Ireland’s scenery is wild and varied and full of inspiring landscapes and dramatic seascapes.
With lush fields, craggy mountains, glistening lakes, a rugged coastline and vibrant towns and cities, Ireland may be small, but it certainly packs a punch.
Steeped in history, you can explore medieval cities and walled towns with castles and ruins. You can fuel up on delicious, regional food and sip a pint of the black stuff in warm, welcoming restaurants and pubs. The relaxed vibe and friendly locals make touring the Emerald Isle a fun, enjoyable experience.
Driving is a great way to see the sights and get off the beaten track. Renting a car in Ireland and planning a road-trip gives incredible freedom. It allows you to explore more and go beyond what is in the guide books. As for the roads? Some breathtaking routes take you through the romantic landscape. Windswept coastal roads snake through remote villages, undulating rural roads wind through verdant countryside, and high mountain passes cut through rugged wilderness.
So, it is time to get out your map, get behind the wheel and start your engine for a trip of a lifetime to uncover all that Ireland has to offer.
While renting a car in Ireland is pretty straightforward, there are definitely a few things you can do to ensure your rental process runs smoothly:
1. Check your car rental agreement for a mileage limit. Make sure your planned route falls within the limit; otherwise, you might be charged extra.
2. Ensure everything you need is included in the rental price; child seats, sat-nav, air-con, roof racks, etc.
3. If you can, rent a small car. Many rural roads are narrow and winding, and some city streets too. Smaller cars are also easier to park, and spaces in Ireland can be a tight squeeze.
4. The number of emergency services in Ireland is 999.
The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal touring route in the world. Stretching 2,500km the rugged seascapes and wild landscapes seem endless. Following The Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll see much of the country as the route passes through nine Irish counties: Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, and Donegal.
The windy roads can get narrow, so this isn’t a route to be rushed. It is one to be savoured, slowly, so you can soak in the views and bask in its splendour.
The Gordon Bennett Route is a 166km journey that was once a great car race. In fact, you’ll probably pass a few motorists in classic cars. The route passes through counties Carlow, Kildare and Laois. It takes you into some very picturesque towns and villages. There are loads of heritage attractions along the route too. It is also a great route if you are travelling with children as there are plenty of family-friendly stops along the way. One of these is the Slieve Bloom region, which is Ireland’s only designated Environment Park.
If you need to rest up for the night, you can stay in Castle Durrow, an old Irish mansion dating back to 1715.
Covering most of the Wicklow Mountains is the stunning Wicklow National Park. The Sally Gap and the Wicklow Gap are two routes that cross the Wicklow Mountains from east to west. The roads aren’t that long, so you can easily do the two in one day.
The route flows like ribbons of tarmac through the beautifully bleak moorlands and the rolling hills that surround the deep glacial valley.
There are plenty of safe places to pull in and take photos and enjoy the views. One very picturesque place to stop is high above Lough Tay, which is known as Guinness Lake. When you look down at the lake from above the dark waters and white sand beach make it look like a creamy pint of stout.
Poet W.B. Yeats and his artist brother Jack Yeats drew plenty of inspiration for their work from the scenery around Sligo and parts of Leitrim and Roscommon. These parts are now known as Yeats Country. To enjoy the same heart-stirring views as the Yeats brothers, head towards Manorhamilton in Co. Leitrim and drive the N16 road to Glencar Waterfall, the inspiration for the poem ‘The Stolen child’. Follow the road along beautiful Glencar Lough and pull over and enjoy a walk around or a picnic. Admire Ben Bulben mountain as you drive the N15 road to Drumcliffe to the burial site of W.B. Yeats. There is also an ancient monastic settlement here, dating back to the 6th-century.
This route starts in the lively town of Killarney and takes you through some spectacular scenery. Explore Killarney National Park and its lakes and make sure you stop at Ladies View as it is one of the most scenic spots along the way. If you don’t mind driving at night, from here, you can head over to the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve from some stargazing, without the need for telescopes or other equipment. On a clear, moonless night you can see the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulae.
Film fans will love this route which takes you through the Garden of Ireland. On this 80km drive, you’ll visit loads of the filming locations across County Wicklow which were used in the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart. Apart from the film locations, you’ll also visit charming villages and towns. These are perfect places to stop off for picnic supplies or some local food.
If you are driving this route in autumn, you’ll enjoy some fabulous leaf-peeping and the spectacular fall colours of the Wicklow Valley.
This 166km route takes in the rugged Waterford coastline that stretches between Tramore and Dungarvan. The area used to be home to a copper mining industry, hence the name. The Copper Coast is a UNESCO Global Geopark and along the route, you can stop off at the Bog of Fenor. This biodiversity-rich habitat is home to over 225 different plant and animal species.
Along the way, enjoy dramatic cliffs, sweeping seascapes and beautiful bays and blue flag beaches. So make sure you pack your swimsuit.