Ireland is the third largest island in Europe, located in the North Atlantic. Politically, the island is divided between the Republic of Ireland to the south – which covers over 80% of the island – and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The euro is used in the Republic of Ireland, while the pound sterling is the currency of the North.
Ireland may not be a very big island, but it has a great variety of landscapes, not to mention historic sites, some of which are best accessible by car. Therefore, a road trip is the best way to make the most of your trip to the Emerald Isle. We’ll show you the best, some longer than others, but all spectacular. Remember to drive on the left!
Road trips will take you from one part of Ireland to another. Before starting your trip, make sure you are aware of the restrictions and requirements related to Covid-19.
Please note that the routes on this map can be taken in any specific variant.
1. The Ring of Kerry
For this 111 mile road trip around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland with spectacular views, plan two to three days here. The round trip begins and ends in Killarney, allowing you to stop at Moll’s Gap for a view and tour of Killarney National Park and the sparkling lakes below. The park is known for its many lakes, native oak and yew forests, as well as Muckross House and Gardens, a late 19th century mansion where you can see a bedroom Queen Victoria stayed in. during his famous trip to Ireland.
Along the way there are other highlights, like the white sand beaches framed by the sheer cliffs of Derrynana and Rossbeigh. Exit the main road and watch a film location featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Skellig Ring, just off Cahersiveen. If the lakes aren’t enough, there’s also the Torc Waterfall, which is at its best after heavy rains.
You can interrupt your road trip at any time to visit some of the pretty villages along the way, like Kenmare, known for its art galleries and old world pubs – for snacks and drinks. It’s not just Star Wars that you can find out. There is true stargazing at night in one of only three International Gold Level Dark Sky Reserves on the planet. Due to COVID-19, however, and since a safe distance is not possible in the dark, stargazing is currently done via a zoom meeting. Here’s 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 a superb seafood restaurant where you will experience the best of Irish hospitality.
For more experiences in national parks 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’s also a gigantic journey along the west coast of Ireland from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to the seaside town of Kinsale in County Cork. The trip includes a total of 1,553 miles of uninterrupted road, 15 landmark signs and countless numbers of famous zigzag road signs. If you plan to make the entire trip, you will need two to three weeks. Always planning for stops along the way to take in the many attractions, this trip can easily be broken down into smaller sections, either north or south.
Some must-see landmarks along the Wild Atlantic Way are County Malin Head Donegal. It is the most northerly point in Ireland with beautiful beaches and some of the largest sand dunes in Europe. From north to south there is Fanad Head, with its lighthouse, the Slieve League Cliffs and, of course, the impressive Basalt Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions. Why not take a detour to Achill Island with its bog and small beaches, as well as another spectacular cliff peninsula, Mizen Head, very close to Ireland’s most southerly point, and often the first or last spectacle to be seen by sailors crossing the Atlantic.
3. Galway to Westport
This is another two to three day road trip that will take you to the heart of the West of 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 towards Clifden and take time for the 10 mile Sky Road, hairpin turn after hairpin turn, looking out over Inishturk and Turbot Islands, before reaching Westport with a beautiful Georgian town center and stone bridges.
Since you will need to spend an overnight stay, Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara is a great choice.
4. The Braveheart reader
This 80 km road trip is intended for movie buffs. As the name suggests, it leads along places where many of the film’s battle scenes Brave Heart were shot. The western part of the Wicklow Mountains lends itself to filming just as it now lends itself to a quite scenic road trip. Believe it or not, it starts in a little village called Hollywood! It continues towards Wicklow Gap, a stretch that cuts through the typical Wicklow peat landscape and through the mountains. Further on you reach the village of Laragh after passing the spectacular Sally Gap. Next is Glendalough, home to 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 to have a drink and a meal after your ride.
5. The coastal causeway route
This road trip takes you to Northern Ireland. It starts in Belfast City and ends in Derry, with plenty of highlights along the way. The total length is 195 miles and it depends entirely on your time and how many days you can spend on this trip. Expect rugged scenery along the nine valleys of the Antrim Coast, castles, cliffs, pretty little towns and, of course, the Giant’s Causeway – a must-see landmark. If you can, also plan a trip to Belfast and / or Derry, two interesting places to explore.
Whichever way you divide your trip, or do it all in one go, here are some highlights you shouldn’t miss. Carrickfergus Castle is a massive 12th-century castle located on the shores of Belfast Lough. Gobbins Cliff Path and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge are two stops for thrill seekers and adventure seekers. The Gobbin Trail winds around the cliffs of the Antrim Coast and the Rope Bridge, built by salmon fishermen in 1755, and oscillating 100 feet above the North Atlantic. It is well maintained and safe to walk through, but if you are dizzy it might not be for you.
The port of Ballintoy is just another Game Of Thrones place 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 a springboard for an Irish giant named Fionn MacCumhaill in his quest to defeat another giant.
After all the excitement of monkey bridges and cliff trails, you might want a soothing glass of whiskey, and there’s no better place than Ireland’s oldest distillery, Bushmills, which is located also along the road.
6. The V: Waterford and Tipperary
Back in the South, it’s a short and pleasant road trip. Maybe two to three hours, this 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. This is where you can admire the verdant scenery of County Tipperary. Continue through Clogheen and past the romantic Swiss Cottage to Cahir, home to one of the largest and best-preserved castles in the country. Cahir Castle stands on a rocky island on the banks of the River Suir and dates back to 13e century. It was once considered impregnable but was finally conquered in 1599. Take the time to visit the courtyards and enjoy another filming location in Ireland: the castle featured in the productions of Excalibur and The Tudors.
7. Following the Poet William Butler Yeats: From Sligo to County Leitrim
The Irish are great storytellers and poets, and if you love literature, you’ll want to follow this full-day road trip that touches on important sites in the life and work of famous poet William Butler Yeats. He has had a longstanding affinity with Sligo, so start your journey at Lough Gill, where you can see a small island featured in one of his poems. Proceed to the town of Sligo, romantically located on the banks of the Garavogue River, where you can learn all about the poet’s life at the Yeats Building.
Continue to the breezy sandy beach at Rosses Point, where Yeats spent many childhood summers. Pass the stately home of Lissadell House and cross County Leitrim to see Glencar Waterfall – featured in his poem The stolen child. A fitting end to the journey in Yeats’ footsteps is a visit to his grave at Drumcliffe Cemetery.
Stay overnight or visit and dine in the historic Georgian estate of Coopershill.
Most of these road trips are only suitable if you are a confident, experienced driver who has no problem negotiating very tight turns, driving on what you think is on the wrong side of the road. For all the stops and detours along the way, bring good walking shoes as well as water and snacks, as not all provide refreshments.
On another note, the Irish are tea drinkers. They like their tea very strong and with a lot of milk or cream, which is first poured into the cup. This was originally done to prevent delicate porcelain cups from cracking.