Road Trip: Driving Ireland

Discover the land of druids, saints and scholars on a self-guided journey driving Ireland’s 1,500-mile scenic route, the Wild Atlantic Way.

For your next vacation, try driving Ireland

Photo: James Laish

Stretching from Malin Head in the north of Ireland to the picture-perfect town of Kinsale, the Wild Atlantic Way is the longest defined coastal route in the world. Combine a visit to Dublin or Belfast with an independent Ireland road trip along a section of this 1,500-mile scenic route. Driving Ireland leads to a better appreciation of the country’s history, culture and natural beauty.

Londonderry to Donegal Town

About two hours northwest of Belfast, Londonderry is the northern starting point on this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. Along this route, you will drive along the Inishowen Peninsula, passing the stone fort of Grianan of Aileach, which dates back to 1700 B.C. Arrive at sunset and enjoy 360-degree views of Londonderry, Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly.

Grianan of Alleach

Photo: Alamy

Fanad Head’s stunning coastline will take your breath away. Pack a picnic lunch for a seaside feast on one of County Donegal’s many exquisite, sparsely populated beaches. While in County Donegal, take the ferry to the remote Tory Island. Or stay ashore and spend a relaxing day at Shandon Spa, where you can soak in a hot tub overlooking Sheephaven Bay. The Slieve League cliffs rise nearly three times as high as the Cliffs of Moher and draw only a fraction of the visitors, and the coast around the cliffs is a totally unspoiled stretch of the Atlantic. Drive out to Killybegs, Ireland’s largest fishing port, and enjoy fresh seafood.

Westport to Doolin

With Westport in County Mayo as your home base, explore the central coast. Drive northwest along a stunning scenic Atlantic route to Achill Island. Take in 360-degree views of Achill, Keel Bay and Clare Island from the summit of Minaun mountain. You’ll also be able to spot Croagh Patrick, where St. Patrick is believed to have fasted for 40 days.

Drive south to Doolin, passing through Leenane, where The Field was filmed. Stop for a few days and explore the charming harbor city of Galway, where bohemian vibes have found their place among historic streets. Next, take the road from Black Head to Dunguaire Castle, one of the most photographed castles on the west coast, then circle back to Fanore, passing through the famous karst limestone region of the Burren.

Dingle to Kinsale

The world-famous Slea Head Drive starts and ends in Dingle and passes by curious beehive huts built in prehistoric Ireland and Great Blasket Island. These popular sites attract many travelers, especially between June and August, the peak season. For a much quieter experience, head toward Brandon on the north side of the Dingle Peninsula, where the beaches are just as beautiful.

The Ring of Kerry, a magnificent 111-mile looped drive, reveals Ireland’s history in the rugged, ancient landscape, which is dotted with weathered monasteries and Iron Age forts. Leave later in the day and drive counter-clockwise via Killorglin from Killarney, and you’ll have the road to yourself by late afternoon.

Pints of Guinness

Photo: eStock

In the south, the Beara Peninsula is still one of the island’s best-kept secrets. Don’t forget to stop at Uragh Stone Circle when driving Ireland. Be sure to sample the delicious mussels at the Teddy O’Sullivan pub in Lauragh. Then take the flower-lined route from Mizen Head to Kinsale, which winds past quaint cottages and secluded coves.

Discover 10 more irresistible reasons to visit the Emerald Isle!

Your AAA Travel Counselor can help you plan your Ireland road trip. Visit a branch or call 877-396-7159 to get started.

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Marco Ruiz, AAA Travel Counselor, Monterey, Calif.

I love to suggest Italy and Spain because of the culture and the flair of the people–their fashions, language and way of life. They take time to enjoy life's pleasures. When you're there, you feel it, too.

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