Many of you know that my favorite type of travel are the road trips; Ireland reflected a bit of a “must do,” sooner or later I had to discover Ireland on the road. Before I proceed with all the information about this Irish itinerary, I would like to recommend these two other articles of mine that you might be interested in:
Ireland: the Emerald Isle
The iqueen of the green, a green that keeps changing hues. As soon as the sun comes out it becomes a beautiful bright green; when the sun hides behind the classic Irish clouds, everything becomes more muted. It is these constant and sudden interchanges between sun and clouds (and rain ed.) that make a trip to Ireland something magical.
Read also: Traveling in Ireland: some useful tips
The cuts of light in the valleys of the Donegal, the landscapes of the Connemara, everything looks different with the sun’s rays, but I assure you it will be even more beautiful if the sun returns to illuminate the Irish landscape after a good rain. The colors will be more vivid.
With this article, as usual, I want to summarize the itinerary of my tour in Ireland, trying to be as detailed as possible and provide you with all the information to organize a tour in this wonderful country on your own.
I anticipate that my tour of Ireland was counterclockwise, touching Northern Ireland then continuing to Donegal, Connemara, Galway and the Cliffs of Moher. Finally, the capital Dublin. This is not, therefore, a complete itinerary of Ireland.
8 days I think is balanced in relation to the miles traveled. To do a complete tour would take at least two weeks, maybe 20 days. Read also: Driving on the left, 10 tips for not getting anxious
Travel to Ireland: practicalities and costs
Here is a summary of my week in Ireland.
Total nights: 7
Flight to Ireland: used the route Milan BGY -> Dublin, classic no-frills Ryanair flight.
Documents required to enter Ireland: only need ID card (if you’re European, passport for Extra UE). I must make a note, however. When I showed up at passport controls for entry into Ireland, they asked me sequentially for: ID, where I was going, how long I was staying, my driver’s license as another document, where I lived in Italy, and finally a signature on a blank piece of paper to assess whether it was consistent with that on my ID card.
Car: rented from Italy through Ryanair’s rental platform. Chose the company CarHire, which relies on Europcar. A word of advice: given the opposite driving, opt for a car with an automatic transmission.
Irish areas covered: Dublin, Northern Ireland and Causeway Costal Route, Donegal, Connemara and the Galway area with the Cliffs of Moher.
Car rental cost: Paid about 100 euros for 6 days rental including full insurance coverage. Caution: if you do this itinerary, because the rental company (at least that’s what happened to me) may ask you what tour you will be doing…going to Northern Ireland they charge you 32 or 34 (now I don’t remember exactly) euro more as a fee. So my total was 134 euros.
Miles traveled: about 1300
Road signs: excellent! I was never uncomfortable, despite the opposite driving. When getting off the most traveled roads, there might be some issues, but in general throughout the tour in Ireland I had very few problems. It’s also worth mentioning that I moved perpetually aided by the navigator, which I recommend you do.
Evening road signs: you may wonder why an in-depth look at evening road signs. Simple, I was struck by the fact that roads have markers (reflecting the light of headlights) that are green near junctions and the correct direction of travel, and red where you cannot turn or for the opposite direction of travel. Roads outside population centers are not lit by streetlights, so you don’t even feel the need for them. Most useful!
Hotel reservations: on site, every afternoon before arriving at the assumed place to sleep. I have been adjusting this way for 3/4 trips now. It gives me more freedom to modify the route and choose at the last minute where to spend the night. On the other hand, if you want to define the whole itinerary a priori use -> Booking.com
Hotel costs in Ireland: excluding Dublin city, the costs are in line with those in Italy. In my case I spent between 51 euros at the least expensive to 84 at the hotel near Dublin airport. (for 2 people in a double room). Best: definitely the Waterfront Rest B&B on the Sky Road near Clifden. Speechless.
Food costs in Ireland: again, the expense was not excessive. Always exclude Dublin from this reasoning. For one-dish meals, on average I spent between 40/50 euros per dinner for two. And for those who ask me: does one eat well? I can say that I ate very well. Just inquire with hotel owners so they can give you tips.
Cities touched: Dublin, Carrickfergus, Ballycastle, Derry, Bundoran, Sligo, Westport, Clifden, Galway, Doolin.
Points of interest visited: Carrickfergus Castle – Whitehead – The Dark Hedges – Carrick-a-rede – Giant’s Causeway – Old Bushmills Distillery – Dunluce Castle – Malin Head – Glenveagh National Park – Sky Road – Dunguaire Castle – Black Head Whitehouse – Cliffs of Moher.
Climate in Ireland in March : indecipherable, see photo below.
