Ireland Road Trip Itinerary for Families
Last summer, we took an unforgettable family road trip around Ireland and Northern Ireland. We received a reader comment on our Facebook page asking about the specific route we took around Ireland.
Shortly after returning from Ireland we wrote a blog post that shares the highlights from this road trip, but we realized we didn’t actually write a detailed post about our road trip itinerary – bad travel bloggers!
Let’s fix that today, shall we.
Road trips are always a good idea, especially with young families.
We love the freedom and flexibility you get while being on the open road. The freedom to choose where you want to go, when you want to go, and how fast you want to go. You can slow things down or speed things up – it’s entirely up to you!
After reflecting on previous road trips with our boys, we added a few more requirements:
- Spend no more than 3 hours of drive time each day
- Find hotels that have a swimming pool
- Try to spend two nights at each hotel to reduce the packing and unpacking
- Include one kid-friendly activity each day
- Pick-up and drop off the car rental at the Dublin airport
We spent the next few weeks experimenting with different itineraries. Our flights arrived and departed from Dublin, so that was an easy start and finish point. But after spending a few days in Dublin, should we go north, south or west?
Here’s our recommended 2 week Ireland road trip.
Dublin – Nights 1, 2 & 3
We spent the first 3 nights in Dublin. Our first night was spent recovering from jet-lag and getting used to our new environment. It’s a 9 hour time difference from Vancouver, so that messed with our boy’s internal clocks. Big time. It took a solid 3 days for them to adjust.
We did NOT pick up the rental car when we arrived at the Dublin airport.
We knew we’d be very tired after the 10 hour overnight flight and we didn’t want to risk getting lost or in an accident because we weren’t thinking straight.
Remember – Ireland drives on the left side of the road.
It wouldn’t have been a good idea to drive on the opposite side of the road, in a new city, after 13 hours of travel with two boys under five years old. It sounded like an awful idea, actually.
Fortunately, we had a family member pick us up from the airport and bring us back to her place. Our flight arrived at 8:00 AM but the apartment rental was not available until 4:00 PM. We needed sleep and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of picking up the rental car with low energy.
We did not intend to actually start the road trip until Day 4, so it didn’t make sense to pay for additional car rental days and expensive city parking (30 Euros per day).
Instead, we picked up the rental car on Day 3 (the day before leaving Dublin).
This gave us plenty of time to explore Dublin, acclimate to the new city and get some experience with left-handed cross walks. We took a taxi to the airport and drove the car back to the apartment.
Day 1 was spent adjusting from the nasty jet-lag, which left us with two full days to explore Dublin. We did a lot of walking along the River Liffey and Temple Bar District and we visited the Guinness Storehouse, which was a lot of fun and worth the visit.
Family travel tip – the pubs in Ireland are very kid friendly. Unlike Canada, this means you can enjoy a pint of Guinness at the pub/bar with your kids in tow. No babysitters, yeah!
Where to stay in Dublin?
We rented an apartment in the Spencer Dock neighborhood, located on the east side of Dublin, north of the River Liffey. It’s a nice, clean area that is relatively central. We were able to walk to the Temple Bar district in 25 minutes.
We stayed at the IFSC Dublin City Apartments. It was a two bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and separate living space. It was modern, clean and priced well. We would recommend staying here.
Blarney & Cobh – Night’s 4 & 5
We chose Blarney as our next destination because of it’s close proximity to both Cork and Cobh. Blarney is most famously known as home of the Blarney Castle (and kissing the Blarney Stone).
We decided to spend two nights in Blarney because we wanted one full day to visit the castle and spend the afternoon in Cobh, an adorable seaside village that was the Titanic’s last port of call in 1912.
The drive from Dublin to Blarney
Leaving Dublin, we traveled south on the M50 and connected to the N11. We drove through Bray and continued south to the M11. This was a nice, easy stretch of highway.
We stopped in Enniscorthy for lunch. It took us a little over an hour to drive from Dublin to Enniscorthy (although we did get a little lost trying to get out of Dublin). It’s a cute town with an old castle in the center. We spent about 1.5 hours in Enniscorthy and then continued southwest on the N30, towards New Ross. We then traveled south on the N25 towards Youghal, passing Waterford and Dungarvan.
