Road Affair is reader-supported and may earn commission from purchases made through links in this article.
Ireland has so much to offer to travel-hungry adventurers, and the best way to experience it all is through a road trip. From sleeping on secluded beaches to climbing hidden ring forts and learning to surf, this ultimate guide to a road trip in Ireland has you covered.
If you only have two weeks in Ireland, this is the ideal trip for you. It will take you to almost all of the country’s top attractions like the Cliffs of Moher and Newgrange, as well as some of the most unique, off-the-beaten-path attractions that many Irish natives don’t even know about. This 14-day Ireland road trip itinerary starts in southern County Cork, follows the coast and Wild Atlantic Way into Northern Ireland, and finishes in Athlone. You can begin your self-driving tour of Ireland from nearly anywhere as the country is small enough that you won’t have to drive far to get to the starting point. Most people will start out from Dublin, home to the country’s biggest airport. But you can also start out from Galway or even Cork. For the purpose of this itinerary, we will assume you are beginning your journey in Dublin.
Since this itinerary aims to take you to as many attractions as possible to truly make the most out of your road trip around Ireland, it is essential to start each day as early as you can. The latest you should be on the road is 9:00 a.m.
- 1 Best Time to Road Trip Ireland
- 2 How to Get Around Ireland
- 3 The Ultimate Two-Week Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
- 3.1 Day 1: Dublin to Skibbereen
- 3.2 Day 2: Ring of Kerry, Skellig Ring, & Valentia Island
- 3.3 Day 3: Ring of Kerry to Killarney
- 3.4 Day 4: Killarney to Dingle Peninsula
- 3.5 Day 5: Dingle Peninsula to Cliffs of Moher
- 3.6 Day 6: Cliffs of Moher to Galway
- 3.7 Day 7: Galway, Aran Islands, & Rossaveel
- 3.8 Day 8: Rossaveel to Westport
- 3.9 Day 9: Croagh Patrick, Achill Island to Sligo
- 3.10 Day 10: Sligo & Donegal
- 3.11 Day 11: Donegal & Northern Ireland
- 3.12 Day 12: Portrush, Belfast, & Carlingford
- 3.13 Day 13: Carlingford & Athlone
- 3.14 Day 14: Optional Attraction and the End of the Tour
Best Time to Road Trip Ireland
Ireland’s weather remains pretty consistent throughout the year, with March to September seeing a little bit of change to a warmer climate. For the most part, though, the country has a damp and cool environment, so be sure to pack rain gear and warm sweaters.
March and August are the peak tourism times, especially around St. Patrick’s Day, so it might be better to skip these months to avoid crowded attractions and limited accommodation. The best time to go depends on how you plan to travel around the country. If you plan to rent a campervan in Ireland, most campgrounds are only open from April to September. A few campgrounds are open all year round, though it would be easier to plan your campervan tour when all the parks are open. If you plan on renting a car, any time of the year should be good as long as you don’t mind it being a few degrees colder in the winter months.
How to Get Around Ireland
There are two options for doing a self-drive tour of Ireland. The first is a campervan rental. While there are plenty of manual campervan rental options near Dublin, such as West Coast Campervans and Retro Camper Hire, the options for those manually impaired are slim. If you need an affordable automatic campervan, RetroVentures Motorcycle & Campervan Rental outside of Limerick is the best. A train runs directly to Limerick from Dublin and takes just under three hours.
You can also choose to tour Ireland by car, staying at Airbnbs and hotels along the way. The best website to rent a car is RentalCars.com, and you can pick up rentals from Dublin, Galway, or Cork, depending on where you wish to start your tour.
The Ultimate Two-Week Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
This road trip is a journey like no other. Not only will it take you driving through the narrow winding hills of Ireland’s countryside, but you will also get to explore abandoned villages, ride horses on a secluded beach, and hike a steep mountain.
