Let me clarify, this is actually an itinerary my family took that covers both Northern Ireland and Ireland. If you are interested in what our schedule looked like keep reading. I am sharing everything about our Ireland Itinerary 10 days below.
Most people either feel they have to visit Northern Ireland, or Ireland on their trip over, let me share why I think both should be included. Yes, it is a little more driving, but if you plan it outright, it doesn't feel like it. The trip is so enjoyable and you are able to see and experience so much. Northern Ireland and Ireland are so different from each other and both were amazing to visit.
For more Ireland posts I wrote, take a look at these.
Ireland and Northern Ireland
Let's talk about the 2. If you thought it was all one country, you are wrong! It is actually 2 separate countries. Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland or Ireland. When I asked locals if they called the southern country Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, they all said Ireland.
We crossed between both countries with no issue. There are no border crossings or stations, at least none we drove through. The reason we did both was I had places in both countries I REALLY wanted to see.
10 Day Itinerary
Let me give you an overview of what we did and where we stayed, then I will break each day down later.
- Day 1- Arrive in Dublin then head to Northern Ireland
- Days 1-3- Northern Ireland
- Day 4-6- Galway
- Day 7- Killarney
- Day 8- Kinsale
- Day 9- Kilkenny
- Day 10- Dublin
- Most people decide to spend their first few days in Ireland in Dublin. I knew we would be tired after the flight, we got in at 5 am. So instead of spending those first few days in a big city, we headed North for a little quieter time.
- We drive straight to Belfast after picking up our rental car. The roads were great and easy to navigate. We used Google maps while here and had no problem following the directions. There was only 1 toll on the way up- 2 euros.
- We were only spending part of the day in Belfast, so I wanted to make the most of it. Many times when this is the case I like to arrange tours. I love getting a local condensed version of history and culture. We took Paddy Campbell's Black Cab Tour and Taste and Tour's Belfast food tour.
- I would recommend both, our family had such a great experience. Paddy was our tour guide, a native to Belfast, and well versed in its turbulent history. This is a cash-only tour, so make sure to stop at an ATM for some pounds if needed. We learned so much and I cannot wait to do more research.
- The food tour was also so much fun. Caroline is so personable and took us to some of her favorite places. I had the best blue cheese I have ever had on this tour and that is something. We don't drink alcohol, and they were very accommodating with this- we had plenty of mocktails, non-alcoholic beer, etc.
- This is a fun way to see the city and its food producers. We would do this tour again in a heartbeat.
- From here we made our way to the quiet town of Coleraine, which we called home base for the 3 days we spent in Northern Ireland. We stayed at the lovely Still Waters Airbnb. Julie was amazing and we loved the house.
- We chose Coleraine as it is a smaller town and close to Giant's Causeway, Dark Hedges, Ballintoy Harbor, and other sites we want to visit. It was about an hour from Belfast.
- We started day 2 early. This was the desire to catch the best light and avoid crowds. I promise we are not anti-social, but also don't, particularly like sharing sites with thousands of other people.
- Dark hedges are about 30 minutes from Coleraine. We arrived a little before 7 and had the place to ourselves. It was quiet, peaceful and so beautiful! If you have never been, let me explain parking. It is really well marked out. We put it into our Google maps and it took us right there. Dark hedges is a Game of Thrones site that has become very popular recently. We haven't watched the show, but think the scenery was well worth visiting.
- The way is well marked, as is parking. There is no parking on the dark hedges roads, but the parking place is just a short walk away. It was really cold and windy the morning we visited, so we stayed on the Northside of the road. You can walk quite a way down and get photos from both sides.
- I have read that if you are competing with tour groups, walk further down, as most people won't want to walk that far.
- From the Dark Hedges, we headed to Ballintoy Harbor. This is a quick 15-20 minute drive from the hedges. I didn't have this on my original list but added it after talking with our new friends in Belfast, and I am so glad we did. It is so stunning! The drive down to the harbor is a traditional tight squeeze road, and a little scary, but so worth it.
- How do I even describe the harbor? We were all stunned by how beautiful it was. The winds were strong, the waves brutal. It was rustic and if it wasn't so cold, we would have spent so much time there. We wanted to do the Carrick-de-Rede bridge, but it was still closed. Gobbins Cliff walk was also closed due to storm damage.
- We had a few hours, so we made our way back to the rental, which took us right only the Causeway Coastal route. Again, the scenery is idyllic and stunning.
