Ireland is Europe’s third-largest island, located in the North Atlantic. Politically, the island is divided into the Republic of Ireland in the South — which covers over 80 percent of the island — and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The euro is used in the Republic of Ireland, whereas the British Pound is the currency in the North.
Ireland may not be a very large island, but it features a great variety of landscapes, not to mention historical sites, some of which are best reached by car. Hence, a road trip is the best way to make the most of your trip to the Emerald Island. We’ll show you the best, some longer than others, but all of them spectacular. Remember to drive on the left!
The road trips will take you from one part of Ireland to the other. Before embarking on your trip, make sure you are up to date on Covid-19-related restrictions and requirements.
Please note that the routes on this map can be taken in any specific variation.
1. The Ring Of Kerry
For this 111-mile road trip around the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest of Ireland with spectacular views, plan two to three days here. The round-trip starts and ends in Killarney, which gives you a chance to stop at Moll’s Gap for a view over and a visit to the Killarney National Park, and the lakes glittering below. The park is known for its many lakes, native oak, and yew woods, and Muckross House and Gardens — a late 19th-century mansion where a room Queen Victoria stayed in on her famous trip to Ireland can be seen.
Along the way, there are other highlights, like the white sandy beaches framed by steep cliffs of Derrynana and Rossbeigh. Pull off the main road and look at a movie location featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Skellig Ring, just off Cahersiveen. If the lakes aren’t enough, there is also Torc Waterfall, which is at its best after a heavy rainfall.
You can interrupt your road trip at any time to visit some of the pretty villages along the way, like Kenmare, known for art galleries and old-world pubs — for snacks and drinks. It’s not just Star Wars you can experience. There is real stargazing come night time at one of only three Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserves on the planet. Due to COVID-19, however, and as safe distancing is not possible in the dark, the stargazing right now is via a zoom meeting. Here is how to see it.
A great place to spend the night is the Moorings in Portmagee. The idyllic seaside village is home to this cozy guest house and superb seafood restaurant where you will experience Irish hospitality at its best.
For more national park experiences like Killarney National Park, visit these six national parks in Ireland.
2. Wild Atlantic Way
Who could resist a road trip with a name like that, practically shouting “adventure” at every turn? It is also a gigantic trip all along Ireland’s West Coast from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to the seaside town of Kinsale in County Cork. The trip features a total of 1,553 miles of unbroken road trip, 15 landmark signs, and countless numbers of the famous zigzag road signs. If you plan to do the entire trip, you will need two to three weeks. Always planning for stops along the way to admire the many attractions, this trip can easily be broken up into smaller sections — either in the North or the South.
Some landmarks not to be missed along the Wild Atlantic Way are Malin Head County Donegal. It is Ireland’s northernmost point with beautiful beaches and some of the largest sand dunes in Europe. From the North to the South, there is Fanad Head, with its lighthouse, sea cliffs of Slieve League, and of course, the intimidating basalt cliffs of Moher — one of Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions. Why not take a detour to Achill Island with peat bog and small beaches, as well as another dramatic cliff peninsula, Mizen Head, very close to the southernmost point of Ireland, and often the first or last sight to behold by seafarers crossing the Atlantic.
3. Galway To Westport
This is another two-to-three-day road trip that will take you deep into West Ireland, i.e. Connemara and County Mayo. Take the N59, leaving Galway behind, and explore the bog landscape with views of the Maumturk Mountains. Continue in the direction of Clifden and take the time for the 10-mile Sky Road, hairpin bend after hairpin bend, looking down at the Inishturk and Turbot islands, before reaching Westport with a beautiful Georgian town center and stone bridges.
As you will have to spend a night, Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara is a great choice.
