Summer in Europe: Hit the road in Ireland
With so much spectacular scenery on offer in Ireland, we’ve taken to the road to deliver the most wondrous four-wheeled trips throughout this enchanting island.
Wicklow Mountains, County Wicklow
Steeped in history, Ireland’s Ancient East boasts legends and tales spanning from ancient times to the modern day. And this south-of-Dublin road trip through the Wicklow Mountains is resplendent with wonderful and wild flora and fauna and fascinating local characters to meet along the way.
Take the Old Military Road out of Dublin’s southern suburbs and you’re already driving along a slice of history. It was constructed to put down the insurgents of the 1798 uprising and is Ireland’s only surviving purpose-built military road.
It’s not long before you reach the 503m-high mountain pass of Sally Gap, a captivating mountainscape with its barren, rugged scenery and heather. Bogs may not sound very appealing but those around Sally Gap are home to wildflowers, bees and butterflies, and dragonflies float above the ponds.
From Sally Gap, head southeast along to Lough Tay, known as Guinness Lake. Unfortunately Lough Tay isn’t the magical source of the black stuff. It’s so named because it’s part of a Guinness estate – although the cream-coloured manmade beach may remind many of the head on a good pint.
Backtracking, head south to Glendalough which offers a snapshot of Ireland’s monastic heritage. The more than 1000-year-old stone towers, chapels and churches, and Celtic crosses are a testament to the vision of St Kevin, the industrious hermit who founded it.
About 16km south of Glendalough, the traditional Irish village of Avoca is perfect for a spot of lunch. And a glass of real Guinness.
Connemara’s Sky Road, County Galway
Clamber into your motor in Clifden to set off on an 11km circular route along the Wild Atlantic Way that showcases some of Ireland’s most spectacular, rugged beauty.
Soon after leaving Clifden the Sky Road divides into two. The lower road lets you get up close and personal with the landscape while the upper road gives you the big picture, letting you gaze out over the entire area.
At its highest point there’s a car park that doubles as a lookout, with views of the Connemara countryside, the Atlantic Ocean and islands; as well as the coastline of County Mayo to the north and County Clare to the south.
Off the western edge of Connemara is the enchanting tidal island of Omey, almost hidden from the mainland to which it is linked by a sandy strand.
The island was home to 396 people in 1841 but 10 years later, after the famine, the population had halved. The island’s last permanent resident, a stuntman who worked on Crocodile Dundee, died in 2017. St Féichín’s well, where pilgrims have left strange trinkets, is perched above the island’s southern shore.
You can walk or drive to the island but note that it’s cut off at high tide. Before setting out, ask for advice from the convivial folk at Sweeney’s shop and pub in Claddaghduff.
Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
From the moment you set off, you’ll discover attractions including the walled garden at Glenarm Castle and the rope bridge to tiny Carrick-a-Rede island. Ideal for cliff-top ocean views and loosening up limbs that may have started stiffening up in the car.
From there, eventually you’ll come to a steep narrow road that winds its way down to Ballintoy Harbour. The white-washed parish church at nearby Ballintoy village is one of Ireland’s most photographed.
Next up is the myth and sea-drenched Giant’s Causeway – a Unesco World Heritage Site, which legend has it was flung down by an Irish giant so he could pick a fight with his Scottish counterpart across the sea. The 40,000 interlocking basalt hexagonal columns stacked alongside each other are actually the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
Then it’s on to Bushmills, where the Old Bushmills Distillery has been dripping out drops of the finest Irish whiskey for more than 400 years.
Don’t miss Dunluce Castle, a dramatic clifftop ruin that’s inspired many writers and artists including Chronicles of Narnia author CS Lewis.
Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry
The Dingle peninsula is described as beautiful, serene and romantic and the best way to sample these charms is a drive out to Slea Head, its westernmost part. Charming wildlife and foliage are among the wondrous scenery as you traverse the Wild Atlantic Way.
Heading west out of Dingle, over the Milltown Bridge and past the woodlands at Burnham, you’ll reach the seaside village of Ventry with its long curved beach.
Leaving Ventry, after Dunbeg Fort (a series of Iron Age defensive ramparts and ditches) there’s a sheer cliff on one side and the wild Atlantic Ocean on the other. At the end of this road is Slea Head itself, with views to South Kerry and the Blasket Islands.
The scattered village of Dunquin on the end of the peninsula is a poignant sight, with many ruined rock homes that were abandoned during the famine.
Heading back east is the far more lively town of Ballyferriter, established by a Norman family in the 12th century. Although its bars serve food and the old schoolhouse is a museum, the Tigh Bhric pub a few kilometres further on not only boasts a microbrewery but is also famed for its lunches and spontaneous bursts of music.
Be sure not to miss the nearby Gallarus Oratory before returning to Dingle. Built about 1300 years ago, it is one of Ireland’s best-preserved early Christian churches. Shaped like an upturned boat, amazingly its dry stone walls are still waterproof.