This epic 15-day road trip covers the best of Ireland, from the cities to the countryside. It begins with walking tours of Dublin, then you'll hop in a car and drive south to the castles and colorful towns of gorgeous County Cork. Among the other highlights of this unforgettable trip, you'll drive the Wild Atlantic Way, visit the Cliffs of Moher, tour whiskey distilleries, and cross over to Northern Ireland to discover vibrant Belfast and explore the scenic Antrim Coast.


  • Experience the history and culture of Dublin
  • Visit whiskey distilleries and the Guinness Storehouse
  • See historic castles throughout the country
  • Go road-tripping along the Cliffs of Moher and Antrim Coast

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Dublin, Visit Kilmainham Gaol Dublin
Day 2 Dublin Walking Tour & Guinness Storehouse Dublin
Day 3 Drive to Cork, Stop in Cities & Villages Cork
Day 4 Visit Blackrock Castle Observatory & Blarney Castle Cork
Day 5 Drive to Kenmare on the Sheep's Head Loop Kenmare
Day 6 Drive the Ring of Kerry, Killarney Jaunt & Afternoon Tea Kenmare
Day 7 Drive to Limerick & County Clare, Visit the Cliffs of Moher Ballyvaughan
Day 8 Explore the Burren & Aillwee Caves Ballyvaughan
Day 9 Drive to Galway & City Tour Galway
Day 10 Explore Connemara, Visit Kylemore Abbey & Horseback Riding  Galway
Day 11 Drive to Donegal, Visit Slieve League Cliffs Donegal
Day 12 Drive to Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast: Castle, Sheepdogs & Distillery Causeway Coast
Day 13 Giant's Causeway Tour, Drive to Belfast & Titanic Museum Belfast
Day 14 Explore the Antrim Coast Belfast
Day 15 Depart Belfast  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Dublin, Visit Kilmainham Gaol

Dublin and the River Liffey at sunset.
A colorful sunset over Dublin and the River Liffey 
Welcome to the Emerald Isle! Ireland has a culture, character, and history unto itself, and the best way to experience it is to dive right in on an extended tour of the country. Your epic road trip adventure begins in the capital of Dublin, where a driver will pick you up at the airport and transfer you to your hotel in the city center. This is the perfect place for an introduction to all things Irish, as Dublin is filled with history and culture around every corner.
After checking into your hotel, you can hit Dublin's cobbled streets and experience the city on a self-guided walking tour. Marvel at the Georgian architecture and enjoy performances from street buskers as you visit historic landmarks dating back hundreds of years. There's 16th-century Trinity College, which counts some of Ireland's most famous writers, like Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, among its alumni. There are impressive Gothic cathedrals here too, like St Patrick's and Christ Church. While on your way to the Temple Bar district for a pint, be sure to stop at the 15th-century Dublin Castle.
Later, you'll meet a local guide for a two-hour tour of one of the nation's most infamous landmarks: Kilmainham Gaol. The word gaol is Irish for "jail," and for over 100 years that's exactly what this building was (today it's a museum). During its heyday, it held thousands of men, women, and children who ranged from petty thieves to political prisoners. A visit here is a journey through Irish history, and you'll learn the stories of prisoners who were ordinary criminals as well as those who fought for Irish independence. 

Day 2: Dublin Walking Tour & Guinness Storehouse

See the highlights of Dublin on a tour of its historic center
After breakfast, you'll head out on a brisk two-hour walking tour of Dublin's highlights. As you'll be accompanied by an expert guide, it's a great way to enjoy the city's most famous sites while also gleaning some historical perspective. The tour begins in the historic center, on O'Connell Street, and finishes near Trinity College. Along the way, you'll visit iconic landmarks like the General Post Office and Dublin Castle as well as a few hidden gems. 
Once you arrive at Trinity College, you'll continue the culture walk with a visit to its Old Library, which was founded along with the university in 1592. One of the most impressive libraries in the world, its main chamber boasts a collection of 200,000 of the university's oldest books. One of the highlights you'll get to see here is the Book of Kells, a 9th-century Gospel manuscript containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. It's one of the most famous such books in the entire world.

Once you've admired the religious and scholastic legacy of Dublin, you'll head over to the famous Guinness Storehouse to learn about one of Ireland's most famous exports. Located in the heart of St James' Gate, this seven-story tourist attraction celebrates the brewing heritage of Guinness beer. During a two-hour tour, you'll learn how something as seemingly ordinary as beer actually plays a prominent role throughout Irish history. Of course, the tour ends with you enjoying a pint of the "black stuff" as you enjoy splendid Dublin views at the rooftop bar. 