However, before we get to our Ireland itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $10 a week, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with SafetyWing, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere. One popular alternative, for example, is World Nomads.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get this Ireland itinerary on the road already (pun intended)!
Day 1: Dublin to Skibbereen
Your journey begins when you leave Dublin behind and make the three-hour drive toward Blarney Castle and the Wild Atlantic Way in County Cork. The Wild Atlantic Way is a beautiful coastal region stretching from County Cork to County Donegal, and it is known for its stunning cliff views, magnificent bays, and picture-perfect small towns.
Once you reach Blarney Castle, make sure to put on your ChapStick and pucker up to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. According to legend, all those who kiss the enchanted limestone block will be bestowed with the gift of the gab. After sharing a smooch with the stone and touring the grounds, you can then make your way toward the Wild Atlantic Way to the small Celtic seaside village of Kinsale, County Cork.
Kinsale is a vibrant fishing town with two towering forts, James Fort and Charles Fort, perched directly across from each other and overlooking the waterway that enters the bay. The town is steeped in a rich history of battles and invasions.
Charles Fort is a well-preserved fortress dating back to the 1600s. This British fort is one of Ireland’s largest historical military installations and offers stunning views of the sea and bay. It is in surprisingly excellent condition considering its history of siege and fire. Visitors can roam the grounds and fortress rooms at their leisure with a self-guided tour.
James Fort is less preserved than Charles Fort and has become overgrown with nature over the years. However, if you have time, I still recommend a visit to the ruins. It is free to visit but is a little bit of a hike to get to. If you park close to the outskirts of Kinsale, it will take you about 45 minutes to walk to the fort. The upside is that many tourists don’t bother to make their way out to the fort, so you will most likely have the grounds all to yourself to explore!
As you make your way along the coast toward Skibbereen, you will find another hidden treasure that bears a resemblance to Stonehenge. Drombeg Circle, or the Druid’s Altar as it is also known, is a fascinating free-standing structure dating to 1100–800 BCE. These two-meter-high ancient stones are tucked behind country lanes and fields and seemingly erupt out of nowhere. The site also has the remains of an old primitive kitchen and a sacred well. It’s a fun little stop on the road trip as there are informative plaques to read and it gives you a chance to stretch your legs. Plus it’s free to visit.
Leap Historic Waterfall, near Skibbereen, is another cute, niche pit stop that gives you a chance to view some pretty unique things. Not only is there a decently sized waterfall to view, there is also a metal walkout over the waterfall where you can stand and view the river below. The owners have done an adorable job of decorating the riverside with fairy houses and ornaments, creating a tiny fairy village. The waterfall is hidden in the back; you have to walk through a small building of oddities to get there.
If you have ever dreamed of night kayaking in bioluminescent waters, then you are in luck. This enchanting experience is one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets. Atlantic Sea Kayaking is the only company that runs tours to this lake near Skibbereen.
The lake, Lough Hyne, is home to rare bioluminescent plankton that dazzle and sparkle at night when you interact with the water. It’s a mesmerizing phenomenon that is extremely rare in this kind of climate. However, it can usually only be seen in Ireland’s warmer months from May to September. Even if the waters aren’t sparkling when you do the tour, it is still worthwhile as the area is one of Ireland’s best places to view the stars. So sit back, paddle away, and enjoy the twinkling skies and dazzling waters.
Best Places to Stay in Skibbereen:
Day 2: Ring of Kerry, Skellig Ring, & Valentia Island
Begin Day 2 by driving an hour and a half north toward the Ring of Kerry, a very popular scenic route filled with stunning cliff views and quaint Irish towns. Head toward County Kerry to the bustling little town of Kenmare. Once you arrive, you can take a leisurely stroll along the main street and stop in at boutique shops where you can find some pretty unique souvenirs and traditional Irish wool wears. Kenmare is a great place to find a bite to eat and fill up on gas before continuing on to the Ring of Kerry.