It is certainly not one of the perfect months to visit Ireland. Nonetheless, it has plenty of merits and a few flaws. Along my itinerary I found every possible weather situation, including snow that fell in the mountains of Sligo. When the sun comes out it feels great and the landscapes have saturated colors. No haze. On the coasts the wind is incessant, being in March it will be quite cold.
Look on the bright side: one more reason to lock yourself in some Irish pub and enjoy the evening between a pint of Guinness and popular music.
Traveling in March in Ireland: spectacular. Traffic equal to 0, roads always flowing. But the really positive note is that a vacation in Ireland in March means arriving at places of interest without any tourists. It means really enjoying where you are. Just think of Carrick-a-rede. I didn’t queue. In summer, the queue reaches up to a couple of hours. The perception of the place changes whether a place is crowded or not. The downside, besides the weather, is that some scenery you will find a bit bare, the trees are still in the winter stage.
Wi-Fi: we always found Wi-Fi in the hotels, on this front you will have no problems.
Data connection: big data connection problems I had none, except in Glenveagh National Park. Given the place in question, who cares I didn’t have a connection. You just had to enjoy the scenery and that was it.
Route (indicative) of our trip between Ireland and Northern Ireland
Ireland trip itinerary: 8 days and 7 nights
Traveling on the road, unless you are with your own car, means renting a car. Here are a few articles that might interest you:
Warning: visiting Ireland in this way means running into left-hand drive. Do not underestimate it, always be careful driving and, especially in the first few miles, do not be overthinking.
I’ll report back to you in my own words what my ride was like. At the end of the itinerary you will find some experiences to add should you get the chance.
Day 1: Arrival in Dublin and overnight near the airport
The last plane flight from Milan to Dublin arrives late in the evening at the airport in Dublin. The problem is that transportation to the center is not so frequent at 11 p.m. You would have to use a cab but the costs would definitely be significant. For this reason I preferred to sleep near the airport and then leave the next day to discover Ireland, leaving Dublin as the last stop. Should you also make a similar choice, I recommend sleeping at the Glenmore House, a basic but practical hotel from which you can reach the airport by shuttle from the Premier Inn. (2 euros the ticket). By cab from the airport to the hotel it is 10 euros each way.
Day 2: Heading to the north of Ireland to beautiful Ballycastle
Having retrieved the car at Dublin airport, I headed for Northern Ireland following the road to Belfast.
Warning: car rentals in Dublin are almost all in a separate area from the airport. One has to wait for a shuttle that runs in front of the terminals.
Once I got the car, I drove north by taking the highway to Belfast. I skipped visiting the city; I could have devoted very little time to it and it seemed disrespectful to a city that has a lot to say. So I moved on to a little-known but definitely interesting place: Carrickfergus with its castle, one of the first stops on the Causeway Costal Route.
Read Also: 11 Things to do in Northen Ireland
Not a cliff-top castle overlooking the sea or extremely distinctive, but it is one of the oldest and well worth a visit. From Carrickfergus castle in a few minutes’ drive I reached Whitehead, a tiny town that has the distinction of having colorful houses overlooking the sea.
Finally, continuing north I finished the day in beautiful Ballycastle, sleeping at the Corratavey Guesthouse (highly recommended) Tip: If you can get near Ballycastle before dark falls, I recommend going to see The Dark Hedges in the predawn version.
Day 3: Discovering the Causeway Costal Route
With the third day of the Ireland on the Road itinerary we get into the swing of things. On the Causeway Costal Route are some of the country’s most fascinating natural sights. A self-respecting tour of Northern Ireland cannot fail to include the Giant’s Causeway, the Dunluce Castle e Carrick-a-rede.
The good thing is that they are all within walking distance of each other. The first thing I did, however, was enjoy the shy sunshine that appeared on Ballycastle beach by having breakfast overlooking the sea.
Then I went back to see The Dark Hedges again with the sun, which left me odd because even now I can’t figure out whether I like the gloomy evening look better, or the spectacle of the light cuts through the tree foliage. A few miles from The Dark Hedges is Carrick-a-rede.
A few more miles toward Derry are the Giant’s Causeway and finally, why not end the day at the Bushmill Distillery!? This is one of the oldest and most famous whyskey distilleries in Ireland. The perfect stop to end the day. So much so that we enjoyed a nice whiskey before going to sleep in Derry, a city that has experienced a rather difficult past.
Must-read: Visiting the Giants Causeway in Ireland
Day 4: Derry to Malin Head, Glenveagh National Park
As with Belfast, I did not have a chance to delve into the history of Derry, which I left for a future return to Northern Ireland. This trip to Ireland was designed to discover more of nature and landscapes. Consequently, instead of choosing to visit the city, I moved to the northernmost point of the island, that point called Malin Head. A remote place whose horizon points to the coast of Scotland.
