Altogether, I’ve spent about a month traveling Ireland by car, and the reason I keep returning to the island is that it is one of my favorite places in the world to drive. Every time you turn a corner on a winding road, you’re met with stunning views that make you want to pull over and snap a pic. But of all the Irish roads I’ve been lucky enough to see, these are the best scenic drives in Ireland that you should add to your itinerary.
Want More Beautiful Ireland Views? Read: 30 of the Most Instagrammable Places in Ireland & Northern Ireland
The Best Scenic Drives in Ireland
My favorites plus a few Irish drives on my bucket list. Note that estimated driving times are after factoring in a few stops and seeing some of the highlights (but not seeing every place on the route). In no particular order, the best scenic Irish drives are…
Slea Head Drive
Starting in Dingle, Slea Head Drive is a circular route that is technically a portion of the Wild Atlantic Way (more on that later). However, because it is so easy to base yourself in Dingle and make the loop in the morning or afternoon during your stay in town, it has its own name and fans.
Slea Head goes around the Dingle Peninsula, with stunning coastal views for almost the entire way. The headland that gives this route its name is marked with a white crucifix against the rocks and has a place to pull over for pictures with views of the Blasket Islands and Dunmore Head.
Base Yourself In: Dingle
Length: 30 miles (47 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: 3-5 hrs
My Personal Highlights: Holding a baby lamb named Charlie, seeing one of the Star Wars filming locations, general stunning views
Ring of Kerry
Perhaps the most famous of Ireland’s scenic drives, the Ring of Kerry is a large circle in southwestern Ireland, generally starting near Killarney. Its views are legendary, and it was even admired by Queen Victoria’s ladies during her visit in the nineteenth century.
I personally did two separate visits to the drive, seeing two different sections spread across two days. However, you can choose to do the entire Ring of Kerry in a single day if you choose to.
Base Yourself In: Killarney, Kenmare, or another town on the loop
Length: 111 miles (179 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: 6-8 hrs
My Personal Highlights: Ladies View, Driving up the coast on the way back to Killarney
The Burren Loop
It’s hard to wrap your head around exactly what the Burren is until you see it in person. The loop looks like a giant, lopsided figure eight. This rocky karst landscape is different than the surrounding area, and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Tentative Site.
The western half of the loop is my personal favorite since it includes the drive above the Cliffs of Moher. If you stay in Doolin, you can easily spend 2-3 days and visit the cliffs, take a day trip out to the Aran Islands, and drive the complete Burren Loop.
Base Yourself In: Doolin or Ballyvaughan
Length: 100 miles (160 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: 4-6 hrs
My Personal Highlight: We were getting stressed out driving the Burren in heavy traffic when a herd of cows crossed the road and forced us to stop and spend some time admiring the views. A great reminder of how blessed we were to be driving in Ireland at all and to let all the minor inconveniences slide.
A section of Ireland so pretty that we decided to turn our one day Connemara itinerary into two days. The drive itself is gorgeous, and there are so many places to stop and visit, like Kylemore Abbey. Plus, you never know when a herd of sheep is going to come barreling at you down the road so that you have to stop and laugh.
Technically the Connemara Loop is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, but it has its own highlights. The landscape here can feel very wild at times, with trees and mountains showing signs of constant winds. During my visit in May, there were young lambs out in the mountains with their mamas. Make sure not to skip the Sky Road, as its as beautiful as its name suggests.
Base Yourself In: Galway, Barra, or Clifden
Length: 52 miles (85 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: 5-9 hrs
My Personal Highlight: Kylemore Abbey, following a lamb on a mountain to get a pic, general overwhelming impressiveness of the landscape
Wild Atlantic Way
Several of these drives already on the list are part of the Wild Atlantic Way, but the full drive itself is much, much longer. It goes through nine counties in Ireland and covers twenty-five hundred kilometers of coastal driving. If you just got into your car at the beginning and drove the entire route without stopping, you’d finish in thirty-two hours. To put that into perspective, it takes 39 hrs without stopping to drive from Washington, D.C. to Los Angelos.
Of course, the best way to enjoy the Wild Atlantic Way is to pick a section or two and really explore. Most people choose to do itineraries of a few days up to a few weeks. My first Wild Atlantic Way road trip was ten days, covering parts of the Connemara Loop, the Burren Loop, driving down to Dingle, and finishing with Slea Head Drive before returning our car to Galway.
How long should you set aside if you wanted to drive the entire Atlantic Way and do justice to each section? Probably a month, to be honest, though you could squeeze it into a few weeks if you had to.
