East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

Wicklow to Cork a road trip

A great base from which to see places in Ireland is Dublin. If you want to explore more on your east coast of Ireland road trip you need to head south. Ireland’s Celtic Coast is a part of Ireland’s Ancient East but with a focus on the South East Coast of Ireland. Don’t be afraid to rent a car, driving is not all that tricky on the other side of the road and you will quickly become accustomed to it. 

The area to the south of Dublin running along the east coast contains some of Ireland’s most breathtaking scenery. From the Hook Peninsula to Glendalough and Ireland’s oldest city Waterford. The South-East coast of Ireland includes Wicklow, Waterford, Wexford and East Cork. 

Road Trip Ireland – The Celtic Coast

This area is one of the easiest places to road trip in Ireland due to its proximity to Dublin. The East Coast has much to offer and many hidden gems that tourists may have missed in previous visits. From stunning natural scenery to wild camping, ancient megaliths and literally 5000 years worth of history it is a part of Ireland that needs to be discovered.

The East Coast area runs along the south-east of Ireland and it is a mecca for history buffs, bird-watchers (puffins), archaeologists, pagans and the like. So this is where your Ireland road trip begins.

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Top sites to visit on the East Coast of Ireland Road Trip

1  Howth Village

From Pamela at TravellikeaChieff

When you think of Dublin a few things come to mind: pubs, Guinness Storehouse, Trinity Library and a few other popular attractions within the city. What most don’t know is that there is much more to discover less than an hour away.

One of those places is the charming fishing village of Howth. It is only 45 minutes north of Dublin’s city centre by car, without traffic, or 30 minutes by DART; Dublin’s electric rail system.

Ireland Road Trip to Howth harbour with the fishing boats

If you happen to be in South Dublin and don’t mind taking a longer scenic route you can also hop on the Dublin Bay Cruise, which departs from Dun Laoghaire.

visiting Howth village on your Ireland Road Trip

Once you arrive, you can head straight to the Howth Cliff Path Loop walk, which starts at the DART train station. This is a moderate hike, which spans 6 to 10 km, about 2-3 hours long; depending on the loop you choose to take. The scenery is breathtaking, and it is known as one of Ireland’s best coastal walks.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

After working up an appetite from the hike, you can head back into centre Howth for some fish and chips and a pint of Guinness at Beshoffs The Market. No meal is perfect without dessert! Make sure to stop by Howth Market for the best churros in Ireland! The market stalls are only open on weekends from 9 am to 6 pm but if you happen to be there during the week there are four permanent retail units, one of which sells gelato.

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2  Lough Tay in the Wicklow Mountains

About one hour south of Dublin, you’ll find the Wicklow Mountains National Park where the landscape changes dramatically. There are many hiking trails in the area where you can enjoy the magnificent scenery. This is where the HBO show The Vikings was filmed. 

If you are a P.S. I Love you fan, I recommend beginning your journey at the famous Ballysmuttan Bridge; this is the bridge where Holly met Gerry in the movie! It is important to note that the bridge was rebuilt in 2011 after a major flood so it looks very different from what you see in the movie.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

You can then drive towards Sally Gap where you’ll get spectacular views of the Wicklow Mountains.  One of the recommended stops is Lough Tay, also known as Guinness Lake because it looks like a pint of Guinness! Its brown colour and the white sand shore is a perfect replica of the famous Irish stout.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

What’s even more interesting is that the Guinness family owns part of an estate that forms the northern coastline. For the best view of the lake, take the R759 and stop at the Lough Tay Viewing Point. Lough Tay can also be viewed by following a hiking trail that begins at the Ballinastoe Car Park. Leave your car and hike towards Lough Dan, another lake, where you can partake in a variety of activities like orienteering, rafting and mud run. The hike to and from the car park is approximately 4 hours.

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3  Wicklow Mountains

The Wicklow Mountains form the largest continuous mountainous area in Ireland. They occupy the whole centre of County Wicklow and stretch outside its borders into Counties Dublin, Wexford and Carlow. Wicklow Mountains National Park is situated just south of Dublin. The Park covers 20,000 hectares of mountain scenery that provide some awe-inspiring views. If you love hill-walking you must visit the Wicklow Mountains there is no entry fee except for parking at Glendalough where you can follow the walks.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

4  Glendalough

Glendalough’s walks and lakes are jaw-droppingly beautiful. An area of outstanding natural beauty is it also home to one of the most important historic sites in Ireland. The early Christian monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin, and known as Glendalough. If you love a good hike this is a great place to start your Ireland road trip.

