Being from the United States, it’s hard to imagine exploring a country from coast to coast in just five days (without spending a significant amount of time on an airplane!). Ireland, however, is a relatively small country and its two major cities, Dublin and Galway, are located just 130 miles apart on opposite sides of the country, meaning you can literally drive from one coast to the other in just over 2 hours.
Thanks to its small size, Ireland can easily be explored in just 5 days, from Galway, the Cliffs of Moher and cycling the Sky Road Loop on the west coast to the historical sights, Guinness Storehouse and pub-hopping in Dublin on the east coast.
Of course, I would obviously recommend visiting Ireland for more than five days if you can, especially if you’re making the trip from the U.S. It really is as beautiful (and green!) as people say and I would love to go back one day to explore more of the country. But, at the time, I was studying for my master’s degree in England and could only manage to squeeze in a short trip between my busy university schedule. However, even in just 5 days, I was able to get a taste of what Ireland is all about and managed to fit in all the must-see highlights from coast to coast.
Day 1 – Galway
After a quick one hour RyanAir flight from London Stansted, I arrived at Dublin International Airport. However, I decided to start my trip on the opposite coast (mainly because I wanted to end my trip in Dublin over the weekend), so I hopped on a bus from the airport and headed straight to Galway. I didn’t know much about this coastal port city, but lots of people told me to check it out and I figured it would be a good jumping off point to explore the Cliffs of Moher, which are also on Ireland’s west coast.
Once in Galway, I checked into my hostel, right in the city centre, an ideal location to explore the vibrant city by foot. The city itself is full of narrow, cobblestone streets lined with restaurants, shops and pubs. I stumbled upon one of the best restaurants in town, The Pie Maker, which had savory homemade pies and a cozy atmosphere. After dinner I went out for drinks at a nearby pub with some people I met at the hostel that night and enjoyed a few pints and live Irish music. Not a bad way to wrap up day one of my trip!
Day 2 – Cliffs of Moher
You obviously can’t go to Ireland without visiting the Cliffs of Moher. While I’m sure you can visit the cliffs independently, this was one of the rare times I opted to go on an organized tour. It was super easy to book the tour through my hostel the night before and it only cost about $30, which included all transportation, a guide and entrance to the Cliffs. Considering I only had 5 days in Ireland and I was a university student on a budget, the tour was definitely the best option for me.
The Cliffs are only about an hour and a half south of Galway, but most tours will make several stops along the way, including Dunguaire Castle and the cute village of Doolin, so the tour takes most of the day. Although it was quite touristy and the tour guide didn’t shut up the entire bus ride, it was still worth the trip! The highlight for me was having freedom to explore the cliffs on my own and, even though it was a bit chilly and overcast the day I went, the cliffs were more impressive than I expected!
Day 3 – Cycling in Clifden
If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, then I highly recommend heading to Clifden. Known as the Capital of Connemara, Clifden is located on the coast just an hour and a half north of Galway and a short distance from Connemara National Park. Although there are some cute restaurants and shops here, the reason people add Clifden to their Ireland itinerary is its proximity to many outdoor activities. You can go hiking in nearby Connemara National Park, kayaking off the coast or even rock climbing.
I, however, opted to go cycling on the Sky Road Loop, a 16 km road that clings to cliffs along the Atlantic coast and passes through lush green fields full of sheep. The road is well marked and easy to follow since it’s just a big loop and can easily be completed in just a couple of hours. The weather was absolutely awful the day I went, but even in the rain, the views were incredible and this was one of the highlights of my entire trip. If I had more time, I would have loved to stay in Clifden a few days to properly explore Connemara National Park, but I bought a bus ticket to Dublin that evening, so I couldn’t stay too long.
Day 4 – Dublin
After my biking adventure in Clifden, I headed to Dublin. I opted for an evening bus out of Galway and arrived in Dublin that night, so I was ready to hit the ground running bright and early on day four.
One of the best ways to experience Dublin is through a free walking tour. I’m a big fan of free walking tours and try to take one in any new city I visit. Although they are free, you are expected to tip, but the tour guides are usually amazing – incredibly knowledgable and upbeat – so I’m always more than willing to tip them well! I started the walking tour from Barnardo Square near City Hall and saw lots of city highlights, including Dublin Castle, Trinity College and Temple Bar. Free walking tours are also a great way to meet new people and I ended up becoming friends with a few people in my group who I later met up with for some pub-hopping.
When it was finally an acceptable time to start pub-hopping, I met up with my new friends. Of course, you can drink all night in the touristy (and pricy!) Temple Bar District, but we decided to check out some of the more traditional pubs in the city. Equipped with a list of the best local pubs in Dublin that our tour guide gave us that morning, we made our way around the city stopping at O’Donoghue’s, Stag’s Head and The Long Hall, all of which offer a more authentic Irish pub experience, complete with live music and lots of Guinness!
Day 5 – Dublin
Speaking of Guinness, you can’t go to Dublin without visiting the famous Guinness Storehouse. By far the most popular tourist attraction in the city, the Guinness Storehouse tour takes you through seven floors of interactive exhibits all about beer. At the end of the end of the tour, you reach the rooftop Gravity Bar, where you are treated to a pint of Guinness and stunning views of the city below. Although not cheap (a ticket is around $20), the Storehouse tour was still super cool and definitely shouldn’t be missed while you’re in Dublin!
Also worth noting, you can tour the Jameson Whiskey Distillery in Dublin as well. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations when I was in town so I wasn’t able to go. But, I would definitely add it to my itinerary if it was open!
After spending way too long at the Guinness Storehouse, I met up with some people I met in the street earlier that day. One thing I love about traveling alone, is that it encourages me to put myself out there and meet people. I was literally walking down the street earlier that day on my way to the Guinness Storehouse when heard these American-sounding people walking behind me (you can ALWAYS tell when someone is American). So, I turned around and introduced myself. And I’m so glad I did! We ended up going out to a local bar that night to watch rugby and stayed out so late that by the time we got back to the hostel in the early morning hours, it was time for me to grab my bags and head to the airport for my flight back to England.