We spent about an hour in Youghal. The drive from Enniscorthy to Youghal took us about 1.5 hours. We ran into some construction on the way, so that slowed us down. We continued from Youghal to Blarney, which took about 45 minutes. The full trip took about 6 hours, with two stops that accounted for 2.5 hours.
At most, we only spent about 1.5 hours in the car between stops.
If you want to get from Dublin to Blarney/Cork faster you can take the M8, the main highway. This would take you approximately 3.5 hours of straight driving.
Read next: The Blarney Castle – is it worth visiting?
Although the weather was wet and overcast, we really enjoyed visiting Cobh.
We love the old architecture and colourful buildings. We hopped on a tourist train that took us around town and showed us the highlights. We had lunch and strolled along the waterfront.
We spent about 3 hours in Cobh. It took us about 45 minutes to drive from Blarney to Cobh.
After Cobh we visited the infamous Blarney Castle.
When we arrived at the front entrance it was pouring rain. We contemplated skipping the attraction but decided to brave the rain. Good thing we did. By the time we made it to the top of the castle it was sunny and warm (see above photo).
We wrote a blog post about our visit to the Blarney Castle. You can read it here.
Where to stay in Blarney?
We stayed at the Blarney Golf Resort, located just outside the town of Blarney in the countryside. We stayed here because it was close to the Blarney Castle and, most importantly, it has a swimming pool.
We really enjoyed our stay at this hotel. The restaurant is nice and the rooms are spacious. Because the property is in the country, it’s quiet and peaceful in the evenings. The boys had fun running on the fields of grass, swimming in the pool and playing in the mini-playground/kids room.
Ennis or Limerick – Night 6
This is the point in the road trip where you have decisions to make.
If you want to tackle the southern part of the Wild Atlantic Way, you can head south from Cork towards the coast. You can also venture west, towards Killarney. The southwestern coast of Ireland is said to have some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island.
You could dedicate an entire week to this region.
We made the decision to skip this coastal region because it would have meant many hours of driving each day. If we weren’t traveling without our boys we probably would have spent more time driving the southern section of the Wild Atlantic Way, but asking them to spend 6-7 hours a day in the car is too much for them at this age.
We traveled from Blarney to Limerick and stayed one night at the Absolute Hotel Limerick. It’s a nice boutique hotel with modern decor and spacious rooms. The breakfast buffet is awesome.
However, if we had to do it over, we would probably stay in Ennis instead. Limerick is fine, but there wasn’t much to do and the traffic was quite frustrating. The riverfront walk is nice and King John’s Castle is quite impressive.
Ennis is a traditional Irish town that’s loaded with character. It has narrow streets, historical buildings and it is much smaller than Limerick.
If you decide to stay in Ennis, check out the Treacy’s West County Hotel. It has fun bunk beds for kids and a swimming pool. Overall, it looks like a great family hotel. And it’s priced well.
The drive from Blarney to Limerick
We left Blarney and drove north on the N20, towards Mallow. The goal for the day was to visit the Rock of Cashel, another top attraction in Ireland. It’s not really on the way to Limerick, but it only adds an hour or two to the drive time. At Mallow, we took the N73 east towards the M8.
We stopped in the town of Cahir to have lunch and check out Cahir Castle. We were pleasantly surprised by Cahir Castle and didn’t understand why it’s not higher on the list of top tourist attractions in Ireland.
After about two hours in Cahir we realized we didn’t leave enough time to properly visit the Rock of Cashel. It also started to rain heavily, so we decided to skip it and push on to Limerick.
We arrived in Limerick during rush hour, which was not a good idea. The traffic congestion and one way streets in Limerick are quite frustrating. You can bypass Limerick and take the N18 to Ennis instead. Add another 30 minutes of drive time.
Cliffs of Moher
The reason we spent a night in Limerick was because we wanted to visit the magnificent Cliffs of Moher (pictured above). Arguably Ireland’s most impressive natural attraction, the Cliffs of Moher should be included on every Ireland road trip itinerary.
