How to Plan the Best Road Trip to Carlingford Lough from Dublin

King John's Castle on Carlingford Lough in Ireland

Carlingford Lough is an area of great natural beauty located less than a 2 hour drive north of Dublin. Spending a weekend in Carlingford town on the Cooley Peninsula is a fantastic way to explore the area. Carlingford walks in and around the Cooley mountains are a major highlight. Did you know that Carlingford Lough is nestled between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This Carlingford road trip covers the drive from Dublin including stops along the way as well as points of interest on both the north and south sides of Carlingford Lough. Buckle up and let's get on our way!

Getting To Carlingford Lough with UFO Drive

Carlingford is most easily accessible by car. If you have a car, great! You're ready to embark on your Carlingford road trip. If you don't own a car, you could go with a traditional car hire from the likes of Hertz or Sixt. Alternatively, you could plan to ride in style like we did and rent a Tesla from UFO Drive. UFO Drive operates out of Stephen's Green Shopping Centre Car Park in Dublin City and is entirely app-based. Create for an account, book a car and then use the UFO Drive app to collect your key and unlock the vehicle. We hired a Tesla once before for a day trip from Dublin to Kildare, but this is the first time we'd used UFO Drive for a long weekend trip. Open this link on a mobile device for a 30 EUR discount on your first ride.
UFO Drive Tesla Car Hire for a Road Trip to Carlingford Lough from Dublin
Our 4 day rental cost approximately 100 EUR a day and included a total of 650 km driving distance. This may sound expensive, but Teslas are electric so you won't need to pay for petrol. Tolls are also included with the rental. This includes tolls on the M50 and Dublin Port Tunnel. We also felt it was worth the splurge for a sweet ride on our first weekend away in quite some time.

Fun Fact: Our Tesla had an "emissions testing mode" where you can make the car fart... No joke. There is an app on the in-car console that places a virtual whoopie cushion under one of the seats that is triggered by various events like the activating a turn signal. I found "fart mode" way more entertaining than I probably should have :)

Map Your Carlingford Lough Drive and Things to Do Around Carlingford Town

Click on the image of the map below to open up an interactive version in Google Maps. Plan your Carlingford Lough drive and discover things to do in and around Carlingford. This map also covers cool things to do on the way to and from Carlingford to round out your road trip.

Map of Dublin to Carlingford Ireland Road Trip

Where to Stop on the Way to Carlingford Lough from Dublin

Now that you're got your car lined up, you can discover why getting there is half the fun of any road trip. We planned a few stops on the way between Dublin and Carlingford to make the most of our drive.

Battle of the Boyne Visitors Centre

In 1690 Williamites and Jacobites faced off in the largest battle ever fought on Irish or British soil. William was victorious in a battle that would shape the future of Ireland. Stop at the Battle of the Boyne visitors centre to learn more about this period of history. You'll find fascinating dioramas, interactive exhibits, and a film that recreates that Battle of the Boyne. After touring the visitor's centre, take a walk in the walled garden. The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre is located in the Boyne Valley which includes attractions like the Hill of Tara, Monasterboice, and Trim Castle. The combined attractions of the Boyne Valley can also be visited on an organized day trip from Dublin.
Battle of the Boyne Visitors Centre in County Meath Ireland

Blackrock in County Louth

Next up, we stopped in Blackrock, a lovely seaside village in County Louth. Indulge in an ice cream from Storm in a Teacup and then shop for some lovely and local handmade crafts at The Crafty Rock. We picked up some soap and an artsy glass swizzle stick before finishing our visit with a walk by the sea.
Pitstop in Blackrock County Louth on a Carlingford Lough Road Trip in Ireland

Proleek Dolmen

Proleek Dolmen was definitely a major highlight of our Carlingford road trip. Park at Ballymascanlon House Hotel and walk across the golf course following the signs until you reach the dolmen. It takes about 10-15 minutes on a well-marked path. 

Proleek Dolmen visited on a Carlingford Lough road trip

It was absolutely worth the detour to see Proleek Dolmen and wedge tomb on the way to Carlingford. This is the tallest and most impressive dolmen I've see in Ireland! Proleek Dolmen is a Stone Age tomb dating back to 2000-3000 B.C. The capstone weighs 40 tons. Thinking about how the ancient people constructed the dolmen truly captures the imagination.

