If you’ve been planning a road trip in Ireland, one of the routes you’re likely curious about is the Dublin to Belfast drive or vice versa. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland’s capital respectively, both have enough sights and scenes to keep any visitor busy and are luckily only a two-hour drive from one another. We’ve picked some of the most worthwhile stops between the two cities, and we’ll also be addressing some of the more general concerns about the trip that readers may have. Whether you’re a foodie, a nature-lover or a history buff, there’s something for everyone to be found in our suggestions below.
Planning a Dublin to Belfast Road Trip
The drive from Dublin to Belfast, or from Belfast to Dublin takes just over 2 hours when travelling via motorway, along the M1 on the Republic’s side and then along the A1 on the Northern Irish side. If you’re hoping to get there in the quickest time possible, with minimal stops and no sightseeing, then this is the way to do it. While the roads in Ireland are generally of a high quality, the motorways are better maintained still and are quite straightforward to navigate.
Things can get a little bit trickier once you get off the beaten track, with some of the smaller country lanes being somewhat windy and prone to potholes, but certainly, nothing to be concerned about as long as a minor degree of caution is exercised.
For navigation, an app such as Google Maps or Waze will more than suffice for whichever route you end up taking. As is the case throughout all of Ireland and the UK, cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. This is something that’s definitely important to be mindful of as a number of accidents occur each year when foreign drivers forget this.
Something that you may be concerned about when planning a Dublin to Belfast drive is the border crossing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Shortly after passing through Dundalk if approaching from Dublin, or after passing through Newry if you’re coming from Belfast, you’ll cross the border between the United Kingdom and Ireland.
At present, there is no physical border in place between the two countries and the first giveaway that you’ll have entered a different country is the speed limit signs swapping between miles per hour and kilometres per hour! If you’re travelling in a rental car, however, you’ll need to inform the rental company that you will be crossing the border, so that they can extend your insurance to cover any accidents abroad.
If you fail to do this, you’ll be uninsured and liable for the full costs of any accident if something were to happen! Prices vary between companies, but the cost of extension is usually around €30/£30.
Also, if you want to make sure you get the best deal on a car hire for your Belfast to Dublin road trip, then we recommend browsing on RentalCars.com. This platform aggregates all of the lowest prices across all major car rental companies to ensure you don’t overpay. It can also be worth taking out an excess insurance policy with iCarHireInsurance to ensure that you don’t have to pay any deductible should any damage happen to your rental car.
How Far is Dublin to Belfast?
The most direct route from Dublin to Belfast is about 170 kilometres. Most of the stops listed below will require getting off the motorway and exploring some of Ireland’s more rural scenic drives. The motorway is the way to go if expediency is the aim of the game, but in doing so you’ll miss out on some of Ireland’s most historic and ruggedly beautiful sites such as Newgrange and the Mourne mountains.
If you do decide to take the quickest way there, you could always take the motorway for most of the journey and exit at your chosen stops along the way. Without stops, the drive will probably take you a little over two hours, traffic dependent!
The stops listed below are ordered sequentially so that each is a little further from Dublin. Including all of our sightseeing suggestions below is feasible, but would turn a two-hour drive into a multi-day road trip! So take a look, pick your favourites and craft your very own itinerary for your Belfast to Dublin road trip!
Best Dublin to Belfast Drive Stops
1. Malahide, Co. Dublin
Only a half hour’s drive from Dublin city centre, the picturesque coastal town of Malahide offers some of the best views of Dublin Bay and is a great spot to grab some food before hitting the road for Belfast and makes for an excellent first stop on a Dublin to Belfast drive.
If you decide to stop in Malahide, Malahide Castle and its grounds, gifted to the Talbot family by King Henry II in 1825 are well worth exploring. If history isn’t much your thing, nothing beats a walk along the promenade or through the town on a sunny day. Much of Malahide’s architecture is Georgian in style and the traditional shopfronts and boutique stores make Malahide an ideal location for a serene escape from the liveliness of Dublin city.
For a drink in a traditional pub, you can’t do much better than Gibney’s on New Street, while Old Street Restaurant near the marina comes highly recommended, though do try to book in advance if you want to be sure to get a seat! Don’t fret if Old Street Restaurant is booked out, there’s a host of other top-notch restaurants such as That’s Amore and The Greedy Goose located very close by.
2. Skerries, Co. Dublin
Haven’t quite had your fill of coastal Dublin towns? Skerries has got you covered. Slightly further from the city than Malahide, Skerries (from the Norse sker, and then rendered in Irish as na sceirí, meaning rocky islands) is about a 50-minute drive from Dublin city centre along the M1 towards Belfast, making it a perfect stop on a drive from Dublin to Belfast.
