An Adventurer’s Road Trip through Ireland and Northern Ireland

Advisor - Kelsey Parry
Curated By

Kelsey Parry

Icon Share

SHARE

  • Ireland

  • Northern Ireland

  • Couples Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • Nature Escapes

  • Road Trip Travel

  • History

  • Sightseeing

  • Castles

Castle on a cliff at sea shore.
Curator’s statement

Road-tripping through Ireland and Northern Ireland is on many travelers’ bucket lists. However, the front-end travel planning, rental car regulations, navigation, and driving on the left side of the road can seem daunting enough that many never take the leap and book (when they most certainly should)! Here’s a step-by-step guide for a 10-day road trip through many of the top sights in the Emerald Isle while staying at the best of Ireland’s independent pub inns and historic properties.

The Fora Difference

Book with Kelsey to access exclusive perks and experiences on your trip.

[object Object]
Killer perks

Free upgrades, spa credits and more—we got you

[object Object]
Personalized recs

Customized travel planning for your style

[object Object]
Insider knowledge

Expert advice from people who’ve actually been there

Where to stay

Previous slide

Ashford Castle

A fairytale castle on the shores of Lough Corrib in County Mayo, known for superlative service and award-winning cuisine.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Welcome amenity.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

The Merchant Hotel

A grandiose, five-star establishment nestled in Belfast, renowned for its distinguished architecture, exquisite decor, and top-notch service.

Murphy's Pub, Bed & Breakfast

Immerse yourself in Irish hospitality at this charming B&B, where the cozy ambiance of a traditional pub meets the warmth of a comfortable and welcoming stay.

Next slide
Advisor - Kelsey Parry

Unlock perks by contacting Kelsey to book your trip.

Day 1: Head straight out of Dublin

Lake with green hills around.

If starting your adventure from the U.S., your flight will likely land in the morning at DUB airport. Plan to head straight for your (pre-booked) car rental, and hit the road toward Kenmare in County Kerry. There will be plenty of Motorway service areas (gas stations with adjacent shopping) right outside Dublin for stockpiling road trip sustenance.

Rock of Cashel

Add a few minutes onto the drive and take the backroads to County Kerry by visiting the Rock of Cashel. Depending on your departure time from Dublin, stop for lunch in Tipperary at Mikey Ryan’s Bar & Kitchen for your first taste of authentic Irish cuisine.

Muckross Abbey

Since you’re now taking the backroads into County Kerry, it’s definitely worth stopping to stretch your legs and wander around Muckross Abbey, with its centerpiece 400-year-old yew tree.

Ladies View

Last stop before Kenmare, pull over at the viewpoint parking and enjoy the same spectacular view of the Irish countryside as Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting at their 1861 luncheon.

Kenmare

Stay at O'Donnabhain's Bar & Guesthouse and enjoy a local hotspot with dinner at The Horseshoe (but make sure to call ahead for a reservation).

Day 2: Drive the Ring of Kerry

A woman with a bag standing in front of a building labelled as Skelligs.

Driving the Ring of Kerry is one of the iconic elements of a road trip to Ireland. Plan to start early (if the previous night’s festivities allow) and spend the day slowly driving your way around the peninsula (clockwise - in the opposite direction of the tour busses) by checking out the stops below.

Staigue Fort

If you start early enough (ideally by 9:00 am), you’ll have this beautiful Iron Age fort to yourself (as well as its one-lane road leading in). The entry fee is based on the honor system, and bathrooms are available in the parking area.

Com an Chiste Viewpoint

Pullover for a quick stop and photo op with one of the many Wild Atlantic Way signs/viewpoints.

Ballinskelligs Abbey

If you get a later morning start, it might be best to skip this stop as it’s a bit out of the way, but the ruins of this beautiful abbey are everything you would expect from postcard-perfect Ireland.

Skelligs Chocolate

Before a steep uphill drive (with plenty of remarkable switchbacks), fortify your resolve with a stop at this state-of-the-art chocolate facility for coffee, quick bites, and lovely gifts to bring home. And, of course, enjoy the view of the Skellig Islands (filming location for parts of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens).

Kerry Cliffs

If you’re unbelievably excited about seeing the Cliffs of Moher in a few days, then stop for a quick taste of what to expect at the Kerry Cliffs (a small entrance fee, but also has coffee and restrooms available). This includes a fair amount of uphill walking on curated paths, so enjoy stretching your legs!

Lunch in Portmagee

Timing-dependent, Portmagee is a great place to stop for lunch and a break from driving. Bridge Bar or Moorings Restaurant are fantastic options depending on your arrival time.

Wishing Bridge and the Gap of Dunloe

If you’ve managed to hold off on a full meal by snacking your way around the Ring of Kerry, then head over to Kate Kearny’s Cottage for a pint of Guinness and some sustenance. After, take the lovely 15-minute (one-way) walk to the Wishing Bridge and enjoy the picturesque photo opportunity that is the Gap of Dunloe.

Dingle

Welcome to another bucket list Ireland location, the Dingle Peninsula! Stay at Murphy's Pub and B&B right in the center of town, and enjoy a fabulous (local) seafood dinner at Out of the Blue (make sure to book reservations in advance). Enjoy a night on the town with trad sessions (traditional Irish music) at a Droichead Beag, Dick Mack’s or O’Sullivan’s Courthouse.

Day 3: Slea Head Drive

A woman standing on a cliff over a water body.

