Ireland’s landscape is something to behold in person. The rolling hills and untouched landscapes, as well as the energy in the city, feels authentic. One of the best ways to see the country is by car. You can plan an Ireland road trip that explores the exterior of the country and hits some of the best Irish cities. There is a lot to see and do, but you can easily pack in an entire Ireland road trip in 13 days.
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Getting to Your Ireland Road Trip
There are two main airports you can use to start your Ireland road trip – the Dublin Airport and Belfast International Airport. Although the Belfast airport is technically not in Ireland, you will want to venture into Northern Ireland during your trip. The first day of this Ireland road trip will start in Northern Ireland, but you can easily do this trip in reverse.
Before you leave for your Ireland road trip, you will want to schedule a rental car and mentally prepare for driving on the left side of the road. It would not hurt to become familiar with road signs and driving customs before getting behind the wheel.
Northern Ireland has a recent turbulent history that has left a visible mark on its larger cities. This time period is recognized as “The Troubles”. The conflict began in the 1960s as a dispute between Protestants and Catholics. The conflict did involve religion, but it also crossed over into politics and nationalism.
By all means, Northern Ireland is not a dangerous place to visit. Just keep in mind that the happenings from the Troubles are fairly recent. You may want to describe the history as “fascinating” at first, but remember that some wounds are still healing. Take the time to enjoy the people and their stories, as well as the scenery.
Belfast is the largest city in Northern Ireland and is the center of many important historical moments. The city is divided somewhat into quarters, so take a moment to explore each one. There is a lot to learn from this city so take advantage of the stories each person has to tell.
Now is the time to get acquainted with Belfast and its history. Start the first morning of your Ireland road trip with an Ulster Fry Breakfast from Maggie May’s. It will be hard to move around a lot after all that food, so hop into a Black Cab for a tour of Belfast. These cab tours are better than any hop-on-hop-off bus. You will see infamous political murals and the Peace Wall, Belfast’s smaller version of the Berlin Wall.
After the tour, make your way to the Crumlin Road Gaol for an in-depth tour of “Europe’s Alcatraz”. Finish the night off with a drink at the Crown Liquor Saloon. If you can find a seat in a snug you better take it.
This day is all about guilty pleasures. Now that you have toured the city, it is time to dive into some experiences that feed your inner geek. Today find your way to the Titanic Museum and a Game of Thrones Tour.
The Titanic Museum is very close to the city center and is the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience. Guests not only see artifacts, but they can experience life on the titanic with the museum’s multi-media exhibits. This museum is actually located in the same shipyard the Titanic was built.
The majority of Game of Thrones was filmed in or around Belfast. Guests can actually visit Winterfell and pretend to live like a Stark for a day. If that does not appeal to you. There are plenty of other Game of Thrones themed-tours.
If you did not see the North Coast on a Game of Thrones Tour, today is the day. As you make your way towards Londonderry (or Derry) stop by the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, hang out with the sheep at Mussenden Temple, have a drink at Bushmill’s Distillery and marvel at the Giant’s Causeway.
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This walled city also holds history from the “Troubles”, including the infamous event called “Bloody Sunday”. You will find this city to be more quaint than Belfast. Take some time to decompress and walk the River Foyle, enjoy the seafood, and explore the smaller shops and live music.
The one thing you must do in London(derry) is take a Bloody Sunday and Bogside Mural Tour. Many of the local tour guides have family members that were involved or affected by Bloody Sunday. Keep your ears, eyes, and mind open as you learn about their past.
Now that you have spent some time in Northern Ireland on your Ireland road trip, it is now time to actually enter Ireland. The landscape does not change, but the dialects do.
Connemara National Park
Interested in seeing the Irish countryside on your Ireland road trip? Now is the time. It is a little over a 3-hour drive to Galway. So, take a detour to see the beautiful Connemara National Park and see around 5,000 acres of Irish mountains, bogs, and grasslands. There are scenic driving routes, as well as hiking trails for the active traveler.
