12 of the Best Ireland Self-Driving Tours (A Local's Guide)

Best Ireland Self-Driving Tours: Connemara road

Are you planning an Ireland self-driving tour for your next dream vacation? This post has got you covered with Irish road trip ideas whether you are booking a honeymoon tour or just going to Ireland "just because" for a fun and memorable vacation. Plan a short trip to Ireland by car or plan a longer Ireland self-drive itinerary. You may even consider picking and choosing the best Ireland destinations from among my many Ireland road trip itineraries. Buckle up and let's plan a drive on the Emerald Isle!

Ireland's Best Self-Driving Tours

Before we dive into the detail, let me summarize my top picks for the best self-driving tours in Ireland. Consider this your tl;dr: on the best irish road trips :-) 
  1. Drive County Kildare
  2. Waterford and Wexford by car
  3. Dublin to Tipperary
  4. Carlingford Lough
  5. Drive the Ring of Kerry
  6. A Poetic and Food-Filled Trip to Sligo
  7. Donegal Fly and Drive Weekend
  8. Galway to Connemara
  9. Dublin to Kinsale
  10. County Clare and the Cliffs of Moher
  11. A West Cork Road Trip
  12. The Dingle Peninsula

Ireland Car Hire Options

If you don't live in Ireland and own your own car, what are your options for planning a tour of Ireland by car? You could consider a traditional car hire or a more deluxe option to explore Ireland on a self-drive tour. Why book a tour package when it's so easy to plan your own custom Irish road trip itinerary and drive Ireland on your own schedule?

Traditional Car Rentals

Ireland is home to major car rental companies like Hertz and Sixt. Rent a car at Dublin Airport or pick up a car in Dublin City after a few days exploring Ireland's capital. You could also consider exploring Ireland by train or by bus and then picking up a car in a place like Cork City or Galway to shorten your time behind the wheel. I recommend hiring a smaller car for your Ireland road trip. The motorways in Ireland are great, but once you get off the highway and onto regional or local roads, the ride can get much more harrowing. Smaller rural roads may only have room for a single car with one of you having to back-up if you come across a car going in the opposite direction. Smaller cars make negotiating narrow Irish roads on your Ireland vacation a little easier.

Tesla hired from UFO Drive for an Ireland road trip

A Luxury Eco-Friendly Self-Drive

If you'd rather ride in style, you could rent an Audi or a BMW from Hertz. You could add an eco-friendly element to your ride by hiring a Tesla from UFO Drive. UFO Drive will cost you approximately 100 EUR per day, but open this link on a mobile device for a 30 EUR discount on your first ride. However, insurance and tolls are included and since the Tesla is fully electric, you don't have to pay for expensive petrol. A Tesla from UFO Drive is best for shorter road trips since you get about 125 km included in your rental price per day. If you hire an electric car, make sure to plot out charging points along your route. One downside of renting a Tesla is that the cars are rather large. Even the smaller Tesla Model 3 feels quite big. The size of the car can make for a white-knuckled ride on some of the Ireland's backroads.

Short Ireland Self-Driving Tours That Are Closer to Dublin

Most international flights arrive into Dublin Airport. Dublin is the perfect base from which to start a short Irish road trip.

1. Drive County Kildare

County Kildare is Dublin's closest neighbor. Plan a one day Kildare itinerary for a fun day out. Go shopping at Ireland's top outlet mall or visit the Irish National Stud farm. They don't call Kildare Ireland's horse country for nothing! Extend this short Irish road trip from one day to a weekend and venture into South Kildare. Here you'll find tales of Antarctic adventure in Athy which Ernest Shackleton once called home. Stay in the historic and posh Kilkea Castle. Explore the various manor homes and gardens in South Kildare and you may even come face to face with a smiling donkey! 

Kilkea Castle on a County Kildare Ireland Road Trip

2. Waterford and Wexford

Whatever the season, a Waterford and Wexford road trip in Ireland's Ancient East has something special to offer. Wexford is known for having the best strawberries in Ireland so time your Waterford and Wexford road trip for the summer season. Dungarvan is a great home base for exploring County Waterford. If you happen to do this Ireland self-drive tour in winter instead, make sure to plan a stop at the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve to see Greenland White-Fronted Geese as they overwinter in Ireland. 

