We love trains, planes and big cities. But sometimes a country is best explored in a car in the country side.
Ireland is a beautiful country with a lot to offer but since we only had 4 short days we chose to focus on the South West region. We would have loved to have a full week (or month) exploring the vast countryside but if you are short on time this route can work for you to.
We flew into Dublin (the cheapest to fly into from most places) and rented a car from the airport. This worked well since we were finishing our week in Ireland with a 2 night stay in Dublin. We immediately drove SW to the town of Kilkenny. We spent the afternoon exploring the beautiful castle and enjoying our first Guinness and stew at a local pub.
From there we drove to the relatively large city of Cork and checked into a hostel for the night. Each pub in Ireland is a tourist destination on its own. Every pub is unique - some have history, others have good music but all have a great friendly vibe. We really utilized this time to begin to plan our road trip. The Irish are extremely chatty at pubs (mostly since Guinness takes so long to pour) and we asked everyone we met what route we should take to see the SW. They are more than happy to give you a ton of recommendations and we were more than willing to take them.
Side note: We would have loved to have had a full day in Cork and if you can expand your trip we highly recommend adding a day here.
We left Cork very early and followed the N22 to Gougane Barra.
Gougane Barra Lake is absolutely gorgeous and the small church St Finnbarr's Oratory is worth a quick look.
We paid the 2€ entrance fee to drive around the Gougane Barra park and it was totally worth it. It is so incredibly beautiful inside the park, with the greenest forests I have ever seen. Seriously, it's a one of kind experience in Ireland and shouldn’t be missed.
We grabbed coffee and scones at the small cafe (Cronin's Bar and Cafe) opposite the lake. As usual the Irish owner was ridiculously friendly, giving us tons of advice on where to go next.
From there we followed road R584 to N71 where the road met the sea for the first time. The most breathtaking stop was along Glengarriff, just pure natural beauty.
We followed the road around the Beara peninsula and took the Healy Pass (also known as R574 but you will see plenty of signs for Healy Pass) which took us up over some gorgeous chalky maroon colored mountains where the sheep graze right next to the road. The clouds were hanging low this day and as we drove higher into the mountains we ended up engulfed inside the clouds. When we emerged we were on the other side of the range in a completely different colored valley. It’s times like this where Ireland seems like another planet.
We finished the day by driving to Killarney (Via R571 to N71).
Another early morning to beat the crowds on the Ring of Kerry. We choose to drive the ring road in the NW direction. Our first stop was the Kerry Bog Village which has a herd of beautiful Kerry bog ponies.
These ponies were close to extinction with only 20 left in 1994. A local man nursed the population back to health and now there are 300 registered ponies as of 2011. We probably spent way too much time there because I was obsessed with them.
From there we continued down the road which offers so many different towns and pull overs to explore. We followed this guide as we drove and found it to be full of information.
The cliffs of Kerry in Portmagee is a must do stop off the Ring road. Insanely beautiful cliffs and if you can’t make it out to the cliffs of Moher it’s a great alternative.
From there we got back on the road and continued to Killarney National Park. I could have spent another full day just exploring this park and if you can add an extra day I recommend adding it here. We got a chance to see Molls Gap and Ladies View which are both unbelievably breathtaking.
We left Killarney early and spent the early hours driving to the Cliffs of Moher. It was so windy when we arrived we felt like we may blow away. It was still pretty beautiful despite the weather though.
We ended our Road trip by driving and staying in Glasgow for the night.
This morning we woke up early to drive the 3 hours back to Dublin airport and return the car.