Ireland is arguably one of the most picture-perfect summer road trip destinations. Come to Ireland to see breathtaking scenery, come for the friendly people, come if you want to slow down and get lost in the beauty of the simpler things in life: a cup of morning tea with fresh milk, a stroll through the market stalls, a self guided tour of abandoned castles, a laugh with friends over a pint at the local pub… the list goes on.
Ireland Road Trip Routes
You could easily spend an entire week in Dublin alone. But what’s the fun in staying in one city when you can rent a car and explore some back roads? Best of all, it’s possible to drive across the entire midsection of Ireland from the East coast to the West coast in about 2 hours.
Fun fact: Ireland is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia. Although the country is small in size, there is plenty to see.
When deciding the best route for your Ireland road trip it is going to be a tough call! Northern Ireland is known for its epic landscapes: dramatic cliffs, picturesque blue sea, and mythical rock formations. No wonder Game Of Thrones shoots scenes there! The capital, Belfast, is trendy with loads of history. It’s also home to the Harland and Wolff shipyard, the construction site of the Titanic.
However, if you are traveling from Dublin up to Northern Ireland things can get complicated. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and you will need to pass through border patrol, pay in Pounds instead of Euros, and spend extra on rental car fees.
My advice for first-time visitors would be to start in Dublin, head down South, and make your way to the West coast. You will be able to see a number of world-famous sights, get a taste of traditional Irish cities, and discover your own hidden gems along the way.
Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
For your road trip, I recommend that you give yourself a minimum of 7 days to complete the itinerary that I’ve put together. If you’re tight on time, then adjust your route as needed because let’s be real… any number of days in Ireland will be well worth it!
Explore the shops of the Temple Bar neighborhood, watch live music at Dublin’s oldest pub – Brazen Head, or take a brewery tour at the Guinness Factory.
Visit the grounds of the Kilkenny Castle, wander down the Medieval Mile, and grab a pint at Smithwick’s brewery.
Follow in the footsteps of Winston Churchill and kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, sample lots of delicious foods at the English Market, and admire the local architecture.
Check out the abandoned castles and abbeys along the winding country roads, stroll along the Kinsale harbor, and sit down for some Fish & Chips at Dino’s Family Restaurant…Yum!
Depart early to beat the crowds that flock to the Cliffs of Moher to admire the stunning landscapes that make it Irelan’ds top natural tourist attraction.
Navigate the buzzing side streets, check out the local artist markets, and listen to the many street performers.
Eat a traditional Irish breakfast, stop by Trinity college, and people watch as you walk down the River Liffey.
How to Rent A Car In Ireland
I can still hear my family reciting “Hard left! Wide right!” every time I turned at an intersection. Although nerve-racking at first, I guarantee you’ll feel an indescribable sense of accomplishment when you master driving in a foreign country.
To rent a car in Ireland you will need to provide a valid driver’s license, passport, and credit or debit card. Our total transportation costs were around $500 or $83 per day including the cost of gas and a 6-day car rental. After a quick comparison of rental car companies, we decided to go with Europcar because of its proximity to our hotel and low prices. Overall we received great customer service and a good-as-new rental.
Two tips that could save you big money when renting a car in Ireland is the type of vehicle you choose and whether you purchase rental insurance. In Ireland and most countries in Europe, rental cars are almost exclusively manual. Learning to drive stick shift will save a lot of money. The associate helping with our rental told us that an automatic car would have cost us 2x the daily price of a manual one. It’s also common to pay an extra daily charge for adding drivers to the contract.
Rental insurance is another added expense that you may not need. A little-known fact is that many U.S. credit card companies already provide rental car protection free of charge.
I suggest researching online or calling your credit company to see if your card includes rental car insurance benefits. I personally use the Venture from Capital One because of its many international travel perks and low annual fee.
When To Go On A Road Trip in Ireland
The high season for Ireland runs from June until September. The sun was shining for the majority of our trip in July but we still wore layers because of the unpredictable weather. It was noticeably more difficult to find accommodations during the peak season and for the budget traveler, there may be some initial sticker shock when looking at hotel prices.
Truth be told, I hate planning in advance. Two months before our trip, I struggled to secure accommodations because nearly everything had already been booked. With a lot of searching, I still managed to find some last minute steals for around $120 a night for 3 people staying in either an Airbnb or Bed and Breakfast.
Don’t wait until the last minute like I did. Plan your accommodations several months in advance and you will have a much easier time finding affordable lodging!
The most budget-friendly accommodation in Ireland is either a hostel, Airbnb, or Bed and Breakfast. Dublin was by far the most expensive city on our trip. For Dublin, I recommend trying to book a place near downtown so you can be within walking distance of the many city attractions.
If you are traveling during the summer months and are looking for a unique budget-friendly experience, stay at Trinity College. You will be in the heart of Dublin, the campus is iconic, and the prices are fair.
As expected, it is much easier to find reasonable lodging prices in Cork and Galway. Don’t be afraid to stay a bit further out of the main downtown areas and book a place in the countryside. It’s generally a better value and more spacious – plus you’ll have easy parking access and get to experience the local way of life.
What to Expect On Your Ireland Road Trip
On your journey around this magical country, you’ll see why Ireland is a bucket list destination! If you are doing your road trip right, you’ll get a little lost along the way. You don’t need to plan every detail of your trip. Our best days were the ones we didn’t plan. Other than accommodations and flights, make the trip an adventure and see where it takes you.
Don’t be shy! Make sure to ask for tips from your hosts or other local acquaintances that cross your path.
Irish people are friendly and like to have a good time. Strike up conversations with the locals and if they suggest you visit a hidden gem or restaurant in the neighborhood then there’s a 100% chance you should go check it out.
Side note: when you do go out to eat, you can choose to tip servers 10% at a nice restaurant and it is not necessary to tip bartenders or taxi drivers.
Except for the occasional nasty bits of weather that Ireland is infamous for, there isn’t much to complain about. Pack a raincoat and some extra warm layers or just drink lots of Guinness.