People often think that because Ireland is small in size, they can see everything in a matter of days. We can confirm that this is simply impossible. Ireland has this amazing, raw beauty everywhere you look, combined with a bustling social culture that sucks you in no matter where you are.
On your travels, you might only intend to stop off in a quaint village for a 15-minute coffee before, all of a sudden, you’re being whisked off to the local watering hole with Tom “from down the road” who wants to introduce you to the locals and share enthralling tales of Irish history. The vibrant personality of Ireland is very much alive on the rural roads.
1. The Copper Coast
The best road trip in the East
Tramore-Dungarvan; 40km (25 miles)
This is one of those road trips that allow you to just sit back and relax as you take in the stunning coastal scenery that is the Copper Coast.
With so many coastal walks and shimmering blue swim spots to explore, you’ll never be stuck for something to do on this short but action-packed route. And for all you budding geologists out there, the Copper Coast is also partially a UNESCO Global Geopark for its unique combination of environments packed into such a small area.
Detour: Take a trip to the nearby Comeragh mountains. Here you can take on one of Ireland’s most rewarding hikes, the Coumshingaun Loop.
2. The Wild Atlantic Way
The ultimate Irish road trip
Inishowen Peninsula-Kinsale; 2600km (1600 miles)
The pinnacle of Irish road trips. The Wild Atlantic Way will show adventurers both the natural beauty and the absolute craic that Ireland has to offer. Weave your way around mountains, bog lands and rugged karst landscapes as you experience the Emerald Isle.
There are Wild Atlantic Way markers at every point of interest along this incredible road trip to help you find your way, and you can follow the symbols attached to almost every road sign on the route so you don’t get lost.
Planning tip: We recommend taking at least two weeks to complete this road trip if you want to see as much as possible.
3. The Ring of Kerry
The best road trip to experience old Ireland
Starts and ends in Killarney (travel clockwise); 179km (111 miles)
Towering mountains, glistening lakes and enchanting forests. The Ring of Kerry is one of those unforgettable road trips that leave your jaw on the floor from start to finish. With so many landmarks to see along this route, it can be hard to fit it all into one trip, but the beauty of this road trip is even if you rarely leave the car, you’ll still experience some of Ireland’s most beautiful spots.
Detour: On this trip, you’re not far from Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil. It’s worth taking a day to attempt the hike via the Devil’s Ladder.
4. Mayo coastal road trip
The road trip less traveled
Ballina-Killary; 543km (337.5 miles)
Mayo is often overlooked as a destination in Ireland, but it has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country. It’s home to the highest mountain in Connacht, secret swimming spots and dramatic cliff walks.
Be sure to make plenty of stops as you make your way down the coast. There are tons of free activities, hostels and campsites to enable you to tackle this trip on a budget.
Planning Tip: If you include Croagh Patrick in your road trip on the last Sunday of July, you’ll be able to attend the annual pilgrimage known as Reek Sunday. Some people even attempt this hike barefoot as part of the pilgrimage.
5. The Old Military Road
The best for mountain landscapes
Rathfarnham-Aughavannagh; 60km (37 miles)
Travel through the spine of the Wicklow mountains as you follow this winding road shrouded in a dark history. The road was constructed between August 1800 and October 1809 to allow the British Army access to the mountains following the 1798 rebellion in Ireland.
Nowadays, the road is home to some of Ireland’s most challenging and beautiful hikes. But if hiking isn’t your thing, an abundance of excellent restaurants, lodges and activity centers are scattered along the route. The beauty of this trip is that you can take as long as you like to complete it. There are so many things to see and do packed into such a small distance that you’ll never be bored.
Planning Tip: If you’re taking a few days to complete this trip, be sure to pack for all weather. The Wicklow mountains are notorious for suddenly changing conditions.
6. Slea Head Drive
The best road trip for experiencing true “Irishness”
Starts and ends in Dingle (travel clockwise); 46km (28.5 miles)
Pubs doubling as hardware stores, white sandy beaches and lambs you can hold. What more could you ask for from a 46km road trip?
The Slea Head Drive is located on Dingle, one of Ireland’s most spectacular peninsulas. It has everything from coastal hikes to island escapes and some of the best nightlife in the country. All of this is plastered against a picturesque backdrop of green hills, sandy beaches and the wild Atlantic Ocean.
Detour: While you’re already on the road, you should add one of Ireland’s highest mountain passes – “the Conor Pass” – to your list. Located just outside of Dingle town, it’s a great addition to the Slea Head Drive road trip.
7. The Ring of Beara
The best road trip for unspoiled scenery
Starts and ends in Glengariff (travel clockwise); 148km (92 miles)
Another looped road trip from the south of Ireland makes it onto this list, and it is quite literally a stone’s throw away from the Ring of Kerry – just one peninsula over.
With multiple mountain passes, delightful villages filled with local foods to try and many hikes and walks along the way, you’re bound to find something that’s perfect for you.
Detour: There’s a cable car that you can take to Dursey Island along the Ring of Beara. This is one of the more unique ways to cross the choppy waters below and is definitely worth checking out.
8. The Burren Loop
A beautiful barren landscape
Starts and ends in Ballyvaughan; 150km (93 miles)
This is the only figure 8 route on this list, but the shape allows you to stay in the same accommodation if you want to complete the trip over two days. The Burren itself has been recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site for its unique karst landscape that spans approximately 250 sq km.
The drive will take you through narrow roads that cut through this barren landscape to sheer cliffside views.
Planning Tip: You have to incorporate some, if not all, of the Cliffs of Moher cliff walk. Maybe even hop on a boat from Doolin to see them from below as well.
9. Sky Road Loop
The best short road trip
Starts and ends in Clifden; 16km (10 miles)
This road trip may be short, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The Sky Road Loop offers some of the best sweeping views of the Connemara coastline. You will also encounter castles, quaint villages with delicious food and views of rugged mountains in the distance on this road trip – quite a lot to pack into such a short drive!
Detour: There’s a beach just off the Sky Road that will blow your mind. With crystal clear waters and beautiful golden sand, Eyrephort Beach is the perfect place to unwind on your trip.
10. The “Four Peaks” Challenge Road Trip
The most challenging Irish road trip
Carrauntoohill-Mweelrea-Slieve Donard-Lugnaquilla; 865km (540 miles)
Usually, road trips are all about the journey, but this one is a little bit different. The four peaks challenge is where hikers attempt to complete the four highest peaks in each province of Ireland. This can be timed or taken at a leisurely pace, but some people strive to complete it in 24 hours.
You will be treated to some of the most epic views of Ireland from each of these peaks, but the challenge is definitely not for the faint-hearted. If you decide to do a hike a day, though, then it can be quite pleasant, and you’ll get to experience the beautiful Irish countryside while putting your body to the test.
Planning Tip: Get someone to drive for you! Your legs will be worn out enough without the 12 hours of driving in between.