- After napping and chilling for a few hours, this is important on vacation, we were ready to go again. Derry (Londonderry) was next on our list. Rather than driving, we took the train. I had read so many great reviews about the train, I couldn't wait to take it. The train station was minutes from our rental. You can find timetables on the Translink Website.
- The train is worth it. It is a nice ride that takes you along the coast and through several quaint small towns.
- We had a tour scheduled with Gleann off Airbnb. Gleann shared the history of Derry in a very personal way, his father was killed on Bloody Sunday. The history is both fascinating and tragic. If you don't know anything about this city's history, do not miss this tour.
- After the tour, we explored a bit of the town and Peace Bridge. A lovely bridge that crosses the River Foyle. It is a symbol of peace and overcoming adversity.
- We made the return trip to Coleraine via train.
- This was another early day. This is a pattern we use a lot when traveling- early to rise, nap, and relax, then back out in the late afternoon. This was our Giant's Causeway day and I was so excited about this.
- Giant's Causeway is a must-see if you are coming to Northern Ireland. This site is absolutely breathtaking!! If you are unfamiliar with the area it holds about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that are a result of the ancient volcanic fissure. Most of these columns are hexagonal, but there are some with 6,7, and even 8 sides. The Irish have another idea of what formed the area though. Legend has it that Irish giant Finn McCool built a bridge between Ireland and Scotland to challenge the Scottish Giant, Benandonner. Through a battle of wits, Finn succeeded and now we have the outstretching of basalt columns.
- Giant's Causeway is a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is also considered the 8th wonder of the world. I agree with this sentiment.
- On a more personal note, Giant's Causeway is a site I have wanted to see for so long it helped me overcome my flight anxiety and get back in the air again. It was a significant day for me.
- I will share my tips for visiting Giant's Causeway in a detailed post. Let me just say, the Causeway experience is best when you are fighting the crowds. It really can be peaceful and so inspiring.
- After the causeway, we headed back for church. For more on our beliefs, click this link. After finishing services, we took a break and nap.
- When we went back, we went back up the coastline for Dunluce Castle. I was excited as this was going to be our first castle in Ireland. Let me say this about Dunluce, I was a little disappointed. Much of the castle was roped off, so areas to explore were minimal. You also could not explore the mermaid's cave beneath, which I had been excited about as well.
- I will also say though, that the area is spectacular. The castle is built right on the edge of a cliff and the views are second to none. So, take my opinion for what it is. Maybe more of the castle and caves will be open when you visit. Also to note, no drones are allowed. We brought ours with the idea we could get some great video of the area, but couldn't.
- The last stop for this day was the Carrick-De-Rede bridge. Everything on the Causeway route was close together, so it only took us about 20 minutes to get there. The whole surrounding area is just stunning.
- The rope bridge was open, but not deemed safe to cross. We let the boys go about halfway, but we were too nervous to cross all the way. Even walking the area is worth it. The cliffs are the perfect backdrop for the bridge.
- You can also walk down on the opposite side of the cliffs to another walkway. This will leave from the opposite side of the parking lot. You will see trails that are well maintained going along the cliffs and walking down towards the water. If you are physically able, I recommend going both ways.
- This was going to be our longest driving day of the whole trip. It took about 5 hours to get to Galway. The drive was beautiful and picturesque. Well worth the hours in the car. We did make a stop in Donegal, the cutest little Irish town for lunch and shopping. I really wish we would have had more time for exploring this area.
- Upon our arrival in Galway, we had a tour with Gerry from Taste and Tour Galway This was a shorter tour that gave a quick history of the area. Gerry also gave us a lot of suggestions for what to see, where to eat, and where to shop.
- We instantly fell in love with Galway. This vibrant city is a melting pot of cultures and has awesome energy. Again, I wish our trip could have been a few days longer so we could have had more time in the city itself.
- We had dinner at McDonaghs on Quay street for fish and chips. This is a very touristy area but also has a very fun vibe. Musicians playing in the street, tons of shopping, and decent restaurants and bars.
- While touring companies aren't normally our thing, we decided to take Galway Tour Company to Kylemore Abby, Cong, and Connemara. After self-navigating for several days, it seemed like a good time to let someone else drive and cater.
- The tour was very inexpensive at only $35 euros/per adult and $30 euros/per child. It was an all-day tour from 10 am to 6 pm. I feel like this is certainly a bargain compared to the other experiences we have been paying for.
