Our Ireland Road Trip: Itinerary and Recommendations

Capturing the essence of the contour of light and land...this is road trip Ireland. #dna2ireland
Ireland road trip, country roads.

When we originally announced our Ireland road trip, we hinted at disclosing all the details of our Ireland itinerary and recommendations.

Here it is. All that’s fit to print.

Day by day, we give the complete Ireland itinerary that took us all the way around the circumference of the island. We also share recommendations of places to linger, eat, grab a pint, and stay overnight, and we point out places or activities we would have added to our road trip had we more time.

Admittedly, we covered a lot of ground in a week, in retrospect moving a bit too quickly for our taste.  This brings us to planning an Ireland itinerary and properly estimating the amount of time it actually takes between Ireland destinations, and incorporating time to get lost and make random stops. Our recommendation is to take a similar itinerary and spread it out over two weeks. Alternatively, if you have a week or less, consider focusing on only one segment or region in the itinerary.

We’d like to thank everyone from our blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram communities who provided us with recommendations along our Ireland road trip, many of which we wouldn’t have found on our own.

Skip ahead to the section of the Ireland road trip itinerary that interests you most:

Google Map of our Road Trip Route Around Ireland

Our Ireland Road Trip Itinerary, Day by Day

Day 1: Dublin -> Newgrange /Bru na Boinne -> Mornington Beach -> Dundalk

Dublin Recommendations: Before you begin to ask for Dublin advice, we have to admit that we sadly cannot give much. We were in Dublin to speak at TBEX, a travel blogging conference, and unfortunately didn’t have much time to explore outside of the conference events. However, we can recommend:

  • The Guinness Storehouse: A cool, interactive museum that will answer any question you might possibly have about Guinness. You can even take a class in how to pull the perfect Guinness. Absolutely essential to understanding one of the reasons why Guinness in Ireland is terrific.
  • Cliff Townhouse: If you’re a fan of oysters, Cliff Townhouse offers a selection of different types of oysters from around Ireland. Our favorites included the native and Galway oysters. Big thanks to Mariellen for sharing her oyster feast with us!

Newgrange / Bru na Boinne
Of the two ancient burial sites found in the area, Newgrange and Knowth, we only visited Newgrange. It was surprisingly impressive! An estimated 200 tons of stones, some carried from 40-50 km away, were used to construct this 5,000 year-old ritual and burial site. Even more impressive is the corbelled staggered stone roof and sun entrance, perfectly placed on a rise above the main door to allow a stream of light to shine through the tunnel all the way to the ritual chamber — only at sunrise on the Winter Solstice. During the tour, our guide performed a simulation of this and it was still remarkable.  Must be incredible to see the real deal on December 21.

Newgrange Ancient Burial Site - Ireland
Newgrange ancient burial site, rediscovered after 4,000 years.

Newgrange practical details: Tickets are on a first come, first served basis at the Bru na Boinne Visitors Center (€6 for Newgrange transport and tour, plus visitor center exhibit). Plan for additional time in your itinerary in case the tour times are booked when you first arrive.  Brambles Cafe at the Visitor’s Center actually serves quite good chicken mushroom and Guinness beef cottage pies if you arrive around lunchtime.

Recommended spots near Newgrange:

  • St Mary’s Abbey in Duleek: About 10 kilometers from Newgrange near the town of Duleek is St. Mary’s Abbey, a rubbled medieval church and cemetery. The original church is estimated to date back to the 13th century, while some of the Celtic cross tombstones may go back even further. Cemetery lovers delight: a pleasant and atmosphere to linger and get a feel for Ireland’s religious history. Worth a quick stop if you have the time.
  • Mornington Beach: As the weather was absolutely spectacular on the day we visited, a Dublin-based friend suggested a picnic out by the coast and we ended up on Mornington Beach near Drogheda town. Wide open beach, waves, stone walls to stroll along, fishermen, and families walking their dogs. If the weather is good, this is a beautiful stretch of beach to breathe in your share of Irish Sea air. Although we didn’t have time to stop in Drogheda, it looked like it might be a fun place overnight, perhaps more personal than Dundalk.
Mornington Beach, Climbing on the Rocks - Ireland
Late afternoon walk along Mornington Beach.

