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The Ultimate One Week Road Trip Itinerary for Ireland

The island of Ireland is split into two with the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Even with Brexit there is no passport control or immigration when traveling between the two regions of the island.

In this 7 or 8 days itinerary we drove a total of 1,100 miles (1,800km) and gas cost a total of 160 euros. With only one week in Ireland it is impossible to see everything, but gives you enough time to see the main attractions and highlights across the island. Several of the days were more driving focused than others to squeeze all of Ireland in one week.

While it took us 8 days in Ireland to drive around the island and enjoy the entire itinerary below it is possible to do it as a 7 day itinerary to Ireland, you just have to wake up and get ready first thing each morning, as there is no time to sleep in.

Renting a car in Dublin

Before renting a car in Ireland it is important to know that in Ireland and Northern Ireland you drive on the left side of the road. Our rental car even had a reminder sticker right above the windshield, but it was not our first time driving on the left, so we had no issues. It does take an extra second to remember especially when making turns and driving on an empty road.

We recommend renting a car only for your time outside of Dublin, as within Dublin parking is limited and expensive. Honestly walking between attractions is often quicker. Overnight parking costs upwards of 15 euro near the city center and that is with a discounted rate through the hotel. It is simply not worth the hassle of having a rental car in Dublin, only rent it for when you are leaving the city.

Because we spent the first two nights in Dublin we rented a car from Europcar picking up and dropping off at the Dublin City Centre, Spencer Dock location.

How much does it cost to rent a car in Ireland?

Rental cars in Ireland are relatively cheap compared to other countries that we have rented cars. For a 6 day rental it cost about 180 euro for a Hybrid Toyota Corolla. Had we opted for a smaller vehicle it would have only cost 100 for the 6 day car rental.

The one note of caution for renting a car in Ireland is the required special insurance coverage information to use our credit card rental car insurance that specifically states there is coverage in the Republic of Ireland. It is a simple phone call to the credit card but you might need to explain specifically what you need to the customer support as it goes beyond the normal coverage documentation.

To drive to Northern Ireland is well there is an additional 30 euro fee as it is part of the United Kingdom, with no real explication for the fee other than the rental company would like more money. We only added the Northern Ireland fee in the middle of our road trip via because we did know if the weather would be good enough to warrant the additional driving.

Do I need extra car insurance in Ireland?

Additional car insurance is required in Ireland and is expensive. We read that If booking through a third party online, the additional insurance they offer is not actually accepted in Ireland and you will need to get insurance coverage directly with the rental car company, which can cost 20-30 euros per day.

Even with full CDW coverage through our credit card we were required to put a 5,000 euro hold on the card in case of any damage. Make sure you have enough credit available on your credit card for the duration of the car rental until the hold is released after retiring the car.

What type of car should I rent in Ireland?

There are several questions to think about when renting a car in Ireland. The first is what size car should you need to rent in Ireland. With narrow roads, tight historic city centers, and limited parking spots, it is best to opt for the smallest car that your group comfortably fits in.

With three people, one checked bag and two carry on bags we chose a Toyota Corolla and the trunk was absolutely full. If you are traveling with two people and less luggage an even smaller car, like the Volkswagen Polo is enough.

7 or 8 Day (one week) road trip itinerary to Ireland and Northern Ireland

Day 1: Streets of Dublin

Since we have two full days in Dublin split between the start and end of our Ireland road trip, our first day in Dublin was spent mostly strolling along the streets of Dublin along the River Liffey. After dropping our luggage of at our hotel we began exploring Dublin on foot.

We started out walking through the relaxing Saint Stephen’s green park to enjoy some of the bright orange and yellow autumn foliage that was at its peak during our visit. There is also a small memorial in the park dedicated to the peaceful defenders of human rights around the world which is interesting to experience and read.

