Because of how easy it is to navigate, its relatively small size, and above all, the breathtaking scenery, Ireland is the perfect destination for a truly unforgettable Irish road trip.
Our 2 week Ireland itinerary allowed us to drive around virtually the entire island, taking in many of Ireland’s most famous landmarks along the way.
It was one of the most exciting adventures we’ve been on yet, partly because it’s completely different to how we usually travel – a road trip is definitely the best way to see Ireland.
We spent a long time planning our Ireland driving routes, as well as what to see and do whilst we were there, and came up with what we think is a pretty cracking Ireland road trip.
So get your driving gloves at the ready and let’s get your trip around Ireland in the making.
Best Time To Visit Ireland
Although you can never be guaranteed sunshine everyday, Ireland has it’s best weather over its summer months. You should still expect wind and rain on any given day, but summer showers don’t tend to last more than a few hours.
June-August temperatures are on average 16 – 20°C (60 – 68°F) and the days are long. It doesn’t usually get dark until after 11pm.
Ireland is however a hugely popular tourist destination and the island has over 10 million tourists visiting each year – mostly over the summer months, peaking in August.
So if you want to avoid Irelands busiest time but still get relatively mild weather, we think he shoulder seasons are the best time to go to Ireland. Specifically April-May or September. You will find that accommodation prices aren’t as high during these months too. Bonus.
Having said that Ireland has an excellent tourism infrastructure, so don’t be concerned with planning a trip to Ireland over summer either.
How To Get To Ireland
There are a number of ways in which you can get to Ireland for your Ireland road trip and it will of course be different depending on where you are travelling from.
From further afield, such as the USA, the again Irish owned airline Aer Lingus is usually the best economical option. Being the capital, Dublin airport has the most flight options. But the international airports in Cork, Shannon and Belfast also have plenty of routes.
From the UK and Europe the budget Irish owned airline, RyanAir usually has the best deals and numerous flight routes. We flew into Knock airport in County Mayo, near Sligo, from the UK with RyanAir.
But there are plenty of other airlines such as Easyjet, Flybe and Aer Lingus too that service Europe – Ireland travel.
Alternatively, if you are coming from mainland UK you may choose to take the Ferry across the Irish sea. Especially if you live in the mainland UK and have your own car, that way you can just take it with you for your driving tour of Ireland.
Ireland’s two main ports are in Belfast, Dublin and depending on where you are travelling from in mainland UK, there’s a few different crossing options.
Ports in Holyhead, Wales and Liverpool, England both operate ferry crossings to Dublin.
The crossing from Holyhead to Dublin is around 3 hours and operated by Stena Line and Irish Ferries. The Liverpool to Dublin ferry is operated by P&O ferries and will take around 8 hours.
To start your Ireland trip itinerary in Belfast, Northern Ireland you’d would cross from either Liverpool Birkenhead in England or Cairnryan in Scotland.
Both routes are serviced by Stena line. From Liverpool Birkenhead the sailing time is 8 hours and from Cairnryan just under 2.5 hours.
But there are other Irish ports with ferry crossings from the UK.
Hiring A Car in Ireland
Depending on how you choose to get to Ireland, will depend on where you start your Ireland road trip itinerary. However, you can pick a hire car up at all the airports and ferry ports we have mentioned above so there’s no drama there.
Although automatic cars are available, many are manual, so if you prefer not to or don’t know how to drive a stick shift be sure to book your Ireland car hire well in advance.
Because the roads are quite narrow in many places around Ireland we recommend choosing a small car over a great big SUV.
Ireland Driving Tips
First and foremost, the thing to remember about driving in Ireland is that they drive on the left.
But it’s not something to worry about, if you’re a competent driver you’ll pick the change up quickly. And the fact that the driving seat will be the opposite in car you hire in Ireland will make it easier.
Roundabouts are the trickiest as you need to go the opposite way around to what you are used to and you’ll need to get used to change gears with the opposite hand in manuals.
