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Ireland. Is there a more inviting land so giving of itself to the visiting wanderer? We think not – and a road trip across the island is the best way to take it all in.
Why Ireland? Because it’s ancient, it’s magical, and it’s stunningly beautiful. You’ll also find some of the friendliest people on earth here. Perched on the western edge of Europe, road tripping through Ireland brings a bounty of experiences that you’ll only get here. Add accessible one-stop flights into Dublin, and one of the easiest road networks in Europe, and the task is clear: get yourself there, get some wheels, and get moving. Here’s our bucket list of some of Ireland’s most unforgettable road trip adventures to help you on your way.
Ireland’s Ancient East
A land of stories and magic, poets and warriors: in Ireland’s Ancient East you don’t have to drive too far to find yourself knee-deep in Irish mythology. With its windswept hills, craggy peaks, vibrant towns and cities – and over 5,000 years of living history – the Ancient East is as legendary as it is inspiring.
When all’s done in Dublin, hit the road for the historical town of Wexford – its lingering Norse legacy will tickle your historical fancy, as will the 13th Century lighthouse at Hook Head (the world’s oldest still functioning lighthouse). The Ancient East is speckled with vibrant towns and villages, including Kilkenny, a charming city with a great atmosphere, winding cobbled streets, and an ancient castle at its core.
Venture further north, and you’ll come across the Braveheart-famous Trim Castle in County Meath, en route to the stunning Boyne River Valley and remarkable ancient ritual site of Newgrange, which is older than the pyramids of Egypt!
The Wild Atlantic Way
The title ‘journey of a lifetime’ is restricted to a few of the world’s great road trips, and Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is without a doubt one of them. This epic 2500km trip along the Irish Atlantic Coast features six enigmatic regions and nine glorious counties. You’ll encounter untold natural beauty and outdoor adventures, and rack up unforgettable memories as you connect with friendly locals through the many picturesque towns and villages of the atmospheric west.
There’s a route to fit everyone’s schedule along the Wild Atlantic Way. For a short weekender, check out county Donegal via the Northern Headlands Route, Ireland’s northernmost nook, replete with hidden coves, hauntingly beautiful cliff beaches, and gorgeous towns. From idyllic, seaside Buncrana, head for the ancient stone fort of Grianán an Áileach, the iconic lighthouse of Fanad Head, the secluded beach of Trá na Rossan, and a few creamy pints at Donegal’s famous Singing Pub.
South of Donegal, the wild Surf Coast is no less enticing: the magical beaches and quaint towns of Sligo and County Mayo deliver one of Ireland’s most scenic stretches – perfect for adventure, relaxation or both. Check out the incredible vistas of Mullaghmore and Downpatrick Head, and savour the delicious local Atlantic seafood as you make your way down this spectacular peninsula.
If you have a bit more time, the Bay and Cliff Coasts offers a veritable sampler of some of Ireland’s best natural attractions and towns. Robust coastline meets arresting lowlands – from stunning Cliffden, head south to legendary cultural hub Galway, chat with friendly locals further in Ballyvaughan and Doolin, and savour in a must-see stop off at the monumental Cliffs of Moher.
Along the Southern Peninsulas, mark out a full day for the Dingle Peninsula, another jaw-dropping expanse replete with rugged coastline and cosy villages. Kick off at Tralee, experience the spectacular views along the Conor Pass, and settle in for the night at the gorgeously colourful, pub-laden Dingle. With misty views of the Blasket Islands, the westernmost peninsula along Sled Head Drive remains one of the island’s most idyllic.
The Causeway Coastal Route
120 miles of Ancient volcanic coastline? 800-year-old castles? A magical run of picture-perfect towns and villages? Introducing the Causeway Coastal Route: one of the world’s great drives, and arguably Northern Ireland’s watershed road adventure. After experiencing the vibrant city of Belfast, it’s time to take to the road. Rev the engine and set the GPS for Derry-Londonderry: majestic pebbled shorelines and limestone cliffs await.
Take a breather at medieval Carrickfergus Castle and a stop at the Gobbins, an exhilarating cliff-face walk along the stunning Islandmagee peninsula. From here, the Antrim Coast is full of must-sees: the ancestral Glenarm Castle, and an endless stretch of incredible scenery from Glenariff Forest Park and the Glens of Antrim, to the ruins of Dunluce Castle and the dramatic cliffs of Downhill Demesne.
All this, of course, is a warm up for the namesake Giants Causeway: a cluster of 40,000 rock formations and bona fide Area of Outstanding Beauty. Be sure to factor in some time for the quaint fishing village of Ballintoy Harbour, as well as a cosy quencher at the iconic Bushmills Inn.
Game Of Thrones
While you’re vacay-ing through fantasyland, you might as well get your Game Of Thrones on too. Careen through the hauntingly gorgeous avenue of wilted beech trees amongst Ballymoney’s Dark Hedges – this is the Kingsroad, Throners, and you’ll feel just like old-time royalty cruising in style through its mesmerising eeriness. Make it a two-day affair, and extend your pilgrimage to the bewitched Tollymore Forest Park (mind the White Walkers and direwolves), Inch Abbey, where the War of the Five Kings began, and Castle Ward, aka Winterfell. Load up on mead, pack some furs, and cruise it like Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and the crew.
Ring Of Kerry
They say the Ring of Kerry yields its magic on all who pass through – with wilderness replete with forts, islands, seascapes and woodlands, it’s not hard to appreciate why. The beauty of County Kerry’s alluring towns will stick with you forever, including Kenmare and colourful Portmagee, charismatic Killarney on the shores of stunning Lough Leane, as well as ancient Ross Castle, and the soon to be Star Wars-immortalised islands of Skellig Michael.
Whatever road you choose to take in Ireland, there’s plenty to discover. Find out more at Ireland.com
Cam Hassard is an international penman, sax-wielder and rogue wayfarer who writes for Junkee, Carryology, Huckberry, Caddie, Fairfax Media, Carryology, Intrepid, Peregrine Adventures and Europe Up Close. He’s eaten ant salad in Laos, hauled trucks from NYC to Vegas, and destroyed himself on the Camino de Santiago. Originally from Melbourne, he currently calls Berlin home.