Erin Go Bragh. That’s where I got my name from. It took 30 years for me to visit my namesake. If you’re planning a trip to Ireland and only have five days to explore, you’re in for a treat! The island of Ireland is only about the size of South Carolina. From the bustling capital city of Dublin to the stunning natural landscapes of the west coast, there’s so much to see and do in this beautiful country. Whether you’re interested in exploring the rich history and culture of Ireland or just want to take in the breathtaking views, there’s something for everyone.
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For me, finally visiting Ireland was part of an end-of-year mad dash where I went to as many destinations as possible within three months. During this time period, I also went back to Taiwan, Malaysia, and Arizona. If you’re planning your first trip to Ireland and aren’t sure where to start, this 5-day itinerary is a great place to begin!
Start your trip by flying into Dublin. After checking into your hotel, take a walk through the city and explore some of the top landmarks and attractions. Staying in Dublin should be the shortest leg of the trip. It’s recommended to rent a car and get out of the city in order to see the country.
While in Dublin though, my biggest recommendation is to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The book is famous because its from 800 CE and for its medieval illuminated manuscripts and the intricate details of the illustrations. Honestly, the library it’s housed in, aptly named The Old Library, is way more interesting. For good reason too, it’s considered one of the world’s most beautiful libraries!
After a day in Dublin, jump in the rental car and drive up to Northern Ireland as part of your 5-day itinerary. If you don’t know, Ireland and Northern Ireland are actually two separate countries. Northern Ireland is part of the UK. There’s a lot of history behind it that was a major conflict between the 1960s to the 1990s called the Troubles. It was spurned due to religious differences between Catholics vs. Protestants.
The first stop I visited once I crossed the border into Northern Ireland was Castlewellan’s Peace Maze. It’s one of the world’s largest hedge mazes and is a peace symbol to commemorate the reconciliation efforts between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
It’s supposed to take about 40 minutes to reach the center and get to the bell, but I couldn’t figure it out and had to eventually cheat by entering through the exit. Definitely need to go back one day and solve it!
If you’re a GoT fan, you’ll definitely recognize this stop. Dark Hedges is a beautiful avenue of beech trees that has become a popular tourist attraction because of the show. Go early at sunrise to avoid crowds, and hopefully, you get some epic fog! Within an hour the weather changed dramatically. From eerie to sunny, to snowy, and then foggy. I didn’t get much dramatic fog and didn’t bring my telephoto lens with me, but I will literally come back just for Dark Hedges. It’s a perfect spot for compression shots and there’s just something about tree tunnels.
Up the road from Dark Hedges, a short drive later, is the Causeway Coastal Route. It’s like the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Ireland is an island with a beautiful coastline all over its edges. Driving the full Causeway coastal route will have to wait for another trip because the priority was getting to Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an area of 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns that was a result of a massive volcano eruption 60 million years ago! Apparently, the same lava also flowed to Fingal’s Cave in Scotland which has identical basalt columns. Iceland also has similar basalt columns, but I’m not sure if it’s related.
Right in front of the Giant’s Causeway entrance is a restaurant called the Nook. Inside, it’s such a cozy vibe, and since I was there in the winter, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate in front of the fireplace was the best feeling ever!
Before leaving Northern Ireland to drive back into Ireland, it feels important to check out where the Titanic was brought to life. Belfast is an old city with a ton of history. Outside the Titanic Quarter, you can see and take a tour of the SS NOMADIC, the Titanic’s sister ship and the last remaining White Star Line vessel in the world.
The Titanic Hotel is where the former headquarters of Harland & Wolff, the builders of the Titanic. It’s gorgeous and bougie! I may or may not have stolen a roll of perfumed toilet paper from there.
On the third day of your trip, if you’re in Ireland during the winter, head to the charming city of Galway. Located on the west coast of Ireland, Galway is known for its Christmas market. Since the market comes alive at night, take your time and relax during the day. During my time in Galway, I stayed at Skeffington Arms Hotel and was pleasantly surprised with their breakfast spread. In the evening, walk around each of the vendors or catch live music performances at one of the city’s many pubs. I tried smashed potatoes for the first time ever, not to be confused with mashed potatoes. It really hit the spot!
About an hour away from Galway, no trip to Ireland for first-timers is complete without seeing the famed Cliffs of Moher! It’s one of the most iconic and breathtaking natural landmarks in Ireland. Since it’s on the west coast of the island, staying there for sunset is an absolute must. I didn’t get to because the driving conditions in the winter were the worst I’d ever experienced. When the sun went down it was icy and stressful. Even during the day the roads were constantly icy. All that means though is I’m due for another trip back!
On the final day of your 5-day itinerary in Ireland, head back to Dublin to drop off the rental car. If you have time, take a stroll through the city’s historic streets and visit some of the landmarks you may have missed on your first day. If you don’t have time, head to the airport for your flight home!
Whenever I travel internationally, I ALWAYS get supplemental travel insurance to the coverage I have from my travel credit cards. The main reason is for medical purposes because if something happens while overseas, you don’t want to be SOL or stuck with some crazy bill. It’s not expensive and gives peace of mind to know medical expenses are covered should any negative situation happen. I typically shop around insurance companies to compare prices, and went with Safety Wing’s Nomad Insurance.
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