Your next stop is Derrynane Beach, voted one of Ireland’s most beautiful beaches. There are a few different sections to this beach, with only some areas lifeguarded. If you explore the south end of the beach, you will find the ruins of an old church on Abbey Island. The island is only accessible during low tide, so be mindful not to stay too long and get stuck.
After a few hours of swimming and exploring, continue south on the Ring of Kerry for about 45 minutes through the Skellig Ring to Valentia Island. Most travelers are unaware of the hidden attractions on this island. First visit the Tetrapod Footprints, where you can see the footprints of one of the first animals to walk on land nearly 370 million years ago. The footprints are free to check out and are one of only four Devonian trackways in the world.
After a pit stop at the trackway, drive a quick five minutes to O’Shea’s Faux Pub and Saint Brendan’s Well. O’Shea’s Faux Pub is a niche bit of Irish culture. Guinness built this fake pub years ago for the sole purpose of commercial advertising, and the stock footage is still used in Guinness commercials today. The building has since been abandoned, but many visit to snap a picture of themselves enjoying a pint of the black stuff outside this forgotten piece of pop culture.
Saint Brendan’s Well is a 10-minute walk down a path from the O’Shea’s. Legend says that Saint Brendan, also known as the Navigator, sailed from Dingle Bay to Valentia Island in the fifth century. When he landed, he came across two dying pagan men along the cliffside. He then anointed the two men where the well stands today and brought Christianity to the island.
Saint Brendan is known as the saint for all sailors and adventurers. Some believe he sailed to North America and discovered it before Christopher Columbus. Regardless of your religious beliefs, if you’re a travel adventurer, then say a little prayer at this well to protect you along your travels. The prayer of Saint Brendan begins, “Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.”
Best Places to Stay on/Near Valentia Island:
Day 3: Ring of Kerry to Killarney
Start Day 3 off with a tour out of Portmagee to Skellig Michael, where Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed. Skellig Michael is a small, rugged island with a remarkable monastery on top of its steep summit. It is one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ireland, and visitors can take a 2.5-hour boat tour of the island between April and September. If you are visiting between May and November, you can book a half-day landing tour on the island, but be aware that times and tour lengths can change due to weather.
After a morning boat tour of the island, hop back in the car and finish off the Skellig Ring. Make your way back onto the Ring of Kerry to Cahergall Ring Fort. This beautifully restored stone ring fort dates back to the Iron Age and is a must-see (and climb) for your Irish road trip. In the middle of the fort are the ruins of a circular stone house to explore. If you feel brave, climb the small staircases to the top of the fortress walls, and you will get phenomenal views of the Irish coast. This Irish National Monument is located four kilometers off the Ring of Kerry behind the town of Cahersiveen, and is entirely free to visit.
About a five-minute walk from Cahergall Fort are the ruins of Leacanabuaile Stone Fort. This fort is laid out more like a maze with the remains of several small buildings and huts. The fortress was built between the 9th and 10th centuries as a form of protection for a wealthy farmstead owner.
Once you are finished at the forts, continue along the winding roads of the Ring of Kerry to Kate Kearney’s Cottage. This adorable 150-year-old cottage marks the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe, a lush mountain pass with grand waterfalls, hiking trails, and sheep pastures made famous when Queen Victoria visited in the 1800s. Enjoy a cup of soup at the famed restaurant or browse through their craft store for souvenirs. The owners also offer traditional Irish horse-drawn carriage rides through the gap if walking or driving isn’t your style.
Finish off your day in Killarney, about a 20-minute drive away.
Best Places to Stay in Killarney:
Day 4: Killarney to Dingle Peninsula
Killarney has many attractions that are minutes apart from each other. Begin Day 4 with a visit to Ross Castle, located on Killarney’s lower lake. The castle was built by O’Donoghue Mór in the 15th century and was the last stronghold against Cromwell in the Munster region. It was eventually overtaken in 1652 by the British General Ludlow. Visitors can tour the castle and the castle grounds, as well as take a boat tour of the lake.