Heading towards the center of town we passed The Umbrellas Dublin which are colorful umbrellas hanging across the road, effectively in an ally between a few bars and casinos. While it does make for a cute photo spot, it is not really worth visiting if you have to go too far out of the way.

We then made our way to the campus of Ireland’s oldest university, Trinity College Dublin. While it is probably most famous for the Trinity College Library and see the Book of Kells, we opted to just walk through the grounds as it was several hours before the next available tour.

After that we walked into the Temple Bar neighborhood which is probably most famous for The Temple Bar Pub. We had stop inside to experience the bustling atmosphere, live Irish music, and of course get our first, and maybe most expensive, pint of Guinness in Ireland.

Tired from our overnight flight to Ireland we wandered back to our hotel trying to pass through as many beautiful and peaceful neighborhood streets as we could. We stayed at the historic Harcourt Hotel, which is situated an approximately 20 minute walk south of most of the top attractions in Dublin. We read complaints online of the adjacent nightclub being loud, but staying in the middle of the week we encountered no issues ourselves.

Day 2: Cobh – Cork – Killarney

Waking up early in the morning I picked up our rental car from the Europcar Dublin City Centre, Spencer Dock location as soon as it opened at 7:30AM to get as much out our day as possible.

After packing up our luggage we began the 4 hour, 170 mile (270km) drive to Cobh. Traffic was relatively light during this drive, but being the first day driving in a new country, the drive did take a little longer as I was getting a feel for the flow of traffic.

Arriving in Cobh, we parked along Spy Hill road for the iconic view of the colorful “Deck of Cards” Houses with St. Colman’s Cathedral in the background. From this viewpoint it is mostly holding your camera above a stone wall to get a beautiful photograph. We then walked around the block to the small West View Park where you can get a similar view, but we do recommend both viewpoints as the park is at the same level as the Deck of Cards houses, so you can’t see the full cathedral.

We then made our way over to St. Colman’s Cathedral where we took a look inside this iconic church and enjoyed panoramic views across downtown Cobh and the entire port. On our way out of Cobh we drove down the main street and stopped for a few minutes to explore some shops before driving on to Cork.

On the way to Cork we stopped at the Blackrock Castle Observatory, which was unfortunately closed when we visited, but it still makes for a beautiful photo, from the edge of the parking lot and right along the water.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Downtown Cork on foot walking along Paul St, Drawbridge St, and along both sides of the River Lee on Merchant’s Quay and St Patrick’s Quay. We stopped for an early dinner at Gallagher’s Cork on MacCurtain Street where you will find a wide range of restaurant options.

Since it was already dark by this point and we still have much of Ireland to explore, we continued driving the 90 minutes west to Killarney, where we checked into The Heights Hotel Killarney to get some rest after a long day of driving.

Day 3: Killarney – The Dingle Peninsula – Limerick

We started off with an early morning hike in Killarney National Park to the Torc Waterfall. It is only a 200 meter walk along a paved path to the waterfall which makes it perfect for every type of visitor. There are additional walking paths through the wooded areas and along Muckross Lake, but did not look as interesting to us.

We made a quick stop at the Ross Castle to enjoy the grounds of this 15th-century. The interior is closed during the winter, when we visited, so could only enjoy the amazing exterior of the Ross Castle.

We then drove 40 miles (60km) out along the scenic Dingle Peninsula stopping at several viewpoints with breathtaking views of the water and Inch Beach. We stopped in the city of Dingle to walk through the colorful fishing village. Make sure to stop by the famous Murphy’s Ice Cream shop and try our favorite homemade ice cream flavor, Dingle Sea Salt flavor.

Making our way out to the end of the peninsula our next stop was Coumeenoole Beach, with its pristine golden sand surrounded by jagged cliffs. It makes for beautiful photos from every angle. Just be careful if you walk around on the beach as it is narrow and relatively flat, which means the turbulent waves can come in quickly, trapping you out there.

