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Beyond Dublin: A Road Less Travelled Through Ireland’s Heartlands

Ireland, a realm of mythic landscapes, lyrical charm, and captivating history, offers far more than the well-trodden streets of its capital. This guide is crafted for the adventurous soul eager to delve into Ireland’s heart, from the wild shores of Donegal to the panoramic vistas of The Ring of Kerry. This specially curated journey ventures into the essence of the Emerald Isle, spotlighting both celebrated sights and secluded wonders. Embark with us on a path less traveled, where each turn reveals a story, a landscape, or a tradition waiting to be discovered.

{Please note I have strategically optimized the route of this road trip to minimize backtracking and excessive driving distances, assuming you are arriving and departing through Dublin. It’s also worth mentioning that unless requested, you will receive a manual rental car. Be aware, you will be driving on the left side of the road with the drivers seat on the right, so I’d recommend requesting an automatic car unless you are used to this.}

Kilkenny Castle

You simply cannot visit Kilkenny, without taking a self-guided tour of Kilkenny Castle. It’s a symbol of Norman occupation, and boasts stunning architecture and well-preserved interiors that whisper tales of centuries past.

This is certainly the nicest castle I’ve visited so far during my 6+ years living in Ireland, and somewhere I always like to take my guests.

Now it’s time for a proper beer break. The Smithwick’s Experience invites visitors on a journey through the history of Ireland’s oldest brewery, where the craft of ale brewing comes to life. For dinner, enjoy a taste of Italy in the heart of Ireland. Ristorante Rinuccini serves exquisite dishes that marry local ingredients with traditional Italian recipes.

Dunmore Cave

Next is the mystic Dunmore Cave, with its chilling Viking massacre legend and stunning calcite formations, offers a glimpse into Ireland’s natural beauty and tumultuous history.

Within its depths, visitors can explore a series of chambers filled with impressive stalactites and stalagmites, while learning about the cave’s geological significance and the harrowing tales of Viking raids that add a layer of historical intrigue.

Check out my dedicated Kilkenny blog post here!

The Deck of Cards

A visit to Cork would not be complete without a trip to Cobh first. Cobh, renowned for its picturesque waterfront and colorful houses known as “The Deck of Cards”, is steeped in maritime history, notably as the last port of call for the Titanic.

The Titanic Experience Cobh, housed in the original White Star Line Ticket Office, offers an engaging and moving journey back in time, allowing visitors to trace the footsteps of those who boarded the ill-fated liner.

Cork City’s culinary scene thrives with vibrancy and diversity, anchored by the English Market, a haven for artisanal foods and local delicacies that reflect the region’s rich agricultural heritage. Insights into the distillation process of Ireland’s most famous whiskey can be explored at the Jameson Distillery Midleton, where the tradition of whiskey making comes to life. Market Lane stands as a testament to Cork’s food excellence, blending international flavors with the best of Irish produce.

Blarney Castle

Next, it’s worth stopping off at Blarney Castle and Gardens. Famous for the Blarney Stone, which legend says bestows the gift of eloquence upon those who kiss it, the castle grounds are also home to expansive gardens that are perfect for exploration, featuring mystical rock formations, tranquil waterways, and a diverse array of plant life.

Although it can be a bit touristy, especially in the summer months, the grounds surrounding the castle alone are worth seeing. In the off season, you will typically find that you have the place to yourself, which is what we experienced the last time we visted.

Portmagee, Iveragh peninsula, Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Ring of Kerry is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, yet it’s the historical treasures like the Staigue Fort that captivate those interested in Ireland’s ancient past.

Estimated to have been built during the late Iron Age, around 300 to 400 AD, Staigue Fort is one of the largest and finest ring forts in Ireland, believed to have been constructed by a local chieftain as a defensive stronghold.

Staigue Fort

Killarney National Park, a jewel in the crown of Kerry’s natural heritage, not only offers a sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna but also houses the majestic Muckross House and Gardens. This 19th-century Victorian mansion provides a glimpse into Ireland’s historical aristocracy, and is set against the backdrop of the park’s enchanting landscapes, including the famous Lakes of Killarney and the towering McGillycuddy’s Reeks.

The Colleen Bawn Rock, Muckross Lake, Killarney National Park

Afterwards, check out the Killarney Brewing Company for a selection of craft beers, each with a story to tell. The Lime Tree Restaurant in Kenmare is a culinary delight, known for its commitment to local producers and creative Irish dishes.

