A Touch of Northern Ireland Self-Drive Tour 8 Days
7 Night Tour From $962 pps
This tour starts and ends in Dublin but can be adjusted to suit other arrival points such as Belfast.
Destinations / Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Dublin
Touching down in Dublin, your Ireland adventure begins and the first step on that journey is Dublin City. Once you’ve picked up and you set out in your car, you’ll be inundated with the many thrilling sights and sounds of this friendly urban scape. Teeming with historical and cultural gems a visit to Dublin is always too short. But before you set out on the trail to Ireland’s northern counties there’ll still be plenty of time to get acquainted with “Dublin’s Fair City” and the friendly locals.
Whether you’re strolling around at your own pace or availing of Dublin’s Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour (which stops at all the city’s major attractions), your day will be packed with highlights from the outset. For a twist on the usual tour bus formula, jump on board the Viking Splash tour and explore Dublin on land and in water. You’ll see the highlights of Georgian Dublin, Christchurch and St. Patrick’s Cathedral and you’ll even wade by a recording studio where the likes of U2 have laid down tracks.
A guided tour of Dublin’s Trinity College will provide you with all the background you need on the tomes of history which are at the foundation of Ireland’s oldest college. The seamless architecture will leave you in awe as you stroll through the cobbled courtyard and make your way towards the Old Library, in search of the treasure that is “The Book of Kells”. This 9th Century gospel manuscript will dazzle you with its vivid illustration. Years of tireless artistry created this spectacular book, which wins the hearts of thousands of visitors every year.
Another of Dublin’s most popular attractions is Kilmainham Jail - the largest unoccupied gaol in Ireland. The exhibition/guided tour around this historical site will launch you back in time and give you a dramatic and realistic view of what it was really like to be confined within the walls of such a foreboding structure. And for the art-lover, Dublin’s numerous art galleries and museums from the Irish Museum of Modern Art to the National Museum of Decorative Arts (to name a few) should be more than enough to quench your thirst.
Sight seeing can be tiring work, but luckily Dublin has more than enough to keep you entertained during your down time. For a spot of retail therapy, head to Grafton St. Here you’ll find all the high street stores you’d come to expect from Dublin’s premier shopping district, and veering from the main street you’ll find a treasure trove of boutiques, thrift shops, and cafes.
Maybe drop into Bewley’s Café where you can follow in the footsteps of many of Ireland’s literary greats and relax with a cuppa. If you’re in the mood for a beverage of a slightly stronger nature, the Guinness Storehouse hosts an excellent guided tour, where you’ll get to see the masters at work along with the chance to drink a pint of the “black stuff”. Or if whiskey is your thing, the Jameson Distillery will give you an insight into the inspirational story of its founder John Jameson and earn you a “Certified Whiskey Taster” certificate along the way.
Although a little further out from the city centre on the north side of Dublin, the Butlers Chocolate Experience is a must see for anyone with a sweet tooth. It’s the ultimate chocolate discovery tour where you can see the Butlers factory in operation – home to Ireland’s favourite chocolatier. If you don’t have the time to make it out to the factory, don’t worry, as there are several Butlers chocolate shops in the city centre if you want to have a taste.
The day may grow long, but Dublin will remain vibrant and buzzing. To keep you entertained for the evening there’s a host of pub crawls covering both the strong literary and musical ties in Dublin. For a more intimate night, share a candlelit dinner in the Brazen Head pub, whilst the resident storyteller regales you with stories of old Ireland and the resident musicians fill the air with lilting Irish favourites.
Dublin nights are just as action packed as the days so tucking in for the night, let the anticipation of what’s coming next ease you to sleep as your northbound journey begins tomorrow.
