Ireland is an incredibly marvelous country full of history and spectacular scenery. follow along with this itinerary while you make your way through rolling hills, along rugged cliffs, and to hidden white-sand beaches all over this jaw-dropping island.
There are many ways to explore Ireland, but renting a car is by far my favorite! In this itinerary, we start in Dublin and drive counterclockwise around the island. You can choose to do it in either direction depending on what works best for you! For information on travel, weather, transportation, accommodation, currency, and more visit our page on Traveling Ireland.
Dublin is the largest city in Ireland and will most likely be the starting point of your Ireland road trip. Known for great food and drinks, friendly locals, and profound architecture; you are guaranteed to fall in love with this city. Highlights include going on a pub crawl, visiting Trinity College, marveling at the old cathedrals and so much more!
From Dublin, drive approximately 2 hours north to your next stop, Belfast. Keep in mind that Northern Ireland is technically a part of the UK so the speed signs will change to miles and the currency will change to pounds. Belfast is the birthplace of the Titanic, has a gorgeous coastal landscape, and is rich in culture and history.
Things to do:
Visit the Titanic Museum
This interactive exhibition encompasses the background, history, artifacts, and stories of the Titanic. The museum gives you information on the Titanic’s construction and the events of the first and final voyage. The ride is a huge hit and the final galleries are all about the wreck and the explorations. Tickets cost £18.50 pounds per person and make sure to plan at least 3 hours to visit the entire museum. Although a little way out of town, the museum is easily accessible by train and worth a stop!
Shop at St George’s Market
St George’s Market is the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast. This is a great place to stock up on some fresh produce for the next few days of your Ireland road trip! You can also find unique gifts and listen to local musicians while you stroll around the charming streets. It is located on May St. and opens on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Soak Up Some History at City Hall
Take a free tour of this beautiful building to learn about the history of Belfast. The stained glass is breathtaking and the exhibitions are informative and interesting.
The Antrim Coast
From Belfast, we headed north to explore the jaw-dropping Antrim Coast (AKA The Causeway Coast). This stretch of road offers phenomenal views and is one of the most famous drives in the world. You will wind through the countryside and along the coastline between Belfast and Londonderry with tons of great stops on the way.
BUDGET TIP: The Antrim Coast is along the coast of Northern Ireland which, as mentioned earlier, is actually part of the UK. If you have a National Trust Membership, make sure to bring it for discounts along the way!
Sligo is almost 3 hours southwest of Dunlace Castle, which is one of the last places to stop along the Antrim Coast. Depending on what time you finish up there, you may want to spend the night in Londonderry to break up the drive. Known for its literary heritage and rugged countryside; you will also find hiking trails, beaches, rolling green hills, and majestic woodlands around this seaport town.
things to do
Walk Around the Town
While in Sligo, you will find tons of quaint little shops and restaurants to peruse. The shops offer some of the best wool products we found on our entire Ireland road trip so if you find something you like.. buy it! After, spend some time admiring the local artwork, the beautiful old buildings, followed by a scenic stroll along the river.
Witness the Devils Chimney
“Sruth in Aghaidh An Aird” or the Devils Chimney Waterfall is extremely unique. When the wind blows from the south, the waterfall is blown upward and back over the cliff from which it falls. The waterfall does not flow during periods of dry weather, but it is particularly spectacular during or immediately after periods of heavy rainfall. A path has recently been developed making the walk about 45 minutes. You can expect to see wildlife in this protected area ranging from otters and falcons to donkeys grazing in the fields.
Take a Boat Across Lough Gill
Lough Gill is a beautiful lake surrounded by rolling hills and dense forest. Stop and see Parke`s Castle before boarding the Rose of Innisfree Boat Tour. Its a great way to see the lake and learn about the poetry of W.B. Yeats (which was inspired by this lake!)
Connemara National Park
Connemara Park is about 2 hours southwest of Sligo. This is by far the best place for outdoor enthusiasts on a road trip through Ireland so get excited! The park encompasses more than fifty magnificent mountains in four tightly packed ranges. These include: The Twelve Bens, Maum Turks, Partry and Sheffrey. Expect to drive slow through this winding rural area and don’t be surprised by the sheep on the road!
things to do
Find a Hike
In Connemara, you will find beautiful trails to suit every experience and fitness level. Diamond Hill is the easiest hike in the area. A slightly more challenging climb is the Doughruagh mountain directly behind Kylemore Abbey. Throughout the hike, you will get wonderful views of the monastery and the lake. If you are looking for a more strenuous hike, the Twelve Bens are some of the highest mountains in Western Ireland. The Glencoaghan horseshoe is one of the most popular hikes in Connemara taking you through six of the twelve mountains over 7-9 hours.
