You need a break? How about doing an Ireland road trip? Dublin is just a bit more than a two hours flight from Europe. The friendly Irish people, the landscape and the relaxed atmosphere in traditional pubs make it easy to fall in love with Ireland. Mid May I explored Ireland with three of my best friends.
Its 17 years since we last did an Ireland road trip together. Many things have changed. There are new buildings and there is WiFi in almost every pub. But some things are still the same: The friendly and hospitable Irish people, the traditional live music sessions in the pubs and the tasty beer.
Do you want to know what to do in Ireland? Do you want to know where to stay and eat? Read on, we share lots of tips.
Day 1: Dublin to Bushmills in Northern Ireland – 258 km
From Dublin we drive up North. Our plan is to visit the Giant’s Causeway, the major tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. We get to Belfast within two hours mainly driving on the highway. In Belfast we leave the highway and follow the Causeway Coastal Route. Once we get away from the busy highway the landscape is changing totally.
Fantastic, we can see the sea. For the first time since we arrived in Ireland. The Causeway Coastal Route is a scenic drive which is leading us through narrow roads, sparsely populated areas and along the coast. A perfect start of our Ireland road trip.
Bushmills is the city we want to get to on our first day. The provincial town is starting point to visit the Giant’s Causeway, the hanging bridge Carrick-a-Rede, the Dunluce Castle or the Whiskey distillery Bushmills.
Things to see in Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway – A natural wonder
The well-known Giant’s Causeway was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986 by UNESCO. It is the most visited attraction in Northern Ireland. The area covers about 40‘000 columns of layered basalt. The basalt pillars look like man-made.
Most likely you have seen pictures of the Giant’s Causeway. An amazing area and a natural wonder I wanted to see for a long time already.
The entry for pedestrians is free. If you want to use the facilities or park your car on the official parking lot, you need to buy a ticket at the Visitor Center.
Entry fee: £9 adults (incl. parking and audio tour), £ 4.50 children
Address: 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8SU
The audio tour is worth the entry fee of £9, if you are interested in learning more about the area, the history and the legend of the Giant’s Causeway.
The Dunlace Castle is a medieval castle with a long history. The iconic ruins are located on the edge o the dramatic cliffs of the North Antrim coast. The ruin is a great photo opportunity on a sunny day. Unfortunately it’s raining cats and dogs the day we are in the area. We decide heading to Galway and skip a visit of Dunluce Castle. That’s a reason to come back to Northern Ireland on another Ireland road trip.
Entry fee: £5 adults, £3 children (4-16), £3 senior citizen & students (with ID)
Address: 87 Dunluce Road, Bushmills, County Antrim BT57 8UY
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – Hanging Bridge close to the Giant’s Causeway
If the weather conditions are good, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is worth a visit. The hanging bridge connects a valley which is about 20 meters long and 23 meters deep.
Check if the bridge is open for visitors the day you want to go. Due to bad weather conditions the bridge can be closed.
Entry fee: £5.90 adults, £3 children, £14.80 family
Address: 119a White Park Road, Ballintoy, Ballycastle, County Antrim BT54 6LS
Old Bushmills Distillery in Bushmills
The Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland is one of the oldest Whiskey distilleries worldwide. The tradition goes back more than 400 years. For a long time Old Bushmills was one of the only distilleries that produced the Irish Single Malt Whiskey.
Entry fee for tours and degustation: £7.50 adults, £6.50 senior citizen & students (+18 with ID only), £4.00 children
Address: 2 Distillery Rd, Bushmills, County Antrim BT57 8XH
Check out the official website www.discovernorthernireland.com for more details about attractions in Northern Ireland.
Accommodation and restaurant tips in Bushmills/Portballintrae
The Valley View und Country House is a nice and cosy Bed and Breakfast in Bushmills. The hosts are super friendly and caring. They also share lots of tips about the area. Ask for local advice. The B&B is located outside of Bushmills. There are no restaurants in walking distance.
Double room from £65 incl. breakfast (order the Full Irish Breakfast if you are not on a diet)
Address: 6a Ballyclogh Road, Bushmills, County Antrim BT57 8TU
The Porthole Bar & Restaurant in Portballintrae is the perfect place to finish the day. The restaurant offers beautiful sea view and while sipping a drink you can overlook the bay of Portballintrae. The food is excellent and prices are reasonable. You can choose from a variety of seafood dishes to Deluxe Burgers, there is something for everyone. Good deals are the set menus: 2 courses £13, 3 courses £16.
