The Great Irish Road Trip

April 6, 2017
Katie Uniacke

When it comes to road tripping, you couldn’t ask for a better destination than Ireland.  The Emerald Isle is the perfect size to be seen from the comfort of a car, and you need your own wheels to get to some of the most beautiful spots of natural beauty, navigating from a beach to a castle to a cave to the forest, all within just a few hours drive.

Whether you fly into Dublin and rent a car or get the ferry from France or Wales, a full on road trip is the best way to see Ireland. The main thing to bear in mind when road tripping is that you need to be flexible. Avoid school holidays or public holidays when all tourist attractions and accommodation will be full to the brim, and visit in May, June, early July or September, when the weather should still be fine enough (by Irish standards). This means that hotels, BnBs and campsites will generally be nice and empty so you won’t have to worry about booking ahead, which means if you find somewhere you really like and want to stay an extra night or you turn up somewhere and decide that, actually, it’s not for you, you have the freedom to change your itinerary.

A breathtaking panoramic image of Slieve League in Ireland

A panoramic view of Slieve League in Ireland, along the Wild Atlantic Way, img: Greg Clarke

Camping is a great way to go whilst on the road, especially if you’re on a budget, but it might be easier said than done for those flying in as squeezing camping equipment into your luggage could be tricky. If you do decide to camp, make sure your tent is properly waterproof as you’re more than likely to see some rain whilst in Ireland. Make sure you bring a heavy duty sleeping bag and probably a sleeping bag liner too, as it can get chilly at night even during the summer.

All the gear for cooking will save you an awful lot of money as it will mean you won’t have to eat out three times a day, but rural Ireland is typically fairly cheap so you should be able to feed yourself without breaking the bank even if you can’t squeeze a backpacking stove into your luggage.

If you decided to opt for local BnBs along the track, you can obviously travel far lighter, and you can still throw together a picnic lunch to keep costs down.

I personally am still a big fan of the trusty roadmap, which you should be able to pick up at a tourist information office fairly soon after you roll off the ferry, or which might be provided by your car rental company. Google Maps is all well and good but rural Ireland can have patchy internet coverage, and if you’re camping you may not be able to charge your phone or tablet for a while. Take a portable charger with you for emergencies, but try and stick to your roadmap when navigating.

There are plenty of routes you can take on your Irish road trip depending on what you’d like to see along the way. This was the itinerary that my brothers and I followed a couple of summers ago when we had 6 days to kill in Ireland, which was a great way to see a little of everything. If you’re lucky enough to have more time at your disposal, you can use this as a jumping off point and add in a few extra stops along the way. If you’re flying in or coming by car from somewhere other than the UK, you’ll also need to tweak the plan to take this into account. Obviously, there are countless other sites to be seen on the Emerald Isle, so make sure you do your research before you head off.

  1. Ferry: Fishguard to Rosslare

Taking the overnight ferry is a great way to save yourselves a night’s accommodation and get an early start in the morning, but be prepared to be a little uncomfortable if you opt to not pay for a cabin.

  1. Waterford

This was our first stop in the morning to pay a visit to Tourist Information, get a decent breakfast inside us and admire this charming Irish town. We picked up a few things we’d forgotten and headed onto…

  1. Cliffs of Mohar

A side view of the cliffs of moher in ireland

The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

A picture of the cliffs of Moher taken from the top.

Path on the Cliffs of Moher, img: wikimedia commons

This was our first overnight stop. We pitched our tent in the caravan park in the village of Doolin, a little further north, and headed to the local pub for a taste of the local brews and a good Irish session. We visited the incredible cliffs the next morning. Keep all your fingers crossed for them not to be swathed in fog! This is Ireland after all.

  1. Aillwee Caves

A picture of a person walking through the Caves in Aillwee

Aillwee Cave, img: Bea y Fredi cc by 2.0

A dash of sunlight in the Aillwee caves is pictured here

Img: Germán Poo-Caamaño cc by 2.0

We headed north along the coastal road that hugs the ocean, the Wild Atlantic Way. The views are stunningly and the coastline dramatic. If it’s a fine day, there are plenty of picturesque beaches to be enjoyed. We took a quick detour inland to the Ailwee Caves. Any Father Ted fans will know these as the ‘Very Dark Caves’ from the episode ‘The Mainland’.

  1. Galway

The Galway river near Cong is pictured here

Galway River Bridge – Cong Forest

Galway is a charming town known for its gastronomy. Take a stroll around the centre and treat yourself to a meal, and stay overnight in one of its many BnBs or campsites if you’d like to spend a bit of extra time.

  1. Cong

An aerial view of the infamous Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle, img: Larry Koestercc by 2.0

You’ve got lots of options when leaving Galway. If you want to stick to the coast, the Wild Atlantic Way continues, but if you’d like a change of scene you can head inland. We found a campsite in the village of Cong, famous as the location for the classic John Wayne film The Quiet Man. Even if you’re not a film buff, you’ll by charmed by this quaint spot.

The entrance to the Ashford castle hotel is shown here

Img: Mike Searlecc by sa 2.0

The village is dominated by the majestic Ashford Castle, now an exclusive hotel and wedding venue which has grounds you can wander around in and looks out over a stunning lake. The local pub is the place to head for another traditional Irish session.

  1. Sligo

A black & white shot of the Athlone Castle in Ireland

Athlone Castle, img: Wikimedia Commons

Now from here, we headed north to Sligo to meet some distant cousins, and the coastline of Sligo is well worth a visit. In the absence of any Irish relatives to house you, however, and if Sligo doesn’t call your name, you’ve got a few options at this point. Your ultimate destination is Dublin, from which your ferry or flight will leave, so you could head on back, perhaps stopping off in Athlone en route, which boasts a beautiful castle.

  1. Dublin

If you’ve got a rental car, hand it back in, and if it’s your own find a hostel with parking to stow it away whilst you spend two nights enjoying the delights of Dublin. Luckily for you, I’ve written a whole post on things to do on a weekend break in Dublin, so you can make the most of your time in the Irish capital.

From Dublin, we drove to the ferry which would take us back to Wales, this time to Holyhead in the north of Wales.

We didn’t even scratch the surface of what Ireland has to offer in our time there, but it was a fantastic place to start. If you’ve got some extra time, head south to Kilkenny or Cork or north to the Giant’s Causeway. Part of Ireland’s charm are the picturesque villages you’ll find country-wide, all with their own character and, chances are, a great pub, so you’re bound to discover some wonderful hidden gems whilst road-tripping. Happy travels!

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