Experience the North and West Self-Drive Tour 8 Day
7 Night Tour From $915 pps
This tour arrives into Shannon Airport and departs from Belfast International.
Destinations / Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Shannon, The Cliffs of Moher and the Burren Region
Ireland is a unique wonder in many ways, but when it comes to touring this relatively small island it has one attribute that really stands out: In Ireland you can be in a fantastic city - thriving, bustling and steeped in history – but you’re never expansive pastures, stunning natural scenery and ancient wonder beyond belief. Ireland’s west and northwest are perfect examples of this and during this truly scenic tour, you’ll see breath-taking landscapes, but your route will also be punctuated with three of Ireland’s most loved cities: Galway, Derry and Belfast.
You’ll be flying into Shannon airport in Clare and once you’ve picked up your rental car the adventure begins as you set off to explore the Burren Region. This truly unique area of limestone rock covers mountains, valleys and stream, each as awe-inspiring as the last. There is a beautiful contrast between the natural flora and fauna and the ancient man made megalithic tombs, which predate the Roman and even Egyptian civilisations. Before you trek out into the unknown, you can visit the Burren Visitors Centre in nearby Kilfenora, where you’ll get an introduction to the many secrets of the Burren.
The Burren Smokehouse is just a ten minute drive down the road from Kilfenora so drop in and sample some of their acclaimed smoked salmon, see the original kiln used at the smokehouse and browse their range of products, which include various crafts and delicacies from the Clare region.
From the Burren to the Cliffs of Moher your trip today is packed full of scenic eye-candy. Atop the cliff, the panoramic views of the Aran Islands, The Twelve Pins, The Maum Turk Mountains and Loop Head will take your breath away. The visitors’ centre, which has been aptly named Atlantic Edge, can be found close to the cliffs within an underground building. Various studies of the cliffs are on display here focusing on four main themes: Ocean, Rock, Nature and Man.
While you’re in the area, why not pop into Doolin Cave. Less than ten minutes drive up the coast from the Cliffs of Moher you’ll find this fascinating cave, which is home to the longest stalactite in the northern hemisphere, measuring 6.54m (20 feet).
Also along the coast is Lahinch. If you’re up for a spot of water sports or just a stroll on the beach, a visit to Lahinch is a great way to take in Clare’s beautiful coastline. Every year, budding surfers visit Lahinch’s golden sands to catch some waves, so whether you’re there to join in or just spectate, there’s definitely fun to be had. The town also boasts two golf courses (Lahinch Championship Course and Lahinch Castle Course).On both you’ll find yourself teeing off with a backdrop of stretching coastal scenery, so if you have the time a quick round is a must.
Continuing to explore Clare you’ll find Bunratty Castle – a 15th Century castle, which is the acclaimed setting for the 19th Century Bunratty Folk Park. Built in 1425 and restored to its former medieval glory in 1954, Bunratty Castle is the ultimate medieval fortress in Ireland. Within the castle hang many 15th and 16th Century tapestries, furnishings and works of art, which really create a sense of authenticity. You will feel transported as you wander around the vast castle halls and for a truly unique experience you can also attend the Medieval Banquet - a night of rich food and entertainment.
The Bunratty Folk Park will see you surrounded by 19th Century living. You’ll be interacting with all the locals - the Bean an Tí (Woman of the House), the Policeman, and Schoolteacher as you discover the ins and outs of their daily routines. As you walk from house to house you’ll be immersed in a wonderful bubble of sights sounds and senses, making this a truly enchanting experience for all ages.
Weary from your travels you may want to pop into Durty Nelly’s (just beside the castle) for a pick me up. The history and heritage surrounding Durty Nelly and her public house date back to 1620 and include: a toll bridge, an Irish wolfhound and a miracle cure. For years travellers have enjoyed the hospitality and warmth of this one of a kind pub and now with live Irish music 7 days a week, you can’t help but be lured into Nelly’s cosy welcome.
Once you’ve had your fill of entertainment for the evening is on to Galway where you’ll be spending the night, giving you a glimpse of the fantastic city that you’ll be exploring tomorrow.
Day 2: Galway City
Your room will fill with morning light as you adjust your eyes and begin to wake. Nothing can beat the feeling as you slip from the grasp of a world of dreams and step back fully into reality, coming to your senses and remembering that you at still on the holiday of a lifetime. You’re in Galway City and it’s just begging to be explored.
