Ireland self-drive tours: 10 best ways you can do one

Ireland’s compact size makes it the perfect destination for a road trip as you can see a lot with just a car and a few days. So, here are the ten best Ireland self-drive tours.

Self-drive tours are one of the best ways to explore a new place. They place you in the driver’s seat (literally!) of your exploration, providing you with the freedom to do things at your own pace.

Plus, if you arrive somewhere and find it isn’t to your liking, you can head on somewhere new right away without having to wait for the rest of your tour group.

Exploring Ireland by car allows you to find hidden gems that aren’t on the main tourist trail. Plus, you can take unplanned stops along the way, which can sometimes be the very best!

So, if you’re planning a trip to Ireland, why not take control? Here are some ideas of great Ireland self-drive tours and the ten best ways you can do one.

10. Belfast to Dublin – the capital cities and everything in between

Start your tour in Belfast City.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

When visiting the island of Ireland, you can’t miss the two capital cities, Belfast and Dublin. So, basing your self-drive tour on these two destinations is a great place to start.

Spend your first day exploring the incredible city of Belfast, visiting its top attractions. These include Crumlin Road Gaol, Titanic Belfast, St George’s Market, and Belfast Castle.

Belfast has a great nightlife scene, including some of the cities most famous bars located in the Cathedral Quarter. So if you fancy a tasty meal or pint or two, end your first day here.

There are some great Belfast hotels to suit all budgets, from the iconic Grand Central Hotel, the stunning Ten Square, or the cosy 1852 Hotel.

Start day two by heading south on the M1 out of Belfast and follow the signs for Dublin.

Hillsborough Castle is not to be missed on our Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

About half an hour from Belfast, stop off at the historic village of Hillsborough. Here, you can explore Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, the official royal residence in Northern Ireland.

Hillsborough is also a great place to stop for some lunch as it is home to some fantastic restaurants, including The Plough Inn, The Parson’s Nose, and The Hillside.

After exploring Hillsborough, continue south on the A1 towards Newry and the Mournes.

Take a scenic drive along the Mourne Coastal Route or the Mournes Scenic Loop to take in some of the most stunning scenery Northern Ireland has to offer.

Enjoy some delicious fish and chips beside the sea in Newcastle before ending day two at one of County Down’s fantastic hotels. Check out The Slieve Donard, The Whistledown Hotel, or The Burrendale.

Newgrange is a must-visit historic attraction.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

On day three, you will cross the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. Head to Carlingford for a relaxing morning beside the lough and grab a tasty bite to eat at Strandfield.

After exploring Carlingford, continue south towards Drogheda. Make sure to visit some of the main attractions on your route, including Newgrange, Monasterboice, and the Hill of Tara. In Drogheda, visit the historic St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.

End your day with a delicious meal at Bru Bistro Bar and rest your head in one of Drogheda’s best hotels. We recommend Scholars Townhouse Hotel, Westcourt Hotel, or the Boyne Valley Hotel and County Club.

Dublin is a mainstay of Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

On day four of your Ireland self-drive tour, it’s time to head to Ireland’s capital city, Dublin. Continuing south from Drogheda, you should reach the city in around half an hour.

Dublin is a metropolis full of history. So, whether you want to delve into the culture or the high street, there will be something for everyone.

Find out more about the city’s past at some of its top attractions, such as Kilmainham Gaol, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, or the GPO.

Go for an afternoon stroll in St Stephen’s Green and visit the Museum of Natural History. Or head to the buzzing Grafton Street and splash the cash in Dublin’s high street.

You can’t visit Dublin without pulling a pint of Guinness for yourself. Thus, make sure you visit the iconic Guinness Storehouse while you’re in the city. Then, end your night by enjoying Dublin’s nightlife at the Temple Bar.

For a comfy place to rest your head, check out The Shelbourne, The Dean Hotel, or The Marlin.

9. The Ancient East – an underrated side of Ireland

Wicklow is the first stop on Ireland's ancient east.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Ireland’s Ancient East is often overlooked for the popular Wild Atlantic Way. However, it truly is one of the most incredible parts of Ireland. If you want an insight into Ireland’s history, then this is the self-drive tour for you.

Spend day one exploring Drogheda, Newgrange, and the Hill of Tara. Then, head to Wicklow. On day two, take a stroll around the incredible Powerscourt House and Gardens, and make sure to check out Ireland’s highest waterfall.

Spend the afternoon getting lost in the Garden of Ireland as you explore the beautiful Wicklow Mountains National Park and Glendalough.

