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6 Experiences That Will Make You Want an Ireland Road Trip
Ireland’s scenic routes are famously epic — whether winding through valleys or cruising alongside towering cliffs, the best way to visit is to get in a car and drive.
There are hundreds of uniquely Irish experiences to be had along the way, but we’ve whittled the list down to our six favourites.
Explore the Wild Atlantic Way
We may as well admit it — few people have the time to complete all 2500 kilometres of one of Europe’s most famous drives. The route crosses nine counties, spanning the entire western coast of Ireland. Part of its appeal is that every traveller comes away with a different experience.
Another well-known drive is the Causeway Coastal Route, which connects to the Wild Atlantic Way at Derry-Londonderry and continues on to Belfast. Among the star stops is the Giant’s Causeway, an area of about 40,000 interlocking stone columns formed by volcanic activity. The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is also popular.
Stop for seafood
Ireland’s cuisine is fast overcoming its meat-and-potatoes reputation. The island has 12 Michelin Star restaurants this year, a new record. Delicacies on the plate range from wild venison to artisan cheese and traditional black pudding; you can sample them all at one of the many farmers’ markets or food festivals that take place from coast to coast.
If we could only have one meal, it would be something from the ocean. From big cities to remote coastal villages, seafood restaurants are among the best options in town, serving up smoked salmon, fish chowder, cockles, mussels and more — nearly all of it locally sourced.
Fish and chips make a great meal for a roadside pit stop, but if you’re holidaying in August or September, roll into town for one of Ireland’s several oyster festivals (pictured). Expect live music, shucking contests, and of course, hundreds of oysters served fresh from the boat.
Visit a galaxy far, far away
If you saw the closing scene of Star Wars: Episode VII, which featured the island of Skellig Michael (pictured) off the coast of County Kerry, you’re already aware of the region’s otherworldly beauty. It’s rumoured to make another appearance in the sequel, but nothing beats seeing it in person.
Meanwhile, fans of Game of Thrones may want to check out Castle Ward, which was transformed into Winterfell for the hit HBO show. Other filming sites are dotted around Northern Ireland, including “The Kingsroad”, known locally as “The Dark Hedges”.
Hear a good yarn
After a day behind the wheel, you’ll want to stop at a local pub; pull up a chair and you may be treated to tales from friendly locals. Myths and legends dominate popular culture, and a rich history means every place has a story.
The influence of Ireland’s most famous storytellers, such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and Seamus Heaney, is clear to any visitor. Dublin alone has a bevvy of sites devoted to literary icons, including the Dublin Writers Museum and the world-famous Trinity College Library. Lovers of W.B. Yeats can explore Sligo, the poet’s spiritual home and likely inspiration for his most famous verses, while on Northern Ireland’s C.S. Lewis trail, you can walk in the footsteps of the creator of the Chronicles of Narnia.
See where the Titanic was built
Many of Ireland’s most interesting episodes involve the ocean, including the origin of the world’s most infamous ship. At Titanic Belfast, you can visit the shipyard where the ill-fated ocean liner was designed and built. Interactive displays bring to life the events that led to the Titanic’s sinking in 1912 and the human stories behind it.
For another slice of maritime history, drive to Dublin and visit the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship. It’s a life-size replica of the one that transported thousands of 19th-century Irish men and women to North America, saving them from famine. The ship played a key part in Ireland’s emigrant past, which is further detailed at EPIC, a state-of-the-art museum that opened nearby in 2016.
Discover Ireland’s Ancient East
Encompassing 17 counties, Ireland’s Ancient East is the gateway to over 5,000 years of history.
Built in 3200 BC, Newgrange is older than the pyramids and is the stage for an extraordinary annual event: at dawn every year on the winter solstice, a shaft of light from the rising sun pierces the small opening above the entrance, creeps slowly along the stone passageway and illuminates the burial chamber at the heart of the monument. This astonishing feat of ancient engineering was a way for the early inhabitants of Newgrange to honour their dead.
Every site seems to have been a backdrop to fascinating and unusual tales. At the Rock of Cashel, a spectacular fortress atop a hill (pictured), you can see where St. Patrick impaled the king’s foot with his staff. In Kilkenny, you’ll hear how the famous 12th-century castle was sold for just £50 ($80). And you’ll visit spots that were pillaged by Vikings.
Chart your own course
There are so many Irish experiences we couldn’t fit into this blog post. But if you’re ready to plan your own road trip, visit Ireland.com for further inspiration.
Got suggestions of your own? Let us know in the comments below.