- Our driver was fantastic. He was personable and navigated those narrow roads like a champ, much better than I had been in my little car.
- Our first stop was the quaint village of Cong. This lovely little place is where the Quiet Man was filmed. I had not heard of the movie, but the Irish are proud it was made here. The village has many sites dedicated to the movie, a beautiful old Abby, and picture-perfect streets.
- Next, we went through the wilds of Connemara. Had I been driving, this is not the route GPS would have taken me, but it was so worth visiting. We made several stops for photos, which you can see below.
- The last up was Kylemore Abby. I had seen pictures of this before the trip, but it was nothing compared to seeing it in person. Wow. Not only is the mansion itself spectacular, but the setting is so amazing. It is a tourist trap, to be sure, but a really well-done one. Also, make sure and eat at the restaurant on site, the food was really good!
- The way back was a different route, and no less beautiful than the way there. This rustic part of Ireland should not be missed!
- We took the 1 ½ hour drive to Cliffs Of Moher. This is a site everyone says you have to visit when you come to Ireland. There are many tours out of Galway, but we chose to drive and avoid the crowds.
- The drive down was easy to navigate using Google Maps again, they worked no problem in all our travels. My recommendation for visiting this area is to go when the crowds are more sparse. This is a favorite of the tour buses, so I recommend getting there between 7-9, or later at 6-8 pm. You can park in the parking lot. Your fee to get into the parking lot is also the pass to get into the visitor's center.
- The walkways up to the cliffs are easy to navigate and very safe. I am terrified of heights but did fine with the barriers they had up. My favorite view of the cliffs was on the Northside, near the O'Brien tower. The southside views are also spectacular though.
- I also think the visitors center is worth a visit. Not only will you find information on the cliffs, but the local area and history as well.
- From the cliffs, we headed to Caherconnell Fort and Sheepdog Farm. Out of everything we saw on our trip, this was in the top 5. It is a little out of the way, but so worth it! We paid for both the sheepdog demonstration and the fort tour. Both were so fascinating.
- After the fort, we headed to Doolin. It is a cute, quaint seaside town. We had originally planned to take the ferry over to Aran Islands from the port here, but it wasn't running yet. Instead, we did lunch and shopped for a bit instead.
- We headed to Killorglin, where we stayed at Rory's Place. This is such a cute little Bed and Breakfast. Rory and his wife were gracious hosts. Rory also gave us great information on this we shouldn't miss in the area. This was invaluable. If you plan on driving the Ring of Kerry, this is a great starting place.
- We left Rory's place early, heading to Slea Head Drive. We had debated between Ring of Kerry and Slea Head but ultimately went with Slea Head. It is a shorter drive, had the coastal views we were looking for, and was in the area we wanted to be in.
- Slea Head leaves from Dingle which was by far my favorite coastal town of the trip. The buildings are bright and beautiful, and perfect for exploring. It also has a lot of dining and shopping options. One recommendation I have is to visit Murphy's ice cream. They have several stores across Ireland including Galway and Dublin, but the original is in Dingle.
- After you pass through Dingle you enter the Slea Head Drive, the coastal scenic route. For someone like me with anxiety, the roads were terrifying, but the view was truly remarkable. The road winds along cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and there are many pull-offs with breathtaking views of the Irish Coast. The road was narrow like most of the roads we drove through on our trip, but we didn't encounter too much traffic.
- One of the stops we made was at Beehive Huts. This was an ancient structure and was named because of the honeycomb pattern of the houses. They weren't the actual beehives I was hoping for but they were a great stop regardless.
- We stopped at all the sites recommended and the views kept getting better and better. A favorite of the family was one of the filming sites from The Last Jedi. It was spectacular.
- After driving Slea Head, we headed back to Dingle for shopping and lunch. It is such a cute town with so much to offer. Next time we visit, I want to spend a few days here.
- Our next destination was Killarney where we would be staying the night. Once in Killarney, we took a Jaunting Car tour of the city. I am not sure if our driver wasn't that good, and others are better as guides, but we didn't love this.
- We stayed at another B&B this night in Kilbrittain. We chose it for its proximity to Kinsale, Cork, and Cobh.
- On this day we drove through some of the cute coastal towns in the area, then headed to some Medieval towns. The first was Waterford. We chose this town for the Waterford Crystal factory but wound up really loving the history it offered.
