Ireland has no shortage of scenic views and breath-taking destinations for adventurous backpackers but, if epic road trips are more up your alley, Ireland won’t disappoint you either.
Recently, Lonely Planet has included two amazing Irish roads in their Top 50 Epic Drives of the World, which includes the most intense, but beautiful roads in the world. The Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coastal Route, which have been popular among locals for many years, are now officially two of the most epic drives in the world according to Lonely Planet, joining other famous roads such as the Pacific Coast Highway in the USA, Norway’s West Coast, and the road from Srinagar to Manali in India.
The Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way is actually the longest defined coastal drive in the world, measuring an impressive 1,600 miles or 2,600 kilometres. The route frames the entire West Coast of Ireland, starting from the Inishowen Peninsula all the way down to the dainty town of Kinsale. What makes this road so special is that, over centuries, the waters of the Atlantic have shaped the surrounding cliffs, creating wild, natural, unspoilt natural landscapes.
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the most isolated roads in the world and crosses mostly the Irish countryside, so not only will you be able to see amazing cliffs, rocks, beaches and isles, but also small picturesque villages and animals. The view itself is very dramatic, ranging from romantic beaches to sharp cliffs and mystical castles. Here are just a few of the stunning attractions you will come across while driving down the Wild Atlantic Way:
- The Ruins of Carrickabraghy Castle, on Inishowen Peninsula, which dates back to the 16th century
- Silver Strand, in Killary Harbour, a beautiful beach where sand dunes and green hills meet.
- Dunguaire Castle, in Kinvarra, was featured in Game of Thrones. It’s the most photographed castled in Ireland, but you can only book a guided tour during summer.
- Sheep’s Head, in Bantry is popular among hikers, but you can also have long scenic walks here and take some great photos of its old lighthouse.
Some tips to enjoy this fantastic drive to the fullest:
- The Wild Atlantic Way is not the best drive to test your car’s max speed. In fact, you won’t be able to drive faster than 40 mph.
- Since most of the coastal drive goes through isolated regions and small villages, gas stations are very scarce. Make sure you fill up your tank before departing and refill whenever you come across a gas station. You might not see another one for hundreds of miles!
- Adjust your speed when going through rural areas. Both wildlife and farm animals cross the road, and you may even have to stop your car because sheep are resting in the middle of the road.
The Causeway Coastal Route
The Causeway Coastal Route covers Northern Ireland from Belfast to Derry, stretching across 200 miles, or 321 kilometres. The views on this drive are in many ways similar to the ones of the Wild Atlantic Way, because the shores were moulded by the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, you’ll see rugged cliffs, isolated sandy beaches, whisky distilleries and, if you watched Game of Thrones, you’ll recognize many old castles featured in the show.
If the Wild Atlantic Way requires a longer road trip, The Causeway Coastal Route is much more beginner-friendly, because you can go through all of it in one day. However, travel experts recommend seeing it in at least two days, because there are simply too many highlights to ignore, such as:
- The Gobbins, a path on the edge of the coastal cliff, is definitely not for the faint of heart or those who are afraid of heights. But walk across it, and you’ll see one of the most impressive coastal landscapes in the world.
- Torr Head is a small detour from the main round, accessible only to small vehicles, not trucks or caravans
- The Dark Hedges is a fairy-tale like alleyway formed by centuries-old trees. It was featured in Game of Thrones.
- Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which connects Northern Ireland to the island of Carrickarede.
Planning a safe road trip through Ireland
Both the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coastal Route are amazing drives that any road trip enthusiast will love, but, as always, you will need to take some extra safety precautions to avoid accidents and getting hurt on vacation.
The road conditions are generally satisfactory, even as you drive through rural areas, but keep in mind that the weather can make them less friendly. Weather in Ireland can be quite tricky, switching from heatwaves to thunderstorms in just a couple of days, which leads to slippery roads and increased risk of accidents.
Remember to maintain a reasonable speed, because neither of these roads is designed for racing. On the contrary, you’ll drive through many countryside roads with pedestrians, farm animals, and wildlife, and you might have to break suddenly at times.
These two coastal drives mostly cover isolated areas, but in the past years, they have become more popular among foreign drivers, both thanks to their inclusion in Lonely Planet’s Top 50 Epic Drives of the World and the huge Game of Thrones hype. As a result, the risk of road accidents and the number of accident claims are slightly higher. If you are new to driving on the left side of the road, you should drive at a slower speed and avoid risky manoeuvres until you get used to the driving conditions.