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Best Ireland Road Trips: A Local Expert's View

By: Camila
Last Updated: 13/07/2020
Posted in: Blogs, Road Trips, Guides, Ireland

The Emerald Isle is a fantastic location for those who enjoy the open roads. Are you looking to discover your Irish roots? Or perhaps you want to take in the Atlantic Ocean views or hike through the green hills. In that case, an Ireland road trip is for you!

No trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to the capital of course. So don’t forget to spend a day (or two) in Dublin during your stay. Some of our best highlights are tasting the "black stuff" at the Guinness Storehouse and seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity College.

After soaking up Dublin's cultural scene, you can take the wheel and go on a fabulous Irish self-drive tour. We’ve compiled our favourite ones below.

The best Ireland road trips:

Route 1: Ring of Kerry & Dingle Peninsula – 4 days

Best Ireland road trip for: iconic driving routes, popular sights, and a taste of the country.

These two impressive peninsulas draw travellers from around the world thanks to their remarkable sights. Running along the south-western coast, the landscape changes from national park to rugged coastline and quaint villages.

Unsurprisingly, you may even recognise some of these sights as famous film locations.

What’s the drive like?

Spanning 650 kilometres (400 miles), this road trip starts in the colourful city of Galway and heads south to take on two of the most popular drives in Ireland. This is a shorter road trip for those who want to experience the green landscapes and seaside scenery.

Recommended itinerary for the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula route:

Day 1 – Galway to Killarney

Drive south from Galway to the start of the Ring of Kerry, the town of Killarney. Today you’ll see some of the most photographed locations in Ireland! You’ll first follow the Galway Bay before reaching the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher.

Expect dramatic sea views and rolling green hills, with the opportunity to visit historic castles.

Day 2 & 3 – Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is a classic route that offers sensational Irish countryside and coastline views. You could drive this 175-kilometre (108-mile) route in a day, or take your time to see as many sights as you wish over two days.

One of the stops we recommend along the way is Kells Bay House, with its gorgeous gardens. You could also take some time to explore the mystical ancient stone forts of Caherdaniel and Staigue.

From the western edge of the Ring of Kerry, you may want to take a boat tour to see the Skellig Islands from up close. They were made famous by the Star Wars films.

Day 4 – Dingle Peninsula

Today, explore another scenic peninsula. First, you’ll drive along Dingle Bay before joining Slea Head Drive, following the coast for sweeping views of the ocean. Later, this route will take you over the Conor Pass, Ireland’s highest road.

Route 2: Coast to Coast – 5 days

Best Ireland road trip for: castle-spotters, nature-lovers and history buffs.

To see the best sights of Ireland in less time, we recommend this shorter itinerary. Designed over 5 days, this circular route will take you to the top highlights and towns for a fantastic taster of Ireland.

Enjoy the warm hospitality and pub culture in Galway. Learn about Gaelic culture and see the famed Cliffs of Moher.

What’s the drive like?

From the east coast in Dublin, you’ll head west to Galway before driving south to follow the Atlantic coastline. Along these 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) you can visit historic sites and admire the natural beauty of the country.



Recommended itinerary for the Coast to Coast route:

Day 1 – Dublin to Galway

Follow the motorway across to Galway, stopping at historic sites along the way. Don’t miss the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland, Trim Castle, and the atmospheric ruins of Clonmacnoise further west. Galway will be awaiting with its delicious food scene and numerous pubs.

Day 2 – Explore Connemara or the Aran Islands

This morning, explore the surroundings of Galway before heading into Connemara. As you drive through rugged mountains and heathlands, you’ll get to admire these striking vistas.

If you would prefer a day of leisure to cut down the driving, take a boat trip to the Aran Islands. Here you’ll discover Gaelic culture and windswept views.

Day 3 – Galway to Killarney

Take the scenic route down to Killarney, passing by Ireland’s top attraction, the Cliffs of Moher. You’ll first pass by the lunar-like landscape of the Burren, which you can take the time to explore. Later, why not visit the 15th-century Bunratty Castle and its folk park?