Over the years, Skerries has received many awards for its local scenery, culture, and community. Spend a little time there and you’ll quickly find out why: few experiences in Ireland will have you feeling as tranquil as watching the gentle bobbing of boats in the Skerries harbour (enjoying a Guinness or two beforehand in Joe May’s pub may aid in the attainment of said tranquillity!).
If you feel like taking in some greenery before continuing on the road to Belfast, a picnic on the grounds of Ardgillan Castle would work perfectly, and guided tours are available if you want to spend a while longer there. There’s also a playground on site if you have some children that could do with a bit of tiring out before the rest of the drive!
3. The Boyne Valley, Co. Meath
Look all over the world and you’ll struggle to find an area so rich and laden with history as the Boyne Valley. This stop suggestion differs from the previous two in that the Boyne Valley isn’t a singular location, it describes a broad area of land at the core of Ireland’s Ancient East and is home to Neolithic settlement sites such as Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, sites of historic clashes such as the 1690 Battle of the Boyne between King James and King William, as well as a striking number of castles, churches and monasteries.
The Brú na Bóinne contains the three most well-known Neolithic burial sites: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. Keep in mind that access to these sites is only available through guided tours. So if you plan on making this one of your stops, be prepared to allocate sufficient time to really enjoy it, and to account for tourist queues which can be quite long during the summer months.
The range of historical sites here, as well as the timeframe that they span really is remarkable, so if you do have a strong interest in Irish history it could be worthwhile to spend an entire day in the Boyne valley and to spend the night in the nearby town of Drogheada where there’s an abundance of hotels, hostels and BnB’s to suit all budgets.
You could write an entire article on the sites of the Boyne Valley alone, so if you’re interested in what’s described above, I’d definitely encourage you to do some further research to make sure you’re not missing out. Similarly, if there’s more than a couple of individual sites that would be of interest to you, you may benefit from some of the coach tours that operate within the Boyne Valley.
4. Drive Along the Cooley Peninsula, Co. Louth
This next suggestion is more of an alternative route for a Belfast to Dublin drive than a location, but there are certainly plenty of worthwhile stops along it!
Beginning about an hour north of Dublin in Dundalk, the coastal route to the town of Carlingford along the R173 has to be seen to be believed. In a hurry, it can be done in around half an hour, but the drive itself requires taking a diversion from the main road to Belfast anyway, so why rush?
If you feel like adding another layer of navigational complexity to the puzzle, you can detour further yet again and drive through Ravensdale Forest to the summit of the Black Mountain (I swear I’m not making these names up).
The scenery itself has an austere beauty to it, amongst the cold shimmering waters of the beaches and the hilly woodland, the title of the most impressive vista on this route belongs to the stunning glacial fjord of Carlingford Lough, which marks the dividing line between Northern Ireland and the Republic in this part of the country.
The peninsular drive comes to an end in the Medieval town of Carlingford, the halfway point between Dublin and Belfast. Carlingford has a lot of outdoorsy stuff going on, from mountain-biking through the hilly terrain to kayaking in the aforementioned Carlingford Lough, if you’re feeling a strong pull to spend some time in nature then this is the place to do so! But if the only strong urge you’re feeling is the desire to fill your stomach, then the Carlingford Arms does some great pub grub and won’t break the bank.
5. Castlewellan Castle & Forest Park, Co. Down
Castlewellan is our first suggested stop on the UK side of the border. If you’ve decided to take our earlier suggestion and have arrived in Carlingford, the easiest and most enjoyable way to continue the journey is to take the ferry across Carlingford Lough to Greencastle. It’s cheap at only €5 per vehicle and will cut a decent chunk of driving time from your journey.
Once you’re in Greencastle, continue north and you’ll soon find yourself in Castlewellan. The main draw in Castlewellan is the forest park, which is the perfect spot to stretch and chill out for a while. Similar to Carlingford, there’s a big emphasis on the outdoors here and there’s a large range of activities on offer.
If you feel like keeping it simple, then there’s plenty of walking trails both through the forest and along the lakeside. If you’ve really been taken in by all the wooded beauty, there’s a campsite with facilities where you can throw up a tent and just unplug for the night.
6. Slieve Donard, Newcastle, Co. Down
At 850m, Slieve Donard is the tallest point in Northern Ireland. The views of the Irish Sea from the summit have a surreal beauty to them but you’ll have to work to get there!
For anyone that hikes regularly, the climb will provide no problems but if you’re not in the best of shape, you may find it hard work. It does get quite steep in parts so it should be avoided during periods of inclement weather, but on a good day, one can see as far as the Isle of Man!