The grounds and walled gardens at Ballymascanlon House Hotel are also worth exploring on the way back from Proleek Dolmen to the parking lot.

Where to Stay in Carlingford Town

Once you arrive in Carlingford, the next important question becomes: where to stay in Carlingford Town? We booked ourselves a room in the main house at Ghan House Hotel. Ghan House is located in a lush green and walled oasis just outside the gates of Carlingford Town. You can easily walk from Ghan House Hotel to the centre of Carlingford Village in less than 5 minutes. Carlingford can get pretty busy with stag and hen parties on the weekend. If you don't feel like joining in the revelry, make your way back to Ghan House and sip a glass of wine or a gin and tonic by the pond. If it's cold or raining, grab a seat on a couch in the atmospheric front room. 
Ghan House Hotel in Carlingford Town Ireland
Make sure to take some time to explore the grounds of Ghan House. I found a small staircase covered in weeds that led to a point on the wall with views of Slieve Foye in the Cooley Mountains and Carlingford Lough. 
Cute cat at Ghan House Hotel in Carlingford Town Ireland

We paid approximately 200 EUR per night for our 3 night stay in Carlingford. We were simply delighted by Ghan House Hotel. Our room was spacious and quiet. I also loved the kitties wandering around outside. I counted at least four during our stay. The Ghan Fry for breakfast is included in your stay and lays a solid foundation for a hike in the Cooley Mountains near Carlingford.

View of the Cooley Mountains from Carlingford Town in Ireland

Ghan House is also home to two electric vehicle charging stations which was another reason we chose to stay here. Plug in at night and you're fully charged and ready to go in the morning.

Where to Eat in Carlingford Town

The next question to address is where to eat in Carlingford Town. Carlingford is pretty small and the main places to eat are clustered around Market Street. There are a limited number of restaurants to choose from so make sure to book in for dinner somewhere to avoid disappointment.

McKevitt's Village Hotel

We sat down for a couple pints and some local mussels in white wine garlic cream sauce at Lil's Bar in the beer garden at McKevitt's Village Hotel in Carlingford. The beer garden was a quiet oasis in the heart of Carlingford Town.
McKevitt's Village Hotel mussels in Carlingford Town Ireland

Ghan House Hotel

Dinner at Ghan House is an easy choice if you are looking for an upscale meal. On the weekends, you'll get 4 courses for 55 EUR. Book dinner when you reserve a room at Ghan House Hotel and you can save a few euros. During the week, the chef offers a 6 course tasting menu for a lower price. We enjoyed a salmon appetizer with beetroot, feta and kadaif pastry, duck with asparagus and fondant potato and pork with Vietnamese flavors.
Collage of dinner items served at Ghan House Hotel in Carlingford Town Ireland

Feeley's Fish and Chips

There is nothing like fish and chips to invoke a sense of being on vacation in Ireland. In Carlingford, head to Feeley's for fish and chips. Feeley's fish and chips is so fresh and very popular! You can even buy a bottle of their vinegar with your order. Take your fish and chips to go and eat your dinner overlooking Carlingford Lough.
Feeley's Fish and Chips on Carlingford Lough in Ireland

Things to do in Carlingford Town

Base yourself in Carlingford Town and you'll find a variety of things to do without having to get behind the wheel of a car.

Take a Carlingford Photowalk

Carlingford Ireland is perfect for a photowalk. Definitely take a walk around Carlingford during golden hour for some spectacular photo opportunities. Carlingford is so colorful!

Stone house with red trim in Carlingford Town IrelandBright orange door on a blue house in Carlingford Town Purple door to Ellen's Tea Room in Carlingford Town Ireland

If you really want to have Carlingford to yourself for a photowalk, head into town at 10 am on a Monday morning. You won't be bothered by cars and won't have to contend with people blocking that perfect shot. 

P.J. O'Hares The Anchor Bar in Carlingford Town Ireland

Visit Carlingford Priory

Carlingford Priory is pretty bad ass and definitely a sight to behold. Dating back to the 12th century, the ruins are spectacular on a sunny day. There is even an old mill on an overgrown trail behind the priory. Carlingford Priory

Watch the Sunset over Carlingford Lough

Time a walk along Carlingford Lough for sunset. The Mourne Mountains across the water in Northern Ireland create a moody backdrop. Look for pale orange rays lighting up King John's Castle.