Some of the best places to stay here are The Glendalough Hotel and Trooperstown Wood Lodge.

Hook Head Lighthouse is a great stop along one of our Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Start day three off with a delicious breakfast at Avoca Handweavers. Next, drive south towards Wexford, where you can visit the incredible Irish National Heritage Park and Hook Head Lighthouse.

End your night in Waterford, where you can explore the incredible Dunbrody Famine Ship and Waterford’s excellent museums.

Some great places to stay are the Granville Hotel, Faithlegg House Hotel, and the Waterford Marina Hotel.

Kilkenny Castle is a must-visit.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

For your final day exploring Ireland’s Ancient East, head to the ancient city of Kilkenny. Filled with medieval alleyways and cobbled streets, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

While here, you can’t miss the breathtaking Kilkenny Castle, which was founded after the Norman Conquest in Ireland. And for a truly Irish experience, make sure you check out the Smithwick’s Experience before it’s time to go home!

To rest your head, check out the Kilkenny Pembroke Hotel, Langton House Hotel, or Lyrath Estate.

8. Game of Thrones Tour – step onto the film set

Mussenden Temple is one of the main stops on our Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

If you’ve come to know Northern Ireland through HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones, then this could be the self-drive tour for you.

Starting in County Derry, visit the breathtaking Mussenden Temple, the ancestral home of the House Targaryen, before driving east towards Portstewart, where you will feel like you’re in Dorne.

Spend the night in one of the north coast’s beautiful hotels, such as Me and Mrs Jones, the Golflinks Hotel, or the Royal Court.

GOT fans will recognise Ballintoy Harbour.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

On day two, continue east to Ballintoy Harbour, where Theon was baptised in front of his sister Year, and Larrybane, where we were first introduced to Brienne of Tarth, before continuing to perhaps the most famous GOT site, The Dark Hedges.

Next up is Murlough Bay, where Davos Seaworth was shipwrecked, and the Cushendun Caves, where Davos Seaworth and Lady Melisandre landed ashore in season two.

After so much sightseeing, you’ll be ready for a restful night’s sleep, so check out the Ballygally Hotel or Further Space glamping pods for something a little different.

Castle Ward is one of the best stops on our Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

On your third day, drive south to Castle Ward, a must-visit for the House Stark fans as it served as Winterfell in season one. Not far from here is Inch Abbey, where Robb Stark was crowned King of the North.

Once you’ve finished exploring these medieval sites, continue south to the Haunted Forest, whose actual name is Tollymore Forest, to complete your Game of Thrones self-drive tour.

Great hotels in this area include The Slieve Donard, The Whistledown Hotel, or The Burrendale.

7. The cities of Ireland – a mix of modern and traditional Irish culture

Explore the cities of Ireland, starting in Dublin.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

If you’re more of a city person, you may want to explore all the incredible cities Ireland has to offer.

Start in Dublin, Ireland’s capital, where you can delve deep into Ireland’s culture and history, as well as making the most of its modern charm.

Spend a couple of days here exploring Dublin’s famous coloured doors, the majestic Trinity College Library, having a pint in the Temple Bar neighbourhood, and pull a pint of Guinness at the St James’ Gate brewery.

For a restful night’s sleep, book yourself into The Shelbourne, The Dean Hotel, or The Marlin.

Waterford is a historic city.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

The next city you need to visit in Ireland is Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city, where you can find out all you need to know about Ireland’s Viking history.

Other things to visit are the Waterford Crystal Factory and Store and the Copper Coast.

Some great places to stay are the Granville Hotel, Faithlegg House Hotel, and the Waterford Marina Hotel.

Cork is included in some of the best Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

About a two-hour drive from Waterford, you will come to Ireland’s second-largest city, Cork.

Here, you can take a stroll along the stunning River Lee, grab a bite to eat at the 18th-century English Market, and visit the enchanting St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

If you have time, take a trip out to the picturesque Kinsale, too.

Some great places to stay in Cork are Hayfield Manor Hotel, Metropole Hotel, and Montenotte Hotel.

Limerick is a bustling city.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

After Cork, head north along to Limerick, where you can visit King John’s Castle and the Hunt Museum, or, if you’re feeling peckish, make sure to check out the Milk Market.

Top places to stay in Limerick are No. 1 Pery Square Hotel and Spa, The Savoy Hotel, or Castleroy Park Hotel.

Next up, it’s time to head to Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2020: Galway.

