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The 5 best day trips from Dublin

Want to get your fill of nature? Fancy another whistle-stop city break? These are the best day trips from Dublin according to us

Glendalough is one of the best day trips from Dublin, Ireland.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Amergin
By Elizabeth Smith and Huw Oliver |
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It wouldn’t feel right to visit the Emerald Isle without rambling over some rolling hilltops and along a craggy coastline. Dublin may be full of delightful attractions, restaurants and things to do, but when in Ireland, you simply must embark on a day trip to a quaint fishing village, majestic mountainside town or historic castle. Happily, many of the country’s most charming destinations are just a car, train or bus ride from the city centre. Whether you go for the peaks of Glendalough, medieval Kilkenny or Howth’s idyllic littoral walks, our guide to the best day trips from Dublin will make city life feel worlds away (unless you take the trip up to Belfast, that is).

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Dublin

Best day trips from Dublin

1
Howth
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jasmin C.

Howth

A 25-minute ride on the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (Dart) train, the picturesque fishing village of Howth is the closest spot for a proper day out. City dwellers often visit this rocky peninsula to relax and recharge. Fresh sea air is the perfect motivation for a coastal hike, though there are also sights like Howth Castle and Gardens, the National Transport Museum, and St. Mary’s Abbey medieval ruins to explore.

Steps from the train station, artisanal food, handmade jewellery and Irish crafts spill from market stalls. Between these hawkers and the antiques shops in town, you’re bound to find a souvenir. When you’re hungry, Howth’s waterfront restaurants serve fresh catches straight from the trawlers and dinghies along the pier. Thankfully, the nightlife that made Dublin famous doesn’t fade along the way here.

EAT

Grab fresh fish and chips from Beshoff Bros, a treasured takeaway on Harbour Road. Sprinkle on some salt and vinegar and enjoy them picnic-style in the park as you watch sailboats bob along the bay. Just beware of swooping seagulls hungry for a bite. For a more formal sit-down meal, head to The Brass Monkey, Octopussy’s, or Aqua at the end of the pier.

DRINK

The porches at Wright’s Findlater and Bloody Stream are made for pints and people-watching. If you’d prefer to cosy up somewhere snug, enjoy trad live performances at Abbey Tavern up the street from St. Mary’s ruins.

DO

Hit the links for a round at Deer Park or Howth Golf Club. Both public courses are a healthy, hilly challenge. 

STAY

A short walk to town and easily accessible from the train station, Tara Hall boutique bed and breakfast offers warm welcomes, private terraces and delicious brekkie. The more modern Marine Hotel in Sutton is a solid back-up.

If you only do one thing…

Lace up your sneakers and head on the Howth Cliff Walk, a family-friendly path with panoramic views over the peninsula. On clear days, Lambay Island and Ireland’s Eye nature reserve and bird sanctuary appear on the horizon.

2
Kilkenny

Kilkenny

‘The Marble City’ nestled on the banks of the resplendent River Nore in Ireland’s Ancient East is a mini-metropolis, complete with medieval marvels and artisanal delights. About 100 minutes by bus and 80 by train on the Kildare or Waterford line, it’s a lovely voyage from Dublin centre to the quaint (and crumbling) walls of Kilkenny City.  

After marvelling at the stained glass in St. Canice’s Cathedral and the Black Abbey, follow the narrow Norman lanes to a charming pub, trendy café or contemporary gallery. The Kilkenny Way hurling experience, Design Centre, and Rothe House are among Kilkenny’s highlights, though nothing dazzles more than the riverside castle and its sprawling gardens. If you stay past sunset, expect exceptional food and noteworthy nightlife.

EAT

Petronella on the Butterslip welcomes diners with music and storytelling events alongside updated twists on classic Irish dishes. Open Thursday through to Saturday, Anocht (‘tonight’ in Gaelic) at the Kilkenny Design Centre offers both decent food and a rich cultural history. For something different, head to Lautrecs Bistro and Tapas, which has served globally-inspired small plates for more than 30 years.

DRINK

Franciscan monks have been brewing Smithwick ale since 1231, making it older than Guinness. At the brewery, holographic men and talking paintings will tell you the full story before you sample the stuff for yourself. If you want a tipple without the tale, head to Bridie’s Bar speakeasy-style saloon or Left Bank, a Bank of Ireland branch-turned-tavern.