It took us about 1.5 hours to get from Limerick to the Cliffs of Moher. We passed the charming seaside towns of Lahinch and Liscannor along the way. Both of these towns are also good options for a one night stay, instead of Limerick.
The park at the Cliffs of Moher is quite big and hilly. If you have a stroller, bring it with you. It can get quite windy along the cliffs, so jackets and sweaters are recommended (evening if it feels warm outside). We also suggest you bring a blanket for the kids and plenty of snacks. There is a cafeteria at the facility.
We spent about 2 hours at the Cliffs of Moher.
The drive from Limerick to Galway City
After the Cliffs of Moher we drove a section of the Wild Atlantic Way towards the city of Galway. The coastal drive is quite narrow and windy. Although the actual distance is not far (about 75 km), it took us about 3 hours to get from the Cliffs of Moher to Galway. We couldn’t drive much faster than 30-40 km/hr.
The views and landscapes on the south side of Galway Bay are spectacular. Rolling green hills, stone-walled twisty roads, dramatic sea cliffs, ancient stone castles. It’s exactly what you’d expect when you think of Ireland.
Family travel tip – bring children’s Gravol for the drive. When we say the roads are windy, we mean really windy. Our oldest boy is prone to car sickness. He did not enjoy this part of the road trip.
Make sure you dedicate time to visit Dunguaire Castle. See below.
Galway – Night’s 7 & 8
We decided to spend two nights in Galway because we wanted to have one full day to explore the city and we knew we’d be arriving late after our day at the Cliffs of Moher. Galway City is a big, bustling city. It’s one of the bigger cities in Ireland. Unfortunately our sightseeing plans were dampened by the rain.
We decided to escape the rain by visiting the Galway Atlantaquaria, Ireland’s largest Native Aquarium. It’s not a very big aquarium but it has plenty of exhibits to keep the little ones entertained on a rainy day.
Where to stay in Galway?
We stayed at the Clayton Hotel Galway. The location is ideal for road trippers because it’s next to the N6 highway. But there’s nothing else around and it’s far from the city center. You will need to drive or taxi to the city center from this hotel.
The room we stayed in was quite big and spacious. The hotel has a swimming pool and the onsite pub is quite good. It was a comfortable stay. We would recommend this property for road trippers, but not for people who want to be closer to the action.
Sligo – Night’s 9 & 10
After Galway we traveled north to the town of Sligo. A highlight from our time in Sligo was exploring the Sligo Abbey, an old abbey ruin originally built in 1253 and restored several times over the years.
The boys had fun running around the grounds and pretending they were brave knights fighting the ghosts that lived in the shadows of the old stone buildings.
After visiting Sligo Abbey we visited Strandhill, an Atlantic facing coastal village located 5 miles west of Sligo. We explored the tall grassy sand dunes on the beach and stopped into Mammy Johnston’s Ice Cream Parlour for some tasty homemade ice cream and hot cafe lattes.
Where to stay in Sligo?
We stayed at the Radisson Blu Hotel Sligo. The hotel has a great indoor swimming pool and the food at the pub style restaurant is quite good. The breakfast spread is also very good. Our room was clean and modern but it was small and the air conditioner did not work, so it got quite hot at night.
The hotel is located outside the city center but it’s still a great location. It’s about a 10 minute drive from the hotel to the city center.
The drive from Galway to Sligo
We decided to break up our drive from Galway to Sligo with a visit to the Kiltimagh Pet Farm. It was a good idea to add a kid-friendly activity each day. It gave us negotiating power when they started getting cranky and resistant to the long drive times in the car.
The Kiltimagh farm is not very big, but it has enough animals to keep the kids busy for an hour or two. We had a little trouble finding the place because it’s located in the countryside.
The drive took about 4 hours, including the visit to the farm.
Portrush, Northen Ireland – Night’s 11 & 12
The next stop on our Ireland road trip was Portrush in Northern Ireland. Our plan was to visit the popular Giant’s Causeway, so we needed a homebase for a couple nights.
