Explore the cities, coast, villages, and countryside of Ireland's north on this active 11-day adventure. It begins in Belfast with city tours, followed by a road trip to highlights like the Antrim Coast, Giant's Causeway, and Glenveigh National Park. After sampling fine Irish whiskeys at the Bushmills Distillery, you'll visit castles and hill forts on your way to colorful Galway, eventually finishing the trip on the wild streets of Dublin.


  • Drive the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland
  • Explore towering Slieve League and the Cliffs of Moher
  • Experience the colorful culture of Galway and Belfast
  • Visit national parks and go stargazing
  • Tour the famous streets of Dublin

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Belfast, Optional Activities & Mourne Mountains Belfast
Day 2 Belfast Walk & Hike to Cave Hill Belfast
Day 3 Drive to Ballycastle via the Antrim & Causeway Coasts Ballycastle
Day 4 Bushmills Distillery & Dunluce Castle Ballycastle
Day 5 Drive to Londonderry (Derry), Optional Activities Londonderry (Derry)
Day 6 Drive to Donegal via Glenveagh & Slieve League Donegal
Day 7 Drive to Westport, Wild Nephin & Stargazing Westport
Day 8 Drive to Galway, City Tour & Cliffs of Moher Galway
Day 9 Drive to Birr via the Hidden Heartlands & Leap Castle Birr
Day 10 Drive to Dublin, City Tour & Jameson Distillery Dublin
Day 11 Depart Dublin  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Belfast, Optional Activities & Mourne Mountains

Looking across the River Lagan toward Belfast
Welcome to Northern Ireland! After decades of civil strife known colloquially as "The Troubles," in more recent years this part of the UK has been at peace. In fact, not only is Northern Ireland surviving—it's thriving. The whole region is experiencing something of a renaissance, and this is no more obvious than on the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland's capital. On arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel in the city. After settling in, you can hit the streets on a self-guided tour.
Belfast is filled with unique street art, much of it depicting the city's complicated history. To learn more about such issues, you can take a famous Black Cab Tour. This is a city tour in which you'll ride in a traditional black taxi driven by a licensed driver who also doubles as a tour guide. He or she will take you to some of the most vital landmarks in Belfast's recent history, like the infamous Peace Wall. Separately, you can visit other city icons like the Titanic Exhibition (it was here in Belfast that the Titanic was built) and City Hall, a marvel of Baroque revival architecture.
If you have the energy and want to stretch your legs even more, you can travel an hour south of Belfast to the Mourne Mountains. The rugged beauty of these misty mountains, rising above marshes and bogland, should appeal to outdoor lovers. Here you can walk in the footsteps of St Patrick on mountain trails through wooded forests. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in Belfast. 

Day 2: Belfast Walk & Hike to Cave Hill

Stretch your legs on a hike up Cave Hill, which overlooks Belfast

Eat a hearty breakfast and then hit the streets to see more of beautiful Belfast. You can begin the walk in the Cathedral Quarter, named for the Romanesque St Anne's Cathedral. Wander the cobblestone streets of this cultural enclave that today is home to trendy bars, clubs, and restaurants. Admire the street art before stopping for lunch and/or coffee.

Then head to the city's outskirts for a walk up Belfast's most famous landmark: Cave Hill. A two-hour hike will take you to the top of the mountain. There, you'll enjoy incredible panoramic views over basalt cliffs to Belfast and the countryside below.

Later, you can browse the iconic St George's Market for souvenirs. Then, after a busy day of sightseeing, head into the Cathedral Quarter again for dinner at a restaurant or historic pub like The George, The Duke of York, and Kelly's Cellars. Or enjoy dinner in your hotel, followed by a relaxing evening walk along Belfast's revitalized waterfront.

Day 3: Drive to Ballycastle via the Antrim & Causeway Coasts

Dark Hedges
Discover highlights of the Causeway Coastal Route, like the Dark Hedges
This morning, you'll pick up your rental car and leave Belfast on a road trip around the scenic Causeway Coastal Route. This 195-mile (313 km) drive runs from the Glens of Antrim coastal valleys in the northeast up to the iconic Giant's Causeway geological landmark. During part of this trip, you'll drive along the craggy Antrim Coast, a 20-mile (32 km) stretch of road that's regarded as perhaps the most beautiful seaside drive in all of Ireland.
During the drive, you'll be free to stop and explore many famous landmarks along the way. These include Dunluce Castle, a 16th-century fortress perched on a rock outcropping overlooking the north Atlantic and which was featured in "Game of Thrones." Other stunning highlights include the Cliffs of Fairhead, the 18th-century Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the Mussenden Temple, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant's Causeway—a rock formation of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that create an otherworldly geometric pattern. 
On a stop at the Giant's Causeway, you can learn about the legend of Finn MacCool, an ancient Irish giant who supposedly built a causeway to battle an invading Sottish giant (hence the name). If you like, you can also stop at the Dark Hedges, a long row of intertwined beech trees that form a natural archway over the road. The area is so atmospheric that it was also featured in "Game of Thrones." Afterward, you'll continue on to the nearby coastal town of Ballycastle, where you'll overnight.

