As you travel through Ireland, delve deeply into a land rich in history, legend, stirring music, and verdant landscapes. Begin your journey in Dublin, Ireland’s cosmopolitan capital, before continuing on to the historic city of Kilkenny. From there, you’re off to Cork and its nearby seaport of Cobh, from which thousands of Irish emigrated during the Potato Famine. You’ll also visit Killarney and the 110-mile Ring of Kerry, boasting some of Ireland’s most astonishing scenery, before exploring the eerie landscape of the Burren and the captivating Cliffs of Moher. Finally, end your Ireland guided tour in lovely Galway, where there’s a tune playing around every corner. This Ireland tour is an in-depth discovery of the Emerald Isle—its lore, its lands, and above all, the gregarious charm of its people.
5 nights from only $1095
96% of our travelers rated this extension "excellent" in 2015
Northern Ireland beckons with rich history and natural beauty. In a truly timeless extension, you’ll lift your eyes before the mighty Giant's Causeway rock formation and bow your head in a rustic churchyard, pausing along the way to stroll the cobbled streets of Londonderry. On this enhanced 2017 extension, you'll also discover historic Drogheda, the site of the Battle of the Boyne, and more.View Extension Itinerary
Depart from the U.S. today on your flight to Ireland, arriving on Day 2. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.
Arrive in Dublin today and begin your Ireland tour. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel, where you'll meet your Program Director and your fellow travelers, including those returning from their Northern Ireland pre-trip extension. After your arrival, your Program Director will take you for a vicinity walk to explore the area around your hotel, and provide suggestions on how to maximize your day and explore on your own.
Tonight, get to know your fellow travelers over a Welcome Drink, followed by a Welcome Briefing. Then sit down for your first dinner together at your hotel.
After breakfast today, you’ll begin your discoveries of Dublin, Ireland’s political and cultural center. Dublin is amazingly rich in literary history—Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, Joyce and other literary immortals have walked its streets—and its architecture and museum collections are second to none.
Begin your discoveries with a guided panoramic tour of the city’s sights, which will include a stop at Trinity College to view the ancient Book of Kells. Believed to have been crafted in AD 800, the Book of Kells is a stunningly illustrated collection of the four Gospels of the New Testament.
After your tour, you’ll have the rest of the day to spend in Dublin as you please, and enjoy lunch and dinner on your own. Your Program Director will be happy to give you suggestions on how to make the most of your time in the city.
Or, join us for an optional Traditional Irish Night, for a hearty three-course meal accompanied by lively tunes from local musicians. Feel free to raise your voice and join in the chorus as the merriment takes you away into the evening.
This morning, learn about the history of Ireland's famous brew during a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, a seven-story museum located in a former brewing factory inside the St. James's Gate Brewery. You'll also have a chance to observe the technique behind pouring a perfect glass of "the black stuff" during a pint-pulling demonstration.
Then travel to Kilmacanogue, where you’ll have the opportunity to seek out lunch on your own at the Avoca store located here. Enjoy lunch prepared from locally sourced, premium ingredients from one of the shop’s award winning cafes, and browse world renowned Avoca products at the indoor market. The site also features a plant nursery that you can browse at your leisure.
After lunch, continue to Glendalough, where you’ll tour the famous monastery, founded in the sixth century by St. Kevin. Among the monks' great achievements was manuscript writing and copying, including the creation of the spectacular Book of Glendalough around 1131. Now at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the book—containing historical chronicles, genealogies, and religious poems—is one of the most important and beautiful Irish manuscripts from the pre-Norman period.
After your tour, continue on to Kilkenny, where you’ll arrive later today and check into your hotel before an included dinner with your fellow travelers.
Kilkenny city straddles both banks of the River Nore in the center of County Kilkenny, and you'll explore it this morning on an included walking tour with your Program Director. Your tour will take you to the sprawling gardens of Kilkenny Castle, an 800-year-old stronghold that lords over the city center. Though originally designed to defend a crossing over the River Nore, the castle's grounds today provide a peaceful place for locals and visitors alike to stroll about and admire the impressive artisanal floristry on display.
Later, partake in an exclusive Discovery Series event as you learn about hurling, an energetic and uniquely Irish sport, similar to field hockey or lacrosse, with traditional Gaelic roots. The Irish have been playing the game since the Celts invented it 2,000 years ago, and today you'll watch as a local craftsman demonstrates the art of hurl making.
After your demonstration, enjoy an included lunch. The rest of the day is yours to spend at leisure. Dinner is on your own tonight.
Travel from Kilkenny to the city of Cork today, stopping en route to visit Waterford and Cahir Castle.
In Waterford, you’ll tour the Waterford Crystal factory, prized the world over as the standard for the highest quality lead-cut crystal. Founded in 1783 by George and William Penrose, the Waterford branch of the company is now part of a worldwide operation that includes such notable brands as Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. You'll learn about the organization's history, and witness a glassblowing demonstration before free time to explore further or shop their fine products.
