Ultimate Ireland Road Trip Itinerary

March 30, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Guiness Storehouse St James's GateGuiness Storehouse St James's Gate If you are looking for a slow, leisurely road trip, with lots of time for sleeping in and shopping… then this is not the itinerary for you. But, if you are lucky enough to spend 2 weeks in Ireland, and you have the desire to see as much of the beautiful island as possible, then read on.

 

Day 01: Travel day. I ended up traveling for exactly 24 hours due to a late change in my departure airport so by the time I arrived in Dublin I was exhausted. Luckily, my travel companion wasn’t due to arrive until that evening, so I got to enjoy a nice nap in the hotel. We stayed just outside of Dublin at Tara Towers. It was a nice hotel and walking distance to a good pub. The local bus picked up at the airport and dropped off across the street from the hotel for only €10. We were also walking distance to the train which brought us into the city for only €4 round trip.

 

St. Patrick Cathedral Dublin IrelandSt. Patrick Cathedral Dublin Ireland Day 02: Explore Dublin. We took the train to the Tara Street Stop and fueled up with a hearty traditional Irish Breakfast. From this stop, many great attractions are within walking distance. We walked to the Guinness Storehouse via St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Cathedral was beautiful and a nice stop on our walk. The storehouse was very cool and well worth the visit. With the tour, enjoying a pint at the Gravity Bar, and picking up a few souvenirs, we spent about 2.5 hours here. This gave us just enough time to walk to the Irish Whiskey Museum via the Christ Church to catch our next tour. This was also a great stop. We opted for the premium package with the extra sample and a free whiskey glass which was worth the extra cost. After the museum, head over to the Dublin Castle. You can access the gardens for free which offers nice views of the castle. If you have time after the Dublin Castle, check out Trinity college. The line to tour the  Book of Kells and Old Library Exhibition was quite long so we ended up skipping this but the campus was still nice. This tour is also €14 per person. After touring the campus, head to the Temple Quarter for music and dinner. The main Temple Street is quite busy with lots of food options. On a Friday night, it was packed with standing room only to listen to music. Luckily, we found a pub slightly off the main road with seating and great music to wrap our day in Dublin.

                Tip: Find a pub that will have music early on to grab a seat for the music. Most of the pubs in the Temple Quarter will have music most nights.

               We enjoyed staying out of the city a bit to avoid having to actually drive through the congested city, or pay for expensive downtown parking. I suggest using public transportation or walking if possible.

Belfast City HallBelfast City Hall

Day 03: Dublin to Belfast. We opted to sleep in a bit as the weather was projected to be quite poor. On a sunny day, a stop in the Mourne Mountains would have been nice. We did drive through but with low clouds, we couldn’t see much. You should arrive in Belfast by early afternoon with time to check out the city. We went to Smithfield Market and found it quite empty, I believe this market is much more popular during tourist season. We really enjoyed the Duke of York and Kelly’s Cellars for drinks (only £3.50  for a pint!)

               Tip: You leave Ireland and enter Northern Ireland. Kilometers become miles, euro becomes pound, and signs no longer translate Gaelic.

               We were trying to line up our trip with St. Patrick’s Day in Galway so we stayed an extra night in Belfast to make the timing work out a bit better. You really don’t need a full day in Belfast if you leave Dublin early enough and take a direct route.

                                     

Day 04Explore Belfast. Take advantage of the great food scene in Belfast with another hearty traditional Irish breakfast. I recommend walking the Titanic Trail from City Hall to explore the city. This takes you to several major notable sites. City Hall was an impressive building and following the trail will take you to the “Big Fish” and across the bridge to the Titanic Museum. After the museum, continue following the trail to St. George’s market. We found this market to be much busier with great food and craft vendors. This is a great stop for lunch and stocking up on pastries for breakfasts on the road. We were back at the hotel by 5 pm. We did cover a lot of ground for one day but ran out of things to do.

               Tip: If you have one day in Belfast, keep in mind a lot of businesses have limited hours on Sundays.

               Double check the hours at St. George’s market. It closed around 4 pm on the day we were there.