But then just remember that the driver is always sitting towards the center of the road and Bob’s your Uncle.
As I mentioned above, some of the roads in Ireland are very narrow, to the point of single file traffic in some places where you’ll need to pull over or backup to left oncoming traffic past.
They are always very windy so drive slow and be patient, you never know what might be round the corner. Likely a flock of sheep. I’m not joking there.
We always take out separate insurance when we hire a rental car abroad. This is because it’s way cheaper and they often provide more comprehensive cover than the car hire company.
You may also have insurance through your credit card or travel insurance, but double check this covers Ireland. Many don’t due to the trickier driving conditions.
Most car hire companies in Ireland have car hire age limits, with a maximum of 75 years and a minimum of 25.
However, some companies will rent to drivers between 18-25 but with an additional ‘Young Driver Fee’. So if you do fall into either of those age brackets check the T&C’s carefully.
It’s also important to get familiar with the Ireland road signs before you go as unless you’re from Europe they will be completely different to what you’re used to.
And lastly, yeah I know how tempting the Guinness is, but if you’re driving don’t risk it. The legal limits are low. And with this 2 week Ireland driving tour you’ll have plenty of time for a pint or two after you’ve parked up for the day.
What to Pack for Ireland
In line with the changeable weather conditions, the key for what to pack for Ireland is layers, layers and more layers. It can go from bright sunshine to sideways rain and near gail force winds in minutes.
Plus you’ll be nice and toasty in the car, but as soon as you step out to admire a viewpoint – which you’ll be doing a lot – you’ll want a quick extra layer or two. A light but high tog feather down jacket is a good shout.
And a solid waterproof is also non-negotiable. Don’t bother with an umbrella, it’s not worth the fight with the coastal winds.
Because our 2 week Ireland itinerary has a few optional hikes included it’ll be a good idea to pack some suitable comfortable footwear for that.
And some good travel socks.
You’ll want sunglasses too.
And don’t forget a universal power plug and a portable power bank.
What else? Oh yeah, in case your Ireland hire car doesn’t have bluetooth – you’ll want to pack a handy travel speaker so you can crank up your Spotify tunes or listen to a podcast.
Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
Okily dokily, lets in into our destination recommendations for your road trip around Ireland.
We did this Ireland road trip route in 14 days/2weeks and think it was a perfect combination of busy but not just constantly driving around only getting a glimpse at places.
For your Ireland driving trip we’ll highlight the best things to do in each place, what to see on route, plus recommendations for where to stay for every budget.
We also plotted all of the stops on a handy Ireland road trip map for you.
We’re going to kick off this Ireland driving tour itinerary in Dublin because that’s where most people arrive into Ireland, but you can of course start it anywhere.
Day 1-2: Arrive In Dublin & Explore The City
Depending on what time you arrive to start your Ireland vacation itinerary, you may only have a part of a day on your first day. But equally if you arrive early in the day, rest assured there’s an abundance of unmissable things to do in Dublin.
So it’s for that reason we recommend putting 2 nights in Dublin on your Irish road trip itinerary.
Where To Stay In Dublin
If you’re after an affordable but luxurious stay in Dublin, Stauntons on the Green Hotel is a beautiful hotel. For a cheaper alternative, the Maldron Hotel is central and has great ratings. Or if you’re on a tighter budget, Generator Dublin, is the best hostel in Dublin.
Things To Do In Dublin
One of the great things about the capital of Ireland is that many of the best things to do Dublin are completely free. So even if your accommodation costs a bit more than elsewhere in Ireland, you’ll still be quids in on that front.
It’s also a very walkable city so you won’t need to get your hire car straight away.
Here’s our recommended Dublin highlights for a first trip to Ireland.
- Do a Sandemans Free Walking Tour
- Visit Trinity College & The Book of Kells
- Check out the Grafton Street musicians
- Drop by EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
- Go to the GPO Witness History Museum
- Take a pint in The Guinness Storehouse
- Learn the history of Kilmainham Gaol
- Enjoy the Temple Bar pub culture
For more ideas of what to do in Dublin, a list of the best pubs and restaurants, plus lots more Dublin specific travel tips you can find our full guide to Dublin here.
