This exciting self-guided road trip creates a major loop through the upper half of the Emerald Isle, hitting an impressive number of key attractions along the way. Start your adventure in Dublin and Belfast before heading counterclockwise along the northern coast, west to County Donegal, and south on the Wild Atlantic Way. Active types will appreciate the many opportunities to hike among Ireland's awe-inspiring scenery—and your feet will be rewarded with a luxury castle stay at the end of the trip.


  • Hop along the basalt rocks of Northern Ireland's UNESCO-listed Giant's Causeway
  • Ferry to Scotland's Isle of Islay and tour Scottish whisky distilleries (or go hiking)
  • Drive around Ireland's largest peninsula and visit a park known for red deer
  • Take a 90-minute fjord cruise in Killary and look for dolphins that frequent the area

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Dublin, Historic Walking Tour Dublin
Day 2 Drive to Belfast, Walk to Cave Hill Country Park Belfast
Day 3 Explore the Causeway Coast, Visit the Waterfalls of Antrim Ballycastle
Day 4 Day Trip to Scotland's Isle of Islay Ballycastle
Day 5 Explore the Inishowen Peninsula, Visit Glenveagh National Park & Castle Letterkenny
Day 6 Visit the Slieve League Cliffs Letterkenny
Day 7 Explore Sligo Sligo
Day 8 Hiking at Ballycroy National Park, Stargazing at the Dark Sky Reserve Westport
Day 9 Explore the Connemara Region, Visit Leenane & Killary Harbour Galway
Day 10 Hiking at Maumeen Mountain Pass Galway
Day 11 Walk the Cliffs of Moher, Explore the Burren Region Galway
Day 12 Hiking in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, Return to Dublin Dublin
Day 13 Depart Dublin  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Dublin, Historic Walking Tour

The O'Connell Bridge on River Liffey

Welcome to Ireland! Your adventure begins in Dublin, the country's capital and largest city, which has been the seat of government for over 900 years. No matter what you desire—traveling back through history at Dublin Castle, taking a poke around the futuristic Silicon Docks, or visiting the Spire of Dublin on O'Connell Street—there is plenty to do in this lively city.

First, put on a comfortable pair of shoes and see the highlights during a two-hour walking tour starting from the Gresham Hotel. This is where you'll meet a local historian who will provide an overview of the city's rich heritage, from its early origins as a Gaelic village to the arrival of the Vikings, Normans, and English. Along the way, you'll also learn about the city's best pubs and restaurants and get the answers to questions about modern life in Dublin.

Day 2: Drive to Belfast, Walk to Cave Hill Country Park

Wander through the charming streets of the Cathedral Quarter

This morning you'll drive two hours north from Dublin to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Once you settle into your accommodation, take the rest of the day to explore this dynamic city at your own pace.

A great place to get your bearings is the Cathedral Quarter, where you can wander through the narrow, cobbled streets and have lunch. Then, pay a visit to the iconic St George's Market for shopping or visit the sleek multimedia museum Titanic Belfast and its surrounding quarter. The Ulster Museum also offers art, history, and natural science. Another classic Belfast activity, if you're feeling energized, is to ascend Cave Hill for panoramic views of the city and coastline. The route takes between 1.5 to two hours, depending on your pace.

After a day of sightseeing, choose between a selection of great restaurants around the city. Or enjoy dinner in your hotel and take an evening walk along Belfast's seafront.

Day 3: Explore the Causeway Coast, Visit the Waterfalls of Antrim

Explore the Giant's Causeway on today's route
Prepare to be mesmerized by the UNESCO-listed Giant's Causeway

Get ready for an adventurous day visiting Northern Ireland's most magnificent scenery along the far north Antrim Coast. Take the opportunity to stop and explore many sites along the way, including Dunluce Castle, the scenic cliffs of Fairhead, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Mussenden Temple, and the UNESCO-listed Giant's Causeway—a rock formation of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that create a geometric pattern.

Another sightseeing opportunity is to visit the Dark Hedges, an avenue of beech trees featured in "Game of Thrones." There are also a handful of beautiful waterfalls to explore using well-maintained coastal trails and hikes, like the National Trust in Glenoe, Glenariff Forest Park, Cranny Falls in Carnlough, and Dunseverick Falls. Finish today's exploration at the pretty seaside town of Ballycastle, where you'll stay for the next two nights. 

Day 4: Day Trip to Scotland's Isle of Islay

Scotland's Isle of Islay is known for its famous whisky distilleries

Staying in Ballycastle allows for an easy day trip to the Isle of Islay, an island off the west coast of Scotland. In the summer season, Islay is accessible by a car ferry in less than an hour. The island is probably best known for its peaty and smokey whiskies; some are considered the best in the world. In total, nine working distilleries, such as Lagavulin and Laphroaig, use peat cut from the moss lands to give Islay malts their distinct flavors.