4. The Braveheart Drive
This 50-mile road trip is for movie buffs. As the name indicates, it leads along locations where many of the battle scenes from the movie Braveheart were shot. The western part of the Wicklow Mountains lends itself to filming just as it now lends itself to an utterly scenic road trip. Believe it or not, it starts in a small village by the name of Hollywood! It continues in the direction of the Wicklow Gap — a stretch that leads through the typical peat landscape of Wicklow and crosses the mountains. Further along, you reach the village of Laragh after passing the spectacular Sally Gap. Next is Glendalough, which features a 5th-century abbey with the tallest and best-preserved round tower in Europe. Then return to Hollywood, a very pleasant village with an interesting church and, more importantly, enough pubs for a drink and meal after your drive.
5. The Coastal Causeway Route
This road trip takes you to Northern Ireland. It starts in Belfast City and ends in Derry, with a lot of highlights along the way. The total length is 195 miles and it entirely depends on your time and how many days you can dedicate to this trip. Expect a rugged landscape along the nine glens of the Antrim Coast, castles, cliffs, pretty little towns, and, of course, the Giant’s Causeway — a landmark that simply cannot be missed. If you can, also plan for a stay in Belfast and/or Derry, both worthwhile locations to explore.
Whichever way you split your trip, or whether you do it in one go, here are some highlights not to be missed. Carrickfergus Castle is a 12th-century massive castle standing on the shores of Belfast Lough. Gobbins Cliff Path and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge are two stops for thrill and adventure seekers. The Gobbins Path winds around the cliffs of the Antrim Coast and the rope bridge, built by salmon fishermen in 1755, and swinging 100 feet above the North Atlantic. It’s well-maintained and safe to cross, but if you have a fear of heights, it might not be for you.
Ballintoy Harbour is just another Game Of Thrones location that will finally lead you to the Giant’s Causeway. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, some 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, created by a volcanic eruption from a unique “sculpture” created by Mother Nature. According to legend, they served as stepping stones for an Irish giant by the name of Fionn MacCumhaill in his quest to defeat another giant.
After all the excitement of rope bridges and cliff paths, you might want a soothing shot of whiskey, and there is no better place than Ireland’s oldest distillery, Bushmills, which also lies along the route.
6. The Vee: Waterford And Tipperary
Back in the South, this is a short and sweet road trip. Maybe two to three hours, it takes you from Lismore, with its castle along a winding road, into the Knockmealdown Mountains, and to the V Gap, which gives this trip its name. It’s where you can admire the green landscape of County Tipperary. Continue on through Clogheen and past the romantic Swiss Cottage to Cahir, which features one of the largest and best-preserved castles in the country. Cahir Castle stands on a rocky island on the banks of the Suir River and dates back to the 13th century. It once was considered impregnable but eventually was conquered in 1599. Take time out to visit the courtyards and enjoy yet another movie location in Ireland: the castle featured in the productions of Excalibur and The Tudors.
7. Following Poet William Butler Yeats: Sligo To County Leitrim
The Irish are great storytellers and poets, and if you have a love for literature, you’ll want to follow this one-day road trip that touches on important sites in the life and work of famous poet William Butler Yeats. He had a lifelong affinity to Sligo, so start your journey at Lough Gill, where you can see a small island featured in one of his poems. Move on to Sligo Town, romantically located on the banks of the Garavogue River, where you can learn all about the poet’s life at Yeats Building.
Proceed to the windy, sandy beach of Rosses Point, where Yeats spent many a childhood summer. Pass by the stately home of Lissadell House and cross into Leitrim County to see the Glencar Waterfall — featured in his poem The Stolen Child. A fitting end to the road trip in the footsteps of Yeats is a visit to his grave in Drumcliffe Cemetery.
Spend the night or pay a visit and have a meal at the historic Georgian estate Coopershill.
Most of these road trips are only suitable if you are a confident and experienced driver with no problem negotiating some very tight bends, driving on what, for you, is the wrong side of the road. For all stops and side trips along the way, bring good walking shoes as well as water and snacks, since not all of them provide refreshments.
On another note, the Irish are tea drinkers. They love their tea very strong and with plenty of milk or cream, which is poured into the cup first. This was originally done to prevent delicate china cups from cracking.