Ireland Road Trip

An eerie tale surrounds the Piper’s Stones of Athgreany, County Wicklow. History tells us that this circle of stones was erected in the Bronze Age for an unknown purpose. According to local legend, a piper was leading a group of dancers and singers celebrating the Sabbath or perhaps a pagan festival.  These folks were apparently turned to stone for “disrespecting” the holy day. I wonder who spread this rumour???

5  Dalkey

Dalkey is a very wealthy suburb of Dublin, these days it is rather crowded with the celebs that live there. Bono and the Edge, Neil Jordan (Director of The Crying Game) Enya and more all call Dalkey home.  You could bump into any of them or the celebrity visitors whilst downing a pint in the famous Finnegan’s pub. The village is very small and compact with lovely sea views and has always been a popular place for Dubliners to have a day at the beach. Lots of great ice-cream vendors and fish and chips with gorgeous scenery.

Dalkey on Ireland's Celtic Coast
Dalkey – photo by John Fahy

Take a trip out to Dalkey Island when you visit it’s only 5 minutes by boat from Coliemore. The island is not lived on but its home to wild goats, thousands of seabirds and the seals often rest there with their babies. It’s history though is fascinating from being a holding place for Viking prisoners and home to St. Begnet the patron saint of Dalkey its history goes back hundreds of years. of Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre, which details the area’s rich literary heritage?

Dalkey is where Matt Damon stayed during the lockdown of 2020 and the villagers protected him from prying paparazzi. That’s what Ireland is all about – from Sarah Jessica Parker in Donegal to Matt Damon in Dalkey Ireland protects you.

6  Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire is a nice small town with a fantastic harbour, but it wasn’t always this way. Back in 1807, there was a terrible storm that destroyed much of the town and roves two ships onto the rocks where 400 people died. Since that time, a harbour was built with 2 massive granite blocks supporting the piers.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

The harbour makes a great place to view Dublin Bay in all its glory. Don’t forget to grab a 99 Ice cream from Teddy’s, which has been in Dun Laoghaire since 1950.

7  Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey is located a few miles from Wexford and yes it gets its name from the famous Tintern Abbey in Wales. Legends say that when the Earl of Pembroke encountered a life-threatening storm during a sea voyage, he vowed to establish an abbey if he reached land safely. The abbey is often referred to as Tintern de Voto, or Tintern of the Vow as a result. It was inhabited by Cistercian monks from a larger abbey at Tintern, Wales, of which the Earl was also a patron.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

8  Hook Head, Wexford

The Hook Lighthouse in County Wexford has stood guard over the area for over 800 years. It is the oldest intact operational lighthouse in the world; Lonely Planet calls it the “flashiest in the world”. If you can manage it, you can climb the 115 stairs up to the top for some absolutely stunning views out to sea and across the Waterford Estuary. Occasionally whales can be seen in the area and there are whale-watching tours available.

Hook Head Lighthouse on Ireland's Celtic Coast
Hook Head Lighthouse photo by Natalie Canoni

9  Curracloe Beach, Wexford

Curracloe beach is a 7 mile-long stretch of soft sand and it’s a wonderful place to find some colourful shells. This beach starred in the movie Saving Private Ryan with Goldie Hawn and it is packed in the summer with the Irish grabbing what sun they can.

10  Irish National Heritage Park

What I love about this Park is the types of classes they run, you can learn how to lime-wash stone, build a stargazing chair; learn about foraging do some axe throwing. All pretty cool courses that you can sign up for.

The Irish National Heritage Park is located on the banks of the Slaney River and it’s around 3 miles from Wexford.  There’s an outdoor museum covering 9000 years of Irish history with re-enactments and costumed interpreters. You can actually stay overnight with the family in a ring fort. There’s a fantastic award-winning restaurant the ‘Fulacht Fiadh’ which overlooks the crannog and lake. A great little gift shop, play area for the kids an absolute must-do when in Ireland’s Ancient East.

National Heritage park in Ireland's Ancient East
Photo by Ardfern

11 Dunbrody Famine Ship 

If you are in Wexford head towards New Ross where you can tour the Dunbrody Famine Ship. This authentic replica of an emigrant ship from the 1840s highlights a desperate era when the potato famine created havoc and devastation throughout Ireland.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork
©Irish Defence Forces Creative Commons

The Dunbrody is a magnificent three-mast barque, that re-enacts the 4-5 week-long trip to New York, with guides and costumed actors telling the story of the horrendous conditions about the ship and the hope of the immigrants willing to brave the Atlantic for a new life.

12  Waterford City

It’s Ireland’s oldest city, and despite boasting a history of over 1,000 years. Its history covers years of Viking rule, Norman buildings and castles and of course the world-famous Waterford Crystal. The world-renowned Waterford Crystal has been in operation since 1783 creating some of the world’s finest crystal wares.

