People often think that given Ireland’s small size, they can see everything in a matter of days. We can confirm that this is simply impossible.

Here’s a typical story: a visitor makes a stop in a quaint village to sit down for a quick coffee.  All of a sudden, they’re being whisked off to the local watering hole with Tom “from down the road” who wants to introduce you to the locals and share enthralling (and extended) tales of Irish history.

Such social connections are the soul of Ireland – and that’s on top of the island’s staggering raw beauty. What’s the best way to get the best of both? Hit the (rural) road – and plan to take it slow. 

Our list of the best 10 road trips in Ireland should help inspire you.

Tourist bus traveling on a mountain road, Ring of Kerry, Ireland
Along the Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll hug Ireland’s spectacular west coast © ifiStudio / Shutterstock

1. The Wild Atlantic Way 

Best road trip for the ultimate Irish experience
Inishowen PeninsulaKinsale; 2600km (1600 miles), 2 weeks

This is the pinnacle of Irish road trips. The Wild Atlantic Way will show adventurers both the natural beauty and the pure craic that Ireland has to offer. This route will have you weaving your way around mountains, boglands and rugged karst landscapes as you experience the Emerald Isle at its most dramatic.

You’ll spot Wild Atlantic Way markers at every point of interest along the way to enhance your trip; follow the symbols attached to almost every road sign along the route to make sure you don’t get lost.

Planning tip: We recommend taking at least two weeks to savor every moment of this epic journey.

An empty road with foggy mountains in the distance, Mayo, Ireland
Many overlook Mayo’s gorgeous landscapes. You shouldn’t © Joanna K-V / Shutterstock

2. The Mayo Coast 

Best less-traveled road trip
Ballina–Killary; 543km (337.5 miles), 1 week

Many visitors to Ireland miss out on Mayo, which has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country. It’s home to the highest mountain in Connacht, secret swimming spots and dramatic cliff walks.

Plan for numerous stops as you make your way down the coast. Plenty of free activities, hostels and campsites make it possible to tackle this trip on a budget.

Planning tip: If you time your road trip to reach the sacred mountain Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday of July, you can join the annual pilgrimage known as Reek Sunday. Some people even attempt this hike barefoot as part of their spiritual journey.

Hikers along a trail in Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains, Ireland
Take time on your road trip through Wicklow to hike its beautiful mountains © Juraj Kamenicky / Shutterstock

3. The Old Military Road

Best road trip for mountain landscapes
Rathfarnham–Aughavannagh; 60km (37 miles), minimum 1 day

As you travel along the spine of the Wicklow Mountains, you’ll follow a winding road shrouded in a dark history. The route was constructed between August 1800 and October 1809 to allow the British Army access to the mountains following the 1798 rebellion in Ireland.

Today, the road is home to some of Ireland’s most challenging and beautiful trails. If hiking isn’t your thing, an abundance of excellent restaurants, lodges and activity centers lie along the route. The true beauty of this trip? You can take as long as you like to complete it. There are so many things to see and do packed into such a small distance that you’ll never be bored.

Planning tip: If you’re taking a few days to complete this trip, be sure to pack for all weather. The Wicklow Mountains are notorious for suddenly changing conditions.

4. The Copper Coast

Best road trip in the east
Tramore–Dungarvan; 40km (25 miles), 1 day

With the Copper Coast’s countless opportunities for walks and dips in the cold sea, you'll never be stuck for something to do on this short but action-packed route. And amateur geologists will love that part of the Copper Coast is UNESCO Global Geopark, thanks to its unique combination of environments packed into such a small area.

Detour: Take a trip to the nearby Comeragh Mountains and tackle one of Ireland’s most rewarding hikes, the Coumshingaun Loop.

E-Type Jaguar driving on country road between Kenmare and Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland
A drive through the Ring of Kerry is stunning from start to finish © Pete Seaward / Lonely Planet

5. The Ring of Kerry

Best road trip to experience old Ireland
Starts and ends in Killarney (travel clockwise); 179km (111 miles), 2–3 days

Towering mountains, glistening lakes and enchanting forests: the Ring of Kerry is one of those unforgettable road trips that stuns from start to finish. There are so many landmarks to see along this route, it can be hard to fit it all into one trip. Yet the beauty of this drive is that even if you rarely leave the car, you’ll still experience some of Ireland’s most beautiful spots.

