10 best road trips in Ireland

Ireland was nicknamed the Emerald Isle because of the green carpet that covers it from east to west and north to south. Although it has no great mountains, its landscape is equally breathtaking, with hills, ancient forests, and a coastline riddled with violent cliffs.

Historically and culturally, this country of emigrants has managed to maintain its Celtic heritage and blend it with the shreds that every Irish person brought back to their homeland after a life in exile. There are also many vestiges of a medieval era marked by its constant struggle with England and a deep Christian feeling. Castles and abbeys are as much a part of the Irish landscape as grass and sheep. But the best thing about Ireland is undoubtedly its people. The Irish are friendly, open-minded, and willing to talk to anyone who wants to share a good pint in a pub.

Where are the best places to visit in Ireland? Well, a lot of Ireland is surprisingly untouched, even though it neighbors the UK, it has its own history and unique landscapes. From its green fields to its mystical castles and then on to the sprawling coastlines and cliffs, Ireland is a country of beauty and wonder, which literally takes your breath away. I’m unable to talk about Ireland without the warm, funny, and hospitable people springing to mind, they’re truly special and magical people, who make a visit even more unforgettable.

Of course, the hoard’s are drawn to Dublin, which is undeniably beautiful, but at the end of the day it’s a city and when you’re embarking on a road trip around Ireland you want to see some green and get on some open highways or some winding roads. Having said that, it’s a suitable starting point. On the outskirts of Dublin, you’ll find Malahide Castle, which dates back to the 12th century and is situated on over 260 acres of wonderful parkland estate. From there I’d recommend heading south.  Around a 3 hour drive from Dublin, you’ll find Blarney, Blarney Castle, and The Blarney Stone. According to local legend, kissing the Blarney Stone will give the Gift of the gab(the ability to speak with great flattery) to the kisser. The stone can be found built into Blarney Castle, which is also fabulous by the way.

Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle

In Ireland, you drive on the left. Roads and motorways in Ireland are well preserved.

On maps, Ireland’s motorways are those whose name begins with “M“, such as the M6, M4 or M50, and as with the rest of Europe’s motorways, there are two or three lanes in each direction and the markings are in blue.

Ireland’s national roads are those beginning with an “N“, such as the N26 or the N17 and their signs are green.

Ireland’s regional roads are those beginning with an “R”, such as the R340 or R250, and their signs are white. These roads allow you to travel the deepest part of Ireland and reach the most unknown and charming corners of the country. If you have enough time, we recommend you leave the main roads to travel in any area on the more authentic roads, those that link villages or go through the countryside, you will not be disappointed.

Ireland is a wonderful country for its people and its landscapes, and the best way to discover all these pearls of the country is by riding with a car through its narrow roads. Discover the Emerald Isle on 4 wheels with these 10 great road trips with CarRental.Deals, book your car rental now in Ireland, and enjoy driving:

1.- From Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher, via Galway

Cliffs of Moher

The two most visited places in Ireland are Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher. Dublin is a young, cosmopolitan city where you can find atmosphere any day of the week and dozens of languages are mixed in the streets of the centre. Enjoy the capital two or three days before heading west and covering the 210 km that separate it from Galway.

Making your way up the West coast you can take in the Cliffs of Moher. They’re mind-blowing and go on for around 9 miles, the steepest of which is 214 metres above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, which makes them some of the highest in Europe. You can walk along the cliffs at your own pace for free, however, spaced out on the clifftop paths there are a few paid-for attractions. But they’re definitely worth the money. The Cliffs attract over 1.5 million visitors per year and it’s not hard to see why.

You will pass through the centre of the island, past the town of Athlone and the former monastery of Clonmacnoise. A detour could take you to beautiful Kilkenny.

Once in Galway, you’ll still have to drive another 45 minutes south to reach the Cliffs of Moher. Although they now no longer allow you to go anywhere near their limits they are still one of the most spectacular sites in Ireland.

  • Distance: 267Km.
  • Time: 3:15h

2.- From Dublin to Portlaoise through the Wicklow Mountains

Rock of Dunamase Portlaoise

Leaving cosmopolitan Dublin, you head south with the car, making a brief stop at Powerscourt Waterfall (Ireland’s highest waterfall) located next to the palace and botanical gardens of the same name.

The road crosses the Wicklow Mountains National Park and descends to the wooded village of Laragh. Here it turns east to pass through Glendalough which has lakes, large forests, many footpaths, and a fairly well preserved 6th-century monastery. The road continues east to Portlaoise.

  • Distance: 148Km.
  • Time: 2:45h

3.- From Galway to Westport through the Doolough Valley

Kylemore Abey

Galway is a vibrant city, full of students and pubs and with a historic centre that comes alive every weekend. From here we will drive north through the beautiful landscapes of the Connemara region.  Take the route that takes you through the mountains after visiting the old Kylemore Abbey. From the heights, you can see the cliffs of the Atlantic coast.

Driving north you’ll find a glacial fjord at Killary Harbour and then into the Doolough Valley, with its hills and lakes and no sign of civilization. In the mid 19th century this valley witnessed the tragedy of the Famine March when 400 people died on the roads while searching for food and help. Leaving the valley we will come across the Georgian houses of Westport.

