Shannon Airport, located at the heart of Ireland’s ‘Wild Atlantic Way’, a 2500km route that clings to the country’s rugged western coast, is the best location to land if you only have 24 hours in Ireland.
From this small airport on the edge of the Atlantic, you can step back in time to the days of feudal lords, stand atop towering sea cliffs, and even explore aviation history.
Because there is so very much to see and do, I’ve arranged a few itineraries to help you make the most of your 24 hours in Shannon, Ireland.
What to Do in 24 Hours in Shannon, Ireland
The first thing you’ll notice about Shannon is that there really isn’t much to the town. It’s quite small and developed after the airport was built.
Beyond the town, the Shannon region (named for Ireland’s longest river which dramatically exits Ireland between the two counties) encompasses the counties of Clare and Limerick and has more than enough activities to fill a day.
These itineraries require a car. I recommend Irish Car Rentals.
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Explore the Burren and Visit the Famous Cliffs of Moher
From Shannon Airport you can reach the towering cliffs on the Clare coast in about an hour.
As you draw closer to the Atlantic you will notice a marked difference in the landscape as Ireland’s famed fields of green give way to stone that feels almost lunar.
You’ve reached the Burren, one of Ireland’s most unique places.
With only a day to explore you want to make the most of your visit, so be sure to plan your itinerary around the highlights: the Cliffs of Moher and Poulnabrone Dolmen.
The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s #1 natural attraction and are very popular. Plan your visit before 10 am or after 4pm (6pm in July & August) to miss the majority of the tour buses. To learn the stories of the cliffs, both natural and human, be sure to visit the interactive interpretive centre before following the paved pathways to the viewing platforms. Plan 1.5 – 3 hours here.
If you want to view the towering cliffs from a different angle head to the nearby village of Doolin for a Cliffs Cruise. This one-hour excursion takes you to the base of the cliffs and around the sea stack which juts out of the water nearby. It’s rather amazing to be beneath the cliffs after you’ve stood atop them.
In the heart of the Burren you’ll find Poulnabrone Dolmen, the oldest dated Megalithic tomb in Ireland. As the most accessible portal tomb in the Burren you’ll find tour buses make quick stops here, but quickly move on. Plan 45 minutes to an hour to wander around this incredibly ancient structure and read the posted plaques.
Beyond these activities you have so many options, from natural wonders and ancient history to animal adventures and a delicious food trail.
If you’re traveling with children make the trek to the northernmost part of the Burren and visit the Burren Nature Sanctuary. This natural wonderland is designed for exploration and features fun animal-let nature walks, a fairy woodland, and a disappearing lake, as well as a terrific playground and exceptional café.
Nature lovers can enjoy guided, or self-guided, walks along the cliffs coast or in the Burren National Park.
And all throughout the area you’ll find delicious food experiences, from farms and fisheries to restaurants and pubs, along the Burren Food Trail.
If your schedule allows it plan to spend the night in one of the small villages in the area and enjoy the music in a local pub.
Spend Your Day (and Night) in a Castle
As you leave Shannon and travel south it will only be a few minutes before you catch a glimpse of your first tower ruin. And not far beyond that is the fully restored tower house at Bunratty.
Catch a glimpse as you pass by but save that stop for later in the day as first you will visit the city of Limerick.
Just over 20 minutes from Shannon Airport, Limerick has one of the most magnificent medieval fortresses in Ireland. King John’s Castle was built from 1200-1212, and was expanded upon in the centuries following. The interactive exhibition guides you through 800 years of local history and leaves you feeling as though Limerick was the center of the world.
If your timing is right cross the river and head toward the Market Quarter and visit the Milk Market, a weekend market of crafts, foods, and variety for over 150 years.
Plan to head back to Bunratty in the early afternoon and spend the rest of your day exploring Bunratty Castle & Folk Park. Here you can explore a 15th century fully furnished tower house from dungeon to battlements. After learning what it was like being lord of all you surveyed, head into the folk village. Each house in the village is original and a true representation of Ireland’s history. Living history actors, from housewives and fishermen to publicans and shopkeepers share their daily life with visitors.
