Dreaming of rainbows and fairies but don’t know where to begin planning your road trip to Ireland? You came to the right place!
If you truly want to see Ireland, a road trip is the best way. For such a small country, Ireland offers castles, waterfalls, breathtaking coastlines and fields of sheep—and I’m just barely scratching the surface. This little country has so many different terrains, you’ll be amazed how just an hour’s drive changes the scenery. It takes about three hours to drive from coast to coast and you won’t do more than three hours driving any day of your trip (unless it’s for sightseeing along the way like on Slea Head Drive).
I did this road trip through Ireland with my mom in September 2018 and we had such an amazing time, I want everyone to be able to do the same trip!
8-Day Ireland Road Trip Itinerary Overview
- Day 1: Arrive in Dublin
- Day 2: Cashel & Kilkenny
- Day 3: Cork
- Day 4: Blarney Castle & Kinsale
- Day 5: Killarney & Dingle
- Day 6: Slea Head Drive & Lahinch
- Day 7: Cliffs of Moher & Galway
- Day 8: Galway & Dublin
- Day 9: Fly Home
Planning a Road Trip Through Ireland
Planning a week-long road trip through Ireland for my mom and I took a lot of research, but not nearly as much time as expected. It needed to be within our budget, include all the major sights and be just one week long.
Step 1: Rent a Car
When I initially started searching for an affordable car rental, I was finding manual transmission vehicles in my price range and automatics for double the price! I almost considered just renting the manual and forcing myself to learn before the trip—thank God I didn’t do that. I ended up finding a cheap car rental with Europcar through DiscoverCars.com. We got an even better deal as we didn’t go with the car insurance provided by Europcar, but the insurance included on my Chase Sapphire Credit Card.
Driving on the Left Side of the Road in Ireland
If you weren’t aware, they drive on the left side of the road in Ireland. On top of that, the roads are extremely narrow—narrow enough to make your mom shout “Jesus Lord” regularly and stomp her foot in the floor. You’ll be fine driving on the left side of the road in Ireland if you remember to:
- start mentally preparing for driving on the left side weeks in advance
- constantly tell yourself “I’m driving on the left side of the road” as your driving
- keep your left side mirror in unless you want to lose it
- literally pull over inches from the fairy-tale stone walls lining every street when a semi-truck barrels down a lane too small for a Smart Car and is over the white line
Paying Tolls on an Ireland Road Trip
If you’ve ever rented a car in Europe, you’ve probably encountered an inconvenient tolling system. In Ireland, all the major roads have toll booths you’ll path through except one, M50. When you’re driving along M50 (and you will be at the start and end of your road trip) you have to actually pay attention to the signs that say “Pay Your Toll”. Ignoring the tolls adds up really quick and the last thing you want is a $500 bill of racked up toll fees to come in the mail months after your trip (this happened to us after a family trip through Italy).
Fortunately, paying the M50 toll is easy. All you do is go to eFlow.ie, submit your license plate number and pay the fee—just make sure to do it before 8 pm the day after you drive on M50 to avoid additional fees.
Step 2: Accommodations
Overall, our Airbnb and hotel experiences in Ireland were amazing. Each place we booked had its own personal flair and stayed within our budget. I’ll link to the places we stayed in each town should you want to book the same ones, as well as a hostel option for those of you traveling solo or on a more creative budget.
Dublin: Rose Cottage B&B is was less than 15 minutes from the airport and is just a five-minute drive from the main town of Swords where you’ll find plenty of pubs and restaurants—my mom and I loved the Old School House. Hostel-wise, I’d stay at Jacobs Inn in Dublin, just know you’ll have to find parking in a nearby garage.
Kilkenny: The accommodations above The Pumphouse in Kilkenny are so charming. This building must be hundreds of years old—the roof and floor are completely slanted. The marshmallow-like bedding and live music right downstairs are just the beginning of the charm here.
Cork: The Metropole Hotel in Cork is stunning hotel with real character and excellent service. Plus it’s walking distance to the best shopping in Cork and the Opera House! For a hostel, I’d stay at Shelias Cork Hostel because it’s walking distance to the best of Cork, including the English Market!
Dingle: When you arrive in Dingle, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Old Irish Farmhouse will give you an authentic Irish experience on a working farm overlooking the ocean! Not only is it walking distance from Slea Head and less than two miles from Coumeenoole Beach, you also may get to hold baby lambs or goats. Dingle is heaven on Earth—you heard it here first! For a more affordable option, I recommend the Grapevine Hostel right in the heart of Dingle town.
