14 Best Things To See In Ireland & Northern Ireland
Ireland & Northern Ireland
We get lots of questions about our Ireland and Northern Ireland travel guide so we decided to share it with you. Fly into Dublin and rent a car at the airport. Reserve an automatic if you think driving a manual will be challenging while also driving on the left, if you are not used to it. There is a shuttle bus that will take you to the rental car company, just make sure to get on the right one. The shuttles are labeled on the outside.
Be prepared to purchase the insurance for your rental car. In Ireland they will not just take your word for it that your insurance from home will cover you. Most insurance companies will not cover in Ireland. If, by chance, your insurance or credit card covers Ireland, you will have to produce a letter proving the coverage or you can call you insurance company from the rental agency and they can give the rental agent verbal confirmation of the coverage. The chances any insurance company offers coverage in Ireland is rare.
Once you have your car, head out to the Dingle peninsula. This is about a 4 hour drive from Dublin. If your flight arrive later in the evening you may want to stay a night in Dublin. Our flight arrived relatively early in the day, since we were flying in from Edinburgh, Scotland.
We booked a nice AirBnb in Dingle. There are many housing options in Dingle. First thing you will want to do is enjoy a nice stroll through town. It’s a very walkable area. There are many pubs and restaurants to enjoy the local fare and, of course, a Guiness beer! There are also several establishments that are one thing by day and a pub by night. Keep an eye out for the signs. Be sure to rest up, the next day you will be ready to tackle Slea Head Drive.
Slea Head Drive
Slea Head Drive is part of the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s a scenic drive, the best way to enjoy Slea Head Drive is to travel clockwise. There are many tour buses on Slea Heads single track roads and you don’t want to get stuck going the wrong way with a tour bus. Set aside at least 3 hours to truly enjoy this lovely drive.
If you have time you will want to drive over to Minard Castle. This is said to be one of the largest fortresses on the peninsula. The beach area beside the castle is a storm beach. The sandstone boulders are used to make ogham stones locally. A couple other spots of interest are Connors Pass and Inch Beach.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher is incredible touristy but it is certainly worth adding to our Ireland and Northern Ireland travel guide. They are not on the way to anything so you will have to drive a bit off the path to get to them. Upon arrival you will see the guard in the road directing traffic. The tour buses park to the left and the cars park to the right. You pay for parking but it’s free to see the cliffs. The parking is a bit steep, for parking, they charge by the person and not the car, it was about $8 pp to park.
Follow the walkway to the visitors center where you can stop in the shop, use the restrooms or enjoy a meal in the restaurant. Once outside the visitors center you will see several ways to walk up to see the cliffs. It is wheelchair accessible. You will not have to walk far from the visitors center to see the cliffs. The best spot to take pics is about halfway up. The brush over the railing is longer the higher up you go and it doesn’t look as nice in your photos.
Galway was a must do for my when we put together our Ireland and Northern Ireland travel guide. I had seen the pics of this cute town and really wanted to see what it was all about. Be sure to heed the warnings of the parking lot signs so you will be able to find a parking spot quickly. If you pull into a lot that is full you can simply wait at the entrance until someone has left and the machine will dispense a ticket for you to enter.
Galway is a harbor city. You can stroll near the harbor or walk into town or Eyre Square and enjoy some shopping or a beer at a local pub. The Latin quarter still retains some of the medieval city walls. This is a great place for a day trip. You can see most of what Galway has to offer in a day.
Clifden was next on our list. This cute little town was in the Connemara region on the west coast of Ireland. We stayed in Abbeyglen Castle. It was such a treat to stay a few nights in a castle. This one was great, the grounds were well kept and the staff was amazing. Your stay includes breakfast, afternoon tea and biscuits and champagne story time in the evening.
Clifden was a great place to stay so we could visit Kylemore Abbey. This castle was a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 on the grounds. It was founded for the nuns who fled Belgium in World War I. The home was built in 1868 as a private residence for the Henrys. You can tour the inside of the castle as well as their famed gardens. You will find many tour buses here. Parking is free and it is about $15 USD to enter the abbey and it’s grounds.
This city on the northernmost edge of the Republic of Ireland is a great place to spend a night to see Fanad Head Lighthouse before heading into Northern Ireland. Fanad Head Lighthouse was proposed in 1812 after a shipwreck. It was first lit in 1817 and was converted to electric in 1975 then automated in 1983. They say the only survivor of the shipwreck was the vessels parrot. Lough Swilly is one of Irelands few glacial fjords. The drive to the lighthouse is gorgeous. It is a short hike along the harbor to see this lovely lighthouse.
Fanad Head is considered a sea light and not a harbor light. Despite the fact that it clearly marks the natural Lough Swilly, which is a natural harbor refuge. It is one of 70 operating lighthouses in Republic of Ireland. Fanad Head is not just for looks, it continues to provide a vital role in maritime safety today. After seeing pictures online we made sure to add this lighthouse to our Ireland and Northern Ireland travel guide.
Once you’ve made the journey, it is well worth it to stay after the sunset to see the light shine into the ocean. You can tour the lighthouse for a small fee of about $10 USD and even climb the tower. They have recently completed the cottages. You can also spend the night at the lighthouse, be sure to book early. There aren’t many rooms available, reserve well in advance to get a chance to stay in the lighthouse.
