The Republic of Ireland’s phenomenally popular Wild Atlantic Way takes in a dizzying 2500km coastal route from Cork to Donegal, but not all of us have three weeks to get behind the wheel – and no visitor to Ireland should miss out on the ribboning roads that skirt secluded mountains and the rolling farmland of the lush green hinterland. Rough Guides author Rachel Mills sets out to find six of the best road trips in Ireland that can easily be tackled in a day.
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Don’t miss the formal Italian gardens and Ireland’s highest waterfall at Powerscourt Estate, before continuing your journey to Glencree and the Military Road (R115), which climbs towards the panoramic Sally Gap.
Stark scree slopes are all around, and the remote monastic site of Glendalough, “the valley of the two lakes”, is one of the most memorable stops in the Wicklow Mountains. Return to Dublin via the picturesque village of Roundstone, 220m above sea level.
Best for: city folk who want a rural experience.
Duration: an entire day.
Insider tip: the Wicklow Mountains National Park Information Office, at the eastern end of Glendalough’s Upper Lake, has details of local walks and runs free guided nature tours.
At the very tip of this craggy outcrop into the Atlantic, you can ride the ancient cable car across to tiny Dursey Island. Continuing to the north of the peninsula, the start of the wild R575 has spectacular views of crashing waves on one side, and gorse-covered mountains on the other; remote Allihies has an interesting mining history and stunning loop walks.
Those who continue on the winding road to Kenmare miss out on the magnificent Healy Pass, a lonesome road of hairpin bends where the wind whistles through the rocks and unbelievable vistas unfold below.
Best for: coastal landscape junkies.
How long: an entire day.
Insider tip: overnight in Allihies, and spend a couple of days on the peninsula.
Dreaming of your trip to Ireland? You won't want to miss our guide to the best things to do in Ireland.
Take the R463 and R352, which hug the shoreline, to the scenic village of Mountshannon with its marina and pretty beach. If there’s time, take a boat trip out to the ancient monastic settlement of Holy Island, otherwise push on for laidback market town Portumna, with its castle, friary ruins and forest park.
The winding country road takes in various Tipperary towns and villages. Then, just after Portroe, The Lookout viewpoint offers a stunning panorama of the lake fanning out below. Return to Ballina, where you can take a cruise.
Best for: those who want to visit charming lakeside villages.
Duration: half a day.
Insider tip: of the twin towns of Ballina and Killaloe, it’s Ballina that has the best places to stay and eat.
There are superb viewpoints, not least from the rugged Coomanaspic Pass, where you can see the windswept outcrops of the Skellig Islands, Skellig Michael and Small Skellig. Skellig Michael can be visited in the summer months, and was the location of recent filming for Star Wars.
Best for: Star Wars fans.
How long: 2 hours.
Insider tip: the Butler Arms Hotel in Waterville was booked out for the cast and crew of Star Wars Episode VII in 2014, and again in 2015, for Episode VIII.
Next stop is Fanore Beach and its sand dunes, and then Doolin, famous for traditional music and the ferry to the Aran Islands. South of Doolin are the towering Cliffs of Moher, well worth adding to the itinerary.
Best for: those who see beauty in a bleak landscape.
Duration: 2 hours.
Insider tip: sessions at Gus O’Conners pub in Doolin are legendary.
The pinnacle is after five or so kilometres, before the road turns back along the north coast of this narrow sliver of land.
Best for: those who want a short white knuckle ride.
Duration: 1 hour.
Insider tip: it’s very narrow in places so take it slow – cars give way to tour buses.