Day 3: Drive to Cork, Stop in Cities & Villages

Visit castles, ruins, and other landmarks on your way to County Cork
In the morning you'll say goodbye to Dublin as you pick up a rental car and make the 1.5-hour drive south to the medieval town of Kilkenny. The 80-mile (129 km) route to get there is a scenic one, as you'll pass rolling green hills dotted with sheep and separated by hedgerows. You'll enter Kilkenny through its medieval walls, within which is a historic center filled with traditional pubs, cobbled streets, and back alley laneways. During a stop here, you can stroll the town and discover its bustling crafts scene. Perhaps visit the iconic Kilkenny Castle, which was built in the 12th century. 
Afterward, visit nearby Waterford, which was founded by Vikings in the 10th century and is Ireland's oldest city. Stroll the historic streets, browse its quirky boutiques, and visit the Viking Triangle, an area home to Viking and Norman relics. From Waterford, you can stop at the Rock of Cashel, a limestone outcropping with medieval buildings that were once home to the High Kings of Ireland. Other optional stops include the walled Norman seaport of Youghal, located at the mouth of the River Blackwater. There's also the impossibly pretty village of Lismore, famous for its stunning 12th-century castle.  
Continue south and eventually you'll arrive in Cork, the second-largest city in the Irish Republic and the capital of the county of the same name. After checking into your hotel you can head out and explore this hotbed of culture and activity on the River Lee. Stroll the historic streets of its Victorian Quarter and visit highlights like St Patrick's Quay, the Gothic Revival St Fin Barre's Cathedral, lovely Fitzgerald's Park, and the campus of the venerable University College Cork, which was founded in 1845. There are also lively pubs and fine restaurants you can try here.  

Day 4: Visit Blackrock Castle Observatory & Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle
Hike to the top of Blarney Castle and kiss the famous stone
You're in for a treat this today you'll get to visit two of the most famous castles in Country Cork. First on the itinerary is Blackrock Castle, located about 1 mile (2 km) from Cork's city center. This imposing stone fortification sits on the River Lee and was originally constructed in the 16th century to protect Cork Harbour. You can learn more about its history at the visitor center and enjoy an interactive astronomy exhibition at its Observatory.

Next, you'll visit Blarney Castle. Dating to 1446, this medieval stronghold is located in the village of the same name and is most famous as the home of the Stone of Eloquence, more commonly known as the Blarney Stone. According to legend, kissing the stone bestows you with the gift of eloquent speaking and great skill at flattery. The myth is so popular that for hundreds of years millions of people have made the pilgrimage here in the hopes of receiving the gift of gab. 

Day 5: Drive to Kenmare on the Sheep's Head Loop

Stop on the way to Kenmare at scenic locales like Sheep's Head Lighthouse
Plan your trip to Ireland
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
After breakfast, you'll set off on your first official drive on the Wild Atlantic Way. This famous tourism route spans 1,553 miles (2,500 km) along the west coast of Ireland, passing through nine different counties. Your first stop is about 30 minutes south of Cork in the colorful town of Kinsale, where you can stop and visit its most famous landmark, Charles Fort. The ruins of this once mighty fortification date to the 1600s and overlook Kinsale Harbour.
Continue west along the coast to the town of Bantry, located at the edge of County Cork. Then, enjoy a scenic 25-mile (40 km) loop drive around the Sheep's Head peninsula. At the end of the peninsula, you'll be treated to fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean on both sides. Be sure to stop for pictures at Sheep's Head Lighthouse, located right on the coastal cliffs. Following the loop, continue driving north for about 45 minutes to the town of Kenmare, gateway to the Ring of Kerry scenic route.

Day 6: Drive the Ring of Kerry, Killarney Jaunt & Afternoon Tea

Prepare for magnificent views along the Ring of Kerry
Prepare for magnificent views along the Ring of Kerry
Today, you'll discover the untamed beauty of County Kerry. In the morning, leave the colorful (literally) heritage town of Kenmare for a five-hour drive around the scenic Iveragh Peninsula. This 111-mile (179 km) circuit winds its way around unspoiled coastline, medieval ruins, and mist-shrouded mountains and loughs. Along the way, you'll be treated to great views of the islands dotting the Atlantic. 

