Ireland offers visitors a varied platter of rugged natural beauty, historical sites, and vibrant towns and cities. It is a place that is rich in art and culture, most notably in literature and music, and it is a place that offers the best pubs in the world. On every main street (and many of the not-so-main streets) of every city, town, and village, regardless of how small, you will find a cold pint of Guinness, friends you have yet to meet, and plenty of craic (the Irish word for having fun).
The public transport infrastructure is hit-and-miss, particularly to some of the more remote locations, but there is a good road network across the whole country, from multi-lane highways around the cities to quaint and picturesque country roads. As a result, most visitors choose to get around the country in a car. It is a small country, so if you have a car it is easy to pack a lot into your itinerary. Since hiring a car is cost effective, it makes financial sense too.
Must-see places to visit when in Ireland
Most attractions and towns in Ireland would stake a claim on being the best place to visit, and in many cases, it is justified. Here are some of the more popular with visitors. Hiring a car in Ireland to get to any of these places is easy, as there are locations across the country.
Wild Atlantic Way
Ireland sits on Europe's western frontier with the Atlantic Ocean dominating the west coast. The Wild Atlantic Way is the world's longest coastal drive and stretches from County Cork at the southernmost point of Ireland and goes all the way up to the northernmost point in County Donegal. The route, which can only be truly appreciated in a car, hugs the jagged coastline with its spectacular scenery. This includes dramatic cliffs, headlands, fantastic beaches, peninsulas, and some of the best surfing locations in the world.
The Causeway Coast is a shorter driving trip, but it is no less spectacular. Many people regard it as offering some of the best scenery in Europe. It is located in Northern Ireland and stretches from the port town of Larne and runs north along the County Antrim coastline. A car is essential for the trip and will give you the freedom to stop off at the many attractions along the way. This includes the stunning but nerve-racking Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the ancient ruins of Dunluce Castle. You can also take in the seaside towns of Portrush and Portstewart, home to the North West 200, the most famous motorcycle race in the world.
The Giant's Causeway is also located on the Causeway Coast, but it is a destination in itself. In fact, it is one of the most visited locations on the island and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is located in a remote part of the north coast of Ireland, so hiring a car is advisable. The area features tens of thousands of basalt columns, and you can find out how they were formed at the newly built visitor’s centre. They were formed as the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, but most people prefer the Irish folk story in which an Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), built the causeway as a bridge so he could cross the North Channel to Scotland to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner.
The Boyne Valley is one of the most historically significant places in Ireland. It is located north of Dublin and straddles the counties of Louth and Meath. You will find Neolithic tombs that are older than the pyramids in Egypt as well as the Hill of Tara, the seat of the ancient kings of Ireland. It is also the location of the Battle of the Boyne, which took place in 1690 when the Protestant William III defeated the Catholic James II. One of the best ways to explore the area is by doing the Boyne Valley Drive in a hired car. This will take you to all the historical locations where you can explore the history, the myths, and the legends.
Dublin is the capital of Ireland, and no visit to Ireland is complete without spending some time in this city. It is one of the great cities of Europe, and it is steeped in history. You can visit the Guinness Brewery, the historical cathedrals, or go on a James Joyce literary tour. You can also visit the GPO, which is the site of the 1916 Easter Rising, a battle that eventually led to the formation of the Irish Republic. Dublin is more than just its history though. It is also a vibrant and modern European city with great restaurants, plenty of shopping destinations, and world-class hotels. Public transport connections are available, and certain locations can be visited on foot, but the easiest way to get around Dublin is by car.
Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a driving route that offers stunning natural scenery and historical places to visit. It is located in County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland and stretches for 179 kilometres. Most people start in Killarney and head south through the Killarney National Park. The scenery here is breathtaking, particularly at Ladies View. The route then goes to Kenmare before following the coastal road back around to Killarney. There are lots of places to stop off along the way, from beautiful lakes to quaint shops in sleepy villages to sandy beaches. The best way to explore the Ring of Kerry is by car.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are in County Clare in the west of Ireland. They are one of the most visited places in the country because of the spectacular and rugged natural landscape. It is a place where the green fields of Ireland dramatically end and the Atlantic Ocean begins. The highest point is 214 metres and offers views that stretch to the Aran Islands and beyond. It is a remote part of Ireland, but is a well-trodden and rewarding journey if you have a car.
Ireland is a modern country with a buoyant IT sector and thriving cities, but there are many locations that have changed little over the centuries. This applies to the Aran Islands. They are located in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of mainland County Galway, so a car is required to access them properly. The islands include Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer. Many of the residents speak Irish as their first language, and the area is rich in Irish cultural attractions. The landscape has a rugged beauty. Make sure you visit Teampull Bheanáin, the smallest church in the world, and the Bronze Age fort Dun Aengus.
The Burren is in County Clare in the west of Ireland. The name comes from the Irish word Boíreann, which means rocky place, an apt description for this area. It is a unique and beautiful place to visit, although most of the attractions are best accessed by car. This includes Burren National Park.
The Dingle Peninsula is situated on Ireland's westernmost edge in County Kerry. It is a remote location (so a car is advised), but it is popular with visitors who come for the beautiful scenery, fishing, Irish music, great seafood, and the surfing. You might even spot one of the dolphins that frequent Dingle Bay.
Something for Everyone
Ireland literally has something for everyone, from stunning natural landscapes to shopping to traditional Irish culture. Because of its size, it is possible to fit a lot into any length of stay. The best way to achieve this is by hiring a car.
Some of the most memorable and popular places to visit in Ireland are quite remote, so a car is not so much of an option but more of a necessity. Even in the more accessible areas like Dublin and the other cities, a car is still the first choice of transport for most visitors because of the convenience.