Welcome to my Travel Guide to Dublin, Ireland and beyond, providing you with the best places to eat, sleep and see during your visit. Ireland is a vast and rugged place that deserves to be explored, but I was only able to spend a brief week there and left wishing I had more time because I don't think I truly got to experience it as I should. Now, I receive quite a few requests for Ireland travel, but I'm honest about my time there and I'm going to be honest here too... Ireland is not my favorite place. I spent too much time in Dublin and too little time on the west coast - so my experience was somewhat skewed. I'll give you some high level tips to know before you go to Ireland and my recommendations for what to do, eat, see and stay throughout the country based on my personal experience road tripping to the Cliffs of Moher so that you are better prepared for an awesome vacation to the land of leprechauns.
Most Common Questions answered - what to know before you go to ireland
How Much Time Should I Spend Between Ireland and Scotland?
The most common question I get is how much time to spend between visiting Scotland and Ireland and my advice is to pick one because there is really too much to see to split time between the two, but if you insist on visiting both - spend more time in Scotland since it is much easier to navigate and there is a great deal to see in a much smaller vicinity. I say this knowing that I did not have enough time to see all that Ireland has to offer and I definitely plan on returning one day to expand on my horizons. I would recommend no more than 1-2 days in Dublin and at least 4-5 days exploring the West Coast/North of Ireland.
Should I Rent a Car in Ireland? What is Driving Like in Ireland?
A car is only necessary if you plan on visiting the countryside, but if you will be in Dublin for the most part or only plan on visiting a neighboring city, then public transportation will get you around just fine. Driving within Dublin is like any other big city - it's confusing, traffic ridden and difficult to find parking so it's better to be avoided. However, if you plan on leaving Dublin to explore Ireland on your own time, then it really is helpful to have your own car and is relatively easy to navigate with GPS or printed directions. Although we were staying in Dublin, we traveled back to the airport to rent a car in order to avoid having it in the city.
Before booking a rental car, be sure you review the insurance policies in Ireland, because we were told by Hertz that we were required to purchase the daily coverage and that it would not be covered by our credit card, like it normally is. I can't tell you all the details with that, I still feel unsure of it myself, but I had to do it so I did and ended up being a lot more money than I was initially planning on spending.
You do drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, so that's something you'll want to be comfortable with, but in our experience driving across the country, the roads were wide and easy to drive, especially from Dublin to The Cliffs of Moher. In smaller towns, of course it was a bit more difficult with winding, narrow roads, but we felt it was very manageable if you were cautious and went slow. Here's a link to Rick Steves' article, Driving in Great Britain and Ireland for driving tips and helpful advice.
What is the Weather Like in Ireland?
Weather throughout Ireland is generally cooler and is difficult to predict. Average temperatures are around 50 degrees and can be somewhat balmy throughout the year. The warmest time of year is during the summer months of July and August, nearing closer to 70-75 degrees and it's daylight for around 18 hours - not getting dark until after 10pm. I compare the weather to San Francisco and London - it's somewhat chilly no matter what time of year you visit with more grey skies than not, but when the sun does manage to come out (which is hard to predict), it's beautiful and warm. We visited in October/November and the temperatures varied day by day, hour by hour, with everything from rain and wind to a mild breeze and sunny skies by the coast. I highly suggest visiting during the fall because rain is less and the changing of colors is gorgeous this time of year with mild temperatures. So do yourself a favor and dress in layers, bring a rain coat and be open for anything but hot.
Does Ireland use Euros or Pounds?
Just to keep things interesting, Ireland uses both Euros and Pounds depending on where you are in the country. Northern Ireland uses the British Pound, but Dublin and a large majority of Ireland that you'll probably be visiting uses the Euro... so it's worth checking with the places you'll be staying just to be sure.
Dublin is the easiest and most convenient city to fly in and out of and an excellent start to any journey through Ireland. I would recommend no more than 2 nights here though. Dublin is really just a large city and the best parts of Ireland require getting outside of it... if you've come all this way just to see a major city, you might as well just go to San Francisco or Chicago and get much more bang for your buck. Saying that, there are some cool things to see and do in Dublin, so here are personal recommendations and travel tips to get you off to a great start.