King John's Castle on Carlingford Lough at sunset

Carlingford Walks

Pick out a hike to suit your level of fitness. We embarked on the Commons Loop Trail which takes less than two hours. This Carlingford walk starts with a vigorous uphill hike from Carlingford Town. We were rewarded with breathtaking views of the Cooley and Mourne Mountains and Carlingford Lough.

Bracken and view of Carlingford Lough in Ireland

The Commons Loop Trail threads through a couple of sheep pastures and we made some new friends along the way including a curious lamb. We also spotted content cows, chirping stonechats, and a lazy little goat on our Carlingford walk.

Lamb spotted on a Carlingford walk in Ireland

If you like birdwatching, keep an eye on the bracken (dense ferns) in the Cooley Mountains above Carlingford. You'll be delighted by the little birds you see (like stonechats and goldfinches). 

Stonechat spotted on a Carlingford walk in Ireland

Tour King John's Castle

For a fiver you can take a 45 minute tour of King John's Castle. Sometimes referred to as Carlingford Castle, you can only get inside the castle ruins by joining the daily tour that starts from the Carlingford Tourism Office. King John's Castle dates back to the Norman period. 

King John's Castle in Carlingford Ireland

Drive the Mourne Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

Carlingford Town is an excellent home base for a drive around Carlingford Lough in Northern Ireland. Hop in the car and let's go explore the Mourne Coastal Route!

Take the Carlingford Lough Ferry to Northern Ireland

Aboard the Carlingford Ferry

Book a ticket for the Carlingford Lough Ferry from Greenore to Greencastle. The ferry departs once per hour starting at 10:30 am and the ride across Carlingford Lough takes about 20 minutes. You can get out of the car and have a look at the surrounding mountain scenery. We even spotted a few dolphins!

View of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland from Carlingford Ferry

Explore Kilbroney Park

Kilbroney Park near Rostrevor is worth a stop on your drive around Carlingford Lough in Northern Ireland. We hiked the Narnia Trail at Kilbroney Park along the Mourne Coastal Route. C.S. Lewis credits the area as the inspiration for Narnia. There is also a lovely Fairy Trail along a babbling stream.

Narnia Trail in Kilbroney Park Northern Ireland

Tour the Quotes in Rostrevor

Kilbroney Park exits into Rostrevor which is just the cutest town. Not only did it inspire C.S. Lewis' Narnia, but it also has fabulous doors.

Pair of colorful doors in Rostrevor Northern Ireland

I loved all the inspirational quotes posted around Rostrevor by Poetic Action Rostrevor. For example: "Sometimes we win and sometimes we learn".

Collage of inspirational quotes in Rostrevor Northern Ireland

Visit Ross Monument

There is a well-placed parking lot on the water just across from a giant obelisk between Rostrevor and Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland. Pull over and check out the ostentatious Ross Monument.

Ross Monument on the Mourne Coastal Route on Carlingford Lough in Northern Ireland

Ross Monument was erected in honor of Major General Ross whose claim to fame was burning down the U.S. president's house (this act pre-dated the White House) and inspiring the American national anthem during the War of 1812.

Grab a Coffee in Warrenpoint

Warrenpoint is a good stopping point on the Mourne Coastal Route for a coffee. Get a cappuccino to takeaway at Fulla Beans and then walk along the shore and through the park which is home to a gorgeous Victorian-era bandstand. 

Ross Monument on the Mourne Coastal Route on Carlingford Lough in Northern Ireland

Stop at Narrow Water Keep

What have we here? Narrow Water Keep guards the entrance to the Newry River about a kilometer from Carlingford Lough. There is also a cool round tower across the river.  

Narrow Water Keep near the mouth of Carlingford Lough on the Newry River

Victoria Lock and the Greenway

Victoria Lock and Greenway on Carlingford Lough

On a whim, we pulled in at Victoria Lock and discovered the Greenway in the middle of the Newry River. The views were simply idyllic. Catch a glimpse of the Cooley Mountains as you walk the gravel path. We spotted an adorable wren singing a sweet song on the Greenway near Victoria Lock. 