Wexford strawberries on an Ireland road trip itinerary to Waterford and Wexford

You'll find traces of beloved American President JFK all around Waterford and Wexford. The JFK Arboretum is a great place to stop and stretch your legs with a short hike. This Ireland road trip is easily doable in a weekend, but there is plenty to do if you'd like to take a longer or more leisurely Irish road trip in this area.

3. Dublin to Tipperary

Dublin to Tipperary is another fantastic short self-driving tour that can easily be accomplished in a weekend. Make a beeline for the bad-ass Rock of Cashel with detours to discover all the things to do in Kilkenny City and Carlow along the way.

The Rock of Cashel on an Ireland self-guided tour to Tipperary

4. Carlingford Lough

Head North from Dublin for an ideal long weekend drive that covers both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Carlingford Lough is the dividing line between the North and South. Book in at Ghan House Hotel. From here it takes less than 10 minutes to walk into Carlingford Town with its spectacular colorful pubs and picturesque King John's Castle jutting out into Carlingford Lough. Take Carlingford Lough Ferry into Northern Ireland and enjoy views of the Cooley Mountains and Cooley Peninsula from the Mourne Coastal Drive. Discover quaint little towns in Northern Ireland like Rostrevor where echos of C.S. Lewis' Narnia can be felt everywhere. This Ireland road trip is ideal if you prefer a more relaxed pace and don't want to be in the car every day. Once you arrive in Carlingford Town, you could cycle to Omeath or take a long hike into the Cooley Mountains.

King John's Castle on a Carlingford Lough road trip in Ireland

Short Irish Road Trips That Are Further Afield

By American standards, all Irish road trips are short from a distance perspective. The longest you'd ever realistically be driving in a day is about 6 hours. Many Ireland self-driving tours can be much shorter. However, some places in Ireland are worth that little extra push to get to. Here are my top picks for a long weekend road trip in Ireland.

5. Drive the Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry drive is the quintessential Irish road trip. The Ring of Kerry can be "done" in a day but you're better off driving out to the Ring of Kerry from Dublin and then setting up a home base there. Make sure to take a small detour and explore Killarney National Park before you start driving in earnest. Waterville at the far end of the Ring of Kerry is a quaint village with a rich history and some really cool places to stay (e.g., the old telegraph office). From here, you can take sunset walks among ancient ruins or book in for a sheep herding demonstration on a working farm. 
View of Skellig Michael from the Kerry Cliffs on the Ring of Kerry Drive in Ireland
If the weather is right, you may even spot Skellig Michael, home to ruins of a historic offshore monastery founded more than 1500 years ago. If you want to pamper yourself, stay at Parknasilla Resort not far from Kenmare. The Ring of Kerry is best visited in the shoulder season or off-season to avoid harrowing encounters with tour buses on this popular drive.

6. A Poetic and Food-Filled Trip to Sligo

Sligo is known as Yeats Country because the famous Irish poet W.B. Yeats called County Sligo home. Take a poetry-inspired road trip in Sligo if that suits your interest. Sligo is also one of Ireland's most underrated foodie destinations. The Sligo Food Trail will make your mouth water. All that great food is best washed down with a local craft beer from The White Hag in Ballymote. If you like a little adventure with your foodie itinerary, book in for a Sligo Food Trail experience. We took a guided hike up Knocknashee and then had an awesome meal at Cawley's Guesthouse in Tubbercurry
Stone tower on a Yeats-inspired self-driving tour of County Sligo Ireland

7. Donegal Fly and Drive

Did you know that Donegal in Ireland's northwest corner has an airport? If you have limited time for this Ireland self-drive tour, fly to Donegal from Dublin and then hire a car. A perfect weekend in Donegal features pristine beaches, fantastic coastal drives and dunes, Glenveagh National Park and Glenveagh Castle.
Glenveagh Castle on a County Donegal Road Trip in Ireland

