Heading to Ireland? You’re in for a wonderful time. Follow this 14 day Ireland road trip itinerary, which includes places to stay, things to see and an ideal route to take.
The Emerald Isle is an ideal country to visit in so many ways. And if you’re going, why not jump in a hire car and take an Ireland road trip?
It’s small, so you can see a lot in a short amount of time. There’s certainly a varied list of of things to do in Ireland. Delicious food, stunning nature and a most interesting history.
And if you’re planning a trip to Ireland, you’ll naturally have a lot of questions.
How long should you spend travelling around the country? Where should you stay? What’s worth seeing?
Will you ever get sick of the beautiful rolling green hills of the landscape around you?
I’ll address these queries over the course of this post, except for the last, which I can answer right now in one word – no.
This self driving Ireland road trip follows a route that I have done.
You’ll learn of some of the best cities to visit in Ireland, where to stay and what’s worth pulling off the road for.
Your 14 day Ireland road trip itinerary
This Ireland road trip itinerary will cover:
How long does it take to drive around Ireland?
This itinerary is designed as a road trip. You can see the highlights of Ireland in around ten days, which includes Dublin, Northern Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher, Dingle and Galway.
If you can stretch your trip to 14 days, you can enjoy these sites at a more relaxed pace.
I recommend spending at least a couple of nights in a town or city every few days.
Even though the distances between places of interest in Ireland are short, you’ll get tired from the driving (particularly when continually getting stuck behind tractors on one lane roads).
Plus, some places need at least a couple of night’s stay to do them justice.
- Dublin 2 nights
- Belfast 2 nights
- Derry 1 night
- Donegal 1 night
- Sligo 1 night
- Galway 2 nights
- Killarney 1 night
- Dingle 1 night
- Cork 2 nights
- Dublin 1 night
What is the best month to visit Ireland?
The best time to visit Ireland is in spring (March to May) and early autumn (September to November). It’s not as crowded as it is in summer, or as cold as it gets in winter.
Ireland’s weather isn’t that extreme however, so you can visit all year round.
I visited for the first time for a 7 day road trip in the middle of winter and it cold and a bit damp, but fine.
Begin your Ireland road trip at Dublin Airport
The easiest place to start your trip is at Dublin Airport. It’s a major international airport, with flights to and from many cities in Europe and America.
Alternatively, you can fly into Belfast Airport and kick off this self driving Ireland road trip from there instead. It’s wholly up to you. Take whichever option and plan your Ireland road trip around that.
You can sort your transfer from the airport to Dublin city with the DoDublin Freedom Card, which gives you unlimited access to public transport for 72 hours (including transfer to and from the airport along the 24/7 Dublin Bus route 41).
Ireland road trip stop 1: Dublin
You can’t come to Ireland and not spend at least a couple of days exploring the Irish capital.
I personally think Dublin is one of the most dynamic cities in Europe – at the very least it’s certainly one of my favourites.
Things to do in Dublin
1. Visit the Guinness Factory
This particular tour is cited as a must-do when visiting Dublin for the first time.
During this self-guided tour of the Guinness Storehouse, you’ll learn all about world-famous drink. You’ll even get a complimentary pint at the end.
If you just can’t stomach Guinness (I’m with you on this), consider jumping on the Jameson Whisky Tour instead.
2. Have a tipple in Temple Bar
It’d would be a real shame to travel to Dublin and not have a night out in Temple Bar.
The Irish sure know how to drink and party – you’re pretty much guaranteed a fun night out.
Filled with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops, it’s almost as much fun to poke around Temple Bar during the day as it is at night.
3. Catch a flick at the Irish Film Institute
The IFI is an art-house cinema that makes a point of showcasing Irish films.
If you’re interested in the cultural side of Ireland or fancy yourself to be a bit of a film buff, be sure to check out their listings during your time in Dublin.
4. Visit the Irish Emigration Museum
You can find Irish descendants just about anywhere in the world (I happen to be one, myself!).
As a country, Ireland certainly has an interesting history of voluntary and forced migration.
A visit to EPIC – the Irish Emigration Museum will help you learn more about this part of Irish history.
5. Drink a hot chocolate at Butlers
Butlers is a chain that has one of the best hot chocolates in town – I’m partial to the praline milk choc, myself.
(Don’t forget to bring your own reusable cup, if you want to cut down on your plastic usage).
Cruise along the River Liffey
I’ve always thought the best way to see a city is from the water and Dublin is no exception.
You can cruise down the city’s beautiful river and learn quite a lot about its varied and interesting history.
