Ireland Road Trip Itinerary – Two Weeks in the Emerald Isle
The Emerald Isle is an ideal country to visit in so many ways. And if you’re going, why not embark on an Ireland road trip?
It’s small, so much road can be covered in a short period of time. It’s packed full of things to do – whether you’re coming at it from a culinary perspective, wanting to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, or explore Ireland’s extensive history.
There are buses you can take that have pre-organised tours around the two countries. Yet, if you self drive Ireland you’ll have more freedom to see the things you want to see and opportunities to stumble upon something special indeed.
I’ve personally stepped foot on this beautiful island on around seven occasions (excessive, much?). It was one of the first countries I ever travelled to and remains one of my absolute favourites.
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 answer the following questions over the course of this post, except for the last, which I can answer right now, with one simple word – no.
From experience, I think a two week trip is ideal for experiencing these lovely countries in full, although you can squeeze a lot into a one week trip as well.
For this Ireland road trip itinerary, we’re going to follow a route that I myself have done. You’ll learn of some of the best cities to visit in Ireland, where is best to stay for a range of budgets and what’s worth pulling off the road for.
Your Two Week Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
Here is a loose itinerary you can play around with. I thoroughly recommend spending at least a couple of nights in a town or city every few days. Even though the distances 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.
In need of a rental car? Compare prices here
- 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
Begin Your Ireland Road Trip at Dublin Airport
The easiest place to start your trip is at Dublin Airpot. 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 Ireland itinerary from there instead. It’s wholly up to you – take whichever option and plan your Ireland road trip around that.
Book your airport transfer ticket here
Ireland Road Trip Stop 1: Dublin
The first stop on your Ireland road trip should be Dublin.
At the very least, 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
Visit the Guinness Factory
This particular tour is cited as a must-do when visiting Dublin for the first time. You can get a ticket for the Guinness Factory Tour, if you fancy checking it out.
It’s fun, but as someone who isn’t much of a fan of Guinness, I would opt for the Jameson Whisky Tour instead.
Book a place on the Guinness Factory Tour here
Have a tipple in Temple Bar
Although we are all the masters of our own destinies, it 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. Rife with cafés, restaurants and boutique shops, it’s almost as much fun to poke around Temple Bar during the day as it is at night.
Catch a flick at the Irish Film Institute
The IFI is an arthouse 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.
Read more: How Much Does a Trip to Dublin Cost?
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.
Book your ticket to EPIC here
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 KeepCup, 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.
Buy a ticket for a boat cruise here
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.
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!
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.
Read more: Irish Must-See’s: Easy Day Trips From Dublin
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.
Buy your Dublin pass here
Where to Stay in Dublin on your Ireland road trip
Check out other hotel options in Dublin
Ireland Road Trip Stop 2: Belfast
The next major stop on your Ireland road trip itinerary 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. Here’s what you need to know before crossing the Irish border.
Things to do in Belfast
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. You can enter via email, see details here.
Marvel at Giant’s Causeway
This is undoubtably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, a marvel of nature and a setting for the popular television show Game of Thrones.
Entry to Giant’s Causeway costs £11.50.
The Causeway is one of the sights among many others in Ireland to appear on the TV show Game of Thrones. There are tours available that will take you to Giant’s Causeway and other sights. You can check out prices here.
Black 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 issues, exploring the history behind the art and murals that pepper the Nth. Irish capital.
Book a Black Cab Tour here
If you want to know more about the ‘The Troubles’ from a traveller’s perspective, Everywhereist wrote a highly informant overview that’s worth checking out.
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.
Book your place on a Walking Tour here
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.
Buy your ticket to the Titanic Belfast Museum here
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
Check out other hotel options in Belfast
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.
It’s definitely worth spending sometime in Derry to learn about its place in the Irish troubles, before moving on to the natural wanders that are also 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 £4.00.
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.
Book a place on a Walking Tour of Derry here
Tour the Quiet Man Craft Distillery
On a less political note, whiskey lovers should make a detour to this particular distillery, should they fancy trying some of the region’s best.
Check out Filming Locations for Derry Girls
If you’ve found yourself getting completely wrapped up in the Channel 4 TV series Derry Girls, you can take a tour to some of the show’s locations.
Book a place on a the tour here
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
Check out other hotel options in Derry
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, with it acting 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.
Read more: Climbing the Slieve League Cliffs in Ireland
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 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
Check out other hotel options in Donegal
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 (do you see what I did there?), to the backdrop of Benbulbin, a large rock formation which shadows the area.
Things to do in Sligo
Visit the Yeats Society (Memorial Building)
Journey here to learn more about this important literary figure’s life. You can grab some morning tea at the adjoining café.
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
Check out other hotel options in Sligo
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.
Book a spot on a bicycle tour of Galway here
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?
Book a cruise around the Aran Islands here
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.
See the Cliffs of Moher via boat
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
Check out other hotel options in Galway
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.
Book onto a horse and carriage tour in Killarney
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.
Visit Ross Castle – via Kayak
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.
One other way of seeing it is to visit in person, yet another is to tour around it by kayak, taking in the lake in the same trip.
Book onto a kayak tour of Ross Castle here
Explore Killarney National Park
Take a jaunting car (horse and carriage) through the park, pay a visit to Ross Castle and the Gap of Dunloe, or just explore the area on foot at your own pace. Here’s some more information on things to see in Killarney National Park.
Book onto a cruise around Killarney’s lakes here
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
Check out other hotel options in Killarney
Ireland Road Trip Stop 8: Dingle
Dingle is hands down one of my favourite spots in 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 – tours are available here.
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 cafés 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. More information can be found here.
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
Check out other hotel options in Dingle
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.
I’ve been twice and have refused to kiss the stone on both occasions – once because I had a head cold and the second time because I was grossed out. I’m eloquent enough anyway, you can’t shut me up.
Entry price is €16.00.
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 café 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 information here.
Take a whisky tour of the city
The Irish love their whisky, so when in
Rome Ireland and all that…
Book onto a whisky tour here
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.
Beautiful, colourful houses and a stunning cathedral await you here. This town was also the last departure point for the Titanic!
Read more: What to Do During a Weekend Break in York
Where to Stay in Cork during your Ireland road trip
Check out other hotel options in Cork
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 piece of land. I feel honoured to be included amongst 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 travel to this land of merriment and outstanding beauty, until your end of days.
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