The 5 best day trips from Dublin

From centuries-old castles to seaside towns, there’s a diverse range of day trips from Dublin’s colourful doorstep
Glendalough is one of the best day trips from Dublin, Ireland.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Amergin
By Elizabeth Smith |
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Dublin is full of delightful things to do, but there’s much more to Ireland than the capital city. Once you’ve walked the museums and experienced the top attractions, embark on a day trip to a quaint fishing community, majestic mountain town or historic countryside castle. Better yet, hit all three. It wouldn’t be right to visit the Emerald Isle without seeing the iconic rolling hills and craggy coast. Luckily, most of the country’s charms are just a car, train or bus ride from city centre.

A quick train or ferry ride to the north, Howth is one of the country’s best beach settlements, with its littoral walks and succulent seafood. Further afield across the Northern Irish border, the surprisingly cosmopolitan wonders of Belfast await. Galway’s live music and Gaelic charms are less than three hours across the country on the beloved, wild western coast. Less than two hours into central Ireland, the mountains of Glendalough and medieval town of Kilkenny feel worlds away. 

Best day trips from Dublin

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 sites 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 jewellry, 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. Luckily, the nightlife that made Dublin famous doesn’t fade along the way here.

EAT:

Grab fresh battered 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 prefer to cosy up in a snug, listen to the live trad 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 do just 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.

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:

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 back to 1776, Jake’s Pub at Lynhams Hotel will transport you to the eighteenth 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 you’re 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 do just 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. Pop in got the visitor centre’s audiovisual presentation before you investigate.

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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 getting stunning by stained glass in St. Canince’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 number Kilkenny’s other highlights, though nothing dazzles more than the riverside castle and its sprawling gardens. If you stay past sundown, expect exceptional eats and noteworthy nightlife.

EAT:

Petronella on the Butterslip welcomes diners with music and storytelling events alongside the updated, classic Irish cuisine. Open Thursday through Saturday evening, Anocht (“tonight” in Gaelic) at the Kilkenny Design Centre has both good food and a rich cultural history. For something different, head to Lautrecs Bistro and Tapas, which has served international fare 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 located within walking distance of every attraction. Feeling fancy? Book a stay at Butler House, a romantic, ivy-covered Georgian home where the Earls of Ormonde once lived. If you want a bit more space, the four-star Newpark Hotel is located on 40 acres of parkland. While just 10 minutes from the city, the 170-acre, 17th century Lyrath Estate is a luxury rural retreat. 

If you do just one thing…

Purchased for a measly 50 pounds in 1967, the Anglo-Norman Kilkenny Castle is now part of the public domain. 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.

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

Belfast

Dublin may be compact, but Belfast is so concentrated that 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, it’s easy to get there and back without booking 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. 

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 fire up new tastes in the 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. Best of all, since it remains incredibly underrated, Belfast’s essentially a city of hidden gems.

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, eighteenth century pub on Bank Street, and a cocktail at the Crown Liquor Saloon, a period gin house on Great Victoria Street.

DO:

28 acres of gorgeous green space fill Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. Combine your visit with time Palm House exotic greenhouse and Northern Irish art and history exhibits at the free-to-enter Ulster Museum.

STAY:

Immerse yourself in the city’s history 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 foreign journalist clientele. Europa’s sizable rooms and unpretentiously polished lobby are perfectly safe at this point – and the onsite 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 wouldn’t be bad either. 

If you do just 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 & Wolff shipyard on Queen’s Island where it was built. Since earning the World Travel Award’s Leading Tourist Attraction distinction in 2016, it’s become more popular than ever. Book online or arrive early to avoid queues.

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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 Eireann, 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, the coastal metropolis is a haven of Celtic music and culture. Thanks to the 17,000 students attending the Galway outpost of the National University of Ireland, the small city feels increasingly international.

With rows of colorful 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 great material, 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 specialties at Papa Rich round out the top dinner selections. Try Dela, Coffee Werk + Press, 130-year-old Griffin's Bakery, or New Zealand-tinged Kai Café for brunch. 

DRINK:

Gothic-style Quays Bar and Dáil Bar keeps 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 stopping in the 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 for sale.  

STAY:

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

If you do just one thing…

Quay Street bars host musicians every day of the week. Head to Tig Coili, The Crane, Taafe’s Bar, or Tigh Neachtain and join in on 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.

Staying local?

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. These distinct neighbourhoods range from high-end to hipster; so whether you’re hoping to soak up the buzzing nightlife, hit the most famous attractions, or sample the culinary specialties, there’s a place for you. 

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