Ireland was always one of those European vacations that I thought “I’ll get to it eventually.” It didn’t feel like a big priority, because it is a destination that is easily accessible and navigable at any age or lifestyle. But when the opportunity to visit Ireland presented itself this spring, I jumped on it! And wow am I happy I did, because Ireland turned out to be one of those rare places that truly surprised me. I really loved my week in Ireland! I am here to share all my insider tips with you in this 7 day itinerary for Ireland.
There is so much to love about the Emerald Isle! In the Irish language, there is a common greeting which says Cead Mile Failte. It translates as ‘a hundred thousand welcomes,’ which I find to be a rather fitting phrase for Ireland. You will feel welcome and invited from the second you arrive because Irish people are incredibly friendly and hospitable! Rolling green hills, lively young cities, a loveable pub culture, and jaw-dropping scenery are just a few of things you’ll love about Ireland. Ireland is really a place that has a hundred thousand reasons to visit.
I understand that planning your one week Ireland itinerary can be a bit daunting when there are so many beautiful places to visit. Thankfully as a relatively small island, Ireland can easily be explored in one week. With that said, I don’t like to overfill my trips because it makes the vacation feel rushed and frantic. Although you could see all four corners of the island in one week, this 7-day Ireland itinerary is designed to explore the north and west of the island. This structure will give you a taste of Ireland in the hopes that you’ll be inspired to return. This is the actual itinerary I used for my own visit, and I plan to return for another week when I can visit the south and more rural areas.
Day 1 & 2: Dublin
Nearly any visit to Ireland will start in the country’s capital city of Dublin. It has the largest airport in the country, serving as a hub for Aer Lingus and RyanAir. Cheap flights to DUB are actually one of the reasons why I met friends here this spring — they were able to find roundtrip flights from the US for under $500!
Dublin has an excitement and energy about it that is difficult to describe but easy to feel. From interesting modern and classic architecture to delicious cuisine, there is so much to see and do in Dublin. For a city of its size, I was so impressed by the friendly locals and easy to navigate infrastructure. And let us not forget all of the classic pubs. I would recommend dedicating 2 full days to exploring the city, although you could probably rush and hit the major highlights in one day if you wanted to.
To avoid making this post too long, I have written separate posts to help you organize your 2 day stay in Dublin:
– How to Spend 2 Perfect Days in Dublin, Ireland
– The Complete Dublin Food & Restaurant Guide
Day 3: Belfast
Now look, I understand that Northern Ireland (also called the North of Ireland) is a separate country than the republic of Ireland. That’s actually exactly why I recommend visiting it on this one week itinerary. It provides a fascinating and important contrast that is intricately connected to the modern cultural and political landscape of Ireland. Despite its reputation from the past, Belfast is a safe place for tourists to visit because the lasting peace from the Good Friday Agreement remains in effect today.
Belfast is one of those cities where you can just feel the history. Once the largest city in the UK behind London, Belfast has been through many iterations, each seemingly more complex than the last. For a rapid history lesson, the North of Ireland is made up of six counties in the province of Ulster. It is part of the United Kingdom because the British government partitioned the island following Irish independence in 1922. It remains under British control today, although the potential for Irish unity seems to be growing more popular.
One thing you absolutely must do in Belfast is a Black Cab political history tour. These tours talk about The Troubles, a 30-year period of armed conflict between nationalists and unionists. During this period, Belfast residents experienced an immense amount of violence as they fought against the apartheid state for equal rights and recognition under the law. If you are a sweet summer child such as myself, you might not know a whole lot about the history of the Troubles. This is the perfect opportunity to learn from people who actually lived it!
We took our tour through Taxi Trax with Liam and it was one of my highlights from my entire week vacation in Ireland. I learned a tremendous amount because of Liam and this tour. Keep in mind, the perspective of the driver will deeply shape your experience and there are Black Cab tours run by former Unionists as well as Nationalists. You can probably gather my perspective on the Troubles from the intentional language choices I am using in this article.
Regardless, I found the Black Cab Tour of Belfast to be eye-opening, heartbreaking, and perspective shifting. I loved Liam’s candid honesty and personal anecdotes. As he told us about the Troubles, we visited a number of street art murals and historic sights. You will hear stories from the perspective of people who lived through this period, giving you an intimate and personal understanding of how this tumultuous time impacted real people. I was moved by the resilience and fortitude of Belfast residents. It was also super interesting to see how Irish organizers collaborate and support other resistance movements around the world, such as Palestine and BLM.
Following the Black Cab tour of Belfast, I would recommend a visit the Titanic Quarter. This 185 acre area has been going through a massive amount of renovation, as one of the world’s largest urban-waterfront regeneration projects in Europe. You’ll see old symbols from the harbor, like massive cranes and water canals, as well as new modern architecture and art installations. In fact, the primary studio where “Game of Thrones” was filmed here as well. It is a pretty cool area!
