Ireland & N. Ireland - driving tour

Jan 9th, 2004, 02:35 PM
  #1  
Syv
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Ireland & N. Ireland - driving tour

First time to the "emerald isle".

March 9, 2004 - arrival in Belfast (from Canada). Have to be in Rasharkin to visit friends by the 14th early morning.

Is all (see below) possible between 9th noon (leave airport)- 13th p.m. (arrive Rasharkin)? Mileage seems so short, yet everyone warns me of the challenges of getting used to driving on the left, and slow-going roads...

*** Belfast - Dublin (just take a 2 or 3-hour bus tour & leave) - Wicklow Mtns - Kilkenny - Waterford - Ring of Kerry - Ennistymon - Clifden - Westport - Achill Island - Sligo - Donegal - Londenderry - Ballycastle - Ballymena - Rasharkin. ***

We will basically just be doing a slow "drive & stop for scenery photos" type of tour. We do not intend to enter castles / churches that require admission since we cannot afford it. We will go to the national parks that are along our route, Giant's Causeway, Cliffs of Moher. We do intend to "skip" the blarney stone (again because of admission fees). We are not into big hikes - just the shorter less strenuous type at scenic sites. We're not interested in "city life" at all. We will not be visiting any pubs/night life.

This whole trip already is ending up quite more than we expected just with the flight & rental car alone. We will be able to stay overnight with friends (connections through our church) especially in N. Ireland.

Any advice / suggestions are appreciated.

Thanks.

Sylvia
Syv is offline  
Jan 9th, 2004, 07:49 PM
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Sylvia-I always recommend Pat Preston's web site for Ireland advice.
Try: www.irelandexpert.com
go to the Q&A section-she's fabulous and her site is great!
Shadow
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Jan 10th, 2004, 04:19 AM
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You will have a great time Sylvia! Make sure to take the coast road to the Giant's Causeway! The drive is quite a treat! Wear your walking shoes when you get to the Causeway but it's worth it!While it is a slower pace than in the US anyway, you should be ok.

Lily
LilyLace is offline  
Jan 10th, 2004, 05:13 AM
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yes, travel times are slow (especially for 1st timers) and no this is not possible in 5 days.

Skip the trip to Dublin, you won't accomplish much and the price of parking and the tour would cover the price of an Ireland Heritage Pass (20E, less if you are a student)unless you limit trip to Northern Irland.

Pick one or two areas: the North (Giant's causeway, maybe down to Boyne Valley), West (Connemara, Donegal, maybe Cliffs of Moher).

Just fyi, the pubs are the best part. This is where you will have a chance to meet and talk with the Irish and hear some traditional music. Plus, pub grub is cheap and good.

If you don't like cities, skip Dublin, Waterford, and Kilkenny.

Go to the library and get out all of the tour books on Ireland. This is the best way to find cheap/free sights.
chip is offline  
Jan 10th, 2004, 05:53 AM
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Sylvia, it sounds like you are trying to do the whole perimeter of the country. We spent 10 days there once and went from Dublin to Kilkenny to Cork/Blarney/Kinsale/Dingle/Galway/Dublin. We didn't even try to go north on that trip. Last spring it took 6 days to go from Shannon/Galway/Clifden/Westport/Sligo/Donegal/Derry/Inishowen Penn/Enniskillen/Shannon. We put 1300 miles on that car. Although places are relatively close, travel time is slow, and I would guess you should figure on only averaging about 35 miles an hour. I would second the notion of choosing an area and concentrating on it rather than spending so much time driving.
allisonm is offline  
Jan 10th, 2004, 06:18 AM
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Sylvia, I have to agree with other posters. I really don't think it's possible to do what you are planning. On my first trip to Ireland, I basically zipped around as fast as I could and it still took 10 or 12 days. If you are not into big cities or don't want to spend too much money, Then I agree with skipping Dublin and concentrating on certan areas. The west coast and the north are beautiful. Why don't you think about driving up the Antrim Coast, then over to Donegal, down through Sligo, to Galway. From there visit the Cliffs of Moher, than on down to Killarney and drive the Ring of Kerry . Too bad you couldn't fit in Dingle Peninsula. Then I think you;ll have to bee-line it back to NOrthern Ireland. Although you do want to do a whirl-wind tour, you still should allow yourself time to stop and smell the roses. FOr instance on the Ring of Kerry, there are such beautiful areas to stop and just soak in the views.
As far as going out to Clifden and Westport, it is a long way... and it really does take time.
Hope you enjoy your trip.
kodi is offline  
Jan 10th, 2004, 08:47 AM
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Sylvia,

I'm going to jump in here and say the same exact thing: you are trying to fit in too much and you won't see half of it.