Muckross House is a luxurious 19th-century mansion just down the road from Ross Castle that boasts expansive grounds filled with ruins and breathtaking gardens. Among the grounds is Muckross Abbey, a must-see on your Ireland road trip. The Abbey was built in the 14th century and features incredibly well-preserved architecture, dramatic arches, and pillared corridors to explore. Grab some lunch at Muckross Garden Restaurant or have a picnic on one of the many open fields.
After lunch, jump in the car for another short drive down the road to Torc Waterfall. There is limited parking near the entrance to the falls, so snag whatever spot you can. Once parked, this stunning 20-meter waterfall is only a 10-minute walk away down a well-marked path.
After a visit to the waterfall, strap on your hiking boots and head toward Derrycunihy Church, where you can park and hike 45-minutes down to Derrycunihy Falls. The falls and the trail are much less crowded than Torc Waterfall and its hiking paths, and they feature the ruins of old houses to explore along the way.
Once you return to the church, you’ll probably be ready for a snack. If you drive a few minutes up the road to Ladies’ View Gift Store Café Bar & Roof Terrace, you can get an excellent meal and a pint with outstanding scenic views over the Ring of Kerry and Killarney lakes.
Now that you’ve finished the Ring of Kerry, it’s time to make your way to the Dingle, just under three hours from Ladies’ View.
Best Places to Stay in Dingle:
Day 5: Dingle Peninsula to Cliffs of Moher
Next on your Ireland itinerary is a driving tour of the Dingle Peninsula. Start your day off by heading to Gallarus Oratory, a small stone building dating to between the sixth and ninth centuries. The original purpose of the building is unknown. However, researchers found a large Celtic burial ground nearby and now believe it was some sort of church or funeral building. Local legend says that if you are able to crawl through the small window in the oratory, your soul will be cleansed.
Once you’ve attempted a good soul-cleansing, it’s time to take a short drive to Dunquin Pier. The pier offers stunning views of Blasket Island and the rugged coastal cliffs. This is truly one of the most magical and awe-inspiring locations that showcases the best of Ireland. Visitors can take a stroll down the winding pier or wander the lush cliff paths to find the perfect spot for pictures.
Next, head north along the peninsula toward Saint Brigid’s Well and the Cliffs of Moher. Your first stop will be at Saint Brigid’s Well, which is a short but interesting pit stop. Brigid was such a popular goddess within the Celtic religion that when Christians came to Ireland, they were unable to rid her from the island. Instead, they made her a patron saint and the foster mother of Jesus. Saint Brigid’s cross can be seen throughout Ireland, and there are other wells dedicated in her name. However, this particular well is the oldest one in Ireland. It is rumored that the running water in the stone grotto of the well has healing powers, and many visitors come from around the world to place mementos and pray in it. Today, tourists can visit the underground well and fountain and stroll through the ancient cemetery behind the well.
If you’ve been planning a trip to Ireland for a while, you’ve probably already heard of the Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs are one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions, known for their stunning seaside views and interactive visitor center. These dramatic cliffs have been featured in many famous movies as well, such as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Princess Bride.
Best Places to Stay Near the Cliffs of Moher:
Day 6: Cliffs of Moher to Galway
Day 6 starts with a tour of Doolin Cave, located just 10 minutes from the Cliffs of Moher. The caves are home to Europe’s longest free-standing stalactite and is a must-see when visiting Ireland. The guided tour is roughly 45 minutes, and visitors can enjoy lunch afterward at the on-site café.
The next stop is Thoor Ballylee Yeats Tower, roughly an hour’s drive from the caves. On the way to Thoor Ballylee, you can make a pit stop at Kilmacduagh Abbey, where Ireland’s tallest round tower stands, along with the impressive ruins of an 800-year-old abbey. After a quick wander at Kilmacduagh Abbey, drive 15 minutes to Thoor Ballylee. The tower is famously known as the summer home of Irish Nobel-winning poet W. B. Yeats. Yeats purchased the property in 1916, and it became the inspiration for many of his most famous writings, including The Tower and “A Prayer for my Daughter.” Today, visitors can enjoy a free cup of tea from volunteers in the tea room and tour the gorgeous grounds and home that inspired the writing power behind the Irish Literary Movement. While exploring, keep an eye out for the ghost of an Anglo-Norman soldier whom Yeats believed haunted the home.