I have to be honest, I was not sure what it would be like to go to Northern Ireland. We hear lots of negative things about this area. Let me tell you, I was wrong! I fell in love with Northern Ireland (checkout our YouTube video of the top 7 things we loved about Northern Ireland). It is a lovely area. You can simply drive into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland with no security check. The roads are very similar to those in Republic of Ireland. There is a very noticeable difference upon crossing the border into Londonderry. This area still struggles with the stife of their past.
We drove to Belfast as our base for Northern Ireland. The places we planned to visit were all within a manageable distance from Belfast by car. We checked into the Titanic Hotel. I thought this would be an overdone attraction type hotel. I was wrong, AGAIN!! It is very obvious that they took great care to preserve the history of the buildings it was built in. You enter the main entrance between what used to be the Harland and Wolff drawing offices. These are the engineers that drafted the plans for the Titanic and many of the worlds most famous ocean liners.
The hotel features an art deco nautical theme. The rooms are luxurious and the staff is top notch. The grand staircase was restored and mimicked the one in the Titanic which was the inspiration for what you see in many cruise ships today. The Hotel is right across from the museum. You can also park under the museum as there is no parking at the hotel. You don’t have to stay here to see the beauty you can simply walk in and show yourself around the first floor and see all the history in the buildings. Here is our video tour of the hotel.
Since we were staying in the hotel we might at well see the museum. It was not too busy on the afternoon we were there. The tour of the museum starts with some history of how Belfast happened upon ship building. You walk through every step of the process for conceiving and building the Titanic as well as the horror of the sinking.
Once downstairs you will also experience the search for the wreckage, years later. You become a part of the search, in a very interactive display with video screens and touch displays. Once you are done at the museum, simply walk outside right into the dry dock where the Titanic was built. They have outlined the vessel in blue lights so you can see exactly where it sat. Your museum tour includes a visit to the SS Nomadic which served as a tender boat to the Titanic’s first and second class passengers. It was a great experience. I would definitely recommend this to anyone. Click here to see our video review of the museum.
Carrick a Rede
If you watch Game of Thrones you probably remember a significant characters death on the rope bridge. The rope links the mainland to carrickarede island. The bridge is mainly a tourist attraction. If you have the stomach for it you can purchase a ticket and walk across. Be sure to purchase your ticket online as many time slots are sold out each day.
Don’t just visit the rope bridge if you visit Carrick a rede. There are several places to walk and enjoy the beauty of this area. Walk to the other side of the upper parking lot and down to the lower lot, which was also used in Game of Thrones. From this area you can walk down to the beach or stand on the cliffs and enjoy the view to the neighboring islands.
There is no parking on the road with the dark hedges, be sure to use the Hedges Hotel parking lot, it’s free to park as long as you use the back lot. The hedges were planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family to impress visitors to their Georgian Mansion. These beech trees have become one of the most photographed natural phenomenon in Northern Ireland. These were also used in Season 2 of Game of Thrones.
With the influx of visitors the trees have suffered a bit. The area has also seen some problems with visitors to the area. Some trees have damage due to vandalism and even people climbing in the trees. Don’t be that person. As always, be sure to not leave anything behind. Traffic on this road is just for the locals, please be a kind traveler and abide by their requests. You will want to visit this area in the evening to have fewer or no people in your pics and to have a darker look to the photos.
Next on our Ireland and Northern Ireland travel guide is Giants Causeway. There are many stories about how this area was formed but one thing is for sure, it’s impressive. The water has shaped the stones. There is a visitors center but it’s very touristy and charges a fee, although it is free to see the Giants Causeway. From the parking lot you can walk right down to the causeway. The views are spectacular on the way down.
If you don’t walk to walk down or up the steep inclines you can take the shuttle bus for a small fee, have euro coins with you as they do not make change and do not take credit cards. The walk down is gorgeous. We stopped several times on the way down to take pictures and to enjoy the views.
At the bottom you will find over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. They are the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and in 2005 it was names the fourth greatest natural wonder in the UK. You will find stones with 4,5, 7 or 8 sides. They seemingly flow right into he ocean. We visited in the evening when there were very few tourists around. You must be very careful at this time as the tide rise quickly.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
We have used the City Sightseeing Hop on Hop Off buses in several countries. We have never had a problem. The service was fine in Belfast but we noticed it was very crowded. The people don’t ever hop off!! I have not see this before. In all the other countries we have used them, people get off at the sites to enjoy. We were the only people who got off the bus!
It was an easy way to see all the sites and not have to worry about driving or parking and the guide on the bus shared lots of great info with us. It was very interesting and surreal to see CS Lewis Square, the parliament building, freedom corner, Falls Road murals, Shankill Memorial Garden, Donegall Street, International wall murals and the Peace Walls. This tour is worth the money.
Recap Ireland and Northern Ireland Travel Itinerary
We loved our time in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Our 14 days was split between the 2 countries. We returned to Dublin the night before our flight to Iceland. With so little time we did not to do all the touristy things in Dublin but there is plenty to do if you want to tour Dublin before you head to Dingle or you can tour it after Northern Ireland. Both countries had so much beauty and history to offer. There is so much to do, this was just a small taste of what you can do in just 2 weeks in these lovely countries. The food was fantastic, the beer was delightful and the people were kind. We will definitely be back to Ireland.