Ways to Explore Ireland, Irish Roadtrip

Road Trip: Explore the Irish Countryside

The Best Ways to Experience Ireland’s World-Class Landscapes

We went into our Irish road trip feeling pretty well-researched and confident about our way of exploring the famously beautiful drives of County Kerry. In the end, I loved our experience – it was pure magic – and everyone in my family left feeling as though it was the best travel experience of their life. If you’re also hoping to experience the landscapes in Ireland, you essentially have three options:

  1. Hire a car and self-drive the peninsulas (this is what we did)
  2. Hire a driver for a private tour experience
  3. Go with a big bus tour

Having gone through this experience ourselves, I hope that some of this knowledge will be valuable to other travelers looking to experience this area who are perhaps unsure about the best way to see the region.

Hire a car and self-drive the peninsulas

Scenic Drive: The Ring of Beara, Ireland

1This was the route we took, knowing that we’d want the flexibility to explore at our own pace and stop along the way based on our own preferences. To hire a care in Ireland, you need a valid license (from our experience you don’t need an International Driving Permit, despite what you’ll read online), and you’ll need to be prepared to fork over nearly double for an automatic vehicle. Unless you’re extremely comfortable with the idea of driving a stick shift in a right drive car on the left side of the road, you’re probably better off with an automatic for comfort and peace of mind. I recently shared some tips on renting a car in Ireland so check it out if this is something you’re considering!

While the self-drive scenario was a great option for us, it did have one downside: someone had to drive. In a country whose culture is somewhat anchored in pub experiences, whiskey tastings and a pint at lunch, this can become a bit of a drain on whoever is driving. Do note that Ireland has an absolute zero drinking and driving policy that’s not worth testing (this means zero, not 0.08); don’t plan on having a single pint if you’re taking on the task of driving.

Also factor in that for many people, this involves driving on the opposite side of the road while navigating narrow passages on some of the peninsulas. This isn’t always comfortable for everyone, and it’s worth making sure that your intended driver feels okay with the task at hand. In our case, though we paid for a second driver (my dad, an additional €10 per day), Scott was kind enough to take the helm for the entirety of our trip. He’s used to driving on the left since that’s become commonplace with life in Anguilla, and had mastered maneuvering the narrow roads after a day. For him that meant having to opt out of mid-day pints and having to stay awake – and maintain vigilance! – while passengers were able to be a bit more carefree.

Unless someone is 100% okay with having to be the driver for the entire experience, I do think it’s worth discussing having two alternating drivers for the trip. This will allow everyone to enjoy the experience without having to place sole responsibility on one person for the entire experience.

{Keep reading, and find out why we would have done our trip a bit differently in hindsight.}

Hire a Driver for a Private Tour Experience

ladiesview

2This was an option that I hadn’t considered initially but sincerely wish we had. Based in the picture-perfect town of Kenmare, we had two fabulous scenic drives in our backyard (the Ring of Kerry + the Ring of Beara), plus the famously beautiful Dingle Peninsula within striking distance. These are all incredibly beautiful drives and are totally doable with a GPS and a responsible driver (see point #1 above). All of that being said, a private tour guide brings a few new elements into play:

  1. Everyone can enjoy fully throughout the day, including distillery visits, mid-day drinks, etc. without having to worry about navigating.
  2. A private guide brings incredible local knowledge. Scott and I have learned this during previous trips and have both come to really value touring a new destination with a private guide. No, I don’t like big tours (small ones are okay!), but I really appreciate having local knowledge when I’m being introduced to a new area. This means not only an added layer of history and insight, but also a driver who knows the back roads and knows the ins and outs of scenic drives, especially in areas where big bus tours are commonly seen. For example, in the summer, the Ring of Kerry can be congested with 50+ big buses making their way from town to town. Private guides, with custom itineraries and smaller paths, can help steer clear of those highly trafficked routes and provide an experience that’s a bit more special and personalized.

If I were to do anything different during our trip, I would have added a day or two with a private driver. Ideally, I’d hire someone to explore the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry (we allocated 2+ days for the Ring of Kerry, but I’d have one with a private guide). Both peninsulas include iconic drives and an understanding of time management to be able to see key sites within a set timeframe.

Going in, we hadn’t researched this option in any depth but also didn’t come across a great deal of information on this option, either. This can actually be done affordably if you’re splitting up the cost, considering vans can carry 6+ people comfortably. With the five of us, at €60 or so each (that’s a rough estimate but a fairly decent starting point for anyone thinking of this option), we could have had a private driver for a full day of exploring.

Our driver within Kenmare, Paul Brown, is someone who I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a knowledgable local guide operating within County Kerry and County Cork (he may operate further afield as well). We worked with him for brief drives to and from town but were all blown away by his professionalism, punctuality, and incredible local insight. Plus, he wins the award for best-dressed and brings that genuine spirit of Irish hospitality.

Wanna work with Paul? You can reach Brown’s Taxi & Tours at brownpaul4321@yahoo.com to get more info and have him help set up a specialized tour for your group!

Big Bus Tours

Dublin Hop On Hop Off Bus

3We saw many of these big bus tours during our drive, and there are allegedly anywhere between 50 and 60 buses driving the Ring of Kerry on any given day in the summer. If you’re someone who absolutely hates planning or feels ill-equipped to plan a trip of your own, this may be a fine option, but it’s one that I would absolutely never recommend. I dislike bus tours broadly, but after our experience in Ireland, I would discourage big bus tours for anyone capable of doing their own planning. That being said, I realize that there are some bus tours focused on certain demographics (e.g. senior travelers, handicapped travelers, religious groups, etc.) which may add a layer and appeal that a self-drive option wouldn’t.

Knowing how much we loved the flexibility and autonomy of being able to explore the region on our own time frame, I think having ownership of your experience is so incredibly important. I want to stop where I want to stop, eat where I want to eat, take pictures when I see fit and generally do the things that I’d like to do. I don’t want to wait on other people and I don’t want someone taking me to cafeteria-style restaurants for sub-par food when there are fabulous, authentic options to be had. That’s all I can say on this particular option, but if you’ve had a great experience on a big bus tour, by all means feel free to dialogue in the comments section below and share your experience!

Have you road tripped in Ireland? What would you recommend based on your experience in the region?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect, formerly The Traveling Scholar. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. She is a former resident of London and San Francisco and now calls the island of Anguilla home. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort and is on the Board of Directors of the Omololu International School in Anguilla.