6. Visit the Dublin Writer’s Museum
Many of the world’s most beloved literary figures hail from the Emerald Isle.
This museum features personal effects and portraits of the likes of Beckett, Yeats, Wilde and Joyce.
There are also public readings, exhibitions and the odd theatre show.
7. Check out Dublin Castle
You won’t be wanting of any sort of castle time after you trip through Ireland (you can even stay in some castles, as you’ll see throughout this post!).
Dublin Castle is a major government building and you can do guided or self-guided tours throughout the grounds (be sure to book at least a month in advance to avoid missing out).
Here’s a list of some of the best castles in Ireland – make sure you visit at least one on your road trip!
8. Have breakfast at Bewleys
Bewleys is my own personal Dublin tradition – I head to the café on Grafton St every time I’m in town to grab a full Irish breakfast. The food is good and the waiters are cute.
What can I say, I’m a red-blooded woman. We all have our weaknesses and mine happens to be Irish accents.
9. Explore Rathmines
Rathmines is a suburb of Dublin that I found to be one of the more gentrified areas. I’d head there for a tipple in a pub, or a bite to eat if I fancied being around more young things.
TIP: Consider grabbing a Dublin pass, which will give you free entry to more than 30 attractions. Depending on what activities you plan on doing, this could save you a heck-tonne of cash.
Where to stay in Dublin on your Ireland road trip
Ireland road trip stop 2: Belfast
The next major stop on your Ireland road trip is the capital of Northern Ireland – Belfast.
This city has a fascinating and unsettling history.
It’s also an excellent landing platform for the many areas of natural beauty that can be found in this country.
TIP: Crossing the border between Northern and the Republic of Ireland can get a little confusing, even if there is no official border control. Discover what you need to know before crossing the Irish border.
Things to do in Belfast
1. Explore Newgrange
Newgrange can be visited on the way to Belfast from Dublin on your Ireland road trip. Be sure to keep an eye out for it and not drive straight past, as it’s very easy to do.
A World Heritage Site, it’s a Megalithic Passage Tomb, built around 3200 BC.
In a marvellous feat of ancient engineering, the passage and chamber of Newgrange are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise.
A lottery for places within Newgrange on this date is draw every year, with sixty lucky people (out of about 30,000 entrants) and one guest being able to be present on the Solstice.
Try your luck and enter via email.
2. Marvel at Giant’s Causeway
This is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, a true marvel of nature.
The Causeway is one of the sights among many others in Ireland to appear on the TV show Game of Thrones.
3. Black Taxi Cab Tour
Like much of Northern Ireland, Belfast is a city of divides.
I found the local Black Cub Tours provide a good overall introduction to the story behind the region’s troubles, exploring the history behind the art and murals that pepper the Nth. Irish capital.
If you want to know more about the ‘The Troubles’ from a traveller’s perspective, Everywhereist wrote a wonderful and information-rich overview that’s worth checking out.
4. Visit the Peace Walls
The Peace Walls or Lines are barriers which separate the predominantly Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighbourhoods from the Loyalist and Unionist Protestant neighbourhoods in Belfast.
Although what they stand for is indeed troublesome, they’ve become public works of political art.
Many are starting to be torn down around the city, once an agreement has been reached on each side to do.
Considering that the Troubles are such a recent part of Irish history, this is a monumental movement indeed.
It’s worth going on some kind of tour to see the Peace Walls. If you don’t want to take a Black Cab Tour, consider booking a place onto a walking tour instead.
5. Check out the Titanic Belfast Museum
On another note, Belfast is of course the site from which the Titanic began its doomed journey.
Tributes to the ocean liner can be found throughout the city in the form of public art and there is a museum dedicated to the Titanic within the city itself.
6. Stroll down Stricklands Glen
The republic of and Northern Ireland are fantastic destinations for keen walkers.
Strickland Glen will take you through a wooded glen past ponds and waterfalls and onto the the North Down Coastal Path.
Where to stay in Belfast on your Ireland road trip
Ireland Road Trip Stop 3: Derry/Londonderry
Derry (or Londonderry, depending on which side of the political fence you sit on) is eerie and beautiful, with a sad, sad history.
It’s best known for being the site of Bloody Sunday or the Bogside Massacre in 1972, where British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march by Northern Catholics, against internment.
If you’re particularly interested in Ireland’s modern history and want to explore it further on your Ireland road trip, then Derry is the place to do it. (I also recommend reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s excellent book Say Nothing before visiting Ireland).
