You can pack your Ireland road trip with top sites and even some offbeat spots, while still avoiding a breakneck pace. This trip planner will give you a core seven day Ireland itinerary with four additional options for designing a 5-10 day trip.
Ireland is smaller than New York state but densely packed with ancient historical sites, literary and music culture, dramatic landscapes and coastal views for days. I’ve visited five times in the past seven years and still haven’t gotten my fill. Sure, you can take the glass-bottom bus tour where you get herded from one overly packed tourist spot to another– or– you can travel Ireland by car and have far more flexibility.
Touring Ireland by car allows you to visit popular sites during off-peak hours. It allows you to pull over for a picnic on that random beach. It allows you to make a last minute decision to do an extra night in Dingle, because you simply haven’t had enough.
Sure, driving in Ireland can be tricky, but it’s worth doing, so that you can craft a relaxed itinerary suited to your time and interests. This Ireland road trip planner is designed to help you do just that.
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Four Tips for Crafting Your Best Ireland Travel Itinerary
1. Don’t Try to do Too Much
Even if this is your once-in-a-lifetime Ireland trip, you are better off doing fewer things slowly rather than racing to fit in everything. In Ireland, distances aren’t far as the crow flies, but road speeds are slow and you don’t want to spend more time in the car than out of it.
This seven day Ireland itinerary is packed with plenty of cool stops but it still has some space baked in for those times when you want to drive down some random road, just to see what happens. Leave space for that, and your trip will be the richer for it.
2. Be Prepared For the Roads
What makes touring Ireland by car so worth it are the lovely, winding country roads and epic coastal views. But the roads also makes driving there tricky. Keeping to the left with a manual transmission down charmingly tight roads requires fortitude.
Get yourself prepared to tackle Irish roads by reading our guide for how to survive driving in Ireland. It includes car rental tips, navigation advice, information on the different kinds of roads in Ireland and suggestions for how to stay sane.
Each of the days below indicate estimated drive times. I have been conservative with these times, adding 20%+ to Google’s suggested times. But please note that the total driving time does not count tourist sites, hikes, shopping, lunch and lookie loos.
3. Do At Least One Offbeat or Offtrack Thing
We are all about the alternative itineraries here at Wayfaring Views. My Great Ocean Road trip includes a creepy lake with skeleton trees and my California coast road trip includes at goofy museum with antique gas pumps.
Neither of those things are on anyone’s “must visit” lists but they are worth doing all the same. Ireland has plenty of these less popular places, like the Loophead Peninsula or the coastal road northwest of Galway, and they are just as beautiful and far less crowded than the Cliffs of Moher.
4. Don’t Obsess about Lodging
Unless you are traveling in August and/or on a summer weekend, lodging will be fairly easy to get in Ireland—outside of the major cities, that is. It’s worth it to pre-book the major cities, or if you want to do a splurge stay like the amazing Greenmount House in Dingle. Otherwise, give yourself a bit of itinerary flexibility and leave some nights open to chance.
Dublin hotels are expensive for what you get, so it’s best to book ahead there. Galway and Belfast don’t have a lot of hotel inventory so consider AirBnB or a hostel for those cities.
But there are so many smaller B&Bs dotted all over the country, that you can often simply roll up and find a bed for the night. And if the B&B you roll up to is full, they will often call around for you and help you find a bed.
Score a deal on your rental by comparing prices here.
Ireland Road Trip Seven Day Itinerary Overview
- Day 1: Newgrange | The Burren | stay in Doolin
- Day 2: Cliffs of Moher | Loophead Peninsula | stay in Dingle
- Day 3: Dingle Peninsula | stay in Dingle
- Day 4: Dingle Peninsula| stay in Killarney
- Day 5: Ring of Kerry | stay in Cashel
- Day 6: Cashel Castle| Dublin
- Day 7: Dublin
This basic one week Ireland trip planner includes many of the top sites in Ireland. So, if you have only that much time, you can simply bookmark this itinerary. However, if you have more (or less) time, be sure to scroll down and you’ll find additional ideas for the extra days. It also includes advice for a more compressed 5-day Ireland road trip itinerary.
