After driving the famous Icelandic Ring Road in 6 days, we realized it only wet our appetites to drive around another island as well. We happened to find one that is not too far from Iceland either, except we decided to take things a bit slower.
Ireland is the 20th largest island on earth, and roughly 75% the size of Iceland. In the north you have Northern Ireland, which is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. To the west and to the south of Northern Ireland is the Republic of Ireland, who claimed its independence from British rule in 1922.
Our 12 Day Itinerary covered both Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland. If you intend to follow our itinerary, it is important to check that you comply with the visa requirements for both.
What you will experience in Ireland is a rare mixture of 5,000 years of mysticism combined with advanced modern day living, and on this page we gladly share our amazing 12 days in Ireland with you.
Day 1 & 2 – Dublin
Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland. The city is rich with history and culture, and we started our journey of Ireland by exploring the city first.
Dublin airport is about 35 – 120 minutes away from the city center, depending on traffic and depending on your mode of transport. As you are likely to be tired from your flight, Day 1 will primarily be used to get to the city and to check yourself in where you will be staying while in Dublin.
We wanted to be central to the main points of interest in Dublin, and therefore ended up staying in an Airbnb on Camden Street Lower. From here we were within walking distance of all the attractions we wanted to see, and we were also able to experience Dublin like a local.
For a full itinerary which includes Ireland’s biggest cathedral, the world’s most famous medieval manuscript, the oldest pub in Ireland and more, be sure to read our post on how to do Dublin In A Day.
Day 3 – Newgrange & The Titanic Museum
After spending a full day and 2 nights in Dublin, we were eager to get out of the city and ready to see what the countryside had to offer.
While our stay in Dublin was amazing, the lack of sleep combined with walking long distances in the city gave us a great excuse to want to take a long but relaxing drive where we could just sit for most of the day.
For the rest of our trip we hired a car from Enterprise Car Hire in the city center. Getting there wasn’t the easiest, but we were able to take a tram which got us closer to the north. Even so, we still had to cover some distance on foot which proved to be difficult with our luggage. You may want to find a car hire a bit closer to where you stay, or pay a bit extra and make use of a taxi. However, we chose price over comfort since car hires in Ireland seems to be exorbitantly high compared to other parts of the world.
After completing the formalities at Enterprise, we were able to hit the road while it was still fairly early in the day. We were excited to be on the road and our first stop was at Newgrange.
We have all heard of ancient Stonehenge, right? And how old the Egyptian pyramids are! Well, step aside young landmarks and make way for the 5,000 year old Newgrange.
Newgrange is a prehistoric monument, dating back to about 3,200 BC. It can be described as an old “Passage Tomb” or “Passage Grave”. A Passage Grave is typically a narrow passage made of large stones, which leads into one or more burial chambers.
Newgrange is one of the oldest and best preserved Passage Graves, and is also known for the Winter Solstice illumination. Every year on 21 December the passage and chamber lights up (weather permitting), which is remarkable considering how old the construction is. We were there on 22 December and just missed the Solstice!
The Titanic Museum
From Newgrange we headed further north. The Titanic Museum is located in Belfast in Northern Ireland and about 127km from Newgrange. It takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours to get there.
On your way to the Titanic Museum, you will be crossing a country border into Northern Ireland. Speed limits are shown in Miles per Hour and not Kilometers per Hour. You also pay in Pounds and not in Euros, like you do in the Republic.
Read our post on Visiting Northern Ireland for more details of our trip to this amazing country.
Day 4 – The Causeway Coast & The Dark Hedges
After a good night’s rest and a decent breakfast, we headed to the North Coast of Northern Ireland. This was quite an exciting road trip for us, and the highlights of the day included:
- Dunluce Castle
- Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
- The Dark Hedges
- Sunset At Giant’s Causeway
As with our visit to Titanic Belfast on the day before, Day 4 formed part of our trip to Northern Ireland. Read our post on Visiting Northern Ireland for more details on the incredible Causeway Coast.
Day 5 – Achill Island
For Day 5 we wanted to do a 3 hour hike called Erris Head Loop in County Mayo. It is a far drive from Northern Ireland, but we could justify the distance for the day since we had a lot of ground to cover to make the entire 12 Day Itinerary work.
As you drive from Northern Ireland and back to the Republic, there is a lot of things to do and more places to see. However, due to bad weather we had to give most of those attractions a miss. When we got to Erris Head Loop it was raining so much we didn’t get to do the hike, and we had to make a change in our plans.
William Butler Yeats Grave
There is one stop you must make on your way to the west, and that is the grave of William Butler Yeats. The famous Irish poet who was a pioneer of 20th century literature was buried on the church grounds of the Drumcliffe Church in County Sligo.
Since we couldn’t hike Erris Head Loop, we decided to drive on Achill Island instead.