There are great places to stop for activities and excursions during this trip. For example, you can take a boat to Skellig Michael, a UNESCO-listed island crag and monastic site dating from the sixth century. You can also discover the Gap of Dunloe, a beautiful glacial valley defined by red sandstone cliffs. Killarney National Park is a fine place to stop for lakeside hikes and to try and spot the native red deer. Also, don't miss the scenic drive through Molls Gap to admire the view over Upper Lake, which was a favorite of Queen Victoria's Ladies in Waiting.
In the afternoon, you'll stop to tour the town of Killarney, located on the eastern shore of Lough Leane. It's surrounded by Killarney National Park, and the town's charming streets are lined with 19th-century buildings. Just outside of town, on the shores of the lake, is Ross Castle, which dates to the 15th century. After a guided tour of the castle to learn about its history and legends, you'll head over to the Great Southern, Killarney's finest hotel. Do like the guests have been doing since Victorian times and enjoy high tea in the opulent Grand Foyer. Afterward, you'll return to Kenmare. 

Day 7: Drive to Limerick & County Clare, Visit the Cliffs of Moher

Drive to County Clare and hike along the Cliffs of Moher
After breakfast, get back in the car and north for about 2.5 hours to Limerick, the capital of the county of the same name. Located on the banks of the River Shannon, this port city boasts a dramatic history. It begins with the arrival of the Vikings in the ninth century and includes brutal sieges during the Williamite War in the 17th century, the prosperous Georgian era of the 18th century, and the tragic Great Irish Famine of the 19th century. You can learn all about it on a tour of the town.
Upon leaving Limerick, you'll drive west about an hour into County Clare to the Loop Head peninsula, a promontory overlooking the Atlantic. Perched on the end of it is the historic Loop Head Lighthouse, which was built in 1854. From here you can look out to the Blasket Islands in the south and the Connemara coastline in the north. It's a great place for dolphin spotting and enjoying a picnic lunch.
Later, you'll drive north to the Cliffs of Moher, which are some of Ireland's most stunning sea cliffs. Allow at least 90 minutes here for a hike along the coastal paths as well as to enjoy the golden glow of the late-afternoon sun on the cliffs. From there, continue to the nearby harbor village of Ballyvaughan, where you'll overnight. 

Day 8: Explore the Burren & Aillwee Caves

Karst Limestone Landscape of the Burren
Rugged karst limestone landscapes are common in the Burren
Spend the day exploring the Burren Geopark. Ireland's smallest national park covers 204 square miles (530 sq km) and includes distinctive features that include the Cliffs of Moher, rocky limestone landscapes, thousands of Neolithic and Megalithic archaeological sites, and ancient fossils. The topography here is so unique that it has inspired many artists and writers, including CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. After touring the Burren's archaeological monuments, head to Cahercummaun, a triple stone ringfort built around 800 CE.

Later, you'll visit the Aillwee Caves, a system of caverns in the karst topography of the Burren. These are some of the oldest caves in Ireland, dating back over 330 million years. A trip into the caves is a fascinating experience that takes a little over an hour. Combine the trip to Aillwee with a visit to the Birds of Prey Center. This conservation program is home to one of the largest and most varied collections of raptors in Ireland and which include eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, and vultures. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in Ballyvaughan.

Day 9: Drive to Galway & City Tour

The bustling streets of lively Galway
Stroll the bustling streets of lively Galway
In the morning, you'll drive an hour north to the city of Galway and enjoy this bohemian and cultural enclave on your own time. Galway is the heart of Ireland's west, with artistic, musical, and culinary scenes that are second to none. Upon arrival, you'll check into the hotel where you'll spend the next couple of nights. Then you can venture out and discover the city on a self-guided tour. 
Take a stroll through the Latin Quarter, which is filled with boutiques, restaurants, and the best pubs and live music venues in the city. Walk under the Spanish Arch, which dates to the 16th century and was once visited by Christopher Columbus. Check out the traditional Claddagh Village, which is renowned for its romantic Claddagh ring design. Galway was named a European Region of Gastronomy in 2018, so there's fantastic food of all types to be found in this lively city. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant then finish the night at a pub for some live music. 

Day 10: Explore Connemara, Visit Kylemore Abbey & Horseback Riding 

See Connemara's beautiful countryside and visit landmarks like Kylemore Abbey
Leave on a day trip to Connemara this morning, a district in western Ireland. This area of County Galway is famous for its little coves, secluded bays, and charming fishing villages like Roundstone. No less than Oscar Wilde remarked on Connemara's "savage beauty," which you can see on full display in Connemara National Park. This 7,000-acre (2,832 ha) is a vast expanse of mountains, bogs, heathland, and lakes. The park is also famous for its Connemara pony, a breed of horse native to the region.

One highlight that you'll visit in the heart of the Connemara countryside is Kylemore Abbey. Built in the 19th century, this historic estate has been home to a Benedictine order of nuns since 1920. On a tour, you'll learn about the abbey's rich history plus visit its famous Walled Gardens, a Victorian marvel that is the largest enclosed garden in Ireland. After touring Kylemore, you'll stop at the coast to enjoy more breathtaking scenery—this time on horseback. Enjoy an unforgettable ride on the beach before returning to Galway.