- Dublin Literary Pub Crawl
- Phoenix Park
- Croke Park GAA Stadium Tour and Museum
- The Little Museum of Dublin
Day 2: Newgrange
As you leave the bustling urban delight of Dublin behind and head towards the Irish midlands, you’ll notice a change in your surrounding. Fields upon fields of greenery stretch out in every direction as you edge close to your next destination: The ancient wonder that is Newgrange. The megalithic passage grave at Newgrange features elaborate stone carvings and the tomb itself predates the Roman civilisation, England’s Stonehenge and even the pyramids of Egypt. In the heart of Meath (the aptly nicknamed “Royal County”) this is where the High Kings of Ireland once congregated.
Visitors can gain access to Newgrange by guided tours, which are available at the Brú na Bóinne visitor Centre. Something quite spectacular happens at Newgrange on the winter solstice every year. There is an opening above the entrance to the passage of Newgrange, called a “roof-box” and from December 19th – 23rd each year, with the rising of the sun a beam of light penetrates this “roof-box”, resulting in a jaw-dropping display. Your photo album will fill up as you take some snaps in this stunning location.
The Brú na Bóinne visitor centre has been constructed ingeniously to blend in with its surroundings so that the natural scenery is left unspoiled. The centre is open all year round and treats visitors to a variety of audio/visual presentations, exhibitions and replicas including a full scale model of the chamber at Newgrange. There’s also a great café here if you feel like putting up your feet taking five.
While you’re in the heart of the Boyne Valley, take the chance to stop off at Slane Castle. Surrounded by a 1,500 acre estate, this magnificent structure is steeped in history and aside from the main guided tour, visitors can also have a tipple and take part in a whiskey tasting tour.
Rural Ireland is truly a delight to drive though, punctuated with rustic rural villages and towns; rolling hills and vast woodlands. It’s easy to lose yourself in these wondrous country expanses but make sure you leave yourself with enough time to explore the entire area.
The truly unique Loughcrew Cairns are just down the road in Meath and make up the single largest formation of passage graves in Ireland. Divided into two groups (Carnbane East and West) these archaeological gems are a sight to behold. You can also take a stroll though the Loughcrew Gardens where you’ll find a host of enchanting features, displayed in a setting steeped in atmosphere and history.
Venturing further North, you'll be passing through Armagh. Here you’ll find plenty of stop offs to keep you entertained on the last stretch of the journey to Belfast. The Navan Centre and Fort is surrounded by a veil of folklore and legend. This most important of archaeological sites was once a seat to the High Kings of Ulster and the centre brings the area to life with interactive exhibitions and activities.
The Planetarium in Armagh is Ireland’s leading centre for astronomy education. Within the main theatre the night sky is brought to life with a stunning 360 degree projection that will transport you into the heavens and beyond.
From Armagh you'll drive towards Belfast City. En route a stop off at Carrickfergus Castle is always a treat. The fascinating building is one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland. The fully restored banquet hall will leave you wide-eyed in amazement and visitors can also enjoy a variety of exhibits showing what like was like in medieval times.
That night you’ll be resting up in Belfast. Traditional music is still strong all over Ireland and Belfast is no exception. Before you hit the hay, have a look around the local pubs. You may even stumble in on an impromptu session.
Day 3: Belfast City
After a good night's rest and another fine Irish breakfast it’s time to take in all the sights and sounds of Belfast City. This thriving city is divided into four quarters: the Gaeltacht Quarter, the Cathedral Quarter, the Queen’s Quarter and the Titanic Quarter. Each quarter has its own defining characteristics, but the one that unifies them is the people and their charismatic nature and welcoming charm. With so much to do in each, it’s hard to know where to begin your exploration of this wonderful city.
Within the Queen’s Quarter you’ll find some stunning architectural gems, including Queen’s University, the Botanic Gardens and the Palm House (all from the 19th Century). This part of Belfast is brim-full of cultural hotspots with several contemporary art galleries, a diverse fusion of restaurants and some fantastic pubs offering anything from traditional Irish music to Jazz sessions.
Taking its name from St. Anne’s Cathedral, the Cathedral Quarter was deemed a Conservation Area in 1990 as a means to preserve its identity as the historical heart of Belfast. Walking through its narrow cobbled streets you will find many intriguing buildings that really add to its intimate charm. More recently this area has started to play a key role in the arts and crafts scene in Belfast with many visual and performing artists making it their home.
