The Ultimate Ireland Road Trip Guide: See Ireland in a Week
There’s something magical about March in Ireland. What with St. Patrick’s Day each year, and the late winter rains that turn the fields a truly emerald shade (hence the nickname “The Emerald Isle”), Ireland is a perfect destination right now… or any time of the year!
In 2013, three friends and I spent a week in Ireland, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, drinking all the Guinness, and driving around the countryside (not at the same time!). Based on our experiences, here’s the perfect road trip guide for Ireland.
In this, I assume you’ve already visited Dublin; this is a road trip itinerary for the rest of Ireland. You can choose to do only Days 1-5, or tack on Days 6-7 to see parts of Northern Ireland. This is by no means a comprehensive, local expertise guide. It’s more for those of you, like me, who want to see all the main sights and only have a week of vacation saved up.
Any questions? Let me know in the comments!
Quick Glance: A One-Week Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
The box below gives you the basic details of the trip. You can read the rest of the article for more detail.
Day 1 – Leave Dublin; Visit Kilcullen, Gowran, Inistioge; Stay in Kinsale
Day 2 – Leave Kinsale; Visit Cork & Blarney Castle, Drombeg Stone Circle, Schull, Killarney National Park; Stay in Dingle
Day 3 – Leave Dingle; Visit Conor Pass, Castlegregory, Tarbeth, Shannon; Stay in Liscannor
Day 4 – Visit Liscannor, the Cliffs of Moher; Stay in Liscannor
Day 5 – Leave Liscannor; Drive to Dublin; Stay in Dublin or add-on Northern Ireland
Day 6 – (Optional) Leave Dublin; Visit Bushmills, Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede; Stay in Bushmills
Day 7 – (Optional) Leave Bushmills; Visit Belfast; Stay in Dublin
I’ve also created a custom map. Dublin is the darkest dot, and the lighter shades indicate the day of the itinerary. As you can tell, the basic idea is a clockwise route around the outer part of Ireland.
Road Trip Itinerary Details by Day: How to See Ireland in One Week
Day 1 – Leaving Dublin, Headed Southwest
Setting out from Dublin is an exciting prospect: once you leave the city traffic behind, the rolling fields of Ireland appear almost immediately.
Rather than taking the most direct motorway from one town to the next, I recommend smaller highways and roads. Therefore, take the M7 to the M9 and stop for a late breakfast in the town of Kilcullen. I recommend Ann Tearmann for a light breakfast and coffee.
From Kilcullen, continue on the M9 toward Gowran. There, friends and I stopped to explore the ruins surrounding St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, parts of which date back over 2,000 years to Celtic times:
These kinds of diversions are one of the best parts of taking a road trip through Ireland: you can stop and explore at will, on your own schedule. Please be respectful of ruins and historic sites while exploring!
From Gowran, I recommend you continue to the small town of Inistioge (“In-ish-teeg”). An Irish friend recommended lunch here, and the diversion from the main route is worth it. Aside from lunch at Circle of Friends Cafe, you can see a beautiful arched bridge across the River Nore:
From Inistioge, make the 2.5-hour drive along the N25 to Kinsale for the evening. While there, spend time admiring the boats as they come into the harbor for the night; their fresh catches will be on the menu at many restaurants around town. The best is Fishy Fishy, recommended by my Irish friend, and verified when friends and I dined there.
For accommodation in Kinsale, you have several options:
- Airbnb, such as this harbor-view apartment where I stayed (get $40 off your first Airbnb reservation with my special code!)
- Actons Hotel, the top rated hotel in Kinsale (4.5/5 stars on TripAdvisor) (Book on Hotels.com)
- Macdonald Kinsale Hotel & Spa, a more budget friendly option (4/5 stars on TripAdvisor) (Book on Hotels.com)
Day 2: Westward Along the Southern Coast of Ireland
Rise early for a long, ambitious day of sightseeing and driving!
Explore Kinsale a little while making your way to breakfast at the Lemon Leaf Cafe. They claim to offer the best coffee and breakfast in the county, and I can’t disagree.
Backtrack slightly on a 45-minute drive to the city of Cork and Blarney Castle. This must-see sight is home to the famous Blarney Stone. If you arrive early enough (or on a rainy day, as I did), you can avoid the crowds that form and explore the castle and grounds at your leisure. The precariously perched Stone will also be slightly less gross or terrifying without crowds.
By mid-morning, head away from Cork toward the town of Schull (“Skull”). En route along the N71, stop off to see the Drombeg Stone Circle, a 75-minute drive. This megalithic site dates back to the Bronze/Iron Ages (as far back as 3200BC) and is one of the most-visited sites of its type. It also looks out across stunning rolling fields all dressed up in Irish green. It’s not hard to see why people have settled here for five millennia:
Drive another 45-minutes along the N71 to Schull for lunch. This seaside town is popular with visitors in the summer months, due to close ocean access and beautiful countryside. I recommend you enjoy lunch at the Black Sheep Bar; in colder months they usually have a fire going where you can warm up.
Though it’s midday, the drive is far from over – don’t dawdle over lunch too long! It’s a two-hour drive north from Schull to Killarney by way of Killarney National Park. Stop off to stretch your legs and enjoy the view, or take a tiny two-lane road to the Gap of Dunloe and the Wishing Bridge:
It’s one more hour north and west to the town of Dingle on the peninsula of the same name. Dingle is yet another seaside fishing town, well known to locals and recommended by my friend. This is your base for the night.