It’s definitely worth spending sometime in Derry to learn about its place in the Irish troubles. Then, move on to the natural wanders that are in abundance throughout this region of Northern Ireland.
Also, for the purpose of this post I’m going to refer to the town as Derry – not because I’m taking sides – rather that this is a massive article and it’s simply shorter to type out.
Things to do in Derry
Visit the Museum of Free Derry
This museum will give you the most solid overview of Bloody Sunday and tell the tales of those who lost their lives that day. I think it’s a must-do for anyone visiting Derry and as it’s only a small space, it won’t eat up much of your time. Admission is £8.00 for adults.
Check out the Free Derry Corner
After paying a visit to the museum, you will need to see Free Derry Corner for yourself. It marks the scene of the Battle of Bogside and acts as both a memorial and a declaration for current political issues.
You can either do a self-guided tour, or opt to jump on an organised walking tour. I took the second option and found it to be best, but it’s up to you.
Check out Derry Girls TV show filming locations
Love the popular tv show Derry Girls? Me too. It is class.
Jump on a tour with an expert guide, to be led around the filming locations of the show.
Gaze Upon Mussenden Temple
This very photographic building is perched high above the Atlantic Ocean. As the cliffs surrounding it crumble, it is moving closer and closer to the edge.
The National Trust keep an eye on it and maintain cliff restorations in order to preserve the building.
Walk The Gobbins Cliff path
Ideal for adventurers, these cliff paths are touted as being one of the most dramatic cliff walks in Europe. Tours are available over the summer months.
Ogle at the Marble Arch Caves
These caves are located in a Geopark in Northern Ireland. Tours are available, as well as other nature-based activities such as walks, cycling, fishing and canoeing.
Where to Stay in Derry on your Ireland road trip
Ireland road trip stop 4: Donegal
The next stop on your Ireland road trip itinerary will take you back into the Republic of Ireland, to a county that is special for many reasons.
Unlike other parts of the country, it feels largely untouched – it’s Ireland at its wildest and most rugged.
Its history dates back thousands of years, as a landing spot for Vikings and housing communities of Irish monks.
It features beautiful natural wonders, megalithic sites and communities where Gaeltacht (the Irish language) is the tongue of choice.
It’s also the beginning of the Wild Atlantic Way, a route that travels down the west coast of Ireland.
There’s so much to see and do along this track and the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape will have your jaw constantly dropping open.
Things to do in Donegal
Experience Glenveagh National Park and Castle
This National Park is a conservation area, ideal for walkers and birdwatchers. There’s also a castle you can tour through, as well as the surrounding grounds.
Check out Grianan of Aileach
This is an old stone fort, with a fantastic view.
Visit Donegal Town Castle
Another day, another castle. This 15th century building is worth checking out because unlike many other castles in the country, it’s completely intact.
Inside, you’ll find some detailed history of the town of Donegal and the surrounding region. Admission is €5.00.
Climb the Sliabh Liag Cliffs (Slieve League Cliffs)
These are some of the highest coastal sea cliffs in Ireland and you can trek a path to the top, to gaze out over the ocean.
See Malin Head, the most northernly point on Ireland
Journey out to Malin Head for bragging rights. This was a popular landing point for Vikings, too.
See Donegal Craft Village
A must for art lovers, the craft village features everything from paintings, to felt works and jewellery.
Where to stay in Donegal on your Ireland road trip
Ireland road trip stop 5: Sligo
Sligo is a region of rugged countryside and literary heritage, being the birthplace of the poet W.B. Yeats, who was so inspired by this place that made him.
If you’re a fan of Irish literature, then consider it a must-do on your Ireland road trip.
Explore the town centre, marvel at thousand year old relics, or go surfing on the wild, Atlantic waves, to the backdrop of Benbulbin, a large rock formation which shadows the area.
Things to do in Sligo
Visit the Yeats Society (Memorial Building)
Drop into the Yeats Society (Memorial Building) to learn more about this important literary figure’s life. Entry is €5.00 .
You can grab some morning tea at the adjoining Penny Cafe.
Check out Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
These structures are older than Stonehenge, give or take a couple of thousand years.
There were originally 80 monuments on this site and I am so amused by the fact that cows were freely moving among them when we visited.
Entry is €5.00 .
Birdwatch at Lough Gill
This is a beautiful freshwater lake, certainly worth checking out on your trip through Sligo.
Immerse yourself in history at Sligo Abbey
This ruined abbey dates back to 1253.
€5.00 will get you in to explore the ruins.
As it turns out, Sligo is a surfer’s paradise!
