My son and I headed for four days in Ireland from the USA East Coast for a quick holiday weekend and his first European visit. We chose Ireland to visit because the flights and hotel were moderately priced, the scenery was stunning, the food excellent, and there is a lot of recent history.
If you are willing to take long day trips, Dublin is an excellent city to use as a home base to get a four-day overview of Ireland. We stayed at the Arlington Hotel O’Connell Bridge right on the River Liffey. It is not fancy, but very functional, close to almost everything in Dublin, including bus and trains, and fit our budget.
2 Days in Dublin: Days 1 and 2
Take a Tour of the City
I always find a Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus a great way to introduce myself to a city. I had visited Dublin once before with my other kids for just one day in Dublin, and we had done the Viking Splash Tour, which was also a fun way to see the city. Another option is a Dublin walking tour.
St. Steven’s Green
I started my day by walking through Dublin to St. Steven’s Green Park. Not only is it a respite in the middle of the city with a pond and many birds, but it also has many statues of important Irish people and was a significant site in the Irish Civil War.
Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity College is the oldest surviving college in Ireland. Its campus is a jewel in the middle of the city. Be sure pre-book a campus and Book of Kells tour for a chance to see the Long Room Library, the Brian Boru Harp, one of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and The Book of Kells. Plan to spend around 2 hours here. If you are hungry or thirsty, you can grab a bite across the green from the Book of Kells entrance and eat among the current students.
I was so sad to have missed this tour the last time I visited Dublin, as it is truly the most informative and exciting way to learn about the Irish Civil War preceding its independence from England in 1920. This jail housed many political prisoners and is beautiful. You must pre-book tickets well in advance to take this tour. Plan to spend at least 2 hours here.
If you need lunch while you are here, the goal (jail) has a cafe, and there is a pub called The Patriots Inn across the street.
Guinness Storehouse Tour
Dublin is obsessed with this beer, made right in the city. And it tastes so much better in Ireland than in the US. The tour gives a lot of information but is crowded, mainly a huge advertisement, and dry. Although I prefer Guinness beer, the Heiniken Factory Tour in Amsterdam was much more enjoyable. The tour’s highlight is the glass of Guinness in the Gravity Bar, with the best views you can get of the city. It made the tour worth it to me.
Where to Eat in Dublin
I found two places I would recommend during my time in Dublin.
Murphy’s Ice Cream
The Brown Bread Ice Cream at Murphy’s makes my list of The Best Ice Cream to Try Around the World.
Boxty House is a touristy place in the middle of the Temple Bar area, but it is the perfect place to try traditional Irish food, such as boxty (an Irish potato pancake), Irish stews, and corned beef.
Day 3 in Ireland: A Day Trip to Belfast from Dublin
Seeing the gorgeous Antrim coastline in Northern Ireland was at the top of my bucket list. It was also the only country in the UK that I hadn’t visited.
If you have five days in Ireland, I recommend staying the night in Belfast. It has quite a different vibe and history, and there is so much to see along Ireland’s northern coastline.
Day 4 in Ireland: A Day Trip to Howth and Malahide from Dublin
The first time I visited Dublin was for a swift trip on the way to Great Britain. I stumbled upon Howth on my way home from Malahide but had no time to explore it. Howth drew me back to Ireland in the first place, so it was on the top of my list on this trip to the island.
My son wanted to see an Irish Castle, so we also visited Malahide.
How to Get from Dublin to Howth and Malahide
Howth and Malahide are easily accessible to Dublin by Dublin Area Rapid Transit or DART. Here is a DART map. If you enter either destination into Google Maps, it will tell you which train to take and where to change trains, although locals are also accommodating. You can buy tickets at a machine inside the DART station right before jumping on the train.
Although they are close, you must change lines to get between the two spots. If you have a lot of time in Ireland, you could easily spend an entire day in each place.
A Half-Day Trip to Malahide from Dublin
We decided to visit Malahide Castle first and chose to take a cab there in the interest of time. It takes about 1/2 an hour to get from Dublin to Malahide Castle.
Malahide is a village north of Dublin on the coast of the Broadmeadow River and the sea, and its origins date back to the time of Vikings in Ireland.
The Malahide Castle was built in 1176, after King Henry II gifted the land. It belonged to the Talbot Family for over 800 years, until they sold it to the Irish State in 1975.
The castle was initially built of wood, and the wooden main room still sits in the middle, although a stone castle has been constructed around it.
You can only visit the castle interior as part of a timed, guided tour. Both times I have been, I have bought tickets right at the entrance and got a time starting within half an hour.
The castle is notable for areas inside from different periods of the castle’s use.
The castle is surrounded by a large park, cricket fields, and gardens. The park is open to the public, but you must buy a ticket to tour the gardens. You will want to spend a whole day in Malahide to give the gardens enough attention.
Along with the gardens, there is a butterfly house where you can watch butterflies light on unique flower species.
Walk from the Castle into Malahide Village
Follow the signs which will lead you behind into the village. In the town, you will find the DART station that will take you to Howth. This walk will be around 1 mile.
We had lunch at Gibney’s Pub of Malahide, a charming place with many nooks and crannies. It also has one of the best hamburgers I have eaten outside the US.
You can also walk to Malahide’s small harbor.
A Half-Day Trip to Howth from Dublin
The village of Howth lies on a peninsula and sits on Dublin Bay. It has been settled since the Vikings came to Ireland. It has been a location of many historical actions, such as when the Vikings retreated from Dublin from the Irish King Brian Boru. It is still an active fishing port and was where rebels received guns during the Irish Rebellion.
It even has one of the oldest occupied castles in Ireland, Howth Castle.
People visit Howth for its spectacular views, so close to Dublin, and fresh seafood.
Take a Hike in Howth- Howth Head Cliff Walk
There are four basic loop hikes in Howth from the town center, ranging from a relatively short one to a walk that will take all day. Even the easiest Howth Hike will take you up narrow dirt paths along high cliff faces. But the views are gorgeous and so worth it. Along the harbor, you can find maps delineating the trails. For the first bit, they follow the road until they turn into dirt paths.
We took the Green Walk, which takes about 1.5 hours. We walked a little past it to get a better view of Baily Lighthouse. The second half of the loop is much flatter and could be visited with a stroller, which is impossible with the first half. We walked along cliffs and by farms- Stunning.
If I spent a whole day in Howth, I would love to take the Purple Trail, which is 12 km long but takes you along the ocean and then through the Bog of Frogs.
If you want the views but aren’t up to any of the walks, you can catch a local bus outside the train station to the Howth Summit. From there, you can walk down one flight of stairs to see Baily Lighthouse and some of the cliff views.
Walk by Howth Castle
You can see the outside of this castle from town. If you are in a group and plan ahead, you can tour Howth Castle, which is still a private home.
Walk by St Mary’s Abbey
The ruins of this abbey and its cemetery have beautiful views, but you will have to see them through a gate.
Eat a Seafood Dinner in Howth
You can find many seafood restaurants along the waterfront, including a fish and chips vendor, which my local friend says is some of the best in Ireland.
Walk to the End of East Point Pier to see Howth Lighthouse.
Although you can’t get into the lighthouse, this walk down the pier is pleasant, with seals and working fishing boats and a great view of Ireland’s Eye, an uninhabited island in the harbor. If you want something else to do, consider taking the ferry to Ireland’s Eye.
If you aren’t up to taking this day trip yourself, consider a private tour to Malahide and Howth.
This outing was a highlight of our 4-day trip to Ireland. I would love to return and explore southern Ireland. If you have an extra day, consider a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher.
What are your favorite things to do on a quick trip to Ireland?