From here you can also hike up to Dunmore Head, which is described as the most westerly point In Europe, nearest point to the Blasket Islands. It is also now famously known for being featured in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Based on our limited time and reviews from other visitors, Dunmore Head should be visited if you have the time, but is only really worth it if you are a big Star Wars fan, as there are more beautiful spots to focus on in the region.

Our last stop on Dingle is the iconic Dunquin Pier with its two picturesque pyramid shaped rocks jutting out of the water right beyond the pier. While our favorite photos were actually from atop the cliffs, it is definitely worth walking down to the pier, which serves as which serves as the departure point for the Blasket Island ferry during the summer season.

We then had a 3 hour drive back into the mainland of Ireland, heading north to Limerick. We made a last minute decision to drive the same road out of the Dingle Peninsula to avoid driving through the mountainous Conor Pass to the other side of the peninsula, as we could see heavy rain storms forming.

Checking into the luxurious George Hotel Limerick City, we called it a night as it continued to rain all evening.

Day 4: Limerick & Cliffs of Moher – Galway

We spent the morning walking through Downtown Limerick, primarily walking along the calm River Shannon. The two main highlights you must visit in Limerick are King John’s Castle and Saint Mary’s Cathedral. We spent most of our time just strolling down the streets enjoying our only relaxed morning during the whole Ireland road trip itinerary.

A two hour drive northwest of Limerick is one of Ireland’s most famous attractions, the Cliffs of Moher. When you arrive make sure to head to the main car park on the opposite side of the road from the cliffs. Entrance tickets are €12 per adult, paid for when you park. From there make your way across the street and walk your way up to the top of the cliffs on the right hand side. After enjoying the panoramic views from this angle walk back down, sticking to the cliff edge to the southern end to get multiple perspectives of this breathtaking scenery.

Since the entrance tickets is technically for the parking, you can park a bit south of the Cliffs of Moher Experience at the Cliffs of Moher Liscannor Walk parking lot near Hag’s Head for only €5. The walking path along the cliffs connects between the two, and is open for anyone to walk through. However, this does make you walk a 7km more round trip along the cliffs as the best views are from the northern side.

After 3 hours exploring the Cliffs of Moher, we drove to the nearby village of Doolin which is home to the now Instagram famous pink cottage. Inside is a sweater shop with a great range of high quality merino wool products at the lowest prices we saw around Ireland.

With some new merino wool items in hand, it was a 90 minute drive north to Downtown Galway. After checking in to the chic Western Hotel in Galway we spent the evening walking around Galway and into many of the cute shops lining the streets.

We started in Eyre Square where the Christmas Markets were in full swing by mid-November. We walked down the pedestrian roads through the heart of the Latin Quarter. The route is relatively straight but the road changes names four times during the 10 minute walk from William St, Shop St, High St, to Quay St.

Day 5: Erris Head – Downpatrick Head – Sligo

The next morning started off with a 3 hour drive north to County Mayo until we reached Erris Head Loop Walk. It is a 5km walking loop that starts off walking through sheep pasture and then takes you along the rugged west Irish coastline. The route passes near the small ragged Llandavuck Island, which is the perfect place for a photoshoot.

We encountered many wet and muddy patches along the route, so highly recommend wearing waterproof boots. It is also important to remember that the trail starts off cutting through private pasture, respect the owners land and sheep. The walk took us 2 hours in total including stopping for photos.

Back at the car we drove an hour east to Downpatrick Head where you can see the picturesque Dún Briste Sea Stack. We recommend visiting close to sunset as the golden hour glow is out of this world. Standing on the top of the cliffs can be windy, so a jacket is a must. There are no fences, but don’t go too close to the edge, as you cannot see the erosion happening under your feet.

Unsure of how far we would be able to drive at the end of the day, we made a last minute reservation at Castle Dargan Hotel in Sligo, which was still an hour and a half drive from Downpatrick Head. This luxury hotel is nestled on 170 acres estate in a modern renovation of a 18th century Castle. Honestly we wish we had heard about this hotel in advance so we could spend more time at this luxurious countryside oasis.