Day 3: Rock of Cashel & Blarney Castle
No need to get up at the crack of dawn but you should make an earlish start today and head off straight after breakfast. Because you’re heading down to Cork, will a couple of stops on the on this leg of the best Ireland road trip.
First up we recommend calling at the Rock of Cashel. It’s one of Ireland’s most visited historic sights and for good reason. You see all perched on top of a limestone rock are a fascinating collection of medieval buildings.
It should take you just under 2 and a half hours to drive here from Dublin and plan to spend around an hour here which will allow time for you to take the guided tour that is included in the admission fee.
Next up on this Ireland self drive tour you’re onto get yourself the gift of the gab at Blarney Castle. The buildings and grounds are lovely to walk around but what you’re really there to do of course is kiss the famous Blarney Stone.
The drive between Rock of Cashel and Blarney Castle is around an hour and 15.
You should allow yourself at least a couple hours at Blarney Castle and be prepared to wait in line for your Blarney Stone pucker up at peak times over summer.
From Blarney Castle to Cork is just around 20 minutes.
Because you’ll be arriving in Cork city later in the day, we recommend checking into your Cork accommodation for 2 nights so that you actually get to see the city before heading off to the next stop on your trip around Ireland.
Where To Stay In Cork
The best rated central hotel in Cork is The River Lee Hotel, it’s modern and stylish with a pool and free parking. A cheaper option is Garnish House, there’s free parking and breakfast has great reviews. Kinlay House Hostel Cork is a winner for a basic, no frills backpacker stay.
Day 4: Explore Cork & Whiskey Tasting
If you’re a whiskey fan, visiting the Jameson’s Distillery in Midleton is a must for your Ireland trip planner. They have tours and tastings throughout the day. If you planning on doing a tasting and hence obvs not driving, jumping on a train or bus is easy to go the 25km.
You can read about our Jameson Whiskey tasting experience here.
Within Cork City centre there are also lots of interesting things to see and learn about. Here’s our highlights of what else to do on your day in Cork.
- Sample the goods at The English Market
- Wander down St Patrick’s Street
- Check out St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
- Stop by Fitzgerald Park and Cork Public Museum
- Learn the history of Cork City Gaol
These 3 hour self guided walking audio tours are a great accompaniment to exploring Cork, it takes you around all the top sights while telling you about the history and culture of the city.
Day 5: Visit Cobh
After breakfast, it’s time to head out to the County Cork coast, to the colorful and vibrant town of Cobh.
Stepped in history it was the embarkation point of Ireland’s mass emigration and the Titanic’s last port of call in 1912. From 1919 to 1921, during the war of Independence Cobh was also one of the most violent places in Ireland.
The best way to get to know the history is to take a walking tour.
This one is 2 hours and takes you around all the spots of historic ambushes as your guide brings to life County Cork’s armed resistance against the British Empire.
Or alternatively this 3 hour cultural tour includes the Titanic Trail Guided Walking Tour and entrance to the Heritage Center where amongst other things you can learn about the fascinating dark period of convict transportation to Australia.
The first tours are at 11am, so get yourself there for then.
Driving time from Cork to Cobh is just 30 minutes.
For a late lunch, The Quays Bar and Restaurant has great food, great service and great views.
From Cobh you’re heading up to Killarney, the drive is around an hour and a half.
You going to need a day to explore Killarney National Park and a day to drive the Ring of Kerry so you should book three nights at your Killarney accommodation.
Where To Stay in Killarney
The Black Sheep Hostel is one of the best hostels we’ve stayed in. Not just in Ireland. Period. For more of a mid-range stay, Ashville House is a lovely little family run B&B with great breakfasts. Or if you’re after some more luxury, The Killarney Park with spa is a top choice.
Day 6: Killarney National Park
Starting just a couple of km from Killarney town centre, Killarney National Park is over 103km² of lush green woodland and vast lakes surrounded by snow capped mountains.