There are a bunch of surf schools in the area that will happily get you started in this most noble and gnarly sport.
Where to stay in Sligo during your Ireland road trip
Ireland road trip stop 6: Galway
Galway is the fifth biggest city in Ireland and having visited twice, I can tell you it’s great for a bit of craic.
It should definitely feature in your Ireland road trip itinerary.
Eat, drink, be merry and explore the beautiful surrounding regions during your Ireland road trip.
Things to do in Galway
Visit Connemara National Park
This National Park is rife in mountainous glory, featuring four ranges for your climbing pleasure. Go on nature walks, ogle the ponies, or have a picnic!
Paint the town red
Galway is a university town and is therefore also a party destination.
A great night out can be had here and it’s popular for respective hens and bucks nights as well.
Tour the town by bike
Get your bearings on Galway, along with some exercise after all that time spent in the car!
Check out The Spanish Arch
This arch was added to the town walls in the 16th century, for extra protection from looting.
These days, it’s part of the Galway City Museum, where you can learn more about the town’s history.
Take a ferry out to the Aran Islands
You should definitely take a trip out to the Aran Islands.
Check out the fort of Dun Aonghasa, squeal over the Inis Mor Seal Colony and explore Kilronan village, amongst plenty of other things to do.
Heck, you can even glamp on the islands. Where do I sign up?
Climb the Cliffs of Moher
These are technically in Co. Clare, but they’re not too far away from Galway City.
They also happen to the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland, so expect them to be teeming with people. Adult entry is €6.00.
Pay a visit to the Claddagh Ring Museum
These iconic Irish rings have an epic story behind them, which you can learn all about during a visit to the museum commemorating them in Galway.
As an aside, I bought a gold Claddagh ring on my first trip to Ireland in 2010 (in Dingle, my second favourite town in the country) and it remains my most loved souvenir of anywhere, ever. I’ve worn it almost every day since and you can see it in the photo above, from a return trip in 2014.
I was motivated to buy this partly due to my Irish heritage but also because Angel presented one to Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I
was am just a little bit obsessed with that show.
Where to stay in Galway during your Ireland road trip
Ireland road trip stop 7: Killarney
Killarney’s a stop on a drive known as the ‘Ring of Kerry’, which is definitely worth doing on your Ireland road trip.
The town itself feels like it’s surrounded by nature and is full of beautiful, historic houses and castles.
Things to do in Killarney
Drive the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a major drawcard of Co. Kerry and is best kicked off in Killarney.
On the drive you’ll head past some glorious mountains, beautiful beaches and Irish countryside at its most ruggedness.
Explore Killarney via horse and carriage!
Certain an old school method of touring a town! Take a one-hour journey around Killarney in an Irish jaunting car (horse and carriage).
I did this on an Ireland road trip years ago – it’s really great fun.
Visit Muckross House
Muckross House and Gardens is located in Ireland’s oldest National Park (see below).
This Victorian mansion is one of the many sites worth visiting on the grounds.
Tour Gap of Dunloe by boat
See some scenic sights along a boat trip of Gap of Dunloe.
You’ll visit Lord Brandon’s Cottage and Ross Castle. There’s even an optional cart and pony ride.
Ross Castle is a 15th-century tower house located in Killarney National Park, sitting on the edge of Killarney’s lower lake.
It’s open to the public in the summer months.
Explore Killarney National Park
Take a jaunting car (horse and carriage) through the park, or just explore the area on foot at your own pace.
Here’s some more information on things to see in Killarney National Park.
Eyeball Derrynane Beach
This beach is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland.
After you’ve walked up and down its length, be sure to check out nearby Derrynane Abbey & Burial Ground.
Check out the Skellig Ring
The lesser known Skellig Ring offers gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, without nearly as many tourists as the Ring of Kerry.
You can head out to the The Skellig Islands and sight some puffins, if it’s the right time of year for it.
Pub crawl through Killarney Town
Or, just enjoy the revelry which is Killarney town!
Everyone loves a party, right?
Where to stay in Killarney during your Ireland road trip
Ireland road trip stop 8: Dingle
Dingle is hands down one of my favourite spots on the Emerald Isle.
It should definitely make your Ireland road trip itinerary.
A quiet, sleepy fishing town, with plenty of pastel coloured houses, it’s a hotspot for good food and good views, with a relaxed, seaside vibe.
Things to do in Dingle
Try to spot Fungie the dolphin
Dingle’s most famous resident is Fungie the dolphin, who tends to hang around the harbour.
I’ve never seen him (her?), but you might be able to – try your luck on a tour.