Even if whisky is not your favorite drink, Islay is well worth the trip with its birdlife, hiking trails, seafood, and 130 miles (209 km) of coastline. Some beaches, like Laggan Bay, Loch Gruinart, and Loch Indaal, are suitable for swimming, while those on the Atlantic coast offer more dramatic scenery. Another activity option is to rent bikes from the post office in the town of Bowmore, where you can have lunch and visit the Bowmore Distillery, the oldest licensed distillery on Islay. In the afternoon, take the car ferry back to Northern Ireland and enjoy one more evening in Ballycastle.

Day 5: Explore the Inishowen Peninsula, Visit Glenveagh National Park & Castle

Malin Head is Ireland's most northerly point

It's time to drive just under two hours west to County Donegal, where you'll have the morning to explore the largest peninsula in Ireland, Inishowen. Standing at the entrance of the peninsula is the Grianan of Aileach, a ringfort that served as the high kingdom of Ailech's royal seat for nearly 500 years. Continue driving along the Inishowen Scenic Drive, a 100-mile (160 km) route around the windswept peninsula, where you can stop at viewpoints like Malin Head, the country's most northerly point.

Also in County Donegal is the expansive Glenveah National Park, a haven for wildlife where visitors should keep an eye out for its large herd of red deer. While here, take a tour of the on-site Glenveagh Castle, completed in 1873, with its famous gardens full of meticulously planned arrangements that starkly contrast the wilder surroundings. If the weather is nice, you'll also have an opportunity to take a relaxing boat cruise on the lake.

The day ends in the town of Letterkenny, where you'll stay for two nights. After settling in your hotel, stroll through the pleasant town and choose between many food, drink, and entertainment options on hand. 

Plan your trip to Ireland
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Visit the Slieve League Cliffs

Take in the views from the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe

Today you'll have another scenic day in County Donegal! This time you'll head to the southwest coast to witness the incredible Slieve League Cliffs. These are the highest accessible sea-cliff views in Europe, at 1,972 feet (601 m), nearly three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher. There are options for walking, hiking, and experiencing the vistas, but most visitors choose a trail that traverses 1.7 miles (2.8 km). Marvel at the breathtaking views from the top, and look out for a variety of seabirds that call the area home. 

On your way back to Letterkenny, consider a tasting and tour at Old Bushmills Distillery—Ireland's oldest whiskey distillery.

Day 7: Explore Sligo

Get up close to Classiebawn Castle on Mullaghmore Beach
 Louis Mountbatten's former holiday home is near Mullaghmore Beach

It's time to head 90 minutes south to Sligo, a beautiful county with magnificent mountains, castles, and rich history. If the weather is dry, you may want to start your visit at one of Sligo's beaches, like Mullaghmore. You can get up close to Classiebawn Castle, the former holiday home of Louis Mountbatten, a member of the British Royal Family who was assassinated nearby in 1979. Other beaches to remember include Strandhill, Rossnowlagh, and Streedagh, where locals surf, standup paddleboard, and kayak.

Other attractions in the area include the Burial Tomb of Queen Maeve, the former Queen of Ireland, who is buried standing upright, wearing her armor on Knockree Mountain. You can also relax in the picturesque town of Sligo—a center for traditional music where locals perform memorable music sessions.

Day 8: Hiking at Ballycroy National Park, Stargazing at the Dark Sky Reserve

Coastal scenery in County Mayo
Downpatrick Head is a must-see in County Mayo

After breakfast in Sligo, head toward Ireland's wildest scenery in a remote corner of County Mayo. Driving south en route to Westport, you'll want to plan some extra time along the 1.5-hour route to stop and see the blowholes and sea stacks of Downpatrick Head. From here, continue driving to the Ballycroy National Park and take one of Ireland's best coastal hikes between 3 to 6 miles (5 to 10 km), depending on your energy levels. 

Then, continue driving to your hotel in Westport, a popular Georgian town center on the edge of an Atlantic inlet with attractive stone bridges crossing the Carrowbeg River. Few towns in Ireland can match Westport's charisma and continental flavor with its cheerful, multicolored shops, cafés, restaurants, and pubs all jostling for attention. For a special experience tonight—if the skies are clear—you can visit an internationally-accredited Dark Sky Reserve for some Irish stargazing.