Here’s the highlights of Killarney National Park for your Ireland tour itinerary:
- Muckross House, Abbey & Farms
- Killarney House and Gardens
- Ross Castle & Lough Leane
- Torc Waterfall & Mount Torc hike
And you fancy a break from driving around Ireland, you can take a tour of Killarney National Park on one of the traditional jaunting carts instead.
The pub scene in Killarney with it’s live music is absolutely cracking. Our favourite pub is Courtney’s but any along Plunkett Street will do.
You can find more recommendations in our full guide to Killarney.
Day 7: The Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry refers to a scenic route around the Iveragh Peninsula of County Kerry.
Most guided tours only last only a few hours, but we spent about 8 hours driving the Ring of Kerry. And could have easily have spent even more time on it. You just feel like pulling the car over every 5 minutes to take in the gorgeous views.
Because the tour buses go anti-clockwise, we recommend driving the Ring of Kerry clockwise so you don’t get stuck behind them or have to share the viewpoints with lots of people.
So head straight into Killarney National Park and onto Sneem, making sure you pull over at the picturesque viewing points of Ladies View and Molls Gap. If you fancy stretching your legs, there’s a nice short walk in Sneem called ‘The Way the Fairies Went’.
Caherdaniel is also a great place on the Ring of Kerry for a stop off too. If you’re not the one driving grab a cheeky in The Blind Piper. And don’t miss Derrynane and Rossbeigh beach.
We also suggest including the 18km detour around the Skellig Ring, you won’t regret it.
Do be extra careful and pay attention on the Ring of Kerry roads. Where we mentioned above that some are so narrow you may need to back up to let traffic pass, this is one of those places. Especially if you meet one of the tour buses.
Day 8: Cliffs of Moher, Doolin & The Burren
Okay, you need to be up and at ‘em for day eight of this self drive Ireland itinerary because quite a bit of driving and some big landscapes to see.
First up are the mighty Cliffs of Moher. From Killarney, the drive is just over two and a half hours. The huge sea cliffs run for 14km and reach 214 metres above the Atlantic Ocean at their highest point.
There’s a visitor information centre and two paths you can take to explore the cliff tops – one south and one north. The views are insane a clear enough day you’ll be able to see the Aran Islands up in Galway Bay.
For lunch head on up the coast a few km, to the attractive colorful village of Doolin. Gus O’Connors pub, a traditional tavern that opened in 1832 has some tasty traditional Irish grub.
Once your refueled, it’s time to take on the vastness of The Burren, a further 15min drive up the rugged coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way of West Ireland.
Formed millions of years ago, the karst Burren landscape feels otherworldly, especially accompanied by the silence. There’s over 80 ancient tombs scattered across it, so park up and take a wander.
From The Burren you’re away up to Galway, which you should make in just under an hour and a half.
It’ll be quite late in the day by the time you arrive, so you’ll need to book accommodation for two nights in Galway so that you have time to explore the actual city itself. Which is an absolute gem by the way.
Where To Stay in Galway
For affordable luxury there’s The Galmont Hotel & Spa overlooking Galway Bay with onsite parking and waterfront terrace. St. Judes Lodge B&B is a good shout for a more homely option. Or the well designed Kinlay House Eyre Square Hostel for cheap and cheerful stay.
Day 9: Explore Galway
Otherwise known as ‘The City of 14 Tribes’, after the 14 merchant families who controlled the as aspects of life of the city for over six centuries, Galway is a fascinating city with a rich history.
The brightly coloured streets and alive with music and bustling night and day. And although it a very popular Ireland destinations, it wears it’s high tourism levels seemingly effortlessly.
Here’s some of the best things to do in Galway:
- Learn the dark history of Lynch’s Window
- Take in the Spanish Arch & Galway City Walls
- Check out the inside of Galway Cathedral
- Take a Eglinton Canal or Corrib River walk
- Take a stroll along Salthill Promenade
- Discover Irish heritage at the Claddagh Museum
- A symbol of Irish heritage, the famous Claddagh
- Take a stroll out to Mutton Island or Menlo Castle
- Try oysters on a Galway Food Tour
For more information on things to do in Galway, you can check out our full guide here.