Belfast’s origins lie with an ancient fort which once held control of the ford across the River Lagan. It is in this area that the Irish language has flourished the most, giving rise to the Gaeltacht Quarter. Visitors can join in on one of the area’s many organised tours, which take in its various political sites as well as two famous cemeteries.
Finally the Titanic Quarter is where you’ll discover Belfast’s strong links with this most famous of ships. It all began in the Harland and Wolfe shipyard in Belfast, long before Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet brought to life the story of the Titanic on the big screen. Today you’ll get the chance to explore the riveting tale of one of the most tragic and deadly peacetime maritime disasters in history.
With Belfast’s Titanic Tours you can walk in the footsteps of the Titanic’s builders and explore the key sites of Titanic’s construction or jump on board one of the Lagan Boat Company’s boat tours, taking you on a unique trip to see the birth place of the famous liner.
Opening on the Titanic’s one hundred year anniversary in 2012, the Titanic Belfast is a must see for any visitor to Belfast.Covering 14,000 sq m (150,700 sq ft) the venue is home to nine galleries of interactive exhibition space, a dark ride, underwater exploration theatre, recreations of the ship’s decks and cabins and a luxurious conference and banqueting suite. This landmark structure is truly a sight to behold, with a unique architectural design influenced by numerous maritime themes, including the unforgettable forward bow of the Titanic itself.
If you’re looking to do another spot of shopping you can't go wrong with the Victoria Centre in Belfast. This recently constructed complex boasts four floors of shopping paradise with a spectacular urban design. That night, a visit to Hatfield House is a must. This favourite Belfast traditional pub was recently restored to its former glory with original bar fixtures, ornate ceilings and expert craftsmanship, carried out by the same craftsmen who worked on the HMS Titanic.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat Belfast’s range of restaurants ensure every taste is catered for whether you’re looking for some local produce served up at an affordable price or some continental delights with a local chef’s twist. If you’re really looking to live it up, you can’t go wrong with The Great room Restaurant at the Merchant Hotel. Fine dining will take on a whole new meaning as you enjoy an exquisite menu matched only by the décor. Seated in plush gold and red furnishings beneath Ireland’s largest chandelier is certainly an experience.
Curling up for the night it’s time to dream of the epic Giant’s Causeway, which awaits you the next day.
- Titanic Dock and Pumphouse
- The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
- The Belfast Gaeltacht Experience
- Stormont Castle
Day 4: The Giant's Causeway
Breathe in the fresh morning air and take one last stroll through the streets of Belfast City before you set out on the road again. Taking the scenic route from Belfast toward the Giant’s Causeway is a must as you will pass through a variety of picturesque coastal villages. Ballycastle (town of the castle) contains the remains of Bonamargie Friary, which was built by Rory MacQuillan (13th Century) as well as a graveyard on the original site where St. Patrick founded a ministry in the 5th Century. Also along this route you’ll find Cushendall beside the river Dall, and overshadowed by the summits of Lurigethan and Tievebulliagh. The scenery in these beautiful villages will fascinate you as you edge ever closer to the causeway.
Your next stop will be Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This area is a veritable treasure trove of geology, flora and fauna, but is probably most famous for “the rope bridge experience”. The rope bridge was originally constructed by fisherman over a 23m (75 ft) deep and 20 m (66 ft) wide chasm as a means to check their salmon nets on Carrick-a-Rede Island. Nowadays visitors flock to this attraction to take this exhilarating challenge and cross the gap. But the adventure doesn’t end there. Once you reach the other side you’ll be rewarded with a diverse range of birdlife and incredible views across to Rathlin Island and Scotland – what better way to prepare yourself for the Giant’s Causeway.