Day 4 – Ring of Kerry

Drive the Ring of Kerry to experience a true Irish road trip and see its major highlights. A jewel of Ireland, this ring road will satisfy all sightseers. The route has gorgeous coastlines, ancient stone forts, sandy beaches and lush estates.

Day 5 – Killarney to Dublin

Drive from the southern coast all the way back to Dublin. We recommend visiting two fascinating attractions along the way. Go kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle and explore the medieval buildings at the Rock of Cashel.

Route 3: Irish Island Tour – 7 days

Best Ireland road trip for: wildlife watchers, sea lovers, and those who want to learn about Gaelic culture.

Sample freshly caught seafood, learn about local culture, and admire the views of the Atlantic Ocean. This Ireland road trip is for lovers of the salty air, sealife, and waves crashing on epic cliffs.

Travel along the peaceful roads of the west coast, passing through national parks, mighty mountains and rocky shores.

What’s the drive like?

Covering over 1,000 kilometres (680 miles), this week-long road trip will allow you to delve deeper into the island life of Ireland. Discover Achill Island, the Aran Islands and maybe even the mystical Skellig Islands.

Recommended itinerary for the Irish Island Tour:

Day 1 – Achill Island

From the pretty town of Westport, drive to the remote Achill Island. This isle is connected to the mainland via a bridge, which is perfect to start your coastal road trip.

Day 2 – Westport to Galway

Follow the main road south through Connemara’s rugged landscape. Although it is not an island, at Clifden, we recommend taking the circular Sky Road. It is a key point of the Wild Atlantic Way and offers expansive views of the ocean!

Day 3 – Aran Islands

For a real castaway experience, you can’t miss your chance to visit the Aran Islands. Take the ferry across to the main and largest island, Inis Mór. Here you can admire the natural and historic sights and learn about Gaelic culture.

Day 4 – Galway to Doolin

Follow the coastal road south for impressive seaside views. You’ll first drive along the Galway Bay before reaching one of Ireland’s most popular attractions, the Cliffs of Moher. This will give you a true coastal feel!

Day 5 – Doolin to Killarney

You have a cultural day ahead of you. As you drive the road between the village of Doolin and Killarney, there are plenty of historic attractions to visit. Stop in Adare to discover another charming Irish village and have a wander in the Killarney National Park.

Day 6 – Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is your home for the day! The Iveragh Peninsula only covers 175 kilometres (108 miles) so it’s an easy drive for a day of sightseeing. And don’t miss your chance to take a boat tour to see the Skellig Islands from up close.

Day 7 – Dingle Peninsula

Your next stop is the Dingle Peninsula, characterised by its maritime backdrop and high peaks. We recommend driving the Slea Head Drive for spectacular views. Later, climb the Conor Pass, Ireland’s highest road, which also offers a fantastic viewpoint. 

Route 4: The Wild Atlantic Way – 10 days

Best Ireland road trip for: seafood lovers, wildlife watchers and beachgoers.

You may have heard about this legendary coastal drive. Take on the Wild Atlantic Way if you want to discover what makes the coastal beauty and life of Ireland’s west coast so unique. You’ll journey past charming towns, stand by high sea cliffs, and feel the Atlantic wind on your face.  

The unfiltered beauty of Ireland will stun you, so don’t forget your camera!

What’s the drive like?

The route for this Wild Atlantic Way tour spans 1,800 kilometres (1,118 miles). Experience the west coast of Ireland like never before. From County Donegal in the north to Cork in the south, you’ll get to immerse yourself in the Irish seaside.



Recommended itinerary for the Wild Atlantic Way Route:

Day 1 – Exploring Donegal

County Donegal is the northernmost county of Ireland and where you’ll start your Wild Atlantic Way journey. Visit Glenveagh National Park before driving over the winding Glengesh Pass. The highlight of the day is Slieve League and its imposing sea cliffs.