Day 1: Newgrange, The Burren, Doolin
(Total driving time: 5 hours)
For this self-drive Ireland itinerary I’m suggesting that you driving straight from the airport and into the countryside, doing Dublin at the end. However, you could just as easily do the reverse and do Dublin first. Just don’t try to drive and park a rental car in central Dublin. The hassle and expense aren’t worth it.
The first stop on this itinerary is Newgrange. It’s a 5,200 year old stone-age passage tomb that is older than both the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. Architecturally, is very reminiscent of some of the great Mayan temples in Mexico. Newgrange was engineered to keep track of time and seasons. During the winter solstice, it emits a shining band of light directly into the main chamber. Newgrange offers an excellent primer on ancient Ireland and will provide context for visiting some of the other excellent sites on this itinerary. Prepare to spend at least three hours there.
If you are mad for ancient tombs, you could also take a 30 minute detour to the Hill of Tara. It not only contains ancient funerary burrows, but the site also has political significance and was once the royal site of ancient Gaelic kings. However, there isn’t much signage on site so it will be a quick stop to wander the mounds and then move on to the Burren.
I’m not recommending a stop in Galway for the week long trip, but if you are keen to visit, note the “if you have more time” section below.
Head toward Kinvarre, but before heading south, make a pit stop at Dunguaire Castle, which is located on southern Galway bay. It was built in 1520 and restored in the 1920’s, becoming a hang out for Irish literary superheroes like Yeats and Shaw. Get there by 4pm to take the tour and climb the tower, otherwise you can walk the grounds.
Head south and fortify yourself with a stop at the Hazel Mountain Chocolate store. They have artisinal chocolate, fine Irish handicrafts and a cafe.
Head down to Corkscrew Hill, which offers a fantastic eastern facing view of the stark Burren landscape. Then double back to R480 and head into the Burren itself. The main event there is the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This ancient tomb from ~3000BC dominates the landscape like an ancient sentinel, adding a stoicism to the water-worn limestone landscape. It’s an open site and no entrance fee is required, but there is explanatory signage.
Drive out of the Burren and roll into Doolin in time for dinner and a trad music session at one of the town pubs.
If you have more time
If you can get to the Burren in the morning, consider taking this Burren walking tour. It’s a 90 minute walk given by an environmental educator who has lived in the area for 50 years.
Where to Stay in Doolin
I’ve stayed at both O’Conner’s Guesthouse and the Seascape B&B. The Seascape is an easy walk to both McDermotts and McGanns pubs and the O’Conner is a three minute drive. Both are like many of the B&Bs in Doolin, with a friendly proprietor, good breakfast spread and a quiet bed for the night.
- Check Trip Advisor for reviews for O’Conners Guesthouse, Seascape B&B and other lodging in Doolin.
- Check Doolin reviews or book on AirBnB or Booking.com.
Where to Eat and Drink in Doolin
The McDermotts and McGanns pubs each offer standard Irish fare with a good beer selection. Even better, they both offer excellent trad music every night.
Day 2: Cliffs of Moher, Loop Head Peninsula, Dingle
(Total driving time: 6 hours)
In addition to enjoying the trad music scene in Doolin, staying there will get you to the Cliffs of Moher early. The cliffs are inconceivably beautiful and worth the visit. However, they are the second most popular spot in Ireland (after the Guinness Storehouse), so it gets crazy crowded. The parking lot opens at 8am but most of the tour buses won’t get there until 10-12. Eat your breakfast early and you can have several quiet hours before it starts feeling like rush hour.
Another benefit to getting there early is that you will pay the off-peak ticket rate of €4.00 per person. Alternatively, you can pay €5.00 to park at Guerins Path, which is a private farm about 1 kilometer down the road. Either option gives you full access to the cliffs.