Day 10: Connemara Loop & Kylemore Abbey
Today your Irish road trip will see you continuing up the Wild Atlantic Way to check out the enchanting Kylemore Abbey, drive the stunning Connemara Loop and take a hike in Connemara National Park.
It’s a long day so get up and out early.
We advise heading along the coastal road through Barna and Spiddal, then crossing up inland through Screebe to Maam Cross.
This is where the Connemara Loop begins.
From there head up to Letterfrack, swinging left onto the R344 after Recess to take you up past Lough Inagh.
It should take you just under two hours.
Your first stop is Kylemore Abbey. Nestled in the greenery on the banks of Pollacapal Lough, it really does look like something out of a magical fairytale.
The building is magnificent, as is the Victorian Walled Garden.
Next it’s time to work off some of those Guinness calories on a hike around the beautiful Connemara National Park.
From the visitors centre, there are 4 clearly marked trails.
There’s the easy ½ mile Ellis Wood route, the Sruffaunboy 1 mile route, the Lower Diamond Hill 2 miles route and the Upper Diamond Hill 2¼ miles route.
If you have the time and energy we recommend heading all the way up to the summit of Diamond Hill on the Upper trail. It’s quite strenuous and rocky near the top but the views reward your effort.
It’s 4½ miles in total and you should allow 2-3 hours.
From Letterfrack, head on up around the peninsula towards Tully Cross and onto Gowlaun and past Lough Fee. This part of the Connemara Loop and the Wild Atlantic Way is a seriously gorgeous drive.
From there you’ll drop back onto the N59 and you’re away up to your next overnight stay in the seaside town of Sligo. It’s about a 2 hour drive.
For this road trip through Ireland, you’re just going to need to book one night in Sligo.
Where To Stay in Sligo
The beautifully renovated Beehive Hostel complete with the coolest pugs is seriously lovely.
Day 11: Explore County Sligo
Okay time to take in some of the most beguiling landscapes in County Sligo with a ginormous waterfall and beaut of a coastal walk!
The Devil’s Chimney, right on the border with County Leitrim is the tallest waterfall in Ireland.
The vertical drop of 150m is however best seen after heavy rainfall, so you should cross your fingers for bad weather this morning on your driving trip through Ireland.
The 1.2km walking trail should take around 45 minutes and it’s just a 15 minute drive from Sligo.
Next up, Mullaghmore Head. This 8km coastal walk is a seriously pretty one starting from the carpark in Mullaghmore village. It’s roughly a half hour drive from the Devil’s Chimney.
If either of these ideas for where to go in Ireland doesn’t float your boat, you can find you can find plenty of other things in our full guide to Sligo.
After exploring County Sligo, you’re on your way up to Derry Londonderry and crossing into Northern Ireland. From Mullaghmore Head it’s around an hour and a half drive.
You’ll be stopping in Derry for 2 nights. It’s a bonny city with a dramatic story. And one of our favourite places to visit in Ireland.
Where To Stay in Derry Londonderry
When it comes to hostels in Derry Ireland, Hostel Connect is the one, they have privates and dorms. Alternatively homey Amore Bed & Breakfast is a gem of a place to stay. Or if you’re looking for a proper treat, the Shipquay Boutique Hotel has awesome reviews.
Day 12: Explore Derry
Interestingly, the city of Derry is the only completely walled city that remains in tact in Ireland. It’s a huge part of the city’s history. In fact many things to do in Derry are centered around it’s tragic yet fascinating history.
Here’s what not to miss in Derry Londonderry:
- Take a walking tour on Derry City walls
- Visit the Museum of Free Derry
- Take a tour of the Bogside murals
- Explore Derry’s Craft Village
- Take in Peace Bridge & The Guildhall
And after all the exploring and learning, there’s a whole street of traditional pubs with live music. Peadar O’Donnells and The Gweedore Bar are top draw.