Slea Head Drive

Your third morning begins with a hauntingly beautiful drive around the Dingle Peninsula. Head out early and enjoy a curated caffeinated beverage from the stall at Dunquin Pier. Continue your adventure, stopping at Clogher Head viewpoint, Louis Mulcahy Pottery, the early-Christian stone church called the Gallarus Oratory, and the Connor Pass on your way to lunch in Bunratty at Durty Nelly’s Pub.

Cliffs of Moher (Doolin)

For visiting the Cliffs of Moher, plan some itinerary flexibility to factor in the weather. I recommend staying a couple of nights at the Doolin Inn, which is situated at the end of the walking trail for those interested in doing the Cliffs of Moher hike/walk (about 3 hours one-way from the tourist center back to Doolin along the cliffs). Dinner and a trad session at Gus O’Connor’s Pub are the perfect way to decompress from driving and scenery overload.

Day 4: Aran Islands

A woman cycling on a track near a waterbody and taking a picture from phone.

If weather/energy levels permit the Cliffs of Moher on your arrival day, use your second day in Doolin to take the ferry to Inis Oirr (Aran Islands). The Doolin Ferry schedule is easily found online, and tickets are available upon arrival (we departed around 10:00 am from Doolin and returned on a 2:00 pm ferry). Rent a bike on arrival, and ride your way around the (mostly) car-free island to see O’Brien’s Castle, the Plassey Shipwreck, the Lighthouse, and St. Edna’s Well (Tobar Éinne). Make sure to leave time after dropping off your bicycles for lunch and a pint at Tigh Ned and fudge for the road/ferry from the Man of Aran Fudge.

Day 5: Galway

A musical band playing on a stage.

Enjoy a leisurely morning before setting out for Galway and your stay at the Skeffington Arms. Enjoy the first real city of your visit by shopping for authentic Aran Island sweaters at o’Maille and drink some pints at institutions such as Crane Bar, Roisin Dubh, or Tigh Neachtain. Grab fish and chips from the institution McDonagh’s before heading to see Trad on the Prom, an Irish dancing and musical performance from some of the original Riverdance and Lord of the Dance artists.

Day 6: Ashford Castle

A grey castle on a sea shore.

If the length of your trip is flexible, this is the perfect opportunity to add an additional night or two to the trip by enjoying a stay on the shores of Lough Corrib at Ashford Castle. While certainly a departure from the traditional pub inns of the other stops, this historic 800-year-old property is the attraction itself, offering horseback riding, archery, falconry, farm-to-table cuisine, and a world-class spa.

Northern Ireland

For those sticking to a 10-day timeline, break up the drive to Northern Ireland by stopping at the Classiebawn Castle viewpoint, the Slieve League Cliffs, and lunch at Old Castle Bar in Donegal.

Depending on how quickly the drive proceeds, enjoy your first bit of Game of Thrones scenery by stopping at Dunluce Castle (though check online for final entry times). Enjoy dinner and an overnight stay at The Bushmills Inn.

Day 7: Giant’s Causeway

A woman walking on a narrow bridge between mountains.

Treat yourself to another early start and head to Giant’s Causeway to beat the crowds. Walk along the Blue Route (direct from the visitors center to the features themselves), and once done enjoying the sights, continue walking along the shoreline in the same direction until you reach the Shepard’s Steps. Prepare for a workout on the way up the 162 steps, and follow the Red Route back out to your parking spot.

Carrick-A-Rede

Carrick-A-Rede is a short drive down the road from Giant’s Causeway on the way to Belfast and is highly recommended for those brave enough to cross the rope bridge! I recommend pre-booking entry-time tickets during the high season, though tickets on arrival are also available.

Break up the remainder of the drive to Belfast with stops at the Dark Hedges (the filming location of the Kingsroad in Game of Thrones) and the picturesque Crosskeys Inn for a pint.

Belfast

Consider dinner at Hadskis or The Muddlers Club, both of which are top foodie destinations in Belfast, and do require reservations in advance.

After dinner, take in some of the best bars in Belfast, such as Crown Liquor Saloon, White’s, or the Morning Star Bar.

When you decide to call it a night, stay at the beautiful and historic Merchant Hotel.

Day 8: Dublin

Oysters with a glass of wine.

During the roughly two-hour drive from Belfast to Dublin, consider stopping to take a tour at Bru na Boinne before dropping off your rental car.

Dinner at either the Spitalfields Pub or The Fish Shop is an absolute must. For the traditional Dublin bar scene, consider pints at the Brazen Head or O’Donoghue’s Bar. Alternatively, you can find a more laidback ambience at the Vintage Cocktail Club, but be sure to reserve in advance.

Book your stay at Number 31 and enjoy the “honor system” bar for a nightcap.

Days 9 & 10

People inside a hall with statues.

Day 9:

Start out your full day in Dublin by reserving tickets to see The Book of Kells at Trinity College.

Meander Grafton Street for some shopping and people-watching before dinner at Piglet Wine Bar for excellent food and an impressive wine list. Round out your visit to Ireland with one last drink at BAR 1661, which specializes in cocktails made with the traditional Irish distilled spirit Poitín.

Day 10:

Fly home.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Bijoy Shah’s guide, An Overview of Exploring Ireland.



Advisor - Kelsey Parry

Travel Advisor

Kelsey Parry

Get in touch with Kelsey

Did you like this guide? Reach out to customize and book your own experience. Or, just to chat about travel in general.

You can normally expect a response from Kelsey within a business day or so. You’ll also be subscribed to our travel newsletter (you can unsubscribe at any time).

This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Ireland.