 

Day 05: Belfast to Portrush. This is a big day.Keep your fingers crossed for good weather. Hop on the Causeway Coastal Route at the Carrickfergus Castle. The Castle was very nice and the town had a lovely harbor to visit. The Causeway Coastal Route follows the cliffs through several charming coastal towns. On a clear day, you get excellent views of the glistening blue water. Your first stop on the Coastal Route is the Cushenden Caves. Another nice coastal town with good beaches. This was also a filming location for Game of Thrones. The caves are free to explore and was a nice way to stretch your legs. Next stop is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Only £8 to cross a narrow rope bridge over clear blue waters. Well worth the stop for the views alone. If you are afraid of heights, I would skip the rope bridge but still make a stop for the views. There is a nice café here with coffee, tea, and snacks. After enjoying the view, it is on to the Dark Hedges, another filming location for Game of Thrones. A few miles inland from the Coastal Route, the Dark Hedges are a unique stop off the main road. Park at the hotel and walk up the road for excellent views of these unique trees. A quick stop here before continuing on to the Bushmills Distillery. As pseudo whiskey experts, we skipped the tour and went straight for the tasting. Generous pours and rich whiskey made for a great stop. After your whiskey break, it should be late afternoon so it is time for Giant’s Causeway. We lucked out with great weather this day, all the way through to sunset. It is a short walk from the visitor center down to the shore and well worth it. The unique rock formations become more impressive the more you climb over them. We waited until sunset which was nice but the sun fell directly behind a mountain range before sunset colors really came to life. If you can, try for sunrise for the sun to rise more in line with the stones. We had a short drive to our hotel in Portrush. After our long day, we did not do much exploring in town.

               Tip: Instead of 2 nights in Belfast, split Belfast into evening and morning activities then spend a night in Ballycastle. There are a lot of sights near Ballycastle and will get you closer to Giants Causeway for sunrise.

 

Glenveagh Castle IrelandGlenveagh Castle Ireland Day 06: Portrush to Sligo. This is mostly a drive day, but a stopover at the Glenveagh National Park breaks up the drive nicely. The 4km roundtrip walk to a secluded castle offers good exercise on an otherwise long driving day. After the castle, head on to Donegal. We got a late start this day so we only had time for a quick pint in Donegal before heading on to Sligo for the night. Sligo was a fun town with a great art scene. A small creek runs through Sligo with many pubs lining the sidewalk. We found great live music and excellent food at Fiddlers Creek Pub.

               Tip: Donegal and Sligo are great little towns with lots to enjoy. An extra night in Donegal would have been well worth it! Many famous musicians got their start in Donegal.  And with Sligo’s art scene, there is more than enough to keep you entertained.

               You head back to Ireland today so Kilometers, Euros, and Gaelic are back.

              

Day 07: Sligo to Clifden. Another drive day but the Connemarra National Park is the prize at the end this time. We drove straight through due to heavy rains encouraging us to stay in the car and wanting to spend an evening in Clifden. But if you have good weather, make sure to stop and do some hikes. The Connemarra National Park is beautiful. We opted for 2 nights here to regroup a bit, and I am glad we did. The Buttermilk Lodge Guest house was wonderful. Complimentary tea and coffee at check-in, friendly service, and excellent information on the surrounding area. The complimentary breakfast was delicious and made to order. It is a short walk into the charming small town. We enjoyed browsing the shops and exploring the small town-center before a pub crawl to enjoy live music. It is hard to go wrong with any of the pubs in town. The Buttermilk provided a list of pubs that were scheduled to have music that evening and provided maps which made everything easy to find.

               Tip: Take a driving break at the Kylemore Abbey Castle and Walled Garden before you reach Clifden. The beautiful castle is set in the Connemarra National Park with incredible views.

 

Clifden Castle Sky Road IrelandClifden Castle Sky Road Ireland Day 08: Explore Clifden. If you are lucky enough to have good weather and you enjoy biking, hire a bike in town and follow one of the biking loops. We were traveling off season and expected rain so we opted to drive three of the suggested loops. The Skyview Road is an absolute must see. The narrow country road wraps along the countryside with amazing views of the ocean, old ruins, and blue waters. We also did the Cleggan, and Ballyconneely loops. Each were beautiful and made for a very pleasant day if you like sightseeing. After a full day of sightseeing, take a rest at your B&B before heading out for the night. This town really comes to life at night, no earlier than 10pm. Griffin’s Bar was our favorite with excellent music and friendly staff. We felt like locals on our second night.

               Tip: If it is warm enough, squeeze in a kayak trip at Mannin Bay. The beautiful blue water and small island formations would make for a lovely day.

 

Day 09: Drive to Galway. We were lucky enough to be in Galway for St. Patrick’s Day which was an incredible experience. Because of this, we stayed 3 nights in Galway to accommodate the parade and still fit in sightseeing. If I were going on a regular weekend, I would spend 2 days. It is a short drive from Clifden, so enjoy your last breakfast at the B&B and enjoy a leisurely drive to Galway. Take a little nap or do some shopping in the Galway town center and check out when the music starts in the pubs but again, this town comes to life at night. Don’t go out too early. Many pubs in the town center have live music starting at 10pm.