Naturally with so many pubs, there’s also lots of tasty typical Irish food knocking about.
You can find more of our recommendations for what to do in Derry Londonderry here.
Day 13: The Causeway Coastal route
While you’re travelling around Ireland, it’s hard to believe that the landscape can keep getting better. But they do. And the Causeway Coastal route is the perfect example.
You’ll need an early start to fit in all of the road trip Ireland suggestions for today.
First up, you’re headed to Mussenden Temple. Dramatically perched on a cliff top overlooking Downhill beach, Games of Thrones fans will immediately recognise this ornate building.
From Derry City to Mussenden Temple the drive is about 45 minutes.
Second up is iconic ruins of medieval Dunluce Castle. Set on a rocky outcrop, a footbridge connects the dramatically positioned castle with the mainland.
It’s a half hour drive from Mussenden Temple to Dunluce Castle.
Next up, it’s the world renowned Giant’s Causeway.
These mystical hexagonal columns extend like steps way out into the sea. As soon as you see them you’ll understand why there are so many myths about their formation and provides an explanation for their fantastical name.
It’s just 10 minutes in the car and you’ll need at least a couple of hours to explore this favourite destination in Northern Ireland.
Then it’s time to walk the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. Initially constructed by salmon fishermen in 1755, the 20m bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick-a-Rede island and isn’t for the faint hearted.
It’s just 15 minutes up the road from the Giant’s Causeway.
Okay now to head inland to one of the most striking roads in Ireland and another must for Game of Thrones fans, The Dark Hedges. This avenue of dramatic beech trees along Bregagh Road is an absolute must for your Irish road trip.
It’s just 20 minutes inland from the Causeway Coast.
From there you’re onto Belfast which is just under an hours drive away – told you it’s an action packed day driving the Causeway Coast.
You’ll need 2 nights in Belfast for this Ireland 2 week itinerary.
Where To Stay in Belfast
If you’re after a good quality hostel in Belfast, Vagabonds has the best reviews of the bunch. For somewhere more comfortable, the central and modern ETAP Hotel Belfast is really great value. Or alternatively if you’d prefer a studio, The Flint is very reasonable and very popular.
Day 14: Belfast
The very first thing you want to be organising to do in Belfast for your first trip to Ireland itinerary is a walking tour with Dead Centre Tours. These guys are just the best guides.
They’ll literally walk you through the history of The Troubles in the city, taking you around pointant locations from the cities traumatic past. It’s one of the best tours we’ve been on.
You can read our full review here.
For more things to do in Belfast we recommend you:
- Visit the Titanic Belfast Museum
- Take in grand City Hall
- Wander around the Botanic Gardens
- Take a tour of the Crumlin Road Gaol
- Go to the Stormont Parliament Buildings
- Have a pint in the Crown Liquor Saloon
- Hop in a black cab around the Peace Walls
Day 15: Back to Dublin
Well as they say, all good things must come to an end. Today’s it’s time to head back to Dublin. To the start. If you’re not leaving the Emerald Isle until later in the day and have the time, be sure to make a stop off at the pretty Irish village of Howth on the Howth Peninsula.
There’s a stunning cliff top trail and being home to some of the oldest occupied buildings in Ireland, lots of medieval ruins.
Driving time from Belfast City to Howth is just under 2 hours.
If you’re heading straight to Dublin airport and dropping your Ireland hire car off there allow for an hour and 45 minutes. Or straight into Dublin City Centre, 2 hours.
If you have any unanswered questions about driving through Ireland or planning your Ireland driving routes hit us up in the comments and we’ll do our best to help.
Ireland Travel Insurance
Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world but we never go anywhere without travel insurance – and neither should you.
World Nomads is our preferred choice for great cover and a no bullshit approach, grab yourself a quick quote below:
Recommended Ireland Guide Books
Pin Me For Later…
Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.