County: Nine counties along Ireland’s west coast
Base Yourself In: Depends on your itinerary
Length: 1553 miles (2500 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: Depends on how much time you have and which section you choose to drive
My Personal Highlight: Waking up on my very first day in Ireland and getting in the car to drive the Connemara Loop
Boyne Valley Scenic Loop
So far, I’ve stuck to Ireland’s west coast, but the eastern part of Ireland has some beautiful scenic drives as well! Driving down from Belfast through the Boyne River valley to Newgrange is a gorgeous drive. While the actual drive would only take four hours to do without stopping, there are over twenty historic sites along the way, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Newgrange. So don’t cut your time here short! An entire day would be a great place to start, though you won’t get to stop and see everything.
The Boyne Valley is one of those places where you stand on an important historic site or hill, look across the valley just to see another one. You can easily become overwhelmed here with how much there is to stop and see. But don’t let that intimidate you or take the focus away from the beautiful scenery of the drive!
County: Louth & Meath
Base Yourself In: Drogheda
Length: 173 miles (278 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: 7-12 hrs
My Personal Highlight: Visiting Knowth and Newgrange, seeing the curve of the Boyne River
The Ring of Beara
Sometimes this drive is also referred to as the Beara Peninsula Loop, the Beara Loop is located just south of the Ring of Kerry on its namesake peninsula. In fact, if you want to combine both drives, simply stay in the town of Kenmare, which is on both! Other highlights include Glanmore Lake, Healy Pass, and the Sheen Valley. Here you can even stop and visit a traditional Irish farm!
Base Yourself In: Kenmare
Length: 86 miles (137 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: 4-10 hrs
My Personal Highlight: Kenmare Bay and the Sheen Valley #stunning
Sligo Scenic Drive, Lough Gill, and Yeats County Route
This is a drive I haven’t been lucky enough to go on yet, but it is on my list for my next trip to Ireland. County Sligo is one of the counties I have yet to see (though I am dying to)! Here you’ll see the landscapes that influenced the works of WB Yeats, along with the increasingly stunning lake and ocean views.
Base Yourself In: Sligo
Length: 115 miles (185 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: 5-9 hrs
The Copper Coast
Counties Waterford and Wexford are another two oversights on my Ireland travels. I just missed driving through both on my last trip, as I spent an afternoon driving from Newgrange to Cork, but I didn’t have time to curve and drive along the coast. Instead, I had to cut right through the island.
Part of the area known as Ireland’s Ancient East, the Copper Coast has tons of historic sites along the way (including the famous Tintern Abbey). The route is a straight one (not a loop), so take your stuff with you or double the estimated driving time.
County: Waterford & Wexford
Base Yourself In: Wexford or Dungarvan
Length: 100 miles (166 kilometers)
Approximate Driving Time: 4-8 hrs
Wherever You Happen to Be
Of course, wherever you are in Ireland tends to feel like its the most beautiful spot in the world. So don’t stress missing a turn or hurrying up to get to the next town. Relax and enjoy the drive in whatever part of the country you are in at that particular moment. The best part of taking a scened Irish drive is to simply live in the moment.
Tips for Driving in Ireland for First Timers
First, in Ireland, they drive on the left side of the road (like in the UK). Making the switch isn’t that difficult, but you do need to give yourself a day to adjust.
Renting a car in Ireland can be tricky since credit card rental insurance doesn’t usually cover it. In this case, make sure you get a Travel Insurance Policy that will cover it (this is usually cheaper than getting insurance through the rental company). Deposits here are also very large compared to the rest of Europe. Of course, you can always do what the gentleman above did, and bring your motorcycle with you from Alabama.
If you choose to drive between Ireland and Northern Ireland, there’s no official border crossing to worry about.
Finally, places like grocery stores and gas stations tend to close early. More than once I’ve ended up in a small Irish town after seven pm to find there are no open restaurants or stores. Always have snacks and keep your gas take full whenever possible.
5 Things to Pack for Your Irish Roadtrip
- The Lonely Planet Ireland guidebook or the Rick Steves Ireland guidebook for your trip. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
- An Unlocked Cell Phone so that you can use an Irish sim card to navigate your drives.
- Melatonin if you’ll be traveling transatlantic and your sleep schedule will be disrupted.
- Universal Outlet Adapters if your appliances are from North America or Continental Europe or any part of the world that uses outlets different than Ireland & the UK.
- Travel Insurance Policy information, because things happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when in cities like Dublin where there are pickpockets that target tourists and for driving out in the country.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when participating in outdoor activities. Even in the cities, though, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen.
More Ireland Travel Resources
Headed to Ireland? Congrats, get ready to have a fabulous time!
Here are my Ireland travel resources to help you plan your trip. Start with my Ireland & Northern Ireland Packing List so you know what to bring with you year-round.
Next, here are my favorite Instagram spots in Ireland and Northern Ireland from my own trips.
If you like listening to podcasts to plan your trip, I have multiple episodes about Ireland:
- The Literary Pubs of Dublin
- The Storied History of the Guinness Storehouse
- Rick Steves Over Brunch (Dublin episode coming soon!)
- Belfast and the Troubles
- Rick Steves Over Brunch: Belfast and the Best of Northern Ireland
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