If slowing down and enjoying your time away is your "thang" then there is no better place than the north of the island of Ireland. I'm including Donegal and counties further west here.

If you flew into Belfast and bee-lined it to the Cliffs of Moher area, you could spend the remainder of your days making your way back North and your friend's place. Take in The Cliffs and The Burren, drive Connemara and up through Mayo and Sligo. Drive through Donegal and see all their amazing coastal areas. Then take a day or two in Northern Ireland (where the drive times are a bit better due to improved roads but still on the slow side, not like the States or Canada.) Even this will be on the fast side of things, though since you have decided to skip visiting castles and bigger towns you won't be slowed as much by trying to fit them in.

I agree that a Duchas pass is well worth the money however not so much in March when many places are not even open. Unless you are able to return within one year of date you purchased your pass, I would skip on the Duchas card this time around.

Staying in hotels or B&Bs in Northern Ireland will be expensive due to the difference in the dollar and sterling pound. Stay in the Republic until you can visit/stay with your friends. Even with the Euro as high as it is, compared to the dollar you will still get the better deal.

Lots of free stuff to see and do in Ireland so be sure to get a book that stresses this. (Personally I like "Frommer's Ireland from $60 a Day" or a book about walking or hiking Ireland. Also you can stay at hostels to lower the cost of your visit. Just a few thoughts.

Enjoy your trip!

Wendy
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waffle18 is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 10:06 AM
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"Bee-lining" from Belfast to the Cliffs of Moher is a full days drive. You certainly couldn't do it on your first day because of exhaustion. Try to plan no more than 2-3 hours maximum for that day. You really only have 4 days for your travel (10th-13th).

If I were you, I would focus my time on NI and Donegal. You don't need to go to the Cliffs of Moher to see spectacular coast lines in Ireland. Virtually any spot along the Donegal coast is spectacular and all of the scenery is free. The Slieve League Cliffs are spectacular and if the weather is good you can take a hike along them though it tends to get very windy.

As for places to stay, you might consider hostels. I've never used them but they tend to be a bit cheaper though the breakfasts at B&Bs are usually huge and can keep you filled up for a good part of the day. Hostels don't provide breakfast. Unfortunately, you've chosen one of the more expensive countries to visit in the EU and in NI, the GBP to CND will be pretty painful. There are loads of sites that list hostels in both NI and Ireland. Just do a search.

I'm not sure how much time you will be spending with friends in NI, but there is a lot to see from there. Honestly, I would have a hard time staying out of the pubs, especially in the rural areas, but you need to stick to your budget.

Bill
wojazz3 is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 11:17 AM
  #9  
Syv
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Thank you everyone. Even though a small (to look at on a map) island, I wondered if all that would be possible. Especially because of the 35 mph average plus the challenge to get used to driving on the left.

Re: jet lag, we have a one-day stopover (w/ hotel stay) in London to take "whirlwind" double-decker bus tour. So that will help cut the jet lag on our arrival to Belfast a bit.

I believe our plane arrival is about 10:00-10:30 a.m. Belfast. *** By the time we get our luggage and rental car, will we still have time to "make a bee-line across to Cliffs of Moher"?

We do not need to arrive in Rasharkin until late p.m. the 13th or even mid-morning the 14th.

Will look up the books & websites everyone has posted. THANK YOU!

*** Any recommendations of "must sees" that are worth the admission price or specific roads we should not miss?

My friend wants to go to Belleek Pottery. I guess we'll skip Waterford Crystal & the southeast.

Yes - I've been looking at the hostel prices. Are they only for "youth" or can adults stay as well? In March, will there be vacancies to just walk in without a reservation?

Thanks again for all your help.
I've noticed the attitude in the replies here is much more encouraging and helpful toned than on "that other forum"

