Living in a Van and Our Ireland Road Trip
We've just spent two weeks living in a van and I can't think of a better way to explore the beauty of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Our campervan gave us the freedom to stop wherever we wanted to without having to stick to any tour schedule or group itinerary. But if there's one thing we learned, it's that we can go without a shower for 5 days two weeks is hardly enough time to spend in such a breathtaking part of the world. Everywhere you look feels like a picture-perfect postcard setting, sheep traffic jams and all. Our campervan was great for exploring the coasts and countryside so today we're sharing our Ireland road trip itinerary and photos to inspire you to give #vanlife a try.
When compared to Canada, the island of Ireland looks so small on a map that I thought we'd be able to cover so much ground on our two-week road trip and leave as experts on all things Irish. I could not have been more wrong. Within a few days we realized we would have to narrow down our Ireland road trip itinerary with hopes that we'd be back and explore the rest next time. After a bit of research, we decided to focus on parts of the Wild Atlantic Way along Ireland's west coast and the Causeway Coastal Route of Northern Ireland.
We arranged for a campervan through Spaceships Rentals and had a great experience with them. From the Dublin airport, we took any easy bus to their office in Navan where we picked up our VW Camper. I was really looking forward to naming our home on wheels but the camper already had a perfectly-suited name: THOR. The hard part came after the check-in and paperwork was completed since Wes had to get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road plus shifting gears with his left hand. Coupled with some jet lag and incredibly narrow roads, you could say our first day was tough but luckily it was uphill from there!
Van life was a bit different than what I had pictured it to be but I still wouldn't change a thing about our trip. I imagined loads of cooking on our burner, sitting outside to watch the sunset and sharing highlights of our day by the fire but Mother Nature had other plans. Turns out October may not be the best time for an Ireland road trip on account of the wind, rain and (in our case) occasional hurricane. When we weren't sightseeing and filming, we would park our butts in a cozy cafe or make use of the convenient truck stops and their facilities. I think May or September would be great months to benefit from sunnier days with fewer tourists but I think we had a great introduction to Ireland in our Spaceships campervan. If you're planning an Ireland road trip of your own, note that some companies will have automatic transmission options but usually at a higher cost.
We started our road trip driving straight to Killarney to join 600 other travel bloggers at TBEX, a popular conference and networking event that just happened to start the day after we landed in Ireland. It was our first time attending this type of industry event but we made some lasting connections and learned valuable tips from travel professionals. Killarney is a favourite among visitors to Ireland and we were excited to drive the infamous Ring of Kerry. As luck would have it, our sunny days in Killarney ended the same day our TBEX convention did: the first day of our road trip.
Things to do near Killarney:
- Spend a day in Killarney National Park to explore 26,000 acres of beauty including the Gap of Dunloe, Lakes of Killarney, Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle and the Muckross Estate. This is also where you'll find Macgillycuddy Reeks, Ireland's highest mountain range.
- Drive the Ring of Kerry for stunning scenary on the Iveragh Peninsula.
- Take the ferry over to Valentia Island for more unspoiled scenery.
THE DINGLE PENINSULA, IRELAND
Have you ever travelled to a place you'd never even heard of only to discover that you never want to leave? That's what happened to me the day we drove around the Dingle Peninsula. Of all the places we saw on our Ireland road trip, I can't get this fisherman's village out of my head. The sunshine and free overnight parking right by the harbour might have something to do with why this was my favourite day but I really hope our travels bring us back to Dingle one day soon.
Things to do in Dingle:
- Move to a seaside house in the hills and write a book.
- Don't miss the Slea Head loop drive.
- Take in the views driving along The Conor Pass.
- Have a pint or two at Dick Mack's (has a leather counter during the day) or Foxy John's (operates as a hardware store during the day).
- Enjoy the fish and chips at Reel Dingle Fish or treat yourself to a meal at Global Village Restaurant.
- Leave room for dessert at Murphys Ice Cream (handmade in Dingle).
THE CLIFFS OF MOHER, IRELAND
Somewhere between the coastal villages of Liscannor and Doolin is where you'll find the spectacular Cliffs of Moher. These emerald beauties are one of the most-visited sites in the country and, as impressive as they are, this was not our finest moment. For a good laugh and a look at our attempted coastal walk, you can check out our Cliffs of Moher travel vlog. Our next Ireland road trip itinerary will include a visit to Slieve League in Co. Donegal which we've heard is even more impressive than the Cliffs of Moher.