The west of Ireland is steeped with rich heritage and for proof of this you need only visit the Connemara Celtic Crystal Visitor Centre.In the quaint town of Moycullen, just 7 mi (12 km) from Galway City, the master craftsmen of Connemara Celtic Crystal continue to produce beautifully detailed crystal, which has been long known as one of the world’s favourite Irish brands. Gathering inspiration from the lush countryside that surrounds them and the folklore and traditions passed down through generations in Galway. At the heritage centre the whole range of crystal ware is available so you can take home your very own piece of Galway.
Finally you’ll arrive at Galway City and the cultural heart of Ireland. This charming city is brimming with heritage, culture and folklore. Weaving through the side streets browsing the hand crafted wares on offer you’ll be in awe of the rich architecture and medieval nuances. Friendly faces greet you around every corner and a magical spirit lingers in the air. The mysteries of the Claddagh Ring are rooted in this very region. From where the iconic symbol of two hands clutching a crowned heart originated people can only speculate, but the tradition remains true. Just make sure you show your true feelings in the way you wear your ring:
When worn on the right hand with the crown turned inwards tells that the wearers heart is yet unoccupied, but when worn with the crown turned outward this reveals that love is being considered. Worn on the left hand with the crown turned outwards shows all that the wearer's heart is truly spoken for.
Within the City you can check out the Galway City Museum, which contains two major exhibitions. One explores the rich heritage of Galway and the other displays works of art from prominent Irish artists from the second half of the 20th Century. Add to this the Spanish Arc, Galway Cathedral, Brigit's Gardenand you’ll start to get an idea of just how varied and wonderful a place Galway City is.
If you fancy some evening entertainment, you’ll be pleased to discover Galway’s strong ties with traditional Irish music. There must be something in the water, because there are an uncanny number of extremely talented musicians, dancers and singers roaming the Connemara/Galway region. The Tig Colli pub in Galway City is one of many favourites for such impromptu sessions!
For now it’s back to your accommodation for the night. The beauty of all you’ve seen in the west of Ireland will drift through your dreams as you get ready for the “savage beauty” that is Connemara the next day.
Day 3: The Connemara Region and Mayo
Now that you’ve seen Galway, it’s time to get yourself acquainted with the some of Ireland’s most spectacular scenery and the Connemara region. Take the Sky Road as you cruise towards Kylemore Abbey and you’ll be astounded by your exquisite natural surroundings – breath taking views of the islands Inishturk and Turbot along the coastline; the moss covered walls of the Old D’Arcy Castle and the towering twelve Bens jutting into the skyline behind the town of Clifden. Clifden is itself a jewel in the scenic delight that is Connemara. You’ll find it nestled amidst rugged peaks and elegant coastlines making it well worth the visit, if only for a jaunt or a spot of lunch in a picturesque setting.
Continuing on your expedition around Connemara, at the foot of the Druchruach Mountain (529m/1,736ft), in the very heart of the Connemara Mountains, you’ll find Kylemore Abbey and Walled Gardens. An aura of romance surrounds the estate. Explore the illustrious and spectacular grounds, which were originally built in 1867 by Mitchell and Margaret Henry as a means to fulfil their wish to someday live in Connemara (which they visited numerous times after their honeymoon there). Ramble through the same beautiful grounds, which stand as a testament to the couples’ love for each other and the beauty of the region; and discover its rich history involving tragedy, gambling debts, royal visits and engineering initiatives.
Kylemore Abbey is open to visitors all year round and within its confines you can enjoy the Abbey itself, pottery studio, the Gothic Church, restaurant, the Victorian Walled Gardens and a selection of lake and woodland walks. There’s also a craft shop if you feel like getting a memoir of your visit and your very own reminder of this stunning region.
In the Connemara region you’ll also find Connemara National Park – a captivating expanse that covers some 2957 hectares (that’s roughly the same surface area as 7,304 American football fields). You’ll find mountains, heaths and woodlands in this scenic domain, alongside megalithic court tombs, a 19th Century graveyard and Tobar Mweelin - a well which was Kylemore Castles main source of water in the 1800’s.
