While Ireland does offer some public transportation systems, the undisputed best way to see the country is by car. A series of motorways and backcountry roads criss-crosses the nation, so all you need to see the sights is a rental, plenty of fuel, and an open mind. If you’re planning to road-trip around Ireland, here are four tips to help you make the most of your journey!
Choose a route that makes sense
When planning your route, keep in mind how much time you have. While you could easily circle Ireland in 14 days, the same feat would be too tedious with only seven. Also, decide if you’ll drive from point A to point B, complete a loop, or use a base. Having a base is helpful as it allows you to take shorter day-trips and use your time most efficiently. On the other hand, you’ll see more of the country if you take a more traditional linear or circular route.
Next, choose which part of Ireland you want to focus on. The Emerald Isle may be small compared to other countries, but it has widely varied landscapes depending on the region and season you visit. And keep in mind that Ireland’s country roads are often narrow and difficult to navigate, so don’t get overzealous when designing your itinerary. It can be tempting to attempt to see it all, but it’s best to average around seven hours of driving every day. Be reasonable about how far you can make it in a single day and prioritize which locations you want to see most.
Make sure you also get off the motorway and travel along some of the backroads or coastal routes. The Wild Atlantic Way, for instance, is a scenic route that can’t be beat — it weaves in and out of the western coast of Ireland and parts of the north and south, too. Its easy-to-follow signs also mean you won’t need to rely on a GPS.
Learn to aptly navigate the left side of the road
If you learned drive on the right side of the road, getting around Ireland (or anywhere in the U.K.) can be a bit disconcerting at first. Intersections, making right turns, speed limits — even the simplest things can seem daunting on the “wrong” side of the road.
Car rental companies will often give you a sticker to put on your windshield with an arrow pointing to the left side of the road. However, the best thing you can do to learn is simply follow the car in front of you. By mimicking their actions, you’ll become more and more comfortable until you’re able to drive confidently on your own.
And, it’s good to remember that, more often than not, there are roundabouts (or, rotaries) instead of intersections in Ireland. Make sure to yield to the cars already in the roundabout and signal when you plan on exiting. Though approaching your first roundabout will be nerve-wracking, eventually you’ll wonder why we don’t utilize their efficiency more in the United States.
Schedule time off the road
The best way to break the monotony of long days in the car is to plan short outings. The Wicklow Mountains are a good stop if you’re in the Dublin area, while Cobh and Dingle are great options if you’re in the southwestern part of the country. Drive through the Burren and spend an hour or two at the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, or take time to see Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Stop in small towns along your route, spend an hour at a pub for lunch, or check out one of the many castles that grace every county of Ireland. Even if you do end up in the car all day, make sure to leave time in the evenings to explore wherever you’re staying for the night. You’ll also want to find the best local pub for live music, which might just take up your whole evening.
Prepare to make unexpected stops
Sometimes you’ll come to a complete stop because of herds of cows crossing the road, sometimes you’ll drive into fog so thick you can’t see more than five feet ahead, and other times you won’t be able to avoid pulling over every 10 minutes to photograph the view.
Don’t get so caught up in keeping to your schedule that you lose the ability to enjoy these spontaneous distractions. Deviating from the expected is part of what makes an Irish road trip, or any road trip for that matter, so exhilarating. When you get behind the wheel and face the open road, a whole new realm of possibilities opens up, so don’t be afraid to go down a new path, even if it frightens you a little. Drive to that lookout. Stop in at that café. And wherever you are, don’t forget to enjoy the view.