Day 2 – Donegal to Westport

Driving south through County Sligo, you’ll pass by the high-topped Ben Bulben and small fishing villages like Mullaghmore. Continue your drive to Westport via Downpatrick Head where you can admire the ocean.

Day 3 – Exploring Achill Island

Drive to Achill Island, which is connected to the mainland via a bridge. Simply follow the Wild Atlantic Way around the island. You’ll be able to admire the views from the top of Minaun Heights and maybe even dip your toes in the sea at the beautiful bays of Keel and Keem.

Day 4 – Westport to Galway

Drive further down the coast and through the Connemara region. Along the way, we recommend stopping at Ireland’s only true fjord, Killary harbour. You can also add to your road trip and drive the circular Sky Road near Clifden, which will offer sweeping Atlantic views.

Day 5 – Exploring the Galway region

Enjoy a leisurely day around Galway or take this opportunity to visit the nearby Aran Islands. No need to drive, simply get on a ferry to visit the windswept main island of Inis Mór. The highlight is the prehistoric fort Dun Aengus, which overlooks the wild Atlantic.

Day 6 – Galway to Doolin

Today, your drive will first take you around the scenic Galway Bay before driving through the Burren, which may remind you of a lunar landscape. The main attraction of the day is the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, for a real showcase of Ireland’s stunning coastline.

Day 7 – Doolin to Killarney

You have all day to delve into Irish history. Your first stop will be Bunratty Castle, followed by the charming town of Adare, which is like walking in an open-air museum with its thatched cottages. Later, visit the 19th-century Muckross House amidst the Killarney National Park.

Day 8 – Ring of Kerry

Take the day to uncover the highlights of the Ring of Kerry. This famous peninsula is a must-do for any drivers and explorers visiting Ireland. You’ll be charmed by the seaside scenery, lush national parks and quaint villages along the way.

Day 9 – Dingle Peninsula

This peninsula is characteristic of what you'd expect of the Irish countryside and coast. It is a must for any Wild Atlantic Way drivers! From the charming town of Dingle, you’ll join Slea Head Drive. Highlights include Dunquin harbour and the Blasket Centre, as well as the early Christian Gallarus Oratory.

Day 10 – Killarney to Cork

Discover the beautiful south of Ireland. You’ll first travel over the winding Caha Pass before following the Wild Atlantic Way to the colourful village of Glengarriff. Before reaching Cork, take a detour to admire the views from Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southerly point.

Route 5: Grand Tour of Ireland – 15 days

Best Ireland road trip for: nature lovers, long-term explorers, and those looking to learn more about their Irish heritage.

Are you ready for the ultimate Ireland road trip? This grand 15-day self-drive tour takes you around the Emerald Isle to all the best sights and places. You’ll take the wheel with plenty of time at each location, allowing you to delve deeper into Irish culture and traditions.

After this epic tour, you’ll feel like you’ve genuinely seen and gotten to know this beautiful country!

What’s the drive like?

Starting from Dublin, you’ll head up into Northern Ireland and work your way around the whole island. You’ll see the famous sights, from the Giant’s Causeway to the Cliffs of Moher. Driving south from Donegal, you’ll follow the coast, stopping at highlights and hidden gems along the way.



Recommended itinerary for a Grand Tour of Ireland:

Day 1 – Dublin to Belfast

Have a relaxed 2-hour drive north, making as many stops as you wish or as time allows on the way. We highly recommend the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Newgrange. The passage tombs here are believed to be older than the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

Day 2 – Explore Belfast

Forget the car for today and instead take the time to dive deeper into Belfast’s rich history. The capital of Northern Ireland is full of attractions, including the Titanic Belfast and the Ulster Folk Museum. 

Day 3 – Belfast to Donegal

Visit the top attractions of Northern Ireland. Pass by the atmospheric Dark Hedges, featured in Game of Thrones, before enjoying a coastal walk at Carrick-a-Rede. Later, stop by the Giant’s Causeway at the coast. This UNESCO World Heritage site, with its iconic basalt columns, is the highlight of the day.