Discover the flora and fauna of this spectacular park or venture up to the heights of the mountains with the four walking trails on offer. Learn about this vast and beautiful area In the Connemara Landscape exhibition or just breathe in the nature and relax in one of the parks many picnic areas. Time will stand still as you enjoy this immersive expanse.
From here you can visit Maam Valley. In the shadow of the Maamturk Mountains, Maam is a quaint wooded town land which is beside some great fishing lakes. Dotted around the area you’ll find many pre-historic and early historic sites and Killary Fjord – the only one in existence in Ireland. The Western Way is the prefect way to soak up all the area has to offer as this walking trail takes you from the southern end of the Maam Valley right up to the ancient site of Mámean. Around this area you’ll also find “Leaba Pháirc” (Patrick’s bed), a rock recess and “Tobar Pháraic” (Patrick’s well), which mark a place of pilgrimage. The latter of which, was once believed to cure livestock and some human ills.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of the Connemara Region, but the road to Mayo lies ahead and you’ll be spending the night here before the final leg back to Dublin. You’ll be aiming for Westport, but before you get there you can enjoy the splendour of Ashford Castle. This magnificent estate is home to one of Ireland’s grandest castle hotels, but the expansive 350 acre (142 hectares) of parkland grounds is also home to some captivating gardens. The layout and the design of the grounds, which were originally conceived in the 19th Century have been preserved and make for an intriguing visit regardless of whether you’re a garden enthusiast or not.
You’ll find Westport at the foot of Croagh Patrick - A looming mountain where Saint Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days in the 5th Century. On the last Sunday of every year, roughly 15,000 pilgrims climb to the top of the mountain to enjoy the spirituality of the site where Patrick is said to have built a church.
Set against the stunning backdrop of Croagh Patrick, Westport is an undeniably wonderful town. Its charm lies in its mixture of the traditional and the modern. You’ll love the Georgian buildings, tree lined mall and traditional shop fronts, housing the friendliest staff you’ve ever met, which make this town so special. One of the town’s favourite attractions is Westport House and Gardens. Built in 1730 on castle ruins this fascinating estate contains over 30 rooms, dungeons and some arresting gardens. Guided tours are available or you could just drop in for some afternoon tea and bask in the fresh country air of the west.
If you’re itching for a session, there are plenty of live music venues and pubs in Westport with musicians dropping in regularly to play a few tunes and get add to the lively atmosphere. Enjoy the night and get a good nights rest before your journey north.
Day 4: The Donegal Coast
Setting out from Mayo, today brings you’re first experience with Donegal and its lush natural surroundings.. Once again, you will be spoiled with natural beauty and vast landscapes along the way. Upon arrival 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 your 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 to 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 5: The Inishowen Peninsula and Derry City
Now to sample the scenic delight of the Inishowen Peninsula as you travel from Donegal to Derry. This beautiful coastal drive is lined with activities and stunning natural sights – Slieve Snaght (the highest point in Inishowen) and the Knockamany Bends (stand atop the cliff and admire the views of the Five Fingers Strand). Fort Dunree (originally a military fort and now a military museum), which you’ll also find along the drive is an excellent spot for dolphin watching if you’re in the area during the months of May – October.
Getting rid of the car for a while you can enjoy one of the hill 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.
You’ll find heritage sites like the Celtic Prayer Garden – a six acre site, which takes on the shape of the island of Ireland. Tours are available of these peaceful gardens, where you can learn more about Celtic Christian heritage and the lives of Ireland’s most famous saints.
This drive is just packed with an array of things to do and see. There are even a handful of golf courses if you want to try your hand at some of Donegal’s links courses. The villages you’ll find along the way are packed with cosy bistros, which offer a welcome resting point, local craft shops selling their handmade wares and even some fantastic live music venues.
Remember to leave time enough to explore the city of Derry/Londonderry though. The City (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.
Winding down for the night, you can relax and enjoy the thriving live music scene in Derry as you’ll be staying local. When you do make it back to your room, just rest your head and relive your Irish adventures so far as you nod off.
Day 6:The Giant's Causeway
Breathe in the fresh morning air and take a stroll through the streets of Derry City before you set out on the road again on your way to the phenomenal 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 stop will be Carrick-a-Rede Bridge Rope. 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.
Taking the scenic coastal route from here towards the Belfast City 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 city.
When you get there you can enjoy the night lit beauty of this wonderful city and maybe even drop into one of the numerous live music venues before hitting the hay in preparation for your day in Belfast tomorrow.
