‘Go where Ireland takes you’ we’re always telling you. Well today, we’re giving you hints, especially for those who’ll drive where Ireland takes them. Promise to keep your eyes on the road as guest blogger Fiona Hilliard reveals four of the most scenic drives in Ireland.
The Burren, County Clare
In a quiet, unassuming corner of sits one of Ireland’s most unusual natural attractions. Named after the Gaelic word boireann, meaning ‘rocky land’, at first seems a moonscape of harsh, uninhabitable limestone, but don’t be fooled – over 700 plants live here and it is considered one of Europe’s richest botanical areas. Wildlife flourishes here too, including many species of birds, small mammals and butterfly; 28 of the 32 types of butterfly found in Ireland are native to the Burren.
Life on the Burren began long ago and far away. The limestone that pervades the area was formed from the shells of sea creatures over 300 million years ago. Some 15,000 years later, a glacier came tearing through the soil and nature’s icy wrath wore the rock down into the angular pavements that fascinate us today.
The drive: The Burren circuit is 83km in total. Begin at the ancient town of Kilfenora. Heading west, you’ll come to (home in September to the infamous matchmaking festival) and signage for Fanore and Black Head. Stop into the Burren Centre on the way to learn more about the area’s history and wildlife. The village of Craggah is also worth seeing, and the shoreline at is good for a stroll.
The Causeway Coastal Route
The stretches some one hundred miles between two spirited cities, and , to make one of the world’s greatest road journeys. The basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway are just one highlight of this spectacular coastline.
Starting in Belfast, head north via the seaside town of Carrickfergus and past the nine Glens of Antrim: glacier-gouged valleys of charming seaside villages and forest highlands. Between Ballycastle and the Giant’s Causeway lies the most scenic stretch of the trail, with sea cliffs of striped black basalt and white chalk, charming harbours and broad sweeps of beach. Take a deep breath to face the chasm-crossing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and then reward yourself with the visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site itself: the celebrated .
The curious assembly of 40,000 basalt columns, formed by molten lava cooled into mostly flawless hexagonals of dark stone steps, appear so perfectly artificial it’s no wonder that it has spanned the enduring myth of Finn McCool provoking fellow giant Benadonner.
An inland detour to the village of is good for the night and a nightcap, being home to the oldest working distillery in Ireland. Back on the Coast Road head due west, choose to stop at the romantic remains of , the lively seaside resorts of Portrush and Portstewart, or the breath-taking sight of . Finish the route in the city of Londonderry, UK City of Culture 2013.
The drive: The Causeway Coastal Route is pretty much the A2 the whole way. Get a more detailed breakdown of the trip on this .
Slieve Gullion Forest Park, County Armagh
The mountain of towers 573m high on the craggy heather-covered hills of a long extinct volcano. Naturally for an area of such natural beauty and heritage, the Ring of Gullion doesn’t come without its share of myths and stories, including one superstition that if you bathe in the Lough, your hair will turn white.
A scenic 13km drive through offers wonderfully picturesque views over the surrounding hills. Park at the picnic area and take a hike to the top to find yourself at the highest point in . Those who chance the walk are rewarded by the view of two early Bronze Age cairns and a pretty lake.
The Sally Gap, County Wicklow
Put Dublin in the rearview and head south to the ‘Garden of Ireland’: . The is a straight road leading to the peat bogs of the Wicklow mountains, past shooting locations for the film Braveheart, and the stunning Lough Tay (known as The Guinness Lake because its peat-coloured water and manmade beach resemble the dark and creamy stout). Suddenly, expansive fields and bog turn to lush, green valleys and you’ll find yourself in the history, serenity and downright beauty that is Glendalough.
Known as the ‘valley of the two lakes’, Glendalough inhabits a serene pocket of rich history and spectacular scenery in the . The round tower makes a piercing silhouette against the rolling hills, and indicates the area’s purpose as one of the most important in Ireland since St Kevin founded his settlement in the 6th century. Swap the car for two feet and explore some of many monastic remains including a 12th Century Romanesque Priest’s House, cathedral, large granite cross from 6th or 7th Century and St Kevin’s Church. The lakes will then beckon for a walk.
Take the N81 out of Dublin, and after about 30 minutes turn onto the R759 at Manor Kilbride. It’s a pleasant hour’s drive to Glendalough from here – follow the sign for it at the Sally Gap. See the full itinerary for a .
If you fancy a driving adventure in Ireland yourself, download our Great Irish Road Trips brochure.
The adventure doesn’t end there either. We asked three bloggers what their favourite drive in Ireland was – this is what they said.