Tip: Do not be afraid to stop if you see a place to adopt a sheep.
Galway is a small harbor town on the west coast of Ireland. This city is a tourist’s dream. There are tons of small stone cobbled streets with boutiques, cafes, art galleries, and traditional Irish music. Not to mention, the famous Claddaugh ring originated in this town.
Day Six and Seven
This city is small, so take some time to explore every nook and cranny. Go into all the shops that interest you, stop and have a pint when you hear a good trad song, then grab a bite to eat at the Pie Maker. If you admire the plates and mugs at the Pie Maker, you are in luck. They also sell them. Grab a mug for a unique souvenir.
Speaking of souvenirs. This is the perfect place to get a traditional Aran sweater or a Claddaugh ring for your sweetheart. Once the day is done, walk the romantically lit streets, settle into any pub and revel in the live music. Now prepare to do it all again the next day.
On day seven of your Ireland road trip, leave for Galway so that you can stay overnight in Killarney. This will cut down your driving time because your next stop is a trek. If you leave earlier in the day, then try and make a stop at the Cliffs of Moher. Although, beware for foggy weather. On foggy days, it is hard to see the road in front of you and they will close access to the cliffs.
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Ring of Kerry
Start early and make sure you have snacks. The Ring of Kerry is a circular scenic drive that takes 3.5 hours without stopping. You are on vacation so take your time. Get out and hike when you want and enjoy the ride. After a day’s drive through the Ring of Kerry, drive to Cork and settle in for the night.
Tip: Drive the Ring counter-clockwise to avoid tour buses.
If you only have one day in Cork, then there is only one thing to do. Visit the Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone. If you feel antsy about putting your mouth on a foreign object, you can skip kissing the stone. At least you can say you were there.
When you are done stepping through time, visit The English Market. The English Market is an 18th century covered market. It is difficult to get your serving of fruits and veggies in when you are traveling, and especially in Ireland. Get yourself some fruit and maybe a pastry.
Tip: Do not spend too much time visiting castles. They all tend to look alike.
You made it to the last stop on your Ireland road trip. Dublin is the largest city in Ireland and you have three days here so make it count. Whether you are a history nerd, a foodie, or whether you came with friends or kids, there is something for everyone.
First thing’s first. Get acquainted with the city. Go for a walk and explore what strikes your fancy. Otherwise, head straight to the Guinness Storehouse and do not look back. The Guinness Tasting Experience feels like you are stepping into an adult’s version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. After the Tasting Experience, you can get certified to pour the perfect pint. After that, go to the Gravity Bar to get the best view of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains. The windows at the Gravity Bar point out landmarks and important structures. It’s the best way to start a day in Dublin. From here pick the most interesting looking neighborhood and go.
Tip: Kids are allowed at the Guinness Storehouse. Anyone under 13 gets in for free.
Today is for the history nerd at heart. Look for a walking tour that interests you. The more niche the tour subject, the better the chance of getting a smaller crowd. Always make sure to get a walking tour. There are so many sights you cannot see on a hop-on-and-hop-off bus. Dublin is full of niche tours – Literary Pub Crawls, Foodie Tours, 1916 Rebellion Tours, Ghost Tours, and more.
After the tour find a place to get a stereotypical Irish meal – corned beef, shepherd’s pie, or beef stew. Then, return to your favorite part of the tour and go exploring.
There are several historical spots or museums worth visiting. After a Full Irish Breakfast, make your way to either Kilmainham Gaol, a hike in the Wicklow Mountains and Hellfire Club, the Irish Whiskey Museum, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, or the National Museum of Ireland.
Tip: Unless you are traveling with kids, skip the Leprachuan Museum.
There is one mistake everyone makes when traveling. They plan too much. The last day of your Ireland road trip is reserved for something very special. Today is the day you get to do the thing you discovered last minute in Dublin. Everyone finds something new when they travel. Always reserve time for you to return somewhere. Otherwise, just relax and prepare for the long flight home. Sláinte!
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