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Is an Irish Winter Road Trip Worth it? Where to go and what to see.

When telling my friends that my wife and I were planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Dublin before setting off on a road trip of the Irish and Northern Irish coast the response was pretty unanimous, “but isn’t Ireland’s winter weather pretty well-known for being cloudy, windy, and rainy?”. To which my usual response was, “Yes, but that’s what pubs and pints of Guinness are for.” This trip quenched a thirst I didn’t know I had, not just the Guinness variety. Yes, we were treated to a lovely Irish winter of pouring rain and hearty wind, but also to beautiful sunrises and sunsets along with views that even I didn’t know Ireland had… along with some incredible food. In this blog, I’ll be sharing not only the beautiful views and stops along our road trip, but some of the best pubs, restaurants, and shopping we found along the way.

Before we dive into the itinerary, I want to send a special shoutout to Pakt Bags for sponsoring this trip. My wife and I took the challenge of packing everything we needed into one 45L Travel Backpack each. Loved this bag and it will be a regular in my travels from here on out.


This was my third trip to Dublin, and it remains one of my favorite European cities. So much to do and see, let alone the best pints of Guinness you’ll ever have. It is true what they say: Guinness really is better in Ireland. We stayed at the Trinity City Hotel, and I can’t recommend it enough. It is centrally located in a beautifully designed and Irish-owned hotel. For years I’ve heard that the Guinness Brewery Tour is well worth the money and I can now confirm it is. As a lover of Guinness, it was very interesting to learn about not only the rich history of how these pints are brewed but many of the iconic advertising campaigns as well. We even opted for the “STOUTie” experience, where they take a photo of you and “print” it into the foam of your Guinness.

Here are some of my favorite shops and eateries in Dublin:

  • Swan Bar – My favorite place to get a pint of Guinness in all of Dublin. This Victorian-style bar has a rich history and was owned by an ardent Irish Republican. It served as a weapons cache during the 1916 Easter Uprising and was a stronghold throughout the Irish War for Independence. Ask the bartender to show you the bullet holes in the wall if it’s not too busy.
  • The Stags Head – Another great traditional Irish pub, a previous haunt of Irish Revolutionary Michael Collins. Great food, great staff, and the Irish ambiance to enjoy a pint of Guinness (or ten).
  • Mr Fox – We undertook their seven-course dinner on New Year’s Eve, and it was easily one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. There’s no surprise that it earned a spot on the Michelin Guide, but even so the prices remain fair.
  • Banker Bar – One of my favorite bars to photograph from the outside and inside, the ambiance matches the beauty.
  • Sheridan Cheesemongers – This is the place for you if you love cheese. They’ll let you sample anything on the shelves, and we walked home with arms full of cheese and a baguette to soak up some of the pints.
  • Fallon and Byrne Food Hall – Another great stop with ready-made sandwiches, a full deli, and lots of dry goods and fresh foods. If you go here, you must bring me a bottle of my favorite hot sauce in the world, Mic’s Chili- inferno.

Road Trip Day 1: Dublin to Cliffs of Moher/Galway

  • Travel Time: 4.5 hours

This was our longest drive day as we needed to get from the eastern coast to start our journey on the Wild Atlantic Way. The drive from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher takes a little over 3 hours, and then it’s another hour north to the town of Galway. And this is when we had our first big taste of Irish Winter weather. Upon arriving at the iconic Cliffs of Moher, the fog was so heavy that the parking lot attendant advised us that it wasn’t worth paying the entry fee, so we decided to head up to our hotel in Galway.

My wife and I came on this trip with one simple objective: purchasing a traditional Irish Aran sweater. After asking around, doing some research online, and checking out several stores in Galway, we decided to purchase them from Aran Sweater Market. We splurged for the handmade ones and you can see them below.

Here is where we stayed, ate, and shopped in Galway:

  • Hotel: Skeffington Arms Hotel
  • The Latin Quarter – Cultural heart of Galway with numerous shops, bars, restaurants and more.
  • Brasserie On The Corner – Great local mussels and fish and chips!
  • The Salt House – over 120 craft beers (23 on draught) from around the world in a low-key atmosphere. We waited out a huge rainstorm with some board games and delicious pints.
  • Fairhill Coffee – beautifully done flat white and artisnal coffee
Skeffington Arms Hotel, Galway

Day 2: Galway to Slieve League to Donegal

Travel time: 4 hours

Another big day of driving, but with plenty of stops, including a stop at Mullaghmore Head. We would have stopped to see the Saint John’s Point Lighthouse on the way to Slieve League, but the winter daylight hours are short! Slieve League is over double the height of the Cliffs of Moher, is a lot less visited, and only costs €5 per car vs. the €12 per person it costs to visit the Cliffs of Moher. Our visit to the town of Donegal was plagued by heavy rain, so we ate a delicious and hearty dinner of fish and chips, seafood chowder, and oysters at the Olde Castle Seafood Bar before tucking into the cute Abbey Hotel.