Day 2: Dundalk -> Belfast -> Giant’s Causeway -> Donegal

Northern Ireland and Belfast: There’s no border crossing to enter Northern Ireland, but you’ll know you’ve crossed once you begin seeing Union Jack signs and flags flying. That, and all prices have turned to British pounds. We had limited time to stop in Belfast.  So upon return, we’ll book a Black Taxi Tour (recommended by a friend in Dublin) for a closer and grittier look at Belfast past and present.

Giant’s Causeway: We drove north through inland Northern Ireland until we hit Ballycastle (where there’s a cute little church and cemetery), then west along the Coastal Causeway route, stopping at lookout spots and villages along the way until we hit Giant’s Causeway.  While we only walked along the upper route to look down on Giant’s Causeway from above, but we would recommend beginning with the lower route and also paying a visit to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.  Giant’s Causeway Entrance Tickets: £8.50 (including parking fees).

Giant's Causeway - Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway, looking down from upper route.

Dunluce Castle (near Bushmills): This is an almost too perfectly placed rubbled seaside castle from the 15th-16th centuries.  Definitely worth at least a photo stop and to walk through the fields for another gander at the island’s rugged northern coast.

If we had more time:

- Port Rush: Recommended to get a drink or coffee by the harbor
- Derry: Walk the walled medieval town

Donegal, Harvey’s Point Hotel: Our stopping point for the night along Lough Eske outside of Donegal town.  Get away from it all and enjoy local big bottle Kinnegar microbrews (try the Scraggy Bay IPA!) in front of the fire.  Then tuck into a meal that will wind you down for good. We enjoyed an artfully prepared venison loin and some local monkfish fillet.  Finish your evening leather chair-bound in front of the fire with a Connemara or Bushmills Irish whiskey sip.

Day 3: Donegal -> Westport

O little town of Donegal. Strips of color to brighten a gray morning. #dna2ireland
Colorful Donegal town on a gray morning.

Donegal Town recommendations:

  • The Blueberry Tea Room: Cute little café with fresh salads and sandwiches. Goat cheese salad is highly recommended. Cash only.
  • Donegal Abbey: Just past the Tourist Information office is the Donegal Abbey, a rubbled abbey and cemetery that is worth a quick explore.

On the drive between Donegal and Westport our suggestion is to turn down a few of the side roads that don’t appear anywhere on your map.  Head to the coast and take a walk. This was where we began our journey along the Wild Atlantic Way, a driving route that follows the Atlantic coast from North to South. Also, the stretch of road through Sligo County is filled with stone farm houses – some still active and many abandoned lush fields and landscape.  If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a rainbow like we did.

The beauty of an Ireland road trip: the little things. Am a big fan of old Irish farmhouses dotting, gracing the hills with their bits of red roofs, rusted and rustic. County Sligo #dna2ireland
Old Irish farmhouses dotting, gracing the hills with their bits of red roofs, rusted and rustic en route from Donegal to Westport.

Westport Recommendations:

  • J.J. O’Malley’s Pub and Restaurant: Westport has a lot of pubs and a lot of restaurants, but there were not many options for pubs that have their own restaurant. J.J. O’Malley’s fit that need. Recommend getting the local salmon — fresh and nicely cooked — along with a bowl of mussels in white wine cream.  All goes perfectly with — you guessed it — a pint of Guinness.
  • The Porter House: Cosy pub with a good selection of microbrews on tap, as well as the requisite Guinness. Staff are friendly and live music plays most nights. We began our night here with a few pints and the first set of music and popped next door to finish off the evening.
  • Matt Malloy’s: Recommended to us by a few of our Facebook fans. We were so glad we listened.   The owner is a musician himself and there is live music every night of the week. Grab a pint on your way in, and find a spot in the back room where the music magic happens.  Fun!

Day 4: Westport -> Louisburgh -> Clifden -> Connemara -> Galway -> Ballyvaughan

Louisburgh: Following advice from the bartender at The Porter House in Westport, we took a few turns outside Louisburgh aiming to get lost along the coast. Louisburgh itself is worth as stop.  It’s a cute little town — a tidy town perhaps — with its share of coffee houses, butchers, surf shops and pubs.

Kylemore Benedictine Abbey: Somewhere between Louisburgh and Clifden, you’ll see this incredible building – like something out of a Harry Potter movie – across a lake. Resist the urge to pull over into the forest to take photos as there will be a proper parking lot a few hundred meters away. We admired the Benedictine Abbey and its gardens from afar, but if you have time, friends tell us it’s worth paying the entrance fee to get up close.