Galway is one of the best stops on our Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

This beautiful city is a must on your bucket list of places to visit in Ireland. It is a haven of Irish culture, from its quaint pebbled streets to traditional Irish music, shops, and pubs.

Great places to stay in Galway are The g Hotel, the Hardiman, or the Nest Boutique Hostel.

Cross the border into Northern Ireland and visit the country’s second-largest city, Derry.

There is so much to see in Derry City.
Credit: Facebook / @CityHotelDerryNI

Explore the 17th-century city walls, see the sights of Derry Girls, and check out the quaint Craft Village.

The best places to stay in Derry are the Everglades, the Bishops’ Gate Hotel, or the City Hotel.

Titanic Belfast is a must on your Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

The final city on your cities of Ireland self-drive tour is Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.

Explore the Titanic Centre, visit Crumlin Road Gaol, and go shopping at Victoria Square before concluding your road trip.

There are some great Belfast hotels to suit all budgets, from the iconic Grand Central Hotel, the stunning Ten Square, or the cosy 1852 Hotel.

6. The Ring of Kerry – one of the most beautiful road trips in Ireland

The Ring of Kerry is incredible.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

If scenery is part of the reason you’re visiting Ireland, then you need to drive the Ring of Kerry. Starting and ending in Killarney, the scenery on this drive has to be seen to be believed.

Some of the most incredible stops on this route are Killarney National Park, Muckross Estate, Ladies View, Torc Waterfall, Kenmare, Skellig Islands, Ross Castle, and many more.

The full route is 120 miles long and can be completed in three hours. However, we’d advise leaving a couple of days at least aside to make the most of this road trip.

Great hotels include the Europe Hotel and Spa, Muckross Park Hotel, and the Lake House Hotel.

5. Northern Ireland self-drive tour – six counties in six days

Crumlin Road Gaol is a must-visit on your Northern Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

If you fancy exploring the six counties of Northern Ireland, then we have the Ireland self-drive tour for you.

Start in Belfast, County Antrim and explore all the city’s sights, including Cave Hill, the Titanic Centre, and Crumlin Road Gaol. Then spend your evening enjoying the city’s nightlife in the Cathedral Quarter.

Spend the night in the Grand Central Hotel, Town Square, or the 1852 Hotel.

No trip to Northern Ireland is complete without visiting Dunluce Castle.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

Day two takes you up north as you explore the wonders of the Antrim coast, including the Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle. Then, make your way across to County Derry, where you can visit the beautiful Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demense.

Check out the Everglades, the Bishops’ Gate Hotel, or the City Hotel for somewhere to rest your head.

Spend the morning of your third day exploring Derry City before making your way to County Tyrone to visit the impressive Ulster American Folk Park and the incredible OM Dark Sky Park.

Spend the night in County Fermanagh at one of the counties incredible hotels, including Finn Lough Luxury Hideaway, Lough Erne Resort, or Lusty Beg Island.

One of the best Ireland self-drive tours takes in Fermanagh.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Day four will see you explore the beauty of County Fermanagh, including Enniskillen town and castle, the beautiful Fermanagh Lakelands, the breathtaking Cuilcagh Mountains, and the amazing Marble Arch Caves.

Venture into County Armagh for your penultimate day in Northern Ireland, where you can get an insight into the life of St Patrick by checking out St Patrick’s trail starting at Armagh city’s two cathedrals. Navan Fort is also a great spot if you’re interested in history!

Head to Newry to retire for the night at the Canal Court Hotel or Killeavy Castle Estate.

The Mournes are truly magical.
Credit: Chris Hill Photographic for Tourism Ireland

Spend your final day in Northern Ireland exploring the wonders of County Down, starting with the majestic Mourne Mountains that sweep down to the sea.

Drive the Mourne Coastal Route, which will take you back to Belfast via North Down and the Ards Peninsula to experience the highlights of this grand county.

4. The Causeway Coastal Route – explore the land of giants

One of the best Ireland self-drive tours is the Causeway Coast.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Explore the stunning north coast of Ireland, home to breathtaking sea views, cliff faces, and historic sites.

Start in Carrickfergus on Belfast Lough, where you will see Carrickfergus Castle, and make your way up through Larne and the beautiful coastal towns of Ballygally, Glenarm, and Cushendum.

Drive through the spectacular Glens of Antrim and visit the inspiring Kinbane Castle before venturing to the hair raising Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Stop off at the beautiful White Park Bay before visiting the Giant’s Causeway, from which this route takes its name.