It was us, the sea and the wind at Malin Head.
From there I then pointed south, heading into the heart of County Donegal, the Irish region considered the wildest. The section within Glenveagh National Park is stunning. You travel through moonscapes until you get to the entrance for Glenveagh Castle.
I hadn’t read anywhere else about visiting Glenveagh Castle, well, take my advice, definitely include it within your on-the-road itinerary in Ireland!
From Glenveagh Castle I moved in the direction of Slieve League, the highest cliffs in Ireland. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit them because of poor weather, but if you are passing through there, put them as a permanent stop.
I decided, therefore, to move toward Sligo, sleeping in Bundoran, discovering later that Bundoran is basically a playground that comes alive in the summer season. There are more slot parlors there than in all of Ireland, all giant ones by the way. To read: Things to do in Donegal
Day 5: Toward Sligo, via Westport to the Sky Road and Clifden
Connemara plays it out on the same level as Donegal. Day 5 was devoted to this spectacular stretch of Ireland where the landscapes are endlessly beautiful. Less wild than Donegal, but crazy green. One could spend days and days between Connemara and Donegal, experiencing this piece of Ireland as intensely as possible. Unfortunately, on the road it is not that easy, times are tight, and then one tries to enjoy as much as possible that area in which one travels on the road. In the case of Ireland you would have to stop every 100 meters to take a photograph, in Connemara you might as well stop every 10 meters because of how fascinating it is.
On the fifth day I moved on to Westport, considered the best town to live in Ireland. Nestled on the banks of a small river, it was really a pleasant stop.
On the way down to Clifden you pass through amazing places such as the spectacular Kylemore Abbey o the Killary Fjord, Ireland’s only fjord, until you get to what is the most beautiful road traveled on my trip to Ireland: the Sky Road.
We stopped at the Waterfront Rest B&B – i recommend you stop here to sleep with a view of the sea and an incredible starry sky. Must-read: Connemara: 5 places to fall in love with the Irish countryside
Day 6: Clifden to Galway, continuing on to the Cliffs Of Moher
If the previous one was the best day of the on-the-road itinerary in Ireland, this one was no less so. Under a strange scorching early March sun, I drove the entire coastal stretch starting from Clifden, stopping in beautiful Galway. A city that exudes great serenity and harmony with a lovely, lived-in old town full of typical Irish pubs and clubs.
The ideal stop for a lunch break and then on to Dunguaire Castle. Honestly not a great castle, but being nestled on the banks of a body of water it has its charm.
The nice part of this part of the trip to Ireland, was seeing the distinctive geological conformation of the Burren. Continuing on to the Black Head Lighthouse i was able to discover a little-known part of Ireland. Rock and just rock until the small but quaint Doolin, where I spent my last night.
From Doolin I continued on to the final stop on the itinerary: the Cliffs of Moher, as huge as they are well-known. The perfect sight to close the last leg of Irish ontheroad.
Day 7 and 8: Doolin to Dublin and then sightseeing
Morning commute. From Doolin to Dublin is about a 3-hour drive. I had to drop the car back at the airport and then go to downtown Dublin via public transportation. I left around 6:30/7:00 a.m. from Doolin to arrive in Dublin at about 11 a.m., including a break at a truck stop for due breakfast.
The seventh and eighth days of this tour of Ireland that I am recommending were days spent visiting the capital city. Honestly, visiting Dublin after seeing the rest of Ireland is strange, perhaps not given the proper importance. Everything is filtered by the wonderful landscapes seen in the previous days, the sight of a metropolis jars a bit.
To read: 8 Best Things to do in Dublin
Possible alternatives for this Ireland travel itinerary
Short of visiting Ireland for an entire month, you will have to make choices. It is not possible to visit everything; even if you tried, you would not give it the time it deserves. As you may have read, I did not plan to visit Belfast or Derry in my itinerary, this is because I would only have seen them in passing and it did not seem appropriate.
Here, then, in the process of defining your Irish itinerary, should it be longer than these 8 days I mentioned, you could include:
- Visit to Belfast: the capital of Northern Ireland has a really important past, I recommend that you devote a day to it.
- Visit to Derry: as well as Belfast, Derry has also been the site of riots and in 1972 was the “scene” of Bloody Sunday. I invite you to read this article on Bloody Sunday (switch in English) to elaborate.