Kylemore Abbey - County Galway, Ireland
Kylemore Benedictine Abbey.

Clifden: Stop by Guy’s Bar for lunch or dinner. Doesn’t have all the decor trappings of a classic Irish pub, but this is a genuine local joint featuring a steady stream of regulars. Fantastic (and huge) fish and chips. And very good Guinness. Clifden is a cute Irish town and a great stopping off point in Connemara. If you have more time, consider spending the night here.

Connemara: It’s a beautiful drive between Clifden and Galway through Ireland’s Connemara region.  This area features moody weather, green hills, wooly sheep dotting those same green hills, lakes, and more.  Time permitting, head into Connemara National Park for a hike.

Connemara Driving - County Galway, Ireland
Driving through misty Connemara.

Galway: Our visit to Galway was far too short, just for dinner. In our very brief time in Galway, we enjoyed the feeling of the city, one of a lively university town.   If we had to do it again we would have spent a night or two here. We also heard from several Irish folks we met that the music scene in Galway is great and it’s hopping every night of the week.

Aniar Restaurant in Galway: If food is important to you and you have a little room to splurge on a Michelin-starred restaurant, this is the place.  Terrific, thoughtful flavors, outdone only by the presentation and further outdone by careful culinary explanations.  The menu is all based around what is fresh that day at the market, sometimes changing within the day. We each enjoyed the tasting menu and shared a wine pairing for taste (65€ for 5 course tasting menu, €95 with wine pairing).

Day 5: Ballyvaughan -> The Burren Coastal Drive -> Doolin -> Cliffs of Moher -> Ferry from Shannon -> Killarney

We spent the night at Gregan’s Castle Hotel just outside of Ballyvaughan and in the heart of The Burren.  A really warm and pleasant property.  We have to admit that it was difficult to leave in the morning. After a late evening arrival, we awoke to a beautiful view over the gardens and fields that reach to the coast.  Breakfast is also lovely here, as the menu gives the name of the farmers from whom all the food is locally sourced. Some nearby farmers also offer walking tours so you can learn more about the living and natural history of the area. If you are looking to splurge on accommodation for a night, this would be a great place to do so.  Be sure to check out their “Things to do nearby” menu.  A terrific list if you want to sample The Burren experience.

The Burren Coast Drive: The drive along the coast from Ballyvaughan to Doolin through The Burren was one of our favorite drives in the country. Harsh, rocky landscapes shaped by brisk winds from the coast.

Audrey on the Cliffs of The Burren - County Clare, Ireland
Audrey almost gets blown off the cliffs of The Burren.

Doolin: Stop off in Doolin for lunch.  If the weather cooperates, consider taking a boat ride out to the Aran Islands or to see the Cliffs of Moher from below.  Boat departure times depend on tides, weather and how rough the seas are so call ahead to be sure that there is indeed a boat departing when you want to go. We’d planned to take a boat ride to see the Cliffs of Moher with Moher Cruises, but the winds and seas were quite rough. The owners were very honest about conditions and how they could affect the enjoyment of the trip.

Cliffs of Moher: The Cliffs of Moher is one of the most visited sites in Ireland, so expect to see the big tour buses and groups here. Don’t let the crowds put you off. Enjoy the view of the cliffs and appreciate the remarkably strong gusts of wind. If you are a photographer (or photography is important to you), consider timing your visit to the Cliffs of Moher in the morning. When we arrived mid-afternoon we were shooting into the sun, which was a bit tough. Entrance fee: €6/person

Cliffs of Moher - County Clare, Ireland
Cliffs of Moher in the late afternoon light.

Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk: A new walking path has just been built that connects Doolin with the Cliffs of Moher and goes all the way down to Liscannor. If you are a trekker, this would be the best way to enjoy the coastline as you’ll have most of the path to yourself.  Check public bus times so you catch the bus back to your car at the end of the hike. Alternatively, hitchhike back to your car.

Shannon Ferry, Killimer to Tarbert: From the Cliffs of Moher to Killarney, you have two options. Take the ferry from Killimer to Tarbert (what we did) or take the highway through Limerick. We didn’t intend for our ferry ride to be a sunset trip, but timing made it so.And it was really pleasant to get out of the car and enjoy the 30-45 minute ride as the sun set over the Atlantic ocean. Shannon Ferry Cost: €18/car

Sunset Shannon Ferry Ride  - Ireland
Sunset on the Shannon car ferry.

