Discover the Side of Ireland That Only a Few Ever See

Explore lesser-known gems (plus stay in distinctive and new hotels) when you go off the beaten path on this seven-day trip along coastal Ireland to Belfast and beyond.

A view of the tall, rocky cliffs over the ocean in Mizen Head, Cork County, Ireland

Mizen Head in Cork County

Rory Hennessey/Unsplash

Whether you’ve visited Ireland many times or not at all, traveling outside of popular destinations (such as Dublin and Galway) has many rewards. Venturing further afield offers different, pristine landscapes to explore with fewer crowds and other exceptional experiences.

On this adventure, you’ll see the cultural wonder of iconic sparkling crystal being made and the natural wonder of bioluminescence, plus taste smoky flavors in spirits as well as food. Quiet sounds and scenic views in serene forests and bogs balance the exciting bustle of cities. In addition to staying in classic castle hotels, sleep among trees in Cork City, under stars in County Fermanagh, and in a boutique hotel that channels the spirit of Belfast.

Wild Atlantic Way - Kinsale - Day 2

Trip Highlight

Kayak in Bioluminescent Seas

Atlantic Sea Kayakers will take you into the Celtic Sea off County Cork to see bioluminescence at night for an enchanting, otherworldly experience. logo, green text with a shamrock

Trip Designer

Tourism Ireland

From Ireland’s energetic capitals cities to the island’s awe-inspiring landscapes, Tourism has everything you need for planning a life-changing journey. Discover scenic train journeys, immersive road trips, culture-rich cities, towns, and villages, outdoor adventures, and more for the ultimate travel experience.
Historic buildings stand alongside modern architecture throughout Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford.

Historic buildings stand alongside modern architecture throughout Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford.

Courtesy of Waterford Museum of Treasures/Tourism Ireland

Day 1:Tour Waterford

After arriving at Dublin Airport, grab your rental car and drive south to Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city. If hunger strikes, stop at Two Cooks in Sallins. Check-in to Waterford Castle, on its own island in the River Suir.

You may have sipped from Waterford crystal, celebrated for its sparkle since the Waterford Glass House was established in 1783, and now you can see how it’s made. Visit the Waterford Crystal Factory for a tour that will show you how precision cutting gives the crystal diamond-like brilliance.

Ireland’s oldest city was founded by Vikings and you can learn about their influence at King of Vikings, a reconstructed Viking house. While in the museum quarter, go to Waterford’s Medieval Museum, check out Ireland’s oldest wine vault, built in 1440. Continue your wine appreciation by dining nearby at Union Wine Bar and Kitchen. Wines available by the glass include skin-contact wines, and fortified wines such as Madeira, sherry, and vermouth. Their bar menu of lighter dishes and dining menu should suit all appetites.
An aerial view of colorful houses and greenery in County Cork, Ireland

An aerial view of County Cork

Courtesy of Tourism Ireland by Joshua Hannah

Day 2:Visit a Distillery En Route to Cork

On your way west, stop in the Comeragh Mountains, an hour west of Waterford, where Mahon Falls is a 20-minute walk from the car park. When you reach the waterfall, stop to sit on a rock and drink in the view down the mountain’s slope to the Celtic Sea.

On your way to Cork, visit Blackwater Distillery, whose barrel-aged whisky has now matured long enough to be released. Sample or buy their whiskeys and poitín, a classic Irish spirit that the distillery makes using barley malted on a bed of seaweed for a sea-smoked taste.

Check into the leafy haven that is the Montenotte Hotel perched above Cork City. The Woodland suites, built among the trees and opening in summer 2024, will lend a verdant vibe to a city stay. Explore more smoky flavors this evening for dinner by walking down to Elbow Lane Brew & Smokehouse which brews beer and smokes food onsite.
A view of the Old Head Lighthouse and clouds over the ocean near Kinsale, County Cork

Old Head Lighthouse near Kinsale, County Cork

Courtesy of George Karbus/Tourism Ireland

Day 3:James Turrell’s Sky Garden and Celtic Sea Kayaking

Head to West Cork and stop in Skibbereen for lunch at Kalbo’s Café. The restaurant uses vegetables grown on their farm along with ingredients from other local producers and cakes taste as beautiful as they look.

Drive to Liss Ard Estate and check in for the night. Make use of daylight to enter artist James Turrell’s Sky Garden, inspired by ancient constructions in Ireland made with henge stone archways and dark tunnels. Being inside the interior, designed to restrict sound from outside, heightens awareness of our place between Earth and the cosmos.