Getting to and from the Airport
There are several options for getting to and from the Dublin airport, it really just depends on how many travelers you have, how much luggage you are traveling with and where in the city you are staying. The airport is anywhere from 25-40 minutes away from the city center and is cheapest by public transportation like the airport shuttle or bus; however, it could be easier to take a taxi if there's 2 or more passengers, you've got a lot of luggage and are in a difficult part of town to reach. This blog has an excellent breakdown of each of the transportation options, where they are located, how much they cost and how long they take: How do I get from Dublin Airport to the City Center.
Best area to Stay in Dublin
It's important to stay in the right area of Dublin to get the most out of your visit. When I initially started trying to find where to stay, I found it very confusing, especially not having any concept of where things were or actually how far apart places were by walking. If you take a look at the map below, I've captured the heart of downtown Dublin and put a box around the most convenient area to stay in. I would say that anywhere in this vicinity is walkable and most easily accessible, but if you are willing to walk a little further, you can stay anywhere within the map borders. To give you context, walking from the Guinness Storehouse to Trinity College takes roughly 30 minutes, so it's actually a much larger area than it seems. Of course there's also a variety of public transportation options, but walking is the easiest so staying central is key. The loudest and busiest part of town is the Temple Bar area (the section under the words "The National Wax Museum") where the bar scene is prevalent, but I would not want to stay there - believe me when I say it's loud and active late into the night and not the greatest environment for sleeping. Otherwise, anywhere within the red box is a decent location. Just a quick note if you are looking into AirBnB options - it was a bit harder for me to find "nicer" apartments to stay in, most looked more like college dorm rooms than clean and stylish apartments - but that's just my experience, there's always gems that get added daily.
Best places to eat in dublin
Best Coffee/Tea Shop- Peacock Green
If you're looking for a sweet spot to wait out the afternoon rain or just need a scrumptious treat, head over to Peacock Green. This adorable little coffee and tea shop is where I spent several afternoons blogging in a quiet corner booth upstairs. There are four locations, they have fast and reliable wifi and a wide variety of food, pastries, tea and coffee.
Best Ice Cream Shop - Murphy's
Murphy's Ice Cream is an amazing dessert spot in the city center and I could not get enough of it. The ice cream flavors are all hand made and sourced from Dingle, Ireland, using local, natural ingredients without artificial additives or colorings (but unfortunately not void of calories). The result is extremely rich and oh so creamy and the flavor and topping combinations are enough to make you want to come back over and over again (or 3 times in 5 days in my case...). My go to combo was the caramel honeycomb ice cream with peanut and caramel topping and the best whipped cream on the planet. Murphy's truly creates some of the best ice cream I've ever had and it may be one of the only reasons I return to Dublin.
Best Restaurant - The Fish Shop
In general, I was not blown away by the food in Dublin - except for one casual fish shop that makes the best fish sandwich and fish 'n chips in Dublin. The Fish Shop is just across the river on the north side; it's small, the menu is simple, the wine list is impresssive and the food is delicious. As one of the top rated restaurants in the city, it's no wonder people line up to get in, so you'll want to make reservations to avoid a long wait. It's good for lunch or dinner and shockingly reasonably priced. There are two locations just a block from each other, one is their Fish + Chip Shop that I'm talking about, located on 76 Benburb Street, and the other is their more formal seafood restaurant that serves a set 6 course menu that changes nightly (I did not try it while I was there, but it's on my list for next time).
best things to see and do in dublin
Best Outdoor Activity - St. Stephen's Green Park
St. Stephen's Green is the Central Park of Ireland, with gorgeous greenery, bridges over a flowing pond and sprawling lawn space to have a picnic or just read a book and a fabulous spot for Instagrammers and photographers to capture a bit of nature. It's a needed reprieve from city life and you feel transported to another place entirely as you pass fountains and wildflowers flowers all around you.
Best Historical Site - St. Patrick's Cathedral
No trip to Dublin would be complete without a visit to the infamous St. Patrick's Cathedral, the origin of all of the St. Patrick's Day festivities celebrated around the world. The outside of the cathedral is stunning and there's a quaint park adjacent to it to admire from as well as a little cafe so you can grab a cup of coffee and a sandwich during your visit. The inside not as exciting and not worth your money, in my opinion, but it's always a good idea to support local congregations. It's about $8 per person to go into the cathedral and will probably take you 10 minutes to walk about before heading back outside to enjoy better views.