Grab an ice cream at Murphys
Murphys is an artisan ice cream shop, found all over the country but originating in Dingle.
Do yourself a favour and grab a cone, no matter what time of the year it is.
Get into some seafood chowder
Similarly, Dingle’s seafood scene is off the hook.
Order fresh fish from one of the many restaurants and cafes that dot the main street and definitely get some creamy seafood chowder whilst you’re at it.
Walk the Dingle Way
Ireland has a tonne of walking trails and this particular one is 179 kilometres long.
It takes around 8-9 days to traverse.
Drive the scenic routes around the Dingle Peninsula
This is a day trip in itself. There are two scenic drives on offer – Slea Head Loop and Conor Pass.
Take your time and enjoy the coastal landscape.
Where to stay in Dingle during your Ireland road trip
Ireland road trip stop 9: Cork
Cork is the second biggest city in Ireland and its harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world.
It’s home to what is probably Ireland’s most famous castle – Blarney Castle. It should definitely be on your Ireland road trip itinerary.
It contains a very well known stone by the same name and if you kiss it, it’s said to give you the ‘Gift of the Gab’.
Things to do in Cork
Visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Stone
It’s rare that a single stone is more famous than an entire castle, but then again Ireland can be a weird place at times (good weird, I assure you).
Climb to the top of the castle, to be lowered down and kiss this particular stone.
Legend has it that those whose lips make contact with its cold, hard surface with be granted the gift of eloquence.
Entry price is €18.00
You can jump on a combined tour that’ll take you to Blarney and Cobh, where colourful houses and a stunning cathedral await you.
This town was also the last departure point for the Titanic!
Visit Fitzgerald Park
This is a place to visit if you’re after a bit of peace and quiet from Ireland’s second biggest city.
There’s museums, ponds, a cafe and a skate park.
Check out Cork City Gaol
I personally find old gaols truly fascinating and Cork’s would be no exception.
Find out more about visiting the goal.
Take a whisky tour of the city
Did you know Jameson whiskey is produced in Cork?
Head to the micro-distillery to see the largest pot still in the world and experience the live maturation warehouse.
The Irish love their whiskey, so when in
Rome Ireland and all that…
Take a walking tour of Cork
Let an expert guide you around Cork and admire the maritime architecture.
Do the Ballycotton Cliff Walk
This cliff walk takes you from Ballycotton village to Ballyandreen beach.
It’s about a five mile trek.
Abandon Cork and visit Kinsale…
If you’ve had enough of the bigger Irish cities and want to ogle some more villages, head to the seaside town of Kinsale, to shop, eat and enjoy water-based activities.
…And Cape Clear Island
Cruise out to Cape Clear Island, where you can experience the Gaeltacht culture.
You’ll also get to see the very cool Fastnet Rock Lighthouse. Who doesn’t love lighthouses?!
Where to stay in Cork during your Ireland road trip
How safe is driving in Ireland?
Driving in Ireland is very safe and not difficult. Granted, I come from a country that also drives on the left.
If you’re used to driving on the right and renting a car, I recommend getting an automatic. It’s much easier for your brain to acclimatise to this, than a manual.
The only thing to note is that some rural roads in Ireland are tiny. If you get stuck behind a slow moving vehicle, caravan or at worst, a tractor, you may be waiting some time until you can overtake.
Apart from that, Ireland is safe and lovely to drive around in. Be prepared for some scenic views!
Tips For Your Ireland Road Trip
- Take turns driving – the roads in Ireland are small, narrow and often twisty – you’ll require full concentration when driving along them. And as with the UK, the Irish drive on the left side of the road.
- Be wary of the changing systems of measurement on the roads – particular as you dip in and out of Northern Ireland. They’ll go from metric to miles and it can be a bit baffling at times.
- Beware of Northern Irish pounds – I made this mistake once, pulling out 100 quid’s worth of Irish pounds from an ATM. They’re fine to spend in Nth. Ireland, but people in the rest of the UK will look at you as though you’re trying to pay with Monopoly money and even refuse to take them.
Believe it or not, this 5000-odd word guide barely scratches the surface of what the Emerald Isle has to offer visitors and locals alike.
I for one, can’t think of any other place in the world that has had an impact as far reaching as Ireland.
People across the planet can trace their heritage back to this small, but marvellous little island. I feel honoured to be included among them.
I hope during the course of your Ireland road trip, you end up feeling the same way that I do – that hook or by crook, you will continue to explore this land of merriment and outstanding beauty, until your end of days.
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