Day 7: Belfast City
It’s time to greet you last beautiful Irish day and what better way your wrap up your journey that with a visit to Belfast. This bustling city is packed full of culture, wonderful attractions and those friendly faces, which you’ll already have seen so many of on your whirlwind trip around Ireland.
The city of Belfast is divided into four distinct quarters: the Gaeltacht Quarter, the Cathedral Quarter, the Queen’s Quarter and the Titanic Quarter. One after another you’ll be won over by the unique characteristics in each. Although you’ll find diversity in the architecture and the types of attractions in each of these quarters, at their cores you’ll find the same charismatic nature and welcoming charm of the people who live in this fantastic city.
First to the Queen’s Quarter - From Queen’s University to the Botanic Gardens and the Tropical Ravine, 19th Century architecture is certainly well represented here. Aside from stunning landmarks you’ll also find a number of modern art galleries, restaurants and pubs. There is a very strong cultural presence in this quarter and you won’t be disappointed whether you’re looking for a traditional Irish music session or looking to get a glimpse into Belfast’s jazz scene.
The origins of Belfast City can be traced back to an ancient fort, which once held control of the ford across the River Lagan. In and around this area the Irish language flourished the most and continues to do so in what is now known as the Gaeltacht Quarter. There are a number of organised tours around the part of the city, which will bring visitors to a number of sites with political importance as well as two of the city’s famous cemeteries.
The Cathedral Quarter is the historical heart of Belfast and takes its named from St. Anne’s Cathedral. In 1990 it was deemed a Conservation Area in order to preserve the identity and unique features of this part of the city. In the Cathedral Quarter you’ll find narrow cobble stone streets and buildings, which ooze character and charm around every corner. In recent times this part of the city has become a stage for many visual and performing artists. Couple this with a thriving arts and crafts scene and you can see why the people of Belfast are so keen to preserve the spirit of this area.
Last, but certainly not least is the Titanic Quarter. In 1912 the maiden voyage of the Titanic resulted in one of the most tragic and deadly peacetime maritime disasters in history. The spirits of the Titanic and Belfast are forever intertwined and as you explore this area you can discover the city’s role in the story.
The Titanic Belfast opened in April 2012 to mark the Titanic’s one hundred year anniversary. It covers a staggering 14,000 sq m (150,700 sq ft) and 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 towering structure exerts its dominance on the skyline, situated beside the Harland and Wolfe shipyards where the famous ship was built. It truly is a sight to behold and a must see for any visitor to Belfast.
There is just so much to take in in Belfast so you’ll be glad you have a full day to go at your own pace as you wander around its four quarters. If you need to take a breather, drop into the victoria Centre. Across four floors you’ll find a daunting variety of shops, restaurants and cafes. It really is a shopper’s paradise that will keep you content whether you’re looking for a bite to eat or fitting in a quick spot of retail therapy.
As the evening comes to a close and the night sky unravels over Belfast city, it’s time to kick back and experience this buzzing city’s nightlife. Hatfield House is a real treat if you’re looking for a true traditional Irish pub. Recent restoration work on the pub has returned it to its former glory with original bar fixtures, ornate ceilings and expert craftsmanship, which was carried out by the very same men who worked on the HMS Titanic.
If you’d prefer a quiet dinner, you’ll be spoilt for choice with a superb range of restaurants covering every taste. Local produce at an affordable price or a local chef’s signature take on some continental delights? Belfast has it all, so the only difficulty you’ll find is in decided, which menu tickles your taste buds the most.
You’ll be staying in Belfast again tonight so you won’t have to say goodbye just yet. Savour you’re last evening in Northern Ireland, because the final leg of your journey and the trip south back to Dublin begins tomorrow.
- Titanic's Dock and Pumphouse
- The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
- The Belfast Gaeltacht Experience
- Carrickfergus Castle
Day 8: Departure from Belfast
On your last day in Ireland you might have enough time be able to fit in one last sweep around Belfast and its four glorious quarters. You’ll board your flight with a wide smile knowing this is going to be one holiday you won’t forget too soon. From the Cliffs of Moher to the Giant’s Causeway and some of Ireland’s most naturally stunning landscapes, the stories and memories, which you bring home with you are guaranteed to delight and amaze.