With amazing coastal views, quaint villages, and the remote ruins of enchanting castles, Ireland is the perfect country to take at your own pace with a road trip. Different travelers will have different itineraries, so it never hurts to do as much research as possible — then, when the moment for spontaneity arrives, you can meet it with confidence. Here, photographer Jessica File lists some spots that are particularly welcoming to the solo road tripper, should you find yourself on the Emerald Isle.
MOURNE MOUNTAINS | KILKEEL, UK
This is a must-see on your Ireland road trip, and where I headed as soon as I picked up my rental car! But although it’s more convenient, I suggest not renting a car from the airport — it is way more expensive. I wish I would have known. Take a taxi to the next closest rental company.
The drive was about an hour and a half from Dublin to Mourne Mountains. I was so nervous about driving on the opposite side of the road, but remained focused on the flow of traffic. You adjust quickly. I suggest watching a video on road rules before you leave so you know what to expect. (That’s what I did). Driving in more rural areas was so much easier than cities! The roads are super narrow, but less to watch out for obviously. Just take it easy around corners! There may very well be a massive tractor who will need to squeeze by. Somehow it always works.
As if the drive alone wasn’t beautiful enough, the hike was more than I could’ve imagined. The Mourne Mountains are the highest mountains in Northern Ireland. It was drizzling most of my time there, but it didn’t bother me in the slightest. Bring a raincoat & you’ll be golden.
Because I went during the off season, I felt like I had the whole mountain to myself. Parking wasn’t an issue. I entered through Silent Valley. The super sweet man working the booth didn’t make me pay to enter. They will give you a map of all the different trails. If you can handle the cold, I highly recommend visiting in the fall. You’re not guaranteed great weather, but when are you ever in Ireland?
After my road trip to the Mourne Mountains, I checked in at my Airbnb located in a small town outside of Newry, Ireland. The sun made an appearance, so my host offered to take me into Carlingford, another small village with a big view. You won’t want to miss Carlington Abbey. I would kill to take a couple’s wedding photos there. Walk along the greenway, a path that has some incredible views.
Don’t be surprised if you get caught talking to a complete stranger for 20 minutes. People in Ireland are very warm & less likely to be in a rush. I’m on board with their concept of time!
KINBANE CASTLE | BALLYCASTLE, UK
This is my very favorite place in Northern Ireland.
I ran into Kinbane Castle by accident and I’m so glad I did. It’s a popular destination among tourists.
I was headed towards the coastal route when I saw a sign for Kinbane and decided to stop there.
I could lay on the oddly plush and pillowy grass all day and listen to the waves crash. The pictures don’t even do this place justice. I felt so childlike exploring. Honestly…. I was running around tripping on rocks like an idiot to ensure not to miss a thing.
After a long day in the wind, I went to Anglers Arms to warm up & unwind. Order a Guinness (DUH). The pub only takes cash, so make sure to get out some pounds at the airport. I met the sweetest locals here who were more than happy to give suggestions on what to do. The bartender even called her friend who owned a B&B up the road and that’s where I ended up staying that night.
Ballycastle was by far my favorite town. The people are just as wonderful as the sights along the coast.
You could easily spend 3 days in Ballycastle.
GIANT’S CAUSEWAY | BUSHMILLS, UK
While I was at Kinbane Castle I made a friend, Lauren. She told me to make sure I took the red trail when I got to Giant’s Causeway. Again, the views are insane! The trail was leisurely and not too many people around, so if you wanted to stop and take an overly excited selfie to send to your family & friends you won’t feel judged.
I was lucky enough to catch the sunset over the viridescent countryside while at the Giant’s Causeway. The cliffs along the coast line are stunning! Every view takes your breath away. This is one you’ll want to see during your stay in NI.
SLIEVE LEAGUE | CO. DONEGAL, IRELAND
In Irish, it’s Sliabh Liag.
Before my hike at Sleive League, I stopped to walk around a beach in Malin Beg, a small Gaeltacht village. The beach is called the Silver Strand. I almost hit a sheep on the way there, but I’d say sheep are a huge contributor to the village charm of Ireland, so it’s worth having to dodge here and there along your road trip.
Slieve League has a trail that leads the whole way to the top of the peak. I didn’t hike that far, because it was super windy… but you should definitely do it! I saw pictures and it’s an epic view!! You will also have bragging rights since you hiked farther than me.
DUNLUCE CASTLE | BUSHMILLS, UK
I could drive for hours along the coast of Ireland; the views are one of the very best parts of the road trip experience. One of my favorite drives was the route I took to Dunluce Castle. I drove into the town of Portrush after my visit here.
You had to pay to get into Dunluce, but seeing the castle remains from afar was enough. You’ll miss out on learning about its history, so if you’re into that pay a few pounds to go explore inside.
WHITEROCKS BEACH | PORTRUSH, UK
After Dunluce Castle, hit Whiterocks beach. It’s only 4 miles away. There is an easily accessible (free) car park. Walk along the limestone cliffs or go horseback riding! I would have loved to bike along this beach — maybe during my next visit.
Did we miss one of your favorite road trip stops in Ireland? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!