The Ultimate Irish Roadtrip

The definitive travel guide to untouched, beautiful Ireland

WHERE — Ireland
PHOTOGRAPHY — Jessie Bush & Flaherty
DISCLOSURE — A big part of the enjoyment of travel is researching and discovering amazing places on our own. On this trip – like many others – we paid for all expenses, including accommodation, ourselves.

Dramatic, untouched landscapes. The freshest seafood of your life. Relaxed, friendly people. Locally grown produce. Sunsets that will blow your mind. Staggering clifftop views. If any of this sounds like your jam, it’s high time you visited Ireland. And if you can, I 100% urge you to explore Ireland by road (there’s a good chance you’ll be the only car in sight most of the time).

Basically, this is the ultimate guide to the very best views (ideally involving both cliff tops and sunsets over the Atlantic), staggeringly lush castles, scenic drives and plenty of locally made food in Ireland. I know that Ireland may not be the obvious choice for a vacation, but hand on heart, it was one of my favourite trips of this year. In an age where it no longer feels like anywhere really has a ‘low season’ anymore, it was a breath of fresh air to explore somewhere new, and often be the only person in sight.

Day One

We started in Belfast picking up our impossibly luxurious Bentley Continental GT (however this itinerary also works if you’re driving from Dublin; the drive on day one is just a touch longer).

The first day of any road trip always takes longer than you think. Yes, Google maps says the drive is two and a half hours, but you’ll inevitably get lost (at least once), miss a turn off (at least twice) and stop to take photos more times than you accounted for.

What I’m saying is always plan to do less on day one of any road trip, the aim of which is really just to get on the road, get your bearings and try not to argue about the best way to get out of the city.

Do turn off the motorway and take the narrow country roads with the scenic views and lush foliage. Yes, this meant that our drive took longer, but we also managed to drive along country roads for an hour without another vehicle in sight.

Stay at Lough Eske Castle, our first, but certainly not last castle of the trip. Coming from New Zealand – where we are severely lacking in castles – it was super exciting to stay in so many grand places steeped in so much history. And what’s more, we often found that staying in a castle didn’t actually cost much more than a regular hotel – they’re listed on all accommodation websites; just keep an eye on last-minute hotel deals.

Lough Eske Castle, Lougheask Demesne, Lough Eske, Co. Donegal

Eat at the Gallery Bar at Lough Eske Castle. Sit by the roaring open fire, order a pint and get in the Irish spirit with a stew or fish and chips.

Day Two

Initially we had planned to drive straight up to Fanad Head Lighthouse, the northern most point of our trip. But on the advice of a local, we took the long, winding scenic route and drove out to Slieve League for jagged cliffs and jaw-dropping views over the North Atlanic Ocean.

Do make the effort to drive out to Slieve League, and don’t park at the first car park you see; instead drive all the way to the final car park (through the gate), then walk up to the top of the cliffs from there.

Do visit Fanad Head Lighthouse, yes it’s a long drive, but the view is pretty impressive. Plus, we were the only people (besides one staff member) out there, starting what would be the theme for of our trip (at so many spots we visited we were the only people there, which made the trip feel all the more special and untouched). You can actually stay overnight at the lighthouse (sadly we didn’t), which I think would be amazing as the sunsets at this point are pretty spectacular.

Fanad Head Lighthouse, Baile Láir, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal

Stay at Rockhill House Estate, Rockhill, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal

Two days in, it’s safe to say we were as infatuated with the beautiful Bentley Continental GT. Sam says that the car was “an absolute dream to drive; it feels constantly like a ‘pinch-myself’ moment. My favourite part – every time – was pressing the engine-on button, which kicked the car on with a low guttural roar, and immediately let you know the power that you had at your feet.”

Day Three

Head south towards Benbulbin, an impressive rock formation in County Sligo. The mountain was formed during the Ice age, and honestly, it’s a sight to behold.

Do drive up the mountain using the unmarked country roads (we saw only one farmer with an excellent accent who told us to keep on driving in) to take in the mountain in all it’s glory. The view at the end of the road truly is breathtaking; think epic untouched rolling green hills that look like they’re out of Lord of the Rings, nervously inquisitive sheep and a picturesque trickling stream. Afterwards, backtrack and follow the signs for the walking trail, where you can stretch your legs and walk a loop of the mountain.

