 1600s. Today, it has a working farm, garden and woodland walks and a craft courtyard that houses independent businesses alongside a fairy trail that's a magical experience for kids, but also a sweet thing to see as a cynical adult. The whole estate is a bit Downtown Abbey-esque which we just love! You can see all the information on their website at https://wellshouse.ie/
The Irish National Heritage Park
Only thirty minutes down the road again, is the Irish National Heritage Park, an oldie but a goldie. If you didn't recognize this from a primary school day trip, we're so sorry you never had the pleasure! The park is a momentous occasion for any kid in Ireland. It's an interactive adventure, dedicate to a variety of dates throughout the history beginning in Mesolithic Ireland right up to the Norman Invasion. With re-build stone structures and huts, towers and fullacht fias, it's a bit of craic and worth the visit if you haven't done it at all or since you were nine. They also have falconry experiences and archery available, alongside (wait for it, lads) a whole day of pretending you're a viking, dressing up in all the armor and learning about a Viking's day-to-day life. If that's not as close as you'll get to Game of Thrones, I don't know how else to help you.
Dunbrody Famine Ship and Emigrant Experience
If neither of the above take your fancy, maybe it's time to test out your sea legs and go a further 30 minutes down the road to the port city of New Ross that is home to the Dunbrody Famine Ship. The team at the Dunbrody is made up of famine enthusiasts and method actors that play out piece by piece the experience of travelling on a tall ship to America to escape the Famine. The poverty and desperation is palpable, and we lost many people on the journey, but it's an interesting reminder as to why all those Americans keep coming over here every year telling us they have cousins that are Irish. The team at Dunbrody help the Americans in their pursuits too, with a data base of people who were known to have travelled during that time. You can also grab a bit of food in the themed restaurant right beside the ship and learn a bit about our routes. Find all the details here.
On your journey to the final stop on Day Two, you have two routes- by either taking the M9 or by taking the back roads which we recommend as they'll take you to two exceptional little villages you won't have the chance to see otherwise. Inistioge is a small village just twenty minutes from New Ross. The 3-pub, 2-church, 1-shop village is Kilkenny's prime location for Irish film-making. The quintessential village was the location of The Circle of Friends film in 1995 staring Minnie Driver, Eric Bana's and Rooney Mara also visited the village to film the 2016 film The Secret Scripture and even Dunnes went down for a weekend to film part of their Christmas advertisement with the kids lighting the way for Santa. Onwards from Inistioge, you'll find Thomastown, picturesque village where local rumor supports that it's the burial ground of Santa Claus and, less disputed, the home of 5 star golfing resort Mount Juliet. From here, Kilkenny is a mere twenty minutes more- a total of 45 from New Ross.
Relax, check in and go for a pint- you've made it through Wexford and deserve a big rest up in Kilkenny. The Medieval city is the perfect stop for a nights stay, whether you're looking for a good meal or a party. There are a lot of accommodation types in the city, with plenty of locations ranging from right in the middle of the city to further outside of it. The Capture Travel team recommends you take advantage of the Hibernian Hotel, right beside High Street with its own hotel bar and restaurant. The professional team in the hotel will take care of your every need and make sure you're well looked after!
If you have some time in the evening or the next morning and want to explore more of Kilkenny, the Castle and St. Canice's Cathedral are excllent choices, we also highly recommend:
Smithwick's Experience: Explore Ireland’s oldest brewery on a 1-hour guided tour. Follow the history of Ireland’s oldest beer name from its medieval origins right up to the present day. Watch holograms of Franciscan monks brewing their tasty beers and gain insight into the Smithwick family name. Learn about the brewing process — from hops through fermentation to the pump — and finish your tour with a refreshing pint of Smithwick’s beer. Book tickets here.
Medieval Mile. Immerse yourself in 800 years of Irish history with a tour of the Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny. Explore a 13th century church and graveyard with a local guide who shares stories about knights, princesses, the Black Death, and the Ten Tribes of Kilkenny. Learn about recent discoveries by archaeologists and take a stroll through a spooky graveyard. Book tickets here.
Hurling Experience: Explore Ireland’s sporting heritage and discover the ancient sport of hurling on this 2-hour tour in Kilkenny. Visit Nowlan Park — home stadium of the ferocious Kilkenny Cats hurling team — with a guide and gain insight into the sport’s history. During your tour, explore the stadium and visit the Legends Hurling Museum, where the sport’s story comes to life. Learn of the players who made their name in hurling, hear of the 3,000 year-old ancient Celtic Games then hit the pitch and see a side of Irish culture many visitors miss. Book tickets here
There are a huge variety of things to keep you occupied in Kilkenny, from fancy meals at Rinuccini's to a great local curry ships on the Kilkenny parade. The famous going-out spot, Langton's, is excellent for hosting music events and guarantees a great atmosphere that can continue into the early morning.
A personal favourite spot of the Capture Travel team is Kyteler's Inn, a famous inn founded by Kilkenny's most famous witch in 1639.
Dame Alice was nicknamed the "Merry Widow" having had three husbands grow sick and die a short time after marrying her. It was when her fourth husband, a layman, became ill and transferred his estate to her and her son's name that his family cried witchcraft. They said that Alice had bewitched her husband and used witchcraft to convince him to giving her his land. The local priests and bishops supported the family in their endeavors and attempted to arrest Alice who fled to England a short time later. When the Kilkenny Witch Trials went ahead without her; Alice's son was convicted of witchcraft by the Bishop and sentenced to attend mass 3 times a day and give aims to the poor, a lesser sentence than Alice's maid who was tortured and burned at the stake. Dame Alice lives on in the public imagination, in biographies and paintings including the above by American artist Paddy Shaw in 2004. She is coupled in the painting with a representation of the demon Aethiops. The painting lay in Paddy Shaw’s studio until one day it turned up in the post at Kytelers Inn with a note from the artist saying ‘Alice doesn’t like being with me – you have her’. Great history isn't the only thing on offer in Kyteler's Inn, they also provide some of the best grub in the city, live music and local beer.