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Tips for an Irish Road Trip

Who does not love a good road trip? An open road, good music, good company and an exciting new destination all combine for the perfect vacation in my mind. Some countries lend themselves more easily to road trips, whether due to sights, size or geography and Ireland is one of those countries. My family had been dreaming of going to Ireland for years to connect with our heritage, as both of my parents had great-grandparents who had immigrated to the United States from the Emerald Isle. Over time we had learned to cherish the Irish culture. I was an Irish Step dancer from the age of five and my family had attended all my competitions (called a fèisand subsequently, had fallen in love with the culture, the music and the spirit of the Irish people. As we near St. Patrick’s Day, I cannot help but think of my time in Ireland.

What is the best way to see Ireland? In my opinion, the country lends itself perfectly to exploration by car. If you plan to see the country this way, here are some tips for your Irish Road Trip.

1. Set an itinerary. There is a lot to see throughout Ireland so make sure you prioritize your itinerary. Decide how long you have to make your way around the country and choose the things you want to see wisely. If you do not, you could find yourself running out of time while only halfway through the distance you wanted to cover. Ireland will draw you in like that, I promise.

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2. Keep your itinerary flexible. So while you want to have itinerary, at the same time it is important to keep your plan flexible. Sitting in the pub and having a nice lunch while listening to live music is essential to the experience. You will want to pull over on the road to gaze at the beauty of the landscape. Do not rush the experience.

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3. Bring a GPS and a map. While my father has the best sense of direction of anyone I have ever encountered (are you reading, Dad?), a GPS in a foreign country is worth the investment. There are many “roundabouts” and many towns have similar names that are off by only a few letters. With so much to see and do, you do not want to waste your time figuring out the directions. A map is handy to have as well, especially if there are two different routes proposed and also to clearly outline your entire route and important landmarks.

4. Research car sizes. Cars are smaller in Ireland than they are in the United States, and with four people and four pieces of luggage we did not adequately research the size of the car we would need. After a half hour of rearranging all the luggage (and all the people), we unanimously agreed that we needed to upgrade our car size. Even the larger car proposed some space challenges and in the future I will be reading all the specifications for how many people and which size luggage can fit in each car.

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5. Have some local, authentic music on hand. Ireland is a land of music, with traditional Irish folk music and Celtic fusion being some of the most vibrant and authentic. As an important part of the culture and heritage, there is no better way to understand Ireland than to soak up its music as you take in the green landscapes surrounding you. My brother spearheaded this initiative by buying the CDs of local musicians we heard in the pubs. It felt nice to support their work, and since we spent a lot of time in the car, multiple CDs were helpful.

6. Get to your location before dark. One of the best components of a good road trip is the scenery and Ireland delivers tenfold. Our route was along the coast of the country so the water views and the lush green countryside were not to be missed. Make sure you travel in the daytime to enjoy all the vistas Ireland offers. Also, once you get off the main highways some of the roads in the towns are not as well lit so traveling in the light has its advantages.

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7. Pack snacks. Thank goodness this is one of the Whalen Family’s greatest skills. There can be some long distances between stops and if you are not adequately fed you will be thinking more about where you are stopping next than enjoying the experience. For example, one day we spent the whole day making our way around the Beara Peninsula and were in the car longer than anticipated. Having snacks on hand was the perfect way to counter the extended journey.

8. Stop and refuel. Even if you have snacks, you need to stop and refuel. Long days in the car will require breaks and an essential part of the Irish experience is the pub culture. Stop and refuel with beef stew, Shepherd’s pie, some good conversation and a Guinness or a Smithwick’s (if you are not driving).

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9. Get out and get some fresh air. Like any road trip, you can start to get antsy and stir crazy after a while. We had a lot of ground to cover in twelve days, but too much time in the car can make you stiff. We would schedule our stops so we could get out and get some fresh air and exercise. I recommend anyone looking to navigate around the country does the same. Some of my favorite stops for exercise include: The Wicklow Mountains, the Scilly Walk in Kinsale, Killarney National Park and bike riding in the Aran Islands.

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10. Bring rain gear. Irish weather can be described in one word: WET. With some parts of the country experiencing over 200 days of rain a year, you would be negligent to not pack rain gear every time you got in the car. As you are guaranteed to have rainy days while you are there, pack accordingly with waterproof jackets and layers. You cannot let the rain stop you in Ireland!

Enjoy the ride! Ireland is one of the most visually stunning places I have ever visited and one of the best countries for a road trip. Plan accordingly and it will certainly be a trip to remember!

Have you ever visited Ireland? Did you take a road trip around the country or travel using a different method? 

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great tips! I visited Ireland back in 2009 but we were based in Dublin the whole time (we were on a more limited time frame so from a practicality standpoint it made more sense). However, I am dying to go back and explore the Western Coast. I’ll admit, I’m a tad afraid of driving on the other side of the road but I do know how to drive a manual so I at least have that down!

    Love the verdant greenery!

    March 12, 2014
    • Thanks, Julie! I know what you mean, sometimes it makes sense to just stay at one place, but next time you go make sure you make it out to the Western Coast of Ireland. It really is stunning and much more bucolic than the Eastern side of the country. I just could not get enough of Ireland. It is a country I could visit over and over again.

      I’m also a little scared of driving on the other side of the road. I am used to my tendencies of driving on the other side. I will admit I did not drive on this trip!

      March 12, 2014
  2. Wow what a road trip! I’ve never been to Ireland but it looks like I would have an amazing time! You’re so right about the snacks- something my family and I do as well! My husband always complains when I load up the car with yummy food, but doesn’t complain when he’s busy eating it!

    March 13, 2014
    • Thank you! It was the best road trip I have been on so far, but I’m hoping my one in Iceland this summer is just as good 🙂 Ireland is such a beautiful country and so easy to road trip through – you really would love it . Snack packers always get so much grief prior to the trip, but never after, right? Thanks for reading, Jessica!

      March 13, 2014
    • My husband is the same way, must be a guy thing! He always makes fun of me for packing the snacks but as you said, as soon as I take them out, out comes his little “paw” wanting some 🙂

      March 13, 2014
      • Exactly, Julie! Snack-packing is such a girl thing! I’ve never regretted packing them though, especially for long rides!

        March 15, 2014
  3. I love a good road trip (always slightly ironic as I can’t drive!) – embarrassed to say I have only been to Dublin and haven’t seen any of the rest of Ireland despite it being so close. Will have to remedy that soon!

    March 21, 2014
    • Being a road trip passenger is just as good for me too, Lucy! Dublin is great, but the rest of Ireland really is worth an extended trip. There is so much culture and beauty in the smaller towns. I could go back again and again and not get sick of it. I hope you make it there soon!

      March 23, 2014
  4. Horace #

    I loved your post.There is no other way to see Ireland than in a car with family, friends and food. What a beautiful country! I cannot wait to go back.

    March 21, 2014
    • Thanks, Horace! I agree with you. I cannot wait to go back either!

      March 23, 2014

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