If you only have six days in Ireland, on one hand, the good news is that it’s a relatively small island. On the other hand, if you enjoy quaint towns, nice people, a local experience, and well…Guinness, then like me you may find six days just enough to get hooked and leave you wanting so much more.
So as with any international excursion, the first step (and if you’re a Type-A, like myself, then maybe the most exciting step!) is planning. This means flights, cars, lodging, itinerary, sites to see, and food to eat.
Since you will be scheduling your trip around your flight dates, this probably comes first. While there is really no bad time to visit Ireland, as it will never be particularly sunny, if you’re averse to cold temperatures (I happen to love them) then it’s probably most ideal to schedule your trip between March and November. This is obviously a huge window of the year- but if you’re a budget traveler or like to avoid the typical tourist crowds then you can basically count out the months of June to August. The temperatures will be the hottest and the colors most vibrant at this time of year though, so it’s really a trade off.
I highly suggest Dublin as the city you fly in/out of as it of course, the capital of the Republic of Ireland and the most populated city at 1.17 million people.
Alright, now that the flights are booked, let’s address the elephant in the room – the Irish drive on the wrong side of the road. Depending on who you ask (don’t ask anyone from Ireland or U.K.) Also, if you’re like me then you don’t know how to drive a manual car. And trust me, you cannot teach yourself to drive from watching twenty minutes of YouTube videos sitting in the manual car you’ve already rented because it was the cheaper option, I’ve tried. I tried so hard in fact, that I ended up stalling the car ~ 15 times and having to politely ask an elderly Irish man to park the car back in the parking spot so I could swallow my pride, go inside the agency and pay the extra money for the ONE automatic car they had left. That’s right, automatic cars are a rare commodity at car rental agencies, so if you have your trip planned, try not to wait till last minute to rent the car.
The last bit of true planning you’ll need to do (simply because I’ve done the rest for you) is booking your lodging. In this article, I’ll cover a few hostels in each city, but let’s be honest if you’ve got the money for hotels or B&Bs and hostels aren’t your thing, then you can probably skip down to the itinerary section.
I found it easiest to sleep in the following cities but of course you can adjust this to whichever city you would like to spend the most time in.
- Egali Hostel – This is the hostel I stayed in, which (and I don’t have high standards for hostels) I probably wouldn’t stay in again. The staff were friendly enough but the place was rather dirty – even for a hostel- the free breakfast consisted of a bag of white bread with a huge vat of butter that everyone was digging into freely. It’s fine if you’re balling on a budget, but if you have a few extra dollars to spend I would actually recommend the hostel below.
- Lanigan’s Hostel – This is a very small town so there really aren’t many hostels to choose from. However Lanigan’s is a hostel that is run by a bar and the staff are very friendly! In fact, me and my travel buddy ended up getting a 16 bed dorm all to ourselves! This was also due in part to travelling in the off season. It’s clean, quick, and conveniently located in the small town, as well as I found Lanigan’s bar to be one of the most fun! People dancing, live music, and the owner is an NFL fan, so they’ve always got American Football on T.V. which I loved!
- Bru Bar & Hostel – I wish I could have stayed in Cork longer if not just to stay in this hostel longer. It was fantastic! Again, part of a bar below, the bar was clean and funky and had like karaoke the night we were staying! The staff was super friendly, they had suggestions for things to do and directions on all public transit. It was clean and though the rooms were exceptionally small, it worked.
- Barnacles Hostel- A very bright green and pink hostel, it was at first off-putting with all the vibrant colors, but I came to see that the people and environment were just as vibrant! This was by far my favorite hostel of the trip. The rooms were big, each room had private bathrooms, there was a huge kitchen with a coffee maker and plenty of good common breakfast items. The room was clean , the people I met were awesome and it was a great location to explore Galway!
Next up, I’ll cover some of the basic touristy things to do, some cute hidden local secret gems, and tips I picked up for making the most of your time in Ireland.
Alright let’s assume you’re arriving to Dublin in the morning. One of my favorite ways to start in any new country is to get a free walking tour! (Notice the frugal theme we’ve got going? Yeah, you’re welcome.) Yellow Umbrella Tours is a great free tour and they offer multiple which cover either the North or South side of Dublin. Of course, tip the man when they give you the amazing tour because they just put up with your ass and probably more annoying tourists all day long. The tour lasts about three hours and the guide we had was hilarious and very knowledgeable about Dublin and Ireland!
A Dublin tourist classic (but for a great reason) is the Guinness Factory! You do have to book your tour in advance but it is well worth every penny. You get to learn about the brewing process, the history of Guinness, you learn how to properly pour your own Guinness, and you get access to the incredible Gravity Bar which is the highest bar in all of Dublin and it has spectacular views. this is another that you should book ahead of time because luckily we got to skip a massive wait line by having bought our tickets online.
