The perfect 7 day driving tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Ireland has been given the name “The Emerald Isle” for a reason. Narrow windy roads, stone fences, sheep and the most gorgeous rolling green hills. The only way to travel around Ireland is by renting a car and hitting the narrow roads for one of the best road trips in Europe. Some of those narrow roads and oncoming traffic may make you realise you know more words than you thought!!

Ireland is full of friendly story tellers (and yes, you will hear many stories!), beautiful pubs and the cutest towns!! Oh and don’t forget the music, you can’t help but get up a dance when you hear traditional Irish Music.

I am going to break down our week (well 8 nights!) in Ireland and Northern Ireland to help you plan your own epic 7 day driving tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland

We flew into Dublin, picked up our tiny car. I mean tiny, we had enough room in the boot for one backpack and only just enough room in the backseat for our other backpack. But, that’s half the fun of a road trip right?

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The best 7 day driving tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland

So lets jump into the 7 Day Driving tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland. As you read through you will find 9 days in this itinerary. We dropped our car back before we spent two nights in Dublin, so be prepared for 7 days of driving and two days exploring Dublin.

DAY 1: Arrive in Dublin and drive to Cork

We decided to save Dublin for the end of our trip. So we jumped in our tiny car and headed straight to Cork. The trip to Cork from Dublin is very uneventful as it is mainly highway.

Tip: Don’t be like us, make sure you know how everything in the car works before you leave the rental place. We sat in a petrol station for a good ten minutes trying to put the car in reverse to continue on our way!!

If you love a good party, Cork on Saturday night is the place to be. This is where, I give you some brilliant life advice, do not wait until you are exhausted and starving! It never works out well.

I recommend staying at The Metropole Hotel Cork in the heart of Cork.

DAY 2: Ring of Kerry and Dingle

The yellow building of Sneem Tavern in Sneem, Ireland

We didn’t have much time in Cork and headed straight for the Dingle via the Ring of Kerry. From Cork we drove to Sneem via Kenmare. You have to stop in Sneem, it is the cutest town. Of course, being our first real day in Ireland we had to have an Irish stew for lunch, I just love the soda bread! If you are there on the weekend check out the local market.

This is where we began the Ring of Kerry, one of the most famous routes on the Wild Atlantic Way. The Ring of Kerry route is mainly an inland route and is not signed overly well, so I suggest you pick up a map!!

So you can stop off at the major sites along way, make sure you stop at Rock castle, Skellig Rocks, Torc Waterfalls, Caherdaniel (amazing beaches) and Kells (you can see Dingle Bay from here).

The drive from Cork, around the Ring of Kerry to Dingle took about 5 – 6 hours. Make sure you allow time for getting lost, because you will and for taking a lot of photos because….you will.

The colourful buildings of Dingle in Ireland

When you arrive in Dingle make sure you go to one of the local pubs for dinner. They are gorgeous and the atmosphere is amazing, especially if you like traditional Irish music.

If you fancy taking in a movie, head to the the Phoenix cinema, it is gorgeous. It is like going back in time, it has two screens and is just the cutest cinema.

You need to stay at the Hideout Hostel. It was called a hostel but really, it was more like a hotel with a shared kitchen. It was super cheap and lovely, I high recommend to anyone staying in Dingle.

DAY 3: Dingle, Dingle Peninsula Limerick, Cliffs of Moher and Galway

Eask tower on top of a hill over looking dingle bay

Get ready for a long day!! If we could go back in time, we would stay in Doolin to break up the driving.

This was our favourite day in Ireland, the drive was stunning. We spent a little of bit of time in Dingle because it is a beautiful town – the harbour is especially gorgeous.

Our road trip began with a stop to Eask Tower. Eask Tower is a stone tower on top of Carhoo Hill. It is located on a private farm but the couple of who own the farm were the kindest people. It costs 2€ to access Carhoo Hill and it is worth every cent. The views over Dingle Bay are incredible, it is super muddy on the farm so be mindful!!

A beach along the dingle peninsula

The Dingle Peninsula is a must when you are in Ireland. The views along the road are stunning and it is well sign posted so it is easy to find the all the stops. The Dingle Peninsula is a lot shorter than the Ring of Kerry but we much preferred it.

We were short on time so decided to head inland for the drive to the Cliffs of Moher. If you have longer, I suggest continuing along the Wild Atlantic Way. We drove via Limerick, which is a pretty cool city to stop in!

It was then a race against time to get to the Cliffs of Moher before sunset (it was the end of October so the sun sets pretty early!)

I recommend booking online for the Cliffs of Moher, you are required to pay 8€ but depending on the time of day you go it might be cheaper. We booked on the way because we had no idea what time we would get there.

