Being from the Midwest, we’re used to driving. A lot. From Lawrence, Omaha, St. Louis, and Oklahoma City are about 4 hours away, double that for Denver and Chicago. Long road trips are nothing, so we spent two weeks driving across Ireland, a country around the size of our home state. The longest drive we had was about 4 hours, and to all the Irish we spoke to this was way to long, but the scenery made the drive go by rapidly.
Here’s how to plan an Irish Road Trip:
How to get there
Somehow, road trips never seem to go exactly as planned, and ours started off poorly. We reserved a car with Hertz, and as we are all under 25, we checked to make sure there was no fee, and we were assured there was not. Unfortunately when we got to the Hertz office in Dublin, we were told there is no fee, because they just don’t do it, and that it’s illegal in Ireland to rent to anyone under 25. We had already made reservations out in very small Irish cities that aren’t well connected via buses, so not having a car threw a wrench in our plan. We headed to the airport full of car rental companies and found that it’s not actually illegal, it just comes at a hefty fee. We rented from Sixt, one of the two companies willing to rent to us, and although we’d heard it’s the Ryanair of car rentals, with hidden fees at the end, we had a wonderful experience. The customer service reps were incredibly friendly and helpful, and we had no issue returning it. If you’re under 25 and considering road tripping through Ireland, make sure to plan for the under 25 fee and make sure to reserve with Sixt.
Where to go
We flew into Dublin and waited until the end of our time in the city to rent the car. You really don’t need a car in the city, in fact it might be more of a hinderance than a help when it comes to parking and city traffic. Keep in mind that like the United Kingdom, the Irish also drive on the opposite side of the road so driving through city traffic can be tricky. Rent when leaving Dublin, and you can practice your new skills in a lower risk setting.
We went south from Dublin to Kilkenny, a city known for it’s beautiful castle and ancient Cathedral. Unfortunately since we left Dublin so much later than planned, we only had about an hour and a half of sunlight left to explore this beautiful city. We traveled through Ireland in November, so lack of sunlight was a regular problem. Leave Dublin by 11 for optimum sunlight.
Cork is one of Ireland’s largest cities and where we made the most friends. After reaching Cork in the dark, we settled into the hostel bar, Bru Bar, during happy hour for “a chill night in,’ which quickly turned into meeting some locals who showed us a very fun, very unchill night out.
Within the city itself, the Cork Gaol, a prison turned into a museum, is worth seeing, but the real attraction is the Blarney Castle about 15 minutes from Cork. The Castle is famous for the Blarney stone that visitors literally bend over backwards to kiss. Kiss the stone and you’ll never be at a loss for words. While the castle itself was cool, the best part about Blarney was the grounds. Even on the cold rainy day, the extensive grounds were beautiful and exciting to explore.
Ring of Kerry
We left Cork incredibly early and headed towards Kilarney National Park. Within the park are multiple areas to pull over and take a hike or have a picnic. Before going into the park itself, visit the Ross Castle, castle ruins by a large lake. Once you go into the park, explore the ruins of the Muckross Abbey. Just a short stop from the Abbey is the Muckross house, a 19th century house with extensive grounds and a full fledged farm in the summer. The park is a combination of man made and natural beauty. The Torc Waterfall is the largest waterfall in the park and an easy hike right off the road. Past the waterfall are stunning viewpoints of lakes and mountains, just right off the road.
We continued past the park and through the Ring of Kerry to the Cliffs of Kerry. The views were incredible, but not as incredible as the cliffs themselves. We stayed in a Airbnb right across the street from the cliffs, so we went as soon as they opened when it was still quiet, peaceful, and incredibly windy.
Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher
From Kerry, we began our longest drive to Doolin, a small town right outside the Cliffs of Moher. Within the town there isn’t much to see, just a small pub and some hotels, but the pub was nice and the town felt homey. The Cliffs of Moher were beautiful, but less so than the Cliffs of Kerry. They were more crowded and scary. The coolest part of the Cliffs of Moher was that the Harry Potter movies were filmed there. After some looking, I couldn’t find Voldemort’s horcrux.
A short drive from the Cliffs of Moher is another one of Ireland’s largest cities, Galway. All of the people we met who had spent time in Galway told us we would love it. It’s a young and popular city with a great food and nightlife scene. After moving quickly through Ireland, we took time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere instead of rushing from sight to sight.
Giant’s Causeway and Northern Ireland
From Galway, we went to Northern Ireland to explore Giant’s Causeway. We were fortunate enough to spend a rare warm and sunny day at the Causeway. As with all of Ireland, weather can get bad, so plan a few days around the Causeway to be safe. After the Causeway, we visited the Bushmills distillery for a tour. Unlike the Jameson distillery tour, Bushmills shows visitors the fully functioning distillery. For 8 pounds. you get a tour and two samples, including a special whiskey only available at the distillery. For more night life, the town of Portrush is a short taxi ride from Bushmills.
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and while there isn’t much to see, this was one of our favorite places thanks to the people. Everyone we met both inside and outside our hostel, went out of their way to be friendly. People bought us drinks at bars without expecting anything in return, something very different than our experiences in the U.S. The Ulster museum in Belfast is worth a visit and full of art, history, nature, and, most importantly, Game of Thrones. The museum had a tapestry commissioned detailing every big moment of every episode of every season of Game of Thrones.