We visited Ireland for the first time in 2008 and immediately began talking about when we could return to see other parts of the country as well as Northern Ireland. We finally had the opportunity recently for an 11-day trip of the Emerald Isle. Here’s our Ireland and Northern Ireland driving itinerary.
An important note for drivers: a good GPS that allows you to input coordinates will go a long way with this route.
Day 0: Travel Day
Fly from Philadelphia to Dublin, arriving in the morning.
Day 1: Celtic ruins west of Dublin
Arriving in Dublin, we immediately rented a car to head around Dublin on the M50 beltway and then the R115 (the Old Military Road) up over Sally Gap and into the Wicklow Mountains in the direction of Kilkenny. We stopped in the mountains to explore the beautiful Celtic ruins in the Irish countryside, including Glendalough, and Baltinglass Abbey. The first night was in the medieval city of Kilkenny at the Alcantra B&B.
Day 2: More time in the countryside
We headed out on the scenic R697 to the Priory of Kells and then to Stoneyford for a stop at the Knockdrinna cheese shop (picking up a picnic). We took the picnic over to Jerpoint Abbey, eating under the majestic tower. In the afternoon, we took the scenic drive R691 over to the Rock of Cashel. In the afternoon, we took the M8 back to Dublin.
Day 3: A busy day in Dublin
We took a walking tour of some cool, unexpected sights in Dublin with Le Cool Dublin. In the evening, we had dinner and attended the Dublin House Party, a show featuring great traditional Irish music. (On our previous trip, we did a number of the core sights of Dublin, including Trinity College and our favorite sight in the city, Kilmainham Gaol.)
Day 4: Day trip to Powerscourt and visiting Dublin distilleries
We visited Powerscourt Gardens and imbibed (just a little) at The Old Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Storehouse.
Day 5: Belfast-bound
We woke up early and left Dublin, taking the M1 to Belfast, our first stop in Northern Ireland. In the afternoon, we visited St. George’s market and the Titanic Museum, and we happened upon a local food festival at City Hall.
Day 6: Belfast murals and on to Portrush
In the morning, we joined Paddy Campbell for his Black Cab Tour of the Troubles murals of Belfast. We really couldn’t recommend it more highly. After lunch, we left Belfast headed north on the M2/A26 in the general direction of the Antrim Coast. We took a brief detour to the Dark Hedges and set out toward Portrush, where we spent the night at the Shola Coach House.
Day 7: Stunning sights of the Antrim Coast
We left Portrush heading even further north on the Causeway Road to Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. If that weren’t enough, we stopped at The Old Bushmills distillery in the late afternoon. It was a long, windy, wet day of amazing sights, culminating at a night at the charming Caw Cottage.
Day 8: A day in Derry
We woke up in Derry and actually stayed there for the full day – one of the only nights on our whole trip that we spent two nights in the same town. We began the day with a rainy but thought-provoking tour of the Troubles Murals of the town, clearly depicting both sides of the conflict. We also took a great historical tour of the city and spent a little bit of time relaxing. In the evening, we went to a trad session at Peadar O’Donnell’s bar.
Day 9: Donegal and the beautiful Lough Eske
Heading out from Derry on the N13/N56 road, we drove the rugged coast of the Donegal peninsula, part of the Wild Atlantic Way route. We stopped at Grianan Fort and numerous other stops just photographing the distinctive landscape. We spent the afternoon and night at the fabulous, luxurious Lough Eske Castle.
Day 10: Slieve League and Sligo
We spent the morning at Lough Eske Castle enjoying the grounds and curing salmon. In the early afternoon, we headed west along the N56/R263 road toward Slieve League. We visited Drumcliffe and spent the night in Sligo at Markree Castle Hotel.
Day 11: Back to Dublin
In the morning, we visited the tombs at Carrowmore and turned back on the N4 road toward Dublin. We returned the rental car at the airport and spent our final night in the capital. The evening was spent at the Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub, seeing a dinner show about the history and myths of this beautiful place.
Hotels: Ireland is quite challenging in terms of accommodations. Unlike most countries, there are not a large number of big hotels. Instead, Ireland is full of a small, boutique hotels and B&Bs. We recommend looking at Booking.com for hotels and BedandBreakfast.com for small B&Bs and inns.
Rental Car: We recommend renting cars from brand name, larger international companies, like Hertz. If you have a problem, they tend to be more reliable. Before you go, we recommend getting a copy of our book, The Essential Guide to Driving Abroad, which demystifies and simplifies the process of renting overseas.
Travel Insurance: Ireland is an amazing destination! While the country is extremely safe, car accidents are common. For this trip, we bought travel insurance from Travel Guard because you never know what can happen.
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