Stay at Ashford Castle, Ashford Castle Estate, Cong, Co. Mayo

I’m not really a technically-minded car person, but Sam and the lovely people at the Bentley dealership explained some of it’s highlights, which were beyond impressive; it’s engine is a W12, which I’d not heard of before, and involves two V6 engines sitting side by side (hence the ‘W’). It’s top speed is around 330kmph (mum, I promise we did nowhere near this), and it goes from 0-100kmph in 3.7 seconds, which according to Sam was helpful when overtaking. It was also super comfy and luxurious inside; when the temperatures dropped – which they did a fair amount in an Irish autumn – we happily set the seat warmers to maximum, and when we did long stints on the road there was an in-seat back massage that got plenty of use.

Day Four

I won’t sugar coat it, the drive today is a big one. However, the aim is to reach the infamous Cliffs of Moher at sunset, so there’s plenty of time to make the journey. Two things which surprised me about Ireland; just how many breathtaking cliffs and views there are all around the country, and how many intense pink sunsets somehow manifest themselves (even after a typically grey, drizzly day).

Do drive to the Cliffs of Moher at sunset if you can get the timing right. But be prepared for some of the strongest winds you’ve ever been pushed around by. Don’t be put off by moody weather – this is Ireland after all – as it was raining when we were there and the sunset was still spectacular.

Eat at Little Fox for a healthy homemade lunch or great coffee, or stop by for dinner if you’re passing by on Friday or Saturday evening (although it pays to book as it’s a small space).

Little Fox, Main St, Ennistimon, Co. Clare

Stay at Gregan’s Castle Hotel, Corkscrew Hill, Gragan East, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare

Day Five

By day five we had planned to be a lot further south, but the truth is that things often take a lot longer than you think (particularly when it’s dark before 5pm), and I’m such a travel nerd I find it hard to bypass places that locals have recommended for the sake of saving time. So we accepted our fate and drove out to the Dingle Peninsula.

Do drive out to Dingle Peninsula, stop off at the village for lunch, then head out in search of Dunquin Harbour, an unlikely ferry spot, with a steep walkway down to the ocean which makes for an impressive view point. It’s not well sign posted or easy to find, so look out for a tiny wooden hut that says ‘Ferry & Tours’.

Eat at My Boy Blue for hearty, thoughtfully made food. And if you stick around for dinner, Out of The Blue will do some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever have.

My Boy Blue, Holyground, Dingle, Co. Kerry
Out of The Blue, Waterside, Dingle, Co. Kerry

Stay at Adare Manor for all-out opulence set in the most impressive, green sprawling grounds.

Adare Manor, Adare, Co. Limerick

Usually, long drives can be tedious and uncomfortable. Not so with our Bentley. The car had multiple drive settings for various road situations – the Bentley standard setting (which got ta lot of use from us), a sports setting that shifts 83% of the engine’s power to the rear (Sam enjoyed this one) and a comfort mode which was nice and relaxed on longer drives.

Day Six

Whenever we told people we were doing a roadtrip around Ireland, the response was always ‘oh you must drive the Ring of Kerry’. And in my head I did think, really, how good can a drive be? Turns out, very verrry good. We intentionally planned our roadtrip to coincide with the rich autumnal colours, and the Ring of Kerry was just awash with the most intense orange hues, set against a backdrop of misty valleys and expansive views. Can you tell I loved it?

Do drive the Ring of Kerry, and if you can time it when the seasons are at their most impressive, all the better. The most photogenic part of the loop is definitely the drive from Killarney to Molls Gap, which really is breathtaking. Stop of at the adorably named Ladies Viewpoint for a hot drink, and – you guessed it, an amazing view over Kerry.

Stay at Sheen Falls Lodge. Despite the unassuming photos and description online, Sheen Falls was one of our favourite stays of the trip. Our room had a balcony that directly overlooked the falls, which meant we could hear the sound of rushing water from bed.

Sheen Falls Lodge, Gortnadullagh, Kenmare, Co. Kerry

Day Seven

We weren’t sure whether to make the trek out to Mizen Head as it is out of the way (it’s the most southern point of the country), but much like so much of Ireland, the scenery along the drive was so dramatic, the journey was well worth it.

Do drive to Mizon Head, and walk out across the bridge and up to the old controller towers, taking in the raging ocean in all it’s angry glory (and, if you’re lucky like us, spotting a seal). Then make a beeline up to Cork (hopefully in time for lunch).

Eat at Fishy Fishy, for fresh seafood, namely seafood chowder (an Irish staple which quickly became our new addiction) and plenty of soda bread (another Irish staple, which if you ask me, is Ireland’s best kept secret. Be prepared to eat your weight in this delicious, dense bread. It. Is. Amazing).

Fishy Fishy Kinsale, Crowleys Quay, Kinsale Co

Stay at Mount Juliet Estate, a beautiful estate with open fireplaces (a welcome staple in Irish lodgings), great food and grand, stately rooms.

Mount Juliet Estate & Golf Club, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny

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