Nine Scenic Drives That Make the Most of Autumn in Ireland
6 min read October 30th, 2018
We think autumn is the best season of the year to experience Ireland in all its colourful glory. Autumn in Ireland means crisp, dewy mornings and prolonged sunshine. It means strolling down multi-coloured streets kicking the leaves as you go. Autumn is also perfect for a road trip as most tourists have kissed the Blarney Stone and gone home. This leaves the country roads quiet and the most popular spots less congested.
But the best reason for an autumn road trip is to see the vibrant Autumn foliage and wild nature displays. The colours will dazzle you. You’ll also hear the roar of the red deer stags and the chatter of seal pups. If you are lucky, you'll also see whales splashing offshore.
So, make like a tree and leave on one of these colourful road trips around Ireland this autumn.
The Dark Hedges, County Antrim
You wouldn’t know it from its name, but the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland is actually a very romantic place. The Dark Hedges is an attractive tunnel of intertwined beech trees that were first planted in the 18th century. Over the years, the trees have grown into an impressive formation along the Bregagh Road in County Antrim.
The Dark Hedges is pretty any time of the year. However, from September, the foliage turns a beautiful bronze colour that shimmers in the afternoon sunshine. The surrounding shrubs and hedges burst into a brilliant banquet of yellow and red which makes for an impressive photo.
The Dark Hedges is one of Ireland’s most photographed natural phenomena. It is even more popular now thanks to it being a filming location of the Game of Thrones. However, motoring fans know that it was the Dunlop family and the Armoy Armada that made this road so famous.
Mizen Head, County Cork
Autumn off the west coast of Ireland is peak whale-watching season. So, if you are looking for a whale of a time, take a road trip from Baltimore to Mizen Head. This 58km route through West Cork puts the ‘Wild’ in the Wild Atlantic Way. It is sure to be a road trip to remember.
Start off in Baltimore harbour and drive to the charming village of Schull for a delicious seafood lunch. Then hit the road towards Mizen Head, Ireland's most South-westerly Point.
This may feel like the longest road trip in the world, but the drive is rewarding. Just look out the window at the rugged and windswept landscape that pops with colour. In the autumn, purple heather, yellow Tormentil and golden Western Gorse decorate the hills.
Once in Mizen Head, you can spot fin whales and humpback whales from the headlands. You can also take a boat tour to get closer to these giants of the sea.
Gougane Barra National Park, County Cork
The Gougane Barra National Park is a tranquil forest of more than 400 hectares (1,000 acres) in the Shehy Mountains. In fact, Gougane Barra was Ireland's first National Park when it opened to the public in 1966.
Carved out by a glacier during the last Ice-Age, the park is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Within the park is a lake from which the River Lee rises and on this lake, you can see St. Finbarr’s Oratory, a beautiful stone church. The park is perfect for picnics, hikes and getting some fresh air after a road trip through the surrounding countryside.
The short 3km looped trail is one of the best. It has wonderful views of the deep valley and its walled sides. The old red sandstone hills contrast beautifully with the high forests of Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine and Japanese larch. If you hit the road early, you might catch a glimpse of the morning mist rising from the lake. At sunrise, the pink tinge of the sun-drenched mountains reflect in the still water. There is no better way to start the day than catching this dawn display.
Malin Head, County Donegal
The autumn months are probably the best time to catch the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). The skies can sometimes be a little less cloudy than the winter months. Also, the diminishing daylight hours give a better chance of seeing the ribbons of light dance across the sky. One of the best places in Ireland to glimpse this naturally occurring phenomenon is Malin Head in County Donegal.
A road trip to Malin Head along the Wild Atlantic Way features dramatic coastlines, moody skies and crisp autumn breezes. Even though the landscape is rugged and wild, there is more than 500 Irish flowering plant species here. Deer, hares and foxes also roam the hills.
Derryclare Lough, County Galway
Now that the large groups of tourists have departed, it is time to explore Ireland’s scenic driving routes. One such route is a 60km loop that starts in Clifden in County Galway. The route follows the N59 Galway Road east to Derryclare Lough. It then continues on to Kylemore Abbey via the R344 and then back to Clifden.
Located in Derryclare Lough is Pine Island. This picture-perfect island of Pine Trees punctuates the rust and bronze-hued landscape with needles of various shades of green. This warm landscape contrasts with the background of the glistening quartzite peaks of the Twelve Bens mountain range. It is the perfect place to stop and take a photo and capture Ireland in all its autumnal glory.
Killarney National Park, County Kerry
If you want to see the tremendous turning of the leaves then take a road trip to Killarney National Park. The park covers 10,236 hectares (26,000 acres) and has the most extensive coverage of native forest remaining in Ireland.
One of the best roads to take is the N71 that runs between Killarney town and Molls Gap. This stretch of road opens out to spectacular views of Killarney Valley and the lakes.
As if lifted straight off a postcard, this route is picturesque with its backdrop of different deciduous and coniferous trees. The ever-changing sky reflected across the lakes makes this feel like Big Sky Country. If you come here bright and early, you might see the mighty red deer rutting in the morning mist. If you can’t see them, you’ll certainly hear them!
Lough Gill, County Sligo and Leitrim
Come September, the oak trees, Rock Whitebeam, rowan, willow and rare Bird Cherry trees change into their autumn colours. This is when Lough Gill bursts into brilliant shades of gold, orange, ruby and russet.
The best way to enjoy this display is to take a leisurely drive along the 35km scenic loop. The route starts and ends in Sligo and takes you through Hazelwood, Parkes Castle, Dromahair, Slish Wood and Dooney Rock. There are plenty of places to stop along the way for a hike or a picnic. You'll also want to stop and pull over to take in the breath-taking scenery.
Lismore and The Vee, County Waterford and Tipperary
A road trip through this part of the country will reward you with some empty roads and rich vistas. The Lismore and the Vee Drive is a looped route through the south-east of Ireland. It starts in Lismore in County Waterford and brings you through The Vee in County Tipperary. You'll also drive through the pretty towns of Clogheen, Goatenbridge, Newcastle, Mount Melleray and Cappoquin.
The undulating route is about 130km long. It will take anywhere from two to three hours, depending on how often you stop to admire the spectacular scenery. You can even park up and hike some of the marked trails along the route.
An impressive autumnal landscape of ever-changing textures and deep, warm cosy colours marks this road trip route. The drive runs along a river valley and takes you through a variety of natural features. You'll pass wooded countryside, peatlands, rocky headlands, splendid rhododendron groves and heather-covered hills.
The Wicklow Valley, County Wicklow
There’s no need to travel to New England when you can do some spectacular leaf peeping in The Wicklow Valley. Keeping you company as you drive through the valley are statuesque deciduous broad-leaved trees. These grand trees are between 150 to 200 years old. When the autumn months arrive, the leaves turn into an astonishing arrangement of fiery reds and glistening golds.
One of the best road trips to experience this autumnal display is the Braveheart Drive. This 80km route winds its way through many of the locations featured in the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart. Take your time along the country roads and stop off and explore the pretty villages. You'll pass through Hollywood, Lacken, Manor Kilbride, Blessington, Sally Gap, the Glenmacnass Waterfall, Glendalough and the Wicklow Gap.