- Follow in the footsteps of giants and walk on the Giant's Causeway
- Dip into Scotland on a day trip to the Isle of Islay
- Go waterfall chasing in Antrim and Donegal
- Hike to one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe at Sliabh Liag
- Explore the thriving cities of Belfast, Londonderry (Derry), Galway, and Dublin
|Arrive in Dublin, Drive to Belfast & Explore the City
|Antrim Causeway Coast, Giant's Causeway, Waterfalls of Antrim
|Isle of Islay (Scotland) Day Trip
|Londonderry (Derry), Grianan of Aileach Hill Fort
|Donegal's Ardara Waterfalls, Sliabh Liag Hike
|Wild Nephin National Park, Downpatrick Head & Mayo Dark Sky Park
|Connemara National Park & Galway
|Athlone, Clonmacnoise Monastery, Abandoned Town of Rindoon
|Free Morning in Dublin & Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Dublin, Drive to Belfast & Explore the City
A very warm welcome to Ireland! On arrival at Dublin Airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive north over the border to Northern Ireland's flourishing capital, Belfast. Devote your first day to discovering this fascinating city—either with a guided Black Cab Tour of its highlights or a relaxed self-guided wander. Start with a walk through the gardens at City Hall, go back in time at the Titanic Exhibition, or learn about the country's recent history with a visit to the Peace Wall. If you're in the mood for fresh air, hike to Belfast Castle for stunning views of the city and coast.
After a busy day of sightseeing, make for the Duke of York Bar with its Victorian snugs, or try Kelly's Cellars—a historic, revolutionary bar with traditional music. For dinner, there's Howard Street Restaurant—youthful and occasionally loud, this bare-brick temple is typical of Belfast, and serves up excellent meals. You can't beat John Long's Fish & Chips for a no-frills fish supper—the food is absolutely delicious!
Day 2: Antrim Causeway Coast, Giant's Causeway, Waterfalls of Antrim
Head north today to reach the far North Causeway Coast. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Northern Ireland, and driving along the Antrim Coast is a treat. Take the opportunity to stop and explore many sites along the way, including Antrim's waterfalls—Glenoe Waterfall, Cranny Falls, and coastal Dunseverick Falls are among the most impressive—as well as the ruins of romantic Dunluce Castle, the scenic cliffs of Fairhead, and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. "Game of Thrones" fans can take an alternative road through the ethereal Dark Hedges at Armoy.
Whichever route you take, a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Giant's Causeway is a must. Here, around 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns descend gently into the sea. The stones are thought to have been formed by an ancient volcanic eruption—although legend has it, the causeway was, in fact, paved by a giant called Finn McCool, so he could cross the Irish Sea to fight a Scottish giant. You can make up your mind as you walk on this iconic site.
Day 3: Isle of Islay (Scotland) Day Trip
Today you'll take a brief jaunt to Scotland! The Isle of Islay is a stunning island on Scotland's "whisky coast" (whisky is spelled without an "e" in Scotland) and part of the Southern Hebrides. Most people don't realize that in the summer, Islay is easily accessible on a day trip from Ballycastle. Catch the Kintyre Express—a tiny, fast passenger ferry—for a one-hour sailing over to the island.
Islay is known for its peaty, smoky whiskies. Home to nine working distilleries, it has the process of making the good stuff down to a fine art, using peat cut from the mosslands to give Islay malts their distinct flavors. You'll have the chance to go whiskey tasting, or, if that's not your scene, check out the island's birdlife, seafood, and dramatic coastal seascapes before returning to Ballycastle for a second night.
Day 4: Londonderry (Derry), Grianan of Aileach Hill Fort
Travel west to the city of Londonderry (Derry). Stand on the 400-year-old city walls here, and feel history all around you. Look over to the city's Bogside area, and you'll see it written on the walls in the famous murals. This is where music spills out onto the streets from cozy pubs, museums tell stories of times past, and people still celebrate ancient festivals. Yet, Derry (Londonderry) is also a vibrant modern city. Taste your way around its cutting-edge food scene, travel across the 2011 Peace Bridge, and see up-and-coming bands play in lively bars.