We made it just in time for the sunset to set and it was a magical time to be there. The sunset over the stunningly beautiful cliffs was breathtaking moment – or was the the bitterly cold wind? Take your time walking around the cliffs and enjoying the views.

Cliffs of Moher at sunset

If you stay in Doolin you can hike from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher!

In late October, it is super cold on the windy Cliffs of Moher, so make sure you rug up!

As soon as the last yellows and oranges faded from the sky, we hit the road again for the hour and a half drive to Galway.

Sadly, it was dark the entire way! However, from the turns and narrowness of the road, I imagine during the day this would be a beautiful drive!

For us, Aussies who are not used to the narrow and sharp turning roads, this was a white knuckle drive in the dark!

Day 4: Exploring Galway

Galway is a beautiful city, full of bright coloured buildings and a very lively atmosphere.

The main walking street and the harbour are the main areas that you will spend your time, among the street performers, the traditional pubs and the shops.

If you a chance, you need to head out to Salt Hill. The walk from the main part of the city along the water is gorgeous and there are a lot of fantastic places to eat in Salt Hill.

Galway is a small city and whilst there is plenty to see (you could spend a whole afternoon and evening in the pubs!!) if you need a “rest day” this would be the perfect place to take it easy.

We stayed in Salt Hill at The Nest Boutique Hostel, and I highly recommend this! The rooms are beautiful and the fairy lights are included and the facilities are outstanding. If you have a car, there is limited parking, but you are able to park on the street. Once you have park you won’t need to move your car because Galway is extremely walkable.

Day 5: Galway, London Derry, Giant’s Causeway and Belfast

After spending a couple of nights in Galway, hit the road and head towards Belfast. Now, I say head towards Belfast because there are a couple of stop to make on the way.

One cool thing about todays driving is that you will leave Ireland and head into a new country of Northern Ireland.

The only hint you will get that you have entered a new country is the speed signs are now in miles rather than kilometers. If you have hired your car from Ireland your car will have kilometers on the speedometer so you need to be mindful of your speed throughout Northern Ireland.

Derry Girls Mural in Northern Ireland

We watched and loved the Netflix show Derry Girls which is set in London Derry (or Derry). In London Derry there is a huge mural dedicated to Derry Girls, so of course, we made the detour via London Derry. This time round we did not stop, but it is lovely city to explore and has a lot of history related to the Northern Ireland Troubles.

After London Derry we headed up to the very North Coast of Northern Ireland and visited the famous Giant’s Causeway. The Giant’s Causeway is located on the Causeway Coast is made of hundreds of basalt hexagonal columns that lead from the cliffs into the ocean.

The giants causeway in Northern Ireland at Sunset

On the way to Belfast there is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which joins the mainland to and island. The rope bridge was built by fisherman who noticed that hundreds of salmon swim between the mainland and the island. They saw this an opportunity to catch more fish and so, they built the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

To finish off your day drive South to Belfast and find some where to have dinner before calling it a night.

We stayed at the Belfast International Youth Hostel (we were on a budget!), however, if hostels are not your thing I have stayed at the Europa Hotel in the past. Fun Fact, this is the most bombed hotel in Europe! Today, it is a beautiful hotel and well worth a visit.

 

Day 6: Belfast

The murals in Belfast

Spend today exploring Belfast. Belfast is not a huge city but it really packs a punch, there is so much to see and do.

You must do a black cab tour of Belfast to learn the history of the troubles in Northern Ireland and to see the murals and the peace wall. It is a great way to see the city but also learn the history of the city.

From the black cab tour our driver dropped us at the Titanic Museum, if you didn’t know, the Titanic was built in the shipping yards in Belfast. Even if you are not a fan of the film, the museum is worth a visit. The museum is so well down and gives a great insight into Belfast back then.

The titanic sign out the front of the titanic museum in Belfast

From the Titanic Museum we walked into the city center and explored the streets and the city center of Belfast.

Another must do in Belfast is head to the Crumlin Road Gaol, this is another place to learn about the history of Belfast and Northern Ireland.

Day 7: Belfast and Dublin

This your fine morning in Belfast and your final day with your car. Spend the morning exploring the city of Belfast or ticking off some bucket list items you missed out on yesterday.

Jump in the car and head south to Dublin, we recommend dropping your luggage off at your accommodation before returning the car to Dublin airport.

From the airport you can take the bus (it is green!) into the city center, the bus will cost you 7 euro.

The Ha'Penny Bridge in Ireland

As soon as we got back to our accommodation we headed out to explore Dublin, we walked to the famine memorial, across the Ha’Penny Bridge and explored some of the temple bar area and walked out to the Jamison Distillery.