Detour: This route takes you not far from Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil. It’s worth taking a day to attempt the hike via the Devil’s Ladder.

 Tourists between the coloured houses of the Doolin village
Colorful Doolin is the unofficial capital of traditional Irish music, and gateway to the Cliffs of Moher © Gimas / Shutterstock

6. The Burren Loop

Best road trip for beautiful barren landscapes
Starts and ends in Ballyvaughan; 150km (93 miles), 1–2 days

This is the only figure-eight route on this list, a configuration that allows you to stay in the same accommodation if you want to complete the route over two days. The Burren itself has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique karst landscape, which covers approximately 250 sq km (96.5 sq miles). The drive will take you down narrow roads that cut through the barren landscape to sheer cliffside views.

Planning tip: Leave time to incorporate some, if not all, of the Cliffs of Moher cliff walk. If time allows, consider hopping on a boat from Doolin to see them from the sea as well.

A narrow road along the scenic coast of Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland
Any road trip around the Dingle Peninsula delivers © JeniFoto / Shutterstock

7. Slea Head Drive

Best road trip for experiencing true “Irishness”
Starts and ends in Dingle Town (travel clockwise); 46km (28.5 miles), 1–2 days

Pubs doubling as hardware stores. White sandy beaches. Lambs you can hold. What more could you ask for from a 46km (28.5-mile) road trip?

The Slea Head Drive is located on Dingle, one of Ireland’s most fabulous peninsulas, which has everything from coastal hikes to island escapes and some of the best nightlife in the country. All of this is plastered against a picturesque backdrop of green hills, sandy beaches and the wild Atlantic Ocean.

Detour: Since you’ll already be on the road, you should add the Conor Pass, one of Ireland’s highest, to your list. Located just outside of Dingle Town, it’s a great add-on to this itinerary.

An aerial view of the winding Sky Road, County Galway, Ireland
The short and sweet Sky Road takes you through the heart of Connemara © mark gusev / Shutterstock

8. Sky Road Loop

Best short road trip
Starts and ends in Clifden; 16km (10 miles), 1 day

This road trip is short, and it doesn’t disappoint, offering some of the best, most sweeping views of the Connemara coastline. You can also look forward to encountering castles, quaint villages with delicious food and views of rugged mountains in the distance – a full taste of Ireland in just one day.

Detour: Pack your camera (and your swimming gear) to visit the shore along the Sky Road. With crystal-clear waters and beautiful golden sand, Eyrephort Beach is the perfect place to take a break.

View of Allihies, a village on the Beara Peninsula, County Cork, Ireland
Savor the rural Irish way as you circle the Ring of Beara © Fabiano's_Photo / Shutterstock

9. The Ring of Beara

Best road trip for unspoiled scenery
Starts and ends in Glengarriff (travel clockwise); 148km (92 miles), 2–3 days

Another looped road trip in the south of Ireland makes another worthy addition to our list, just a stone’s throw (or rocky peninsula) away from the Ring of Kerry. With multiple mountain passes, delightful villages filled with local foods to try and many hikes and walks along the way, you’re bound to find something that’s perfect for you.

Detour: At the tip of the Ring of Beara, make a stop to take the cable car to Dursey Island, a neat  way to cross the choppy waters below.

10. The “Four Peaks” Challenge road trip

The best challenge of a road road trip
Carrauntoohil–Mweelrea–Slieve Donard–Lugnaquilla; 865km (540 miles), 1 day to 1 week

Road trips are usually all about the journey. This one is a little bit different. The Four Peaks Challenge involves tackling the highest mountains in each of Ireland’s four historic provinces by hike. Most take on the challenge at a leisurely pace – but some (very ambitious) people strive to complete it in 24 hours.

You will be treated to some of the most epic views of Ireland from each of these peaks – though the adventure is definitely not for the faint-hearted. We recommend planning for one hike per day, which will let you take in the beautiful Irish countryside while putting your body to the test.

Planning tip: If you can, get someone to do the driving for you. Your legs will be worn out enough without the 12 hours of driving in between peaks.

This article was first published Apr 1, 2021 and updated Mar 9, 2024.

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