For accommodation in Dingle, you have several options:
- Airbnb, such as the Dingle Marina Lodge Apartments (4/5 stars on TripAdvisor)
- Castlewood House, a luxurious manor (5/5 stars on TripAdvisor)
- Dingle Benners House, a more budget-conscious option (4.5/5 stars on TripAdvisor) (Book on Hotels.com)
Day 3 – Chasing Rainbows in West Ireland
Set out after breakfast in Dingle over Conor Pass to the town of Castlegregory. This beautiful drive takes you to an elevation of 1,500 feet above sea level, and offers stunning views to both the north and south as you cross the top of the pass.
Though it’s a short drive over the pass to the town (just 30 minutes), stop and wander along the beach for a while. The water isn’t generally warm enough to swim, but the beaches in this area are popular with surfers and scuba during certain months.
Back in the car, it’s an hour drive to the town of Tarbert and a ferry ride that helps cut an hour of driving off the day. The ferry is officially called the “Tarbert-Shannon Ferry,” and cars are €19 for a one-way transfer. If you choose to skip the ferry, you’ll pass through Limerick and Shannon, both well-known spots to explore. Otherwise, you can continue
If you choose to skip the ferry, you’ll pass through Limerick and Shannon, both well-known spots to explore. Otherwise, you can continue north another two hours to the town of Liscannor. This is your base for the night.
Before turning in, I recommend you take dinner at Vaughan’s Anchor Inn. This award winning inn and restaurant had the freshest seafood I’ve ever eaten; it’s well worth indulging on starters and dessert too. You can book a room at the Inn as well (4/5 stars on TripAdvisor), or consider the other options below.
For accommodation in Liscannor, you have several options:
- Airbnb, like this beautiful seaside cottage that sleeps up to 6
- The Cliffs of Moher Hotel, in the heart of Liscannor (4/5 stars on TripAdvisor) (Book on Hotels.com)
- The Atlantic View Bed & Breakfast, a nice, intimate stay (5/5 stars on TripAdvisor)
Day 4 – Less Driving, More Awe-Inspiring Views
At the mid-point of this road trip, I recommend taking an ‘easy day’ to give the driver/drivers a break. Liscannor and the nearby Cliffs of Moher are more than interesting enough to fill a day!
Since you want to spend the late afternoon and sunset at the Cliffs of Moher, opt for a cruise in the morning/midday. Doolin2Aran Cruises (4.5/5 stars on TripAdvisor) leaves from a pier in the heart of Liscannor harbor and their day trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Aran Islands is affordable and perfectly timed (departure at 10:00 am, return at 3:30 pm).
As mentioned, head to the Cliffs of Moher in mid-afternoon; the drive from Liscannor is less than 10 minutes. There are plenty of hiking trails you can walk along if the weather is nice, and the views are unforgettable.
When sunset begins, all you have to do is enjoy the show.
Stay in Liscannor for a second night.
Day 5 – Head Back to Dublin
After a leisurely morning, make your way back to Dublin today. The drive takes a little over three hours and uses the M7 as the primary motorway. This can be the end of your road trip, or you can add on two extra days to see a few sights in Northern Ireland.
Day 6 – North to the Edge of the World
If you choose to visit the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge along the northern shores of Éire (the island of Ireland), set out in mid-morning from Dublin. The drive takes about three hours mostly along the A1, M2, and A26 motorways; the roads get smaller the farther north you go. I recommend you take lunch in the town of Bushmills before visiting the Giant’s Causeway.
Located just outside the town, you can spend a few hours exploring the terrain and admiring the weirdly shaped volcanic rock formations at the Giant’s Causeway. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the area is protected and may be closed in certain portions so be sure to respect any signage.
There’s also a stunning visitor center that I highly recommend if you have the time. It teaches you about the formation of the ’causeway’ and the fascinating geology of the region.
After the Giant’s Causeway, head east along the coastline to see the ruins of Dunseverick Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede. This famous rope bridge takes you to a small island with limited walking trails. It’s still worth taking the time if you’re in the area.
Head back to Bushmills for the evening and stay there for the night.
For accommodation in Bushmills, you have several options:
- Airbnb, such as the Lavender Cottage, a little ways outside town
- The Smuggler’s Inn, close to the Giant’s Causeway (4/5 stars on TripAdvisor)
- The Pyjama Factory, a funky, eco-friendly option (4.5/5 stars on TripAdvisor) (Book on Hotels.com)
Day 7 – Back to Dublin Again
At your leisure, the goal today is to end up back in Dublin. As you’ll pass through Belfast, this is a great opportunity to stop and see the sights.
I haven’t personally spent time in Belfast, but here are some fellow bloggers who have, and guides they have created:
- Top 12 Things to See and Do, Eat and Drink in Belfast by Travel With Kat
- Beautiful Belfast: 10 Things to See and Do in Belfast, Ireland by A Passion & A Passport
- You Must Visit Northern Ireland by my friend Rachel of Blond Wayfarer
- I didn’t cover this, but if you need a rental car, I recommend choosing Enterprise. The have two rental locations, at the Dublin Airport and central Dublin.
- Many thanks to my friend Kerri who traveled with me on this trip in 2013. Her photos helped make this guide what it is. As such, please don’t use any photos from this post without my permission, as some belong to her. You can read her travel blog, Expat Not Abroad.
- This post was originally published March 19, 2015. It was significantly updated on March 12, 2017.