Top 5 Irish drives to do this year
1 – Ring of Kerry
Approx. distance: 220 kilometres
Start at: Killarney, Co. Kerry
Picture by Ingo Mehling
Outside of Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is probably the most famous of all our driving loops, but that doesn’t mean it’s only for the tourists, even if there is quite a bit of chintz to be found in terms of souvenirs and the like. While the official route is signposted, we’d suggest you allow more time to go off the beaten track and discover gems such as Valentia Island. Naturally, summer time is best in terms of weather, but it also means tolerating a lot of slow traffic and cyclists on the road, so if you’re looking for a ‘spirited’ drive, best to tackle it off-season. Top tip: drive clockwise, as the lumbering tour buses must go on the opposite direction…
2 – Sally Gap to Glendalough
Approx. distance: 40 kilometres
Start at: Knocklyon, Dublin
Picture by Joe King
Now, while there’s plenty of stunning scenery to ogle at in the mountains to the south of Dublin, and Glendalough is definitely worth a couple of hours on foot alone, we’ve chosen this drive for just that – the road is incredibly challenging and huge fun to drive. It’s not for faint-hearted passengers, however, as it’s very bumpy and twisty. The climb up from near the M50 at Knocklyon will have your ears popping before you come out of the trees into wide open scenery. The road is well-sighted and bucks and weaves through the landscape the whole way, frequently opening out into stunning vistas. Useful for taking a breather from the driving.
3 – The Shannon Estuary to Loop Head
Approx. distance: 90 kilometres
Start at: Clarecastle, Co. Clare
Picture by Bob Jones
You’ll find mention of the Loop Head lighthouse in many guide books, and it really is edge-of-the world stuff, looking out into the Atlantic (don’t get too close to those cliffs, as they’re unguarded), but the guide books all advocate using the main road through Co. Clare. We say ignore that and instead aim for Clarecastle outside Ennis, where you can pick up the Kildysart Road that’ll take you down alongside the Shannon Estuary instead. It’s remarkably empty and the road itself is huge fun to drive. You’re highly unlikely to bump into many tourists, as this part isn’t on the much-publicised Wild Atlantic Way. You’ll have had enough of small roads by the time you get to Loop Head, so come back via the main roads, which are of a much better surface quality.
4 – The Copper Coast
Approx. distance: 40 kilometres
Start at: Dungarvan, Co. Waterford
Picture by Paul O’Farrell
If you’re in the pretty East Coast town of Dungarvan in Co. Waterford, and you type in “Tramore” as your next destination using satnav or Google Maps, odds are it will route you onto the smooth, wide N25 and you’ll have a dull 40-minute cruise. Ignore that and stick to the coast road, instead, and you’ll be in for a treat. This is part of the ‘Copper Coast’ and it’s a relatively undiscovered jewel. It’s not particularly long, but worth the detour and there are plenty of stopping places for looking out to sea wistfully or taking in a picnic.
5 – Malin Head Loop
Approx. distance: 120 kilometres
Start at: Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Picture by Chris Gunns
Depending on where you live in Ireland, the Malin Head loop may require quite a road trip to even get near our Londonderry starting point, which is technically just within the Northern Ireland border and about 240 kilometres from Dublin. However, we’d argue it’s worth the effort to discover a spectacularly scenic peninsula that takes you to Malin Head, the most northern tip of our island. It’s worth stopping off at Buncrana on the west coast of the loop on the way back down to soak up the scenery and have lunch.