- Causeway Costal Route area: not far from Carrickfergus, on the eastern side of the Irish coast you can travel the Gobbins Path (or Walk). This is a trail that branches off along the coast, with some truly spectacular views (what views are not spectacular in Ireland?!) It takes 2 1/2 hours to walk it and you need to book -> more info at www.thegobbinscliffpath.com.
- Donegal in my itinerary I went to see Malin Head, if it hadn’t been for lack of time I would have definitely taken a trip to Fanad Head, located on the tongue of land parallel to Malin’s (look at the map to understand). Incidentally, in this remote place is the very lighthouse where I would have liked to sleep at least one night. It is called Fanad Hed Lighthouse. If you can, don’t miss it, I’m still eating my hands for not being able to sleep there –> click here to see the Fanad Head Lighthouse.
- Also in Donegal the Slieve League are one of my regrets on this trip to Ireland. Because of the weather I didn’t get a chance to visit them, but the highest cliffs in Europe are definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. 600 meters high is enough to make you realize that you should not leave them off your itinerary!
- Connemara, Achill Island: irish nature never ceases to amaze…as I told you, it would take a month to experience Ireland at the right pace. Achill Island is described as one of the most romantic places in Ireland. If you will not yet be studies to fill your eyes with stunning views, well this will be another magnificent place to get in touch with the most remote Ireland.
- Aran Islands: fiorella Mannoia also talked about it in her “Sky of Ireland” (and by the way, not now can I say that that song is particularly apt). “…From Donegal to the Aran Islands…” the wildest part of Ireland. These islands are located off Doolin, almost opposite the Cliffs Of Moher.
Recommended hotels for this trip to Ireland
The common thread of this Irish on-the-road itinerary of mine was to favor the natural and characteristic aspects. Therefore: YES to unfamiliar villages, YES to special accommodations and finally YES to remote places with a sea view (example Clifden hotel).
I should add that most were booked en route, except for Dublin where I booked both the first and last night from Italy. Prices are for 1 night in a double/twin room.
Here are the hotels I want to recommend:
Dublin Airport (Sword) -> Glenmore House (click for hotel) – 84 € , breakfast. incl
Good compromise if you arrive at the airport late or have to leave early in the morning. It is minutes from the terminal and can be reached by an evening cab ride for 10 euros or, during the day, by a convenient shuttle for 2 euros each way. Value for money: 8
Dublin -> Academy Plaza Hotel (click for hotel) – 129 €
The idea was to not be too far from the center, so I opted for this hotel in the city center. Convenient and especially with the airlink (747/757) that stops right in front of the hotel entrance! Certainly not the cheapest hotel, but what more could you want! Value for money: 8
Ballycastle -> Corratavey Guesthouse (click for hotel) – 51 €
A small cottage on the road that led to the beautiful beach at Ballycastle. Corratavey House was a nice discovery. Very well-kept environment and very friendly owner. Ballycastle is also really pretty. I recommend having breakfast overlooking the sea using the “Marine Hotel” bar. Value for money: 9
Derry -> Serendipity’s House (click for the hotel) – 51 €, breakfast. incl.
A budget hotel, a guesthouse with rather small rooms. Strong point is the excellent breakfast with a very courteous lady. Lounge, television on, felt like really being at home. Value for money: 6
Bundoran -> Bank House Guesthouse (click for hotel) – 65 €, breakfast. incl.
Bundoran was a causal stop. Like all causal stops it held some surprises. The hotel is above a pub located on the main road as well as the Wild Atlantic Way! Bundoran is basically made up of a central street, pubs and… arcades! Basically in the summer it becomes a huge playground experienced by many young people who come to surf nearby. Value for money: 8
Clifden (SkyRoad) -> Waterfront Rest B&B (click for hotel) – 70 €, col. incl.
How can I not speak enthusiastically about this place that has the unbelievable. I found it almost by accident and I am glad I walked in and asked the lady (a Frenchwoman married to an Irishman) if she had room. It was like old times, the lady (very kind) showed me the room and “we accepted.” Since I think it is a spectacular place, I recommend booking it directly from Italy (you can do it from the link above). You must not for anything in the world skip this hotel. Ridiculous cost for the place it is. Value for money: 10
Doolin -> Glasha Measows B&B (click for hotel) – 58 €
Many people suggest Doolin as a pro-Cliffs of Moher destination. In fact it is just a stone’s throw from the Cliffs. It is a small town that looks out to the sea, or rather the Ocean, and gives you a disarming sense of tranquility. Featuring a couple of “old-fashioned” pubs, it is the ideal place to spend the last evening of this itinerary in Ireland. The hotel, or rather, the B&B is perfect. Ample parking, located outside the village, I couldn’t have asked for better. For dinner recommended McGann’s Pub! Value for money: 9