Visit Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey was originally built as a Castle in 1867. A tour through these remarkable grounds will teach you the tales of romance and tragedy along with engineering initiatives and royal visits. Tickets are €13 euros and that includes access to the restored rooms, the Neo-Gothic Church, and the Victorian walled garden.
Galway is a harbor city on Ireland’s west coast, 2 hours south of Connemara National Park. Full of history and old charm; Galway is a great place to experience traditional pubs, boutiques, galleries, and architecture.
Things to do
Explore the Galway Cathedral
This historic cathedral is one of Galway’s most distinctive landmarks. The church is free to enter and you will find no shortage of beautiful details once you get inside. The stained glass windows and giant arches promise to leave you in awe.
Walk the Streets
You can easily explore the center of Galway on foot. Check out the Spanish Arch, walk the Salmon Weir Bridge, and make your way down Quay Street. The long walk along the pier is beautiful at sunset and Eyre Square is a neat place to visit. Use this Galway Map to help navigate.
Shop at Galway Market
This popular weekend market surrounds St Nicholas’ Church. Here you will find stalls of locally made food, art, and crafts. The market is open year-round on weekends and holidays; as well as all week during the summer months.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most famous stops you will make on your Ireland road trip and this 14 km stretch of sea cliff does not disappoint. Although they are open from 9 am to 7 pm, we recommend getting there right when they open to beat the tour buses! Alternatively, you could come at dusk for a magnificent sunset. The drive from Galway will take you about 1.5 hours.
Dingle is a unique little town about 3 hours south of The Cliffs of Moher. The charming attractions are quirky and one of a kind. This is a great place to explore the local shops or go on a pub crawl. Dingle is most famous for Fungie the resident dolphin and the Slea Head Drive.
things to do
Meet Fungie the Dolphin
Fungie is a wild bottle-nose Dolphin living in the bay around the Dingle peninsula. He has become a celebrity over the past 32 years as he interacts with the boats and people in the bay. You can take a tour to go see Fungie in his natural habitat with Dingle Dolphin Tours.
Visit the Blasket Islands
The Blasket Islands are made up of vastly unspoiled mountainous terrain stretching over 1,100 acres. The ocean around the islands is home to an abundance of wildlife including grey seals, dolphins, and a variety of whales. These islands are uninhabited by people; however, you can take day trip tours to explore them with Blasket Island Ferries.
Explore The Slea Head Drive
The Slea Head Drive is a 46 km loop beginning and ending in Dingle. It is part of the Wild Atlantic Way and one of the most spectacular routes you will drive on your Ireland road trip. Travelers usually drive clockwise in order to avoid passing the large tour buses that frequent the route during the summer.
Make sure to budget at least one day’s time to fully enjoy the drive. If you have the extra time, it is also very popular to bike or walk this route. Along the way, you will have breathtaking views of the coastline and offshore islands. There are numerous historic sites that charge €2-3 euros each for entrance so make sure to bring cash. You can also stop into shops, pottery studios, and cafes along the way.
One hour southeast of Dingle, you will come to the town of Killarney. It is rich in history, full of great food, and the starting point of The Ring of Kerry. Expect to see a beautiful National Park, horse-drawn carriages, waterfalls, and numerous walking trails along the way.
Things to do
Hike to the Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass forged between the MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain. It is technically part of The Ring of Kerry, but I would recommend planning out a full day just for this. The trail begins at Kate Kearney’s Cottage which is about 12 km outside of Killarney.
You can either hike, bike or ride a horse and carriage along the 11 kilometer trail. From there, you have options to cross the lake on a boat tour or head back the way you came. Numerous companies offer customizable round trip tours from Killarney in order to help with pick up and drop off. The Killarney Guide will help lay out all of your options for this wonderful day.
Drive the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is 179 kilometers of scenic road along the Iveragh Peninsula. It winds past white sand beaches, medieval ruins, mountains, lakes, and great little towns. This drive is sure to be a highlight of any Ireland road trip! It is technically doable in one day but we recommend at least two to three full days in order to experience everything. There are plenty of Bed & Breakfasts along the way as well as places to stop for sights, hikes, food, and much more!
Blarney is a village 1.5 hours southeast of Killarney famous for the Blarney Stone at the Blarney Castle. This was the last stop on our Ireland road trip before heading back to Dublin.
Things to do
Kiss the Blarney Stone
The entrance fee to Blarney Castle is €15 euros and I recommend getting there early to beat the tour buses. The Blarney Stone is said to give the “gift of the gab” to those who kiss it. Extensive parkland surrounding the castle features a network of trails, themed gardens, and the large turreted Blarney House. Give yourself at least a few hours to explore this area.