Road trip in Ireland

Throughout our years in Ireland, we’ve had the opportunity to visit many parts of the country. Driving through the Emerald Isle never fails to stun you with its breathtaking vistas around every corner. Lush green hills, rolling farmland, narrow roads, and rugged coastlines. Road tripping in Ireland is something every visitor to Ireland, or indeed just everyone, should tick off their bucket list.

First, how to plan the perfect road trip?

Renting a car in Ireland

Renting a car is a great way to get around and explore Ireland. It gives you the freedom to drive to the routes you prefer and at your own pace. We’ve completed several road trips as well as participated in a few guided bus tours in Ireland and we would without hesitation recommend renting a car and avoid the crowded buses.

When it comes to renting a car, we almost always rely on Auto Europe. Auto Europe is a bit similar to RentalCars or renting through an airline where you compare rental prices across several companies. However, Auto Europe differs in that they’re a broker and not just a price comparison site. This means that they have access to even lower prices and you’ll likely find the lowest through them. They also have really cheap insurance so you can deny the scammy car rental insurance they always try to convince you to buy (never do that, always buy a third party insurance). The insurance coverage is exactly the same.

In Ireland we have usually rented through either Sixt, Enterprise, Hertz or Thrifty depending on whether we picked up the car at the airport or in the city. All four car rentals are reliable and have fair prices so pick the cheapest or most convenient. Do note that rental prices for an automatic tend to vary (which we recommend if you’re not used to driving on the left-hand side). So compare all prices through Auto Europe (and get the best deal).

Rental car with an automatic transmission

In Europe the majority of rental cars have a manual transmission. One of the trickiest things about driving on the left side of the road is that everything is opposite of what you’re used to. That means using your left hand to change gears. Even if you’re used to driving with a manual transmission in your home country, then do get a car with an automatic transmission. Not having to shift gears (using a new hand) greatly improves your attention span.

What is the most comfortable car for road trips?

We’ve rented everything from a Mini Cooper to a mid-size SUV. If you’re planning to tour all of Ireland or even a multi-day tour, pick a bigger car. We have driven the Nissan Qashqai / Renault Kadjar several times (it’s the same car and in the US it’s the Nissan Rogue Sport). It’s perfect for road trips and often was an automatic even if we didn’t specifically book (or pay) for it. If you’re just doing day trips out of Dublin then a smaller car is fine, for example the VW Golf.

Is it difficult to drive on the ‘wrong side’ of the road?

Driving in Ireland means driving on the left side of the road. It’s actually surprisingly easy driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road. That said, driving on the opposite side of the road than drivers are used to requires more concentration. Make sure to take it easy and do a slow practice run to get familiar with the roads and the car you’re driving. It’s pretty easy as long as you just follow traffic but be mindful of roundabouts or when turning onto a street.

Tip: The Irish roads are narrow and the Irish drives fast. Some of the Irish roads are so narrow that only one car can pass. So be prepared to practice your backing skills on a narrow coastal road with large tourist busses waiting to pass by.

What are the most beautiful parts of Ireland?

Ireland has some of the most unforgettable and dramatic landscapes. There is plenty to see. The hugely popular Wild Atlantic Way takes in a dizzying 2500 km coastal route spanning six diverse Irish regions from Cork to Donegal. While the Wild Atlantic Way offers some of the most beautiful scenery it’s also a route that takes up to three weeks behind the wheels. Most people therefore focus on either going North of Galway through Connemara and possibly all the way to Donegal (highly recommended) or head south to see Cliffs of Moher, Isle of Dingle and not least drive the famous Ring of Kerry.

So not to worry – you don’t need to commit to three weeks for spectacular views in Ireland.

Here’s our suggestions to some of the best Irish scenery. There are so many beautiful routes, scenes, and sights, and the list is by no means exhaustive.

Wicklow Mountains

Kilafin, Laragh, via Bray, Co. Wicklow, website

Situated just south of Dublin Wicklow Mountains is the largest of Ireland’s six National Parks and cover more than 20,000 hectares. The national park offers beautiful trails and breathtaking views. Wicklow Mountains is a perfect day trip from Dublin but leave early in the morning to make sure you have time to do the whole trek.

If you have more time, visit (or stay at) Powerscourt House and Gardens (and waterfall) or one of the quaint seaside towns of Bray, Greystones and Dun Laoghaire.

Find hotels near Wicklow Mountains here

Wicklow Mountains

Connemara National Park

Letterfrack, Co. Galway
website

Just North of Galway in the West of Ireland lies County Connemara National Park. The park is a favorite of ours due to its beauty and low amount of visitors. You have nearly 3,000 hectares of land almost to yourself in this sometimes overlooked pearl. There are a wealth of walking trails, a variety of landscapes and spectacular views.

Find hotels near Connemara National Park here

Connemara National Park
Goat in Connemara National Park, Ireland

Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most popular iconic drives and measures 179 (111 miles) around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. A drive along the Ring offers stunning and majestic landscapes.

View of the Atlantic Ocean from the Ring of Kerry in Ireland
View of the Atlantic Ocean from the Ring of Kerry in Ireland

Part of the Wild Atlantic Way, the Iveragh Peninsula is the crown jewel of southwest Ireland. Do prepare yourself for sharing the drive and sights with convoys of tourist buses. By driving yourself you can avoid the most crowded lookout posts – it’s beautiful everywhere!

Find hotels along the Ring of Kerry here

Cliffs of Moher

Liscannor, Co. Clare, website

Cliffs of Moher in County Clare might be the most famous tourist spot in Ireland (save the Guinness Brewery). And rightly so. The iconic cliffs stretch for almost 8 kilometers (5 miles) along the Atlantic coast and stand 214 meters (702 feet) tall at their highest point. As they are one of the most visited tourist sights in Ireland do prepare for large crowds and lines of tour busses. Unlike many other parks and sights in Ireland where it is possible to go off road, at Cliffs of Moher it’s nearly impossible to escape the crowds. The spectacular and highly instagrammable views are worth it though.

Find hotels near Cliffs of Moher here

Consider staying in Galway and enjoy Ireland’s perhaps most charming city (75 km / 45 miles from Cliff of Moher).

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Stairways to heaven

The Stairways are found at the Cuilcagh Mountain in County Fermanagh. The wooden walkway opened in 2015 to protect the blanket bog and restore damaged peatland. Dubbed the Stairway to Heaven because of the breathtaking views along the Legnabrocky trail, the walkway quickly rose to fame through social media and now draws more than 24.000 visitors a year. We would definitely recommend going early in the day or even better off-season to beat the large crowds. It’ll be just as beautiful all year and going in winter (like we did) you’ll get to experience the snow-covered peak. 

Find hotels near Cuilcagh Mountain here

Cuilcagh Mountain in County Fermanagh.
It’s a bit of a walk to get to the stairways to heaven but definitely worth it.
Stairways to heaven, Ireland

Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway is a beautiful hour’s drive North of Belfast and a perfect day-trip if visiting the Northern Capital. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986 and is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO Heritage Site. It’s called the Giant’s Causeway because according to legend, the Irish giant Finn MacCool built the causeway as a crossing to Scotland.

It is undoubtedly one of the great natural wonders of the world. Scientists (disagreeing with folklore) say the striking landscape was caused by volcanic activity more than 60 million years ago and is made up of more than 40,000 of hexagonal-shaped pillars.

Find hotels near Giant’s Causeway here

See also our city guide to Belfast

Landscape, Giant's Causeway, Ireland
Striking landscape at Giant’s Causeway
Giant's causeway, Ireland