Why Driving Across Ireland is the Best Way to See the Country
Skip the trains and subways in Ireland, rent a car and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
“Um, is there anyway we could get a bigger car?” My mom asked the burly ginger-haired Irish man as we attempted to fit three large suitcases, a couple of carry-ons and ourselves into a tiny, European rental car.
“You’re not gonna want a bigger car, ma’am,” was his response.
He was right.
As my mom, sister-in-law and I drove from coast to coast across the Irish countryside, we were soon beyond grateful for our little car’s petite size.
First of all, the roads in Ireland, especially in the countryside, are tiny. A two-way road in Ireland is about the same size of a one-way in America, and one detour could put us on a “road” smack dab in the middle of two cow pastures. I’m using the word road loosely because it was more like a bicycle path. But hey, our tiny car made it through the cow pastures, around the round a bouts and through the entire country from east to west and back again.
1. You get up close and personally with the countryside. I don’t know about you, but ever since the first time I saw “P.S. I Love You,” I wanted to see the Irish countryside for myself. I’ve had friends visit the country and leave disappointed because they only visited cities and missed out on the countryside and authentic culture that only rests in the small villages across Ireland. Besides a few days in Dublin, we headed straight out of the city and into the Irish country, A.K.A. the southern region, or the Republic of Ireland. And what we saw was absolutely incredible! The rolling hills, wild animals, absolutely gorgeous coast, friendly locals and quintessential Irish pubs really are mesmerizing, and they are all things you have to experience for yourself up close and personal.
2. Castles everywhere. Ever want to feel like a princess? Drive across southern Ireland. We saw about seven castles throughout our road-trip: some historical and highly touristy, and some just sitting on the side of the road. The Irish loved them some castles back in the day, and now they make for gorgeous road-trip scenery that will transport you back to medieval times.
3. It’s a new experience. Ever want to try driving on the left side of the road? Now’s your chance! If your American, you’ll be blown away by the tiny European farm roads, the round a bouts, and or course the wrong side of the road thing. Consider this another bucket list item checked off.
4. You get to pull out an old road map. Remember those gigantic pieces of paper with lines all over them? Those are called maps, and when you’re driving across a foreign country with no cell service, you actually have to use them. Pulling out an old map and using it to navigate our way across the country was not only another new experience, but it gave us a greater sence of ownership and pride when we made it all the way to our destination without Siri’s voice guided directions.
5. It’s relaxing. Once you get your bearings and know where you’re going, driving across Ireland is beautifully relaxing. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the breathtaking views. The drive also isn’t that long, so you don’t have much of an opportunity to get tired of the car.
-What you see isn’t always what you get when it comes to car rentals. We ordered online from Dooley, and while the initial price was the cheapest out of the myriad of rental options, when we arrived in Dublin to pick up our car there were tons of added on costs. Overall the price was still lower than other places, but those add-ons can be a bummer if you aren’t expecting them.
-Be prepared for small. Small cars, small roads, small hotel rooms. Everything in Europe is just a little bit smaller than America, and rental cars are no different. But like I said at the beginning of this article, you’ll be thankful for your tiny car when you happen upon those narrow roads!
-End your trip in Ireland. My mom, sister-in-law and I spent a total of 25 days together in Europe, and after the fast paces of Paris and London, and more than our share of subway, train and plane travel, our week driving across Ireland was the perfect way to end our whole European experience. It was fun, different and refreshing for our weary traveler souls.
We landed in Dublin and immediately rented our car (although there was nothing immediate about it at the rental counter). We spent one night in Malahide, a beachside village just outside of Dublin, before heading out for our road-trip. We stopped to tour the Malahide Castle in the morning before hitting the road for Galway, which took about three hours (and included a few more castle stops in small villages along the way). We spent a few days in Galway, and from there we went to a medieval dinner show at Dungaire Castle and took a ferry to Inish More on the Aran Islands. The dinner and island were definitely incredible highlights of my entire trip to Europe, and I’d recommend them to anyone.
From Galway we drove along the coast (the most gorgeous part of our drive) to the very tip of southern Ireland, where we stayed in a castle turned bed-and-breakfast in a small village called Skibberreen. This was honestly the most perfect experience, and I truly felt like we witnessed the essence of Ireland. We slept in a castle (Castle Townsend, to be exact), shopped through the small village markets and spent the evenings in even smaller pubs, where we experienced true Irish culture – complete with meat, potatoes and lively Irish jigs!
On the way to Skibbereen we also stopped at the Cliffs at Moher – another breathtaking must see if you’re in Ireland, and the Blarney Castle. You’ve got to kiss the famous Blarney Stone!
From Skibbereen we journeyed back to Dublin, making a quick stop in the city of Cork, getting lost in a tiny village looking for a restroom and even getting road blocked by a herd of cows. We spent our last few days in Dublin hitting the typical sights before making the long trip home to the States.
Renting a car and driving across the Republic of Ireland will always be ingrained in my memory as one of the most adventurous, fun, mesmerizing and wildest times of my life, and I’d recommend the trip to others in a heartbeat.
Have you ever driven across Ireland? What villages and sights did you visit? Submit your own story to College Tourist here.