From here, most people would beeline for the Dingle Peninsula, but I encourage you to take a quiet detour down the Loop Head Peninsula. All of the coastline on this Ireland road trip, including Loop Head, is part of the Wild Atlantic Way scenic drive. It features 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) of craggy coastline and crazy cliffs. The more popular sections of it are crowded with self-drive road trippers and tour buses. But Loop Head is blessedly quiet. You can stop for lunch or pick up supplies in the cute beach town of Killkee and then head down the tip of the peninsula to the Loop Head lighthouse. The lighthouse was established in 1670 and it is still protecting ships from Ireland’s rugged coastline.
From here, you’ll want to head through Kilrush to the Tarbert ferry. However, ignore the Google directions, because it will send you back through Killkee. Rather, take the road that runs along the southern part of the peninsula through the tiny towns of Carrigahold, Doonaha and Querrin. Calling them towns is generous. They are more like wide spots along an otherwise narrow and quiet rural road. Don’t worry, just relax and get lost. You’ll get to the ferry eventually, which will take you to Tarbert, then go through Tralee and into Dingle.
If You Have More Time
There is an 8/km (4.8 mile) stretch of the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Trail between Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. You can walk the round trip rather than parking at the visitors center.
Where to Stay in Dingle
On our most recent trip, we splurged on the Greenmount Inn and it was beyond worth it. The spacious room had a private balcony overlooking the harbor. Their breakfast was one of the best I’ve ever had in Ireland and it included a customized hot breakfast, home made baked goods and local cheeses.
Like Doolin, there is also a variety of basic B&B accommodation, including the Alpine Guesthouse, where I stayed on a previous visit.
- Check reviews for Greenmount on Trip Advisor or book it on Booking.com.
- Check reviews for Alpine Guesthouse on Trip Advisor or book it on Booking.com
- Check other options on AirBnB or Booking.com.
Where to Eat and Drink in Dingle
Be sure to stop into Dick Mac’s brewery where they have a great selection of local brews, a spacious patio and a pizza food truck. Get some dessert at Murphy’s Ice Cream. Then settle in for some trad music at O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub and M. Neligans.
Day 3: Dingle Peninsula, Great Blasket Island
(Total driving time: 1.5 hours)
Most people who day trip through the Dingle Peninsula, simply do the Slea Head drive, hitting up a few beehive huts, the coastal lookouts and the Dun Beag Promontory Fort. They are indeed worth visiting as a further education on the ancient history of Ireland. But, I recommend at least one additional night in Dingle so that you can go deeper.
I strongly suggest that you prioritize a day trip out to Great Blasket Island. This remote island community was settled in ancient times and there is clear evidence of an ongoing community from the 1700’s until the early 1950’s. There are national park guides who will give you a tour of the island’s ruins and an anthropological history of its hardscrabble existence. There are also many hiking trails with unbelievable views and a resident sea lion population.
Budget at least 5 hours for the tour, which you can book through Blasket Island Tours from Dunquin harbor. Tours are dependent upon the weather and they do book up. So, call ahead or have your B&B proprietor help you with a reservation.
If you do the 11am tour, you can be back by 2:30, which will give you time to do Slea Head drive to see the aforementioned beehive huts and promontory fort. Alternatively, you could head east to the Kilmalkeder Church ruin, Deargain Ring Forts and Gallarus Oratory. Or do both.
Day 4: Dingle Peninsula, Drive to Killarney
(Total driving time: 2.5)
On one of your two days in Dingle, you should also take the drive over Conor Pass. It’s a narrow 2-lane road that becomes a bit of a nail-biter for a one mile section which goes down to one lane. But it’s worth it.
