Self-drive holiday tips and itineraries

Road tripping Ireland with Castle stays – 12 day self-drive itinerary

24 February, 2015 (Last Updated: 14 May, 2020)
by Carolyn
Slee Head Ireland

If there’s one country that is perfect for a driving holiday it is Ireland. With an abundance of spectacular scenery and a number of designated scenic routes, like the Wild Atlantic Way and the Ring of Kerry, Ireland is an easy and unforgettable destination to explore by car.

To make your road trip around Ireland even more special, why not include a stay in a castle?

You’re certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to castle stays in Ireland but if your budget doesn’t quite stretch that far, manor houses and stately homes also offer a great experience.

Tourism Ireland have a number of brochures available that include information for visitors planning a self-drive holiday in Ireland, including suggested itineraries. I’ve slightly adapted their 10 day driving itinerary for a great overview of the country and included some castles that you might like to consider spending a night at.

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12 Day Self-Drive Itinerary of Ireland with Castle Stays

DUBLIN – WATERFORD – CORK – KILLARNEY – LIMERICK – GALWAY – WESTPORT – DONEGAL – LONDONDERRY – BELFAST – DUBLIN

Day 1 – Arrive Dublin

Dublin pub scene
The Irish are well-known for their hospitality and jovialty and pubs are a popular place to catch up with friends.

Arrive Dublin and transfer by public transport to your accommodation (you’ll collect your hire car on day 3).  Depending on your time of arrival you may have time to start your sightseeing.

Castle stay suggestion: Clontarf Castle. Check rates here.


Day 2 – Dublin sightseeing

Full day sightseeing around Dublin. Consider taking a Hop On Hop Off bus tour for a great overview of the city or partake in one of the many walking tours available in the city. 

Other things to do in Dublin include Trinity College and the Book of Kells, Guiness Storehouse, St. Stephens Green and the National Gallery of Ireland.

Be sure to visit one of Dublin’s pubs, many of which are located in Temple Bar, Dublin’s cultural quarter.


Day 3 – Dublin to Waterford

Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, Ireland
Not only is Powerscourt Estate home to 200 hectares of gardens, it is also where you’ll find Ireland’s highest waterfall.

Collect your hire car and drive to Waterford.

En-route you might like to visit Powerscourt Estate and its 20 hectares of gardens, stop off at Curracloe where the beach landing of the movie Saving Private Ryan was filmed, or just enjoy the scenery in County Wicklow which is also known as the ‘Garden Country of Ireland’.


Day 4 – Waterford to Cork

There’s plenty of majestic scenery along today’s route including the Copper Coast, a UNESCO Global Geopark.

Quaint villages and cliff paths offer plenty of choice for your lunch time stop and make sure you make it to Midleton before closing time to enjoy a whiskey tour at the Jameson Experience.


Day 5 – Cork to Killarney

A morning can easily be spent enjoying the city of Cork, Europe’s 2005 Capital of Culture. Then head south to Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southerly point, before turning north towards Killarney.

Castle stay suggestion: Ballyseede Castle (near Tralee). Check current prices here.


Day 6 – Killarney & Dingle Peninsula sightseeing

Ring of Kerry, Ireland
Pretty scenery on the Ring of Kerry.

Enjoy a full day discovering the Ring of Kerry route, a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. The Gap of Dunloe and Derrynane House offer some of the best views.


Day 7 – Killarney to Limerick

Drive through the rolling farmland to the pretty village of Adare before continuing on to Limerick where you can visit King John’s Castle.

Castle stay suggestion: Dromoland Castle. Check rates here.


Day 8 – Limerick to Galway

Just out of Limerick, you won’t want to miss Bunratty Castle and Folk Park then head via Ennis to the Cliffs of Moher. From here, follow the coast road around Galway Bay into Galway city.

Castle stay suggestion: Ashford Castle.  Check rates here.


Day 9 – Galway to Westport

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Ireland
The impressive Kylemore Abbey must be one of the most photographed buildings in Ireland. With this location, it’s no wonder!

Today’s drive takes you through the heart of Connemara. Kylemore Abbey is a popular stop as is Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord.


Day 10 – Westport to Donegal

You’ll find world-class surf breaks at Inishcrone and can then immerse yourself in literature in Sligo, the spiritual home of WB Yeats.

Castle stay suggestion: Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa. Check rates here.


Day 11 – Donegal to Londonderry

Today’s route heads through the remote bogland on the road to Ardara before hugging the coastline as you drive further north. Then turn eastwards to Londonderry and her famous city walls.


Day 12 – Londonderry to Belfast

Giant's Causeway, Ireland
The Giant’s Causeway is made of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns and was Ireland’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are numerous highlights to include in your itinerary today. The Causeway Coast, Dunluce Castle, Bushmills (Ireland’s oldest working whiskey distillery), the fascinating Giant’s Causeway and the not-for-the-faint-hearted Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

After a day full of jaw dropping sights, head into Belfast.


Day 13 – Belfast to Dublin

If you’re pushed for time take the M1 back to Dublin but if you can detour via the coast along the Irish Sea.

This is nature’s paradise and there are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy nature reserves and wetlands or to just take in the spectacular views on your final day in Ireland.


Summary

The above itinerary covers a total driving distance of approximately 1,700 kilometres. You should allow a minimum of 10 days after leaving Dublin to cover this route.


Driving info for Ireland

  • Driving in Ireland is on the left hand side of the road, as in Australia.
  • Distances in the Republic of Ireland are measured in kilometres but in Northern Ireland they are measured in miles.
  • It is a requirement by law that drivers’ carry a valid drivers licence at all times.
  • Some car hire companies may request to see an International Driving Permit when collecting your hire car.
  • It is highly recommended that you pre-book your car rental before arriving in Ireland.

For more information about self-drive holidays in Ireland, visit Tourism Ireland’s website.

Photos courtesy of Tourism Ireland

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