Spend the night in Bushmills at the Bushmills Inn Hotel or the Golflinks Hotel.

Binevenagh offers fantastic views.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

Wake up early and take a tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery before driving to the historic Dunluce Castle.

From here, continue west through the beautiful seaside towns of Portrush, Portstewart, and Castlerock, making your way to the stunning Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple.

Take in the scenic views of Binevenagh on your way towards Derry city, where you will conclude your two-day road trip of the Causeway Coast.

3. Dublin to Galway – what not to miss

One of the best Ireland self-drive tours starts in Dublin.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Dublin to Galway is the ultimate east to west Ireland self-drive tour starting in the capital and ending in the culture capital.

Spend day one exploring Dublin and all it has to offer from the Guinness Storehouse to St Stephen’s Green, Kilmainham Gaol to Grafton Street.

With plenty of options of places to eat, head out for a delicious meal before ending your day in the buzzing Temple Bar neighbourhood.

For a comfy place to rest your head, check out The Shelbourne, The Dean Hotel, or The Marlin.

Belvedere House is a must-visit.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

On day two, drive out of Dublin to Mullingar in County Westmeath. Visit Belvedere House and Gardens and the Cathedral of Christ the King. End the day with a pint in Danny Byrnes.

Some of the best places to stay in Mullingar are Annebrook House Hotel and Bloomfield House Hotel and Spa.

Day three will take you to Longford, where you can check out St Mel’s Cathedral and the Corlea Trackway, which dates back to the Iron Age. Then, for some excellent traditional Irish music, end your day in the local Edward J Valentines Bar.

Longford Arms Hotel and Spa and Lough Rynn Castle are two great accommodation choices in Longford.

Number two on our list of Ireland self-drive tours takes you through the midlands.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

On your penultimate day, it’s time to head for Roscommon. Here, you can visit Roscommon Castle, Lough Key, and Sacred Heart Church. End your night with great food and drinks in Regan’s Gastro Pub and Restaurant.

Stay in the Abbey Hotel or Hodson Bay Hotel, so you’re feeling rested for your final day.

Now it is time to head to Galway.

Galway is known as Ireland's cultural capital.
Credit: Failte Ireland

Explore the exuberant culture of Galway city or head to the natural beauty of Connemara National Park to make the most of your time here.

End your night in one of the city’s best pubs, such as O’Connells or Tigh Choili. Then retire to The g Hotel, the Hardiman, or the Nest Boutique Hostel.

2. The Wild Atlantic Way – one of the most beautiful roads in Europe

One of the best Ireland self-drive tours is the Wild Atlantic Way.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the must-drive roads in Ireland.

Travelling from Ireland’s most northern point to its most southern tip, it offers breathtaking scenery, cultural cities, and historical sights.

Start in Donegal at Malin Head, visiting Slieve League, Donegal Town, and Glenveagh National Park. Spend the night in one of Donegal’s hotels, such as Lough Eske Castle, Harvey’s Point, or Mill Park Hotel.

Achill Island is amazing.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

Travel south on day two towards County Mayo, travelling through Sligo, and if you have time, we’d recommend visiting the stunning Achill Island.

Great places to stay in County Mayo are Belleek Castle and Breaffy House Resort.

From here, continue south towards Galway, stopping off at Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey.

Great Galway hotels include The g Hotel, the Hardiman, and the Nest Boutique Hostel.

The Cliffs of Moher are a must on your Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Day four will take you past the iconic Cliffs of Moher and Dunguaire Castle as you make your way to Dingle. Spend the day exploring the stunning Dingle Peninsula and making the most of Dingle’s fantastic pub culture.

Great Dingle hotels include the Dingle Benners Hotel or Greenmount House.

On the fifth day of your Wild Atlantic Way adventure, it’s time to explore the breathtaking Ring of Kerry. There is plenty to see on this route, and it’s one of the best Ireland self-drive tours in its own right.

Great hotels in this area include the Europe Hotel and Spa, Muckross Park Hotel, and the Lake House Hotel.

The Beara Peninsula is breathtaking.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Day six will take you to County Cork along the Beara Peninsula. Spend this day taking in the views before visiting Blarney Castle and discovering Cork city.

Stay in the Hayfield Manor Hotel, Metropole Hotel, or Montenotte Hotel.

On your final day on the Wild Atlantic Way, explore the rest of County Cork, including Mizen Head – Ireland’s most southerly point. We also recommend visit the stunning towns of Cobh and Kinsale.

