10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Dublin
Visitors to Ireland are often surprised at how easy it is to reach most of the Emerald Isle's top attractions in a single day out of Dublin. You can visit iconic places like Blarney Castle and the Ring of Kerry; world-class natural wonders, including the Cliffs of Moher and Giant's Causeway; and even Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, with its impressive new Titanic discovery center on the site where the great ship was built. An efficient rail service and abundant packaged tours make it easy to arrange these trips without the need to rent a car or drive on the left. Getting to Ireland's top tourist attractions from a base in Dublin couldn't be easier.
1 Cliffs of Moher
Ireland's most visited natural attraction, the soaring Cliffs of Moher rise to more than 411 meters above the crashing Atlantic in a wild and dramatic eight-kilometer coastline. Take time to walk the trail along the clifftop and see displays about the geology and environment of the cliffs at the visitor center. At the southwestern edge of the Burren, a region in County Clare that includes the wild, rocky landscapes of Burren National Park, the cliffs and the sea stack just off shore are home to thousands of seabirds.
Day tours from Dublin often include a stop in Kilfenora for a visit of the Celtic High Crosses and another in County Limerick to visit the 13th-century King John's Castle, built on a Viking settlement and considered one of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe. Along with a drive along Galway Bay for views of the Aran Islands and the 12 Bens, some tours also stop at Dunguaire Castle.
2 Glendalough and Kilkenny
In a glacial valley below the Wicklow Mountains in County Wicklow, Glendalough was one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. It was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and became known as the Monastic City. There is a lot to see here, the most impressive being the well-preserved 30-meter-tall Round Tower. Near St. Mary's Church is the 12th-century Romanesque Priest's House; a tall granite cross dating to the sixth or seventh century; and the largest church, which dates to the 11th and 12th centuries. Near Glendalough are two other interesting historic sites, the 11th-century Trinity Church and St. Saviour's Priory, with Romanesque stone carvings. Information at the visitor center will help you find and identify the various landmarks, and you can also follow marked nature trails.
Tours to Glendalough from Dublin often include stops to admire the scenery of the Wicklow Mountains, including Wicklow Gap and the dramatic Turlogh Waterfall on the way to Kilkenny, the 11th-century capital of Ireland. Along its stone-paved streets, you can visit the medieval Black Abbey, the Cathedral of Saint Canice, and the 12th-century Norman Kilkenny Castle and its gardens.
3 Blarney Castle and Cork
For many, kissing the famous Blarney Stone is a highlight of their trip to Ireland, and it's easy to combine this with a sightseeing tour of the lush and rolling Irish countryside and visits to the cities of Cork and Cobh. Even for those not interested in perfecting their Irish eloquence of speech by kissing the stone, Blarney Castle is worth seeing for its beautiful gardens and shopping at the famous Blarney Woollen Mills at the castle, an 1824 mill that has become a center for Irish weaving and knitting.
Tours that add Cork usually include a visit to the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, a spectacular hilltop medieval complex that includes a 13th-century Gothic cathedral, a 12th-century round tower, a Romanesque Chapel with wall paintings; and a 15th-century castle. The highlight of a tour to Cobh is a chance to visit the Queenstown Story Heritage Center, where exhibits bring to life the mass emigration in the mid-1800s, when more than two million Irish sailed from Cobh to the United States and Australia, and Cobh's role as the last port-of-call for the Titanic.
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4 Giant's Causeway
Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the strange polygon columns of basalt known as the Giant's Causeway are the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. The columns form oversized stairs and stepping stones that legend hold to be the work of the giant Finn McCool when he crossed to Scotland to battle his nemesis, Benandonner. On a clear day, you can see the Scottish shore, several giant steps away.
See more of the dramatic coastal scenery as you cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, suspended high over the sea. If the coast looks familiar, it was the location for filming Game of Thrones, and you may see the avenue of beech trees called the Dark Hedges, which served as the King's Road. Tours to this landmark often stop in Belfast, Northern Island's capital, before returning to Dublin.
