Ireland’s true magic lives outside the cities and beyond the pale. When you leave the sunny southeast, you enter a world where dreams and desires live side by side.
We call this a complete 7-Day Ireland road trip because it contains a detailed itinerary, including meals and accommodations. It’s a companion article providing the logistics and routes to our Dozen Unique Irish Adventures that details how these activities let you learn about the land while getting your thrill on. An interactive map is shared across both articles with plenty of cross-linking.
We took this 6 day/7 night 700-mile Irish road trip ourselves and found it action-packed and high-energy. We split activities on many days, so we know it would take two weeks for you to do everything on our list. However, the route and logistics are solid, even if you want to take an extra day or two to stop and smell the heather😉.
Day 1 – Explore Dublin Centre
Our Ireland Road Trip starts in central Dublin at the Mayson Hotel. It’s a centrally located chic hotel with a rooftop bar. We loved it because it’s easy to reach from the Dublin Airport with three car parks nearby, in case you’re driving in. If you’re on a budget, consider taking the bus into the city center, which saves on parking, a day of rental, and perhaps an airport rental surcharge. There are several car hires walking distance from the Mayson.
Once you drop your bags at the Mayson, you’re free to explore along the Liffey Riverfront. Highlights include EPIC, The Irish Immigration Museum, the Guinness Storehouse, and the Jameson Distillery. These are all less than an hour’s walk from the Mayson, or you can rent a bike from a Dublin Bikes bike-share from locations distributed throughout the city center.
The weather was too good to stay in the city, so we went to the coast for a guided Howth Cliff Walk. It’s only a 20-minute drive or a 50-minute bus ride to Howth, where you find outstanding views of the Irish Sea along one of five loops.
There are numerous restaurants in Dublin Centre, but you don’t have to leave the Mayson to find delicious food. For lunch, try the pub burgers or steak sandwiches at Elephant & Castle Restaurant located in the lobby. For dinner, try the seasonal three-course menu at Ryleigh’s Rooftop Grill. No matter the season you will find something to appeal to your appetite, but be sure to save room for dessert.
Day 2 – Dublin to Downpatrick
Ireland’s N1 national road connects Dublin to Belfast with a modern super highway. Even after Brexit, you don’t have to pass through customs when you enter the United Kingdom / Northern Ireland. The money changes. The power outlets change. But it’s a smooth 2-hour drive from Dublin to Downpatrick.
Downpatrick is from the Irish word Dún Pádraig, meaning ‘Patrick’s fort’. It’s where St. Patrick came to Ireland (twice) and his final resting place on the Emerald Isle. Old-school visitors might try and book a tee time at Royal County Down, considered a top 100 golf course in the world and the most scenic golf course in Britain & Ireland. However, the younger visitors think of this area as ‘The North’ from Game of Thrones. GOT tours are taking off around Downpatrick, especially around Castle Ward, aka Winterfell. Our adventures in the area included kayaking Strangford Lough and a coasteering trip beginning from Castle Ward.
For logistics in the area, we chose to stay on the coast in Newcastle, where you’ll get coastal views in a small seaside resort town. Best of all, you can stay at the iconic Slieve Donard Hotel, nestled between a strand of golden beach and the beautiful Royal County Downs golf course. The hotel has elegant on-site dining and is home to one of Europe’s finest resort spas. While staying at the Slieve Donard, make sure you return from your adventures in time to enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sunset from their oversized jacuzzi overlooking the ocean.
Day 3 – Ireland East to West – Downpatrick to Glenveagh
The shortest route from Newcastle to Glenveagh takes about three hours and immerses you in the heart of the Irish countryside. You travel from the outskirts of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, into the center of Gaeltacht, the Irish Gaelic-speaking region of Ireland.
You can see the transition as soon as you leave the seaside. The farther west you drive, the fewer houses you see. This route takes you by the Ulster American Folk Park, an immersive, interactive living museum that tells the story of Irish immigration to America. Alternatively, you could take an hour’s detour north to see the Giant’s Causeway, 40,000 interlocking basalt columns at the ocean’s edge.
Once again, there’s a seamless border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland at the Foyle River. You might not notice it at all, except the road signs switch to metric and are written in Gaelic first, with English as a secondary text. While that’s the standard for all of the Republic, it’s particularly significant in the Gaeltacht regions.
You also will notice the weather and landscape change as you enter the Atlantic coastal zone. The green pastures out your window change to peat bogs as you turn into the oddly named Glenveagh (glen of the birches) National Park.
There must have been a time when trees covered this valley, but that was a long time ago. It was long before John George Adair built Glenveagh Castle, his palatial country estate, and drove off the local villagers on one cold and brutal morning. It wasn’t long before invasive rhododendrons escaped his manicured gardens and began ravaging the hillside.
Visitors can still see the castle, gardens (one of Ireland’s finest), and vestiges of temperate rainforests in microclimate pockets around Lough Veagh that contributed to this estate becoming a National Park. You can also ride bikes through the park, learn more about history, and see how biologists are restoring the valley to its previous glory.
