Most of Ireland outside of Dublin and Belfast is sparsely populated but these parts of the Emerald Isle offer visitors peaceful, green landscapes of unrivalled beauty, beautiful monuments and geological wonders. Road trips are a great way to reach such remarkable places in Ireland. Below are 3 route suggestions to explore the green island.
The North Coast from Belfast
Belfast is a convenient starting point, especially if you took the ferry from Liverpool. Leave the city northwards and take the A8 or A2. Stop at Glenoe Waterfall, Co. Antrim, around 20 miles (30km) from Belfast. County Antrim’s most famous natural sight is the Giant’s Causeway, a spectacular basalt formation. You’ll get there in about an hour taking the M2 then A26 from Belfast to Coleraine. There you will just be 12 miles (20 km) away from Stranocum and the Dark Hedges of HBO’s Game of Thrones so don’t miss it if you’re a fan.
The north of Ireland is not just Northern Ireland, and County Donegal is often overlooked by tourists. As a result, it remains very authentic. In particular, the Slieve League Cliffs (115 miles from the Giant’s Causeway) are just as impressive as the Cliffs of Moher.
From Dublin to Cork
If you arrived in Dublin, either by plane or by car, you may visit some of the wonders of the city: Trinity College and the Book of Kells, Dublin’s Castle, Stephen Street and Molly Malone’s statue, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Temple Bar, and the Guinness brewery and Jameson distillery.
Once you’ve visited these, consider joining the North scenic route. Go north either on M1 or N2 and after 35 miles (55km) stop at Drogheda to visit Newgrange, in Co. Meath. This Neolithic monument is a hill with a long tunnel where once a year the light of the sun shines deep inside the tunnel. A light bulb simulates this astronomic curiosity for the rest of the year.
Going south from Dublin the most direct route to Cork is a 160-mile (260km) long M7 and then M8. However, the M11 through Waterford and Wexford may be much more interesting because it will take you to Powerscourt House and Gardens, Co. Wicklow.
Just 10 minutes outside of Wexford you will be able to stop at Curracloe Beach, one of the finest beaches in Ireland. Expect to see 7 miles (11 km) of fine sand bordered by green dunes. After all, it’s Ireland.
The West Coast, from North to South
The true nature of Ireland is the brutal confrontation of the Atlantic Ocean and the land. This route will take you on the path between green and blue, through Co. Donegal, Co. Clare, Mayo and Kerry.
From Sligo follow N17 and then N5/N59 will take you through the Connemara National Park, to Galway. 25 miles (40km) further south of Galway, you will discover the second geological wonder of Ireland: the Burren. The Karst hills of the Burren offer very little possibility for farming and are truly a lunar landscape.
From the Burren, reach the coast and continue for another 25 miles (40 km) to the famous and incredibly spectacular Cliffs of Moher (N67). The sightseeing spot is seriously dangerous, windy and tricky so respecting the paths is absolutely necessary. 66 tourists fell to their death between 1993 and 2017. Do not risk your life for a selfie.
If you pass Limerick and proceed into the Dingle Peninsula (N69) 82 miles (133 km) further to the west, you will be surprised by the authentic flavour of this hard-to-reach area of Co. Kerry. Ireland’s most famous sights have become very touristy. In the Dingle Peninsula, you will watch the green pastures, castles, farmhouses in a pristine state, feeling almost as if you were the first person to ever see them. Once you’re here: visit the iconic Dunquin Pier and the charming Dingle Town centre, or try the adventurous Slea Head Drive.
All in all, Ireland is not a dangerous foreign land. While phone coverage can be low in certain areas (you’ll probably prefer a GPS to internet maps), remember that scenic roads in Ireland are often narrow and winding. Additionally, you may want to make a call to be sure that rooms are available in smaller villages and although you will find plenty of B&Bs to stay for the night, depending on where you come from, the local accent may require some practice. And don’t forget how tricky the weather can get so have your raincoat always close at hand.
Ireland is a small country but it offers a wide variety of landscapes, historical buildings, gardens, and also has a rich culture and gastronomy. No road trip in Ireland would be complete without a pub night, live music or tap dancing, trying an Irish stew and a pint of stout – once your driving is done for the day of course!