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Northern Ireland, Donegal & Dublin?

We are two couples planning a trip to Ireland in June of 2015. While my wife & I have been to the Republic two times & covered most of the country, we have never been to Northern Ireland. This will be my brother & his wife's first trip to either. All four of us have Irish ancestry but not sure where. At this point we want to fly into Dublin & tour for a couple of days then rent a car and head north. We want to visit Armagh, Belfast, Giant's Causeway & sights near. We also want to visit the Donegal area. Planning on two weeks total.

We have a few questions:
1) Are there any problems driving between the North and the Republic in a rental car? I remember in 1998 it was not recommended, but we know things have changed since then.
2) Would it be better to fly into Belfast and rent our car and reverse the trip to end in Dublin?
3) Any other suggestions for sights, experiences, places, etc. that we need to add will be appreciated.
(I know this leaves things wide open, but it also allows everyone an opportunity to share their favorites.)

Posted by
135 posts

Hello

A nice combination you are considering, and a little different from the usual more southerly tourist trail!

  1. I drive across all three areas at least once a year, and have been doing so since the late 80s. I've used my own car, and rental cars, with never a problem. However be sure to check when booking about any company-specific issues or costs you might incur by so doing; often there is an additional cost if driving cross-border. One way trips may cost more too. Nowadays you would hardly even know you are crossing the border - all the British army checkpoints are gone, and only the general road sign styles and reminders about 'speeds in km or mph' will give you a clue.
  2. Where you start and finish may depend on a number of choices you have. For instance flight availability and cost will figure. Also, if you do the sensible thing and consider a near-circular route, you should either do Dublin > Donegal > Giants Causeway > Armagh > Belfast, or the reverse, reason being that you will work your way closer to your departure airport - both airports are more to the east than the west. Donegal is about 4 to 5 hours drive from Dublin, but only about 3 hours drive to/from Belfast (International Airport)
  3. I know more about Donegal and Dublin than Northern Ireland sights, but Giants Causeway / Bushmills and Dunluce Castle are a day's worth; Derry/Londonderry city is worth half a day; Donegal Town is a stop for a couple of hours. Other sights in Donegal worth seeing (other than the scenery which you can't really ignore / escape!) might include the Slieve League cliffs; Glencolumbkille; Glenveagh and Mount Errigal; any of the northerly peninsulas; or a drive along the northern portion of the Wild Atlantic Way. Also see http://www.govisitdonegal.com/ for more info.
Posted by
1239 posts

The last couple of times I have been to Ireland there has been no issue in crossing the border. As Mark says the border is easy to cross and just a speed limit sign is all that is often posted. Last time I was in Northern Ireland most of the hire cars had Republic of Ireland plates having been collected in Dublin.

If you take a one way hire car, there is the issue of crossing the border and therefore the cost may be impacted. Doing a round trip from Belfast would give a hire car with both mph and km/h on the speedometer, whereas one from the Republic may have km/h only.

For other places to visit I would recommend the Ulster-American Heritage Park at Omagh in addition to the places mentioned.

Posted by
61 posts

Just did this actually. Flew in and out of Dublin, but rented the car and drove around in the North.

  1. Make sure your rental car has a MPH option, and how to change it if so. Yes, I know that seems obvious, but....the Volvo I rented was set for KPH and there was NO OWNERS MANUAL (Thanks, Hertz). Luckily, I had my own satnav, and was able to use that.

  2. If you rent a diesel, be prepared for the fuel-saving engine turn off option. This surprised the hell outta me. Foot on brake long enough, car died. Foot off of brake and onto the gas, it restarted. Great gas milage, but must be pretty tough on starters.

  3. If you choose the gas up before you return it option, the gas station that I usually use just before Dublin was closeed at 5am in the morning, and didn't have any after-hours auto payment options. (Had a early flight to CDG) So i ended up eating a full tank of fuel cost to Hertz. In retrospect, probably good enough deal since they charge a service fee anyhow on top of the fuel cost, may as well have had them put a full tank in.

  4. Make sure that CDW is absolutely spelled out in your contract. The fella at the Hertz counter pointed out that the CDW waiver for IE vehicles is not covered by credit card, your personal policy, etc. Dunno how valid that was, but I took the extra coverage anyhow, so as not to have to dink around with it. Turned out useful, as I came out one day to find someone had side-swiped my rental. Other than the additional "pay-me" daily charge, no hassle.

