The charming, historic nooks and crannies of Ireland are best explored by car, a method of travel that allows for a customized itinerary and spur-of-the-moment detours. Whether you’re looking to uncover the neighborhoods of cities like Dublin and Cork — or planning to head off the beaten path — road-tripping around Ireland is a great way to discover the European country’s most scenic destinations.
While a majority of travelers kick things off in Dublin thanks to the international airport and plethora of rental cars, smaller cities like Cork, Killarney, and Galway can make great starting points, too. (Killarney, in particular, is a popular first stop for those heading to destinations like the Dingle Peninsula or the famed Ring of Kerry.
Planning a road trip to Ireland, which boasts many natural and historic landmarks — often in remote locales — can be daunting. If a jaunt around Ireland is on your bucket list, here are a few things to consider when planning and embarking on the journey.
Related: The Best Things to Do in Ireland
Create an itinerary — but be flexible
Having a plan is essential for a road trip in Ireland because you need to know where you’ll begin and end the drive, as well as how long you’ll have in between. As such, pick your starting point based on where you want to go. For instance, if Skellig Michael is a must-do, begin in Killarney or Cork and expand your stops from there.
Additionally, although Ireland is not a massive country, there are a lot of winding roads, especially once you head out of the city centers. Plan accordingly by giving yourself more time to drive between stops. Five to seven days is a good amount of time for an Ireland road trip, though you can also opt for longer, especially if you're planning to stay in certain destinations for several days. Once on the road, though, don’t get too attached to the initial itinerary: You never know what you might come across while driving.
Be prepared for bad weather and a lack of cell service
While Ireland has relatively mild winters, wind and rain are not uncommon throughout the year. Country roads, which are often very narrow, can prove treacherous if you’re not prepared. Plus, in the winter, it gets very dark, very early.
With this in mind, consider what type of car is best to rent while also taking into account that you will be on the opposite side of the road. Europe tends to have more manual cars available, but if you’re not used to driving a stick shift — or there are a lot of hills involved in your itinerary — it may be worth requesting a vehicle with an automatic transmission. Always add the optional GPS to the rental and bring an actual paper map along, too. Cell phone service can be patchy once you get out of the cities, and not everywhere will have wifi, so it’s best to have a navigation plan in place. Worst case scenario, you can stop at a local pub for directions.
Book unusual accommodations
Sure, Ireland has lots of nice hotels, but, since you’re heading out of the cities, why not look for something quirkier than a traditional property? Travelers will have their pick of charming pub rooms, cute bed and breakfasts, and charming castles. In fact, some centuries-old castles like Kilkea Castle have been transformed into charming hotels, while others can be found on vacation rental sites. Meanwhile, folks road-tripping during the warmer months can take advantage of camping and glamping options, which are a great way to experience the sweeping green countryside.
Also, the best part of a road trip is that it can be tailored to any budget, so don’t be afraid to embrace the unusual. It’s helpful to book accommodation ahead of time; however, those traveling in the off-season can consider chancing it to keep things more flexible.
Related: The Best Castle Hotels in Ireland
Prioritize and be realistic
The truth is, you’re probably not going to see everything in Ireland during one road trip. Even the most perfectly planned-out itinerary will encounter some hiccups — so be clear about your priorities. For example, if the Wild Atlantic Way is calling you, know that you likely won’t want to drive all 1,600 miles in one go. Instead, research and select the stretches that include your must-see spots. Keep in mind that the route is broken up into 14 stages, which include the Ring of Kerry, so prioritize what feels most important and plan accordingly. Similarly, if you’ve always dreamed of spotting wild puffins, which nest from March to September along the west coast, add destinations like the Cliffs of Moher, The Saltee Islands, and Loop Head to your itinerary. Ultimately, though, wherever you end up in Ireland won’t be disappointing.
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