If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, you’ll likely want to enjoy some of the historic pubs, stunning natural landscape of the emerald isle, but you shouldn’t forget the many historical sites in Ireland. In this article, we’ve crafted a unique and fun driving itinerary: 7 top historical places to visit in Ireland you can’t miss! Each of these points of interest in Ireland offers a unique glimpse of Irish history, culture, and traditions. While some may be familiar Irish tourist attractions, others are lesser-known, allowing you to explore unique Irish landmarks without fighting crowds of travelers. Driving in Ireland is one of the best ways to explore this beautiful island. Not only will you be able to set your own pace, lingering at the landmarks and points of interest you find most interesting, but you’ll also be free to modify this round-trip guide, adding detours to other points of interest in Ireland you’ve been hoping to visit.
Looking for other things to do in Ireland? Check out our other Drive to Discover guides where we explore the best road trips in Ireland including a Ring of Kerry Tour, a guide to guide to the Wild Atlantic Way and a round trip beer tour from Dublin!
1. START YOUR TRIP BY EXPLORING THE HISTORIC CITY OF DUBLIN
Upon arrival, pick up your car rental at Dublin airport and make your way to your downtown hotel. We find it’s usually best after a flight to a different time zone like this to give yourself at least 24 hours before hitting the road. This helps to resolve any issues with jet lag, and it also allows you to get your bearings and explore the city of your arrival. In this case, you’re in luck because The Historic City of Dublin is a UNESCO world heritage site – meaning that in addition to the fantastic pubs, restaurants, and museums available in the city, the historic city itself is a landmark of historic interest. Take a tour of the Guinness Storehouse to learn the unique history of this iconic brewery, say a prayer in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, or visit Kilmainham Gaol – a beautiful prison filled with stories of Ireland’s history.
NEXT STOP: 31 MINUTES
2. TO BRU NA BOINNE, FAIR LADS AND LASSES!
Once you’ve explored the city, hop into your Dublin car rental and head north along the coast – it’s a short drive to Bru na Boinne in Newgrange – a UNESCO world heritage site which easily makes our list of historical sites in Ireland which are worth driving to.
As Europe’s largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art, the prehistoric monuments arranged along the north bank of the River Boyne had social, economic, religious, and funerary functions. The peaceful, prehistoric archaeological remains found at Bru na Boinne in Newgrange are ideal historic landmarks to follow Historic Dublin, as they provide a real sense of the history of the Emerald Isle.
NEXT STOP:1 HOUR & 48 MINUTES
3. THE HISTORIC MONASTERY AT CLONMACNOISE
Nestled in bucolic County Offaly on the River Shannon, the historic monastery at Clonmacnoise (‘Meadow of the Sons of Nos’) dates back to 544. From its early days, the important location of Clonmacnoise Monastery made it a center for learning, religion, and trade and it became the most famous monastery in Ireland, drawing scholars from across Europe.
Religious services are held in a modern chapel on the site today, and the historic monastery is preserved as a historic Irish ruin which is open to the public for a small fee. Bring your camera when you visit this location – the scene is beautiful, and you’ll leave feeling a deep sense of the historical significance of the ruins.
NEXT STOP: 2 HOURS & 36 MINUTES
4. TOUR BLARNEY CASTLE AND KISS THE FAMOUS BLARNEY STONE IN COUNTY CORK
You’ve surely heard of the Blarney Stone (Cloch na Blarnan), and there are a number of stories which explain the origin and legends of this iconic landmark. You’ll have time to contemplate them as you drive south from Clonmacnoise, through Limerick and into County Cork. It’s a lovely, two and a half hour drive, which can be completed in the morning, or you can leave mid-morning and stop for lunch along the way.
The Blarney stone is said to grant those who kiss it the ability to deceive without offending, based on the legend of Cormac Laidir McCarthy (the builder of Blarney Castle), who was involved with a lawsuit. He asked the goddess Cliodhna for help, and she told McCarthy to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court. He did so, and argued eloquently in court, winning the case. Other legends of the Blarney Stone include one that the stone was presented to Cormac McCarthy as a gift by Robert the Bruce. Touring Blarney Castle and learning more about the history of this famous piece of limestone is sure to impart a unique sense of the history and folklore that Ireland is famous for.
NEXT STOP:1 HOUR & 13 MINUTES
5. DISCOVER ST. PATRICK’S ROCK!
The Rock of Cashel is a historical site in Ireland in County Tipperary, Ireland, and according to legend, the famous stone was originally procured when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave in the Devil’s Bit, a mountain some 20 miles north of Cashel. This explosive event resulted in the famous Rock landing in Cashel, the historic seat of the kings of Munster in the years prior to the Norman invasion.
While there are only a few vestiges of the early structure today, there are a number of beautiful and historic structures dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. These include Cormac’s Chapel, a cathedral built between 1235 and 1270, and a number of ancient graves on the northern side of the ruins. A visit to the Rock of Cashel is an excellent place to learn more about the history and lore of St. Patrick in Ireland.
NEXT STOP:1 HOUR & 7 MINUTES
6. THE BEAUTIFUL RUINS OF JERPOINT ABBEY
Drive east from the Rock of Cashel and you’ll discover the stunning ruins of a Cistercian Abbey near Thomastown in County Kilkenny. Jerpoint Abbey was built during the second half of the 12th century and it stands as a national monument of Ireland today – making it an easy choice for inclusion on our list of historical sites in Ireland.
Jerpoint Abbey is an excellent point to stretch your legs and explore, and young children will be especially fascinated with the architecture of this historic landmark. The ruins are expansive and as you explore you’ll discover historical stone carvings and a square, embattled tower, and chapels filled with tomb sculptures and carvings. Bring your camera and you’ll be rewarded with unique backdrops for one-of-a-kind photos to commemorate your trip!
NEXT STOP: 21 MINUTES
7. ONWARD, TO THE CASTLE OF KILKENNY!
From Jerpoint Abbey it’s a quick 20-minute drive north to Kilkenny Castle, a stunning symbol of the Norman occupation, erected on the banks of the River Nore at a strategic point where soldiers could control those trying to ford the waterway. Kilkenny Castle today is an excellent point to enjoy a picnic lunch – there are expansive grounds managed by the Office of Public Works, and the gardens and parkland adjacent to the castle are well-kept and open to the public.
While Blarney Castle gets much of the fanfare, Kilkenny Castle has become one of the most visited tourist sites in Ireland thanks to its expansive gardens, well-maintained structure, and unique rotating art exhibitions in the castle basement. It’s a beautiful Irish historic site, which can be enjoyed by the young and the young at heart.
NEXT STOP: 1 HOUR & 23 MINUTES
From Kilkenny Castle it’s just over an hour and a half to DUB Airport in your Ireland rental car, so you can plan your trip accordingly – driving straight to the airport for your return flight, or spending a few more days in Dublin exploring the many points of interest and landmarks the city has to offer.
While exploring Ireland by car, we think you’ll fall in love with the bucolic countryside and the people who call it home. While booking a chartered tour may be tempting, there’s something uniquely fulfilling about planning a trip around a loose itinerary which allows flexibility to enjoy detours and unexpected wonders you’re sure to find along the way.