When the sky is clear, the top of the pass gives you views for days in both directions. On the north side of a pass, make a short pit stop and scramble up to Pedlar’s Lake. It’s a pretty little lake bordered by rock and gorse. Keep driving down the pass and over to Brendon Point, where you can walk to an overlook along the Sauce Creek walking trail. Just do an out-and-back for as much time as you have. You can also stop off at the town of Brandon to take a look at the harbor and have a beer or quick lunch at Nora Murphy’s Pub.
Pay attention to the weather when you are in Dingle. The tour to Great Blasket and the drive over Conor Pass are best done in good weather. But Slea head drive and the ancient sites can be done in any weather. So mix up this part of the itinerary as necessary.
Then carry on to the Killarney to base yourself for a night before doing the Ring of Kerry.
If you Have More Time
If you need a chill pill, head out to the beach at Minard. It’s well marked from the road. While there, you’ll find a nice local’s beach watched over by a crumbling castle. There is even a nearby stretch of the Irish Pilgrimage trail if you want to take a stroll.
Alternatively, you can roll into your lodging and just take an afternoon stroll through town to work out the kinks from all of the driving.
Where to Stay: Killarney or Waterville/Cahersiveen
I’ll be honest, Killarney is my least favorite town on this Ireland road trip planner. It had a few too many tourist shops selling Irish kitsch for my taste. That said, they do have a good selection of full service hotels and some good restaurants and bars.
But if you are driving the Ring of Kerry because you can’t get enough of the Irish coastline, then you may prefer to stay in Waterville or Cahersiveen. They are just an hour further along the road from Killarney and right on the water. They have more modest selection of B&Bs, like what you will find in Doolin.
- Check Killarney hotel reviews on Trip Advisor or book at Booking.com.
- Check Waterville B&B reviews on Trip Advisor or AirBnB.
Where to Eat and Drink in Killarney
Reidy’s Bar has a series of cozy rooms and cool cocktails. Laurel’s Pub has great soups and killer burgers. If you prefer craft brews and pizza, then head over to Killarney Brewing.
Day 5: Ring of Kerry, Drive to Cashel
(Driving times: 6 hours (from Killarney, 5 hours from Cahersiveen)
Start the day by visiting the Cahergall Stone Fort which dates from 600 AD and then visit nearby Bally Carberry castle. Head clockwise along the road and then get off the N76 road for the Ballyskelligs loop. This includes fierce coastal views, including the Kerry Cliffs.
Get off the N76 again and go down to Derrynane beach. It’s a quiet little bay and a perfect spot for a picnic lunch. If you have time, detour to the Staigue Stone Fort before heading into Sneem. It was voted an Irish “tidy town” in 1987. They are super proud of it and the town remains quite tidy. While there, check out their beehive hut exhibit, which is in the center of town.
After Kenmare, head inland through Molls Gap to the Ladies View Stop for views of the Killarney National Park.
Carry on to Cashel for the night.
If You Have More Time
If you have an extra day to spend in Killarney, consider taking this four hour guided hike into Killarney National Park. It’s hosted by Killarney Mindful Hiking with an experienced mountain guide.
Where to Stay in Cashel
We chose the Bailey’s Cashel Hotel, which is in a nicely appointed historic building with a library for a lobby. I’m all about bookish lodgings, having stayed in a library in Wales and the Victor Hugo hotel in Luxembourg. So, the Bailey’s was a sweet spot after a long day of driving.
- Check Bailey’s Hotel reviews on Trip Advisor or book at Booking.com.
- Check other options on Trip Advisor or Booking.com.
Where to Eat and Drink in Cashel
Cashel is a pretty quiet town and it’s not party central at night. The bar and restaurant of of the Bailey’s Hotel is quite popular. They have a selection of fish and meat with decent vegetarian options. You can also head next door to TJ Ryan’s for a quick pint.
