You can rub shoulders and clink pints with locals in Temple Bar, whose cobbled lanes are home to some of Dublin’s oldest (and liveliest) bars. You’ll probably take a tour of the Guinness Factory and maybe the Jameson Distillery, explore quirky museums dedicated to the ‘history’ of leprechauns, and dine along the banks of the Liffey.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied in Dublin, but you haven’t truly seen Ireland until you hit the road. With dramatic mountain ranges, coastal bluffs, and hills that aren’t only emerald but also jade, shamrock and forest green, this country was made for road trips.
Here’s our pick of scenic drives to give you a taste of the Emerald Isle, each easily accessible from Dublin in a hire car.
It’s about a two-hour drive to reach UNESCO European Geopark, the Copper Coast. Heading southeast from Dublin, you’ll pass through towns including Newbridge, with its 13th-century Great Connell Priory, and the medieval town of Kilkenny.
It’s all rather gorgeous, and it gets even better once you hit Waterford, the country’s oldest city, founded by Vikings in 914, and birthplace of Waterford Crystal.
From there, head to Victorian seaside resort Tramore before hugging the coast towards Dungarvan. The hour or so drive takes you right along the Copper Coast, named for its 19th-century mining heritage. The beaches here are, perversely, variously golden or silvery-white, many with Blue Flag status.
Returning to Dublin, you can retrace your route, perhaps stopping off in different towns for a potter, or stick to the coastline. The latter will take a little longer, especially as you’ll have to keep parking up to gaze over the bluffs, but views like these are worth taking your time over.
It’s only around half an hour’s drive from Dublin to the Hill of Tara, the inauguration site of the ancient High Kings of Ireland. But, from the highest point of this ridge, you can see a whole lot further—up to a quarter of the country’s landscape, on a clear day (at least, according to locals).
The site is right in the heart of the Boyne Valley, named for the River Boyne and home to Trim Castle, where Braveheart was filmed. Even by Ireland’s standards, this area is rich in history. The Stone Age tomb of Newgrange, for example, is just ten minutes or so north of the Hill of Tara.
Just past that is the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre, which recounts when King William III (‘William of Orange’) defeated his father-in-law King James II in a 1690 fight for the British throne and power over Ireland. The ruins of Monasterboice, an early Christian settlement with two churches and the country’s tallest high cross, are just a 15-minute drive from there.
Ireland isn’t all rolling green hills and sweeping coastal views. It also has lakes and mountains, and this drive is one of the best ways to see that side of the country’s varied landscape. The Sally Gap winds through the Wicklow mountain range, and begins less than an hour south of Dublin.
The drive is characterised by ribbon curls and hairpin bends. Which is part of its appeal, of course, but you’ll want to take it slow. Especially as there’s so much to see, from the endless, shrubby bogs that flank sections of the road to mountain slopes covered with pine trees and bouncy heather.
Drive a further half-hour south to hit Glendalough, a glacial valley with lakes, walking trails, old-growth oak forests and a 6th-century monastic site.
This drive sticks within County Dublin, and you could easily complete the round trip within two hours, without stops. But where would the fun be in that? Aim to spend at least half a day to soak up the coastal views and catch a glimpse of some of the country’s most lavish residences.
Heading south towards Ballsbridge, characterised by a three-arch stone bridge spanning the River Dodder, continue towards coastal suburb Dún Laoghaire, with beaches and a fishing harbour. Then it’s a short, coast-hugging drive to Dalkey, founded by Vikings but since taken over by the rich and famous—Van Morrison and Bono are among the big names who own properties around the area.
You could hang out to try and catch a glimpse of the U2 singer’s trademark wraparound shades (he hangs out in Finnegan’s of Dalkey, apparently), or drive a little further south to Killiney Bay—and spot dolphins by the shore, instead.