Lahinch: Wow, Lahinch. We arrived here right at sunset and watched some of the surfers catch the last waves of the day. Crag Shore B&B is so cozy and the owner Maura is just the sweetest! Our room had a TV, very comfortable beds and plenty of space. We enjoyed the continental breakfast in the morning as well.
Galway: The Eyre Square Townhouse in Galway puts you walking distance to everything but on a quiet street (Galway gets rowdy!). I recommend staying at Woodquay Hostel Galway City because it’s clean, in a great location and has really welcoming staff.
Dublin: Parkway Guesthouse puts you right in the heart of Dublin and just a 15 minute walk from Temple Bar for a much better rate than comparable hotels. For a hostel, Jacobs Inn is in a great location and is sure to be a blast with a bar and amazing walking tour of Dublin.
Step 3: Budget for Food, Drink & Attractions
Basically you need money for food, beer, gas and whichever attractions you plan on visiting. Unless you can narrow down to a T exactly where you’ll eat and how many pints you’ll drink, it’s going to be tough to narrow down your budget.
How I would do it is work out what you can afford per day (after you accommodations and flights) and then try to plan what you can afford to do. My mom and I aimed for about $80 per day per person. Gas wasn’t insane in the little rental car so I don’t think we spent more than $200 on gas for the whole trip.
Ireland Road Trip Day 1: Arrive in Dublin
If you’re like me, driving with your parents can be pretty stressful. I planned to do all the driving on the trip and started mentally preparing for the left side of the road weeks in advance.
Pick up your rental car and head to your accommodations. This is your time to recoup from the flight and prepare for tomorrow—your first day on the open road. If you stay in Rose Cottage B&B in Swords, you’ll be there in 15 minutes and can put your stuff down and head to the Old School House for an amazing atmosphere and delicious food.
Ireland Road Trip Day 2: Cashel & Kilkenny
Dublin>Kilkenny ~1 hour 20 minutes
Stop for some breakfast and plug “Rock of Cashel” into your MAPS.ME app and be on your way!
Rock of Cashel
You’re going to be totally blown away when you arrive in Cashel and see the Rock of Cashel on top of the hill! It’s Lord of the Rings, it’s Game of Thrones, it’s so freaking medieval looking! The Rock of Cashel has quite the history and mythology surrounding it. Before it was a national monument, this 12th-century structure was the seat of the Kings of Munster and a chapel.
Rather than paying €6 per person to get in, spend €15 in one of the surrounding Chamber of Commerce Shops and you get a two tickets included. These shops are practically at the Rock of Cashel so it’s not out of the way or anything. Plan to spend two to four hours here. It’s easy to get swept up in the free historic tours and wander across the dreamy green field down the way to the ruins of St. Dominic’s Abbey.
Like everywhere in Ireland, make sure you take a few moments to really take in the scenery, history and overall atmosphere. There’s a beautiful view of rolling green hills filled with cows from the side of the hill and amazing photo ops.
Drive an hour and you’ll arrive in Kilkenny, where you’d be a fool to stay anywhere other than the authentic Irish pub, The Pumphouse!
You’ll be hungry by the time you arrive, so plan to explore the Kilkenny Castle and get lunch or dinner, depending on the time of day. Kilkenny Castle gives you all the “medieval castle feels” just from the outside. My mom and I opted to just explore the outside and enjoy the huge green field adjacent—it’s so beautiful and welcoming you’ll want to lay down in the grass (my mom wouldn’t let me).
Kilkenny is an entirely walkable, charming town. It was really fun to explore and take pictures of all the beautiful doors and flower pots. Enjoy your evening exploring and grab a pint over live music at The Pumphouse. Or, check out the Hole in the Wall pub or The Left Bank Bar.
Ireland Road Trip Day 3: Cork
Kilkenny>Cork ~1 hour 40 minutes
Wake up in Kilkenny, have a delicious breakfast at some adorable little eatery and visit St Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower (that you can still climb), before driving to Cork.
Driving to Cork takes just under two hours, and once you’re in the city, you may hit traffic. It will probably be close to sunset by the time you arrive, so plan on heading to your accommodations and getting dinner.
I don’t know if it was just the area my mom and I were in or what, but we could not find any decent food on an entire street that our Airbnb host said was “where it’s at”. Head to Oliver Plunkett Street for food or chance your luck anywhere and let me know how you fare in the comments. 😉
Ireland Road Trip Day 4: Blarney Castle & Kinsale
Cork>Kinsale ~30 minutes
This day was probably my favorite of the whole road trip. It was my mom’s birthday and we stopped at the English Market in Cork for breakfast before heading to Blarney Castle.