Two things that you will see if you go on the walking tour are Trinity College and St. Stephen’s Green. Even if you don’t make the tour, these two are worth a trip of their own. Originally built in 1592 (1592 – can you believe it?!) by Queen Elizabeth is among the most elite in Europe and was originally known to accept only Protestants during the time of discourse between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. The architecture will leave you breathless. St. Stephen’s green is a simple way to find some nature in a big city and the perfect place to take a walk or have a picnic and rest your tired travelling feet.
If you left empty space in your travel bag for shopping, then Grafton Street is the place for you! Referenced in Ed Sheeran’s song Galway Girl, Grafton Street actually has no bars on it, contrary to the lyrics. Instead, it’s got shops for your high end and your budget traveler.
Temple Bar District is one of the more touristy and populated nightlife areas as it has the most pubs and bars in one centrally located area. There will be no shortage of people, street artists, and Guinness! Perfect for a bar crawl and to meet both locals and other tourists from all over the world!
Remember the movie P.S. I Love You, with Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank? Of course you do. Well, when Hilary is lost in the vibrant hills of Ireland, she is meant to be walking through Wicklow Mountains National Park. Welcoming over 1 million visitors every year, this is an incredible national park. You’ll find old stone churches and grave yards, beautiful strolls in the forest, and a lake where you can swim, canoe, and fish!
With two days in Dublin, you should have plenty of time to fit in 75% of my suggestions and be ready to move on to Kilkenny, which was one of my favorite towns in Ireland. Small and quaint, but full of color. You’ll have about an hour and a half drive, or around a two hour bus ride if you opted out of the car rental.
There’s plenty to see in Kilkenny but one of my favorite parts was just walking around and taking in all the beautiful homes, flowers, and small businesses.
The Kilkenny Castle has got some classic European 13th century architecture and wood work to see and is smack dab in the middle of the town.
What’s a little bit more unique to Kilkenny is Alice Kyteler, who was the victim of the first recorded witch trial in Ireland. You can stop by her house and see where she was born. If you’re curious about her story, you can read an overview here.
For some more upscale dining and cocktails, visit The Left Bank. This restaurant/bar has great nightlife and great food, but will come at a higher cost than most of the other options in Kilkenny.
Your drive to Cork will be a bit longer at just shy of 2 hours. If you’re planning on taking the bus, there is only one that goes from Kilkenny to Cork and it departs every two hours. Be wary though, it is often full, as students take this route to get to University of Cork. I ended up having to band together with 5 other travelers and split a taxi, which worked out only to be $30 USD per person, thankfully, but not the $15 bus ticket I had anticipated.
The main tourist attraction is Cork is the Blarney Castle (you may have heard of the Blarney Stone?) There is usually quite a wait to get into castle as it is quite popular, but if you’re at all superstitious, you’ll know about the gift of gab you will get when you kiss the stone! The line to get to the stone takes you all through the castle, so though it’s a bit of a wait, you’re in an amazing castle the whole time! when you get to the top, there will be someone to help you bend over backwards and kiss this stone.
Since the University of Cork is nearby, the central part of Cork is very alive with young college students, especially in the night life scene. Full of restaurants and shops, the city center will be a bit more expensive as they try to get the wealthier international students market share. For a restaurant just outside of the main center, try White Rabbit BBQ & Bar. It reminded me of American BBQ and the food and drinks were very reasonably priced!
If you’re looking for a club-like scene, you can most definitely find it at the Roxy Nightclub. Three levels of jam-packed, elbow in rib cage, vodka spilled on your shirt fun! But in all seriousness, this place is a crazy time if you’re up for it! Be prepared to be surrounded by 18-22 year old students as well, as it attracts a young crowd.
Hands down my favorite town that I visited, and the last city on the list: Galway!
BUT, before we make it to Galway, there’s a side stop on today’s drive. It will add about an hour and a half of driving time, but it is worth it! It is, however, very worth checking the weather. If it’s storming or the visibility is low, you may want to save this sight for a clearer day. About two and a half hours from Cork, the Cliffs of Moher, in Clare, Ireland are a classic site. Driving back into the countryside of Clare, you’ll pass local farms and shops, where you’ll eventually make it to the incredible cliffs which will take your breath away. As you can see from my photo, I landed at the cliffs in poor weather, leading the cliffs to be grand but I did miss out on the view.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the cliffs, head another hour and a half to Galway. This water stationed town is the epitome of cobble-stone narrow streets, drunk Irish old men at 10 am, and tiny, old bookstores with hidden treasures. While I am sure you will discover plenty of things to do on your own in Galway, here are my suggestions.
If you like books, there are book shops and thrift shops about on every corner. Take some time and find your own treasure.
Quay Street is the home to most of the night life and bars here in Galway (which is rowdy- for sure- they party quite late here). One of my favorites, partially due to the live music, is An Pucan which during the day serves great bangers and mash and during the night has gorgeous Irish men serenading you as well as a back room with all the sports games playing.
If you’re into cheese- and who isn’t?- check out Sheridan’s Cheesemonger & Wine Bar for a upscale selection of local Irish cheeses.