Killarney Recommendations:  Killarney is clearly and firmly on the traditional Ireland trail, so the center of town is quite touristy.  A pretty town with no shortage of shopping and live music at night.

  • Courtney’s Bar (Plunkett Street): Another pub recommendation from our community.  Thank you! Killarney is full of pubs and live music, but some of the options feel a tad less than local.  Although Courtney’s also had its share of tourists (like us), it felt more personal.  Live music was good, too. Courtney’s also features one of the most extensive beer menus we’d seen in all of Ireland. Not a bad whiskey list, either.
  • Lane Cafe Bar at Ross Hotel: Technically, Lana Cafe is bar food, but the quality and creativity of the dishes we tasted here go beyond standard pub fare. Really excellent Dingle Bay Mussels with chorizo and chickpea tomato broth and the fish of the day. Both were great, and the prices are very reasonable given the quality and quantity of the food. Highly recommended.  The Cellar One Restaurant (closed the day we were there) is supposed to be even better. The Ross Hotel itself is very nice and right in the city center.  Awesomely accommodating staff with tons of information about the region.

Day 6: Killarney -> Dingle Peninsula -> Ring of Kerry (West) -> Cliffs of Kerry -> Portmagee

Dingle Peninsula: On your way from Killarney to Dingle you’ll want to pull over repeatedly to take photos of the almost too perfect sheep farms overlooking the coast. There aren’t as many pull-offs as there ought to be, so it is best to drive slowly and enjoy.  Break up your drive at Inch and take a walk along the beach (Inch Beach is two miles long, by the way!). If you go  in summer and you’re brave, you can take surf lessons. At the end of the peninsula, Dingle town is absurdly cute, loaded with colorfully painted shopfronts and pubs. If you have time, we’d recommend spending the night here.

Dingle Town in All its Color - County Kerry, Ireland
Colorful little town of Dingle.

Ring of Kerry (West): Killarney to Portmagee is yet another fabulous Ireland drive. We found ourselves pulling off into villages and taking side roads across this route. There are some exceptionally picturesque farms and old farm houses along the route. Take a stop in Cahersiveen and enjoy the view across the bridge and at the marina.

Ring of Kerry, twists and turns, back roads and a hidden marina. Cahersiveen, County Kerry #dna2ireland
Ring of Kerry, twists and turns, back roads and a hidden marina. Cahersiveen, County Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry: As you approach Portmagee, you’ll begin seeing small brown signs on the side of the road for “The most spectacular cliffs in Kerry.” We admit that the marketing worked. We followed the signs all the way past Portmagee to a small driveway with a cafe. Go inside and buy a ticket (€4/person) and walk out to the cliffs. You won’t be disappointed.  And we had the cliffs all to ourselves – we were the only people there. Spectacularly beautiful.  We can recommend visiting around sunset.

Cliffs of Kerry at Sunset - Ireland
Cliffs of Kerry at sunset.

Portmagee: Whether you’re staying at The Moorings (recommended) or staying elsewhere in Portmagee, get yourself down to the pub at The Moorings for dinner.  The pub has a great feel, sweet staff, a nice fire, fine Guinness and a blend of travelers and locals. But the real star here is the seafood chowder with homemade soda bread. The best of both we’d found in Ireland. Also recommended: the fish & chips, but beware that the serving will feed a small extended family.  Sharing is wise.

Day 7: Portmagee -> Skellig Rocks (boat trip) -> Ring of Kerry (East) -> Cork

Skellig Rocks: If the weather is good and the seas aren’t too rough, book a boat trip out to the Skellig Rocks. This was one of the highlights of our entire trip. Boats leave from the Portmagee marina around 10:00AM and will get you back around 2:15 PM. You’ll be dropped off at Skellig Michael and have around 2- 2.5 hours explore the island and the medieval monastery. That might sound like a lot of time, but it will go by very quickly, particularly if the weather is nice. Take a picnic or snacks with you to eat on the island. 

IMG_5006.jpg
Steps leading up to the medieval monastery on Skellig Michael.

We went with Pat Joe Murphy’s Sea Cruise (087 6762983/087 2342168) and had a great time. Call ahead to be sure there’s still a spot for you. We can also highly recommend following the boat ride with another bowl of seafood chowder and a pint of Guinness from The Moorings while sitting by the fire.