Blarney Castle itself is cool, but the grounds that it’s on are absolutely breathtaking, heaven-like even. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time for exploring the grounds after touring the castle and kissing the Blarney Stone. The Poison Garden is SO interesting. It’s like straight out of Van Helsing or something, but the main attraction is the walk through the garden to the Blarney House. It’s the most impressive garden my mom and I had ever seen—huge Chinese Maples and all kinds of exotic trees. Once you arrive at the house, there’s an immaculate multi-colored rose garden.
Fishy Fishy in Kinsale
Drive to the charming little coastal town of Kinsale for dinner at Fishy Fishy—a delicious restaurant that’s extremely popular with both locals and tourists. After dinner, walk around until you find a pub playing trad music and grab a beer while you enjoy the tunes before heading back to Cork for the night. (You could stay in Kinsale this night of the itinerary.)
Ireland Road Trip Day 5: Killarney & Dingle
Cork>Killarney ~1 hour 10 minutes
Killarney has a beautiful national park with Lord-of-the-Ringsesque scenes everywhere you look. The most popular attractions tend to be Ross Castle, Muckross House & Gardens and Torc Waterfall. My mom and I only spent about 30 minutes at Ross Castle and skipped Muckross, but Torc Waterfall was awesome. The walk there was easy enough and you’re surrounded by verdant green forest—it’s totally magical.
If you’re feeling adventurous, book a horseback ride through Killarney National Park. I did this with my husband on a separate trip and it was a really fun experience that took us through the most stunning scenery.
We drove around exploring for an hour or so before setting out for Dingle (we were lost) and came across one of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen. I’m not positive where it was but it was like a 30-minute drive from Torc Waterfall and I think it’s part of the Ring of Kerry. Naturally, we stopped and took yoga pictures.
One thing we didn’t do in Killarney is stop by the Franciscan Well where they brew their own beer, so you may want to check it out.
Killarney>Dingle ~1 hour
I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad view in Dingle. From the moment you get to the coast and begin driving along the winding cliffs to Dingle, you’ll be in complete awe. Plan on stopping for photos like a million times. We stayed in a adorable yellow house Airbnb on a hill overlooking Dingle with horses on the property (unfortunately it’s no longer available).
Ireland Road Trip Day 6: Slea Head Drive & Lahinch
Exploring Slea Head Drive ~3.5 hours
Pack up your things and check out. Have a route for Slea Head Drive prepared because you can easily spend all day on it if you’re not careful and hop off at a certain point. You should be able to find a tourist map in most shops or where you are staying and it will have a clear route for Slea Head Drive. Hop onto Slea Head Drive just past the Dingle marina and prepare to be amazed!
Slea Head Drive Stops
There are seriously so many worthy stops along Slea Head Drive, from historic sites to local shops selling everything you can imagine. The main stops for us were the Lios, the ancient Fahan Beehive Huts, a ceramics shop (where I bought the most beautiful dish!) and numerous stops along the road just to take in the views.
Star Wars fanatics, rejoice! We passed Ceann Sibéal not long before we hopped off Slea Head to cut back through town for Lahinch. It’s where the ending scene of Star Wars: The Last Jedi was filmed, known as Ahch-To in the books.
The Lios & Farm Animals
The first stop we made was at the Lios or Fairy Fort. There are sheep and goats you can pet and an ancient fairy ring to walk around and marvel at. I felt like I was in the movie Brave. Please don’t miss this stop.
Fahan Beehive Huts
These handmade huts are insane. You could stare at them for hours just marveling at how humans possibly made this work. While historians are not entirely sure how old they are, it’s believed they date back to the 12th century.
Scenic Route From Dingle to Lahinch
Dingle>Lahinch ~3-3.5 hours
Getting to Lahinch from Dingle was trickier than we initially thought, but it turned out better than our planned route. For some reason I planned on driving past Limerick to get to Lahinch. Fortunately, our host gave us better directions—more scenic too. She instructed us to drive to Tarbert-Kilimer Ferry, stopping at Conor Pass on the way (an incredibly breathtaking stop). Once we caught the ferry, we finished the drive to Lahinch, arriving just in time to see the surfers catch their last few waves.
Check-In & Dinner at Tasty Station
Once you arrive in Lahinch, check in to Crag Shore B&B and walk (if it’s not too cold!) or drive over to Tasty Station Restaurant for to-die-for food and wine. I got the curry of the day and mother got the Chili and Ginger Prawns—magnifique! After dinner I recommend grabbing a beer at a bar then stocking up on water and snacks so you can set out for the cliffs right after your continental breakfast the next day.
