With its small size, many travelers try to pack their island adventures into a seven-day road trip around Ireland. But with epic landscapes and hidden treasures across the island, travelers willing to slow down and savor one region will be rewarded. From the craggy coastlines of the Dingle Peninsula, to the mythical magic of the Giant’s Causeway, here are the 10 best road trips in Ireland.
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1. The “Go West” road trip
Best for chasing traditional music
Dublin–Doolin; 270 miles (435km)
Go West! As you quit Dublin’s suburban sprawl the landscape continues to soften and before you know it you’re in Galway, gateway to beautiful, brooding Connemara, where the mountainous landscape is punctuated by brown bog and shimmering lakes.
Explore one of the country’s most magnificent spots before looping south into the Burren of County Clare, the spiritual home of Irish traditional music.
Local tip: The Burren is a walker’s paradise. The stark, beautiful landscape, plentiful trails and ancient sites are best explored on foot. “Green roads” are the old highways of the Burren, crossing hills and valleys to some of the remotest corners of the region. Many of these unpaved ways were built during the Famine as part of relief work, while some may date back thousands of years.
“St. Kevin’s Kitchen”, the Celtic Round Tower, and the medieval cemetery in Glendalough © Sir Francis Canker Photography / Getty Images
2. Ancient Ireland road trip
Best for prehistoric to medieval sites
Brú na Bóinne–Glendalough; 329 miles (529km)
Go time travelling through middle Ireland’s collection of ancient tombs, Celtic sites and monastic cities, and cover 3000 years in four days.
This trip transports you from the Neolithic era to the last days of the first millennium, via the signposts of Ireland’s astonishing history: the prehistoric treasure trove of Cruachan Aí; the ancient passage graves of Brú na Bóinne and Loughcrew; the ancient Celtic capital atop the Hill of Tara; and the rich monastic settlements of Clonmacnoise, Glendalough and Cashel – some of the most important early medieval universities in Europe.
Clambering over the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland © Angel Villalba / Getty Images
3. Causeway Coast road trip
Best for blockbuster sights
Bangor–Derry; 183 miles (295km)
From seaside to mountainside, via ruined castles, stately homes, museums and the Giant’s Causeway – this trip blends cracking coastal scenery with blockbuster historic sights.
This drive delivers a true taste of Ireland’s gloriously-diverse north: the must-see stops of the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede; castles and historic homes at Mt Stewart, Hillsborough, Dunluce and Downhill; and superb scenery, from Slemish to sea-sprayed cliffs and immense sand dunes. This mystical landscape’s extraordinary rock formations, ruined castles and wooded glens have made the region an atmospheric backdrop for the TV series Game of Thrones, with numerous filming locations here.
By stopping in Belfast and Derry on either end of your trip along the Antrim coast, you’ll experience two vibrant cities progressing beyond a painful past.
Kissing puffins on the Saltee Islands off the coast of Wexford © Saverio Morpurgo / 500px / Getty Images
4. Wexford and Waterford road trip
Best for beaches
Enniscorthy–Ardmore; 102 miles (164km)
Ireland’s favorite beach destinations are dotted along the coastlines of counties Wexford and Waterford, but there’s far more to the region than just buckets and spades.
Collectively labelled the “sunny southeast”, Wexford and Waterford get less rainfall and more sunshine than anywhere else in Ireland, but the southeastern counties are about more than resort towns and pretty beaches. There’s history aplenty round here, some stunning inland scenery and a vibrant foodie scene that may not be as well known as that in neighboring Cork but is just as good.
Local tip: Seafood is a speciality along the Waterford coast, with excellent restaurants at Dunmore East, Dungarvan and Ardmore (with its Michelin-starred restaurant House) in particular.
5. Ring of Kerry road trip
Best for classic Ireland
Killarney–Ross Castle; 125 miles (202km)
Circumnavigating the Iveragh Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry is the longest and most diverse of Ireland’s prized peninsula drives, combining jaw-dropping coastal scenery with soaring mountains.
You can drive the Ring of Kerry in a day, but the longer you spend, the more you’ll enjoy it. The circuit winds past pristine beaches, medieval ruins, mountains, loughs and the island-dotted Atlantic, with the coastline at its most rugged between Waterville and Caherdaniel in the peninsula’s southwest. You’ll also find plenty of opportunities for serene, starkly-beautiful detours, such as the Skellig Ring and the Cromane Peninsula.