Ireland's Celtic Coast and Ancient East
Photo by Allan Wilson

In the Centre of Waterford sits the massive stone fortress of Reginald’s Tower, named for Waterford’s founder Ragnall. The tower displays contain some ancient metalwork that includes the magnificent Kite Brooch. You can climb to the top of the tower through a very narrow spiral staircase and glimpse some fabulous views over Waterford.

Close by, the Medieval Museum displays its own treasures, including the Great Charter Roll of 1373, which depicts Waterford as it was in the medieval ages, and the Cloth-of-Gold vestment, woven in Florence, embroidered in Bruges. Finally, the Bishop’s Palace is an elegant townhouse where you can discover another age of Waterford, the Georgian period.

13  Waterford 

by Allan of LiveLessOrdinary

Waterford would easily be the largest city (outside of Dublin) on Ireland’s Ancient East, and it is also the oldest surviving city of Ireland (founded in the 9th century AD by the Vikings) meaning there are many historical sites to explore within the city. Or maybe just enjoy the serene scenes of Waterford Harbour. But for me, the real beauty of Ireland’s Ancient East comes in the landscapes, and while I may base my stay in the city centre for a night or two, much of my time would otherwise be spent exploring the surrounding countryside of Waterford.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

A great spot to start here would be Dunhill Castle, a small fort located in the nearby hilltops, which overlooks the River Anne as it twists and turns towards the coastlines of the not-so-far Copper Coast (a UNESCO Global Geopark). Because Waterford not only has the Historical interest of Ireland’s Ancient East, but it also shares wild and rugged coastlines and is really rather unfortunate to be left out of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Because the coastlines do share the same natural beauty as those on the West Coast, and in many ways shares the best of both sides.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

The south coast is also well worth the journey, and a good base here would be the seaside resort and fishing village of Ardmore, which is famous for the Ardmore Cliff Walk and historical trail. It’s one of the main tourist attractions in the county. Also the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore shares probably the best sea views of any hotel in Ireland, along with one of Ireland’s eight Michelin starred restaurants. Waterford is without a doubt one of Ireland’s lesser-known gems.

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14  East Cork

East Cork lies in south-west Ireland, in Ireland’s largest county. East Cork contains one of the world’s largest natural harbours, Cork Harbour; it has a coastline stretching from Cobh to Youghal

Here you will also find those picture-perfect small towns and villages, old castles and monasteries and stunning nature walks and hikes. Towns in East Cork are steeped in history. For example, the Titanic made its last stop in the town of Cobh before its fateful voyage. Old-time charm can also be found in Youghal or Midleton, where you can visit the Old Jameson Distillery where you can enjoy a tour and a whiskey tasting.

East Cork is a birdwatcher’s dream come true and wildlife that is even more exotic can be found at the Fota Wildlife Park. The park concentrates on the core values of conservation, education, research and entertainment. It’s a fabulous place to see free-ranging wildlife and learn about the work done to save species, conserve the environment and explore a variety of Park adventures.

Fota Park in East cork on the Celtic Coast of Ireland
Photo by Ardfern

For Foodies, Cork is the epicentre of the Irish food movement. This is where the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School is located and you can take a variety of cooking classes here. Don’t forget to visit the famous Cork English market as well it is truly foodie heaven. 

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

Camden Fort Meagher is located in Crosshaven on the Cork Harbour and it is internationally recognised as being “One of the finest remaining examples of a classical Coastal Artillery Fort in the world”. For almost 400 years, the fort played a key role as a strong strategic position for the defence of Ireland, the west coast of England and Wales.  During the season, the Fort has a series of re-enactments highlighting the different eras of the Forts history. The area has some of the most stunning views of Cork Harbour and you can take guided tours of the Fort and its underground tunnels and magazines.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork
Photo by Guliolopez

15  Youghal

Youghal is chock full of characters and history. Highly recommended is a visit to Moby Dick’s Pub, location and local headquarters of the 1954 John Huston film of the same name.

Once you have slaked your thirst at Moby Dick’s head over to the Youghal Visitor Heritage Centre to get a snapshot of Youghal over the centuries.  Grab yourself a copy of the 3 D Heritage Map of Youghal – this map indicates the many interesting heritage sites in Youghal and gives you a brief history of each location.

East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

You can’t help but notice the iconic Youghal Clock Gate Tower while you are in this area. A visit to Youghal Clock Gate Tower is an experience in “Time” with the best storytellers journeying with you through four floors of stories, stories about people, place and time.

Town Crier, Clifford Winser conducts walking tours of Youghal taking you to all the significant historical landmarks and telling the stories of Youghal. The tour ends in the  Raleigh Quarter, where Sir Walter Raleigh lived and was at one time the mayor of Youghal.