Slow the pace and head inland to explore County Londonderry's lush green valleys, rich heritage, and quiet waters. You could paddleboard along the River Foyle, cycle the Foyle Valley along peaceful country roads and traffic-free paths, or visit the former home of Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney.
Day 5: Donegal's Ardara Waterfalls, Sliabh Liag Hike
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Today you'll be back in the Republic of Ireland as you drive to the Adara Uplands on the west coast for a spot of waterfall chasing. First up, the gushing waters of Assaranca Waterfall on the road to Maghera Beach & Caves (which are also well worth a visit—the beach is accessed via many steps, but a stunning sandy crescent awaits at the bottom). Next, just off Ardara Road, Owenwee Waterfall's fresh waters cascade down the mountain, creating a beautiful musical sound.
Get ready for a real adventure at Donegal's Secret Waterfall in Largy. This is a secret waterfall—tucked away inside a hideaway cave on the coast, it can only be accessed at low tide, so it's vital you check the tide times and give yourself plenty of time to get in and out. Your reward for navigating the trail, clambering over jagged slippery rocks, is an enchanting experience you'll never forget.
Day 6: Wild Nephin National Park, Downpatrick Head & Mayo Dark Sky Park
After a hearty Irish breakfast, head off to a remote corner of County Mayo at Bangor Erris, around three hours away. Explore the peatlands and mountain wilderness of Wild Nephin National Park in Ballycroy before stopping on the edge of the sea for one of Ireland's best coastal hikes, which will last between 3 and 6 miles (5 and 10 km), depending on your energy levels.
The legend of the "Children of Lir" is set in this region, and looking at the stunning coastal views, you have time to ponder the sad tale of the children who were turned into swans as you walk the trail. You'll also have time to stop and explore the blowholes and sea stacks of Downpatrick Head—a must-see. After dinner, continue to Mayo Dark Sky Park, Ireland's first International Dark Sky Park, for an evening of stargazing, then on to Blacksod for the night.
Day 7: Connemara National Park & Galway
Drive south to reach the wilds of Connemara National Park, which covers almost 7,413 acres (3,000 ha) of mountains, lakes, and woodlands. No matter what the time of year, Connemara's extraordinary landscape reacts to the changing light and weather from the wild Atlantic Ocean. Hike up Diamond Hill for astounding views over County Galway's countryside, and don't miss a visit to the magnificent Kylemore Abbey, which sits grandly on the shores of a calm lake.
Your final stop for today is the arts-loving city of Galway. Get checked in to your hotel, then head out to explore. Take a stroll through the Latin Quarter, which brims with boutique stores, local restaurants, and independent bookshops. Walk under the Spanish Arch, once visited by Christopher Columbus, and check out the traditional Claddagh Village, renowned for its romantic Claddagh ring design. Check out lively bars such as An Pucan, Garavan's Bar, and Buddha Bar.
Day 8: Athlone, Clonmacnoise Monastery, Abandoned Town of Rindoon
Travel around an hour east today to the town of Athlone, which straddles the River Shannon and is the midway point between Galway and Dublin. At the heart of this charming town is medieval Athlone Castle, which guards the bridge across the river. In Athlone, you can also have a drink in Ireland's oldest pub—find charming little Sean's Bar in the shadow of the huge castle.
Take a short drive south out of town to the ancient monastic site of Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon. This great monastery—founded in the sixth century by St Ciarán Mac a tSaor ("son of the carpenter")—is home to three high crosses, a cathedral, seven churches, and two round towers. North of Athlone, make a stop at the fascinating abandoned medieval town of Rindoon on the shore of Lough Derg. Then hit the road for the final drive back to Dublin, where you'll have the chance to see the city's lively nightlife unfold before calling it a night.
Day 9: Free Morning in Dublin & Depart
Take the morning to stroll Dublin's Medieval Quarter. Visit St Audoen's Church, the oldest parish church in Ireland, and venture inside the magnificent Christ Church Cathedral—make sure to go down into the stunning crypts. If you're a fan of Ireland's most popular tipple, a visit to the Guinness Storehouse will tell you all about this iconic stout. Head up to the Gravity Bar to take in 360-degree views of the city and wave goodbye to Dublin.
Then it's time to drive back to the airport to return your rental car and catch your departing flight. Safe travels, and see you again soon!