Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.
Ireland’s cozy size, excellent highways and breath-taking diversity of coastal and inland scenery make it the ideal self-drive destination. It’s just you, the open road, and whatever (or whoever) you meet along the way.
Starting in Belfast, an hour and 15 minutes delivers you to the Causeway Coast. Dotted along County Antrim’s northerly coastline, you’ll find the Giant’s Causeway, the ruined wonder of Dunluce Castle, the stomach-flipping Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and, perhaps, a nerve-calming whiskey to end your journey at the Old Bushmill’s Distillery.
Basing yourself in Dublin? The Irish capital is one of the world’s greatest city breaks, but few visitors are familiar with the sea and mountains on its doorstep. A couple of hours can take you right through the Wicklow Mountains, deep inside a 5,000-year-old passage tomb in the Boyne Valley, or out into the heart of Irish horse country in Kildare.
In Ireland, of course, the open road is as much about the locals you meet, the random turns you take, the music you listen to and the food you eat.
More and more direct flights are linking the US to Shannon International Airport, too – an ideal hub for visitors looking to tour the West Coast. A short drive from here takes you to the Burren National Park in County Clare, the wilds of Connemara or the Ring of Kerry.
And it only gets better. Coming in 2014 is the Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal drive following the Atlantic seaboard from West Cork in the south to Donegal on the northern coast. Dip in, or linger longer. It’s completely up to you.