Around Ireland In 18 Days: A Coastal Road Trip Of A Lifetime (Full Itinerary)

Coast road trip ireland
Photos via Shutterstock

Hello and welcome to a road trip guide that my fingers will never forgive me for writing.

In the guide below you’ll find a chonker of an 18-day coastal road trip that’s planned for you from start to finish. 

Now, this route isn’t for the faint-hearted or for those looking to spend several nights in one place – there’s a lot of moving about and you’ll be staying in different places each night.

If you’re looking for ‘slower’ or shorter road trips, drop into our road trip hub. Scroll down to see the full 18-day route.

The 18-Day Road Trip

the route

The image above shows a rough outline of the route taken over the course of this road trip. Is it perfect? Absolutely not!

So, if there’s somewhere that you want to see that hasn’t been included, just alter the route to suit you! Here’s a breakdown of the different days:

  • Day 1: Wicklow
  • Day 2: Wexford
  • Day 3: Waterford 
  • Day 4: Cork
  • Day 5: West Cork
  • Day 6: Kerry
  • Day 7: Kerry Part 2
  • Day 8: Kerry and Clare
  • Day 9: Clare
  • Day 10: Clare and Galway
  • Day 11: Galway and Mayo
  • Day 12: Mayo and Sligo
  • Day 13: Donegal
  • Day 14: Donegal
  • Day 15: Donegal and Derry
  • Day 16: Antrim
  • Day 17: Antrim
  • Day 18: Louth

Day 1. Wicklow

To make the most of our first day on the road, get out of the bed and into the car for 8:00. Our first day sees us take a nice and handy spin from Dublin to Wicklow.

1. Gallivanting Around Glendalough (start 09:00)

glendalough spinc walk
Photo by AndyConrad/shutterstock.com

We’re going to kick the day off with a moderate hike that I’ve done many times. The Glendalough Spinc Route is a hike that I can’t recommend enough.

It’s challenging enough to give you a good workout, but not too strenuous in that you can still chat away and have a laugh with friends as you climb.

The walk begins at the Upper Lake car park and follows the Poulanass Waterfall before entering the Lugduff Valley. You’ll find a full guide to this walk in our guide to the best walks in Wicklow.

2. Roundwood for lunch (arrive around 

the coach house wicklow
Photo via the Coach House

At this stage, you’ll be in need of a post-hike feed. Head for the Coach House in Roundwood, fuel up and rest the legs.

If you’re here in the winter you’ll be able to warm yourself by an enormous open fire. The drive from Glendalough to Roundwood takes 14 minutes (if it took 4 hours to complete the hike, you should arrive in Roundwood by 14:15).

3. Lough Tay

lough tay walk wicklow
Photo by Lukas Fendek/Shutterstock.com

Roundwood to Lough Tay – 11-minute drive (if you spend 90 minutes eating and chilling, you’ll arrive at Lough Tay for 16:00).

Lough Tay is easily one of my favourite places in Ireland.

Mainly because it’s a such short drive from Dublin (where I live) but also due to the fact that you’ll have the whole place to yourself if you arrive at sunset (basing this on the past 3 times I’ve visited at sunset).

Keep driving until you come to a little makeshift car park on the right.

Cross the road and walk down the grassy hill until you’re treated to the incredible view above.

4. The Sally Gap Drive

a narrow road near Lough Tay
Photo by Dariusz I/Shutterstock.com

So, this is a looped drive rather than a stop. Start it at around 16:30 and head in the direction of Glenmacnass Waterfall.

I did this drive several times over the past 12 months, and many times over the years, and it never fails to disappoint.

The vast, quiet landscape that engulfs you as you chug along the Sally Gap Drive has the knack of making you feel like you’re the only person left on earth.

Watch the video above from pixel.flights and you’ll see what I mean.

You’re driving along smooth bendy roads that hug the side of mountains one minute and passing along tarmac surrounded by towering trees (keep an eye out for trees donning Christmas decorations) the next.

Take your time with this drive. Jump out of the car when the feeling takes you. And gulp down as much of that fresh mountain air that your lungs allow.

5. A Nest for the Night

blessington pub

Glenmacnass Waterfall to The Glendalough Hotel, – 11-minute drive (take 45 minutes to do the Sally Gap Drive and arrive at the hotel for 17:30).

So, where you stay in Wicklow is totally up to you.

I’m going to recommend The Glendalough Hotel, but if this doesn’t suit your budget, there are plenty of other places to stay nearby (check our interactive map of the best places to stay in Ireland!)