A Dingle Peninsula road trip will take you on a stunning coastal journey © Lukasz Pajor / Shutterstock
6. Dingle Peninsula road trip
Best for dramatic coastal views
Killarney–Tralee; 115 miles (185km)
Driving around this history-infused headland, you’ll encounter churches, castles, neolithic monuments, captivating scenery and artistic little Dingle, the peninsula’s delightful “capital”.
As you twist and turn along this figure-of-eight drive, the coastline is the star of the show. The opal-blue waters surrounding the Dingle Peninsula provide a wealth of aquatic adventures and superbly fresh seafood, and you’ll find that where the promontory meets the ocean – at wave-pounded rocks, secluded coves and wide, golden-sand beaches – Dingle’s beauty is at its most unforgettable.
Planning tip: In early October each year the fabulous Dingle Food Festival draws a crowd. Held over four days, this fabulous foodie fest features a “taste trail” with sampling at over 70 locations around town, plus a market, cooking demonstrations, workshops and a foraging walk. There are also beer, cider, whiskey and wine tastings, a bake-off competition and street entertainment, as well as children’s events.
Traditional colorful Irish houses with flowers, and an old lamppost © Luca Rei / Shutterstock
7. West Cork villages road trip
Best for picturesque fishing villages
Kinsale–Glengarriff; 220 miles (354km)
West Cork claims some of Ireland’s most scenic driving country, with three spectacular peninsulas and a cache of maritime villages filled with colorful shops and pubs alive with music.
This trip contains one of Ireland’s trinity of top peninsula drives: the spellbinding Beara Peninsula, straddling Counties Cork and Kerry. Beara’s southern side, along Bantry Bay, harbors working fishing villages, while on the rugged northern side craggy roads cut in and out of nooks and crannies and tiny coves are like pearls in a sea of rocks.
Local tip: This 206km waymarked walk forms a loop around the Beara Peninsula and takes around nine days. The peninsula is relatively unused to mass tourism and makes a pleasant contrast to the Ring of Kerry to the north.
The Cliffs of Moher are a top stop on the Wild Atlantic Way © shutterupeire / Shutterstock
8. Wild Atlantic Way road trip
Best for a sweeping view of Ireland
Inishowen Peninsula–Kinsale; 1600 miles (2600km)
The most westerly fringe of Europe is the wild, rugged and incredibly beautiful west of Ireland. It offers quintessential landscapes, which is why Irish tourism created the Wild Atlantic Way as its signature driving route.
Ireland’s western coastline is one of the world’s most stunning shorelines – a 2500km necklace of jagged cliffs, crescent strands and latticed fields strung out from west Cork to northeastern Donegal. This official driving route is richly-decorated with the panoramic pit stops you came to Ireland to experience. Here you’ll discover the best beaches in Europe, the epic landscapes of Connemara, culture-packed Galway and Clare, and the kingdom of Kerry right round to West Cork’s wonderful fishing villages. This road trip is, in a word, epic, but it is also broken down into 14 stages that can be explored individually.
Take a boat trip or ride a wave at Bundoran in County Donegal © David Soanes Photography / Getty Images
9. Donegal road trip
Best for getting out on the water
Rossnowlagh–Buncrana; 263 miles (423km)
Supremely scenic (sometimes scary) roads lead from sandy shores to exposed mountains, taking in horse rides, boat trips and world-class art along the way.
This trip prompts diverse sensations: looming Errigal Mountain is overwhelming; a beach horse ride feels liberating; and driving the high mountain passes is heart-in-the-mouth stuff. Relax on boat trips around Donegal Bay to 600m-high sea cliffs and an island, then encounter international art, Ireland’s traditional industries and piles of hand-cut peat beside the road. On this trip you gain a true insight into delightful Donegal.
10. North Mayo and Sligo road trip
Best for inspiration and rejuvenation
Westport–Sligo Town; 165 miles (266km)
Travel from country-cosmopolitan Westport to nature at its most visceral on windswept Achill Island. Then, carry on via superb surfscapes to Sligo, Yeats’ beloved adopted hometown.
This area has something quietly special – the rugged and remote Atlantic scenery of the west, but with fewer crowds. Grab a board and face off an invigorating roller at Achill, take a restorative seaweed bath at Enniscrone, walk in WB Yeats’ footsteps round the “Lake Isle of Innisfree” at the foot of Benbulben and enjoy the unpretentious company of lively Westport.
Detour: Take a diversion north of the N59 to reach Aughris Head and, if you’re up for it, an invigorating 5km walk tracing the cliffs around the remote headland, where dolphins and seals can often be seen swimming into the bay. Birdwatchers should look out for kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, shags, storm petrels and curlews along the way.