For us, we wished we had stayed and relaxed at our hotel for the afternoon as we had been travelling for 5 weeks by this point and we were exhausted. I recommend playing this afternoon by ear, if you are full of beans head out on foot and see what you can find, otherwise spend the afternoon relaxing.

Day 8: Dublin

Two pints of Guinness at the Guinness factory

Explore Dublin!! Dublin is such a cool city but like Belfast, it is a pretty small city and is easily accessible on foot.

Start the day at the Guinness factory, even if you don’t like Guinness. I’m not a fan of Guinness but I loved the tour and the Guinness actually tastes better at the factory.

From Guinness factory we headed to the oldest pub in Dublin, The Brazin Head. It is a super cute and cosy pub and a fantastic place to grab a drink or a pub meal. When we visited it was extremely busy so we headed to the pub across the road, I can’t remember the name but most people to refer to it as the pub across the road from The Brazen Head. Get the Irish Stew!!

The  brazen head in Dublin

We headed to the Marsh Library which is where Bram Stocker used to read when he wonder. It cost 5 euro but it is a very cute library and a great place to escape the Irish weather.

We spent the afternoon exploring the Temple Bar region and the streets of Dublin. Dublin is a super cool city with plenty of things to do and see.

Day 9: Dublin and off to London

Our flight back to London was at 8 am on Sunday morning! This was slightly difficult as we were staying out of town. I would suggest taking this into account when booking flights and accommodations.

In an attempt to save money, we tried to work out the public transport back to the airport but because it was Sunday morning there were not many options so we ended up taking a taxi.

However, one super exciting part of our trip to the airport was, we saw the Bailey’s factory!! It’s not open to the public but as huge Bailey’s fans this was very exciting.

Arriving at the airport brings your 7 day driving tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland to an end.

When is the best time to do a road in Ireland and Northern Ireland?

Ireland and Northern Ireland are not renowned for their beautiful weather but the weather is better in the summer months, from the end of April until late September.

June until late August is usually the busiest time of year for travellers and so many of the stops on the road trip will be busy and accommodations can be more expensive.

I recommend doing a road trip in Late April or May or in September. The days aren’t super short and there weather is still nice but there are not as many travellers on the road then.

Tips for an Ireland and Northern Ireland Road Trip

Ireland and Northern Ireland are different countries so you may notice some differences, for example the currency, Ireland uses the euro and Northern Ireland uses the pound.

One big thing to remember, in Ireland they drive on the left!! This means when you turn left you stick to the left, when you turn right you need to go out wide to stay in the left lane and in roundabouts you stick to the left! If in doubt, LEFT!! This was easy for us because ,we too drive on the left in Australia.

You will need to grab a navigation system, it is usually cheapest to use your phone. Sat navs are pretty expensive if you hire them from the car rental place. If you don’t have a SIM card, grab a local one – this will still be cheaper than hiring a sat nav.

Don’t forget your snacks!! Driving around Ireland you will stop A LOT for photos so getting from place to place will take a lot longer than you expect.

In Ireland the speeds are shown in kilometers per hour and Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom so there speeds are in miles per hour

Have you been to Ireland and Northern Ireland before? Where do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below

Fiona xoxo

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My BEST Travel Resources

Here are my favourite travel resources for planning travel like a pro

Flights: To find the best flights I always search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. For even cheaper flights, fly mid week and pack in a carry on!

Accommodation: I always use booking.com (I love their price match and flexible cancellation policies) or Airbnb (if I want a little more space) to book trip. If you prefer hostels, I suggest Hostelworld.

If you are new to Airbnb you can get an awesome discount using this link

Travel Insurance: After a few hairy moments on my travels, I ALWAYS purchase travel insurance. It may seem like a big cost now, but if the worst happens, it will save you a lot of money and heartache. I personally use World Nomads (and love them!), but I recommend that you do some research to find the insurance company that suits your needs.

Tours: While I prefer to travel independently, I do love doing some tours once I’m in a destination. It is a great way to find out history, hidden gems, taste local food and get a local insight into your destination. I always use Viator to book my tours.

Train Travel: If you are planning on taking the train in Europe, I cannot recommend the Eurail enough! Check out The Ultimate Guide to the Eurail Pass to find out why

Car Hire: Planning an epic road trip across the US or through Europe, or anywhere! Check out Europcar, they are my go to for car hire all over the world!

Luggage Storage: Some times when we are travelling our check in and check out times don’t match with our departure times so we have to put our luggage into storage. Stasher Luggage Storage is the biggest Luggage Storage Network across the UK, France and Germany

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