Then depart for Cahir, where you’ll have time for an independent lunch upon arrival, followed by a tour of Cahir Castle. In its time (13th-15th centuries), Cahir Castle featured a state-of-the-art defensive design, and is now one of Ireland's best-preserved castles. Situated on a rocky island in the River Suir, the castle still boasts its keep, tower, and much of its original structure. The last Lord Cahir died in 1961, at which point the castle came into state stewardship.
Arrive in Cork late this afternoon, setting off on an orientation tour around your hotel after checking in. Dinner is included tonight.
This morning, ride to Cobh (pronounced “cove”). This picturesque town long served as the main harbor for the city of Cork, and is dominated by the spire of St. Colman's Cathedral, which contains the largest carillon in Ireland. A local historian will give you some insight into Cobh's history during an included tour this morning.
Cobh was a major emigration point for families who left the country during the Great Potato Famine, when some two-and-a-half million emigrants departed this port for North America. Here you'll discover the story of Irish emigration and the era of the great ocean liners, when Cobh was a very active port. This was the last place the RMS Titanic dropped anchor before heading across the Atlantic on her tragic journey in 1912.
Here you can also pay tribute to the victims of the RMS Lusitania at a quayside memorial. In 1915, this ship was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Cobh, with a loss of 1,196 passengers, including 127 Americans. This action helped bring America into World War I.
After your tour, you'll have some time at leisure, followed by an opportunity to learn about contemporary life in Ireland—and savor a traditional meal—during a Home-Hosted Lunch in a local home.
In the late afternoon, return to Cork, where the rest of the day is yours to explore independently. Shuttle service is available to aid your exploration of the city.
After breakfast this morning, bid Cork farewell and begin your transfer to Killarney.
On the way, stop for a visit to Blarney Castle, where a 129-step staircase leads up a tower to the famed Blarney Stone. According to legend, anyone who manages the backward lean to kiss it receives the “gift of the gab”—a smooth, soothing way with words that at best mean nothing.
The word “blarney” was coined by Elizabeth I to describe her endless and fruitless discussions with Dermot McCarthy over his surrender of the castle to the Crown. The McCarthys built the present castle with its 85-foot-high keep in 1446, replacing an earlier castle. Though the Blarney Stone gets all the publicity, the castle's tower house and surrounding gardens are superb in their own right. The castle's grounds also include caves, dungeons, and a rock garden of ancient trees and weathered stones.
After your tour, you’ll travel to the town of Macroom, where you’ll have free time for lunch on your own before setting off for an exclusive Discovery Series event at a working sheep farm to see Ireland's finest border collies in action at a sheepdog demonstration. Please note: This is an outdoor event and is weather-dependent. It will not be conducted in wet, muddy conditions.
Then, continue your transfer to Killarney and check in to your hotel, where dinner is included this evening. After dinner, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series discussion with a local resident on rural Irish life and growing up on a small farm in the 1950s.
Your day is at leisure to pursue your own interests.
Or, join us on an optional tour as we venture out along the Dingle Peninsula. You'll stop first at Tralee's Kerry County Museum, where you'll enjoy the fascinating experience of a recreated medieval street. Then follow the rugged Dingle Peninsula with its wild mountains and some of the most spectacular coastline Ireland has to display. You'll see the famed Blasket Islands, rising like jewels from the Atlantic Ocean. One of Ireland's largest Irish-speaking areas, the peninsula has attracted many writers and artists for the inspiration the wild landscape offers. The movies Ryan's Daughter and Far and Away were made here. We will stop in the fishing town of Dingle to enjoy locally caught fish (and chips) for lunch, included with the cost of the optional tour.
On this morning's included tour, you'll discover the Ring of Kerry, a drive that traces the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula and offers breathtaking views. There is always something new to appreciate in the combination of ocean, islands, mountains, light, and ever-changing weather patterns. We ride most of the way, making scenic stops.
The first town along the route is Killorglin, where an elegant eight-arched bridge crosses the River Laune. Then you'll advance to the water's edge at Kells, an attractive fishing village with panoramic viewing points.
The next stretch is one of the highlights of the Ring, with outstanding views of the coastline. On the return to Killarney, the route takes you through the picturesque village of Sneem, where you'll have an included lunch, and Ladies View, named after Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting. The vistas of lakes and mountains remain magnificent today.
Upon returning to Killarney, you’ll visit St. Oliver’s School (when in session), an elementary school supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation. Here, during an exclusive Discovery Series event, you’ll have the opportunity to meet the students and faculty, and observe the work that the foundation—with the help of your travel dollars—has done here. One such project is a vegetable garden, developed by local asylum seekers in order to help provide healthy meals for the children, and to give the asylum seekers an opportunity to help integrate into the community.
