Ireland is a beautiful country that guarantees a different experience every time you visit. Our team has been planning trips to Ireland for over a decade – and one of the most popular trip types among our travelers is the self-drive trip. If you’re planning to take on the country roads of Ireland, these are the top 7 epic Ireland road trips that you must consider.
#1. Causeway Coastal Route
Clinging to the Atlantic coastline of Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coastal Route is a must-do for sightseeing visitors in the northern half of the Emerald Isle. Spanning 200 miles from Belfast to Derry/Londonderry, this scenic route combines major cities and attractions with striking views around every turn. Adventure seekers can delight in touring The Gobbins Cliff Path and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, while history buffs can see firsthand the Dunluce Castle, Giant’s Causeway, Carrickfergus Castle and the Museum of Free Derry. Game of Thrones fans can experience the filming locations of the hit series, while whiskey connoisseurs can savor a dram at the famous Bushmills Distillery. There’s something for everyone visiting this incredible highlight of Northern Ireland.
Personal travel tip: Be sure to have a couple of pound sterling in hand in case you decide to use the dedicated Ulster shuttle back uphill from the Giant’s Causeway. While the mile walk down is breathtaking and fairly easy, the walk back up can be a bit more breathtaking, and not in a scenic way!
#2. Wild Atlantic Way
No list of Ireland road trips would be complete with the Wild Atlantic Way. Dramatic cliffs, hidden beaches, quaint villages, remote ruins, historic landmarks and lookout points galore are to be found along the Wild Atlantic Way, one of the longest defined coastal driving routes in the world. Encompassing the West Coast of Ireland from the southernmost point of spectacular Mizen Head down to the seaside reprieve of Kinsale, the Wild Atlantic Way is by far one of the most picturesque (and popular!) signposted routes to drive. At 1,600 miles in length, there’s no doubt that whether you drive the Wild Atlantic Way from point-to-point or dip in and out of it at your leisure, you will be in for an incredible taste of Ireland. Experience the popular towns of Donegal, Westport, Galway, Kenmare and Kinsale, or immerse yourself into the Slieve League cliffs, Achill Island, Connemara National Park, Dingle Peninsula and Ring of Kerry. Witness a working sheep farm, take a cable car over the crashing ocean, stargaze among the Northern Lights, or meander from town to town. Whatever you do, you will be in awe.
Personal travel tip: While the speed limit may go as high as 100 km/hr in certain sections of the Wild Atlantic Way, don’t expect to go over 65 km/hr at max. The winding roads nestled into the countryside can be a bit hair-raising, but this off-the-beaten-trail experience is one of the main draws of the Wild Atlantic Way after all!
#3. Surf Coast
Recently voted as Ireland’s “Best Place to Go Wild,” the Surf Coast section of the famous Wild Atlantic Way is one of the perfect Ireland road trips for thrill-seekers and observers. Beginning in Donegal Town and ending in Erris, the Surf Coast is most notably known for Mullaghmore Head. This popular spot entices surfers from all around the world with its sandy beach and big waves. Not only is this place a hot spot for surfers; Mullaghmore Head also boasts sixth-century monastic ruins on Inishmurray Island that you can reach by boat. The famed flat-topped Ben Bulben mountain featured in the poetry of W.B. Yeats is also here, in addition to the Sea Sessions Surf & Music Festival in Bundoran.
While Mullaghmore Head is certainly a highlight of the Surf Coast, there’s also Downpatrick Head in County Mayo. Visit the Dún Briste sea stack and hear the legend of the stack separating from the mainland during a mighty storm. Head to the historic stone ruins of a church founded by Saint Patrick himself; spend time in Sligo, the heart of Yeats country; traverse the Killala Bay; or embark along the North Mayo Sculpture Trail, where art and nature collide to provide a deep insight into the history of this region.
Personal travel tip: Unpredictable weather can impact driving conditions, particularly down narrow country roads along this route. The rural areas are naturally well-lit until late into the evening during the summer months, but in the winter months, it can be dark as early as 5 p.m. with minimal visibility. Take your time and stay alert!
#4. Connemara’s Sky Road
Though just under 10 miles in length, the Sky Road circular route from Clifden to the Kingstown Peninsula and back is a major highlight of the Connemara region. Very few places in Ireland can match the phenomenal range of landscapes seen between the lower and upper Sky Road. If you’re looking to head toward the sea, take the lower road and enjoy a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean up close. The upper road is more popular due to its position over the entire area. It is here that you will encounter unforgettable views of the countryside and coastline of Clifden Bay and the islands of Inishturk and Turbot.
Personal travel tip: There is a car park and viewing area at the highest point with ample space to park your vehicle and soak in the rugged beauty of the area!
#5. Ring of Kerry
No time in Ireland is complete without touring the iconic Ring of Kerry. At 111 miles in length, this circular route in County Kerry passes through the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range, the shores of Dingle and Kenmare Bays and picturesque villages like Glenbeigh, Waterville and Sneem. Stop at the famous Bog Village, visit the Kells Sheep Dog Trial, snap some photos at Ladies View and stroll through the oakwoods of Killarney’s spectacular national park. Dedicate a full day to this experience to give yourself enough time to stop as you wish.
Personal travel tip: Be sure to leave before 10 a.m. to beat the coach buses that will be touring – they are difficult to pass!
#6. Ring of Beara
Adjacent to the famous Ring of Kerry, the Ring of Beara is an equally fantastic 92-mile circular loop that is far less tourist-heavy than its northern neighbor. While the Ring of Kerry may have large coach buses and traffic traversing the route, the Ring of Beara offers a much more remote sightseeing experience and is just as picturesque, if not more so. Named after the Spanish Princess Beara, the Beara Peninsula boasts colorful villages, captivating coastlines and cliffs, open pastures and wild woodland paths. As part of the only peninsula in Ireland that’s situated in two counties, Kerry and Cork, the Ring of Beara begins in Kenmare and passes through the Healy Pass and the villages of Adrigole, Glengarriff, Castletownbeare, Eyeries and Ahihies before circling back.
Personal travel tip: Take the cable car to secluded Dursey Island, Ireland’s only cable car perched high above the sea, for a more authentic and unique experience.
#7. Wicklow Mountains
Cultural richness, unique natural beauty and hiking and cycling paths galore are just a few of the highlights of the Wicklow Mountains. No Ireland road trips through this gem at the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East are complete without a visit to Sally Gap, Lough Tay and Glendalough. The Sally Gap takes you deep inside Wicklow’s mountain, and key scenes from the movie Braveheart were filmed in this location. The nearby Lough Tay, sometimes referred to as “The Guinness Lake,” stands out with a cream-colored beach and dark waters, resembling the country’s favorite brew and making for an epic photo stop. Glendalough, on the other hand, is a magical monastic site rich in cultural heritage with stone towers, churches and chapels in excellent condition. These sights can easily be toured in a day with a rental vehicle, and it’s a must-do for lovers of beautiful views, architectural heritage and outdoor activities!
Personal travel tip: After a day of exploring, enjoy a cold pint at Mooney’s, one of Wicklow’s best pubs that’s a local favorite but is unknown to most visitors!
Are you looking to plan one of these Ireland road trips? Let us help! Whether you plan a self-drive or chauffeured trip, we can customize a package that truly speaks to you..
Written by Tenon Tours Travel Specialist, Christine MacAllister