Cruising past rolling green hills, searching for leprechauns and ending the day with a perfectly poured pint of Guinness in a cosy pub, that’s what Irish road trip dreams are made of.
Come along on the ultimate Ireland itinerary – starting in Dublin and travelling through the wild Wicklow Mountain National Park and down to sunny coastal Wexford. Stop at charming villages on the winding Ring of Kerry, snap pictures at the rugged Cliffs of Moher, and dine al fresco in Galway. Finally, drive through the jaw-dropping landscapes of Sligo and Donegal, clamber across basalt rocks on the Causeway Coast and search out street art in Belfast, before being transported back in time at Neolithic Newgrange. This is the road trip of a lifetime.
Let’s start in Dublin, the Republic of Ireland’s capital. You won’t need a car to get around Dublin city centre. It’s very walkable and public transport is decent, so you’re recommended to pick up your car after you’ve finished exploring the capital.
The Jameson Distillery tour is a local favourite. The tour is led by passionate guides and the whiskey tasting is wonderful. Another highlight is the Jam Art Factory on Patrick Street, where you can pick up some local art to bring home. For an authentic night out, avoid Temple Bar. Camden Street or South William Street are great for small cosy pubs, like Grogans, and funky cocktail bars. You’ll also find great places to eat, like Taste Cafe, BóBós Burgers and Delahunt.
Once you’ve picked up your car, drive through Phoenix Park – the largest walled park in a European city – and try to spot the herds of wild deer.
Wicklow is next door to Dublin and is our next stop. Start at The Powerscourt Waterfall in Wicklow. Grab a hot drink at the kiosk, take photos in front of the cascading waterfall and explore the surrounding woods.
Afterwards, head on to Glendalough, meaning glen of two lakes. It’s an incredibly photogenic area with lots of old ruins, including a round tower that’s nearly 1000 years old, and gorgeous walking routes, for those that like to hike.
The drive from Dublin to Glendalough goes through Wicklow Mountain National Park where you’ll spot wild deer, bogland, waterfalls, lakes, ruins and lots of greenery. Allow extra time on the drive to pull in at stopping places and take in the views.
The drive from Glendalough to Kilkenny is about 1hr 30min. We recommend you drive via the town of Hollywood to see Ireland’s own Hollywood sign on the hill.
Upon arrival in Kilkenny you might notice a lot of young people wandering the streets with giant sticks of wood in hand. These are hurls. They’re used to play the Gaelic game of hurling. Try the sport for yourself at The Kilkenny Way centre.
Make sure to take a guided tour of Kilkenny Castle during your stay, and walk the Medieval Mile, taking in all the city’s sights. Then reward yourself with a pint of Kilkenny Irish cream ale! For giant portions and a warm welcome stop by Matt the Millers Bar & Restaurant for dinner.
Wexford is famous for its delicious strawberries. On the short drive – 1hr 20min – from Kilkenny to Wexford, you’ll notice people selling Wexford strawberries by the roadside, if you come during summer. Pick up a pummet or two!
Visit Curracloe Beach, where scenes from Saving Private Ryan were filmed. Have lunch or dinner in Mi Street Food on Anne Street in Wexford, but be warned, the portions are huge. Finally, spend a day in Kilmore Quay checking out the thatched cottages, gorging yourself on fish and chips in The Saltee Chipper ‒ and consider hopping on a boat to explore the Saltee Islands.
The drive from Wexford to Kerry is a bit longer at around 4h. To break up the trip, stop in Cork and have a quick jaunt up Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, by which you’re said to develop the “gift of the gab”.
In Kerry, set up camp in Killarney. From there you can explore the scenic Ring of Kerry, a 179km circular route in County Kerry. Sneem is a popular stop with photographers on the loop due to its colourful shop fronts and houses.
After thoroughly exploring the Ring of Kerry head up to Dingle, the seaside town famous for Fungie the dolphin. If you have a sweet tooth try the caramelised brown bread ice cream from Murphy’s on Strand Street in Dingle. For a pint walk up Main Street to Foxy John’s, a half pub, half hardware store. You can order a box of nails with your Guinness if you want!
Also, Slea Head Drive, part of the Wild Atlantic Way, must not be missed. It’s full of twists and turns with a sheer drop into the sea on one side, but it’s well worth it for the views.
Leaving Kerry you’ll drive over Conor Pass towards Tralee. It can be nail-biting but the views are spectacular. Make sure to stop at the Cliffs of Moher in Clare, one of Ireland’s most stunning natural attractions, before you head on to Galway.
Give yourself an hour or so at the cliffs. That will give you plenty of time to explore the terrain, mosey around the exhibition in the visitors’ centre, grab some coffee and cake and browse the surrounding souvenir shops. Allow about 6h to get from Dingle to Galway, including stops.
Galway is known as the party city of Ireland. If you like music and a night out, you’ll love it. For food, grab a giant slice of pizza and a drink in Pasta Napoli and head to the green by the Spanish Arch to dine al fresco – just watch out for the seagulls.
You cannot skip driving through the Connemara National Park. Make sure to get a photo of a local Connemara pony, a pony breed originating in Ireland. Just outside the park is the stunning Kylemore Abbey, a monastery from the 19th century, on the edge of Pollacappul Lake. On a sunny day the reflection of the abbey in the lake makes for great photos.
It’s a five-hour drive from Kylemore Abbey up to the Causeway Coast in Antrim, but it’s very picturesque as you’ll be driving through Sligo and Donegal, both known for their rugged coastlines and mountains. Stop in the tiny surf town of Bundoran for a night if you need a break.
Once you leave Donegal and head into Derry/Londonderry you’re officially in Northern Ireland so the currency will change to £. There’s no physical border so no need to worry about going through customs. Once you arrive at the Causeway Coast in Antrim, head to Bushmills, home of the Old Bushmills Distillery, because it wouldn’t be an Ireland road trip without a few drinks at the end of the day!
Visit the Giant’s Causeway and walk on the bizarre basalt rock formations. If you’re OK with heights, also walk the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This part of Ireland is known for a certain TV show where people like to fight over thrones! Check out filming locations like Ballintoy Harbour and the Dark Hedges. Then head to Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast. It’s a small compact city and you can see A LOT in 48 hours. Make sure to check out the Titanic Museum, eat at Home Restaurant and take a street art tour.
On the final drive back to Dublin – about 2h – visit Newgrange in Meath. Newgrange was built in 3200BC, making it older than the pyramids. It is a prehistoric Neolithic monument thought to be a tomb or religious site. Megalithic designs have been carved inside the tomb and on the surrounding outside stones, most famously on the entrance stone. Every year, on the 21st of December, the winter solstice, light from the sunrise streams into the passageway illuminating it the whole way down to the chamber at the end. This lasts just over 15 minutes and tickets for this annual event are sold out years in advance. But it’s still worth visiting on any other day of the year. While you’re there check out the Hill of Tara, once the seat of the High Kings of Celtic Ireland.
So there you have it, the ultimate Ireland road trip. As they say in Gaelic: “go n-éirí an bóthar leat!, or – in other words: Have a great trip!