- It has a lot of Viking and pre-Viking history. The main part of this was the "Viking Triangle," which was a part of the city with several historical sites and museums to explore. It was so cool! Definitely add this town to your list.
- For the Crystal factory, I highly recommend the tour. It was really cool to see how their crystal pieces are made and to watch the craftsman's work.
- After walking around the town for a little bit, we drove to Kilkenny, where we stayed the night.
- Kilkenny is another medieval town with tons of history. What I loved about this area is the blending of old and new. You have these abbeys and castles in the middle of an urban shopping area. It all lines the river that runs through town. I would love to stay a few days here.
- We stayed at Mena House Bed and Breakfast. Catherine was such a great hostess. She made us feel welcome, the rooms were wonderful, she gave great tips, and the breakfast was amazing. I highly recommend this B&B.
- We chose to only spend one day in Dublin and the last full day in Ireland was it. Large congested cities are not our favorite places to vacation. I will say though, that we really enjoyed our time in the city.
- We started by visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral. It is so beautiful! It does get very crowded though. We went at about 11, and it was pretty packed. This made it a little hard to enjoy, but I still recommend it. Just get there earlier than we did. It was 7.50/adult and 6.50/child.
- Next, we did a ring-making class. This was an Airbnb experience I came across when we were planning the trip. It was a little expensive but so worth it! You get to make and design your own sterling silver ring. It is fun to have matching rings as a family.
- After this, we headed to Trinity College Libray. This is the famous library you see on most posts and social media when it comes to Dublin.
- The Book of Kells information and exhibit is awesome, but so is the long room in the library. One recommendation I have is to make sure and book your tickets early. Especially if you are there on a busy day. We didn't do this and had to come back a few hours later as that was the first open time.
- From the library, we headed down Grafton Street. Yes, it is super touristy but still fun. The area is vibrant and busy with tons of shopping and street musicians.
- For dinner we did Pacinos. Do yourself a favor and try it out. We all got different kinds of pizza and they were all good! Generally, we have a rule that we eat traditional foods when we are visiting other countries, but we made an exception here and I am glad we did!
- We stayed the night at Clayton Dublin Airport Hotel. It was a nice hotel for the few hours we were there. They have a free shuttle and that was what we were looking for as we had returned our rental car the night before we flew out.
- This was our travel day, so I don't have much to say.
- We flew with Aer Lingus, and they are a great airline to fly on. Their staff is some of the nicest we have met in our travels.
- The only cautionary tale I have with them is to use Verifly. I didn't use it going or coming back. On the flight from the USA, it wasn't a big day, but it was on the flight back.
- We waited in the Aer Lingus line for 3 HOURS. In all fairness it wasn't just them, there was something happening at the airport that day all the way around. We waited in security for at least another hour.
- They were aware of the situation and held our flight for us and others in the same situation. It was recommended to get to the airport 3 hours early, which we had done, so don't take that tip lightly. Do it.
- And, use Verifly. Their line was moving so much faster. I will make sure and do it next time we are flying Aer Lingus.
If you are planning the perfect trip to Oahu, I have suggestions for that as well. Or maybe you are looking for another European destination? We loved Portugal on our recent trip. Here are lodging suggestions for Porto. Or how about the best beaches in Algarve?
With all due respect, if you are not going to visit Cork and Kerry, you are missing Ireland in an important way. According to Keys, the well respected historian of Ireland who happens to be English, 70% of the volunteers that freed Ireland from British rule came from Cork and Kerry. Of course, Dublin is worth seeing. I would suggest spending at least 1 or 2 nights there to begin with. Driving to the North after landing is going to be very difficult with the jet lag and change of time. Going from the North to Galway should include a trip to Sligo also. From there drop down to Cork and Kerry for a couple of nights. Definitely 1 to 2 nights in Cork City. Then circle back to Dublin for a last night.
Thank you for that!! We debated long and hard what to do on this trip. I think we saw exactly what we wanted to see for this trip. Cork was on our list, but we changed our minds the day before. We had actually planned Cork, Kinsale, and Cobh, but it just didn't happen. Sligo was also on the list, but got cut as well. If we only had more time, it would make it as well. As far as heading north goes, Belfast is less than 2 hours from Dublin, so it wasn't bad for us. Maybe that would be for some, but it not for our crew. Happy travels!