Legend has it that the championed Irish warrior Finn McCool built the causeway as a means to face off against the Scottish giant Benandonner. Upon seeing the giant he fled back to his wife, who helped him devise a plan, disguising him as a baby. When the towering Scottish giant saw this oversized baby he fled for fear that its father was a monstrous being and so he destroyed the causeway on his way back to Scotland ensuring he could not be pursued.
This is a truly magical place. Unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, you will be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the causeway. Set against a dynamic coastal landscape with views of crushing Atlantic waves and rugged cliffs, the causeway forms a jagged formation, which juts out in Scotland’s direction.
Walk along the columns, feel the fresh open breeze and listen for the lingering whispers of those characters from old folklore tales. Once you’ve experienced the causeway to its fullest, you can also travel along the coast by steam train, which will bring you to the historic town of Bushmills - home of the famous Bushmills Distillery.
As you take a sip of Bushmills Whiskey, reflect for a moment and appreciate the 400 years of dedication, which has gone into this world renowned brand. Since 1608, Bushmills have been distilling the finest of whiskeys despite having their share of hiccups along the way - in 1885 the distillery was burned to the ground. Take in the tour at Ireland’s oldest working distillery and you’ll be brought through the entire process – fermentation, distillation, maturation, blending and bottling – as well as discovering the full story behind Bushmills.
Your next overnight will be Derry. Settle in for a well deserved sleep or keep the night alive and check out the finest Derry cuisine and pub life in this dynamic city.
Day 5: Derry and the Inishowen Peninsula
The City of Derry/Londonderry (also called the “Walled City” or the “Maiden City”) is known for its culture, creativity and the strong heritage that encompasses the city and its legendary walls, reaching back as far at the 17th Century. The second largest city in Northern Ireland – festivals of all themes and for all season are held in the city. Its charm is intrinsically linked with the people who live there. Their friendly nature will win you over in a heartbeat making your trip to this inspirational city a true highlight of your trip.
Taking the city’s heritage trail you’ll discover the origins of one of the longest inhabited places in Ireland as well as its magnificent walls. There are over 100 sites of historical interest along the trail from cathedrals and churches to parks, villages, murals and monuments. You’ll find a new story on every side street as the echoes of the city’s history call out to you.
You can check out the Tower Museum or Guildhall with its impressive collection of beautifully designed stained glass window. There is so much to do here and once you’re finished sightseeing there’s a fantastic selection of shops, restaurants, pubs and theatres just waiting to be discovered.
Now to sample the scenic delight of the Inishowen Peninsulas as you travel from Derry to Donegal. This beautiful coastal drive is lined with activities and stunning natural sights – Slieve Snaght (the highest point in Inishowen), the Knockamany Bends (stand atop the cliff and admire the views of the Five Fingers Strand) and Fort Dunree (originally a military fort and now a military museum).
Why not park the car for a while and take one of the hills walks so you can take your time to experience the views at your own pace. Discover ancient stone forts, the Bocan Stone Circle, one of the numerous castle remains or Malin well on Malin Head – the most northerly point in Ireland.
Just when you think you’ve seen all the Inishowen Peninsula has to offer, you can visit one of the local pubs and enjoy the proud locals displaying their dedication to their roots. Big Night at Dan’s will get your Irish spirit revving with music, dance, songs, recitations and poetry. Or if you want to get hands on, Inishowen céilí nights will provide you with a platform to let your hair down and put your dancing skills to the test.
Winding down for the night, it’s off to your Donegal accommodation to rest your head and relive your Irish adventures so far as you nod off.
Day 6: The Donegal Coast
Your second day in Donegal will bring you toward Glencolmcille. Once again, you will be spoiled with natural beauty and vast landscapes along the way. Glenveagh National Park (Ireland’s largest National Park) is a great location to enjoy the country air and take in your surroundings.
Covering over 16,000 hectares in the heart of the Derryveagh mountains, visitors are invited to embark on an array of walking trails with guides, which deal with different themes within the park, such as sites of historical significance.