Address: Causeway Road, Bushmills, Antrim, Northern Ireland
5 Belfast and the Titanic Quarter
Northern Ireland's capital is a lively, colorful city that has faced its sometimes violent past and is determined to reinvent itself into a cultural capital. The prime tourist attraction is the waterfront Titanic Quarter, where the RMS Titanic was built more than 100 years ago and which was the epicenter of the city's long maritime heritage as the cornerstone of the British Empire's shipbuilding. The striking star-shaped building of Titanic Belfast is already a city landmark, with state-of-the-art interpretive exhibits that trace Belfast's maritime history and the story of the Titanic with features that include an underwater exploration theater and re-created decks and cabins.
Address: 1 Queens Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast, Northern Island
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The 47 acres of Powerscourt grounds were designed so the estate would blend harmoniously with the surrounding Wicklow countryside, especially Sugarloaf Mountain, which is framed as a stunning backdrop. More than 200 varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers are arranged in formal beds along the promenades of the Italian Gardens and in other settings, including a charming Japanese Garden; a Rose Garden; and Kitchen Gardens, where herbs and vegetables share the grounds with flowers. The interior of the former manor house has been converted into an upscale shopping venue for Irish crafts and designs, including an Avcoa shop, one of Ireland's most revered brands. Powerscourt is often included in a scenic day tour of County Wicklow that also visits Glendalough and Wicklow Mountains National Park.
Address: Enniskerry, County Wicklow
7 Ring of Kerry
Scenic drives don't get any better than the 110-mile route around the Iveragh Peninsula known as the Ring of Kerry. It offers a non-stop panorama of ocean views, islands, lakes and mountains, dotted with postcard villages. Day tours from Dublin vary, but most include the magnificent inland Lakes of Killarney and stop at viewpoints for Macgillicuddy Reeks, the 11-mile mountain range that includes Ireland's highest peak, Carrantuohill.
8 Connemara and Galway Bay
Although it's a long day's trip from Dublin, by taking the train as far as Mallow, you can plan to have breakfast en route before boarding a coach to tour the rolling rural countryside and shore and enjoy dinner during the return trip. The coast of western Ireland, north of Galway Bay, is an irregular one of bays and tiny inlets with sandy coves, islands, islets, and rocky points. Inland are rugged mountains, lakes, and villages of thatched cottages. At the center of the area is Connemara National Park, south of the scenic loughs (lakes) of Kylemore and Pollacapall, where you'll find the atmospheric 19th-century Kylemore Abbey with its lovely Victorian walled gardens. The coastal towns of Roundstone and Clifden, favorites for artists, are good stopping points for a seafood lunch.
9 Boyne Valley and Loughcrew Celtic Tombs
If Ireland's ancient Celtic past fascinates you, the Boyne Valley and its environs are the place to go. Set in beautiful Irish countryside are some of the oldest sites in Ireland, including the well-preserved passage tombs at Loughcrew Cairns. You can walk through winding stone passageways inside to see 6,000-year-old petroglyphs on the walls. On the River Boyne,
Trim Castle was built in the 1170s, and is Ireland's largest Anglo-Norman castle. To the east, the Hill of Tara was in use in the Stone Age and became the ceremonial seat of the Celtic High Kings from the first through 12th centuries.
In County Louth are the ruins of the early Christian settlement and famous 10th-century Celtic crosses at Monasterboice. The crosses have biblical inscriptions, and the 5.5-meter Muiredach's High Cross is considered the best in Ireland, covered in intricate Celtic stone carving. Above it stands a round stone tower more than 30 meters tall that protected the monks from Viking raids.
Just north of Dublin, the Howth peninsula is an easy day trip from Dublin by DART train, with plenty of things to do. Along with the tidied-up fishing village itself, you can see Viking ruins and the impressive Howth Castle. If you arrive with an organized tour group, you can tour the castle interior. On the castle grounds is a Neolithic site, a dolmen with a 70-ton capstone. Views from Howth Head are spectacular, and on very clear days you can see the Dublin skyline. Also in Howth is the boyhood home of the poet William Butler Yeats. The DART train line also runs to Malahide, with a beautiful castle that's open to the public.