Day 3: Donegal to Malin Head to Port Rush, NI

Travel Time: 3 hours

With sunrise in the winter at about 9 am, we opted to use this to our advantage and get up to Malin Head to watch the sunrise from the furthest north point on the Isle of Ireland. The hour and 45 minute drive from Donegal breezed by, and we were the only people at this stunning spot (minus a few curious sheep who tagged along). It’s easy to see why this location was used for filming a few scenes in Star Wars: Episode 8 The Last Jedi. Having skipped breakfast and hiked out to Malin Head, we had worked up a hearty appetite, and luckily, that was easily fixed by the nearby Nancy’s Barn – Ballyliffin, home to the world’s best seafood chowder. I’m not kidding, this little hole in the wall won the Seafood Chowder Championship a few years ago, something I didn’t know existed but now I make it my life goal to be a judge.

After refueling our stomachs, we set our sights on my first visit to the UK, with a trip over the border to Northern Ireland. It felt only right to head to the Museum of Free Derry to learn about Bloody Sunday to understand better the history of Ireland and the conflicts that have plagued this beautiful island.

From Londonderry, we made the under-hour drive to Dunluce Castle, but instead of heading to the castle itself, we went to the Magheracross Car Park and Viewpoint. This free parking area has a phenomenal view down the coast and of Dunluce Castle, and as a bonus, you can see the Wishing Arch. We stayed a half-hour drive away in Coleraine, but if we did it again, we’d stay on the coast in Portrush. The Harbour Bar in Portrush is by far the best place in the area for a pint of Guinness and cozy pub vibes.

Day 4: Giant’s Causeway, Kinbane Castle, Dark Hedges, and Belfast

Drive Time: 1.5 hours

One of the few must-see-stops for us on this trip was the Giant’s Causeway and the unique bastalt columns famous in this area. We opted to do this for sunrise and were one of only a small handful of people there, but after hiking to the Amphitheater and spending the morning here, the buses started to show and made us grateful for the morning solitude.

Just down the road is the seldom visited Kinbane Castle, dating back to the 1500s. A good amount of stairs down to an outcropping sits what is left of Kinbane Castle. But ruins aside, the views are spectacular and I highly recommend walking all the way out to the point sitting beyond and above the castle.

Breaking up the drive to Belfast, we continued to accidentally turn our road trip into a Game of Thrones tour (even though I still have never seen the show). I was worried that the Dark Hedges would be overrun by hoards of tourists, but once again, I was reminded of why I love traveling in the winter. When we showed up, there were at least 50 tourists on the famous road, but we quickly realized that they all had shown up on the same bus and were on their way out. For a solid ten minutes, we had the place to ourselves before the next bus showed up. While pretty touristy, it is still worth the stop. From there, we completed the less than hour drive to Belfast to spend the last few nights of our journey.

Day 5: Belfast

Long have I heard tales of Belfast and its rough and tumble past, but the city we found upon arrival was safe, walkable, and full of charm. Incredible food, perfect pints of Guinness, and a rich history awaited us. The biggest draw was a visit to the Titanic Museum, which did not disappoint us. The museum is incredibly well done and immersive to transport you back to the days when these massive ships were being constructed just out of the door from the Museum. If you don’t care to stay in the heart of Belfast, there’s even a hotel next to the museum, the Titanic Hotel Belfast. But with so much to see and do in the heart of Belfast, I would recommend looking at hotels such as the Bullitt Hotel. Below are a few of my favorite spots for grub and/or pints. Our flight out of Dublin was a mid-day flight, so we opted to make the two-hour drive in the morning before the flight.

Favorite restaurants and Bars

  • The National: Beautiful bar with great cocktails
  • Bunsen Hill St: No-nonsense eatery with simple but delicious burgers
  • EDO Restaurant: Unique Tapas with an Irish twist, highly recommend the duck liver paella
  • Robinsons Bar – The second oldest pub in Belfast, full of Titanic memorabilia
  • Duke of York – I loved this bar so much we went twice. Great live music, tons of historic advertising memorabilia from Guinness, whiskey brands, and more.

In conclusion…

So let’s answer, “Is an Irish winter road trip a good idea?”. Well, with the right attitude, anything is a good idea. We went into this trip fully embracing the idea we would get rained out of many activities, and indeed, we did. But the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits, and we made the most of our adventure. And yes, we did drive quite a bit every day and could have easily done this whole itinerary in double the time and still not seen it all.

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Andy Austin

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