Check into the hotel, grab a bite to eat in the hotel’s Glendassan River Restaurant and kick back with a couple of drinks.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I have been using your guide for the past few months to plan my Ireland trip set for April 2019. I figured it was about time I dropped a comment!! 🙂 Your guide has helped me tremendously as it seems to encompass everything we are looking to find in Ireland…. raw natural beauty, unique experiences, good coffee, and good beer! Can’t thank you enough. I hope to comment again once we return!

    • Ah, thank you. I’m glad. Getting comments like this make it worth it.

      I hope you’re trip goes well.

      Cheers,

      Keith

  2. This is seriously the best travel guide ever. I was getting stressed because I’ll be solo traveling all of March and haven’t planned much (by design) and this gives the perfect outline of exactly the things I want to do and see. So thank you for the enormous amount of time this must have taken. So much appreciated.

    • Haha! Cheers dude.

      Glad you found it useful. This took roughly 3 weeks of research and writing… and rewriting.

      I hope the trip goes well.

      Keith

  3. We’re traveling to Ireland in November, 2019 and thank you very much for your outline and information. Question: On maps, it shows Northern Ireland almost like another country. Do you need anything to pass from Ireland to Northern Ireland and back, or is it all in the same? Seems trivial, but it could make a big difference if we plan to do things in Northern Ireland and then we could possibly not have the proper travel documents. Also, do you know if your passport is all you need or if you need a travel visa? Thanks for your time. Have a great day!. WandanTexas

    • Hi Wanda,

      You’re welcome.

      Northern Ireland is technically part of the UK, so it is regarded as a different country.

      Currently, there is no form of ‘hard’ border, but there’s been a lot of talk about the potential of one with Brexit looming.

      If you’re driving a rental car, this is where things can get tricky. I had one from Europa car recently and was told I’d be automatically charged (they have GPS devices within the rental) whenever my car passed into Northern Ireland – the max total charge was 90 euro, I believe.

      If you’re renting a car, be sure to check this in advance.

      I hope this helps.

      Keith

  4. Hi,
    This is a great guide, but if you had a few extra days…
    Three Castle Head is also stunning. You are close enough to it when you are heading for brow head. Well worth it!
    Lough Hyne in Skibbereen is also beautiful, lovely forest walk and salt water lake to swim in. Night time kayaking with the bioluminescent water a must!
    Enjoy,
    Joanne

    • Thanks for the recommendations Joanne.

      Love Lough Hyne in particular. Did the forest climb with my dad last summer on a hot day in July – great spot!

  5. Question for Keith and others. We have a wonderful opportunity to spend a month in Ireland and in previous trips we’ve enjoyed many of the same activities you do…hiking, enjoying the featured sights and geography in general, informal dining, great pubs, etc. We have never been north of Westport, county Mayo. Would it be worth it to spend a week in the Sligo / Donegal region? If yes, we would rent a house for the week. Is there a town that would be central to this region that you could recommend as a home base? We would be there in late August/early Sept 2020.
    Thanks in advance for your response (or anyone else who could add their thoughts)

    • Hi Bill.

      Abbbbbbbbbbbsolutely spend a week in Sligo and Donegal.

      There’s a tonne of things to do in both, regardless of whether you decide to do something active or just chill.

      Personally, I’d spend half in Sligo and half in Donegal.

      Here’s a guide to 48 hours in Sligo that should help, along with a 3-day guide to the best things to do in Donegal.

      In terms of where to stay – I love Strandhill and Rosses Point. For Donegal, it’s hard to beat Ardara.

      I hope this helps!

      Keith

  6. Hi Keith,
    I am planning our road trip to Ireland in october and I love your Instagram account. I like to use your suggestions for our schedule.
    On day 11 you suggest to leave Westport and Achill on the same time (16:55) ? So this is a pretty long day 😉 I prefer to stay an extra night on Achill Island. What do you think?
    Thanks
    Uli

    • Aha! OK, that’s clearly a mistake on my part. I’ll get those times updated!

      I love Achill, personally.

      There’s nothing bad that can come from a second night spent there.

  7. Hi Keith,

    I am considering travelling to Ireland this summer via road-trip and AirBnBs. While researching, I found your blog and found it very helpful and resourceful.

    I am travelling from New Delhi (India) with my extended family (infants, toddlers, siblings, wife, parents etc.). Assuming this might be our only trip to Ireland together as a family, I am interested in covering Ireland comprehensively within a limitation of 11-13 days.

    Is it possible to shorten the suggested 18-day itinerary to the above duration by bypassing some of the locations or sites. I understand this would mean we missing a few locations, but need your help.

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