2foodtrippers Ireland Road Trip

Ireland Road Trip – The Best Way to Experience Ireland

In Ireland by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch7 Comments

The best way to experience Ireland is by car. Join us on our west coast Ireland road trip to see where we went during our magical one-week adventure.

The best way to tour Ireland is by car. Check out our Ireland road trip to see where we went during our magical one-week adventure on the Wild Atlantic Way.

2foodtriippers Ireland Road Trip

“Careful!”

That warning repeatedly echoed in our zippy rental car as we drove along the winding roads of the Wild Atlantic Way during our recent Ireland road trip. Our hearts missed a beat every time a big tour bus careened toward us, forcing our vehicle to veer over as far to the left as was safely possible on the narrow two-way Irish roads. The adrenaline nervously rushed through us, but its was worth it. We saw so much more than we would have by train or by bus. We gazed upon some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, detoured for local food and breathed in more than our share of hospitality and charm from the wonderfully welcoming Irish people. Plus, despite the speeding tour buses, we successfully returned the rental with nary a scratch or ding.

Driving a rental car allowed us to plan an Ireland road trip on our own terms. We are happy to report that we returned the car in one piece. Ireland Road Trip

Driving a rental car allowed us to plan an Ireland road trip on our own terms. We are happy to report that we returned the car in one piece.

After two weeks eating our way through Dublin and experiencing urban life along the River Liffey, we itched to see the Irish countryside. People in the USA speak of Ireland so fondly, often waxing poetic about the green rolling hills, the lovely people, the lilting music and the tiny leprechauns. (Okay, the leprechauns are a fantasy. We know. Or so we’ve been told.) But we wondered: was Ireland really that spectacular? This year, we’ve seen amazing sites like the infinite Grand Canyon with its embankments that disappear into nothingness, the Rhine River’s majestic castle crowned cliffs, the gorgeous rolling countryside of Aveyron and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. (Who could forget Paris?!) Could Ireland’s storied West Coast compete favorably?

Our Verdict: Ireland’s west coast is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

We were blown away by everything we saw during our seven-day odyssey. At times we felt like we were in a fantasy land filled with the most picturesque vistas imaginable. At other times we would have sworn that we were on a different planet – one with a terrain totally different from that of planet earth – a terrain teeming with flora and fauna that exploded before our eyes as we journeyed through the green carpet of the Dingle Peninsula, the rock tiled Burren whose cracks allowed all manner of purple and yellow flowers to jump through them and the hills of Connemara where the Connemara Black Face sheep graze along grassy hills that overlook the Lakes or ‘Loughs’ that define the County Galway. We constantly exclaimed “it’s so green!” all week-long because it really was so green.

Why Rent a Car for an Ireland Road Trip?

Going off the beaten path is one of the true pleasures during an Ireland road trip. Ireland Road Trip

Going off the beaten path is one of the true pleasures during an Ireland road trip.

We highly recommend renting a car and taking your own Ireland road trip just like we did. Driving an Auto Europe rental car gave us the freedom and flexibility to see the best sites at the best times of the day. We were able to coordinate our schedule with the weather, doing our best to avoid rain and optimize the blue skies. We could linger longer at the most special spots, go off the road to take pretty photos and even drive an hour out of our way for an ice cream cone.

Life is short. Always take time for an ice cream cone like Mindi did at Café Linnalla in County Clare. Ireland Road Trip

Life is short. Always take time for an ice cream cone like Mindi did at Café Linnalla in County Clare.

Sometimes, the most memorable moments on a road trip are the small ones when you go off the trail and take time to chat with locals or even eat an ice cream cone. Make sure you build time into any road trip for these moments.

Highlights of our Ireland Road Trip

Ireland is filled with so much beauty, and we have the photos to prove it. This is just one of many times when Daryl pulled over to take a photo. Ireland Road Trip

Ireland is filled with so much beauty, and we have the photos to prove it. This is just one of many times when Daryl pulled over to take a photo.