Day 4 – Exploring County Donegal

Explore the northernmost county of Ireland. Stop by the Glenveagh National Park before driving over the Glengesh Pass all the way to the imposing Slieve League cliffs. These sea bluffs are some of the highest in Europe!

Day 5 – Donegal to Westport

Driving south to County Sligo you’ll be greeted by the stunning Ben Bulben table-top mountain. Make a stop at Mullaghmore, a small fishing village with a lovely sandy beach. Continue along to Carrowmore, Ireland’s largest Stone Age cemetery.

Day 6 – Achill Island

This morning, explore the town of Westport before driving to the remote Achill Island. Connected to the mainland by a bridge, you can follow the road around the island to see its top highlights. Admire the views from the top of Minaun Heights and visit the abandoned village of Slievemore.

Day 7 – Westport to Galway

Drive through Connemara’s striking landscape with its mountains and heathlands. You’ll then reach Killary harbour, Ireland’s only true fjord. Later, architecture enthusiasts may want to visit Kylemore Abbey to admire its spectacular Gothic design.

Day 8 – Explore Galway or the Aran Islands

You can spend the day at leisure in Galway or take a ferry to the Aran Islands. The largest island, Inis Mór, is a treasure trove for those who want to discover more about Gaelic culture. Don’t miss the prehistoric fort of Dun Aengus.

Day 9 – Galway to Doolin

Drive through the rocky landscape of the Burren. Here you can visit the portal tomb of Poulnabrone Dolmen, one of Ireland’s oldest megalithic monuments. Your next stop is the iconic Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s top tourist attraction.

Day 10 – Explore Killarney National Park

Driving south to Killarney, we recommend stopping by Adare, one of Ireland’s prettiest villages. Take the rest of the day to explore Killarney National Park, from the 19th-century Muckross House to Ross Castle, sitting on the shore of Lough Leane.

Day 11 – Ring of Kerry

All our tours include a day of exploring this classic scenic drive! That’s because no trip is complete without seeing the gems along the Iveragh Peninsula. The circular 175-kilometre (108-mile) route offers historical attractions, opportunities to eat delicious seafood, and many irresistible photo stops!

Day 12 – Dingle Peninsula

Drive along the rugged Dingle Peninsula for a real coastal feel. The main town, Dingle, is a lively and colourful fishing port. This drive will take you over the Conor pass, Ireland’s highest road, offering expansive views across the peninsula.

Day 13 – Killarney to Cork

Take the scenic route by driving over the winding Caha Pass all the way to the village of Glengarriff. Here you can visit Bantry House or take a boat trip to the lush Garnish Island. When you reach Cork, take some time to discover this buzzing city.

Day 14 – Cork to Kilkenny

Stop by the famous Blarney Castle before visiting the photogenic harbour town of Cobh. It is known as the last port of call of the Titanic in 1912! Later, explore the Rock of Cashel, a historical site that contains medieval buildings that span over 1,000 years of history.

Day 15 – Kilkenny to Dublin

Today’s drive will take you through the Wicklow Mountains back to Dublin. This is your last chance to take in the beauty of Ireland. There are a few worthwhile stops to make along the way, including Glendalough, a 6th-century monastic settlement.


Get help planning your Ireland road trip

Are you ready to book your dream road trip around Ireland? Don’t hesitate to contact one of our Ireland travel consultants! We’re here to help you plan the best trip, including organising accommodation, renting a car, and all other details.

If you can’t find your perfect package, we can tailor your tour to your needs. Get in touch!

We’re with you before, during and after your tour. You’ll enjoy a dedicated travel consultant and be able to call our 24/7 emergency helpline in case of any problems.

Check out our Ireland self-drive tours for more information.

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Post by: Camila

Half Canadian, half Chilean, Camila grew up in Montreal before moving to Scotland in 2012. When she’s not travelling or writing about travels, she loves to read a good book, train for triathlons, and try new restaurants in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

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Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way - check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.