This month I was lucky enough to have my 2 sisters and 2 of my best friends come and travel with me in Ireland and Northern Ireland. My sisters and I had been talking about doing a road trip in Ireland for a while, and earlier this summer we came across an incredible flight deal to Dublin, so we made the split second decision and booked it. Since everyone had work and school commitments back at home, we only had 1 week to travel together, but I think we got to see quite a bit of both countries during our time there. For anyone thinking of doing a similar road trip, here’s a 1-week Ireland road trip itinerary that highlights what I think are some of the best spots around the island:
Our Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Dublin
On the first day I picked up my two sisters, Ashley and Arielle, and my two friends, Alyssa and Raakel from the airport and we then maneuvered our way into the city. That was my first time driving on the opposite side of the road! Since most of the girls were feeling a little jet-lagged from the trip, we didn’t get to cover a lot of Dublin, but we did make time to eat at The Brazen Head (which is the oldest pub in all of Ireland!), go shopping along Grafton street, and then go out in Temple Bar for some live music and a few ciders.
Day 2: Dublin > Glendalough > Glen of Aherlow
On Day 2, we packed up the car and started driving south towards Glendalough to soak in a little bit of nature in County Wicklow. Glendalough means The Valley of the Two Lakes and there’s an old medieval monastic settlement there that dates back to the 6th century (though some of the structures there date much later). We spent some time walking around and visiting the Round Tower, the Priest’s House, and the Cathedral.
There are also quite a few different nature trails in Glendalough, so after visiting the ruins we chose the path leading towards the Upper Lake and went for a really scenic walk – we even got to see deer and they didn’t seem at all disturbed by the cameras or all the attention they were getting from curious visitors.
After our visit to Glendalough we drove to the Rock of Cashel, however, by the time we got there it was late afternoon and it had already closed to visitors. My sister, Ashley, saw a local lady in her 70s walking by and stopped to ask her if she knew the opening hours and she instantly made a new friend.
Once the lady discovered we were tourists she became really interested in showing us around, so she came souvenir shopping with us and then invited us to come back the following morning so she could be our personal guide in Cashel. Since we didn’t have any other plans set in stone, we agreed to meet up the following morning, and we drove on to our accommodations in the Glen of Aherlow for the night.
Day 3: Glen of Aherlow > Cashel > Blarney Castle > Killarney
The morning of Day 3 we woke up early and drove back to the town of Cashel. It was a bit rainy and I was doubting whether our new friend Eileen would be there, but she was smiling under her rain jacket as we pulled up the street.
She ended up walking us through the Rock of Cashel, which is one of the most visited sites in all of Ireland, and because we got there as soon as it opened, we were some of the few visitors there.
Tip: There is a free admission ticket to the Rock of Cashel if you spend €15 in one of the participating Chamber of Commerce businesses in the town which include select souvenir shops and restaurants. The ticket is valid for 2 people and I think it’s a pretty cool system that encourages visitors to help the local economy. Alternatively, you can pay the admission cost which is €7 per person, but why not stimulate the local economy for the very same price?
After visiting the Rock of Cashel, we walked down to Hore Abbey which we had spotted off in the distance. This involved hopping across a few fields, but when in Ireland do as the Irish do.
Eileen then invited us for tea and scones, so we walked to Granny’s Kitchen, a bright pink little cafe that’s just down the parking lot from Rock of Cashel. We were all sad to have to say goodbye to such a sweet lady who made our trip so memorable, but we swapped contact details and she’ll be getting some of the photos from the day in the mail. She was without a doubt one of the unplanned highlights of our Ireland road trip itinerary.
From there we hopped back in the car and drove down to Blarney to visit Blarney Castle, which was both impressive and terrifying. Climbing to the top took me to dizzying heights and at times I felt like crawling rather than standing, but at least I made it up there to snap some photos of Ashley and Alyssa dangling backwards to receive the gift of gab.
After that action packed day, we drove into Killarney to grab some food and get some rest for the night.
Day 4: Killarney > Ring of Kerry > Dingle Peninsula > Scarriff
We didn’t get the earliest start on Day 4, so there wasn’t much time to explore Killarney or Killarney National Park aside from what we saw on the way out. From there, we drove a small portion of the Ring of Kerry before continuing towards the Dingle Peninsula, and that is where Ireland blew me away.
I don’t like to pick favourites, but I have to say the Dingle Peninsula had some of the most majestic landscapes I saw all week! We spent the day driving the Wild Atlantic Way and we kept wanting to pull over to snap ‘just one more picture’.
By the time we pulled into Dingle Harbour it was right around lunchtime so we found a spot serving up seafood – it’s hard to go for anything else when you’re by the seaside! After a filling meal, we spent a bit of time exploring the town on foot, and then we continued the drive down the Connor Pass, which again, was my favourite drive of the week!