Ring of Kerry (East): We wish we had more time for this section of the trip as there are several small towns (Sneem, Templenoe, etc.) along the way between Portmagee and Kenmare that looked like fun places to roam, get lost and have a pint. If you’re going to take the boat ride out to Skellig Rocks in the morning, consider spending the night in one of these towns that evening, instead of going all the way to Cork.

Ring of Kerry (East) Landscapes - Ireland
Ring of Kerry (east), landscapes en route from Portmagee to Cork.

Cork at night:

  • Concert at Triskel Christchurch: We arrived in Cork just in time to see an Irish folk music concert by Paddy Casey at Christchurch. Both experiences are highly recommended. Paddy Casey is not only a great singer and songwriter, but he’s also hilarious. And, Christchurch is a very cool concert venue.  It’s a converted church so that you’ll be sitting in pews while soaking up the acoustics.  You can even drink a beer while seated in the pews. Drinking in the pews — there’s something fitting and ironic about that in Ireland.
  • Long Valley Bar (Winthrop Street): If you’re looking for a laid back pub with live music on weekends this is a great choice. We thank Katrina Stovoid who lives in Cork for inviting us out with her friends and sharing this pub with us.

Day 8: Cork -> Dublin

Cork English Market: I have to admit that I had my doubts about the English Market. We figured it to be really touristy and full of overpriced gourmet foods as it appears at the top of every “What to do in Cork” list. But to our surprise, the English Market on a Saturday morning was filled mainly with locals going about their weekend shopping at the butcher, fishmonger, vegetable stands and other local and international food shops.  Some of the butcher shops go back over a hundred years and get passed down through the family. If our experience is any measure, the Irish certainly know their meat and value a good butcher.

English Market, Seafood Vendor - Cork, Ireland
English Market on a Saturday morning, Cork.

It was impossible to cover everything in Ireland in the course of a week, but this itinerary gave us a good overview of the island and an idea of where we’d like to go deeper.  We look forward to a return trip.

Where do you recommend we go next visit to Ireland?

—-

Disclosure: We thank Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland for supporting our trip to Ireland and this road trip around the country. As always, all experiences and opinions above are entirely our own.

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Comments

  1. says

    Wow, that was a lot of travelling!
    I’m actually from Donegal Town myself, and each time I’m back home, The Blueberry Tea Room is my first stop! I couldn’t believe that you also found it, but I’m guessing it’s listed in the guide books!

  2. says

    Wow, that is quite the itinerary. We just got back from Ireland and we probably saw half of what you did in twice the time! :) I must admit, I am no longer able to have my power trips like I used to. Now, I prefer to take it easy and learn as much as about a region as possible.

  3. says

    @Francis: The Blueberry Tea Room is a great spot. The recommendation for it actually came from one of our readers who commented on our article announcing the trip. We had such a good lunch there.

    @Quyen: Yes, the itinerary was pretty full on as we didn’t have much time before our next trip. That’s why we recommended at the top of the article to take it and double the time or just focus on one area for a week. But, we did have a good time and have an idea of where we’d spend more time next visit.

  4. says

    Ireland is such a beautiful place to drive. I highly recommend the western portion of County Donegal – not as well visited as other counties on the West Coast, but a wonderful part of Ireland. Re time taken to see Ireland, I reckon it would take a month to do justice to all that is on offer. I spent one week alone driving from Donegal to Dingle and even that felt a trifle rushed. I’m sure, like me, you are planning a return visit one day!

  5. says

    @Shane: Ireland is certainly a fabulous place for a road trip. We didn’t get up to the western portion of County Donegal, but did pick up a guide for that area from Harvey’s Point Hotel and it looked really beautiful. Next visit we’ll stick to one or two counties and spend more nights in one place. I imagine it would take even longer than a month to fully discover Ireland’s nooks and crannies!

  6. says

    Wonderful Article :) really helpful for my next trip over there.. but only concerns is i cannot able to visit ” Northern Ireland ” due to diff visa :) so what more i can add for same 8-10 days trip ( Road trip ) or this is enough ? and spread my stays to few place more ?

  7. says

    @Amar: Sorry to hear about the visa difficulties with Northern Ireland. My suggestion for the additional 8-10 days would be to spread them out so you have additional time from Connemara (Day 4) through to Cork (Day 7). We would have loved more time in Galway and to explore more of the small towns and villages along the Ring of Kerry. Enjoy your trip!!

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