8. Galway to Connemara

Connemara is another fantastic Ireland road trip where you can short-circuit the drive time by choosing another mode of transportation to get to a suitable starting point. Galway is one of the best cities in Ireland to visit by train. Take the train or bus to Galway from Dublin and then hire a car in Galway City. Connemara is part of the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking part of Ireland). You'll find ruins that date back to the time of St. Patrick. Connemara is home to Cong which gained fame as the setting for the movie The Quiet Man. Ashford Castle and Kylemore Abbey are two must-see destinations on your Connemara road trip. Check out some of the best traditional Irish music and dancing in Clifden. If you get lucky with the timing of your trip, you may even get to see a horse race that could only take place at low tide near Omey Island. Beware the winds in Connemara. We were nearly blown off of Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park!
Pink thatched cottage on a Connemara Irish road trip

9. Dublin to Kinsale

Kinsale in County Cork is one of Ireland's top foodie destinations. Stop in Ardmore to admire thatched cottages along the sea and stretch your legs in Youghal Town in East Cork. Discover great birdwatching destinations along the coast. This Dublin to Kinsale Ireland road trip itinerary could easily be lengthened to include a return trip through Waterford and Wexford including historic sites like U.S. President John F. Kennedy's ancestral home. 
Blue boat in Youghal on a Dublin to Kinsale Ireland road trip

10. County Clare and the Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare are one of Ireland's most popular destinations. In fact, some tour companies offer (really long!) day trips to the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin. Drive from Dublin to Clare and stop at the spectacle that is the Barack Obama highway rest area en route. Stay in County Clare for the weekend an enjoy spectacular sunsets from Fanore. Staying overnight also means that you can rise early and get to the Cliffs before the tourist hordes descend upon them. If you time your visit to the Cliffs of Moher in Spring or early Summer, you may even get to see iconic puffins clinging to the cliffs. The Burren is another highlight of this Ireland self-driving tour along the Wild Atlantic Way. Marvel at this landscape of cracked bedrock overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Cliffs of Moher on an Ireland self-driving tour

Longer Ireland Road Trip Itineraries

If you have more time, a longer Ireland road trip itinerary is definitely recommended. You could combine two or more sets of destinations discussed above or plan one of the longer Irish self-drive itineraries outlined below.

11. A West Cork Road Trip 

West Cork is a must-see destination in Ireland and is best experienced on an Ireland road trip when you have at least a week to dedicate to it. Situated along Ireland's southwest coast along the Wild Atlantic Way, you'll find some of the best food in Ireland in West Cork. You'll also find iconic landmarks in West Cork like Mizen Head lighthouse (Ireland's southwestern-most point) and the stark white Baltimore Beacon. Clonakilty was home to Michael Collins, a key figure in the fight for Ireland's independence from England. Skibbereen is home to the heartbreaking Skibbereen Heritage Centre which highlights how badly West Cork was affected by The Great Famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Continue your West Cork road trip to Bantry and beyond. Make your way to colorful Allihies situated at the very end of the Beara Peninsula.  
Bantry House and Gardens on a West Cork road trip in Ireland

12. The Dingle Peninsula

Dingle in County Kerry is one of the most rewarding road trips in Ireland. Drive the Dingle Peninsula for fantastic sea views, not to mention delicious and ridiculously fresh seafood. Take a detour from Dingle to Tralee, home to the world-renowned pageant: The Rose of Tralee. Discover historic beehive huts and cute little lambs dotting the landscape on Slea Head Drive, one of the best scenic drives in Ireland. Keep an eye out for friendly dolphins in Dingle Harbour. Enjoy a pint of Murphy's at an Irish pub or Murphy's ice cream in Dingle Town.

The Dingle Peninsula by carDingle Town IrelandCurvy road in Dingle: exploring Ireland by car

Places to Stop on an Irish Road Trip

With any Irish driving tour, getting there is half the fun. Here are some ideas for destinations you could add-on to the Ireland self-driving tours described in this post. No matter where you are headed, there are tons of amazing places to visit in Ireland! 

