There’s no better time to skip crowded public transport and busy planes to go on a road trip – and there’s no better place for it that Ireland.
Here are ten of the best drives to take in the country’s incredible coastal landscapes.
1. The Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a 110-mile route that takes in a thrilling mix of jade-hued landscapes, ocean views and charming seaside villages as it winds its way around the Iveragh Peninsula. Beginning and ending in Killarney, travellers will cross the magnificent Coomakista Pass, with its views of the Kenmare River, and see the craggy Skellig Islands and The Gap of Dunloe mountain pass. A stop off at Derrynane Beach offers a chance to get your feet wet, while the cafe at Ladies View is a great choice for a scenic lunch.
2. The Causeway Coast
The train ride from Derry to Coleraine was once named “the most beautiful on earth” by Michael Palin – and this road trip version is just as good. The 130-mile route wends its way from Belfast to Derry, taking in the stretch of Northern Irish coastline in between. The drive takes its name from one of the most iconic sights along the way: the Giants Causeway, an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns.
Northern Ireland is Game of Thrones territory, and filming locations are strewn along the route. Dark Hedges near Ballycastle appeared as the Kings Road in the popular television series, while fans will find Larrybane near the Carrick-a-Rede ropebridge, which starred as Renly Baratheon’s camp. Make time to stop for a Pooh Bear (honeycomb) ice cream at Maud’s (mauds.com) in Portstewart – one of the area’s delicacies.
3. The Burren Loop
“Make the time to drive out west into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore”, wrote Seamus Heamy in his 1996 poem, Postscript. The “Flaggy Shore” he spoke of is located in County Clare’s Burren National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site that’s one of the most unique landscapes in the world. The lunar-like topography is a place full of wonder, full of limestone karsts and colourful flora. Drive the route through it in the Heaney-recommended months of September or October, when “big soft buffetings come at the car sideways and catch the heart off guard and blow it open”.
4. Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way was launched in 2014 as the world’s longest signed coastal drive. Standing at more than 1500 miles long, there’s no more complete trip along Ireland’s western coast than this. Starting in Inishowen, Co. Donegal, the drive runs through the counties of Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim before ending at the town of Kinsale in Co. Cork. Those looking to take on this mammoth journey should plan to take at least three weeks. It’s doable in two, but will feel rushed.
5. The Sky Road
Can’t spare three weeks? A number of more manageable chunks of the Wild Atlantic Way that can be done on their own. The Sky Road is one such bite-sized option: a 12-mile drive through Kingstown peninsula, near the town of Clifden in Connemara, Co. Galway. Easily a highlight of the Wild Atlantic Way in its own right, the route is aptly named, at times feeling like the car is flying as huge expanses of blue sky and sea flash past the windows. Though it can be tempting to slow down on the road the better to take in the views, please note there is a signposted viewpoint drivers can pull into for photo-taking.
6. Mullet Peninsula
Mayo’s Mullet Peninsula is another such section. The R313 road carves through this Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) peninsula, giving access to some of the region’s most deserted beaches, including Tullaghan Bay, which has jaw-dropping views across Blacksod Bay to Slievemore. The biggest town is Belmullet (Béal an Mhuirthead), which gives a lively contrast to the rather desolate surrounds. Those looking for a more intimate experience with the coastline should stay at Geraghty’s Farmyard, a farmhouse that dates back to the 1800s and now has self catering ‘pods’ on the beach nearby.
7. Dingle Peninsula
A huge number of Ireland’s best drives lie on it’s jutting peninsulas, and the The Tralee to Dingle route is no exception. The 84-mile journey around the Dingle peninsula is one of the most scenic parts of the Wild Atlantic Way, with cliff top roads, sweeping coastline views and high mountain passes all coming together to make a fitting backdrop to any Enya soundtrack. It’s doable in a day, but it’s best to take your time, stopping off in colourful music-filled Dingle village, and Stradbally, which lies on the peninsula’s northern “gold coast”.
8. Fanad Peninsula
Another spectacular peninsula drive can be found in Donegal. Start in the town of Letterkenny and drive north on the R264 until you can transfer onto the Knockalla Coast Road. From there, drive up to Fanad Head Lighthouse on the peninsula’s tip, stopping off at the glorious golden sands of Portsalon on the way. Arguably one of the most beautiful lighthouses in Ireland, Fanad Head is worth taking the time to tour, to hear about the families that lived within its walls and the community it served.
9. The Inishowen 100
The whole of county Donegal is rife with incredible coastal drives. One of the best is the Inishowen 100, which gets its name from the approximate distance in miles of the route. Taking in the (you guessed it) Inishowen Peninsula, the majority of the road on this route mirrors the coastline. Prepare for plenty of stops – there’s a number of excellent hiking spots, as well as empty beaches, rural villages and the most northerly point in Ireland, Malin Head. If the weather’s fine, plan for a picnic at lush Glenevin Waterfall Park.
10. The Copper Coast
Named a Unesco Global Geopark in 2004, the Copper Coast is one of the gems of County Waterford’s crown. Running from Tramore to Dungarvan – or to Rosslare in Wexford, should you want a longer journey – the route takes its name from the extensive copper mining industry that took place along the coast in the 19th century. The history here stretches back much further than that however, with the area’s geological heritage said to reflect over 460 million years of evolution in the land. Between the ancient landscapes, Neolithic dolmens and Iron Age forts, history is etched into every corner of this road trip – even bustling Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland, being founded by vikings in 914 A.D.