Day 4: Bushmills Distillery & Dunluce Castle

See more of the coast and take a tour of Dunluce Castle
After breakfast, you'll drive about 20 minutes west of Ballycastle to the charming village of Bushmills, home to the world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery (est. 1608). Here, you'll enjoy a distillery tour that naturally includes a free sample. Later, you'll embark on another scenic drive around the Causeway Coastal Route, stopping at any landmarks you might have missed yesterday.
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If you like, you can take a guided tour of Dunluce Castle and learn about its long and storied history. It was first built by the MacQuillan family around the year 1500, but the fortress is most famous as the stronghold of the ferocious Clan MacDonnell until their impoverishment in 1690. At the end of the day, you'll return to Ballycastle and your hotel.

Day 5: Drive to Londonderry (Derry), Optional Activities

Peace Bridge
Discover culture and history in every corner of Derry
Get back on the road this morning as you drive 48 miles (77 km) west to Northern Ireland's border and the colorful city of Derry (also known as Londonderry). It sits on the River Foyle where the Causeway Coastal Route meets the Wild Atlantic Way, the famous scenic route that runs 1,553 miles (2,500 km) along the west coast of Ireland. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and will have the rest of the day free to explore on a self-guided tour.
No single area in Northern Ireland packs more history in one place than Derry—you can feel it all around you. The most famous examples are the 17th-century city walls, which even today remain remarkably intact. Visit the Bogside residential district to see recent history literally written on the walls of buildings and in giant murals. For something more convivial, stroll the local streets and listen to traditional music spilling out from cozy pubs.

If you like, venture outside the city to explore County Londonderry's lush green valleys. Kayaking or paddleboarding on the River Foyle is another option, as is cycling the quiet country roads along the Foyle Valley Cycling Route, which runs just over 20 miles (32 km). Or, hop the border and tour the ancient hill fort Grianán of Aileach, which dates to 1700 BCE. Cap the day with a stroll along the tops of Derry's ancient walls, which are some of the best-preserved in Ireland.

Day 6: Drive to Donegal via Glenveagh & Slieve League

Glenveagh National Park
Explore the wilderness and lakes of Glenveagh National Park
After breakfast, you'll say goodbye to Northern Ireland and cross the border into Donegal, the northernmost county in the Irish Republic. This untamed region is so off the tourist trail that it's often referred to as Ireland's "forgotten county." You'll drive about 48 miles (77 km) southwest until you reach Donegal Town, where you'll overnight. 
The direct drive only takes about an hour, but on the way, take a detour to Glenveagh National Park, a 35,000-acre (16,000 ha) wilderness area home to Ireland's largest herd of free-roaming red deer. You'll have time here to explore the park's glens, native oak woods, and pristine lakes on foot or by bike. You can even walk in the shadow of the park's highest point, the 2,464-foot (751 m) peak of Errigal Mountain. You'll also get to visit the enchanting Glenveagh Castle, which was built in 1870 as a highland retreat.
Besides the park, another highlight of Donegal you can visit is Slieve League. This coastal mountain boasts famous sea cliffs that rise 1,972 feet (601 m) over the ocean, making them the tallest in Ireland. You can hike a trail a few miles to the cliffs, where you'll enjoy stunning views over the Atlantic. Afterward, continue on to Donegal Town and your hotel.

Day 7: Drive to Westport, Wild Nephin & Stargazing

Westport's charming town center
Explore Westport's charming town center
Leave Donegal Town behind this morning and continue 102 miles (164 km) south along the coast to Westport (a drive of about two hours). This charming town is nestled in an Atlantic inlet and features a historic center filled with Georgian architecture, stone bridges, and a tree-lined promenade on the banks of the Carrowbeg River. After checking into your hotel, feel free to stretch your legs on a walk around town as you browse Westport's colorful shops. 
Later, you'll head north of town to Wild Nephin National Park. Within this 58-square-mile (150 sq m) protected area are soaring mountains, peaty boglands, and thousands of acres of conifer forests. A hike along its wooden boardwalks is one of the best in the country, as you'll have the Atlantic Ocean on one side and blanket bogs on the other. 
After dinner in the park, you'll enjoy an evening of stargazing. An area of 58 square miles (150 sq km) within the Nephin wilderness was officially accredited as a Dark Sky Reserve in 2016. Information signs here direct you to the best spots to gaze up at the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and (in winter) the constellation of Orion. On clear nights more than 4,500 stars glitter in the light pollution-free skies.