After warming up with a cup of tea, it’s time to head an hour north toward Galway to Brigit’s Celtic Garden and Café. This garden consists of 11 acres of magical meadows, gardens, and woodlands that have been designed to reflect the four Celtic seasonal festivals. As you wander through the paths, you will learn about Celtic traditions, beliefs, and festivals that date back thousands of years.
After a day of discovering caves, gardens, and towers, it’s time to head to Galway for the night. If you are looking for a unique pub to frequent, head to Áras na nGael, an entirely Gaelic-speaking pub that welcomes tourists and newcomers to come and learn how to speak the traditional Irish language.
Best Places to Stay in Galway:
Day 7: Galway, Aran Islands, & Rossaveel
On Day 7, it’s time to put your sea legs to the test and take the ferry to the Aran Islands. The ferry leaves from Rossaveel, which is about a 45-minute trip west from downtown Galway. It is highly advised you book your ticket for the ferry in advance, especially during the busy season. It runs a couple of times a day, and the timetable depends on which month you plan to visit. Check out ferry schedules for your holiday month here.
The best island to visit is Inishmore as it is much larger and has more to see. The ride over is roughly an hour and will drop you in the small village of Kilronan. From Kilronan, make your way to Teampall Bheanáin, the ruins of an 11th-century church said to be the smallest in Ireland. You will have to park and take a short walk to get to the ruins, but you should take your time discovering the grounds nearby. Down the hill from the church are the remains of a monastery, a round tower, and a Celtic cross dating to the sixth century.
After exploring the grounds, hop back in the car and take a short drive to Dún Dúchathair. Also known as The Black Fort, Dún Dúchathair is a less crowded attraction on the island. Visitors can roam the ramparts, walls, and old stone house dwellings at this cliffside fortress. If you feel like going for a swim after touring the fort, head to Poll na bPéist next. Also known as the Wormhole, Poll na bPéist is a natural saltwater swimming pool carved out of a rocky cliff edge and is also one of the Red Bull Cliff Diving competition sites.
After a dip in the rocky swimming pool, take a short drive up the coast to the more popular fortress of Dún Aonghasa. Unlike Dún Dúchathair, this prehistoric fort has a visitors center and is a great place to enjoy a packed lunch with views of the Atlantic. If you don’t feel like packing a lunch, Teach Nan Phaidi restaurant is located less than 10 minutes from the fort and serves up classic Irish dishes.
After lunch, it’s time to finish up your tour of the island with a visit to the famous Na Seacht dTeampaill (Seven Churches). There is much debate as to why the site has this name as there are only two churches on the grounds. Regardless, visitors can tour the ruins of both the churches and surrounding monastic dwellings. There are also seven marked graves with Celtic crosses said to be the final resting place of seven saints.
The last ferry to Rossaveel runs around 6:00 p.m., so be sure not to miss it! Alternatively, you could spend the night on Inishmore at an Airbnb or bed and breakfast. However, keep in mind that it is an hour ferry ride back to the mainland in the morning, which can strain the next day’s travel itinerary.
Best Places to Stay Near Rossaveel:
Day 8: Rossaveel to Westport
The next part of this Ireland road trip itinerary will take you north along the Wild Atlantic Way through the gorgeous region of Connemara. There is only one attraction to visit on this day because it is so amazing you will not want to rush through it. Drive an hour through the winding lush green hills, and you will arrive at Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Wall Gardens.