A week sounds like a long time, but it’s not really so long when you consider the many amazing spots on the Emerald Isle’s West Coast. We carefully plotted our journey and started with a detour to Cork for lunch before we drove west to Dingle. During the week, we visited County Kerry, County Clare, County Galway and County Mayo before we ended our trip back in Dublin. Each destination was special in its own way, but here our favorites and the spots that must be included in any drive along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

Dingle Peninsula

We both had to get out of our rental car to photograph the boggy coast in the Dingle Peninsula. Isn't it beautiful? Ireland Road Trip

We both had to get out of our rental car to photograph the boggy coast in the Dingle Peninsula. Isn’t it beautiful?

Dingle is a charming County Kerry town filled with chippies (also known as fish and chip shops) and pubs. The real charm, though, is the 30-mile Slea Head loop that starts and ends in the old, fishing town at the foot of the Atlantic Ocean. Not a quick drive, this rugged loop is a startlingly beautiful stretch of coastal land with enough scenic stops to fill an entire day of touring. If the weather cooperates, there may be no more special experience on earth than gazing from Slea Head Road to the Blasket Islands and beyond to the farthest Western point of the Irish mainland into the Atlantic Ocean. Beauty and history coexist on both sides of the road with dramatic green hills and stone-walled farms that were abandoned during the ‘Great Famine’ over a 150 years ago.

Just like our new friend, we could have stared into the Atlantic Ocean from Slea Head for hours. Ireland Road Trip

Just like our new friend, we could have stared into the Atlantic Ocean from Slea Head for hours.

Don’t be shocked if Dingle Peninsula looks familiar. Hollywood has filmed movies here including Ryan’s Daughter, Far & Away and, yes, Star Wars: Episode I. This makes perfect sense since the Dingle Peninsula is an incredibly beautiful part of the world.

The Burren

The landscape in the Burren is filled with limestone rocks, giving the area an other worldly aura. Ireland Road Trip

The landscape in the Burren is filled with limestone rocks, giving the area an other worldly aura.

Located in County Clare, The Burren is a vast and utterly unique area marked by an extremely rocky landscape. Formed ages ago and probably not so different today as it was way back then, the rocky limestone land is a stark contrast to the rolling green landscape that is so prevalent in the nearby Irish countryside.

Not surprisingly, the English word “Burren” derives from the Irish word “Boíreann” which translates to rocky place. However, don’t confuse the word “Burren” with “barren”. Despite its rocky appearance, The Burren’s land is rich with vegetation and wild life. For us, taking a walk through the Burren was as close to a moon walk as we will likely ever experience in our lifetimes. Let’s not forget that people have inhabited the limestone landscape for centuries. Much of that ancient history still exists in crumbled stone castles and holy relics like the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a stone table reminiscent of Stonehenge to the east.

Nearby Burren coastal town Doolin is a delightful stop. Many people visit Doolin to catch a ferry to the Aran Islands. Not us. We visited Doolin to check out the local chocolate shop. (More on that in our next article.)

Cliffs of Moher

Epic is an oft overused word. However, there is no better word to describe the Cliffs of Moher. Ireland Road Trip

Epic is an oft overused word. However, there is no better word to describe the Cliffs of Moher.

It’s always disappointing when popular tourist attractions fail to live up to their hype. We have seen this time and time again, most notably with the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, China. We are happy to report that this scenario is not the case with the Cliffs of Moher. In fact, the Cliffs of Moher exceeded our wildest expectations.

Five miles long and 700 feet high, the Cliffs of Moher are truly colossal in size. Like many before us, we experienced a true sense of awe as we viewed the towering cliffs. This awe grew to a crescendo as we gazed into the sea toward the nearby Aran Islands. We stood there, listening to the waves crashing into the cliffs, careful not to go too close to the perilous edge, and felt a strong connection to Ireland at that very moment.

