Going for a drive in the car has long been one of the staples of Irish family life. Even with our unpredictable Irish weather, a scenic Sunday afternoon drive is very often the best way of getting out and about with the family.
In this regard, we are lucky to have some of the most picturesque driving routes in Europe right on our doorstep. From stunning coastal trails like the Wild Atlantic Way to lesser-known inland gems like Brú na Bóinne and the Sally Gap, Irish motorists have an incredible array of routes to choose from.
Exploring Ireland by car
Someone who knows a thing or two about the roads of Ireland is George O’Connor, Managing Director of Enterprise Rent-A-Car Ireland, a company that specialises in providing mobility solutions for people looking to get around Ireland by car.
“We’re often the very first port of call for overseas visitors who want to explore Ireland,” he says. “Even when they’ve done their homework, people want to know what the most scenic way to get to Connemara is. Can we drive to Cork without going on the motorway? Is there a more enjoyable way of driving up north?’’
Tourist roads for local people
“Our people really know their stuff, and we’re always happy to help with a bit of local knowledge and advice,” O’Connor says. “Of course, those ‘tourist’ routes are there for local people to enjoy as well, and this June bank holiday weekend is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy a relaxing drive in beautiful surroundings.
“Whether you choose an old favourite or try a new route, the important thing is to give yourself plenty of time, take it at a leisurely pace and don’t be afraid to get out of the car and explore on foot if the chance presents itself. Here are five marvellous drives to consider for the long weekend,” O’Connor says.
Galway to Westport (approx 90 mins)
Starting with a classic, this route takes you deep into the heartland of Connemara and up into the hills, with an incredible view over Clifden Bay and out towards the islands of Inishturk and Turbot. Stop for lunch in Clifden before heading on towards Westport, where you’ll pass the gorgeous Doolough Valley with its Famine Memorial.
Dungarvan to Tramore (approx 45 mins)
Otherwise known as the ‘Copper Coast’ drive, this route has a bit of everything: hidden sandy beaches and tranquil seascapes, cliffs and coves as well as a succession of picturesque villages including Bunmahon, Dunhill and Fenor. This region is one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets, as you’ll discover when you see the jaw-dropping cliffs at Ballydowane Bay.
Dollymount Strand to Howth Head (approx 40 mins)
When you live in the Dublin ‘bubble’, the temptation is to go west in search of quiet country roads but the coastal route from Dollymount Strand to Howth Head is as picturesque as any part of Ireland. Once past Bull Island, you begin to climb the oasis of green that is Howth until you reach the headland with its gorgeous views down over the Poolbeg towers.
Newgrange to Skerries (approx 40 mins)
Brú na Bóinne hardly qualifies as a hidden gem, given the worldwide fame and popularity of the prehistoric monument at Newgrange, but it is a captivating drive nonetheless and well worth the spin. Once you’ve paid your respects at the megalithic tomb, head east to Bettystown and then cut south through Balbriggan and on to Skerries by the sea for a delicious bowl of seafood chowder.
Letterkenny to Donegal (approx 1hr 20 mins)
If you have time for a proper road movie, this section of the Wild Atlantic Way is perhaps the most visually spectacular route in the country. There’s so much to take in on this breath-taking drive, but must-see highlights include Glenveagh National Park, Sheephaven Bay, the Glengesh Pass, Silver Strand Beach, the view from the Sliabh Liag Cliffs and the tranquil atmosphere all the way to Donegal town.
“These are five great drives but the possibilities are endless,” says O’Connor. “We are blessed with scenery that is the envy of the world; no wonder Irish tourism is set for another record-breaking year.”