This evening you have a few fun options.
Bunratty Castle hosts both a Medieval Banquet (best for mid-teens and older) and a Traditional Irish Night (lively fun great for all ages). Book into one of those for a meal and entertainment from times past.
For a lively evening in the present head just outside the castle walls to Durty Nelly’s. This pub has been providing food and entertainment for 400 years and the nightly music sessions are great fun.
If your Ireland dreams aren’t complete without a castle stay you have two incredible options nearby.
Dromoland Castle Hotel is a 5* experience complete with estate activities, afternoon tea, and grand luxury- just 15 minutes from Shannon Airport. If you opt to stay here skip one of the castle visits so you can truly enjoy the experience all afternoon.
Not much farther up the road you can be Lord or Lady of the Manor at Knappogue Castle. Managed by the same company who handles both King Johns’ Castle and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Knappogue Castle is open evenings for a wonderful Medieval Banquet. But the castle is not open to tourists and the private rooms upstairs are truly sumptuous. And unlocking castle doors with a massive key? It’s a pretty amazing feeling.
Go Beyond Limerick City
Making the choice to visit County Limerick offers a few unexpected experiences!
Aviation aficionados will want to visit the Foynes Flying Boat Museum. When Shannon was chosen by Charles Lindbergh as the permanent west European airport, a temporary airport was built at Foynes on the Shannon Estuary. From 1939 to 1945 this deep harbor welcomed PanAm’s ‘Flying Boats’. The charming museum guides you through aviation history. End your visit with an Irish Coffee in the café. After all, this is where the drink was invented.
Leaving Foynes drop a bit south to Adare. Often called the ‘Prettiest Village in Ireland’ you’ll find the streets lined with thatched cottages housing shops and restaurants. At the edge of town is Adare Manor. Recently remodeled and restored this manor house if the height of luxury.
One of the most incredible experiences in Adare can be had at Adare Manor- even if you aren’t a guest. On the beautiful and spacious grounds you can fly birds of prey. Adare Country Pursuits offers the most complete falconry experience you’ll find in Ireland. From the tiniest of owls to magnificent eagles, you will gain a great understanding of the amazing creatures. Then you have the opportunity to fly your own Harris Hawk. It’s an unforgettable experience!
From Adare you’ll head to one of the most magical spots in Ireland- Lough Gur. This ancient area is home to history that stretches to the Bronze Age. The small visitors centre is incredibly well done and shares both the history and lore of this lake and its surroundings. Be sure to stop at both the Giant’s grave and the Grange Stone Circle, the largest in Ireland, as you leave.
Shannon Region Travel Tip
You can take bits of each of these itineraries and create the perfect day for your time in Shannon. To create a circular route that includes the Cliffs of Moher, Foynes Flying Boat Museum, and Limerick city, utilize Shannon Ferries.
This 20 minute car ferry crosses the River Shannon, saving both time and miles, as well as adding a fun and unique experience to your trip.
Galivanting in Galway
I would be remiss if I didn’t make mention of Galway city. Known for its lively atmosphere, artsy scene, and plethora of pubs with live music nightly, Galway is an easy drive up the motorway from Shannon.
Spend your day exploring the history and charming shops in the Latin Quarter before tucking into a pub for an evening meal and entertainment.
Planning to kick off a vacation from Shannon Airport?
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Jody Halsted is the author of the award-winning book Planning the Ireland Vacation of Your Dreams. Jody has been traveling across Ireland for over 15 years, discovering the most incredible sites and activities on the tourist trail and off. Her website Ireland Family Vacations, provides exceptional advice for a magical Ireland vacation. If you’re looking for a perfectly tailored Ireland vacation, Jody offers Ireland vacation coaching, working with you to choose the perfect lodging, destinations, and activities to fit your budget, interests, and expectations.