Amateur archaeologists can have a field day on the Emerald Isle—pun intended! With ten days in Ireland, you can steep yourself in ancient history, tour medieval castles, and stroll the streets of heritage villages.
If you don’t have a rental car, you can still do much of this itinerary (Loughcrew and Carrowkeel being the only places you’ll have to skip, as public transportation is nonexistent and taxis unfeasible). You’ll be flying into Dublin and out of Shannon for this one (which typically isn’t any more expensive).
Spend your first day in Dublin at the National Museum of Archaeology and History, which houses the vast majority of the country’s treasures from prehistory to the present.
Base yourself in County Meath for the next two nights. Visit Brú na Bóinne today, Ireland’s most important Neolithic site. Newgrange is the most famous passage tomb here, though Knowth is also accessible by guided tour, and you can take a walk around unexcavated Dowth.
Visit the Loughcrew Cairns for a sense of what Newgrange might have been like before it was excavated and turned into the country’s most popular attraction.
From Meath, drive northwest to County Sligo, stopping first at Carrowkeel just over the Roscommon border. This one vies with Loughcrew for Ireland’s creepiest megalithic cemetery. Spend the night in Sligo Town.
Visit the Carrowmore and Creevykeel sites outside Sligo Town; these prehistoric tombs aren’t as dramatically situated as Carrowkeel or Loughcrew, but they are interesting in their own right. Spend a second night here.
Drive west from Sligo to northern Mayo to visit the excellent interpretive center at Céide Fields. Heck, why not stop in Enniscrone first for a seaweed bath? Then you can spend the night in Ballycastle, a very quiet one-street town (and the closest to Céide Fields).
Drive south from Ballycastle to Galway City. This is going to be the least interesting day of your trip, but no matter—tomorrow, Inis Mór is going to be the number one highlight. This, the largest of the Aran Islands, is rich in prehistoric and early Christian ruins (the clifftop fort of Dún Aengus is the most popular, though there’s plenty more to see besides) and still surprisingly traditional in attitude.
Take the ferry from Rossaveal to Inis Mór and spend the afternoon at Dún Dúbhchathair (“Black Fort”). This ruin is much less popular than Dún Aengus, but just as picturesque.
Rise early and get to Dún Aengus before the morning ferries arrive full of day-trippers. Spend the afternoon exploring the less popular destinations, like Dún Eochla.
Take morning ferry back to Galway. Drive south into the Burren, checking out dramatically situated Poulnabrone, which marks a prehistoric burial site, in the early dusk when the site is spookiest. Stay in the Doolin area (you can rise early and hightail it to Shannon for your early afternoon flight; if this isn’t feasible, stay in Ennis).
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Ireland.