For being a relatively small country, Ireland has such a vast amount of interesting landscapes, historical sites, and attractions to visit. Most tours focus on the big sites; Dublin, Ring of Kerry, the Blarney Stone, Cliffs of Moher, etc. However, when you have the flexibility of seeing the countryside by car, there are so many more stops you can take and make your journey truly unique. Below are some of my favorite sites; hopefully you’ll find a favorite to inspire you on your next Ireland trip.
1.The Aran Islands – Inis Mor
This was hands down one of the most amazing stops on our trip. I could probably write a whole blog post about it (and if I do, it will be here). Taking a passenger only ferry onto the island of Inis Mor, we walked to our B&B to stash our luggage before checking out the local music scene in the village of Kilronan. We were not disappointed! Some of the best traditional music we heard on our trip was in “The Bar” and everything in town is within easy walking distance making it perfect for foot exploration.
The next morning we rented bikes and headed to the prehistoric site – Dún Aonghasa. The cliffs here are seriously amazing – (I liked them better than Cliffs of Moher, personally) and at the bottom of the path there is a darling tea room and local craft wares where I purchased a hand knit hat (a necessity for biking on such a flat, coastal place!) and a silver necklace. Just make sure you have cash!
2. Glenveagh National Park
Located in County Donegal, we did a quick afternoon trek, though we could have easily spent half a day. The park includes a castle with curated garden grounds, many walking/cycling paths, and even some fishing! There is an option for a shuttle out to the castle grounds if you don’t want to walk all the way out.
We found rainbows, lake views, picturesque cottage doors, and lots of friendly birds. We did not take the castle tour, but we did walk around the grounds and see the architecture from the outside – still highly impressive!
We were able to drive through this picturesque (and very green!) area of the country on our way south to Westport. We saw Benbulbin (which I wrote about here), lots of adorable sheep and lambs (bonus to travelling in the spring is LOTS of baby animals!), two water logged hikes, and two beautiful waterfalls!
For the less spry, a quick jaunt to Glencar Waterfall is plenty adventure, followed by sipping cappuccinos at the tea room while staring out at the lough surrounded by mountains. For those feeling a bit more adventurous, a hike up to Devil’s Chimney – just a few kilometers down the road – provides a lovely panorama of the lake below and a chance to see Ireland’s tallest waterfall (only, however, if it has been raining!)
4. The Wild Atlantic Way
This 2500+km route along the coast is a wonderful way to see the most of what Ireland’s west side has to offer. Whether you travel on it for a portion of your journey or decide to follow the entire trek you will not be disappointed. Beginning in the northern town of Derry, the route runs the entire coastline all the way to Kinsale and takes you down many peninsulas and routes you might not otherwise come across.
My favorite point along this route was a stretch called “Route 355” traveling from Westport to our Aran Island Ferry near Galway. It is by no means a large road, and there are plenty of sheep running about grazing (at least in the springtime). Instead of the road bypassing the scenery it moves with it; around bends and (very very) close to the edges of lakes. We only saw a couple other cars when we drove through and it made it feel that much more special – like we were the only ones seeing it in the world. Our AirBnB host in Westport told us to take this route and let me tell you, any time we took the advice of a local we were not disappointed. 🙂
After our return, I found out there is a website outlining all the potential route stops and even helps with itinerary planning – no matter how long (or short) you want to drive on the Wild Atlantic Way!
5. Dingle Peninsula
I’m going to go into a little more detail on this portion of our trip later, but the short of it is I loved this peninsula trek possibly more than the Ring of Kerry. The quaint town, though suitably touristy, boasts the first distillery opened in Ireland in over 200 years; Dingle Distillery. There are plenty of pubs and cute shops, a local dolphin celebrity and the most DELICIOUS sea salt ice cream I’ve ever tasted! (Not the only, I AM from the Pacific Northwest and we like putting weird things in our ice cream). A trip around the peninsula reveals a wonderful view of the blasket islands as well as the Skelligs and if you’re brave enough to venture the pass, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping, panoramic views of the coast on one side and valley on the other.
As I type, I realize that I have already reached number 5 on my list and still have more I would love to share – I haven’t even covered the CLiffs of Moher or Burren yet! I guess I’ll have to follow up with a part two at some point!
I would love to hear about some of your favorite spots or hidden gems in western Ireland (or anywhere, really!)! Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via that fancy-dancy form. Can’t wait to hear from you!