DO

The Marble City is also the craft capital of Ireland. Walk the Made in Kilkenny Craft Trail to meet woodworkers, weavers, potters, glassblowers, and other makers in their shops and studios.

STAY

The fab Pembroke Hotel is within walking distance of every attraction. Feeling fancy? Book a stay at Butler House, a romantic, ivy-covered Georgian home where the Earls of Ormond once lived. If you want a bit more space, the four-star Newpark Hotel is nestled within 40 acres of parkland. Though just 10 minutes from the city, the 170-acre, 17th-century Lyrath Estate is a luxury rural retreat. 

If you only do one thing…

Purchased for a measly 50 pounds in 1967, the Anglo-Norman Kilkenny Castle now belongs to the public. For a small fee, anyone can tour the grand bedrooms, drawing rooms, library, tapestry room, and magnificent Long Room filled with family portraits of the Butlers, who called this medieval fortress home for more than 500 years. If tours aren’t your thing, observe the castle from the surrounding park.

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3
Belfast, Titanic
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/William Murphy

Belfast

Dublin may be compact, but Belfast is so densely packed you’ll feel like a local after walking around Northern Ireland’s capital in as little as a day. Two and a half hours by train or bus and only two hours by car, Belfast is easy to get to – and so close you may not even have to book a hotel. Known as the birthplace of the ‘RMS Titanic’ and hub of the infamous ‘Troubles’ that divided the nation for decades, Belfast has a more sophisticated vibe than you might expect. It’s the perfect day trip for urbanites and history buffs alike.

Inspired architecture like the copper-domed City Hall, modernist MAC arts centre, leaning Albert clock, Victorian Grand Opera House, and Hiberno-Romanesque St. Anne’s Cathedral dance along the skyline while intrepid chefs revolutionise an already vibrant restaurant scene. Even though it’s on the other side of the border, the people are as hospitable and the nightlife is (almost) as buzzing as in Dublin down south.

EAT

OX’s Michelin-starred tasting menu, simple décor and riverside views are worth the hype. Five seasonal, vegetable-forward courses showcase some of the best in modern British cooking for just £55. Other standouts include the beef shin burger at Barking Dog, cod at the casually fabulous Hadskis, and the duck confit starter at Shu. 

DRINK

Leave time for at least two drinks: a pint of Guinness at Kelly’s Cellars, an unkempt 18th-century pub on Bank Street, and a cocktail at the Crown Liquor Saloon, a period gin house on Great Victoria Street.

DO

Some 28 acres of gorgeous green space fill Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. Combine your visit with a trip to the Palm House exotic greenhouse or an exhibition of Northern Irish art at the free-entry Ulster Museum.

STAY

Learn about this city’s dark past with a night at Europa Hotel Belfast, which suffered 33 IRA bomb attacks (yet no deaths) during the Troubles due to its central location and clientele of foreign journalists. Europa’s sizeable rooms and unpretentiously polished lobby are perfectly safe at this point – and the on-site Causerie Bistro is a reliable dinner spot. The smart, stylish and recently renovated Fitzwilliam beside the Great Opera House is a good alternative if you’re looking for a truly lavish stay. Benedicts, Bullitt Hotel, Ten Square or The Merchant Hotel aren’t bad either. 

If you only do one thing…

As it turns out, James Cameron was on to something. Uncover the real story behind the most famous ship in history at Titanic Belfast, a six-floor, nine-gallery interactive museum at the former Harland and Wolff shipyard on Queen’s Island where it was built. Since bagging the World Travel Award’s Leading Tourist Attraction gong in 2016, it’s become more popular than ever. Book online or arrive early to avoid queues.

4
Galway, Ireland
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Peter Gorman

Galway

The furthest journey on our list, Galway is well worth the two-and-a-half-hour trip. Bus Éireann, GoBus IE, and the IrishRail all complete the route daily if you prefer not to drive. Affectionately referred to as the most Irish city in Ireland and the city of festivals, coastal Galway is a haven of Celtic music and culture. Thanks to the 17,000 students who attend the local outpost of the National University of Ireland, this small city feels increasingly international.

With rows of colourful homes and a bustling wharf, the city will certainly impress your Instagram followers. The Hall of the Red Earl archaeological site, Druid Lane Theatre, Eyre Square, green-domed Galway Cathedral, and 16th-century Spanish Arch are all worth visiting, but a cruise on the River Corrib provides a more unique perspective.

