A land of rugged natural beauty, charming villages, kilometer-long coastline and countryside, the island of Ireland, divided into separate Republic and Northern Ireland, offers plenty of terrain to explore.
Just a flight or short ferry ride from the UK mainland, Ireland is packed with tourist attractions, from Blarney Castle to the Giant’s Causeway, alongside the capitals Dublin and Belfast – both offering a taste of Separate of the city holiday.
With its rich rural terrain, the Emerald Isle’s most fascinating landscapes are often most easily accessible by car. Fortunately, a solid road network makes exploring the island’s verdant interior and dramatic coastlines simple and enjoyable, from thousands of miles of the wild Atlantic to the little-known countryside of the island.
So whether you like the rolling hills of the Irish countryside, the steep cliffs of the coast or the vibrant atmosphere of the cities, there is a road trip in Ireland to suit. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best.
Wild Atlantic Road
This 1,600-mile route is Ireland’s most popular road trip, taking in coastal scenery, natural landmarks, and cities and towns including Galway and Donegal. It begins in the Inishowen Peninsula in the north, runs south until it ends in Kinsale, a quaint seaside town in the south with colorful streets. It is divided into 14 stages, spanning anywhere from about 90 miles to almost 150.
Highlights along the Road include the Slieve League cliffs and Cliffs of Moher, the rock formations of Downpatrick Head, and towns including Kinsale. You’ll find dozens of beautiful beaches, from Keem Bay to Dunmoran, and see miles of coastline and sections of cliffs including the stretch along the Atlantic Ocean.
This loop is located on the Iveragh Peninsula and begins and ends in Killarney. It has some of Ireland’s most beautiful mountainous and rural scenery, as well as lakes such as Lough Leane. Natural sites like the Gap of Dunloe, Rossbeigh Beach, Moll’s Gap, and Skellig Michael Island await on this 111-mile tour, as does Killarney National Park.
Not-to-be-missed highlights include the Cliffs of Kerry and Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland (1,038m high).
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Copper Coast (expanded)
While most variations of this route cover only 25 miles between Tramore and Dungarvan, it can be extended further into Kilmore Quay before reaching Wexford, making it about 100 miles long. Starting at Dungarvan, the first leg of the route traverses the entire Copper Coast European Geopark, an area listed by Unesco of international geological significance.
The coast is the attraction here, with its rugged stretch of cliffs, rocky coves, sandy bays and clear blue waters interspersed by picturesque villages and structures, from monastery and castle to the lighthouse. Arriving in Wexford, you’ll be greeted with medieval walls, winding streets, and sites like the Wexford Town heritage trail and Ireland’s National Heritage Park.
Belfast to Derry
Moving on to Northern Ireland, this route begins in the capital before heading north to the coast, near Ballycastle (and its amazing beaches) and finally moving to Derry via the Causeway Coast. From Belfast, you’ll head northwest to Antrim and then north through Ballymena until you reach Ballintoy Harbor and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge on the coast. From there, drive west to Whitepark Bay Beach and then close to Dunseverick Castle (with the option of a slight detour to visit the Giant’s Causeway).
After potentially enjoying one of the island’s main tourist attractions, you continue southwest to Coleriaine, then Limavady, through part of the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, before going to Derry. At just over 100 miles, you can take your time enjoying the second largest city in Northern Ireland; sites include the Peace Bridge, St Columbia’s Church and the city’s 400-year-old walls.
The 93-mile Burren Loop is short enough to complete in one day, although there’s plenty to see and trails to hike, you may want to stay for an evening in Ballyvaughan or the full town of Lisdoonvarna. color. The Burren Rocks is a barren limestone area, itself a Unesco World Heritage Site, famous for its karst landscape that covers nearly 100 square miles. This drive will lead you through narrow roads to scenic coastline including Unesco Cliffs of Moher Geopark, famous for its mix of Atlantic, Alpine and Mediterranean flora.
The main attraction on this trip is the Cliffs of Moher itself; Nearly nine miles of towering limestone cliffs are also home to cliff walks. For another great view, take a boat ride from Doolin to see them from the water below.
A 130-mile route between Belfast and Derry, this route takes in more coastline (and its great attractions) than the shorter journey from the Northern Irish capital mentioned above. Once you reach the shore, you’ll see the Carrick-a-Rede bridge, the Glens of Antrim, and the Cushendun Caves, before reaching the Giant’s Causeway. After visiting the famous 60-million-year-old basalt columns, you’ll finally arrive at Derry and its medieval walls.
Other notable stops on the route include some of Ireland’s best beaches (Benone and Portrush Whiterocks), national landmarks (including Mussenden Temple and Magilligan Point) and towns like Portstewart and Limavady.
The Four Peaks of Ireland
Encompassing the highest peaks in each of the provinces of Ireland and Northern Ireland, this route is usually driven as part of the island’s ‘Four Peaks Challenge’, but you can also enjoy the 540-mile scenic ride miles (whether you want to try climbing or not). all four vertices). This ‘H-shaped’ route traverses the central length of the island; There is no fixed starting point, although if coming from the UK mainland you should start at Slieve Donard or Lugnaquilla. From Lugnaquilla, you head north through Dublin to Slieve Donard before turning back on your own and embarking on a five-hour journey to Mweelrea.
The final leg of the route will take you back to Galway, before heading south, first to Limerick and finally to Carrauntoohill. While the peaks offer sweeping views of the surrounding areas, even if you’re not into climbing, you can still enjoy some of Ireland’s most beautiful countryside and cities, from the bay and mountains of Connemara National Park to the limestone landscapes of Burren and the charming cobbled center of Galway.
Ireland City Tour
While not an ‘official’ route, the island’s layout of cities gives you a longer route to discover the best of both countries. The detour can start from Belfast or Dublin (maybe depending on the ferry terminal or airport you’re arriving at) and be 600 miles long; may add additional stops, such as extending to Bangor after Belfast. If starting in Belfast, head to Derry – part of the Causeway Coast is optional – before crossing the Republic of Ireland via Letterkenny and heading southwest to Donegal Town. Continue south, first to Galway, then to Limerick and Cork (day or night is optional), before starting the last leg of the loop and driving to Dublin. Close to ‘home’, you can drive straight to Belfast or stop in Lisburn or Bangor before finishing your comprehensive route.
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