1. A full Irish road trip – see it all

One of the best Ireland self-drive tours takes in the island's highlights.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

If you’re going to do an Ireland self-drive tour and you have a couple of weeks to spare, then why not just see it all?

We recommend starting in Dublin and driving anti-clockwise around the country to end your trip in either Belfast or Dublin. Perfect for convenience as these two cities are home to Ireland’s main airports.

Your first day will be action-packed as you visit all the sights of Dublin. For a comfy place to rest your head, check out The Shelbourne, The Dean Hotel, or The Marlin.

Wicklow is known as the Garden of Ireland.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

After spending your first day in Dublin, drive south and spend day two exploring the Garden of Ireland, Wicklow. Visit the Wicklow Mountains National Park and Powerscourt House and Gardens.

Some of the best places to stay here are The Glendalough Hotel and Trooperstown Wood Lodge.

Day three will take you to Waterford and Kilkenny to delve deep into Ireland’s ancient history. Visit Waterford’s museums, the House of Waterford Crystal, and Kilkenny Castle.

Spend the night in the Granville Hotel, Faithlegg House Hotel, or the Waterford Marina Hotel.

You need to stop off at the Rock of Cashel on your Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

On day four, travel west and visit Tipperary and Cork. Stop off at the Rock of Cashel, kiss the Blarney Stone, and explore all the sights and sounds of Cork city.

Stay at the stunning Hayfield Manor Hotel, Metropole Hotel, or Montenotte Hotel.

Day five will see you explore the breathtaking Ring of Kerry.

The drive takes about three hours to complete without stopping. However, we’d recommend taking the whole day to truly take in the majestic scenery of the Ring of Kerry.

Check out the Europe Hotel and Spa, Muckross Park Hotel, or the Lake House Hotel.

King John's Castle in Kilkenny.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

On day six, travel north to the city of Limerick. Top sights here are King John’s Castle, the Hunt Museum, and People’s Park.

Some of the top places to stay in Limerick are No. 1 Pery Square Hotel and Spa, The Savoy Hotel, or Castleroy Park Hotel.

At your halfway point, it’s time to visit the stunning County Clare. Stop off at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, Burren National Park, and Loophead Lighthouse.

Some of the best hotels in County Clare are the fantastic Dromoland Castle Hotel, Armada Hotel, and Falls Hotel and Spa.

Day eight will bring you to Ireland’s capital of culture, Galway.

One of the best Ireland self-drive tours takes you along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

On your ninth day driving Ireland, visit County Mayo.

While here, make sure to head to the stunning Croagh Patrick, make the trip to the incredible Achill Islands, and explore the beautiful town of Westport.

For a great place to stay, try Ashford Castle, Breaffy House Resort, or the Ice House Hotel.

Day ten will take you through Sligo to the beautiful northern county, County Donegal.

You’ll see the incredible Benbulbin in County Sligo, then get to explore the Glenveagh National Park, Mount Errigal, and Slieve League in Donegal.

Some of the best places to stay in Donegal are Lough Eske Castle, Harvey’s Point, or Mill Park Hotel.

The Derry City Walls ooze history and culture.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Cross the border on day eleven to explore County Derry. See the city walls, explore the sights of Derry Girls and the incredible Guildhall.

Spend the night at the fantastic Everglades, the Bishops’ Gate Hotel, or the City Hotel.

Make your way along the Causeway Coast on day twelve.

One of the most scenic drives in Europe, the Causeway Coast is one of the best Ireland self-drive tours. Make a stop at Mussenden Temple, the Giant’s Causeway, and Dunluce Castle.

Check out the Ballygally Hotel, the Golflinks Hotel, or the Bushmills Inn Hotel.

You need to stop off at Belfast on our Ireland self-drive tours.
Credit: Chris Heaney for Tourism Northern Ireland

Explore Belfast on day thirteen.

Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. It has a rich culture and history to explore from Crumlin Road Gaol to St Georges Market, the Titanic Museum to Cave Hill.

Spend the night in the Grand Central Hotel, Ten Square Hotel, or the 1852 Hotel.

Visit the kingdom of Mourne on your final day in Ireland.

There is no better way to end your time in Ireland than a day exploring the terrific Kingdom of Mourne. This is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where the mountains sweep down to the sea.

If you’re spending the night, try out one of County Down’s fantastic hotels, such as The Slieve Donard, The Whistledown Hotel, or The Burrendale.

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