Kylemore Abbey is a stunning 1,000-acre estate filled with history. Visitors can explore the grounds and learn about the property’s rich past through a tour of the Victorian mansion. However, there is much more to tour than just the home. Guests can roam a six-acre walled garden, hike the property’s woodland trails, explore the neo-Gothic church, enjoy a warm cup of tea from the Tea Room, and grab a bite to eat at the cafeteria. Although the home is currently home to Benedictine nuns, visitors are welcome to explore the entirety of the grounds and can even purchase a souvenir at the gift shop after their visit.
After a day at Kylemore Abbey, it’s time to pack in the day and head to the beautiful town of Westport. The town is fantastic for boutique shopping and traditional Irish pub culture.
Best Places to Stay in Westport:
Day 9: Croagh Patrick, Achill Island to Sligo
On Day 9, it’s time to continue your road trip around Ireland by strapping on your hiking boots and heading to Croagh Patrick, also known as the Reek. This pilgrimage path is relatively difficult, although many elderly are able to reach the peak; just be aware this is not a leisure hike. At the top of the mountain, visitors will find breathtaking panoramic views of Clew Bay and the surrounding area.
Croagh Patrick has been a place of worship for thousands of years, and a small church can be found at its peak. According to legend, Saint Patrick climbed the Reek in 441 CE and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Since then, many tourists have come from around the world to hike the path shoeless to pay penance during the pilgrimage.
The hike takes three to four hours round trip, which is why you should start your hike as early as possible so that you can have a chance to rest and enjoy the vista when you reach the top.
Once you reach the bottom, it’s time to drive for just over an hour to Achill Island. First make your way to Slievemore Deserted Village. A mile’s worth of abandoned stone house ruins is all that remains of this once-thriving booley village. Booleying was a lifestyle in Ireland where families would move from town to town depending on the season so that the farmer’s cattle could graze in grassy fields all year round. Slievemore was abandoned around the time of the Irish Famine due to rent increases and the economic downturn associated with the famine. Today, visitors can explore the stone ruins on the hill and take in views of the island.
The next stop is Keem Beach, a small sand inlet with turquoise waters that looks like it belongs somewhere in the tropics. The road that leads to Keem is steep and winding, offering picturesque views of the sea and Clare Island. Keep an eye out for sheep on the street, though! If you find yourself parched for a pint, stop in at Gielty’s Bar and Restaurant and enjoy a beer at the most westerly pub in Europe.
After a visit to the beach and a refreshment at Gielty’s, it’s time to wrap up the day and head just over two hours to Sligo. For those touring with a campervan in Ireland, the best place to stay the night is Dunmoran Strand outside of Sligo. You can park your van overlooking the secluded beach and watch the sunset over the North Atlantic. It is free to stay overnight in the parking lot, and there are on-site bathrooms.
Best Places to Stay Near Sligo:
Day 10: Sligo & Donegal
Day 10 is one of the few days that includes tours you need to book in advance, but they are well worth it. Island View Riding Stables is located 20 minutes north of Sligo and offers group horseback riding tours along a private beach. The folks at Island View are fantastic and can accommodate everyone, regardless of experience level. If you are a well-seasoned rider, they will happily take you on a more upbeat ride along the beach. If you’ve never ridden a horse in your life, that’s okay, too! The guides will show you all the ropes of riding and take you on a more leisurely ride along the beach. A one-hour beach ride is €35 per person, but they also offer longer tours along the beaches, islands, and bogs nearby.
Today is all about learning and enjoying the beach. That’s why your next adventure is learning how to surf at Murfs Surf School at Tullan Strand. The beach is less than a 20-minute drive from Island View Riding Stable in Ireland’s surf capital, Bundoran. The town is a great spot to stop and fuel up with a hearty lunch before heading to the surf school. If you’re worried about the water being too cold for you, don’t fret. A five millimeter-thick winter wetsuit is included in the surfboard rental and lessons so that you stay nice and warm. You can opt to book a private one-hour lesson for €75 or join in on an adult group lesson for €35.