Day 9: Explore the Connemara Region, Visit Leenane & Killary Harbour

Check out the views at Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park is spectacular in every season

Today, the beautiful Connemara region outside of Galway awaits you. This is the most western seaboard of Europe and is known for its rugged and unpolluted coastline. History buffs can visit Aughnanure Castle, once the seat of the fierce, warlike clan, the O'Flaherty's, Kylemore Abbey, and the Victorian Walled Garden. Alternatively, head to Connemara National Park, where you can choose between a wide range of trails, like Diamond Hill, with magnificent ocean views.

Budget in some extra time along the two-hour drive and stop for lunch in Clifden, the largest town in the region, or opt for the quaint village of Leenane, situated at the head of Ireland's only true fjord: Killary. This stunning spot is central to the Connemara region and is a great place to explore the Wild Atlantic Way. Look for a beautiful inn on the water's edge nestled at the foot of the mountains, a stone's throw away from two Irish bars with old-world charm.

If there's time, visit the Leenane Culture Centre, which houses a sheep and wool museum, and the Forge Craft Shop, which is ideal for purchasing local handicrafts. For something more adventurous, take a 90-minute Killary Fjord Boat Tour on a sizeable modern boat for uninterrupted views of the fjord scenery. The inlet boasts some of the finest (scenery) in western Ireland—and because of its sheltered nature, the water is always calm and frequently hosts dolphins. 

Day 10: Hike the Maumeen Mountain Pass

Hike a route where Maam Valley meets Inagh Valley 

Today you'll have a day to hike in the Connemara region on a rocky trail that links the Maam Valley and Inagh Valley through the Maumturk Mountains. The site of a former Celtic shrine, the Maumeen Mountain Pass is home to an ancient pilgrimage site that Saint Patrick himself is said to have visited.

As well as a tiny chapel on the pass dedicated to Saint Patrick, this 5.6-mile (9 km) hiking trail, which takes 3 to 4 hours to complete, features stunning views of both the west coast and eastern mountain ranges.

Day 11: Visit the Cliffs of Moher & the Burren Region, Stay at Dromoland Castle

Take an invigorating walk along the Cliffs of Moher
Take an invigorating walk along the popular Cliffs of Moher

Today you'll have a day to explore County Clare with its two distinct landscapes. The eastern part is lush green rolling countryside bounded by the great wide River Shannon, and the western part is dominated by the Atlantic Ocean carved by UNESCO-protected karst limestone. Both halves of the county are dotted with ruined abbeys, forts, pretty villages and towns, artisan food and drink, and artists inspired by the landscape.

Start your day with a visit to the Cliffs of Moher for a coastal walk. Forming a protective barrier from the Wild Atlantic Way, these iconic cliffs run for 5 miles (8 km) along the dramatic coastline. Their towering dominance is best appreciated on foot, so take the morning to explore their wild beauty with a gentle hike—and bring a camera.

Once you've worked up an appetite, make your way to nearby Doolin for lunch, a small coastal town of colorful cottages. In the afternoon, drive along the narrow Burren Loop, stopping at former castles and abbeys, as well as forts and settlements. Make sure to stop at the Burren Perfumery, where you make your own scent to take home as a souvenir. Organic beauty products are also on hand as well as a charming café for coffee, tea, and a sweet treat. Don't dawdle for too long because you'll want to spend quality time at your overnight location tonight—the luxury Dromoland Castle. This magnificent hotel is one of the oldest continuously owned castles in Ireland by the same family. 

Day 12: Hiking in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, Return to Dublin

Return to Dublin for one last night in the city

Enjoy a leisurely morning at Dromoland Castle before you drive two hours east back to Dublin. En route, stop at County Offaly, and spend more time in nature at the Slieve Bloom Mountains. This untouristy area offers your choice of 17 trails that range in difficulty and distance from 2.5 miles (4 km) to 47 miles (75 km). One option is the Giant's Grave Loop, which covers 6.8 miles (11 km). This is a more strenuous trail along a mountainside with forestry tracks, old laneways, and riverbank paths. Most hikers finish this route in less than three hours.

Upon your return to Dublin, stop for coffee at the library of Trinity College and marvel at the centuries-old Book of Kells. You can also tour the Guinness Storehouse and share a pint of Dublin's greatest beverage while enjoying panoramic views of the city. 

Day 13: Depart Dublin

Fit in some last-minute shopping in Dublin before your departure

It's time to say goodbye to Ireland! If you have time in the morning, head out for some last-minute souvenir shopping on Grafton Street. You'll return your rental car and head to Dublin Airport for your departure at the appointed time. Safe travels! 

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Map of Best of Northern & Western Ireland - 13 Days
Map of Best of Northern & Western Ireland - 13 Days