Best Attraction in Dublin - The Old Library and Book of Kells at Trinity College
Trinity College in itself is a great attraction, with cobblestone walkways and beautiful architecture, but what attracts more than 500,000 visitors a year are the Book of Kells. Simply put, the Book of Kells is Ireland's most treasured ancient artifact, dating back to the year 800, depicting the four Gospels through medieval art and Latin manuscript and has been in the possession of Trinity College since the mid 16oos and on display since the 19th century. While this really is a site to see for its historical value, I realize this does not appeal to everyone... so the next best reason to visit is actually what you reach just after the Book of Kells - The Long Room of the Old Library. This magnificent library houses over 200,000 of Ireland and Britain's oldest books and truly is breathtaking. If the library looks oddly familiar, it's probably because it is practically identical to the one featured in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (and probably because you've watched the movie too many times and should consider getting out of the house a little more). Admission is a bit steep - 14 euro, but that includes everything I've talked about AND online fast-track so you can skip the ridiculous long line that forms out front. For a few dollars less you can buy tickets at the door but expect to wait a while. My advice, purchase tickets online and get there as early as you can on a weekday to avoid large crowds. Here's the official link to purchase admission online: https://www.tcd.ie/visitors/book-of-kells/tickets-information/?panel=tickets.
Best Random Museum - The Museum of Natural History
If you are looking for an interesting, but somewhat random museum, definitely check out Dublin's Museum of Natural History. The museum is dedicated to animals and species from around the world, but all models, stuffed or skeletons hanging from the ceiling or in glass cases. It's like going to a museum of a museum that's seriously stuck in time and you feel transported to a place where technology doesn't exist. Entry is free and it's located right between Trinity College and St. Stephen's Green so it's definitely worth a walk through.
Best Place for All Things Beer - The Guinness Storehouse
The Guinness Storehouse is the mecca where beer connoisseurs and casual drinkers unite, flocking from around the world to visit this iconic location. Think Disneyland for beer enthusiasts, this place is insane - 7 full floors of beer, art, food and more beer. Everything is over the top in celebration of the history, production and drinking of this dark, liquid gold and there really is no way to explain it other than to say that you just have to see it for yourself. It's one of the most expensive attractions in Dublin, costing up to 20 euro for an adult admission ticket and nearly 50 euro for the VIP experience, but at least everyone over the age of 18 gets a pint of beer included in the cost. Even though I'm not a beer drinker myself, I really enjoyed my visit. I purposely did not include images inside the storehouse since the surprise is half the fun.
A Road Trip from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher
Like I said before, the most beautiful parts of Ireland can only be found outside of Dublin, through the countryside and along the western shores. My husband and I rented a car and took a weekend road trip from Dublin, straight across to the Cliffs of Moher, stopping at a few sights along the way. In general, I found it somewhat difficult to figure out where to stop, the best little towns to visit, the most ideal route to take, etc., so I'll share with you our journey which is very doable if you only have a weekend or a single night away. If I were to do it again I would definitely spend much more time exploring and would suggest you do the same- but Colin was there for work so we took advantage of the few days we had together and hope to return one day.
renting a car
First, as I mentioned before, my recommendation would be to collect your rental car from the airport when you plan to start your road trip and schedule it either at the beginning or end of your visit to Ireland, that way you can pick up or drop off the car back at the airport in Dublin without ever having to have the car in the city. Do read my advice above regarding driving tips and insurance costs. Of course, you can book a tour that will take you out to the Cliffs of Moher in a day without ever having to rent a car, but I prefer the ability to do it all on my own time.
Our driving route from dublin to the cliffs of moher and back
It takes just over 3 hours from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher by car, but it's worth making some stops along the way and staying at least one night on the coast. I Here's a general overview of our itinerary:
Dublin to Limerick for Brunch/Lunch
We started out our journey across the middle of Ireland fairly early, making our first stop in Limerick which takes a little less than 2.5 hours to drive. The drive isn't anything spectacular, it's mostly on a large highway through some larger, insignificant cities from a driving perspective. If you have more days in your journey and aren't in a hurry, you'll pass a few signs for castles along the way that you can stop at, but we were on a tight schedule. I chose Limerick as our first stop because it was an easy stop off the main highway and mainly because of the Limerick Milk Market, an outdoor public market that's been around since 1852 and a wonderful place to eat a delicious and cheap Irish brunch/lunch along your journey while also listening to live music (there were a trio of redheaded children playing flutes and fiddles when we were there) and checking out local goods and produce. There are a variety of stalls and booths selling everything from fresh produce and cheese to jams and pastries. We really enjoyed sandwiches from the main restaurant/stall that serves duck confit as well as tri-tip sandwiches, but there are a plethora of options to choose from.