After a day of riding surfboards and horses, it’s time to head 1.5 hours north toward your final destination of the day, Dunfanaghy, County Donegal. Dunfanaghy is a picturesque small fishing town filled with lively pubs and restaurants. If you are in a campervan, the best place to stay is Killahoey Beach car park, where there are on-site bathrooms and it’s free to camp.
Best Places to Stay in Dunfanaghy:
Day 11: Donegal & Northern Ireland
Day 11 finishes off the Wild Atlantic Way in County Donegal and takes you into Northern Ireland. There are no borders when crossing from Ireland into Northern Ireland, so you won’t need to show your passport to anyone. But be aware that driving in Northern Ireland is not the same as driving in Ireland. Speed limits are posted in miles per hour, not kilometers per hour, as they are in Ireland. They also use the British Pound instead of the Euro for currency. The day is jam-packed full of attractions, so it is best to start no later than 8:30 a.m.
Start your day by heading to Grianán of Aileach, one of the best ring forts in Ireland. The fort was built around the eighth century, but the site is believed to have been a place of significance since 1700 BCE. Over the years, sundials, bones, and even an ancient board game have been excavated from the site. According to Irish folklore, one should not tell any secrets while in the fort because if you do, it will no longer be a secret, and everyone will soon know. Visitors today can visit the well-preserved ruins of the fortress that stands on top of a massive hill. It has one of the best panoramic views of County Donegal.
After exploring the ringfort, it’s time to head to Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland. Game of Thrones fans might recognize the castle as the House of Greyjoy, ruler of the Iron Islands. Once the home of Clan McDonnell, this medieval castle is located on steep cliff sides and is only accessible by bridge. This would have been a strategic setting for the McDonnells’ home to protect themselves against Viking raids. Visitors can tour the castle and the village grounds that surround it.
The next stop is probably Northern Ireland’s most famous attraction, the Giant’s Causeway. The causeway is a beach covered in raised hexagon-shaped basalt columns that naturally formed over six million years ago. Irish folklore tells a different story of how the stone beach was created, though. It is said the Irish giant Finn McCool was challenged to a battle by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn used the nearby rocks to create a bridge to Scotland to fight Benandonner, leaving the hexagon-shaped rock formations we see today. On a clear day, you can see Scotland on the horizon.
If you’re looking for a late afternoon lunch, stop in at Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy. The pub is home to an entire room dedicated to Game of Thrones. When a storm blew over one of the trees in the Dark Hedges (also used in GoT filming), Tourism NI decided to carve six heavy intricate wooden doors out of the fallen tree and dedicate each door to an episode from season six of the series. Fullerton Arms is home to door six and has even built a custom replica throne for fans to take a picture in.
Next, continue along the coast to Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. This attraction is not for the faint of heart. The 66-foot long rope bridge links the mainland to the small island of Carrickarede and stands roughly 100 feet above rocky waters. Before heading to Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, you should always check to make sure it’s open as high winds and bad weather can temporarily close the attraction due to safety concerns.
You can spend the night in Portrush, a bustling seaside resort town with tons of nightlife, attractions, and restaurants.
Best Places to Stay in Portrush:
Day 12: Portrush, Belfast, & Carlingford
Start your day off with a hearty Irish breakfast in Portrush and drive 30 minutes to The Dark Hedges. The Dark Hedges is a famed road framed by majestic-looking beech trees that twist and wind over the avenue. The Stuart family planted the trees in the 18th century to impress visitors on the way to their mansion. It has now become an icon of Northern Ireland, made even more famous by Game of Thrones, which used it for the road to King’s Landing.
After snapping some pics at the Dark Hedges, it’s time to head to the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast. It is about an hour’s drive to downtown Belfast. Before parking to explore the city, take a drive past the Peace Wall on Cupar Way. There are many of these peace walls in Belfast, but this is one of the easiest to visit on a self-driving tour. These walls were initially constructed to separate the republican, nationalist Catholic neighborhoods and the loyalist, unionist Protestant neighborhoods during the 1969 sectarian riots. The purpose of the walls was to protect citizens against the violence of the 30-year conflict. After the Good Friday Agreement was signed, local artists decorated the walls with vivid murals representing the issue.