Portrush is the perfect family destination. It’s home to Barry’s Amusement Park, the largest theme park in Northern Ireland. It first opened it’s doors in 1926 and it still has a 1950’s vibe. The town has several other arcades and game rooms, which made our boys quite happy.
The seaside resort town is widely known for its sandy beaches and world class golf courses. We enjoyed wandering the streets and admiring the architecture in the old part of town. It’s not very big, so it’s very walkable and stroller friendly (in most places).
Where to stay in Portrush?
We stayed at the Portrush Atlantic Hotel. The location is excellent. It’s located in the heart of the old town, a stone’s throw from the water. Our room was ocean facing, which was nice. The rooms are small but functional and comfortable.
The restaurant in the hotel is good. We ate dinner there twice and enjoyed the food, service and atmosphere (but that might be the delicious Guinness talking). Breakfast was included. It was a traditional buffet style with the standard British items you’d expect.
We would recommend staying at this hotel.
The drive from Sligo to Portrush
It rained heavily on our drive from Sligo to Portrush, so we decided to skip the sightseeing and drive directly to Portrush. We stopped at a gas station to fuel up and get a snack, but that was it. The whole trip took about 3.5 hours, from door to door.
The Giant’s Causeway
Located on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, near the town of Bushmills, the Giant’s Causeway is an area of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of intense volcanic and geological activity.
We visited this popular attraction because it came highly recommended by almost everyone we know that has visited Ireland. It did not disappoint. The massive sea cliffs on the northern coast are truly out of this world. It was a clear highlight from road trip around Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Belfast – Night 13
After Portrush and the Giant’s Causeway we drove directly to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. We had originally planned to visit the Dark Hedges in Ballymoney but our boys fell asleep shortly after we hit the road (we visited the amusement park in Portrush before the drive). We decided it was best to not wake them.
The drive from Portrush to Belfast is actually quite short. It only took us 1.5 hours from hotel to hotel.
We were pleasantly surprised by Belfast. It’s much more modern that we had envisioned. We only dedicated one night in Belfast, but that was an oversight. If we were to do it all over again we would spend at least two nights in Belfast.
The weather wasn’t great during our time in Belfast, but we did spend some time walking around the city. We also visited the popular Titanic Museum. If you plan to visit the Titanic Museum (you should, it’s awesome), we suggest you look at when cruise ships are in town – and plan around that. A cruise ship was in port when we visited and it was very busy.
Where to stay in Belfast?
We stayed at The Hilton Belfast. It’s located on the banks of the Lagan River, only a two-minute walk to the city center and a 15 minute drive to Belfast City Airport. It’s also only a 10 minute drive to the Titanic Museum and it’s close to the main highway that connects Belfast to Dublin.
We scored big time at this hotel. We were upgraded to the Executive Suite on the penthouse floor. The luxurious suite we stayed in was incredible. We felt like royalty. Our boys loved watching the trains, planes and boats from the amazing 15th floor views (see above photo). We would recommend this property.
Belfast to Dublin – Night 14
Our final day was spent driving back to Dublin. We visited the Titanic Musem in the morning and hit the road after lunch. The drive is all highway, so it’s fast and easy. It took us about 2.5 hours with a roadside bathroom break included.
We stayed at the Crowne Plaza near the Dublin Airport.
We had an early morning departure so we decided to return the rental car the evening before. One less headache to deal with on flight day. We spent our final evening at the hotel. We fueled up at the hotel restaurant and got a good night sleep before our long flight from Dublin to Vancouver.
Read more posts from our trip to Ireland:
- Traveling to Ireland for the first time? Here’s what you need to know
- Highlights from our 2 week Ireland road trip
- The Blarney Castle in Ireland – is it worth visiting?
- 20 Photos that will make you want to visit the Giant’s Causeway
- 25 Photos that will make you want to visit Dublin, Ireland
Have you taken an Ireland road trip? What did we miss? What would you do differently?
Share your feedback and recommendations in the comments section below. We’d love to read about your adventure and our readers are grateful for the additional information.