The most famous attraction in the Titanic Quarter is naturally the Titanic Belfast Museum. You’ll notice the striking museum immediately, whose spectacular and impressive architecture dominates this neighborhood. The RMS Titanic was built in the Belfast shipyard, and the 130,000 square foot museum pays tribute to history’s most notorious shipwreck. The museum features 9 different interactive exhibits, inviting the visitor to hear stories about many of the people involved in the ship’s creation, launch, and sinking. Nearly 1 million tourists visit this museum each year, and it is a must-see attraction during a 24 hour stay in Belfast.
Day 4: Game of Thrones & Giants Causeway
From Belfast, it is time to head further north to enjoy some of the incredible scenery the Irish coastline has to offer. I knew the Irish coast would be beautiful, but I don’t think I had an understanding of just how beautiful it would be. It is rugged and raw with dense clouds broken through by bright bursts of sunshine and blue sky contrasted with a seemingly fluorescent green blanket of glass and low shrubbery. A truly stunning sight.
The causeway coastal route in the North of Ireland is one of the most beautiful road trip routes imaginable. Of this 7 day Ireland itinerary, day four is the day I would strongly recommend hiring or renting a car. This is the best way to truly appreciate the scenery. There are plenty of day trip companies that offer round trip tours of the coast if you aren’t ready to navigate it on your own. We opted to go with a Wild Rovers tour and had a good experience. The buses were comfortable and the pacing of the day trip was spot on, plus for an affordable price tag.
Driving to the coast from Belfast takes approximately one hour through rolling countryside and bucolic farm land scenery. With a number of filming locations featured on the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones”, you might be interested in visiting a few of the famous sites along the way. You can see a list of GoT filming locations in the North of Ireland here. The Dark Hedges drive is especially noteworthy, thanks to the narrow road where beech trees on both sides come together to create the illusion of a tunneled hedge. In Game of Thrones, you might recognize this location as the place where Arya Stark escaped from King’s Landing.
Another interesting spot is Dunluce Castle. Perched precariously above a steep cliff, this picturesque Irish castle dates back over 1,000 years. Now Irish castles don’t quite compare to the castles I am used to seeing living in Germany, but I still found Dunluce Castle to be beautiful. It was mainly inhabited in the 16th and 17th centuries by the feuding McQuillan and MacDonnell clans. The Red Wedding scene in GoT was actually inspired by a real life fight between these families in which one family ambushed the other at a shared meal, massacring them and taking control of the castle. It also served as the set for House Greyjoy’s Pyke Castle in GoT.
Perhaps the most well-known attraction in the north of Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway. You’ve probably seen your favorite influencer visit this natural UNESCO World Heritage site – it is very popular on Instagram. Through a complex series of volcanic and geologic processes, 40,000 naturally formed basalt columns jut out into the North Sea. This unique natural feature looks like a Jenga tower toppled into the ocean. It is also one of the rarest natural formations on Earth! Although the site itself was smaller than I expected, you can plan on spending about half a day at the Giant’s Causeway. If you’re already coming this far, you might as well visit the Giant’s Causeway on your one week vacation in Ireland!
There are hiking trails of various lengths and intensity that will take you down to the Giant’s Causeway. The most scenic hiking option will take about 2 hours round trip, and you’ll probably want another 30 minutes at the Giant’s Causeway itself. If hiking isn’t your thing, there are shuttle buses from the top of the cliff down to the Giant’s Causeway. They run about every 15 minutes during business hours, and it cost 2.50 pounds per person roundtrip when we visited. There are no bathrooms or buildings by the causeway, so I would recommend using those services before heading down. You can also grab lunch at one of the small restaurants or hotels at the top of the hill.
Day 5: Galway
Making your way south, the next stop on this one week Ireland itinerary is the charming city of Galway. Easily accessible by train or bus from Dublin or Belfast, Galway is one of those places where there isn’t necessarily ‘must-see attractions’ or ‘things to do’. It is a simple destination where you can disconnect through the experience and simply enjoy. Whenever I told people we were visiting Galway, the response always seemed to be “oh, you’ll love it. It’s so nice there.” No other information was provided, and I simply trusted the process.
I don’t have a whole lot of specific travel advice about what to do or see in Galway. My advice is simply to go and wander around. Like everyone told me, you’ll enjoy it! The historic old town is lined with colorful building facades, each holding a cute shop, lively pub or delightful restaurant. There is a nice vibe to the city that you’ll feel right away. As you chat with the extremely friendly locals, you’ll start to feel the dynamics that characterize the Galway spirit– and maybe you’ll come to understand why Ed Sheeran dedicated songs to the people here.