Day 5: Rock of Cashel, Drive to Dublin
(Total Drive time: 2 hours)
I recommend driving to Cashel for the night because it will allow you to visit the Rock of Cashel early, before the buses arrive. It will also get you into Dublin between 1-2pm, which gives you a nice afternoon there. However, If you are worn out from your Ring of Kerry drive, you could do a second night in Killarney or Kenmare, or drive partway and stay in Mallow. Then simply get to Cashel when you get to Cashel.
I very deliberately did not include Blarney Castle on this itinerary because I’m not keen to hang out a four story window to kiss some slutty castle wall. But hey, if you want to make out with a rock, you could detour to Blarney before going to the Rock of Cashel. Leave an extra hour for driving, and at least 1.5 hours for the kissing and disinfecting activities.
I chose the Rock of Cashel for it’s historical significance. It began as as a seat for the Munster kings through the 12th century. The land was later donated to the Catholic church and chapel was constructed in 1127. The evocative cathedral grounds loom over the landscape, a moody reminder of Ireland’s long history.
Be sure to leave time for Hore Abbey, which is just down the hill. It’s a ruined Cistercian Abbey, which fell out of use in the 1570’s. It sits like a sisterly companion to the Rock of Cashel, nearby but stands alone in desolate beauty.
Drive up to Dublin airport and turn in the car.
Getting into Dublin From the Airport
- By Uber: An Uber from the airport to central Dublin will cost €32-42. This is a good way to go if you have 4+ people and/or a lot of luggage.
- By Bus: This is by far the better way to get into Dublin. It’s a hybrid between a shuttle and a city bus route. It costs €7 one way and only takes about 25 minutes in normal traffic. You can catch either the 747 or the 757, depending upon your destination. The bus stops are right outside the main terminal and have clearly marked maps.
Where to Stay in Dublin
Most of the hotels in the city core are well located, but they aren’t necessarily fabulous. There are plenty of swank hotels for €200+ but it’s tricky to find a nice hotel for €125-150. Some of the inventory at the lower end of the range is older hotel stock with mixed reviews. Keep an eye out for “genius” deals on Booking.com’s Dublin city page.
Hip & Cheap: The Generator Hostel in Dublin is well located with fairly new facilities and a hip vibe. They have both group and private rooms. Check reviews on Trip Advisor or book a deal on Booking.com.
Good Value & Well Located: The Handel Hotel Temple Bar. This clean, comfortable hotel is located at the edge of Temple Bar– near enough to be convenient but away from the worst of the night noise. Check reviews on Trip Advisor and book a deal on Booking.com.
Book Carefully with AirBnB: There are quite a few AirBnBs in Dublin, ranging from €75-120 a night. They are a better deal than the hotels and worth it if you want the benefit of a kitchen or laundry. However, I’ve had mixed experiences using AirBnB in Dublin. One place wasn’t consistent with its mapped location and the other was in a crumbling wreck of a building. Check out the neighborhoods north of the Liffey or southwest of St. Stephens Green– and read the reviews carefully. Check Dublin listings here.
Where to Eat and Drink in Dublin
The options are too numerous to mention here, so I will just call out a few of my favorite spots:
- Breakfast: Brother Hubbard. They have two locations, strong coffee and an amazing Mediterranean inspired egg dish.
- Lunch: Sheridan’s Cheesemonger: Make a picnic of it with aged cheese and fresh bread. They are located an easy walk to St. Stephens Green. (and they also have an outpost in Galway).
- Dinner: Las Tapas de Lola is located on Camden Street, just southeast of St. Stephens Green. It has a cozy environment and great small plates. In fact, that whole street is stuffed with coffee shops, bars and restaurants that are way off the tourist trail.
- Drinks: The Library Bar located in the Central Hotel has comfy club chairs (and books!)
For more great eats, check out this Dublin food guide from 2 Food Trippers.
Days 6-7: Dublin
I love Dublin and spend as much time there as possible when I visit Ireland. But your vacation time is scarce. Rather than give you a full Dublin itinerary here, I’m going to point you to a few resources:
- Start here with this guide for how to spend a day in Dublin. It actually includes two different 1-day itineraries, which you can mix, match or combine together for two days.