Travelling down to the south-west of Donegal, nestled in the rugged landscape, you’ll find Gleann Cholm Cille (or Glencolmcille). Within this area, the small community has championed innovation and tradition and successfully maintained their cultural vitality.
The history of the area can be traced back 5,000 years with evidence of Stone Age farmers working the land. Traces of these earliest of settlers are in the form of Court Cairns at Malinmore, Cloghanmore and Farranmacbride. In total there are over 80 sites of archaeological significance and visitors have the option to blaze their own trail or take one of the many suggested walking trails.
Venture back to the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries through the portal of Glencolmcille Folk Village Museum. Six replica thatched cottages on a hillside make up this folk park, filled with authentic furnishings covering the three centuries of life in the area. The entire village is designed, built and maintained by the locals, giving a true example to the pride of this community.
With so much unspoiled scenery to take in and some of the friendliest people in Ireland, your time in Glencolmcille will be over all too soon, so make sure to capture all those fond memories on camera.
Killybegs village will be you’re final stop off before you return to your accommodation for the night. The village is a hive of activity from surfing to horse riding so you’re sure be kept entertained. Topped off with a relaxing walk along the golden beaches of this fishing town you will be lulled into a relaxed bliss with immense views stretching out into the horizon for miles.
Day 7: Dublin via Tyrone and Monasterboice
With the dawn of a new day comes the prospect of yet another action packed journey. It’s time to head south again and make your way back to Dublin. This drive will see you surrounded by expansive and beautiful scenery, but why not break up the drive with a trip to Omagh and the Ulster American Folk Park.
If ever there was a doubt of the intense spiritual connection between Ireland and the US, the museum puts it to rest.
This open air museum in Castletown (just outside Omagh) explores the historical link between Ulster and America, dealing mainly with those particular immigrants who sailed from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The folk park is one of the three national museums of Northern Ireland and features displays on the lifestyles and experience of those people who took that leap of faith and ventured to the Newfoundland.
There are around thirty buildings in the park - some of these are recreations but others are originals, which have been restored with the utmost of care. The whole park is unified perfectly with a theme and you’ll notice volunteers dressed in period costume as they demonstrate techniques used in day-to-day tasks of the time and skills such as bread making, cooking, arts and crafts.
Agricultural displays and animals on site help to make this a truly immersive experience, and you’ll even get to sample local food such as smoked salmon and bread, which have been freshly cooked in the cottages that line the routes of the park tours.
On the site of the folk park you’ll also find Mellon House (birthplace of Thomas Mellon, who was an Irish–American banker and lawyer). All these unique ties with America are further strengthened with a wealthy calendar of events such as a Bluegrass Festival, so make sure you check ahead before you visit to see if there’s anything on when you’re travelling.
As you leave Tyrone and head south, you can take a short diversion to County Louth, where you'll find Monasterboice. This intriguing monastic site is comprised of a large cemetery, two churches, one of the tallest round towers in Ireland and two of the tallest high crosses.
Muirdach’s Cross at the entrance to the site dates from 900-923 AD and stands 5.5m (16 feet) tall. The carvings on this cross are divided into panels and not all of them have been deciphered. However those featured on the eastern face for example seem to represent the fall of Adam and Eve and the murder of Abel; David and Goliath; Moses bringing water from the rock to the Israelites; and the three Magi bearing gifts to Mary and Jesus. This is but a sneak peak at the rich historical links at Monasterboice, making it well worth the visit on your way back south.
From here it’s clear sailing back to Dublin, with nothing to disturb you except for immense green landscapes lining your route. Make sure to enjoy your last night in Dublin. Venture to Temple Bar, where you’re sure to catch a music session – perfect for your last hurrah in Ireland.
Day 8: Departure from Dublin
You’ve explored the north of Ireland, tasted its rich culture, allowed its vast pastures to envelope you and you've conquered the Giant’s Causeway. This is a trip that will stay with you for a long time to come, bringing a smile to your face as you cast a thought back to your Ireland adventure.