How to visit the Cliffs of Moher:
The Cliffs of Moher are free to visit and because they are west-facing, the best time to go would be at sunset when they're well-lit. Even though we made a point to visit Doolin, I think starting the coastal walk at Liscannor would have been a better choice since that portion of the coast seems to be the most impressive. If you're pressed for time and not interested in hours of walking, you can either drive there and pay at the visitors centre (€6 per person) or take a shuttle from your accommodations since the cliffs themselves are free to visit. The €6 apparently covers parking, an audio guide and use of the facilities but access to the cliffs themselves is FREE and there was no one checking tickets at the visitor centre when we were there. The Cliffs of Moher Twitter feed would also be a good place to check for up-to-date weather warnings and possible closures like when Hurricane Ophelia struck.
NORTHERN IRELAND - THE CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE
Even though the Wild Atlantic Way impressed us so much, I really wanted to leave time to explore Northern Ireland in our campervan. We were expecting to arrive at some sort of border on our way to Londonderry but didn't even notice when we passed Ireland and entered Northern Ireland. We exchanged some currency, explored the city walls and enjoyed pints at Peadar O'Donnells before heading 'home' for another comfy night in Thor.
The Causeway Coastal Route is similar to the Wild Atlantic Way in that you can spend as little or as long as you want along the coast. Start early and you can drive from Londonderry to Belfast (or vice-versa) in a day but, with two dozen sites to visit along the route, you'll want to give yourself more time.
MUSSENDEN TEMPLE & BENONE BEACH
We started off our Causeway Coastal drive nice and early at Mussenden Temple. We were too early to visit the temple itself and luckily stumbled upon Benone Beach. Access to the beach is free and you can drive right on it! From here you can see Mussenden Temple and for a while it was just Fel, Wes and Thor with no one else in sight.
The medieval ruins of Dunluce Castle are conveniently located between the seaside resort town of Portrush and the Giant's Causeway. This was a quick stop for us and one of the few castles we were able to see on our Ireland road trip. Some of the castle grounds can be visited for free or a £5 charge will grant you access to a shop, tea room and other facilities.
This is a popular site along the Causeway Coastal Route and the most popular stop on our Northern Ireland road trip. Access to the Giant's Causeway is technically free but there is a charge of £10.50 per person if you're parking on site. This includes parking, an audio guide and access to the facilities in the Visitor's Centre. Naturally, we did not pay for parking and instead were advised by a local that it is acceptable to park right on the highway so long as you are clear of the double solid yellow lines.
CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE
Towards the end of our drive along the Causeway Coastal Route, we stopped at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Admission signs at the entrance (£7 per adult) almost had us turn the car around but luckily we didn't. Though there is a charge to cross the rope bridge, the coastal walk to see it is absolutely free! Parking is also free.
Before returning our Spaceships camper van, we made a point to stop at Wicklow Mountains National Park. We had heard about the lakes and scenic hiking trails and wanted to check it out during our last full day in Ireland. Once we got to Glendalough, we were so surprised to see all of the parking lots completely full despite the rainy weather. The fog in the valley that morning was pretty magical and walking among the autumn colours at Glendalough was a great way to end our Ireland road trip.
FOR OUR NEXT IRELAND ROAD TRIP
One of the many locals we met during our road trip mentioned that the number one mistake first-timers can make in Ireland is spending too much time in Dublin. That was definitely not the case for us because our Dublin day happened to coincide with hurricane Ophelia day meaning we didn't get to see much of the city besides the airport (or any of the cities actually!). So, as with most countries we visit, Wes and I would love to go back and see more of Ireland and Northern Ireland but we would plan a bit differently for next time.
We learned that, while renting a car or camper van is a great way to explore the coasts and countryside, it might not be as practical for getting to know the cities and their Irish charm. Plenty of companies (like Aircoach and Bus Éireann) offer convenient bus routes between major cities in Ireland and Northern Ireland that would save you from wasting time stuck in traffic or paying for parking, tolls and gas. From there, we could plan day trips to see the surroundings or rent bikes or hike nearby trails. I'd love to learn more of the culture and history for next time and spend time wandering through the cobblestone streets, sampling traditional foods and visiting the breweries and museums. We traveled by bus all throughout our six months in Mexico and it was a great way to experience the best of each city we went to.
When we first set out in our camper van we thought we'd see it all in two weeks. "We're going to show you guys ALL of Ireland!" we said in our first Ireland YouTube video. HA! The thing about both Ireland and Northern Ireland is that every castle, lookout point and hiking trail is worth visiting. A one hour loop drive would end up taking us 3+ hours because we couldn't help but stop to enjoy the views. My suggestion would be to focus on one or two regions of the country and really get to know them. We could have easily spent the whole two weeks visiting castles alone or focusing only on the Wild Atlantic Way drive. The landscapes vary so much throughout the islands from farms and forests to beaches and dramatic cliffs. There is definitely something for everyone and I hope you'll get to experience Ireland too.
We received a complimentary campervan for our Ireland road trip however all opinions and recommendations on this blog will always be honest and true.
Planning your own Ireland road trip? Let us know which part of the country you're most excited to see!