               Tip: Galway has tons of great shopping, food, music, and pubs. Take advantage of the “small” town and walk around the city center.

 

Day 10: Day trip to Cliff’s of Moher. Cliffs of Moher duskCliffs of Moher dusk Sleep in and recover from your night out then take the 1.5-hour drive to the Cliff’s of Moher. The views from the cliffs are absolutely spectacular. I recommend waiting until late afternoon so the sun lights the front of the cliffs. We hiked from the Visitor Center approximately 3 miles to Hags Head to get the full view of the cliffs. The trail was very muddy and slippery. Use caution along the trail as landslides are common. There is a shuttle that picks up near the trailhead. After a day of hiking head back to Galway for another night of dancing. We enjoyed The Kings Head and Tig Choili.

                Tip: Keep an eye out for dolphins in the surf below, wear sturdy shoes that can handle mud, and check shuttle times at the Visitor Center for whatever hike you decide to do.

 

Dingle Bay IrelandDingle Bay Ireland Day 11: Galway to Killarney. Another beautiful drive on Slea Head Road around the Dingle Peninsula. The views are outstanding. It is a long drive day so make sure to take lots of photo breaks to admire the beautiful blue water. After a long day of driving, head to Killarney for music and drinks. Another great small town with live music most nights.

               Tip: Make sure to break often, this is a long drive day and tomorrow is too so make sure you get a break from the car.

               If you aren’t interested in another night in the city, check out some of the Killarney National Park.

 

Kerry Cliffs Ring of KerryKerry Cliffs Ring of Kerry Day 12: Killarney to Cork. You will want an early start this day to really take advantage of the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is typically done anti-clockwise for good reason. In peak season large tour buses run anti-clockwise, so if you run opposite them you will be meeting them head-on in very narrow roads. We were behind a couple busses but were able to get out ahead of them at viewpoints. Also, when several buses were parked together, we knew that was a good spot to check out. A nice stop at the Ballinskelligs Castle will help break up the drive. There is a bridge to cross from the shore to the castle. The Skellig Ring is well worth the extra loop. For a good bathroom break, stop in Portmagee for the 2002 Top Toilet Runner-Up award. After a bathroom break, head to the Kerry Cliff’s for outstanding blue water cliff views. The stop is definitely worth the €6 admission. There are wonderful small towns along this drive. Stop in Sneem for a lunch break, or pack a picnic lunch for along the way. You will end the loop at Killarney National Park. You could probably spend an entire day here but at least stop at the Torc Waterfall. There is a parking lot that is only a 5-minute walk to the falls. If you have more time, enjoy one of the longer scenic trails. Enjoy as much of the park as you can but there is an hour and a half drive to Cork tonight. If you still have energy by the time you arrive in Cork make sure to check out the awesome music scene. Cork is the second largest city in Ireland with a great nightlife.

               Tip: Stay an extra night in Killarney to fully enjoy the National Park. Or, stay an extra night in Cork so you aren’t trying to go out dancing after a full day of driving.

 

Saint Fin Barre Cathedral CorkSaint Fin Barre Cathedral Cork Day 13: Cork to Dublin. The Blarney Castle is about a 15-minute drive out of Cork but I would skip the tourist trap and enjoy Cork. If you must go to Blarney, it is €16 to pay online, or €18 at the door. Bring cash, because it is a €20 minimum card purchase. Expect to wait in a long line and kiss easily the germiest tourist attraction in existence. Remove hats, glasses, bags, and scarves. After climbing a very narrow, winding staircase, you are rewarded with great views of Cork and the castle grounds at the top. Cork is filled with shops, café’s, music, pubs, food, Cathedrals and much more. You can easily enjoy a whole day here, but it is a three-hour drive to Dublin still. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon before carrying on to Dublin. We stayed at the Finnstown Castle, just outside of Dublin. It had a cozy, castle feel with excellent amenities and nice rooms. It was a short walk down to the Lord Lucan Bar which we enjoyed and only a half an hour drive to the airport the next day.

               Tip: Most of the parking in Cork is about €3 an hour but there is plenty of public transportation, so you can leave your car parked for the day.

 

Day 14: Time to head home. Unfortunately, your trip has come to an end, and now you have to endure an extraordinarily long travel day. Good luck!

 

I hope you have enjoyed your trip to Ireland! It is easy to make this itinerary more city focused or more nature focused depending on your interests. Ireland has something for everyone. I was constantly in awe of the diverse landscape. From staggering cliffs and crystal blue waters, to lush green hillsides. During the warmer months, you may be interested in fitting in more outdoor activities like kayaking, or whale watching. I would love to go back and do more of those activities. Always remember to be respectful of local customs and travel responsibly.

 

Happy travels!


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