  5. You can fly into and out of Belfast, but your choices for direct flights from the US are quite limited. I've never found one that was coming out of an airport in the US that I wanted to fly out of.

  6. Now for the fun stuff. What to visit in the North. Just took our two lads and our new future daughter in law on a week long visit. Here's what we found really worth doing. In the Belfast area - Carrickfergus castle - real castle, easy to get to and park. Life size statue of "King Billy" out front for photo opportunities. :) The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum complex - this is several museums in one large area - a recreation of rural Ireland of the 19th century, a 19th century town, a linen and textiles museum, and a vehicle museum. The Titanic Quarter - see Samson and Goliath (two BIG yellow cranes) the Titanic Museum (plan about 3 to 4 hours) and the pump house (huge old drydock, very Victorian engineering if you like that - we do). The Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens at Queens University. Belfast Castle (19th century Folly, but neat history and a absolutely breath taking view of Belfast lough). Skip the Belfast Zoo unless you have Sherpa in your ancestry. The entire thing is built on a very hilly slope. Even being a few hundred feet above sea level, we were gasping and panting. The Antrim coast road - this spans the north coast of the NE tip of Ireland, and has several places along it that are on the tourist trail such as the Carrick-a-Rede bridge, the Causeway, Bushmills, Dunluce Castle. Lovely drive, and a lot of picturesque little towns and villages to drive through. There are tons of other things, but that is our high points. You could include a side trip to Downpatrick, and see where the Saint is buried (about a hour from Belfast), we did that a couple of trips ago.

Best of luck, and hope you have a fun time!

Glenn in Tucson

Posted by
53 posts

Thanks so much for the great feedback. Please keep it coming.

Posted by
5256 posts

Did this trip last November. Rented an Enterprise auto in Belfast (actually the production office rented in on my behalf) and drove it to Dingle. Spent 4 days there enjoying the beauty of Slea Head, Killarney National Park, Inch Beach, Gap of Dunloe and a few pints with the locals at Foxy John's. 4.5 hour drive from Belfast. There is a toll road near Dublin but I paid via an online site. Easy Peasy. As far as what to see in Belfast: The Crumlin Gaol, Titanic Museum, St. Stephen's Market, City Hall, The Botanical Gardens, St. Anne's, St. Malachy's, The Opera House and enjoy pints at the Spaniard and Duke of York. The area around the Duke of York is an interesting maze of alleys, murals, shops, pubs. Go there late in the day or early evening. Charming. On Donegal Street visit Belfast Exposed. Might be an interesting photography show in the gallery. Here's a link to what happens there. http://www.belfastexposed.org Right next to it was a cafe where I had a filling breakfast. Sorry cannot remember the name but run by two lovely young women who cooked up a storm. They'd just taken over the place. Hope they made a go of it. Afterwards wandered down the adjacent alley (Exchange Place) and meandered over to Commerical Street (its an alley) where I discovered the Duke of York pub. Murals are plentiful on this walk. Lastly, an absolute must is Shankill Road (we hired our own cabbie after he picked us up at the Gaol to take us to the sites. He did a stellar job explaining The Troubles. He was Catholic married to a Protestant. Black Cab Tours do this as well) . Try the seafood at Mournes in the alley by Kelly's Cellars Pub. You won't be disappointed. I also enjoyed walking along the waterfront all of which had been built up since my first visit to Belfast in 97'. Enjoy.

Posted by
81 posts

I can only comment about the Donegal portion.

I thought it was an easy drive from Dublin to Donegal. You have to factor in unplanned stops for photo ops of course. We left the Dublin airport around 10 a.m. and after numerous stops and a lunch stop, we were at our B&B just north of Donegal around 3 p.m. There is one short stretch of the drive that you are in Northern Ireland but you wouldn't know it if you didn't have a map. There were no signs or anything.

I would highly, highly recommend The Arches B&B just outside of Donegal. It is absolutely an awesome place. It sits on the hillside overlooking Lough Eske and the Blue Stack Mountains. It is a little hard to find but if I can find it anybody can.
http://www.archescountryhse.com/

We used it as a base to go to Glenveagh National Park one day and the Slieve League Cliffs another day.

Donegal and Dingle are our 2 favorite places in all of Ireland. They are just not very close together.

Have a blast!