Achill Island was recommended by our host in Dublin, and he described the island as having a mystical feel to it. The island is marked by rugged mountains and sandy beaches. Due to the weather we couldn’t really get to most of the island either, but it was worth the visit considering our options.
Considerations For Day 5
To make the day worth your while you will have to leave Northern Ireland very early, as you will cover over 300 kilometers and will drive for at least 5 hours to get to Achill. Nevertheless, for our itinerary it was preferable to get to the west on this day, and since we left early we still had a few hours in the afternoon to explore the island.
You can sleep on Achill Island for the night, or anywhere on route to Westport.
Day 6 – From Achill Island To Doolin
Day 6 was another long day of driving for us, as we needed to get to Doolin for the next main attraction on our itinerary. We were halfway around Ireland and Mary, one of the locals we met, told us about the more scenic route we could take on our way to Doolin.
On your way to Doolin you will drive through Westport. Instead of staying on the main route, take the R335 towards Louisburgh. Your first stop will be Croagh Patrick on your left.
Halfway between Westport and Louisburgh is Croagh Patrick, a 764 meter high mountain and pilgrimage site. It is believed that St. Patrick completed a forty-day fast on the mountain, during which time he banished snakes from Ireland forever! (In case you are wondering… yes, there are no snakes in Ireland)
We only found out about Croagh Patrick the day before so we didn’t have enough time for the hike to the top. For that you would need about 4 hours, something we will want to do in the future on a return trip.
From Louisburgh To Killary Fjord
Continue on the R335 towards Louisburgh and then stay on the R335 after Louisburgh.
Driving down this stretch of the road was another tip from Mary, and the scenery was truly beautiful.
You will end up at Killary Harbour, which is said to be the only true fjord in Ireland. The scenery is beautiful and we enjoyed driving to Doolin via this detour.
Connemara National Park
If you have an extra 2 – 3 hours to spare, you may want to go for a hike on one of the trails in the Connemara National Park. We were experiencing cold weather and started to run low on daylight, so we decided to be on the safe side and drive through to Doolin instead.
You can visit the park’s website and find out more for yourself.
Our next main point of interest was the Cliffs of Moher, and we decided to stay in Doolin for 2 nights. Doolin is only 15 minutes away from the cliffs, and accommodation is reasonable.
After a long day’s drive, we were able to check in at a quaint but beautiful cottage.
There is a great pub in Doolin called Gus O’Connor’s Pub. The food is great, the atmosphere is truly Irish, and the fireplace is genuinely welcoming. They also have Guinness, of course.
Consideration For Day 6
If you also come from Achill Island you will be covering at least 280 kilometers for the day, and it might take you more than 5 hours in driving. As with every other day, there is a lot you could do in addition to just driving and experiencing the scenery.
If you want to climb Croagh Patrick, for example, it might be worth staying an extra day to make room for this on the itinerary.
Day 7 – Cliffs Of Moher
What do the movies Harry Potter, Excalibur, The Princess Bride, Leap Year and others have in common?
They all have scenes that were shot at the Cliffs of Moher, of course!
The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction. Last time we checked, it had a 4.8 out of 5 stars rating on Google based on more than 17,400 reviews!!
Even so, seeing is believing and we couldn’t wait to see for ourselves what all the hype is about.
The reviews are right, and no attempt from our side to convince you to go can do the cliffs any real justice. Therefore our advice is to go. Just go.
We headed back to our stay in Doolin where we rested from a long day of walking along the cliffs.
Day 8 – Dingle Peninsula
The Dingle Peninsula is about 3 hours from the Cliffs of Moher, and was an unexpected but pleasant surprise for us.
The peninsula is truly a beautiful piece of land, hailed by many bloggers as their favourite part of Ireland. In fact, Dingle Peninsula is so exquisite that National Geographic Traveler once called it “the most beautiful place on earth.”
You may decide to sleep off the peninsula and a bit closer to Kerry, but it worked well for us to sleep on the peninsula instead. We saw most of what we wanted to see on Day 8, with only a few extra stops early in the morning of day 9 of our trip.
The highlights of this leg of the trip were Inch Strand, Dunquin (Sheep) Harbour, the Gallarus Oratory, the Reask Monastic Settlement, and amazing pizza from a convenience store!
You can go to our post on the Dingle Peninsula for a more detailed explanation on what to expect and what not to miss.
Day 9 – Ring Of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a 179 km circular drive that takes you around the Iveragh Peninsula, which is the next peninsula after Dingle Peninsula.
Many people ask if they should do Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula, and our honest answer is you have to do both if you can. Having said that, Ring of Kerry is beautiful but in some ways similar to other parts of Ireland. It might therefore be worth choosing something else over Ring of Kerry if you are pushed for time.
We hit the road really early on the morning of Day 9, and we made one final stop at Inch Strand. We then headed in the direction of Killarney, and took the road that connects you with the Ring of Kerry.
