My Top Irish Coastal Drives
There’s really nothing better than taking to the road, the ocean stretching out before you, with no plan, except to stop when something takes your fancy. Coastal drives tend to be a journey of discovery, special moments where you find hidden sandy coves, cosy pubs, deserted cliff-side trails and idyllic seaside villages. This is what I love about coastal drives.
I’ve ticked off some of the world’s greatest coastal drives from my list of places to see, and while incredible, I still maintain Ireland has some of the world’s most beautiful coastal drives. Below aere are a few of my favourites, and tomorrow on Ireland AM at 9.10am, I’ll be chatting about the Antrim Coastline and Galway – Westport route, suggesting some great things to see and do along the way!
Inishowen Peninsula, Co. Donegal
This is one of Ireland’s least talked about coastal drive and that suits me just fine. It means the narrow stretches of curving road are void of bulging tour buses and tourists driving like snails, craning their necks to admire the view hindering any real movement at all. The Inishowen 100 skims all the way around the peninsula taking in some of the most breathtaking views you’ll find along the Northern coast. Sandy beaches, sleepy villages, an undulating interior, exhilarating cliff walks and of course, Ireland’s most northern point – Malin Head. These are just a few reasons to visit.
What not to miss? A walk from Stroove to Inishowen Head, seafood meal in Kealys Seafood Bar, music and great food in McGrory’s in Culdaff, Five Finger Strand, the blustery walk around Malin Head, a stroll along Lennane Strand, Mamore Gap and dinner at The Beach House.
Alright, so it’s not the longest coastal drive, nor the liveliest, but it’s beautiful. Hook Peninsula protrudes into the Irish Sea like a gnarly finger, weathered and worn. While only a few kms wide, the east and west coast differ considerably. Beaches fringe the east coast, luring families to bathe and lounge on sunny days, while the small pockets of sand on the west coast are more suited to fishing than sun worshipping. However, both offer unsurpassable views, the west, out towards the Waterford coastline and the east, across to the Saltee Islands. At the tip of the peninsula it is crowned by the world’s oldest operational lighthouse – Hook Lighthouse. Here, you can stand alone, looking across a seemingly unending ocean, with nothing more than the sound of the crashing waves and the screech of seagulls.
What not to miss? Tintern Abbey, the hidden open-air swimming pool between Baginbun Beach and Carnivan Beach, the walk from Slade to Hook Lighthouse, a perch on the rocks listening to the sound of the sea whistling through the blowholes.
Iveragh Peninsula, Co.Kerry
This wild, windswept coastline with its sheer remote cliffs, ravaged islands and long stretches of white-sand beaches make it a popular tourist spot during the summer months. However, go off-peak and you’ll find you have the place to yourself for long walks on deserted beaches, scenic drives and quiet treks into the mountains that rise majestically from the peninsula’s interior. The towns and villages dotted around the coast have worked hard to build their reputation as one of Ireland’s culinary capitals and towns like Kenmare and Killorglin are indeed gourmet treasure troves. The peninsula also boasts the tranquil, glistening Killarney lakes that have drawn visitors since Victorian times. Ah, The Kingdom of Kerry is a magical place to visit and won’t disappoint.
What not to miss? Derrynane National Park, Skellig Michael, Valentia Island, the drive to Portmagee, Caragh Lake, Carrig House Hotel, dinner at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant and Jack’s Coastguard Restaurant.
Rugged and sparse, the remote Beara Peninsula is a haven for those in search of a break from it all. I visited here when I remember little of the misery of being stuck with my parents and sister in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere, but more the stark and raw beauty of the area. Stone walls, grazing sheep, sleepy villages and sea views that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. The road moves from the coast across the fearsome Healy Pass and it is here you will rewarded with some of the most stunning views our island has to offer. Garden lovers will be wooed by the peculiar and rather beautiful plants in both the Tropical Gardens in Glengarriff and on the small island of Garinish, which bursts with colour from the blossoming wonders able to grow due to the peculiarly mild climate of the town.
What not to miss? Garinish Island, Viewpoint from Healy Pass, Cable-car ride to Dursey Island, the dramatically set Allihes, peace seekers will love to stay at the Dzogchen Beara Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Centre, the drive from Allihes to Ardea.
I can’t rave enough about this coastal drive and I’m still shocked when I tell people about it and they’ve never even heard about it. Leave the buzz of Belfast behind, scoot up to Larne and from here the road opens up offering views across to Scotland. With the sea to one side, the verdant mountains roll to the west, forming the lush Glens of Antrim. Quaint seaside villages and towns welcome vistors with lively pubs, cosy guesthouses and views to die for. Take your time up the east coast and when you round Fair Head you will continue to see why this has been rated one of the World’s Top Coastal Drives.
What not to miss? Glenariff Forest Park, Cushendun, Fair Head drive, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, Dunluce Castle, Mussendun Temple, sleepover in Bushmills Inn and a bite to eat in Ramore Restaurant, Portrush.