The Porthole Bar & Restaurant is located in the Bayview Hotel.
Double rooms from £109
Address: 2 Bayhead Road, Portballintrae, Bushmills, Antrim BT57 8RZ
Day 2: Bushmills (Northern Ireland) to Galway – 360 km
There are different options to get to Galway. We wanted to drive via Omagh to visit the Ulster-American Folk Park, an outdoor museum. We finally decided to skip a visit due to torrential rain. Change of plans lead us to Donegal.
2500 people live in the Irish town Donegal. The town center is charming and it’s nice to walk around. Donegal is perfect to stop for a coffee or meal on the way to the west. We check out the small local shops, the castle in the middle of town and finally go for a coffee to Simple Simons Healthfoods. The Salted Caramel Latte is delicious. Don’t miss Simple Simons if you pass by.
Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh (Northern Ireland)
The outdoor museum Ulster-American Folk Park is located in Omagh. You can learn a lot about Irish people who emigrated from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can visit more than 30 buildings from cottages to shops and banks. In the museum there is also an exhibition where you can learn a lot about the history of the Irish emigrants living in America.
The area is huge. If you plan to visit, you should calculate at least 3 to 4 hours.
Entry fee: £9 adults, £5.50 children
Address: 2 Mellon Road, Omagh BT78 5QU
Day 3: Shopping and pub crawl in Galway
Charming Galway. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining or if it’s raining. The shopping street in Galway is always busy, no matter what. The best place to start your tour around Galway is the Eyre Square. From there, go to the Shop Street which changes its name twice. Shop Street becomes High Street and then Quay Street. You can go shopping, rest in one of the traditional pubs and have a pint of Guinness.
Especially on a rainy day you have a good excuse to check out all the pubs in Galway.
Galway is also known as the party capital of Ireland. It doesn’t matter what day it is, there is always a party going on somewhere and you can dance almost all night long. Weekends are extremely busy.
That’s not all. There is a lot more you can do in Galway than shopping and partying.
6 things to do in Galway
- Relax at the Eyre Square in the city center
- Check out the National University of Ireland (NUI), amazing buildings and University feeling
- The Cathedral of Galway, great photo opportunity inside and outside
- Nicholas’ Collegiate Church in central Galway
- The Spanish Arch, relict from the old city wall of Galway
- Stroll along the coastline at Southpark
Tips for going out and partying: Pubs and Bars in Galway
Galway is a party town and there is always something going on. Galway has a lot to offer in terms of nightlife. Everybody who visits Galway will sooner or later end up in a pub with traditional live music or dance in one of the bars or clubs. The atmosphere in the busy pubs is great and it is hard to leave early. Here are a few recommendations. Check it out during your visit to Galway.
The Skeff Bar – 27 Eyre Square
Noble pub with nice interior. Different bars and good food. Great beer selection. Try a pint of Smithwick’s.
Taaffes Bar – 19 Shop Street
You love Irish live music before or after dinner? Don’t miss out to visit Taaffes Bar for the live music sessions starting 5.30 and 9.30 pm. Awesome atmosphere and typical Irish.
The Kings Head – 15 High Street
Historical bar with a modern touch. A very popular place. Great food with a large selection of snacks and meals. Order different snacks and try a little bit of everything. The Chicken Wings are amazing. Different bars, three floors and daily free live music.
Quay’s Bar, Restaurant & Music Hall – 11 Quay Street
Quay’s is cool whether you sit outside on the terrace or inside the pub. Ouay’s is usually busy and loud, like it should be in an Irish pub. The lower floor is very popular for dancing if the live band is playing. There is also a bar on the lower floor.
Accommodation in Galway
My personal tip is the Bayview House B&B (approx. 15 minutes walking distance to central Galway). Very friendly host and great breakfast (order the Full Irish brekkie)
Double room from EUR 80 (check for special deals during the low season/winter months)
Address: Moneenageisha Cross, College Road, Galway
If Bayview House B&B is fully booked, you can ask for recommendations or check out College Road. You will find plenty of B&B’s there.
Day 4: Galway to the Cliffs of Moher – 76 km
The world famous Cliffs of Moher are definitely one of the main attractions of a trip to Ireland. If you do an Ireland road trip you most likely will stop here. Up to a million visitors per year are coming to the West Coast to see the Cliffs of Moher which are more than 200 meters high. I’m sure you either visited the area yourself or you have seen pictures of the spectacular cliffs somewhere.