Day 8: Drive to Galway, City Tour & Cliffs of Moher

Spend time in Galway, one of the cultural centers of Ireland
After breakfast, you'll drive about 1.5 hours to Galway. Located about 50 miles (80 km) south of Westport, this city is the heart of Ireland's west, with artistic, musical, and culinary scenes that are second to none. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and can then venture out and discover Galway on a self-guided tour. 
Perhaps take a stroll through the Latin Quarter, which is filled with boutiques, restaurants, and the best pubs and live music 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.
In the afternoon, continue on to the Cliffs of Moher, an iconic symbol of the Wild Atlantic Way. These towering sea cliffs rise 698 feet (213 m) in places with sheer walls that drop right down to the Atlantic. You'll have the option to explore this natural wonder on a guided or self-guided tour. Moreover, you can opt to see the cliffs on a hike or by boat. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Galway.

Day 9: Drive to Birr via the Hidden Heartlands & Leap Castle

Visit Leap Castle, supposedly the most haunted in Ireland

Wake up early for a pleasant breakfast in Galway. Then it's time to hit the road again toward Birr, located about 60 miles (96 km) inland. The drive takes just over an hour, but take your time as you wind through the area known as Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. This unspoiled region of the interior spans counties Kildare, Laois, Offaly, and Kilkenny. It has peaty boglands, soaring mountains, trickling streams, green valleys, and thick woodlands. Even the quaint riverside towns and villages in this area seem right out of a bygone age.

A great off-the-beaten-path tour is to visit the historic castles of the Heartlands. Wander the Gothic halls of 19th-century Kinnitty Castle, or walk the stunning Slieve Bloom Way through green forests as you pass through the imposing ruins of Glinsk Castle. Hike up to the ruins of the Rock of Dunamase, a ninth-century Celtic fortification overlooking the valley of the O'Moores. Or visit the imposing beauty of the 12th-century Kilkea Castle, famous for being one of Ireland's oldest inhabited castles.

One firm fixture on the day's itinerary is a stop at Leap Castle in County Offaly. Regarded as the most haunted place in Ireland, the castle was built in the late 13th century on the site of an earlier fortification and has been involved in many battles over the centuries. Over the years, it's also been the site of brutal murders and savage in-fighting among the O'Carrolls of Ely Clan. After taking a guided tour of the castle, you'll continue to the nearby village of Birr, where you'll overnight.

Day 10: Drive to Dublin, City Tour & Jameson Distillery 

Visit historic landmarks like Dublin Castle
Leave Birr behind as you get back on the road for a final 1.5-hour, 85-mile (137 km) drive east to Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland. This captivating metropolis is at once traditional and modern, famous for its history, culture, music, and cuisine. Upon arrival, return your rental car, then head out and discover Dublin's myriad treasures on your own.
Stroll the cobbled streets of the Medieval Quarter and walk the historic campus of 16th-century Trinity College, whose famous alumni include Irish writers like Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. There are impressive Gothic cathedrals in this city 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. And no trip to the capital is complete without a stop at the Guinness Storehouse. On a tour, you'll learn how this world-renowned stout beer ale has been brewed for centuries, plus enjoy a pint of the stuff at the top-floor bar.
Later, you'll head to the source of another of Ireland's most popular exports: the Jameson Distillery. This fine whiskey was first introduced to the world in 1780, and you'll learn all about its history on a tour of the production facilities. The visit also includes a 40-minute tasting during which you'll sample a few of Jameson's fine blended whiskeys. Not only that, but you'll also learn about the complex distillation process Jameson has used for over two centuries to produce this iconic Irish product.

Day 11: Depart Dublin

Sunset over the Silicon Docklands neighborhood of Dublin

Eleven days go by in a blink. Enjoy one more leisurely breakfast at your hotel in Dublin before transferring to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Irish Self-Drive Adventure: Belfast to Dublin - 11 Days
Map of Irish Self-Drive Adventure: Belfast to Dublin - 11 Days