Sylvia
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Jan 12th, 2004, 11:43 AM
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The drive from Blefast to the Cliffs of Moher is going to take 5-6 hours. That's an awfully long time to spend in the car on your first day. You might want to look at stopping midway.
MaryZ is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 11:43 AM
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The drive from Belfast to the Cliffs of Moher is going to take 5-6 hours. That's an awfully long time to spend in the car on your first day. You might want to look at stopping midway.
MaryZ is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 02:07 PM
  #12  
Syv
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Thanks - that sounds do-able though (yes - with at least a few "stretch" breaks).
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Jan 12th, 2004, 05:06 PM
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I have to second Bill for staying around the northwest. While the Cliffs of Moher are amazing, Slieve League was also incredible. Plus you get the harrowing drive up the side of Slieve League. When we reached the top one glorious windy day, another couple had also just arrived. The woman got out of the car, promptly sat on a small rock and absolutely refused to move, she was so terrified. My husband & I did a little rock-posturing/hamming for the photo album (someday I will figure out how to share pics online) but were never in danger. I did, however, freak out on the way down the hill, since somehow it was much more terrifying than the ride up. Anyway, if it's scenery and thrills you are seeking, don't miss the Donegal coast!
allisonm is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 05:21 PM
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Since it's your first visit , I'm sure you want to fit in as much as possible and see all the beautiful sites you've heard about. Besides the Antrim Coast, the most scenic part of Ireland, in my opinion, is the west coast. So if you could see a bit of both, it would be great. BUt I do agree with Bill, if you focused on NI and Donegal, you'd see some spectacular scenery and have more time to enjoy it. Sleive League is truly an awesome site.
kodi is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 04:23 AM
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Question: As I'm not good with heights, is it possible to enjoy the Donegal coast without having to do this harrowing driving, i.e., is there a low road as well? Can Sleive League be enjoyed at all without the daredevil driving? I'm serious--I cannot stomach that, but this is the area where I plan to travel next month. Now I'm becoming uncertain about my choice....
Holldoll is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 07:27 AM
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Sylvia,

The time of the year you are going (early March) and the area you are looking at in the Republic (Donegal, Sligo and Mayo) will limit you in what all you can visit. I mean this in a paying sort of way. ie. many of the "sights'" will be closed at that time of year. So most of the stuff you are looking at doing is free by default.

To answer your other questions first, you should have no trouble finding hostels or B&Bs without reservatins at that time of the year. If, however, you arrive into town very late you may want to have called ahead so that someone will be expecting you. (Not sure if someone is on staff 24/7 at hostels though, knowing Ireland, I doubt it. If you go the B&B route you will be turning up on someone doorstep so it's always a good idea to call ahead of time.) Any open tourist office in town can help you with this.

My understanding of hostels is that any paying adult may stay if there's room though I suspect you will find a younger crowd there. Again, someone who has familiarity with hostels feel free to jump in...

As for places to not miss. If you decide to do the drive to Clare then do not miss the Cliffs of Moher. While in Clare be sure to tour The Burren area - you will hardly be able to miss it. The Poulnabrone Dolmen is free to look at and admire. If you have the time then check out Bunratty Folkpark and Castle. This one is worth it and will be open while you are there. (Many other castles you will have to pass by as they will not be open. Sorry.)

Go around Galway unless you are looking to do some shopping. Not a lot in town to see and do though I personally love just walking the streets there.

Connemara is a beautiful area and one I always take in on every trip back. Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey will both be open. There's a fee to get into the Abbey's garden but not for the Park -- I think this is correct as the Visitors Center will be closed. Please, anyone correct me if not. Roundstone and Clifden are two of my favorite smaller towns to visit in this area though both may be too far off the path for your short journey.

If they are open, be sure to stop and tour the Ceide Feilds in Mayo. I loved this place and the history is just amazing! I've not visited myself but have heard of Foxford Woolen Mills. Supposed to be fun and interesting - any first hand experiences out there?

If you are bee-lining to Donegal after Clare then be sure to stop in Cong. This is where the famous Ashford Castle is. We were able to drive right onto the grounds without paying but that was several years ago. You can only "tour" the castle if you are a guest but if it looks quiet enough there's no hard in asking someone at the front desk if they'd mind you having a peek about - the worst they can say is No. Cong is also the small town where "The Quiet Man" was filmed. If you don't know about "The Quiet Man" well, I'll not go into here...

Sligo town is one we usually just breeze on through. In fact we usually drive straight through all this area until we hit Ballyshannon in Donegal. I'm sure though that the countryside in the Sligo area is worth visiting but you won't have the time.

The castle in Donegal is reportedly closed until mid-March but I will go further than that by saying it can also be closed through mid--April. It was when we were there last April ('03) though apparently it WAS open for tours on the weekends (we arrived and departed on a Thursday). Ireland is like that. So if you can get into it then it is well worth a poke around. If not, you can stand and admire the outside for free as long as you like! The drive from Donegal to Letterkenny is one through a lovely bog. The coast road, however, is much more dramatic and impressive. Either way be sure to stop in Letterkenny and visit. One of my favorite small-medium Irish towns. If you have time then drive the Inishowen Peninsula and vist Malin Head. You'll be the furthest north of Ireland you can get while still being in the south! Ha! (Others have already mentioned Slieve League...)