I found the restaurant scene in Galway to be especially impressive. There is a dedication to local ingredients and seasonal food, prepared with care and intention. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote a separate restaurant and food guide to Galway! The ocean fresh air is abundant in Galway, so after eating a delicious meal, I definitely recommend getting some time outside. Meandering along the canals and Corrib River is peaceful, especially as you make your way out towards the harbor and coastline. Watching the tide roll in and out on Nimmos Pier or taking in a sunset along the shores of Salthill are both lovely. There is a subtleness and peacefulness to Galway that makes it enjoyable.
Day 6: Aran Islands & Cliffs of Moher
My favorite day from our one week vacation in Ireland was the day we spent on the Aran Islands. Characterized by craggy gray limestone, low profile stone houses, happy sheep, and windswept hills, there is an understated beauty to the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are hard to describe, but it is well worth the surprise you will feel when you visit. I am kind of obsessed with these little islands. You can get a sense why I loved it on my Instagram Reel highlighting our day trip to the Aran Islands.
Departing from the Galway City Docks twice per day, there are multiple ferry routes with stops on the Aran islands. There are three islands in the chain– Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, and Inis Oírr. You can book ferry tickets ahead of time online, which will show you the various routes the ferry company offers. We visited the largest island, Inis Mór, along with a stop at the Cliffs of Moher in the late afternoon. The tickets costs 45 euros per person, and it went from 9:30 to 18:00 (basically a full day trip).
When we arrived on Inis Mor, we rented electric bikes near the docks. This was the BEST idea we had all day. The e-bikes make it easy to cover a lot of ground in a short time. The terrain is little hilly, so the e-bikes help manage the hills with the pedal assist. In about 4 hours, we were able to bike around a good portion of the island. We didn’t have much of an agenda besides enjoying the lovely scenery and snapping pretty photos along the way!
The Aran islands are sparsely inhabited with only about 1,500 residents across the three islands. This population obviously balloons in the summer with tourism, so it is important to spend your money at locally owned businesses to support the community. The Aran islands are famous for their wool sweaters and blankets, many of which you can buy at cute boutiques in the heart of town.
On the ride back to Galway from Inis Mór, our ferry stopped for about 30 minutes at the Cliffs of Moher. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Ireland, so it is well worth the brief detour. I’ve heard that the cliffs get pretty busy at the top, so I actually liked getting to see this natural wonder from the water. It was a totally different and more unique perspective to appreciate their size and drama. These famous cliffs drop over 700 feet abruptly into the ocean, making for a breathtaking view.
Day 7: Departure
As your vacation in Ireland comes to an end, it is time to head back to Dublin. If you are going directly to the airport (as we did), there are buses from the Galway Bus Terminal directly to DUB Airport. Check out AirCoach for tickets and timetable. The buses run every two hours, and the journey takes about three hours. If you are spending one more day in Dublin, the train is probably a better option because it is a little bit faster.
Alternatively, if you are looking to extend your time in Ireland, head south! You can easily spend more time at the Cliffs of Moher, which are a short trip from Galway. Also from Galway you can access the wild terrains of Killarney National Park which sits about 3 hours south. We didn’t get a chance to make it there on our trip, but I heard absolutely wonderful things about the scenery in this area. Limerick is a good jumping off point for accessing it, and you can get buses there from Galway.
How to Get Around in Ireland
There are many visitors who prefer to rent a car for a one week trip to Ireland. I can totally respect and understand that decision – it gives you a ton of freedom and you can really immerse yourself in the beautiful Irish countryside. However, rental cars in 2022 are super expensive and this option isn’t feasible for everyone (such as myself). Plus for North American travelers, I can understand if you’re a little nervous about driving on a different side of the road.
Thankfully, Ireland has a great intercity transit network. There are buses and trains that connect most of the major cities with frequent service 7 days a week. For buses to and from the airport, including from outside of Dublin, check out AirCoach which conveniently drops off directly at DUB. Typically the local buses make a lot of stops and there aren’t necessarily toilets on board, so it can be a little bit slower and less comfortable. The national train company is called Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) and you can book tickets for major routes in advance. We rode the train from Dublin to Galway and it worked very well.
Where to Stay in Ireland
For your time in Dublin, my first recommendation would be the stylishly designed Alex Hotel. This boutique hotel offers upscale dining at the Carriage Restaurant, and thoughtful in-room touches. The central location is perfect, just north of Merrion Square Park on a quiet street. My second recommendation would be Wren Urban Nest. It offers a more affordable price point near Trinity College. I really like that this hotel takes a sustainable approach to hospitality with carbon free energy and a low waste ethos.
For Belfast, you can lean into the theme at the Titanic Hotel. It is a perfect choice for design lovers because this hotel is a stunning example of reclaimed architecture. This luxury boutique hotel sits inside the converted shipbuilding office of Harland & Wolff, the Belfast based ship manufacturer from the 19th & 20th century–they built, you guessed it, the Titanic. The best little place to stay in Galway is The Stop. Run by a pair of Millennials, this B&B is a cozy, minimalist place full of charm and personality. The breakfast is delightful!