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.

This post is a road trip itinerary and guide for the rest of Ireland, beyond Dublin. In this post, I assume you’ve already visited Dublin, and enjoyed some of Dublin’s amazing cultural and literary heritage. In addition to the few days I recommend here, you can easily spend 48 hours in Dublin and feel like you’ve seen the best of the city.

You can choose to do only Days 1-5, or tack on Days 6-7 to see parts of Northern Ireland. This post is 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.

Destinations by Day:
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.

Ireland Placeholder

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:

Bridge across the River Nore in Inistioge, Ireland

The bridge in Inistioge. Photo by Kerri from Expat Not Abroad.

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.

The harbor in Kinsale, Ireland

The harbor in Kinsale. Photo by Kerri from Expat Not Abroad.

For accommodation in Kinsale, you have several options:

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.

Colorful Kinsale, Ireland

Colorful Kinsale

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:

Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork, Ireland

Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork

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:

The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

The Gap of Dunloe. Photo via Wikimedia Commons by Daniel Dudek.

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:

Day 3 – Chasing Rainbows in West Ireland

Rainbows over Liscannor, Ireland

Rainbows over Liscannor. Photo by Kerri from Expat Not Abroad

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.

Conor Pass, Ireland

Conor Pass. Photo by Kerri from Expat Not Abroad

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.

A beach near Castlegregory, Ireland

A beach near Castlegregory. Photo by Jen from The Social Girl Traveler

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:

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.

Sunset at the Cliffs of Moher.

Sunset at the Cliffs of Moher. Photo by Kerri from Expat Not Abroad

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.

If you want to extend your road trip around the west coast of Ireland, you can extend your trip and head up to explore County Mayo. There are miles of stunning Irish coastline to explore and loads of activities to enjoy in County Mayo.

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.

Want someone else to take care of the details? Consider booking a tour to the Giant’s Causeway instead.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland. Photo via Wikimedia Commons by Van helsing

Head back to Bushmills for the evening and stay there for the night.

For accommodation in Bushmills, you have several options:

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:

Final Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. This post was originally published March 19, 2015. It was significantly updated on March 12, 2017.

20 Responses to “The Ultimate Ireland Road Trip Guide: See Ireland in a Week

  • Great choice! Traveling around Ireland by car is awesome. A car is the only way to see all of Italy’s nooks and crannies.
    Don’t wait until you’re over there to rent a vehicle. It is invariably cheaper to rent a car from home.

    • Great tip! I highly recommend booking a car hire in advance 🙂

  • Wife Sense
    1 year ago

    Ireland is on my bucket list but I didn’t know what I wanted to see. How handy is this post?! Pinning!

  • Andy J. Salgado
    1 year ago

    I have to do this!!!!! 😀 I was thinking of either visiting New Zealand, Australia or Ireland next summer! 🙂 This trip looked beautiful!

    • I’ve never been to NZ or Aus, but I can vouch that Ireland is awesome 😉

  • The Spirited Sloth
    1 year ago

    I’ve always, always wanted to do an Ireland road trip. I have family history there and my mom did one when she was about my age, and I think it’d be so cool to follow in her footsteps! Bookmarking

    • Thanks so much for bookmarking – I hope this comes in handy when you finally start planning your trip. Let me know if you have any other questions when the time comes!

  • Marissa Pedersen
    1 year ago

    Ireland is by far my favorite country in the world! You captured it beautifully. I haven’t been to Kinsale yet, so I’ll have to check it out next time I’m there.

    • That’s a great compliment, thanks! You should definitely visit Kinsale – it’s the one place I most want to go back and visit again at length.

  • Ireland is still on my list of places to go and a road trip would be awesome! This trip sounds like a lot of fun.

  • Samantha
    1 year ago

    I want to visit Ireland so much! This looks gorgeous!

  • Ireland is on my list of places I want to visit. It looks so nice there.

  • Taylor Mobley
    1 year ago

    These photos are incredible! I have always wanted to go to Ireland SO badly and this post made it even worse! haha. Loved reading this!

  • views are really incredible! I love mountains so much

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