Ireland’s most famous – and definitely its longest – scenic drive is the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s a 2500 kilometres long coastal road along the Atlantic Ocean. Roadtrippin’ along the ocean coast… It awakens magical memories. From California. Australia. Also from the Atlantic coast of Portugal. And we passionately love the ocean, anyway. No wonder, we planned our whole Irish trip around the Wild Atlantic Way.
But that doesn’t mean we drove it all the way. Two weeks is nowhere near enough for that. Instead, we spent time exploring certain regions along the coast and in the national parks. In this post we collected those sections of our long drive that we enjoyed the most. They are perfect short scenic drives themselves. Some takes a couple of hours, some easily takes a day. Whichever you choose to add to your route, it’ll be a wonderful addition.
Ring of Kerry
Probably the most popular section of the Wild Atlantic Way is the Ring of Kerry. It starts in Killarney National Park and runs around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. It offers wonderful panoramas above the Killarney lakes, coastal views that made us stop after every curve (and there are a lot of curves on this route!), colorful seaside villages and romantic ruins. Oh, views of the wild Skellig Islands in the distance, too.
Actually, Skellig Ring Road at the end of the peninsula is an amazing scenic drive itself. But those with small cars have an advantage here since the road is very narrow, buses are not even allowed to use it (and we were quite relieved about this fact).
We also stopped for a short walk to Torc Waterfall hidden in the lush green forest. We hiked at the top of Kerry’s Cliffs and enjoyed spectacular coastal views. A short detour from the Ring of Kerry is the Gap of Dunloe, a pretty valley that gives access to one of our favorite mountain hikes in Ireland: Strickeen peak.
All in all, one full day was not even enough for us to explore everything along the Ring of Kerry. With all the hikes we’ve done and a fantastic half day boat trip to Skellig Islands, we spent two days in the area. If you only do the drive and some short walks, that could fit in a day.
Read our detailed guide to plan your drive around the Ring of Kerry here!
Scenic drive around the Dingle Peninsula
Just north of Iveragh Peninsula there’s another one that’s worth a visit: Dingle Peninsula. It’s lesser known but just as beautiful. (No, don’t even ask us to decide which one is prettier, do both, they are really worth it!) We also started this drive from Killarney – this lovely town is a great base to explore the area.
We stopped at long, sandy, misty beaches to take romantic walks, we hiked to the viewpoint at Eask Tower (another ruin… Ireland is a country of ruins, among other beauties 😀 ) and we drove to the very end of Dingle Peninsula. Similarly to the Ring of Kerry, the end of the peninsula turned out to offer the best views. Slea Head Drive is a circular scenic route on its own and leads to spectacular viewpoints like Slea Head, Dunmore Head or Clogher Head.
Slea Head Drive took us back to Dingle, and we headed on the northern route through Conor Pass from there. It’s a scenic (and narrow) mountain road with countless lake views and distant coastal views.
Read our detailed guide to plan your drive around Dingle Peninsula here!
Burren Coastal Road
Burren National Park doesn’t belong to Ireland. Well, at least the Ireland we imagined. With its rocky karst landscape made of grey limestone it reminded us of Arizona, but in grey instead of red. Now add a scenic coastline to this landscape, and you get the Burren Coastal Road.
This short scenic drive showed us a landscape we’ve seen nowhere else in Ireland, and this landscape was covered with little pink and yellow wildflowers at the time of our visit (late May). If you visit the Cliffs of Moher, this drive can be easily added to your day.
Scenic drive from Galway to Clifden
This drive is again a short section of the Wild Atlantic Way. Short, but scenic and well-indented coastline with beaches and unspoilt rural landscapes. Some of these beaches have such clean, azure waters that made us feel like being in the Mediterranean. Just kidding, Irish wind has never let us feel being in the Mediterranean. 😛 Still, walking and having a picnic at these pretty beaches was nice.
But our favorite stop along this route was Clifden Castle. It’s an abandoned, ruined manor house surrounded by farms. We started walking on the dirt path, surrounded by grazing cows and sheep, and suddenly after one curve, tadam, here’s an old manor house in ruins. Totally abandoned. Yet totally romantic. So typically Irish.
Driving through Wicklow Mountains National Park
A scenic drive that doesn’t involve the ocean. But it involves a pretty national park with a typical Irish landscape: Wicklow Mountains National Park. This is the place where Gerry and Holly met in the movie P.S. I Love You – a movie that’s just as moving and romantic as this national park. Lonely roads, dark lakes, the wind and the fog, the blooming yellow flowers – it was the first national park we’ve seen on our first day, and we knew instantly that we could never get bored of this landscape.
We started our day at Powerscourt Waterfall that’s the highest in Ireland with 121 metres. It was just a short stop though, because the waterfall is right by the parking lot, barely any walking is needed for the great views.
From there we headed towards Sally Gap, and then Glendalough Upper Lake on the narrow, lonely country road of Wicklow Mountains National Park. We stopped at every pullout to take in the views: the wild landscape with hills, forests and lakes.
After hiking around Glendalough Upper Lake, we finished our day driving towards Hollywood and saying goodbye to Wicklow Mountains on the way. Also, we were amazed that even such an iconic name as Hollywood is not original. But that’s the fact: it’s a village in Wicklow county.
Do you have a favorite coastal scenic drive?
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