Image by Mad Mod Smith
Ireland is renowned for its rugged, rural beauty – drawing tourists from far and wide. If you're attracted by the remote and isolated landscapes Ireland has to offer, there really is no better way to explore than by car.
Travelling through Ireland's geologically diverse countryside, you'll find rugged coastlines, golden beaches, beautiful lakes, horse grazing plains and primeval marshland. Add to that the history and cultural heritage Ireland has to offer, in its towns, cities and remote historical sites, Ireland really has the best of both worlds.
Ireland may be a fairly small country but that doesn't mean you have to try and squeeze every last field, beach and city into your road trip. For a real experience of the Emerald Isle, try to only cover one or two regions – particularly if your trip is weeks not months long. If you just speed from one major attraction to another, you'll often miss a hidden gem.
By car, you can explore Ireland in your own time, enjoying the scenery as you drive from one place to another. Here's a rough guide to the four main regions.
The North of Ireland – along with Northern Ireland – has a lot to offer. With the beautiful hills of Donegal, the bright lights of Belfast and Derry, along with the stunning Causeway Coastal Route, there's enough variety for a brilliant road trip.
Start by exploring the wild landscape of Donegal, in the north of Ireland. With isolated beaches and rugged heather-topped landscape, there's plenty to explore and when you fancy a break, you can head to a cosy, traditional pub. You can also visit some of the local attractions including the impressive Donegal Castle and Salthill Gardens.
The main highlight for the four-wheeled tourist in this area is, without doubt, the Causeway Coastal Route, offering spectacular sea views and rugged coastal scenery. The route connects two must-visit cities, Londonderry and Belfast, giving you a taste of city life at the beginning and end of your tour.
Driving the route will take you past Roe Valley Country Park, Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple, Bushmills Distillery, The Giant's Causeway (which according to folklore was created by the giant, Finn McCool), Carrikfergus Castle and Carrick-a-Rede Rope, plus many more fascinating places.
And you don't have to stop when you reach Belfast, if you follow the coast down you can extend your stay and visit to Dublin too – stopping off at plenty of beaches along the way.
Dublin and the East
If you're looking to soak up the Irish culture, exploring the east of Ireland may be for you. There's plenty to explore in the historical city of Dublin with great museums, art galleries, theatres, restaurants and shopping.
This vibrant city blends a modern, trendy lifestyle with down-to-earth Irish traditions. Attractions range from the Guinness Store and Dublin Zoo to Trinity College, Dublin Writers Museum and the Dublin Cultural Quarter.
Head out of the city to County Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland. Amidst the wild, mountainous landscape, are several of the country's finest stately homes like Powerscourt, Russ borough and Avonsdale.
To the west of Dublin, County Kildare offers a gentler landscape of farms, small towns and villages. The Bog of Allen to the north offers a more rugged landscape of peatland, with a diverse range of wildlife growing and living in the beautiful landscape, supported by the Bog of Allen Nature Centre.
A great drive through the east of Ireland is The Braveheart Drive, which, as the name suggest, takes you through famous scenes from the Braveheart film. The ride will take you past the Blesssington Lakes, Hollywood (the village) and through most of western Wicklow.
The south of Ireland enjoys the best weather of the country and it's not just this that attracts thousands of tourists every year. The historic cities of Wexford and Cork are perfect for cultural breaks and the beautiful coastlines, castles and formal gardens are ideal for a tranquil escape.
If you're driving along the south coast, the medieval city of Wexford is sure to draw you in. The vibrant arts and music scene, combined with the historic architecture is a great place to start your road trip.
From here you can drive on to Dunmore Cave to the north (a beautiful cave outside Kilkenny filled with otherworldly intrigue) or you could start heading west through the countryside to the charming city of Cork. With a vibrant city centre, Cork is renowned for culinary excellence and an independent spirit.
Further west, you'll discover the breath-taking Mizen Head Peninsula and the Sheep's Head Peninsula, which are well worth a trip for the views alone. Heading north, there's the beautifully romantic county of Derry, with stunning scenery – in particular, the Dingle Peninsula.
The west of Ireland is for those in search of wild landscapes, fascinating archaeology and traditional Irish music. There are plenty of beautiful routes which will take you through the west of Ireland but here are two great ideas.
Start in capital of the Gaelic West, Galway. This vibrant, fun city is rich in heritage and you'll find plenty of old-fashioned pubs, perfect for a pint. Heading out of the city, you'll be met with extraordinary scenery. Drive west to explore the rugged coastline round until you reach the Connemara National Park. Next, head north to Westport, where you can take a trip to the remote Achill Island.
Your next trip begins in Limerick. With a lively nightlife, as well as an Anglo-Norman castle and a cathedral, Limerick has something for every traveller. The drive takes you around a large lake in the Shannon River. As you drive past the small marina villages, you can not only take in the scenery but visit the Neagh castle, as well as the well-known yachting centre at Lough Derg.
Car Hire Advice
Whilst hiring a car can be a great way to explore a new country at your own pace, it isn't without risks and requires some planning to make sure you get the most out of your trip.
Firstly, be sure you pick the right car for Ireland. Bearing in mind that most of the roads will be narrow, country lanes, you should try not to pick a car that's too big. As long as it's large enough for you, your fellow travellers and luggage, that should be enough.
A GPS is very handy if you're trying to navigate an unknown and very rural area. If you've got your own, bring it along – if not you can usually add that as an extra. It's also worth remembering that you can add additional drivers as well as well as child safety seats. However, all of these extra costs are usually very expensive when purchased at the rental desk.
A big concern for anyone planning holiday is cost. There are few hidden costs, which you should consider. For instance, driving on the M-50 toll road near Dublin will result in a charge of around 3 Euros.
It's also worth considering car hire excess insurance. While many hire car companies provide some form of cover with the vehicle, there is usually a sky-high excess charge of around £850 if the car is damaged or stolen, to go towards repairs or a replacement. Many car rental companies will offer car hire excess insurance but it will be around 4 or 5 times more expensive than buying it direct from iCarhireinsurance, which could lead to the price of your rental car being double.
In order to be covered in case of an accident or damage, car hire insurance is essential. Thisismoney demonstrate the importance of car hire excess insurance with the true story of Rob Day.
Hopefully this should help you plan an exciting trip around the emerald isle – with no hidden surprises.