The time up and back is around 5 hours, sensible footwear and appropriate clothing are definitely advised and you’d be wise to bring an extra layer, even during the warmer seasons. Carparking is available in multiple locations at various starting points from the foot of the mountain.
Once you’re back down to sea level, the town of Newcastle has plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy a well-deserved meal. I’d recommended Villa Vinci for homely Mediterranean cuisine and Brunel’s Restaurant for a more formal, fine-dining experience.
7. Ards Peninsula, Co. Down
Once again, this suggestion is more of a route deviation on the typical Belfast to Dublin drive than a bonafide stopping point, but a drive along the Ards Peninsula on the eastern coast of Northern Ireland will take you through some unspoilt fishing villages and into the heart of the County Down countryside.
The peninsular drive begins in Newtownards and will take you northwards up along the bounds of the Strangford Lough. For some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat, try Katch27, owned by local chef Davey Cardwell. It’s a café during the day and a restaurant by night and serves locally caught monkfish, hake, mussels, prawns and lobster.
The Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin is a small-batch spirits producer that’s part of the distilling renaissance taking place in Ireland at the moment and they produce exceptional whiskey, gin and poitín on-site. Tastings are included in the price of the tour but can be redeemed against the price of a bottle to take home instead — this is a road trip after all!
Where to Stay on the Dublin to Belfast Drive
While you’re likely going to be on the look for places to stay in Dublin or Belfast, you also won’t be able to get the most out of all of these great stops if you don’t find a place to spend the night! We recommend resting your head in the Boyne Valley so you can adequately give yourself time to see and do all that that area has to offer.
Where to Stay in the Boyne Valley
Spoon and the Stars Hostel — Located in the town of Drogheda, this hostel is a great option for solo and budget travellers on the drive from Belfast to Dublin or vice versa. Well-located to explore what the Boyne Valley has to offer, there are both dorm beds and private rooms available and a buffet breakfast is included in the price. Click here to see their availability
The Yellow House B&B — This bed and breakfast located in the town of Nevan is another great base for exploring the Boyne Valley. They have a number of cosy and comfortable rooms available, ample free parking, and a fantastic breakfast included each morning. Click here to see their availability
Boyne Valley Hotel & Country Club — Located just outside of the town of Drogheda, this hotel is the perfect place to stay if you’re after some luxury on your Irish road trip. There are countless stylish, spacious and comfortable rooms available, great amenities and a delicious breakfast included in the nightly rate. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in the Boyne Valley!
Where to Stay in Belfast
Vagabonds — The perfect choice for budget and solo travellers, this centrally-located hostel is the perfect base in Dublin. They have both dorm beds and private rooms available, clean facilities and excellent common areas to meet other, like-minded travellers. Click here to see their availability
Harpers Boutique B&B — This boutique bed and breakfast located in the Queen’s Quarter of Belfast is a great choice if you want a bit more than a backpacker’s hostel. They have a number of stylish and comfortable rooms on offer and a great breakfast included in the price each morning. Click here to see their availability
The Warren Belfast — This centrally-located hotel is the perfect choice if you’re after a luxurious stay after completing the Dublin to Belfast drive. Situated in the heart of the Queen’s Quarter, there are countless plush rooms available, great amenities, and a filling breakfast included in the room rate. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Belfast hotels!
Where to Stay in Dublin
Jacob’s Inn— A great option for budget backpackers and solo travellers, this hostel is also centrally located close to all of Dublin’s main attractions. They offer both dorm and private rooms and have clean facilities and good common areas. Click here to check their availability
Hotel 7 — An upmarket guesthouse on the centre of town, you can get a different perspective of the city while staying here while also being within walking distance of most main attractions. There are numerous rooms to choose from and an option to include breakfast each morning. Click here to check their availability
Kilronan House — A classic bed and breakfast in central Dublin close to the Irish capital’s top attractions, this is a great option in the city. There are numerous cosy and comfortable rooms available and there is also a hearty breakfast included in the nightly rate. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Dublin
By motorway, the drive from Dublin to Belfast will take you just over two hours, travelling on well-laid-out roads of good quality. You could very comfortably leave Dublin after breakfast and arrive in Belfast before you’ve even thought about lunch. But the real rugged beauty of Ireland and all its rich history won’t be found in a petrol station at the side of the M1; it’s busy impressing adventurers atop breath-taking mountain peaks, nestled in dense, hilly woodlands and along jagged peninsular scenic drives!
This is a scenic drive where nature lovers, foodies and history-buffs will all find something to delight in. Whether you decide to take a chance on only one or all of the suggestions above, each is very worthwhile in its own right and will be certain to charm you.
When travelling from Dublin to Belfast, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning a Dublin to Belfast road trip? Have you made any of these stops before? Let us know in the comments!