Our first stop was at Rossbeigh Strand, which is a beautiful pebble beach overlooking the Dingle Peninsula.
As you continue on the route, you are greeted with more natural beauty.
Golden’s of Kells is a nice stop on-route, and you may want to get a coffee from the espresso bar.
On this route you will find a mix of nature and man-made beauty, and one of the more picturesque moments was this viaduct.
After a less eventful but still lovely drive for the day, we headed towards Robin Hill in Bantry where we stayed for the night.
Day 10 – Pretty Town’s And Impressive Castles
After a good night’s rest and a decent breakfast, our first stop was the quaint town called Kinsale. As with all destinations in Ireland, it is the journey that gets you there that should not be overlooked. We were greeted with beautiful landscapes while traversing the countryside.
Kinsale is about a 90 minute drive (about 78 km) from Robin Hill in Bantry. The picturesque town is most famous for its harbour, colourful buildings and gourmet food. Cosy Café is right next to the Pauper’s Well, and won the 2018 Best Restaurant / Café award as presented by the Kinsale Tidy Towns initiative. We definitely recommend the coffee:
The town is sure to brighten up your day. We enjoyed walking the streets that are guarded by pastel-coloured apartments.
Next we drove to Cahir Castle, which is about 1 hour and 20 minutes (102 km) from Kinsale.
Built in 1142, Cahir Castle is one of the oldest castles in Ireland, and also one of the largest. The castle is a medieval marvel which has been very well preserved.
The 1981 King Arthur movie called Excalibur was filmed at this location, and featured the now famous actors Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren. The garden also features Excalibur, “The Sword in the Stone”, with names of some of the extra actors who were also in the movie.
Rock Of Cashel
Rock of Cashel is only about 20 minutes (20 km) from Cahir Castle, and naturally the next stop you will want to make.
Thinking back on our visit to the Rock of Cashel, the phrase “Kings and Priests” comes to mind. Not only was the site the seat of brave kings, but it was also reserved for religious purposes as is evident by numerous graves on the site.
The structure is truly one of Ireland’s most iconic, spectacular historical sites, and the embodiment of what medieval Ireland must have been like.
It may be “A Long Way To Tipperary”, but it is surely worth it when you get there.
This concluded the highlights of the day, and our stay for the night was only 5 minutes away from the Rock.
Day 11 – County Waterford
The end of our trip was in sight, but not before one last but epic Bucket List Item which we had to tick off.
Disclaimer: if you never thought about sleeping in a real castle, you might want to after reading this!
However, before we talk about sleeping in a castle, we first have to talk about one of the most scenic drives of our entire Ireland visit.
The Copper Coast
Named after a time when copper was mined in the area during the 19th century, the Copper Coast is a coastal line stretching some 25km in the Waterford County.
For some reason this portion of Ireland eluded us during our initial planning, and the idea was to drive from Cashel straight to the city of Waterford. However, our host from the previous night recommended that we take the route along the copper coast instead of the main road.
We are glad we followed the advice we got (it always helps to listen to the locals), and shortly after leaving Cashel we were greeted by amazing scenery like this:
While the entire drive was just pure gold (excuse me copper), we were fortunate enough to stumble upon this little gem called Ballydowane Cove.
Also featured in National Geographic, this beach offers tranquility rarely matched by other beaches.
House Of Waterford
We completed the drive along the Copper Coast and made our way to the House of Waterford. Waterford is a Viking city, originally built in 914 A.D.
House of Waterford is a popular and well known crystal manufacturer, and the factory as well as display store can be found in the city.
Fitzgerald Waterford Castle
For most of us, the idea of sleeping in a castle is a pipe dream primarily for two reasons: firstly, many countries simply don’t have castles; and secondly, when you do find a well maintained castle that is not dilapidated, they tend to be very expensive to stay in.
Normally we wouldn’t pay near this much for accommodation. However, since it was our 3rd anniversary we decided to make an exception.
Waterford Castle is on an island called Little Island, and you have to take a ferry from the bigger island to get on to the smaller one. Once you are on the island, you follow a road that is surrounded by trees which makes you feel like you are in an enchanted forest. The castle, of course, is the magician’s big reveal.
The first emotion you experience when you see the castle is one of sheer exhilaration. After that, the excitement only increases as you discover the inside is even more amazing than the outside.
This was the last night of our trip, and we can’t think of a better way to end your tour of Ireland.
You can also search the map for alternative options in the area.
Day 12 – Head Back To Dublin Airport
Breakfast at Waterford Castle was really good and you wouldn’t expect to get anything less than a full spread, which included black and white pudding and even raw honey straight from the honeycomb!
We left Little Island more nostalgic than anticipated and wished we could have stayed at least one more night. However, the reality of the last day slowly kicked in and we had to press on. Dublin Airport is just over 2 hours (184 km) away from Waterford Castle and we didn’t want to miss our flight back home.