Day 11: Drive to Donegal, Visit Slieve League Cliffs

Make the pilgrimage to Slieve League, the tallest sea cliffs in Ireland
In the morning, you'll leave Galway and continue driving about 2.5 hours north to Donegal. Located near the border with Northern Ireland, this is the Irish Republic's northernmost county, and is so off the beaten path that it's sometimes called Ireland's "forgotten county." Nevertheless, it's full of hidden gems and all the dramatic coastal scenery for which the Wild Atlantic Way is deservedly famous. Upon arrival in the town of Donegal, you'll check into your hotel and can then get back in the car and explore this untouched paradise. 
Continue driving an hour west through the Donegal backcountry until you reach Slieve League, a coastal mountain whose famous sea cliffs rise 1,972 feet (601 m) over the ocean (three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher). Leave your car at the parking lot and hike a few miles to the cliffs, where you'll enjoy stunning views over the Atlantic. Before returning to Donegal, you can continue driving north to Glenveagh National Park. This remote and beautiful wilderness is home to Ireland's largest herd of free-roaming red deer, plus the enchanting Glenveagh Castle, which was built in 1870.

Day 12: Drive to Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast: Castle, Sheepdogs & Distillery

See the highlights of County Antrim, like Dunlace Castle
Cross the border into Northern Ireland today and continue for a couple of hours up the coast into County Antrim to Dunluce Castle. Once the seat of Clan MacDonnell, this fortification is perched on a basalt outcropping overlooking the North Atlantic and is one of the most romantic castles in Ireland, despite being in ruins. There's evidence the site was settled in the first millennium, though the present structures date mainly from the 16th-17th centuries. On a stop here, you can view many historical and archaeological exhibits.

After the castle tour, continue driving an hour south to Glenshane Country Farm. Located in the foothills of the Sperrin mountains, this working farm is run by a fourth-generation shepherd and sheep farmer who has opened his operation to tourism. On a tour, you'll get to meet the resident animals and witness a demonstration of sheepdog herding.
Then return to the coast and the charming village of Bushmills, home to the world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery (est. 1608). Here, you'll enjoy a tour of the distillery that naturally includes a free sample. Afterward, continue to a hotel in the Causeway Coast region, where you'll overnight.

Day 13: Giant's Causeway Tour, Drive to Belfast & Titanic Museum

Giant's Causeway
Take a stroll on the Giant's Causeway, a star of Northern Ireland
In the morning, you'll drive to the most famous natural landmark in County Antrim: the Giant's Causeway. This section of Northern Ireland's coast features around 40,000 cylindrically shaped basalt rocks packed so close together they create a unique geometric formation. The name refers to the legend of Finn MacCool, an ancient Irish giant who supposedly built a causeway in order to do battle with an invading Sottish giant. 
After hiking around the causeway, you'll drive about an hour south to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. This reinvigorated, modern metropolis is filled with great restaurants, upscale shopping districts, impressive murals, and historic landmarks like the 19th century Belfast Castle and Belfast City Hall, a marvel of Baroque revival architecture. This port city also has quite a maritime legacy, as it was here that the RMS Titanic was built. You'll learn all about it on a visit to Belfast's impressive Titanic Quarter, a waterfront enclave with museums and tourist attractions. Overnight at a hotel in the city.

Day 14: Explore the Antrim Coast

Casueway Route
Spend a day driving the incomparable Causeway Coastal Route
After breakfast, head out on one last day of road-tripping. Head north, back to the scenic Antrim Coast, and take a trip on the Causeway Coastal Route. This scenic 195-mile (313 km) drive runs from the Glens of Antrim coastal valleys in the northeast up to the iconic Giant's Causeway. Among the must-visit stops on the route are the picturesque Cranny Falls, the quaint village of Cushendall, rugged Torr Head, and the exhilarating Carrick-a-Rede, a 65-foot (20 m) rope bridge that links the mainland to the Carrickarede. Feel free to cross it, if you dare. At the end of the day, you'll return to Belfast.

Day 15: Depart Belfast

Happy Hikers
The adventure in Ireland has come to an end (for now)
The Irish say slán abhile, which means "safe home." And alas, today you must bid the Emerald Isle a fond farewell. At the appropriate time, you'll drop off your rental car and continue to the airport in Belfast, where you'll catch your return flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Emerald Isle Self-Drive Adventure - 15 Days
Map of Emerald Isle Self-Drive Adventure - 15 Days