There is no better way to explore Ireland than by road, with the freedom of your own wheels. Having just spent 6 months in South America, with it’s diverse and magnificent landscapes, we were not expecting to be so blown away by Ireland’s incredible natural beauty.
Day 1: Arrive
We arrived late at night, picked up our hire car and jumped onto the Ring Road (M50) heading south towards Bray, where we met up with my brother-in-law Micah, who plans to travel and work in Europe for a couple of years. Look out for Micah’s guest posts on the blog.
Day 2: Dublin – St Patricks Day
Biggest tip for St Patricks Day, book your accommodation a year in advance if you can. We stayed out near Bray and caught the train in, taking in the colourful parade before getting started on the Guinness. Two brothers united, lets just say some shenanigans happened. The Pubs in the Temple Bar area fill to capacity and alcohol prices rise as the day continues.
Day 3: Wicklow Mountains
The stunning scenery of the wicklow mountains national park is definitely a must-see. We briefly visited Lough Dan and Lough Tay, unfortunately driving wind and rain obscured the views. The weather eased a little when we reached Glendalough, with it’s 6th Century monastic settlement. On the way we called in at Glencullen and visited Johnnie Fox’s Pub, the highest pub in Ireland.
That night we stayed overnight in an Airbnb with a lovely Irish family in a country farmhouse near Carlow, chatting and sipping Baileys until 1am. Ireland is a goldmine for fantastic Airbnb’s at very reasonable prices.
Day 4: Kilkenny
30 minutes south-west of Carlow is Kilkenny, where we spent a good part of the day exploring the town, Kilkenny Castle, Black Abbey and the Cathedral. A visit to Kilkenny is not complete without the Smithwick’s Experience. We continued on to Cork via Cahir Castle, One of Ireland’s largest castle’s.
Day 5: Cork
After a lovely stay in a regular bnb in central Cork, we paid tribute to the famous Blarney Castle and to kiss the Blarney stone and also stopped by the Jamison whisky distillery in Midleton. The late afternoon saw us take a leisurely 2 hour drive through magnificent mountain landscapes as we made our way to Killarney.
Day 6: Killarney & Ring of Kerry
We booked two nights at Paddy’s Place, a hostel in Killarney. At least one full day is necessary for the Ring of Kerry, a loop which took us through mountain and seaside landscapes with awe dropping beauty, crumbling castles and ancient ruins of Irish civilisation going back thousands of years.
Day 7: Dingle Peninsula
The Dingle Peninsula is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, 2,500km of breathtaking coastal road. We began the journey from Killarney and made our way to Ballybunion where we stopped overnight in another amazing airbnb.
Day 8: Limerick, Cliffs of Moher, Doolin & Galway
We visited Limerick and King John’s Castle in the morning and the Cliffs of Moher in the afternoon. Tip: If you have enough time you can drive to Doolan and take the cliffside walk, experience more incredible views and avoid paying the entry fee (paid when entering the carpark). After a short stop in Doolan, we continued on to Galway, the heart of Irish culture and music.
Day 9: Sligo
Exhausted after a week with a full schedule, we skipped a few places we originally planned on our itinerary and this ended up being more of a rest day. We drove almost directly to Sligo, staying in a backpackers in Strandhill which becomes a thriving holiday destination in the summer. Early afternoon we enjoyed a long lunch at The Draft House, drinking in the sunshine before heading in for a nap and a quiet evening.
Day 10: Donegal & [London]derry
Following the Wild Atlantic Way we spent the morning taking short breaks at various viewpoints including Mullaghmore, the picturesque town of Donegal made a perfect lunch stop before the breathtaking drive into Glenveagh National Park
We found another excellent Airbnb near Derry, complete with a Jacuzzi and Sauna! Welcome to Northern Ireland!
Day 11: Giant’s Causeway & The North Coast
The Journey from Derry to Belfast is jam-packed full of attractions including Dunluce Castle (featured in cover photo) and the Giants Causeway. We were able to avoid the entry fee by walking from the carpark at Bushmills train station (again you pay at the carpark).
We visited the Bushmills whisky Distillery for more whisky tasting. Carrick-a-Rede bridge is overrated, we were in line for 30 minutes only to spend a few seconds crossing the short bridge and waiting to cross back again. the cost is 7 Euros, though we all got in for free because Micah signed up for a National Trust membership. If you’re a game of thrones fan Dark Hedges makes a good photo stop, although it wasn’t particularly ‘dark’ in spring as the leaves hadn’t grown back on the trees. We arrived in Belfast at sunset and settled in for dinner in a cosy pub, beer and pool.
Day 12: Belfast
As a child I was obsessed with the Titanic, so most of our day in Belfast was consumed by the Titanic exhibition and the HMS Caroline. Other sights worth a visit include the Crumlin Road Goal, Belfast City Hall, Hillsborough Castle & Gardens and Black Mountain walk.
Day 13: Newcastle & Newgrange
From Belfast, we stopped in at Newcastle to pay tribute as our home city has the same name, renown for it’s pretty seaside, the weather was against us today so we moved on to Newgrange. Was is thought to be a 5,000 year old tomb (although it’s purposes and who built it remains a mystery).
Day 14: Dublin
Our last full day was spent exploring Dublin, sans St Patrick’s Day, Temple Bar was barely recognisable. We explored what we could of the city including the Guinness Storehouse, The Book of Kells and the Old Library Exhibition, St Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College London. Kilmainham Goal and Glasnevin Cemetery are highly regarded attractions that we missed.
Day 15: We said goodbye to Ireland as the sun rose on an early flight to London.