Once you’re done with your Peace Wall tour, head downtown toward Belfast City Hall. There are tons of paid parking spots in the area. Take a stroll through the bustling streets and watch street performers, shop in boutique stores, and grab a bite to eat. Since the Titanic was built in Belfast, it only makes sense to check out the Titanic Belfast Museum. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of nine interactive exhibits and learn about how it was made, the people aboard, and what remains of it in the ocean.
After Belfast, it’s time to head back across the Irish border to the town of Carlingford for the night. It is just over an hour’s drive from downtown Belfast.
Best Places to Stay near Carlingford:
Day 13: Carlingford & Athlone
Day 13 begins with a hike to hunt leprechauns on the Slieve Foye Loop. To understand why this is even a thing, you need to know a bit of the history of Carlingford. In the 1980s, a businessman in town was walking through the hillside and found a tiny hat and pants with gold coins near a burned patch of grass. Since then, the town has conducted an annual National Leprechaun Hunt, during which folks search the mountain for the tiny magical creatures. In 2010, the European Union officially recognized Carlingford as the home of Ireland’s last leprechauns. Tourists come from all over the world to hike the Slieve Foye Loop in hopes of seeing these magical creatures. The hike takes about 2.5 hours round trip and starts behind the downtown shops. Head to River Ln and then turn right on Mountain Park and follow the red and blue sign markers.
The next stop on your road trip around Ireland is Newgrange and Brú na Bóinne, which are 45 minutes south from Carlingford. Brú na Bóinne, also known as the Boyne valley tombs, houses ancient Celtic tombs that predate the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. The most famous of the tombs is Newgrange, which dates back to 3200 BCE. Visitors can discover some of the best neo-Gothic European art here. There is a lot of history and other tombs to explore as well. Make your way to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre Newgrange and Knowth from which you can take a guided tour of the grounds and learn all about the high king of Ireland that lived in the area, the rituals that took place, and why the winter solstice is so important here.
You should be finished with Newgrange around mid-afternoon and will have a 25-minute drive to the Hill of Tara. The Hill of Tara is where every high king of Ireland sat from 600 BCE to 400 CE. Saint Patrick himself visited in the fifth century. The hill was sacred to the ancient Irish as they believed it to be a home of the gods and a portal to the otherworld. Today, not much remains of the grand palace, but there are other sights to see, like the Lia Fáil, also known as the coronation stone. You can take a guided tour from the visitor center of the grounds or opt to do a self-guided tour.
Spend the night in the town of Athlone, located just under 90 minutes from the Hill of Tara. Athlone is home to Sean’s Pub, which the Guinness Book of World Records has officially recognized as the oldest pub in Ireland. The pub claims to have been established in 900 CE and holds a fascinating history. Make sure to stop in for a pint and check out documented history and the building.
Best Places to Stay Near Carlingford:
Day 14: Optional Attraction and the End of the Tour
Depending on when you need to bring your rental back, you can opt to continue your Irish road trip and check out Birr Castle, located 40 minutes south of Athlone. The castle is fully intact and houses a museum of its history and the history of the family that lived here. It is also home to extensive grounds filled with rare trees and breathtaking gardens. The most prominent attraction is the Leviathan of Parsonstown, a giant telescope built by the third earl of Rosse, William Parsons, in 1840. The impressive telescope is 50 feet high and 70 feet long.
Related: 20 Best Castles in Ireland
Thus concludes your two weeks in Ireland! It is just under two hours to Dublin Airport and an hour to Galway Airport from Birr. If you are headed to Dublin and find yourself with a few extra days, make sure you check out the top 10 things to do in the city and the best hostels in Dublin.