Cows graze in the land that spans between the Cliffs of Moher and the attraction's parking lot. Ireland Road Trip

Cows graze in the land that spans between the Cliffs of Moher and the attraction’s parking lot.

Although an estimated million people visit the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare each year, the cows who graze next door have the best view of all. Unlike us tourists, the cows can gaze at the cliffs for more than an hour or two while munching on some of the world’s finest grass. This is why we would be willing to be Irish cows in our next lives.

Connemara National Park

Despite the wind, we thoroughly enjoyed our hike in Connemara National Park. Ireland Road Trip

Despite the wind, we thoroughly enjoyed our hike in Connemara National Park.

A national park in County Galway since 1980, Connemara National Park is a great spot to take a hike or have a picnic. During our Ireland road trip, we chose a moderately difficult hike in the park which gave us a chance to see the lush countryside on an up close and personal basis. For us, the best part of the hike was the view from the top of Diamond Hill – a memorable reward for our effort.

This friendly guy, a Connemara Black Head Sheep, was one of many animals we encountered while hiking in Connemara Park. Ireland Road Trip

This friendly guy, a Connemara Black Head Sheep, was one of many animals we encountered while hiking in Connemara Park.

Unlike many tourist attractions in Ireland, Connemara Park is not overridden with tourists. In fact, you are more likely to connect with a sheep than with a tour bus in this neck of the woods. Don’t worry if you’re not into hiking – there are more fun things to do during  a road trip in Connemara.

Galway

Galway is an Irish city filled with pubs and culture. Ireland Road Trip

Galway is an Irish city filled with pubs and culture.

The city of Galway may have been the final destination during our Irish road trip, but it was certainly not last in our hearts. In fact, it’s Galway where we found the relaxed vibe that we had hoped to find in Dublin but didn’t quite discover. Galway is both ancient and modern due to the city’s three universities. We were happiest when the tourists left before dark and the locals came out to frequent the many restaurants and pubs.

Two days and three nights in Galway was just enough time to whet our appetites and leave us wanting more. When we return for our next Ireland road trip, we will surely spend more time in Galway.

Are you wondering about the food we ate on our Ireland road trip and how the it compared to the rest of our #tastetheworld2016 adventure? Check out the recap of our Culinary Road Trip through Western Ireland and discover 11 not-t0-be-missed spots to eat along the Wild Atlantic Way.

In case we didn’t make it clear, renting a car is the best way to see Ireland. We thank Auto Europe for their assistance with our Ireland road trip. The experience was awesome. Click here to research the best Auto Europe rates for your Ireland road trip.


Comments

  1. It looks like we’ll be going to Ireland sometime next year, and your photos and description are exactly as I have imagined it will be. Especially drving a rental car through the countryside and being on our own schedule. I sure appreciate you taking your time to share your experience with me!

  2. I spent 6 weeks in Ireland. For two we rented a car, the rest I backpacked. I do think rental cars are a good option as you get to travel on your time schedule and its easier to see the sights you want to see. Plus Ireland is a small country and lots can be seen fairly easily. Many of the spots you went to we did too!

  3. I only spent time in Dublin, so I’d love to go back and see more of the countryside. Especially the Cliffs of Moher! The looks so amazing.

  4. Road tripping Ireland is one of my bucket-list trips. It’s right up there with doing a food and wine tour of Italy. 🙂 I’ve been to Dublin, and my favorite part of that visit was a day trip that we took to Wicklow. The Irish countryside I saw then and have seen vicariously through your post is absolutely stunning. I’d love to see many of the sites you visited, eating fish and chips, drinking beer and cider, and stopping into little pubs along the way. Someday!
    Erin Klema | The Epicurean Traveler recently posted…Exploring Wisconsin’s Great River RoadMy Profile

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      You really should plan a trip to the Wild Atlantic Way! Let us know if you have any questions when you do.

  5. STUNNING photos… it looks like you had an amazing adventure! Makes me all emotional… I love traveling and wish I could do it all of the time. Cheers to your next adventure!

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