Ireland Road Trip Day 7: Cliffs of Moher & Galway
Lahinch>Cliffs of Moher ~15 minutes
We are SO lucky our Airbnb host helped us saved money and avoid the tourist hoards at the Cliffs of Moher. She recommended we go to Guerin’s Path instead of the usual spot tourists go to park their cars. It’s privately-owned land with horses, cows and a path along the cliffs with plenty of room to roam. Looking over to the other side of the cliffs, I could tell it was WAY more crowded than where we were. You’ll pay €5 per person.
I really hope you have as clear a day as we did! Most of the time when I see other photos of the Cliffs of Moher they are really foggy and hard to see. We had the luck of the Irish with the weather. 😉
Drive Through the Burren
Cliffs of Moher>Galway ~2.5 hours
Drive through the Burren on your way to Galway. Ask all you want what the Burren is but you won’t really understand until you see it. The whole drive my mom and I were like “Wait, that’s it! Pull Over!” and it wouldn’t be it, but then when we saw it we were like, “Ohhhhh, THAT’S the Burren.”
Burren comes from the Irish word ‘bhoireann’ meaning a stony or rocky place. English parlimentarian, Edmund Ludlow, described the Burren as, “It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.” Now you totally understand what I mean.
Galway Relaxing & Dinner on Quay Street
Once you arrive in Galway, check in to your accommodations and get in a nap or some relaxation.
Plan to get dinner and go out on bustling Quay Street. Quay Street has live music, street performers, bars, restaurants and fantastic people watching. You’ll most likely be on a wait at any restaurant so settle in and grab a drink before dinner.
Quay Street is the spot for wild barhopping and live music. While I was on this trip, I really was not in the mood to go out at night. I had been traveling for three weeks and after driving all day, all I wanted to do was sleep or watch Fauda after dinner. Please don’t be like me when you are in Ireland! I seriously regret not going out and having a blast with my mom.
Ireland Road Trip Day 8: Dublin
Galway>Dublin ~2.5 hours
Wake up early enough that you have time to enjoy breakfast and walk around Galway before heading to Dublin. The architecture is really unique and it’s just a cool city overall.
Book of Kells at Trinity College
There are millions of things to do in Dublin, so do your research and choose carefully if you only have a little time. I honestly didn’t do much research for Dublin, I had just heard the Book of Kells was a “must-see”, so we planned to do that and walk around exploring for dinner and drinks.
Trinity College is more than a century old and totally beautiful, but for me, the Book of Kells was pretty underwhelming. When I told my mom that’s what I planned for us, she thought it sounded dumb, but I convinced her it was a “must-see” (who told me that???). We waited in line, paid and once we got to the part of the exhibit with the Book of Kells, I was ready to leave. I mean, I know it was written in 800 AD and it’s totally beautiful and mind blowing, but it was just an “Okay I saw it, let’s go” attraction for me. So you decide for yourself. Either way, Trinity College and the Trinity College Library are totally worth seeing.
Guinness Storehouse Tour
The Guinness Storehouse on the other hand, blew me away. My mom and I didn’t get to do this on this trip because she doesn’t love beer and I figured it was just a tourist trap, but I went to the Storehouse on a different trip to Ireland with my husband and man was I impressed! It’s considered the #1 tourist attraction in Dublin for a reason.
The storehouse experience is a self-guided tour through many floors that covers 250+ years of Guinness history. My favorite part was the floor dedicated to the history of Guinness advertising—the copywriter in me was stoked! The experience is SO well done and your ticket includes a Guinness at the Gravity Bar at the end. The Gravity Bar is so much fun because it has a 360° view of Dublin and you get to just hangout and talk all about the amazing history of Guinness! Plus, multiple people didn’t want their Guinness so they gave us their vouchers!
Get your ticket to the Guinness Storehouse here so you don’t have to wait in line.
Dinner & Bars on Temple Bar Street
There are so many great streets for dining and drinking in Dublin, but we parked in a garage near Temple Bar Street, so that’s where we went. You can basically just wander into any pub and have the best time of your life…so do that. It’s your last night in Ireland. GO ALL OUT!
You’ll certainly need food at some point and there are hundreds of worthy restaurants. We chose Elephant & Castle and while I can’t remember what we ordered, I know it’s famous for wings.
Get Home, Rest & Pack
Make sure you have a designated driver if you are not staying within walking distance. You don’t want to miss your flight or get a DUI.
We stayed outside the city but very close to the airport. However, what you could do is stay somewhere in Dublin that has parking and proximity to nightlife. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to freshen up, pack and drop off your rental car before your flight.
Ireland Road Trip Day 9: Fly Home
Wake up, grab breakfast and once you’re through security at the airport, have a few cocktails and get ready to catch some Zzzzz.
Do you have any Ireland travel tips? Want help planning your trip? Let me know in the comment section below!