The Milk Market is open Friday through Sunday from as early as 8am and closing at 3pm (check the website for exact times). The town of Limerick has some small streets that can be somewhat annoying to navigate, but there's a decent parking garage just one street over from the market (1 Cornmarket Row, Limerick, V94 HE97) so if you put that into your GPS you'll get there easily. This is also a good bathroom stop since there are quite a few restaurants and coffee shops in the vicinity. On your way out of the city, drive by or stop into King John's Castle, just 10 minutes from the market and worth at least a good photograph.
Limerick to the Cliffs of Moher
It takes about another 1.5 hours to drive to the Cliffs of Moher from Limerick through some much more beautiful scenery. There are plenty of rolling hills and pastures to gaze upon during this leg of he drive and some very obvious signage guiding you toward your destination along the roadways. It's still best to have either GPS or printed directions just in case it gets tricky.
Arriving at the Cliffs of Moher feels kind of strange because you are driving along what seems like a deserted roadway until you see signs for Cliffs of Moher parking where you pay a man more than you should to pull into a dirt lot. From there, you walk across the street towards the water where you then pay again through the visitors center to gain access to the area where you can actually see the cliffs. Pricing is actually very reasonable, both as the entrance fee and only a few more dollars for access to walk up the O'Brien tower.
After you've finally finished with the commerciality of it all, you finally get to walk outside to take your first glimpse at the magnificence of the Cliffs of Moher and you realize that it was all absolutely worth it. While there are some famous attractions in the world that are a total let down (the Mona Lisa for example), the Cliffs of Moher completely lives up to all the hype and is truly a breathtaking site to be seen. Give yourself at least an hour to wander through the museum and walk along the cliffs (which do have a barrier fence along most of it by the way, for my fellow friends who are scared of heights like I am). There is a decent amount of walking required so it's not a good time to put on your six inch heels and pretend you're a contestant on America's Next Top Model and it can also be rather windy and cold, depending on the day; do dress accordingly.
Cliffs of Moher to Hotel Doonbeg
I really wanted to stay along the coast, but there aren't many options along that stretch of coastline. I did find a gorgeous hotel about 45 minutes south of the Cliffs of Moher - The Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Doonbeg. Despite any political opinions you or I might have (which I will not be sharing here), it's a pretty amazing hotel, right on the water. The suites are especially fabulous, with a gigantic full kitchen and dining room, living room and very large and luxurious king bedroom. The beach is just steps away and the views of the ocean and golf course from the resort's main dining room are spectacular. The very reasonable resort fee of only 5 euros includes bicycle rentals, fishing gear, internet and parking. The fee also includes a shuttle to and from the tiny village of Doonbeg that is most definitely worth a visit. We spent most of our time walking the beach and ordering room service - it's just one of those places that you never want to leave.
Doonbeg to Trim (Home of the Braveheart Castle)
After leaving Doonbeg, we headed back towards Dublin, taking the northern route east so we did not have to retrace our steps. We only planned for one final stop in Trim, which is a 3 hour drive from Doonbeg, but then only an hour out of Dublin. The drive takes you through some nice little downs and more countryside, much more scenic than the initial drive west. I decided to stop in Trim because my husband is obsessed with Braveheart and Trim Castle is the actual castle in the movie and one of the locations the movie was filmed. He was very excited. Until we got there, about 45 minutes before the posted closing time, and the gates were locked. What I didn't realize is that the last admission is only allowed 1 hour prior to closing, no exceptions. Wah wah. So that's a bummer. However, the views of the castle and trails surrounding the town right along the Boyne River are just as epic (at least that's what I continue to tell Colin). So learn from us and get there at least 2 hours before they close so you don't end up like we did, sulking outside the castle walls. We did eat dinner at a little restaurant just across from the castle that served everything from Italian to Asian and what seemed like everything in between. It was ok, but we were hungry and in tiny towns you don't have a lot of options available to you after 8pm.
Trim back to Dublin
And that concludes our very short, mini road trip through Ireland. We drove somewhat late in the evening the final hour back to Dublin where we stayed a few more days before taking off to Italy.