It is 17 years since I last have been here. What a weird feeling. The cliffs have not changed and they are still breathtaking. The infrastructure was very basic back then. Today there is a Visitor Center with a restaurant, a shop, amenities, an ATM and WiFi.
We bought the tickets at the parking lot and headed directly to the big viewing platform. From there you can either head to the South or up North. We first enjoy the view from the platform with many other visitors.
We are heading in northern direction and get to the O’Brian’s Tower where we enjoy spectacular views. It’s fresh and pretty windy but sunny.
We are on the Cliffs Coastal Trail now and in the far distance we can see the Aran Islands.
In the area you can spot up to 35 bird species, especially if you are walking south from the main platform. Try to spot the puffins; they are also called the clowns of the sea. They have such a cute face.
Strong winds are common at the Cliffs of Moher and sometimes these winds create big waves at the cliffs. The Aileen’s Wave is one of the spots where locals go to catch the perfect wave. Be aware, Aileen’s Wave is for advanced surfers only.
Cliffs Coastal Trail – 20 km from Liscannor to Doolin
Are you a serious walker or hiker? How about doing the full Cliffs Coastal Trail? The 20 km trail connects Liscannor and Hags Head with Doolin. It’s a spectacular walk along the coastline.
Entry fee Cliffs of Moher: EUR 6 adults, EUR 4 senior citizen/students, children under 16 FOC
Entry fee O’Brien’s Tower: EUR 2 adults, EUR 1 children
Address: Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Irland
You find more information on the official website: www.cliffsofmoher.ie
Next stop Day 4: Cliffs of Moher to Ardrahan – 56 km
Ardrahan is the final stop on Day 4 of our Ireland road trip. The village of Ardrahan is about 30 km from Galway city and not on the normal tourist route. We stop there because we want to visit a friend. He is a local and tells us about the best seafood restaurant in Kilcolgan, about 7 km to the North from Ardrahan. Luckily our friend made a reservation for the table about a week before and we can’t wait checking out Morans the Weir in Kilcolgan.
Morans is famous for its excellent food. The menu looks promising and we try the specialty of the house, the Oysters.
You can check the menu and prices on www.moransoystercottage.com
It’s recommended to make a reservation. Morans is popular and often fully booked. Tel. +353 (0)91 796113 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: The Weir, Kilcolgan, County Galway – GPS coordinates 53° 12‘ 38“ N 8° 53‘ 44“ W
Day 5: Ardrahan to Dublin – 205 km
On the way from Ardrahan to Dublin we stop in Tullamore. We walk around town and end up in the gift shop of the Tullamore Distillery. If you want to know more about the history, do a whiskey tasting or discover untold secrets, ask at the info desk in the store for tours. We have no time to do a tour, because we have to return the car in the afternoon at Dublin airport.
Our Ireland road trip comes to an end. It was fabulous and I’ll definitely return one day.
What about Dublin?
This time we skipped Dublin because we had not enough time. Do you have tips for Dublin? We would like to hear them. Feel free to share your Dublin tips with us.
Tips for planning your trip
Flight from Zurich to Dublin
A bit more than a two hours flight and you are in Ireland. From Zurich you can book direct flights with Aer Lingus and Swiss, both of which have good deals. The prices vary depending on the day and time of travel. Check different times for better deals.
You can fly with Aer Lingus for less than EUR 120 return in low season. Expect to pay a lot more in high-season, especially during the European summer months.
How to rent a car for your Ireland road trip
There is a wide range of rental car services you can choose from. It doesn’t matter if you choose for example Sunny Cars, Avis, Europcar or Sixt. All of them have good deals. We booked Sixt and we were happy with the service. It was good value for money.
You get a compact car from EUR 30 per day excluding extra costs for insurance, GPS, WiFi and additional drivers. Make sure you have unlimited mileage included. Before you book think about what you need and which coverage is useful for your trip. Prices for rental cars vary depending on the season.
Usually, when you pick up the car the companies try to sell you additional insurance. If you know the details of your booking you can easily answer to their questions.
Direct booking with the rental car company is recommended
We booked through an agent and therefore we had to deposit EUR 1500. If you book directly with Sixt, a deposit of approx. EUR 200 is sufficient.
Currency in Ireland and Northern Ireland
The currency for Ireland is the Euro. For Northern Ireland it is the Pound Sterling.
The B&B we stayed in Northern Ireland accepted Euros too, but be aware that the exchange rate may not be the best.
1 EUR = 0.77 GBP (£)
1 GBP (£) = 1.30 EUR
Have you ever been to Ireland? What did you like most about Ireland? Share your tips in the comments.