Visiting the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin is a great way to get a taste of the wonderful Irish countryside in one day. The trip to and from the cliffs take you through charming small towns, the vast limestone fields of the Burren and some beautiful castles and ruins. In lieu of taking a group tour, you can easily plan a beautiful drive to the Cliffs of Moher yourself to give yourself more freedom. This is a suggested Cliffs of Moher road trip itinerary from Dublin.
The Cliffs of Moher road trip options
Generally there are two routes you can take to get to the cliffs. The northern route on the M4 and M6 will take you closest to Kinvarra and Galway, and the southern route on the M7 will take you past Limerick and Shannon. Comparing their distances, the northern route is slightly shorter. You can combine the two routes to see some of the things north and south of the Cliffs depending on what you’re interested in. So you can go to the cliffs on the M6 and return by the M7. Alternatively, you can go and return in the same direction if you want to get the Cliffs of Moher out of way at the beginning of your day and make shorter stops on the way back.
Things not to miss
Obviously the main event of the road trip is the Cliffs of Moher, so this and the nearby Burren should be prioritized because aside from being the farthest out from Dublin, they’re also very close together and you’ll see them whether you take the north or south route to get there.
The Cliffs of Moher
When arriving by car, you’ll have to buy entrance tickets to the site in order to park your car. The cliffs themselves are just a few steps away so it won’t take you very long to see them. How long you spend at the cliffs will depend on how much you want to hike along their edge. The visitor center experience includes three observation decks, which are each 10-15 minutes’ walk from the visitor center. When you’re facing the ocean, you’ll have O’Brien’s Tower to your right. This small observation tower marks the highest point at the Cliffs of Moher, which makes it one of the best views of the 700-foot cliffs.
To the left, you’ll have the majority of the cliffs. The visitor center viewing platforms end before you see a grim warning that your safety can’t be guaranteed past that point and a memorial to people who have died there. Nonetheless, the majority of visitors still go past that point. There are two paths, one which is somewhat protected by a short rock wall and another which is on the edge of the cliff with no barrier. We went on a particularly calm day, so most people were posing for pictures out on the cliff’s edge. But on a windy day (which is the norm), you could be easily swept off the edge.
If you choose to walk along the cliffs, you’ll get a beautiful view of the other side, which is usually better lit by the sun during the majority of the day and you might spend up to another hour walking out there and back. You may want to give yourself a time limit for your visit if you know you have a lot of stops after, but you’ll most likely be there anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours.
Burren National Park
The Burren is a huge region near the cliffs of eroded and cracked glacial limestone. It’s full of unique rock formations and archeological sites. You don’t pay anything to access the National Park, and many of the remote lands in it are populated. If you drive between highways to the Cliffs of Moher, you’re already driving through the Burren.
An easy and nearby stop to get up close and personal with the limestone of the Burren is to drive to the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This partial tomb sits at the center of a huge bedrock of limestone. As someone that finds ruins like this somewhat disappointing (see my opinion on the overrated Stonehenge), I was actually impressed. Though the dolmen is small (even though it’s the largest in Ireland), you can get very close to it and you can walk around the limestone, which is a really magnificent example of the Burren as a whole.
Other optional sights nearby
There are dozens of castles, ruins, and churches in the nearby area. This is typically why many of the tours stop at some of the most picturesque ones along the way. If you’re on a tour, you’ll probably only get to stop for photos before heading to your next destination. If you drive, you might want to stop and actually visit some of the castles along the way.
This small 16th century castle sits on Galway Bay in the small town of Kinvarra. The town is a good stopping place for lunch especially if you spent a long time in the Cliffs and worked up an appetite. Dunguaire Castle is an important site for Irish literature because it was a venue for meetings of writers like W.B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. Aside from touring the castle grounds, you can also attend a medieval banquet. These start at 5:30 pm and end close to 8 pm, so you could theoretically fit this into your day as long as you’re planning for a late return back to Dublin… and as long as you don’t have too much mead.
Bunratty Castle is a popular stop on Cliffs of Moher tours from Dublin. If you’re taking the southern route on the way there or back, you can make this a part of your road trip as well. The tower house dates back to the 15th century and it sits conveniently between Shannon and Limerick. If you’re stopping for lunch at either of these cities, Bunratty is an easy stop along the way. It sits along the Raite River and it features a vast collection of medieval furniture. Like Dunguaire, you can also book a banquet dinner at Bunratty. Just note that these banquest must be booked in advance or you’ll never secure a spot.
Athenry Dominican Priory
You will stumble upon several churches like this one on your drive. In fact, there’s one covered in vines right across from Dunguaire. However, this one is so elaborate in the design of the windows and so large that it should be the only one you see if you have no time for others. It’s not very far from the highway if you’re taking the M5 so it won’t take you too far out of your way. You can go in the grounds, just push open the gate. The inside of the church might be locked, but you can still walk around it and through the small cemetery.
If you drive north along the coast from the Cliffs of Moher, you’ll pass another popular church ruin. The Corcomroe Abbey was founded in the 12th century which makes the state of its vaulted walls and detailed rock carvings especially remarkable. It’s currently being restored so it’s fallen out of favor with tour groups, but this also means it will be empty. The monastery and cemetery are large, but stopping by won’t take too much of your time.
A note about driving times
There are a couple of factors that make this road trip tough to plan and time. For one, the distances in Ireland are quite long and getting out of Dublin alone will probably take 30-45 minutes, particularly if you’re traveling during rush hour. Some of the shortcuts you’ll see on Google Maps if you’re driving through the Burren will end up taking a lot longer than it seems because you’ll be driving through very small country roads and sometimes even sharing one lane with incoming traffic. You can expect to spend 3.5-4 hours driving one-way to the Cliffs of Moher without any stops.
Because of these difficulties, many Cliffs of Moher tours from Dublin with roughly four or five stops end up being 12 hours. If you’re renting a car, this can be tricky because of return times. To avoid having a limit on the time you need to return your car, you can rent from the airport, where many agencies will allow you to return your car 24 hours a day. The downside of this is that you’ll need to get transportation to and from the airport, which can be a waste of time.
An alternative is to contact local companies in the city and ask them about their flexibility with rental returns. Some will still allow you to bring the car back several hours after they close. You really don’t need the car after dark – nothing you’ll want to see in the countryside is visible after sundown anyway – so just a couple of hours of leeway will make a big difference.
To save on time, you can also skip food breaks by bringing your own to-go lunch and eating in the car. That way, you’ll have extra time to make additional sightseeing stops on your Cliffs of Moher road trip.