Northern Ireland is a place I haven't fully explored yet so I'll leave Must Sees to someone more knowledgable than I.

Good luck on your trip!

Wendy

waffle18 is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 09:25 AM
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Hi Sylvia:

I think you have gotten a bit of misinformation here. The drive time from Belfast to the Cliffs of Moher is NOT 5-6 hours. Even viamichelin lists it at 6.5 hours and they are almost always too conservative. Given that you will be unfamiliar with the roads, perhaps unfamiliar with driving on the left and you will have a 99% chance of getting lost at least once, I would figure about 8 hours minimum.

Since you will have been in London, you won't have to go through customs, but I would figure you will be IN in your car by about 11:30-12:00. An 8 hour drive will put you at the cliffs at sometime around 8:00 and the sunsets at 6:30 on March 9. The cliffs aren't quite as nice in the dark

I don't want to be a kill joy here, but it's a very bad idea to do what you are trying to do. There are so many beautiful places to visit in Ireland, there is no reason to kill yourself to get to the Cliffs of Moher. Please trust me and the others who have commented on this. It's just too far. I made a similar length trip on my first try and made it to my B&B at 11:30 PM and I started earlier. They were not plesed with me.

As kodi mentioned, the Antrim Coast is fantastic. You can see that perhaps after you arrive in Rasharkin. The coast ride from Belfast to Cushendal is beautiful but if you then take the Torr Road north out of Cushendun to Ballycastle, you will be amazed.

Since you mentioned Beleek Pottery, consider heading west from Belfast through Co Fermanagh which is one of Irelands undiscovered gems. The lake country is beautiful there. You could make it to Belleek and perhaps spend your 1st night near there perhaps going as far as Donegal.

The next day, you could head into Donegal, take the coast road through Killeybegs and on to Carrick, always following the signs for the scenic route (to both Kilcar and later Carrick). If the weather is good, you'll want to spend some time around the Slieve League Cliffs. I have directions to them if you want, because it's a bit confusing. From there you can head out to Glencolmcille and then up to Ardara. You could return to Donegal for the night.

On the next day you could head north through Letterkenny and up to the Fanad Peninsula. The drive out to Fanad head is spectacular and the lighthouse sitting on the cliffs is certainly worth the trip. You could return to Letterkenny and spend the night there where I'm sure there is hostel accommodation.

Another day from Letterkenny could take you through Glenveigh Natl Park and more of the west coast of Donegal. You would probably want to reverse this with the Fanad Day.

On your next day (the 13th) you could head across NI and see Giants Causway, Dunluce Castle and Carrick-a-Rede. Stay in Rasharkin that evening.

9th - Donegal
10th - Donegal
11th Letterkenny
12th - Letterkenney
13th - Ballycastle

That would be my plan. If you are desperate to see more, you could feasibly get into Co Sligo a bit on the first day, and then head to Donegal cutting out one of the days that I suggested. There are some very nice ancient sites to visit in and around Sligo if you want some thoughts on that.

Bill
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Jan 13th, 2004, 10:35 AM
  #18  
Syv
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thank you very much for the lengthy reports Bill & Wendy. I'll consider all this in re-thinking my itinerary.

Yes - Bill please provide the directions for Slieve League Cliffs.

Sylvia
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Jan 13th, 2004, 02:43 PM
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Yes, yes yes!!! I strongly agree with Bill's plan. It is a great itinerary and believe me, you will be hard pressed to see more beautiful scenery. The Antrim coast and the suggested things to see are perfect. And Donegal is awesome. When you go out past Donegal to Killybegs and out further , be sure to take Bill's advice and take the roads marked scenic.
The only thing I would add is if you have time on your day out from Letterkenny, do the drive around Horn Head at Dunganaghy.
Bill, I had totally forgotteen about the Torr Head Road on the Antrim Coast. It's been almost 20 yeasr since I drove it on my first trip to NI. Fabulous!!
kodi is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 02:49 PM
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Hollydoll, I'm afraid some of the roads may not be very good for you. I really don't think you'd like Slieve League and from what I remember, you can't really see it any other way. There is so much you will enjoy, just stick to the main roads, and don't take the little wee roads designated 'scenic'. Also, if you get a Michelin map, there is a symbol for cliffs, so you'll be able to tell which roads go right beside cliffs.
Good luck.
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