Remember, with only 8 days in Ireland driving between destinations in the evening can be a good way to maximize the time. Just be careful as roadways in some areas of Ireland are narrow and winding with limited visibility if it starts raining.

Day 6: Castle Classiebawn – Sliabh Liag – Glenveagh Castle

Day six is a driving heavy day with over 6 hours in total driving time throughout the day, as we had to make it halfway across Northern Ireland, to make sure we had enough time to see the top attractions in Northern Ireland in just one day.

A one hour drive north of Siglo is the fairytale looking Castle Classiebawn. Although you can’t visit the castle, we stopped at the Castle Classiebawn Viewpoint located across the cliffs, where it is safe to pull off and snap some photos. If you have a telephoto lens or zoom on your phone, now is the time to bring it out.

We then continued driving 2 hours north along the rugged coastline to Sliabh Liag, the second highest sea cliffs in Ireland and some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Parking costs €5 for 2hrs and you can drive all the way to the main viewpoint during the off season. Otherwise you have to pay for the shuttle or walk several kilometers.

The cliffs are significantly higher than the Cliffs of Moher, but each offer its own set of beauty. From the viewpoint parking lot at Sliabh Liag are some of the best views. While you can hike up well into the mountains from here, we recommend only about 20-30 minutes uphill to get a nice range of angles to enjoy the view.

After about an hour at Sliabh Liag we continued driving east for two hours until we reached Glenveagh Castle, a late-19th century castle built along the idyllic Lough Beagh, now within the Glenveagh National Park. From the Visitor Center you can take a shuttle bus to the castle for €3 round trip per adult. We arrived just in time for the last shuttle heading out.

Arriving to the castle with only about 20 minutes we quickly paid the €7 entrance fee per person to start our self guided tour. Since the staff had to wait for the last shuttle as well, they let us stay and take our time walking through the castle as they were closing up. We spent about 45 minutes in total walking through the castle, but could have easily spent twice the time if we had it. Just as we finished up the last return shuttle was arriving and it was back to the car to keep driving.

We drove for another 2 hours east in the dark, entering into Northern Ireland until we reached our hotel for the night, ibis Coleraine Riverside. The hotel was comfortable, but only recommended for a short stay as it was showing signs of its age.

Now entering into Northern Ireland from Ireland means we had entered the United Kingdom and while there is no border or passport control, it does mean prices are in British Pounds, not Euros like Ireland uses.

Day 7: Northern Ireland: Dunluce Castle, Giant’s Causeway & Belfast

Just a 20 minute drive north of Coleraine is Magheracross View Point with panoramic views of the Causeway Coast’s stunning landscape. If you walk back along the road a little bit you can see Elephant Rock which looks like an elephant jutting out of the cliffs and into the water.

Right next door is the medieval Dunluce Castle which now sits in partial ruin. Tickets are £6 per adult. Walking through this romantic Irish Castle offered many unique photoshoot spots both of the castle itself and the surrounding cliffs. Try to arrive early as when tour buses start to arrive, the complex quickly fills with people.

Then it was on to the most popular attraction in Northern Ireland and one of the most iconic spots in the entire island, Giant’s Causeway, just a 20 minute drive further east. The unique landscape of Giant’s Causeway consists of tens of thousands basalt columns in hexagonal shapes, as tall as 40ft.

Using the main parking lot at the visitor center requires purchasing the visitor center experience in advance, which is not required to visit the Giant’s Causeway. This experience costs £15.50 per adult and includes closer parking, a guided tour, and access to the exhibits.

Otherwise add the Causeway Coast Way Car Park to your GPS at 60 Causeway Road where it costs £10 to park. It is just an extra 5 minute walk to the start of the Giant’s Causeway trail. From here it is 1km walk, about 20 minutes down a paved road to the Giant’s Causeway. There is an option of a shuttle bus which costs £1 per person each direction.