After your school visit, you’ll return to Killarney and ride on a jaunting car (a traditional Irish horse-drawn carriage) for a tour of the forested hills of Killarney National Park, and the Kenmare Estate, a former residence for an Irish noble family.
The rest of the day is yours to explore Killarney independently, and dinner tonight is on your own. Or, join us for an optional performance by the National Folk Theatre, the country's only repertory company, with an included three-course dinner. Using traditional Irish disciplines, the group offers a cultural experience dramatizing the essence of Irish culture. Please note: This optional tour is available on late May-early September departures only.
After breakfast, bid farewell to Killarney and begin your transfer to Galway, stopping along the way to discover a few more treasures of the Emerald Isle.
First, ferry across the River Shannon and drive along the coast of County Clare to visit the majestic Cliffs of Moher. These precipitous rock formations—towering more than 700 feet above the crashing ocean surf at their highest point—offer breathtaking panoramic views of Ireland's Atlantic coast, and provide nesting sites for tens of thousands of seabirds. If the wind is strong, the sea foam and spray flies up and over the cliffs along with the rain; while on clear sunny days, fantastic views can be seen from every angle.
Over the centuries, people have also made their mark, with towers, quarries, and well-worn paths, but they're almost lost in the scale and grandeur of the sea cliffs. One that does stand out is O'Brien's Tower, a huge structure built to house the guests of Cornelius O'Brien, County Clare's legendary Member of Parliament from the 1830s until he died in 1857.
Then travel along a scenic coastal road to discover another natural Irish wonder, the Burren. Its name is derived from a Gaelic word meaning “stony place,” and it is like no other place in Ireland. Instead of peat bogs and pastures, you'll find a surreal moonscape full of huge limestone crags.
Despite this seemingly inhospitable setting, a diverse array of plant life—including wild orchids and rock rose—thrives here. Alpine plants nestle in crevices beside temperate species. The white, deeply crevassed limestone conceals “micro-environments” rich in potholes and hollows. The ample rainfall and strange topography have resulted in a paradoxical profusion of arctic and semi-tropical vegetation growing side by side.
Finally, you’ll arrive in Galway later today, where, after a sightseeing tour and orientation walk, you’ll check into your hotel. This evening, join your fellow travelers for an included dinner, with entertainment provided by a local musician.
Spend the day at leisure, exploring Galway on your own. The city's compact center spans both sides of the River Corrib. In the center of Eyre Square stands the Quincentennial Fountain, constructed in 1984 to mark the 500th anniversary of the Royal Charter granted by King Richard III that created Galway as an independent city-state. Nearby are some of the oldest streets in Galway, narrow winding lanes that curve in and around old wooden buildings, often meandering off toward the Corrib and the docks. Yet turn a corner and you will find modern Galway—certainly one of the liveliest cities in Europe. Artists and musicians crowd the sidewalks and almost every pub seems to offer live music.
Or, join us for an optional journey through the Connemara region of Galway. Once home to more than two million Irish, it still retains its regional heritage, as you will discover while we ramble around its lakes, mountains, and bogs. We'll visit the former Gothic mansion of Mitchell Henry, now the home of Benedictine nuns and better known as Kylemore Abbey. You'll have time to wander both the mansion and the Victorian gardens. Then cruise Killary, a charming fjord. You'll enjoy lunch while cruising. On your return, we'll travel through the Inagh Valley to the coast, where we'll see the deserted village of Clough Na Mara and discover a sense of hardship the Irish experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, only the shells of their homes remain—set amidst hundreds of miles of stone walls.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
This morning, your Program Director will introduce you to Galway on a walking tour through the city. You have the remainder of the day at leisure to explore Galway on your own. This enchanting city is a medley of narrow lanes, wood and stone shop fronts, and bustling restaurants and pubs. Originally presided over by the local O'Flahertys, Galway was taken over by Anglo-Normans and became a thriving center of trade and commerce by the 14th century.
Your tour will also take you to Galway bay, which once was regularly “home” to Spanish galleons during their western voyages. Galway declined after being damaged in battle with the forces of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century, but regained its prosperity and vitality in modern times. Today, Galway remains a merchant town, but it is also a burgeoning center for technology and a lively bohemian mecca.
This evening, gather with your Program Director and fellow travelers at your hotel for an included Farewell Dinner.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or continue your discoveries of the Emerald Isle on an optional post-trip extension in Ennis, Adare & Limerick.
3 nights from only $845
On this new 2017 post-trip extension, journey to a historic region of western Ireland renowned for its charming and cheerful people, and its reverence for old traditions. From the bustling market town of Ennis, to the medieval-style village of Adare, this extension takes you back in time to show you the Emerald Isle as it once was.View Extension Itinerary