There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you load up the car, leave all your cares behind, and head out on the open road in search of new adventures. The freedom to explore at your leisure, cruise to your heart’s content, and stop on a whim to savor each new experience is what makes a road trip so magical. And while there are plenty of opportunities for self-guided travel across the globe, few destinations come as close to satisfying an avid trekker’s insatiable appetite more than a road trip through the Emerald Isle.
Ireland’s stunning scenery, including vast areas of unspoiled landscape and breathtaking seascapes, draws travelers from around the world and is a very good reason why it’s considered by many to be one of the most beautiful destinations on Earth. Unforgettable places such as the precipitous Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, and Galway’s Connemara region continue to astound visitors with their majestic presence; while while unusual topographies like the karst landscape of The Burren in County Clare, and Skellig Michael, County Kerry’s coastal isle of Star Wars fame, provide a magical touch to Ireland’s enchanting allure. Add in the 30,000 or so castles scattered about the Emerald Isle, quant harbor towns, medieval villages, friendly inhabitants, and tapping to Irish traditional music while sipping the froth off a properly poured Guinness, and it’s no wonder Ireland is the ultimate setting for an unforgettable road trip.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
The Republic of Ireland offers the longest uninterrupted coastal road trip on the planet with its 1,553-mile-long Wild Atlantic Way. Skirting Ireland’s entire west coast and parts of its north and south coasts through nine counties and three provinces, the Wild Atlantic Way is a journey of a lifetime. To enjoy it fully can take two to three weeks with hundreds of reasons to stop and explore along the way. Stunning vistas, natural wonderments, deserted windswept beaches and awe-inspiring sunsets greet you in passing, while enchanting towns and seaside villages entice you to hang for a while with their enjoyable mix of shops, traditional pubs, and splendid seafood restaurants.
Doolin, in County Clare, with its thatched roof cottages, welcoming pubs, and famous Irish traditional music scene, is one of the most popular villages on the west coast. Gus O’Connor’s Pub, established here in 1832, is one of the world’s most iconic Irish pubs. Doolin is also a popular launching point for the many travelers that flock to the Cliffs of Moher each year. Though less than 15 minutes by car, the ferry service at Doolin Pier sails below the cliffs and is one of the best ways to witness their majestic rise from the ocean’s floor.
Dozens of lighthouses up and down the western coast signal days gone by when ship wrecks were aplenty. Fanad Head Lighthouse, perched at the tip of the Fanad Peninsula, is at the northern most part of Ireland and one of the world’s most beautiful lighthouses. Far to the south, near the end of Wild Atlantic Way, Fastnet Lighthouse precariously sits off the Atlantic coast, high atop remote Fastnet Rock and is Ireland’s most southern point.Like the lighthouses, towering mystic castles (dozens upon dozens of them) dot the landscape along Wild Atlantic Way. Some are tucked away, others standing in full view, tall and proud: King John’s Castle, Donegal Castle, Ashford Castle, Ross Castle, and Blarney Castle of Blarney Stone fame, just to name a few!
SHORT ON TIME?
Fortunately, for those of us with limited vacation time, shorter segments of Wild Atlantic Way hold legendary status all of their own. The most popular scenic drive in Ireland, the 111-mile Ring of Kerry, is a circular route in County Kerry that runs along the coastline of picturesque Iveragh Peninsula in south-western Ireland. A jewel of Ireland, panoramic views of the Ring or Kerry’s pristine beaches, majestic mountains, rugged and verdant coastlines, historic castles, medieval ruins, rural seaside villages, and the island-dotted Atlantic await.
Killarney National Park is hands down the top attraction of the Ring of Kerry with its miles of walking trails, sparkling lakes, thundering waterfalls, towering mountains and dense forests. Be sure to check out the park’s 15th-century Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey, as well as Muckross House and Gardens with its magnificent lakeside setting.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Before you begin your journey, keep the following tips in mind. All vehicles in Ireland travel on the left-hand side of the road. Signposts in Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas are written in Gaelic. Other areas are in Gaelic and English. A valid national driving license or international driving permit, third-party auto insurance, and seat belt use is required. Driving while using a cell phone or under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited, with both carrying hefty fines.
Ireland is still largely a rural country even with its many new, high-speed motorways. Rural traffic is the norm, so vigilance is key, especially around curves, to avoid slow-moving farm machinery, farm animals, and wildlife crossing the road. Last but not least, gas stations can be few and far between. Almost none offer 24/7-service, and not all accept credit cards, so keep plenty of Euros on hand and refill once your tank is half empty.
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