Rendezvous with Atlantic Sea Kayaking who will take you out on the Celtic Sea near Cork in a sheltered bay. When night falls, you’ll see sparks of bioluminescence as your paddle moves through the water. Produced by dinoflagellates (microscopic algae that live in saltwater) as a form of signaling, bioluminescence is a natural spectacle and mind-blowing experience.
A view of the Rock of Cashel looming over the Golden Vale in Ireland

The Rock of Cashel, a historic site for over a millennium, looms over the Golden Vale.

Courtesy of Tourism Ireland/Tipperary Tourism

Day 4:Afternoon Tea and Castles in the Midlands

On the way north, stop in County Tipperary at the Rock of Cashel, a limestone outcrop topped with a cluster of historical buildings including a Gothic Cathedral, 15th-century Tower House, and Romanesque Chapel. Have afternoon tea at The Cashel Palace, a Palladian manor providing elegant surroundings, to try the meal developed for high society in the 1800s. It’s an assortment of savory and sweet foods served in small portions accompanied by tea.

Afterward, head to County Offaly and visit Birr Castle Demesne where you can combine seeing botanically rich gardens with learning about scientific history through the science center with a family lineage. William Parsons designed and built the biggest telescope in the world here in the 1840s, which was unsurpassed for 70 years. His son Charles Parsons invented the steam turbine engine that revolutionized boats. From there, it’s less than a 20-minute drive to Kinnity Castle Hotel where you’ll stay for the night in the center of Ireland at the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains.

If you’d like to extend your trip, consider building in time to explore 6,000 years of history at Lough Gur, a lake that’s one of Ireland’s most important archaeological sites.
A wide view of the thick green forest of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, Ireland

A wide view of the thick green forest of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, Ireland

Courtesy of Kevin Dowling/Tourism Ireland

Day 5:Hike in Kinnity

After breakfast, drive to Kinnity Village’s trailheads within Slieve Bloom Mountains Nature Reserve. Options include a moderate walk just under three miles on Kinnity Castle Loop and a more strenuous hike of seven miles on Glenregan Loop.

On your way to Northern Ireland, stop in Athlone to admire river Shannon, the longest river in Ireland, and have lunch at Left Bank Bistro with a lively atmosphere and colorful dishes. Or pop into Sean’s Bar, established in 900 C.E. and one of the world’s oldest bars. Alternatively, if traveling on a Friday or Saturday, enjoy a meal at The Oarsman in Carrick-on-Shannon.

Cross into Northern Ireland to stay at Finn Lough within the forest where transparent domes shelter guests with a full view of the stars overhead.


Courtesy of Tourism Ireland/Erne Water Taxi

Day 6:Explore the Lakelands of County Fermanagh

Skirting the northern shore of Lough Erne, drive to Enniskillen, a town on a small island. At Enniskillen Castle Museums learn about the history of County Fermanagh’s Lakelands. Go to Blakes of the Hollow, a pub with Victorian fittings, for lunch.

Next head to Belfast and visit the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum on the way. Here, you can learn about the global significance of linen from Ancient Egypt to modern times and follow its Irish history in the exhibition From Flax to Fabric.

In Belfast, check into The Harrison Chambers of Distinction for two nights. The design of each guest room is inspired by people who influenced Belfast, including a sleigh bed and miniature library in the CS Lewis Suite and tweed fabric echoing farmers’ jackets in the Seamus Heaney room—both literary greats inspired by Northern Ireland. Another option is to stay at The Merchant Hotel, the former Ulster Bank building transformed into a luxury hotel. Or if you’d like to spend more time in the area, book Newforge House, a country house that’s about 30 minutes outside of the city.
Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall

Courtesy of K. Mitch Hodge/Unsplash

Day 7:History and Art in Belfast

On your last day in Belfast, walk to the Ulster Museum, which straddles past and present through art, historic artifacts, and natural science materials, all curated to offer new perspectives. Examine ancient Ireland using archeological evidence and check out their records of modern history. Titanic Belfast is one of the main attractions in this city that designed and launched the Titanic. In the ship-shaped building you can find out why and how the ship was built, as well as what happened on its fateful journey.

After your dose of enriching history, walk around Queens Quarter to take advantage of its concentration of art venues. Find books to take home at independent bookshop No Alibis. At Naughton Gallery, Queens University showcases contemporary art and has a program of talks and screenings.

At the end of the day, dine at Stove Bistro where champ, an Irish side dish of mashed potatoes and scallions has a place alongside souffle. It’s a satisfying combination of traditional fare and culinary flair.

Drive to Dublin the next morning to catch your flight. If time allows, stop at Killeavy Old Churches for ruins and rural views. At Dublin Airport make use of U.S. Preclearance, allowing U.S.-bound passengers to arrive as domestic passengers.
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