  • Distance: 125Km.
  • Time: 2:15h

4.- From Belfast to Londonderry on the Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

This route by car through Ireland is about 250 km long. We will start from Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. In the city, you can find legendary pubs and you should not forget to visit the Titanic Belfast building.

We will leave towards the northern end of the island, where the footsteps of the giant Finn McCool will guide you to the 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that this mythological being built to fight against his rival, the Scottish giant Benandonner. There is a less fantastic version that defends that they are formations of cooled lava, but remember that Ireland is magic and anything can be.

Leave the car to cross the Carrick-a-rede suspension bridge to Carrick Island. Also, Dunluce Castle, the waterfalls of Glenariff Forest Park and the beautiful beach of White Rock will make you step on the brake on your way to Londonderry, the second most important city in Ulster.

  • Distance: 250Km.
  • Time: 3h

5.- From Killarney to Cork on the Beara Peninsula

Cork County Ireland

At the gates of the beautiful Killarney National Park is the lively town of Killarney, the starting point for several coastal driving routes through Ireland. From here you can explore the Dingle Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry and the unknown Beara Peninsula.

In Beara, you will find lakes embedded in the mountains, ancient tombs and monoliths from the Neolithic period, colorful pubs, and excellent seafood that travels straight from the net to the plate. Drive this 300 km with peace of mind and take a detour on the narrow secondary roads that go into the crevices of the wild coast before reaching Cork, Ireland’s second most populated city.

Baltimore Lighthouse
Baltimore Lighthouse

Also nestled in the County of Cork and the southernmost parish of Ireland is Baltimore, it’s not so popular with tourists, but it’s a gem of a place. Acting as the ferry port to close-by islands, it’s a quaint old fishing village with bags of character. You can easily hop on a ferry from the port and reach one of the amazing islands. Sherkin Island is just 10 minutes away from Baltimore by ferry and once on the Island, you’ll be blown away by its beauty. On the Island, you’ll come across an automated lighthouse, maintained and operated by locals, a 15th-century Franciscan abbey and the renowned O’Driscoll’s clan castle. Whilst strolling along with one of the 3 sandy and secluded beaches, you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a school of dolphins, some otters, seals or even a few porpoises which gave the Island its name.

  • Distance: 232Km.
  • Time: 4h

6.- The Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula_Ireland

One of the most beautiful short car routes in all of Ireland. In the westernmost part of County Kerry lies the Dingle Peninsula. This geographical feature was formed by the strangulation of the Slieve Mish Mountains, with Mount Brandon almost reaching 1000 metres in altitude.

This has formed a series of limestone cliffs and a coastline riddled with small coves of dramatic beauty. Few beaches are suitable for bathing, which gives them an even more melancholic feel. Some surfers take advantage of the absence of bathers to put on their wetsuits and ride the furious waves of the Atlantic.

Walk along the coast without hurry, stopping at every cove that catches your eye, and ends up trying the fantastic seafood chowder (a kind of seafood cream) in any of the restaurants in the small and colorful town of Dingle.

The Dingle Peninsula is very easily reachable from Kerry Airport, Shannon Airport, or Cork Airport.

7.- From Wexford to Waterford by Hook Head

From Wexford to Waterford by Hook Head

Just under 100 km separate the Viking town of Wexford from the port of Waterford when you cover the distance using the road that runs through the Hook ring. The Hook Peninsula, southwest of Wexford, is a dramatic place, constantly swept by wind and waves. Here you will find a 13th-century lighthouse, the oldest still-functioning lighthouse in the world.

In the west of the peninsula, you can take a ferry from Ballyhack, a town dominated by its 15th-century castle, and drive across to the picturesque fishing village of Passage East. From here we travel to Crooke before arriving in Waterford.

  • Distance: 100Km.
  • Time: 1:50h

8.-  From Donegal to Dunfanaghy along the Slieve League cliffs

Slieve League Ireland.jpg

Donegal County is one of the few counties where Gaelic is still spoken in homes. It seems to be a place anchored in time where large farms still exist and livestock is a constant in the landscape that you will see from the road on one of the most charming car routes through Ireland.

From the sleepy capital, Donegal, it leads west to the Slieve League cliffs. Although these are the most visited cliffs on the island, they are the highest in Europe and there is a trail that allows you to walk them for hours. The views are spectacular.

Bordering the scenic coastline to the north, punctuated by hills and cliffs, we arrive at the small town of Dunfanaghy. In the surrounding area, you will find the Ards Forest Park and the cliffs of Horn Head. On a sunny day the greens, blues and ochres will catch your eye.

  • Distance: 170Km.
  • Time: 3:20h

9.- From Downings to Skibbereen, the adventure of the Atlantic coast

Downings Ireland
One of the great car adventures on the Emerald Isle. Just over 650 km separate these two towns from Donegal and Cork. You can travel all along the Irish Atlantic coast using narrow roads swept by wind and water. The traditions of Donegal and the Slieve League Cliffs, the natural beauty of the Connemara hinterland, the vibrant Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry all the way to Cork.

A journey to be made in at least 10 days, with no rush and enjoying the Irish scenery and hospitality.

10.- Drive all around Ireland

If you have three or four weeks to drive around Ireland, do so. The Emerald Isle will not let you down. Named the Celtic Tiger for its economic boom in the 2000s, Ireland is a land of magic and areas where time seems to have stood still. Soak up its traditions, landscapes, people, pubs, and beers and you’ll feel right at home.

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