Driving in Ireland? Welcome to my ultimate road trip around Ireland travel guide! This post will be your best friend and help you plan an amazing trip to Ireland, I promise! Seeing the country by car is THE BEST way to get that authentic Irish experience. I wouldn’t have put it in all caps if I weren’t so passionate about your renting a car to explore Ireland. IT’S THE BEST!! There are just too many hidden gems, cute towns, and natural wonders to see that you won’t be able to get to on a tour bus or public transportation.
For my second trip to Ireland, I decided to do a big road trip around the country to see all the sights properly. If you follow me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul, you know that our Ireland road trip was part of our 3-week long honeymoon around Europe. (We also went to Germany, Scotland and London!) We drove all over Ireland and picked up a lot of “do’s and don’ts” along with handy tips to share with you. We started in Dublin, went South to Kilkenny, West to Galway, North to Bushmills/Giants Causeway and ended in Belfast (we then caught a ferry to Scotland, but you should tailor your trip to end in Dublin if you aren’t leaving the island).
Keep reading for my tips on how to rent a car in Ireland, general driving in Ireland tips, city guides, hidden gems, the best eats, drinks and things to do in this beautiful country. This Ireland travel guide is meant to be a one-stop shop for you! Alright, let’s dig in.
*Note, that for the purpose of this guide, I’ve lumped Northern Ireland into “Ireland”, though when you visit, remember it’s a totally different country, part of the UK and they use pounds instead of Euros.
Pstt- pin one of these images so you can find this guide later!
How to get from the airport to Dublin city center
Skip Uber or a taxi as it’ll run you easily $60. Instead, follow the signs for the bus and take the Airlink into town. You can buy a one-way pass for 7 Euros with a credit card at the bus stop. The bus has wifi and takes you right into town in about 30 minutes.
Where to stay
Find a hotel near Temple Bar, Trinity College or Stephens Green. This is the downtown area and everything will be in walking distance. If you have a high budget, stay at The Westbury. Low budget, head to Abigail’s Hostel (stayed here my first time to Ireland and loved it!)
Where to Eat
Dinner is best at Cleaver East or The Pig’s Ear if you’re looking for upscale dining. We choose Cleaver East – get there between 5:30-6:30pm to take advantage of their crazy affordable happy hour food deal to save serious $$ on your dinner.
For low-key and affordable dining, just head to one of the many pubs around the city. Order the fish and chips or stew of the day!
For breakfast, walk over to the Bakehouse along the river. They have an excellent homemade breakfast, plus the decor is very cute! Thnk 1950’s style.
Pro tip: Stop in the cafe next door for a Guinness hot chocolate or the donut shop a few stores down for some seriously good donuts.
Guinness Factory Tour
We loved our tour! Make sure to buy tickets ahead of time (HERE) though the time doesn’t really matter as you have free reign of the brewery. Instead of checking tickets, you can redeem them for beer – either at one of the bars or at Guinness school. We chose the school so we could learn how to properly pour a beer (and drink it after!) They have a skybox, which has the most stunning view of Dublin. It gets crowded in the afternoon, so perhaps go in the morning if this is important to you.
Don’t forget to try a Guinness pale ale, which is only available in Dublin.
*Read my full Dublin Travel Guide here which has even more details and information about the best things to do in Dublin!
Just over an hour from Dublin is the city of Kilkenny. It’s famous for the castle that’s plopped right in the middle of the city. We knew that at this point in the trip, we’d want a little relaxing time, so we looked outside the city for an estate. I highly recommend doing the same!
Where To Stay
We ended up at Lyrath Estate which was SUCH a great hotel. It sits on a large portion of property just a 5-minute drive from Kilkenny city center. As you drive up, you’ll be welcomed by three friendly dogs and a beautiful old estate covered in ivy. The dining is top-notch and we ate there a few times. Make sure to spend a few nights here for affordable luxury in Ireland!
The Lyrath Estate thermal pool is so worth the extra $15 and the highlight of our stay!
Where To Eat
Willoughby’s is a small cafe right downtown with great food that isn’t too expensive. Grab some soup, a sandwich, and tea here. The farmer’s market by the castle is every Wednesday and has great food trucks and fresh goodies as well. Looking for beer? Take the Smithwick’s tour and tasting!
What To Do
Relax at the estate! Walk the grounds, go horseback riding, soak in the fresh air. When you want to stroll around Kilkenny proper, I recommend visiting the castle (tickets here) and then wandering the cute, colorful streets for an afternoon.
Dingle is a town we’ve heard a lot about and was so happy we were able to squeeze it in. I now wish we had stayed one night there, as it’s far out on a peninsula and takes a while to drive to. There are so many fresh seafood restaurants and water activities to do that it would have made a good pitstop for a night.
Where To Stay
Where To Eat
The port area has more restaurants than I can count. Below is a list of some of the better ones, though perhaps the best thing to do is wander the streets and find something you like.
- Murphy’s (best ice cream in Ireland)
- Out of the Blue (seafood only!)
- Murphy’s Pup (great fish n chips)
- Goat Street Social
What To Do
You can easily walk around the city and there are a lot of cute stores to stop by, so make sure to do some exploring. There is also the Dingle Whiskey Distillery, the ruins of Gallarus Oratory and boat tours.
Ring Of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry was our most favorite part of Ireland. Beautiful doesn’t do justice in describing how breathtaking the landscape of this region. It takes the average person about 4-5 hours to drive around the ring… it took us almost 9 hours. Ha! We stop a lot for small hikes and to take photos, which is totally the best way to do it. We stayed on the North end of the ring because we wanted to easily drive to Dingle, though I recommend staying in Killarney, which is the major town on the Ring of Kerry.