North of Dublin

On the outskirts of Dublin, visit Howth and Malahide. Howth is the perfect stop for a fresh seafood meal or a chance to do the Howth Cliff Walk. Malahide offers a quaint town to explore on the Irish Sea featuring impressive Malahide Castle. Rogerstown Estuary offers spectacular birding opportunities and Ardgillan Castle is a great place to stop for afternoon tea. 
Ardgillan Castle Demesne
If you are driving north of Dublin, plan a stop in the historic Boyne Valley. Here you'll find Trim Castle, one of the most iconic Norman castles on the Emerald Isle, The Battle of the Boyne Visitors Centre which marks the field of the largest battle ever fought on Irish or British soil, and Newgrange, an absolutely mind-blowing Stone Age passage tomb. 

En Route to the West of Ireland

If you are driving from Dublin to Dingle or headed to other destinations in the west of Ireland that require you to take the M7 Motorway, make time for a few pitstops. Mulligar is home to Belvedere House which features the Jealous Wall and other "follies". Birr Castle is home to what was once the largest telescope in Europe during the Victorian-era. Stop for a late afternoon lunch and a walk at Adare Manor. 
Entrance to the Walled Garden at Adare Manor on an Irish Road Trip

The West

Dromoland Castle is a great place to spend a few nights near Limerick. Don't overlook Limerick City while you're in the neighborhood. You'll find awesome craft beer, imposing castles, and one of the best covered markets in Ireland (The Milk Market). Other great pitstops on an Ireland road trip include a visit to the National University of Ireland in Galway where you'll find a tiny museum containing specimens from Darwin's voyage to the new world. You'll also find fiery red foliage on the main quad in the Autumn. 
Suits of Armour at Dromoland Castle in Ireland

Ireland's Midlands

If you travel to or through the Midlands, stop at Strokestown Park House in Roscommon. Here you'll be able to learn more about the fraught landlord-tenant relationships that grew increasingly vicious during The Great Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s. 
Strokestown Park House on an Ireland Self-Driving Tour

Ireland's Northwest

There are some great places to see if your self-driving tour of Ireland takes you to the Northwest. Mount Falcon near Ballina in County Mayo is worth staying for a night or two. Indulge in a gourmet meal at the hotel restaurant and embark on an atmospheric hawk walk through the forest with a bird of prey on your arm. Westport Town is another energizing place to spend a few days. Time your visit for an event like the Westport Folk and Bluegrass festival. Rent electric bikes and go cycling on the Great Western Greenway between Westport and Achill Island.

The Great Western Greenway near Westport on an Irish Road Trip

Southwest Ireland

Cork City is Ireland's second largest city and is also cheekily known as the capital of the "People's Republic of Cork". There are so many amazing things to do in Cork City including taking a walk around the historic University College Cork campus. Did you know that Cork is home to a museum devoted entirely to butter? If you are spending a few days in Cork, you could take the train or drive from Cork to Cobh and experience Ireland's Titantic history. Cobh was the Titanic's last port of call on her maiden voyage before the ship hit an iceberg and tragically sank.
 Sculpture and gazebo in Cobh Ireland (Irish Road Trip Destinations)
As you can see, there is no end to ideas for places to visit in Ireland on a self-drive tour. The road trips on this list are broken down regionally. If you are short on time and want to see a little bit of everything, you might consider this 2 week Ireland road trip itinerary. I hope this post has inspired your next Ireland road trip and that you've been able to discover a few destinations you hadn't thought about before. If you enjoyed this post about Ireland's best drives, why not pin the post for later and tell a friend. After all, sharing is caring!
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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 12 of the Best Ireland Self-Driving Tours (A Local's Guide)
12 of the Best Ireland Self-Driving Tours (A Local's Guide)
Looking for the best Ireland self-driving tours? Plan an Ireland road trip with these ideas for exploring Ireland by car. Plan an Irish road trip.
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