- Then explore literary history with this guide to Dublin’s literary sites, which includes a pub tour and sexy libraries.
- Then spend some chill time roaming the best bookshops in Dublin. Three of them also have charming cafes.
Ireland Self-Drive Itinerary Alternatives
If You Have One Extra Day
(Total driving time: negligible)
If you have eight days for your itinerary, I recommend spending more time in a location that you will already be visiting.
- If you want more culture: Adding a day to Dublin will allow you to do nearly everything noted above.
- If you want more ancient sites: Add an extra day to Doolin and take a day trip ferry out to Inishmore to see their ancient clifftop fort.
- If you want a pretty town and gardens: Add an extra stop after Cashel to stay in Kilkenny. Then stop the Powerscourt Gardens on the way into Dublin.
- If you want more Ring of Kerry: Adding a day to Killarney or Kenmare will allow you spend an extra night on the Ring of Kerry.
- If you want some coastal chill time: Adding a day to Dingle (which is my favorite spot on this whole Ireland road trip), will allow you to fully explore the peninsula at a more relaxed pace.
If You Have Two Extra Days
(Total driving time: 6.5)
With two extra days, I recommend adding on Galway and the Connemara loop. You’ll find a very rugged and un-touristed section of the Wild Atlantic Way between Galway and Cliften. You can also hike in the bogs and see how Kylemore Abbey sits perched on its lake like a fancy birthday cake.
Spend the night in Galway and/or Cliften.
- Get the full Galway to Connemara road trip guide.
If You Have Three Extra Days
(Total driving time: 10.5 hours)
For a 10 day road trip itinerary, I recommend that you head into Northern Ireland. This bit includes a stop in Belfast and then a loop around the northwest coastline to visit Game of Thrones sites and the Antrim Coast.
Spend one night in Belfast and the other near Bushmills.
- Here is an alternative itinerary for Northern Ireland, which bucks some of the conventional wisdom on how to do the area.
- Here is a specific itinerary for the Antrim coast, which will tell you how to find Game of Thrones sites and how to avoid crowds at the Giants Causeway.
- You can also do a little detour on your way south to hike the iconic Stairway to Heaven trail near Belcoo.
If You Only Have Time for a Five Day Ireland Road Trip
If you are some sort of superhuman who gets up at the crack of dawn and can drive far into the night, then you can simply do the one week Ireland road trip at a faster pace. For the superhumans, I’d recommend taking one night out of Dingle and losing a night in either Cashel or Dublin.
If you like to eat a leisurely lunch, stop and smell the roses, sip a slow beer in a pub and get 8 hours of sleep, then something will have to give. With only 5 days, I recommend doing either the Dingle Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry, but not both. I prefer Dingle for its compact distribution of cool sites and friendly town vibe.
Map of 3 Ireland Road Trip Itineraries
The following Google Map includes key stops and a rough driving route for three different itineraries. The basic seven day itinerary is in orange, the 2-day Galway extension is in blue and the 3-day Northern Ireland extension is in black.
3 More Planning Tips for Ireland
- Get a data plan. Google maps aren’t always 100% accurate in Ireland, but they are better than flying blind. Use T-Mobile’s international plan or take an unlocked phone and purchase a €20 sim card at the airport.
- Read up before you go. Ireland is a very literary country and reading books set there will both inform and inspire your trip. Here’s an essential reading list for Ireland.
- Pack appropriately for the weather. Check out this Europe packing list, it will prepare your for basic sightseeing, hiking and rainy weather.
But my best tip for you is to simply enjoy the scenery. Taking this unhurried pace for your road trip around Ireland will guarantee that you will see the top sites but also have plenty of room for surprises.
As they say in Irish, turas maith a bheith agat (have a great trip!)
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