This scenic and little-travelled 18km route links Portmagee, Valentia Island and Waterville via a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area centred on Ballinskelligs (Baile an Sceilg). Many undertake it as a detour from the Ring of Kerry, but it's a wonderful destination in its own right. The area is wild and beautiful, with the ragged outline of Skellig Michael never far from view.
Castles, gardens and lake adventures are among the highlights of a visit to Killarney National Park, immediately south of the city. Just beyond, there's rugged scenery including the too-gorgeous-for-words Gap of Dunloe, with its rocky terrain, babbling brooks and alpine lakes.
Killarney National Park
Any cynicism engendered by Killarney's shamrock-filled souvenir stores evaporates when you begin to explore the sublime Killarney National Park. Ross Castle and Muckross House draw big crowds, but it's possible to escape amid Ireland's largest area of ancient oak woods, panoramic views of its highest mountains, and the country's only wild herd of native red deer.
Lough Corrib separates eastern Galway from the dramatic landscape of Connemara and the county's western coast, and this region is markedly different. This is farm country and there's nary a hint of the geologic drama and cultural excitement that exists in the west of the county. Several diversions provide good reason to exit the M6 to Dublin.
Clifden & Around
Connemara's 'capital', Clifden (An Clochán), is an appealing Victorian-era country town with a vaguely harp-shaped oval of streets offering evocative strolls. A definitive stop on the Wild Atlantic Way, it presides over the head of the narrow bay where the River Owenglin tumbles into the sea.
Blinking amusement arcades, hurdy-gurdy fairground rides and fast-food diners give Bundoran the feel of a tacky beach town. But Donegal's best-known seaside resort has reliable waves, and attracts a mixed crowd of young families, pensioners and surfers. Outside summer, the carnival atmosphere abates and the town can be bleak.
Little-visited Laois (pronounced leash) is often overlooked as drivers zoom past to the south and west. Away from the main roads, though, is this hidden corner of Ireland, with pretty towns like Abbeyleix, making a perfect daytime stop, and the dramatic Slieve Bloom Mountains, which get you right off the beaten track. There's plenty of local information at www.laoistourism.
Southern Wicklow is softer than its coastal northern half; the landscape is one of rolling hills and valleys cut through by rustling rivers and dotted with lovely little hamlets, including the especially beautiful Vale of Avoca, once favoured by both song and busloads of tourists.
Lisdoonvarna (Lios Dún Bhearna), often just called 'Lisdoon', is well known for its mineral springs. For centuries people have been visiting the local spa to swallow its waters. Posh during Victorian times, the town is more down at heel today, but friendly, good-looking and far less overrun than Doolin.
Coastal Drive – Galway City to Mace Head
The slow coastal route between Galway and Connemara takes you past pretty seascapes and villages, although the fun doesn't really begin until after Spiddal. Opposite the popular Blue Flag beach Silver Strand, 4.8km west of Galway on the R336, are the Barna Woods, a dense, deep green forest preserved for rambling and picnicking.
Killarney to Dingle Town via Castlemaine
The quickest route from Killarney to Dingle passes through Killorglin and Castlemaine, where you turn west on the R561. You'll soon meet the coast, then pass through the seaside town of Inch before joining the N86 to Dingle. Castlemaine is well connected with Tralee, Killorglin, and Limerick via Killarney, but there are no buses from Castlemaine to Annascaul via Inch.