I had high hopes for Ireland, as I’ve never met anyone who disliked the country. Unfortunately, the country didn’t quite meet my expectations. If I had a flexible Ireland itinerary and a rental car, I think perhaps I would have fallen more in love with the country.
Nonetheless, I did still enjoy my time in Ireland, I just wasn’t swept off my feet, if that makes sense. My Ireland itinerary involved stopping in Dublin, Cork and Galway for three nights each. I also ventured to Belfast in Northern Ireland for three nights. I think my itinerary is perfect for other travellers who are either on a budget, have a restricted amount of travel days, or are travelling solo in Ireland.
Here is a breakdown of my Irish itinerary, including my favourite things to do in each place and where I stayed. Hopefully this guide will help you in planning a trip to Ireland.
Although I’m glad I went to Dublin—as it’s the capital and thus the place to visit in Ireland—it wasn’t my favourite city. It just felt much too crowded and touristy for me. When I’m on holidays I usually like to stroll, so I can window shop and take a million photos (as you do).
But in Dublin, it felt like every other person was in a rush. The pace they kept was INSANE. I don’t know how anyone keeps up. Anyway, I did see and do a lot during my 2.5 days in Dublin, such as:
- The Hostel Culture free walking tour from my hostel. My guide was funny, informative and full of awesome recommendations.
- One of his recommendations was the Chester Beatty Library. Entry is by donation and the museum only has a few exhibitions, but the ones I saw were very interesting (and I rarely go to museums).
- Following the rainbow: I took many photos of the colourful streets and buildings off Grafton Street and in the Temple Bar area. There are also so many colourful doors in Dublin, which are the pops of brightness this gloomy city needs. Check out the buildings around Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Square. Finally, Dublin Castle has a surprisingly colourful exterior too. It’s business in the front and party in the back!
- Chilling in St Stephen’s Green. I also recommend going for a wander through Stephens Green Shopping Centre.
There are plenty of things I didn’t get to see in Dublin, including the famous Guinness Storehouse (although I don’t like Guinness so this wasn’t a total loss). I also walked to all of these locations. I only took public transport to get to the train station on my final morning.
Where to eat in Dublin
Eating out in Ireland is expensive. I found myself frequenting supermarkets and the Dunnes/M&S Foodhall to get small dinners and snacks. In Dublin, I discovered Boojum, a takeaway Mexican place I also visited in Belfast. The only meal I had in a restaurant in Dublin was brunch at San Lorenzo’s. Our tour guide recommended the Coco Pops French Toast, which was as decadent as it sounds. Unfortunately the service at San Lorenzo’s was pretty much non-existent.
Where to stay in Dublin
Surprisingly, a lot of hostels didn’t have any availability when I booked my accommodation a few weeks in advance. I thought October would be off-season, but apparently Dublin is always in-season. Anyway, I ended up in an 8-bed female dorm—the only 8-bedder of my entire trip—at Abbey Court Hostel.
This place had its pros and cons. Pros: central location, large kitchen and seating area with free breakfast, and a females-only “getting ready” area (complete with mirrors framed with globes). Cons: the room and ensuite was extremely small.
Cork isn’t as popular as other Irish locations, but it quickly became my favourite place in Ireland. I got the train from Dublin to Cork, which was comfortable, efficient and only took three hours. But there are also buses between the two cities, with GoBus doing several daily transfers.
There isn’t a lot to do in Cork, but my favourite activity was walking from my hostel along the river to Fitzgerald’s Park (don’t forget Daly’s Bridge). I then walked to the city in a different direction and walked past University College Cork and Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral. The walk to the park looked very good in fall/autumn, as the pastel-coloured houses were perfectly reflected in the river.
The other thing I recommend doing in Cork is going to a live music performance and dinner at The Oliver Plunkett. The two or three-course menu you choose from is quite expensive, but the musical trio—and the two young dancers—were highly entertaining. They told us anecdotes or facts before each song, and I felt totally fine dining solo!
I also took a half-day trip to nearby Cobh, which is a 30-minute train ride from Cork. Unfortunately, I visited on a dreary Monday when it seemed everything was closed (I am not exaggerating). But the ladies at the information centre were lovely and I got a photo of the popular rainbow houses backdropped by the church, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
Where to eat in Cork
Other than The Oliver Plunkett and Subway (how I missed thee when travelling in Eastern Europe), the only other restaurant I visited in Cork was Quinlan’s for delicious fish and chips. Another option is The Fish Wife.
Where to stay in Cork
I stayed at Sheilas Hostel in Cork. The hostel had two different common areas, which I liked. But the 6-bed female dorm room and ensuite was quite old, the breakfast cost €3, and the microwave in the kitchen honestly looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. It’s also located up a steep hill, so be prepared for that if you have a suitcase like myself.
A five minute walk from my Cork hostel was my Citylink bus to Galway. I blame Ed Sheeran for making me so excited to check out Galway. It has a great nightlife for young travellers and it’s the place to base yourself for exploring the Cliffs of Moher. But it’s also very small, so there isn’t a lot to do around the seaside town.
Once again, I did a free walking tour. Our guide told us lots of interesting stories about places I would’ve never looked twice at. Then I walked along the river towards Galway Cathedral, which is beautiful inside. Next I photographed the colourful Long Walk from the Claddagh side and got caught in a rain shower (or three).
I also checked out the free Galway City Museum and walked around Shop Street and the Latin Quarter, which is a very colourful place. My second day was spent visiting the Cliffs of Moher with Lally Tours, which is one of Ireland’s top attractions.
Where to eat in Galway
There are plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants in Galway. I only checked out Tuco’s Taqueria (because I’m obviously in love with burritos) and I had a delicious burger and cider from An Púcán. If you have a sweet tooth like me, visit Gourmet Tart Company as well. The chocolate pecan pie was delicious!
Where to stay in Galway
Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel was honestly one of the best hostels I stayed at during my trip. It ticked all the boxes: social events, free breakfast, modern rooms, large common areas and friendly staff. Basically, don’t stay anywhere else.
To get from Galway to Belfast, I had to get the bus to Dublin and then another bus to Belfast. I used Citylink and Aircoach. I didn’t have high hopes for Belfast after hearing negative reviews from a lot people, but once again I was surprised by what I saw in Belfast. The city has a lot going for it and is definitely a place you need to visit when travelling around Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I spent my one full day in the city visiting the Botanic Gardens, admiring Queen’s University, buying prints (and a cupcake) at St George’s Market and walking along the waterfront to the Titanic Quarter.
But the best thing I did (and a travel highlight of the year for me) was a political walking tour in the afternoon. I did a Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge day tour too, which I also highly recommend. I booked both tours just a day before from the Irish Tour Tickets office opposite the bus station.
Where to eat in Belfast
I only ate at one pub in Belfast: Crown Liquor Saloon. Upstairs there’s a small restaurant that was turning away a lot of people (the perks of travelling solo). But my Irish stew and cider were fantastic.
Where to stay in Belfast
I stayed in a 6-bed female dorm at Vagabonds Belfast. The staff here were very friendly and the room was small but there were plenty of shared bathrooms. There’s a free breakfast and it’s only about a 10 minute walk to the city, so all in all I would definitely stay there again.
So what do you think? What place is missing from my Northern Ireland and Ireland itinerary?
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