Make sure to drive counter-clockwise as many tour buses drive clockwise, and this way you’ll avoid being stuck behind one.
Where To Stay
Butler Arms Hotel, a decently priced hotel in the center of town.
Top Ring Of Kerry Sights
Again, make sure to spend a whole day driving the ring. We started at 9am. Bring water and snacks along and get a Harry Potter audiobook cued up for a kick-ass day.
- Gap of Dunloe
- Rossbiegh Beach
- Ballycarby Castle + Stone Fort
- Cliffs of Kerry (WAY less crowded than Cliff of Moher and just as pretty)
- Staigue Stone Fort (a must stop!)
- Sneem (a color town, stop for lunch here)
- Torc Waterfall
- Muckross House
- Rose Castle
Cliffs of Moher
Next on our road trip was the Cliffs of Moher. On a personal note, we both had terrible colds at this point on the trip, so we didn’t spend as much time here walking around as I would recommend for others because we were too tired. We also stopped by on a really windy day, so combined with not feeling well and the wind, we only spent about an hour here.
On a nice day, set aside a few hours to wander up and down the shoreline. I hear the best time to visit is at sunset when the cliffs are filled with stunning golden light. There is a castle you can pay a few Euros to climb up (not worth it in my opinion) and a large tourism center for bathrooms, wifi, etc.
Galway is a charming seaside city. The downtown is small, but has lots of colorful houses, flags and cozy pubs. It’s worth one night to give enough time to explore and eat. What makes Galway really unique are the swans – there are hundreds of swans that swim the river and are a fun sight!
If you have a few extra days, I highly recommend catching the ferry from Galway to the Aran Islands and spending a few nights on Inis Morr. On my first trip to Ireland 10 years ago, I spent a week just on Inis Morr and feel in love with the tiny island.
Where To Stay
Stay somewhere near Eyre’s Square or the river so you have easy access to the fun part of Galway. Try the College Crest B&B – we stayed here. The rooms are large, it’s affordable, they give you breakfast and they have a cat!!
Where To Eat
The Spanish Quarter along Quay Street has all the best food, so head there. Try the Pie Maker or 1520 Bar for a bite to eat and good drinks. If it’s warm, grab a seat outside to people watch.
What To Do
As with most Irish towns, walking is the best way to view the city.
- Spanish Arch/Spanish Quarter
- Watch the swans on the river
- Kirwan’s Lane
- Ferry to Aran Islands
Bushmills is in Northern Ireland and home to the Bushmills Distillery, Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, The Dark Hedges and many castles. It’s also where most of Game Of Thrones was filmed!
We could only spend one night here, but I wish we did two as there are a lot of outdoor things to do. We also came on a day of bad weather and since we only were staying one night, we didn’t have a backup and had to miss the rope bridge because it was closed due to wind! I was really bummed out.
Where To Stay
Causeway Tavern B&B. It’s cheap and clean. The owners are very funny, so grab a drink or two here one evening, you won’t regret it!
Where To Eat
The Bushmill Inn for a fancy dinner (we dined here!), or Distillers Arms for a brasserie-style restaurant.
What To Do
- Giant’s Causeway – come close to sunrise or sunset for great light and fewer people. This was my favorite part of Northern Ireland. Read more here.
- The Dark Hedges – arrive right at sunrise to have the place to yourself.
- Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – a small hike down but sweeping views on the bridge.
- Dunluce Castle – in ruins but sits on the shore overlooking the water. Has an incredible history.
- Bushmills Distillery tours – for anyone who loves Whiskey!
Other people may argue against my opinion of Belfast, but here are my thoughts: skip it.
Belfast is very industrial and not my favorite type of city. My thoughts are – if you are in Ireland or Northern Ireland, there are SO MANY other beautiful cities or town that are worth your time more. Belfast should be used as a place to catch ferries, trains or a flight, not actually tour in unless you have a lot of time.
Cue the outrage, but that’s just my opinion.
How To Rent A Car In Ireland
Renting a car in Ireland was a little confusing for us. We read in many places that there is a big thing around car insurance and such. We have the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which covers car rental insurance and this extends to Ireland. This was so helpful has car insurance for rentals can run as high as $1,000 – which is crazy! I recommend checking your credit card perks and printing out a statement that you are covered with your card to present to your car rental agent. Or, be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for insurance.
We used Hertz and loved it. We found it easy to rent a car online and the checkout process was very smooth. We picked our car up in Dublin and returned it to Belfast. We then caught a ferry to Scotland and picked up another car there from Hertz so we could start our Scotland road trip! (Read that guide here!)
Driving in Ireland is a little daunting at first, but you get used to it quickly. Ireland is in km and Northern Ireland uses miles – just keep that in mind if you go across country lines so you don’t end up speeding!
Don’t rent any GPS unit as they are pricey. Instead, make sure you have an internal data plan from your cell phone carrier. You can pop in a destination to your Google Maps and then turn your phone to airplane mode. Google Maps will still work and you won’t use up much data this way – a sneaky trick I learned!
What To Wear
It rains. A lot. You will also be doing a lot of walking or hiking, so skip the heels and instead opt for loafers, boots and rain boots.
I hope this helps you plan an awesome trip to Ireland! Please, if you have any questions at all, just leave a comment below and I will get back to you!