The main spots to visit are the Grand Causeway, Wishing Chair, and Giant’s Boot. There is also a small rock mound that juts out into the water as the most instagrammable spot, just be polite with your time as everyone wants to get a photo here. There are plenty of other spots if you just want to sit and enjoy the view.

You can walk around on the basalt columns, but be careful as they can be slippery, especially when wet or near the water. There are also staff there for your safety so please respect them if they ever make any requests.

We then continued on to Downtown Belfast which is a two hour drive from Giant’s Causeway, making it the perfect day trip from Belfast if you are staying there. We just spent an hour walking around the streets of Belfast, making sure to visit the beautiful Belfast City Hall and many of the surrounding buildings with its impressive facades. After exploring for a bit it was a two hour drive back south from Belfast to Dublin.

Arriving back to Dublin in the early evening we wanted to experience a bit Irish culture and music before the end of our road trip. We attended the Celtic Nights Dinner & Show, which included a three-course meal off a set menu, for €49 per adult. It was a good way to squeeze the experience traditional Irish dance, Irish music, and Irish food into one evening, but felt like we could have experienced a better version of each one outside of this tourist attraction.

For our last night in Dublin we decided to stay on the other side of the historic center at Staycity Aparthotels, Dublin, City Centre located a few blocks north of the River Liffey. Since we arrived to late in the evening to return the car, we had to park it at a garage several blocks from the hotel, at a discounted rate.

Day 8: Last Day Dublin

For our last day in Ireland we still had to check off some of the best attractions in Dublin off our list. But first, I dropped of the rental car back at the Europcar Dublin City Centre, Spencer Dock location. Two important notes about this rental location are that there is no after hours drop off offered, and they have limited weekend hours, only opening Saturday from 8 AM–1 PM and Sunday 10 AM–1 PM.

We started off at the Dublin Castle, which from 1204 until 1922 it served as the seat of British rule in Ireland. Since Ireland’s independence it has still been used for state ceremonies, with Ireland’s presidents inaugurated in St Patrick’s Hall. Our favorite rooms in the castle are The throne room, The Battleaxe Staircase, the State Drawing Room, The Chapel Royal, and of course St. Patrick’s Hall. Self guided tickets are €8 per adult.

Our next stop is the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ireland’s largest Cathedral dating back over 800 years. This massive ornate church is well worth the visit and €10 entrance fee per adult.

Dublin once had a vibrant distilling industry district called the Golden Triangle, with business declining dramatically in the early 20th century. Teeling Whiskey Distillery was the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years, with an old family distilling knowledge dating back to 1782. Here you can take a guided tasting tour, learning the history, distilling process, and of course how to taste whiskey starting at €20 per person. You can also upgrade your experience with additional small batch and single malt tastings.

No visit to Dublin or Ireland in general would be complete without the Guinness Storehouse Experience. With tickets starting from €20 per adult, experience the multi-story self guided tour to learn about the brewing process and history of Guinness, entry to Guinness Tasting Rooms, ending at the crowded Gravity Bar overlooking Dublin, with an included pint of Guinness.

In my personal opinion, as someone who has been on brewery tours before and has brewed my own beer, most of the experience was built around an amusement park vibe. It is definitely something worth doing once, but will probably not be going back when I am in Ireland again.

That brings us to the end of the ultimate one week road trip itinerary to Ireland, while we stayed one more night in Dublin and left first thing the next morning, you can also get a flight out the same afternoon or evening.

With just 8 days in Ireland it is impossible to see all the attractions, but we were able to visit many of the top things to do in Ireland. We look forward to visiting again soon to visit some more out of the way natural landscapes, and of course taste some more Guinness.

If you have any suggestions of things to do in Ireland or your favorite hidden gems that are missing from this road trip itinerary, please let us know in the comments below so we can check them out ourselves on our next visit to Ireland.

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