EAT

Global seasonal plates wow at the quaint Ard Bia at Nimmos. Meanwhile, Michelin stars abound the ever-evolving, locavore-themed menus at Aniar and Loam. Wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza at Dough Bros and under-€10 southeastern Asian specialities at Papa Rich round out the top dinner options. Try Dela, Coffee Werk + Press, 130-year-old Griffins Bakery, or New Zealand-tinged Kai Café for brunch. 

DRINK

Gothic-style Quays Bar and Dáil Bar keep the craic coming late into the night. The pubs may be world-famous, but sometimes you just need to let loose after the trad music stops.

DO

Wander the winding cobblestone streets, relishing the idyllic bay surroundings, listening to top-notch buskers and dropping into independent shops. The staff at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Judy Greene Pottery and Gifts, Dillon’s Claddagh Gold and Sheridans Cheesemongers are almost as charming as the wares on sale.

STAY

Harbour Hotel in the heart of the city is a bright, boutique hotel with small but comfy rooms. If you’re willing to be a bit further from the action, the upscale G Hotel overlooking Lough Atalia more than earns its five stars. Budget travellers should check the hip Residence Hotel in the lively Latin Quarter or boutique-style Forster Court just off Eyre Square.

If you only do one thing…

Quay Street bars host musicians every day of the week. Head to Tig Coili, The Crane, Taaffes Bar or Tigh Neachtain and join in the fun. After a few sessions, you’ll know a bodhrán from a tambourine, a tin whistle from a flute, a bouzouki from a mandolin, and a concertina from an accordion.

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5
Glendalough
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Giuseppe Milo

Glendalough

When Irish weather agrees with you, head for the Wicklow Mountains Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Just set the GPS or board a bus headed to Glendalough, Irish for ‘valley of two lakes’. The landscape changes dramatically on the 75-minute drive from Dublin along the M50 and N11. If you have more time to spare, the scenic route over Sally Gap mountain pass via R115 is especially magical. 

The area’s dense forests, glimmering glacial lakes, and sweeping, heather-clad moors served as the backdrop in Hollywood blockbusters like ‘Braveheart’ and ‘P.S. I Love You’. Nature lovers will feel at home on the extensive network of trails and spiritual sightseers can find solace at the mountain’s timeworn religious sites, while high-end spa treatments help everyone unwind.    

EAT

The rustic Wicklow Heather restaurant serves up an extensive range of exquisite yet affordable dishes made from fresh, local produce. So long as there isn’t a private event while you’re there, enjoy a nightcap with literary legends Yeats, Joyce, Heaney and more in the Irish Writers Room.

DRINK

Dating to 1776, Jake’s Pub at Lynhams Hotel will transport you back to the 18th century. Make friends with the benevolent barman, cosy up around the fireplace, and sip some hearty pints. Traditional music sessions on Sunday evenings only enhance the experience. Nearby Oldtown is full of great options too, like the Roundwood Inn pub and Coach House cocktail bar. 

DO

There are nine hiking trails from Glendalough, ranging from 45 minutes to four hours, one to 11 kilometres, easy to extreme. Consider putting your bird-watching, biking, and orienteering skills to the test while out in the wild. 

STAY

BrookLodge and Macreddin Village eco-conscious hotel complex houses 86 chic, country-style bedrooms decked out with bay windows and four poster or sleigh beds. It’s much more than a place to rest your head, though. Every BrookLodge guest should make use of the Finnish spa, Hammam massage centre, and organic restaurants. There are also several bed and breakfasts, self-catering guesthouses, and a family-run glamping site on a 21-acre Shropshire sheep farm.

If you only do one thing…

Most visitors come to Glendalough to see mystical monastic ruins. Founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century, the monastery’s surviving buildings were built from stone between the 10th and 12th centuries. Make sure to catch visitor centre’s film about the site before you investigate.

Sticking to the capital?

Dublin, Ireland
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/dronepicr
Hotels

Where to stay in Dublin

Dublin is often described as a collection of villages, which seems fitting as it incorporates more and more so-called suburbs as it expands. Whether you’re hoping to soak up the buzzing nightlife scene, hit the most famous attractions, or sample the culinary scene, there’s a spot for you.

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