The Connor Pass is a bit of an unnerving journey – all I kept hearing from the back seat was “oh my gosh” and “how is this even a road!” – but it was amazing! Picture a narrow little lane that’s wide enough for one car but that somehow has to accommodate two-way traffic, and now let’s add the fact that this narrow little lane is on a winding mountainside so that you have a wall of rock on one side and a drop with a low barrier on the other. It’s a challenge and it’s an adventure.
That afternoon we drove onto the small town of Scarriff, which isn’t exactly a tourist destination, but our reasoning was that we wanted to get closer to the Cliffs of Moher so that we’d have a short distance to cover in the morning.
Day 5: Scarriff > Cliffs of Moher > Benbulbin > Donegal
After checking out of our bed and breakfast in Scarriff on Day 5, we drove on towards the Cliffs of Moher. The weather didn’t exactly cooperate and it rained for a good part of the morning, but I think this only made the cliffs look more dramatic. We spent some time snapping photos and walking along the coast (sadly no puffins were spotted), and then we continued the drive north.
This was our longest day of driving, but we pushed hard because we wanted to make it to Northern Ireland for the last part of our road trip. The only other stop we made along the way was at Benbulbin because I kept insisting that it was one of the most beautiful mountain ranges I had seen whilst doing research on the internet, but when we arrived there was a thick curtain of fog shielding our view. We still did the Benbulben Forest Walk, but it was a bit underwhelming in the rain. Alas, that’s the weather in Ireland for you – you just never know what you’re going to get.
Day 6: Donegal > Mussenden Temple >Bushmills
On Day 6 we left Ireland behind and crossed the border into Northern Ireland. The second we crossed that boundary we started spotting the differences – the roads were suddenly a bit wider, the speed limits were a bit slower, and the union jack was flying proud.
We spent the morning driving up to Castlerock where we visited Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House. This place is home to Mussenden Temple, the ruins of Demesne House, and beautiful gardens. We ended up meeting a gentleman there who took us under his wing and walked us through the gardens revealing all the little secrets of the vegetation we were looking at. It was another one of those unplanned encounters that made our day all the more memorable.
From there we drove to our accommodations for the night, which was a spacious cottage only a short walk from Giant’s Causeway – the location couldn’t have been any better!
Day 7: Bushmills > Giant’s Causeway > Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge > Belfast
Day 7 was supposed to start with a sunrise walk over to Giant’s Causeway, but when the howling wind acted as our alarm clock, we figured it was best to stay snuggled under the blankets. We had a leisurely brunch, and then once the day warmed up a bit, we walked down to Giant’s Causeway where admission is free of charge, contrary to popular belief!
Tip: There is a visitor’s centre that charges an ‘admission fee’ for using their bathroom, going on a guided walk, or parking in their lot, but the fine print states that admission to Giant’s Causeway by foot is free of charge, so don’t let them fool you. I had 2 different locals warn me that you don’t have to pay even if they make it seem that way.
The Giant’s Causeway was fascinating. It was a decent walk to reach the water, but seeing those mighty basalt pillars was so worth it! The pillars are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, but according to local legend, the Causeway was built by an Irish giant named Finn McCool who was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant. The Causeway was meant to act as a bridge to Scotland, and if you visit Fingal’s Cave in Scotland you’ll see that the same basalt pillars are found on their shores.
After visiting Giant’s Causeway, we drove on to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which is cool but was also a little underwhelming. That’s not to say some visitors weren’t freaking out as they walked across it, but it was much shorter than what I had pictured in my mind. Still, you do get some nice views of the white chalk cliffs along the coast (similar to those I saw in Germany’s Ruegen Island).
From there we drove through the Dark Hedges, which is one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones. I don’t follow the show (the only episode I ever watched was the Red Wedding after people wouldn’t stop talking about it on social media a few years back – apparently that’s a big no-no if you don’t know who the characters are…) but I still enjoyed seeing the place even if it was only for its natural beauty.
After driving through the Dark Hedges we started making our way back to Belfast for one last dinner together.
Day 8: Belfast > Dublin
On Day 8, I stayed behind in Belfast, while everyone else drove back to Dublin in the early morning to drop of the car and catch their flights, and just like that our week together was over.
We had a very ambitious schedule for the week and I know that our Ireland road trip itinerary only covered a fraction of everything there is to see and do in Ireland and Northern Ireland, but you have to start somewhere! Looking back, I wish I’d had at least 2 weeks to cover all the places I still wanted to get to but didn’t have enough time for – Cork, Skellig Michael, Connemara, the Aran Islands, and driving the full Ring of Kerry.
Have been to Ireland and/or Northern Ireland?
What other places would you add to this Ireland road trip itinerary?