For an unparalleled adventure, Skellig Michael, which was featured in Star Wars, invites the bold to explore its ancient monastic ruins. The UNESCO World Heritage site perched atop a stark, rocky island, offers a glimpse into the lives of monks who sought solitude and spirituality in this remote outpost.

{Please note that this adventure must be booked well in advance, as it sells out quickly. Be prepared for a rocky boat ride through rough waters.}

Skellig Michael, Kerry, Ireland

In the heart of Gaelic tradition and surrounded by stunning vistas, Dingle offers an immersive experience into Ireland’s rich heritage. The Slea Head Drive gracefully skirts the peninsula, revealing the enchanting Blasket Islands, once home to a vibrant community that maintained centuries-old Irish traditions and language. The journey to the Blasket Islands, accessible via ferry, offers a unique opportunity to explore Ireland’s cultural history amidst breathtaking natural beauty.

Visitors can delve into the craft of whiskey production at the Dingle Distillery, where the spirit of Irish whiskey is brought to life. For those with a penchant for seafood, Out of the Blue provides the freshest catches in a picturesque setting by the water.

Galway, a city vibrant with arts and tradition, serves as the perfect gateway to the rugged beauty of Connemara. Cultural highlights include the Galway City Museum, which showcases the city’s rich history and heritage, and Galway Bay Brewery, where visitors can savor the craft of local beer making. Be sure to check out the local pubs in the evening time for phenomenal live music.

Brigit’s Garden

Brigit’s Garden offers a spiritual journey through Celtic heritage and mythology, nestled in the Connemara countryside.

This tranquil garden celebrates the seasons and elements, providing a unique insight into Irish spirituality and nature, making it a serene retreat for those looking to immerse themselves in the essence of Ireland.

Sean’s Bar

In the little town of Athlone boasts Sean’s Bar, renowned as the oldest pub in Ireland and possibly the world. Sean’s Bar offers a unique opportunity to enjoy a pint in a venue that has been hosting guests for over a thousand years.

Its prime location along the River Shannon positions Athlone as an ideal destination for history enthusiasts and those keen to delve into Ireland’s rich past. This cozy bar often has live music in the evenings too, which you do not want to miss.


Donegal’s untamed beauty is a call to those who seek both adventure and solitude. Murder Hole Beach, accessible only by a scenic hike through a cow pasture, offers an intimate experience with nature, far from the crowded tourist spots.

In my opinion, you cannot visit Donegal without visiting this incredible beach. It looks like something straight out of a sci-fi film with its looming sand dunes and large rock formations, coupled with the sometimes violent crashing of waves.

Murder Hole Beach

Glenveagh National Park, a vast wilderness of lakes, waterfalls, and mountains, is perfect for hiking and wildlife spotting. We really enjoyed our short hike to the waterfall. All along the sides of the trail were sheep, and it was incredibly peaceful.

The waterfall itself was beautiful, and there were hardly any other visitors when we went in September. We were also lucky enough to have a clear, sunny day.

Glenvaegh Falls

If you’re a whiskey lover, it’s also worth visiting the Sliabh Liag Distillers, which offer a unique insight into the craft of maritime-inspired whiskey. For dining, The Olde Glen Bar serves traditional Irish dishes in a cozy, welcoming atmosphere.

I’d also highly recommend a visit to the majestic Slieve League Cliffs. It provides a breathtaking view of the Atlantic, rivaling the more famous Cliffs of Moher with fewer crowds.

We stayed to watch the sunset, and honestly it was one of my favorite parts of our entire trip to Donegal.

Check out my full Donegal roadtrip blog post here!

Slieve League Cliffs

As our journey through Ireland’s heartlands concludes, we’ve traversed from the historic streets of Kilkenny to the ancient pubs of Athlone, and from the rugged beauty of Donegal to the culinary delights of Cork. Each destination has offered its own unique set of experiences, blending Ireland’s rich history with its vibrant present. Whether it was kissing the Blarney Stone, savoring a pint in Ireland’s oldest pub, or standing atop the windswept cliffs of Kerry, these moments form the mosaic of an unforgettable Irish adventure. Ireland, with its welcoming towns, dramatic landscapes, and the warmth of its people, invites travelers to explore beyond the surface and discover the soul of this enchanting land. So pack your bags, embrace the spirit of adventure, and set forth on a journey that promises not just memories, but stories to last a lifetime.

Still looking for more? Check out my blog post on The Best Backpacks for Travel to bring along on your Irish adventures!

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