Wren on Greenway near Victoria Lough between Newry and Carlingford

Go for a walk on the Greenway to stretch your legs after a day of driving around Carlingford Lough.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo is an awesome area of natural beauty ideal for exploration on an electric bike?

View of the Cooley Mountains from the Greenway 

Omeath

Last stop of the day before returning to Carlingford: Omeath! Omeath is back in the Republic of Ireland. We enjoyed views of Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland from across Carlingford Lough. We grabbed a sneaky pint of Guinness at Hotel Granvue, and picked up a delicious slice of strawberry cheesecake at Cafe Rosa. Note that while we visited Omeath by car, one of the most popular outdoor activities on the Cooley Peninsula is to cycle from Carlingford to Omeath along the Carlingford Lough Greenway.

View of Warrenpoint from Omeath on Carlingford Lough

Where to Stop on the Return from Carlingford Lough to Dublin

If getting there is half the fun, why not make the return trip from Carlingford just as awesome? There are lots of fun and historic sites to see on the drive from Carlingford Lough to Dublin.

Castle Roche

Castle Roche is a great stopping point on the way from Carlingford to Dundalk. The castle is easy to spot on a hill but it's on a tiny road with essentially no parking. There is a small bump-out you can pull into for a few minutes. Make sure to put your flashers on and then walk up the hill and onward through what was once the drawbridge and transport yourself back to life in the 13th century in your imagination.

Castle Roche in County Louth IrelandInside the ruins of Castle Roche in County Louth Ireland

Dundalk

Dundalk is the largest town in County Louth. Park in Dundalk (pay and display) on the return from Carlingford for a wee wander around. Highlights include the cathedral, cool and colorful Georgian doors and the Dundalk windmill. The windmill dates back at least to 1790 but it may have been constructed as early as the 12th or 13th century. Dundalk is also an epicenter of Irish mythology with the great warrior hero of Medieval Irish history, Cú Chulainn, hailing from Dundalk.

Blue door in Dundalk IrelandSean's Tavern in Dundalk IrelandDundalk Windmill in County Louth Ireland

Dundalk is a great stopping point for lunch. Grab an outdoor table at Cafe Adelphi. We enjoyed well-crafted cappuccinos with a giant chocolate chip cookie with Nutella dollop (I'm a big fan of eating dessert first!) followed by halloumi salad and a falafel wrap.

Market Square Water Fountain in Dundalk Ireland

Dromiskin Round Tower and Monastery

Make time for a stop at Dromiskin round tower and monastery which dates back over 1500 years. The site has a Celtic cross that was erected in the late 800s. The monastery was plundered by Viking and Irish armies in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Celtic cross and round tower at Dromiskin Monastery in County Louth Ireland

A Detour to Kells

I'll admit, Kells is a bit out of the way, but is a good detour on your return from Carlingford to Dublin, especially if you want to time your arrival in the capital to avoid rush hour. Kells is about a 45 minute drive (50 km) from Dromiskin and will add about 45 minutes to an hour to your drive back to Dublin over what it would have been if you had skipped this stop. The abbey in Kells is the namesake of the famous Book of Kells. We saw a really cool remnant of a Celtic high cross. Just outside the cemetery next to the Garda station is St Columcille’s House which dates back to the 10th Century. Such a sturdy stone house! It's rare to see a house with a stone roof like this in Ireland.

St Columcille’s House in Kells Ireland

There is an ESB charging station near Supervalu in Kells so plug in that Tesla and get a bit of juice before setting out on foot to explore the town. There is also a state-of-the-art rest area just a couple minutes away by car: Park Rí. You'll find a convenience store, fast food restaurants including the punnily named "Cook of Kells" and clean toilets. Fuel up here for the final leg of your return trip to Dublin.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other scenic drives in Ireland? Have you considered:

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: How to Plan the Best Road Trip to Carlingford Lough from Dublin
How to Plan the Best Road Trip to Carlingford Lough from Dublin
Plan the ultimate short Ireland road trip to Carlingford Lough from Dublin. Explore Carlingford town and take cool Carlingford walks on a weekend trip
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