Logistically, you’ll want to plan lunch at the park at either the Synge & Byrne Cafe by the visitor center or at the tearoom by the castle and gardens. Leave the park in the late afternoon to enjoy the viewpoint above Dunlewey Lough before arriving at Gweedore for the night. An Chúirt Hotel is a 4-star hotel along the Clady river that offers comfortable beds and a delightful on-premise restaurant.
Day 4 – Northern Wild Atlantic Way
Today you’ll begin one of the world’s most iconic and revered road trips – the Wild Atlantic Way. With a total length of over 1600 miles, it’s one of the longest-defined coastal routes in the world. It would take more than seven days just to explore the Wild Atlantic Way, so our itinerary hits the highlights with about 300 miles of driving spaced out over two days. We’ll present some of the more noteworthy options, so you choose-your-own-adventure down the Wild Atlantic Way.
Day 4 starts with breakfast at the hotel before pushing on to Cruit Island. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of Cruit Island before. It’s the poster child for remote and obscure places along the Wild Atlantic Way. You might have heard of the Cruit Island Club, one of the world’s best 9-hole courses, or the thousands of climbing routes on granite sea stacks rising out of the surf.
We spent the morning exploring Cruit Island with Iain Miller, the world’s only professional sea stack climber, and at lunch at the Waterfront Hotel in Dungloe. However, you might like driving through scenic Glengesh Pass to the Slieve Liege Cliffs, which are more than three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher. If you have time (or missed the lunch stop at The Waterfront) you should enter the old town of Donegal, the ‘capital’ of the ancient Tyrconnell Kingdom, for a bite to eat and a slice of history.
In the afternoon, you can catch some waves at Rossnowlagh Beach, aka Cold Water Hawaii, or cast wishes on the Fairy Bridges on the Roughy Cliff Walk. Pull in for the night at the Sandhouse Hotel & Marine Spa at Rossnowlagh Beach, one of Ireland’s premier beach hotels, and dine at either the casual Surfer’s Bar or the elegant Seashell Restaurant.
Day 5- Heart of the Wild Atlantic Way
Day 5 explores and celebrates the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way. The route travels from Rossnowlagh to Clifton with too many adventures to fit into a single day.
We chose to cycle the Great Western Greenway, Ireland’s original greenway, with brilliant bike hires that facilitate one-way point-to-point rides. After our ride, we popped into the pub at Mulranny Park Hotel for a delicious lunch. However, we were tempted to hike at Wild Nephin National Park and lunch along the river in Westport. In the afternoon, we stopped for a tour of photogenic Kylemore Abbey and an afternoon hike up Diamond Peak at Connemara National Park.
We pulled into the picture postcard town of Clifden for the night. Looking at the map, you see that Clifden is almost due west of Dublin. You can imagine Dubliners heading west till they hit the ocean and ending up here. You’ll find boutique craft stores around every corner and the alleged ‘Best Traditional Bar in Ireland’, Lowry’s Music & Whiskey Bar. We stayed at the Clifden Station House, ate delicious seafood at The Sea Hare (temporarily closed according to Google. If you learn more, send us a message), and danced the night away at Lowry’s.
Day 6 – Coast to Coast West to East
Day six is a bittersweet goodbye to the Wild Atlantic and a return to Dublin. County Clare hosts today’s adventures with a morning stop at the Burren National Park. It draws its name from the Irish word boíreann or rocky place. True to its name, it’s home to some of Europe’s largest expanses of limestone pavement and an extensive collection of Neolithic tombs. You need your boots on the ground to truly experience the Burren, which is why we took a guided Burren Walk.
Continue your Burren experience with lunch at Gregans Castle, a farm-to-table restaurant frequented by JRR Tolkien, who appears to have written the karst landscape of the Burren into Middle Earth. You can also book a stay at the luxurious eco-friendly retreat to fully immerse yourself in the Irish countryside.
Your rocky love affair with Clare County continues at the Cliffs of Moher for a final, epic farewell to the Atlantic Coast. From there, work your way back to the M6 and an express trip back to Dublin. There are many places to stay in Dublin, but we suggest the Portmarnock Hotel and Spa for its fabulous ocean views and delicious on-site dining.
Day 7 – An Irish Goodbye
You might have heard this before, but the seventh day is a day of rest. The Portmarnock Hotel is only 15 minutes from Dublin Airport, so you can slip away when the time is right. However, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the amenities at the Portmarnock, including its award-winning spa and golf course.
However, if you’re looking for a little more adventure, you’re also just around the corner from the Howth cliff walks if you missed them on the way out. You could also set up a tour of Lambay Island, home to a colony of wild wallabies.
Wrapping Up This Irish Road Trip
Wow, where did the time go? It seems like 2000 words ago we were just landing on the Emerald Isle. You can see that this Irish road trip isn’t the end of your adventures but just the beginning. You could follow our suggestions and have a fabulous time, or just use the structure to build your own Irish adventure. There’s no ‘one right way’ to see Ireland. We do hope that we’ve inspired you to dig a little deeper and put a little Ireland into your life.
Disclosure: A big thank you to Tourism Ireland for hosting us and setting up a fantastic itinerary! For more travel inspiration check out their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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