16  Lismore Castle

A gorgeous medieval castle in the Waterford countryside which dates back to 1170. It is a private castle that you can rent for special occasions like weddings or family events.  Lismore Castle has an extraordinary history: from walls marked by Cromwellian cannonballs to the days it was owned by Sir Walter Raleigh -the man who brought potatoes and tobacco to Ireland – to Cecil Beaton, Lucian Freud, Fred Astaire and JFK, all of whom slept a night or more in this private castle on the banks of the River Blackwater.

Lismore Castle on Ireland's Celtic Coast - Ireland's Ancient East
Lismore Castle

17  Cobh

Cobh (pronounced ‘cove’) is a charming waterfront town, and one of the most “Instagrammed” in Ireland. It is located on a shimmering estuary, dotted with brightly coloured houses and overlooked by an impressive cathedral.

During the famine years, over 70,000 people left Ireland through Cobh in order to escape the ravages of starvation. Cobh was also the final port in Ireland before heading off for New York for the Titanic and you can learn more at the Cobh Titanic Experience. Infamously Cobh is also, where my hubs and his family departed for Canada in 1965.

The Cobh Heritage Centre is a museum attached to Cobh railway station, it traces the steps of thousands of Irish immigrants who left Cobh (then Queenstown) to seek a better life abroad.

It provides information on life in Ireland through the 18th and 19th centuries, the mass emigration, the Great Famine, and on how criminals were transported to Australia for petty crimes.

This is a great area to begin touring Ireland by car, there is just so much to see and you will enjoy your Ireland road trip immensely with visits to castles, pubs, medieval towns, neolithic sites and just enjoying your Ireland Itinerary. If you plan to rent a car and I highly recommend it you need to read Here are some great tips for renting a car in Ireland for your road trip by Expert Vagabond. 

What to pack for Ireland

When you visit Ireland you may want to know what to pack personal experience tells me that I need a carryon bag with those twisty wheels that go in all directions and has both carrying handles and a pull-out drag bar thingy. I want sturdy fabric, preferably in a day-glow colour so I can see the damn thing if I do have to check it. I also want soft sides that give a little – just in case. My recommended one?  Well, I pick the azure blue TravelproTravelpro Maxlite 5 19″ Expandable International Carry-On Spinner. I know it’s a mouthful but a great case.

Now this one may seem a little odd but I see a lot of N. Americans complaining on the Irish forums that most hotels and B&B’s don’t have washcloths. Well, that’s true I mean after all who wants to use a used washcloth. Take your own these are great quick-drying washcloths that are reusable and environmentally friendly.

Now if you are really concerned about the whole liquid issue why not take solid shampoo bars and body wash bars. These products are paraben and SLS free, TSA approved (so to speak) perfume-free and chemical-free. That makes them very environmentally friendly and they are so easy to use.

I love a multipurpose jacket Craghoppers 3 in 1 jacket. It’s windproof, waterproof and breathable and has a drawcord at the waist which helps me look like I have one. It’s not bulky and looks good even when not hiking.

Now you are going to need a 110v to 220v voltage converter so you can plug in hairdryers, phones, laptops or tablets and so on. My personal favourite and one that has lasted me 4 years is the Bestek Universal Travel Adapter. 

Trust me on this one you will have more photos than you can store on either your phone or your camera and you don’t want to be deleting any to take more before you get home.

This Ultra Scandisk chip will work under adverse weather conditions (we get a lot of those here) and keep your photos or drone footage totally safe. A flash drive for your Smart Phone or Android will also come in very handy.   

I’m not going to recommend cameras or other types of photographic equipment such as a drone because – well because I am a crap photographer who uses a good cell phone for most of my photos. Now I want a drone but I have to admit I haven’t bought one yet. So I was reading all kinds of reviews and know which one I want this a Holystone 1080P Drone….sigh if only. This has a huge flying time of 26 minutes.

This little beauty is a Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger, which is an absolute, must-have when travelling. I keep mine charged and then bring it with me just in case. There is nothing worse than running out of juice when you are snapping some of the best views ever. You will never be out of power with this charger. 

Here in Ireland a Windproof Umbrella will save your hair and clothes and is a requirement. I really like this small portable travel umbrella. It’s windproof, waterproof, and folds down super small and will fit into any purse or suitcase.

I never would have dreamed of bringing a flashlight with me to Ireland, but when it’s dark here man it’s freaking dark. So one night we wanted to go and see the Northern Lights up in Donegal but we didn’t have a torch. Shopping for one here in Ireland became a journey to 5 stores and each one more expensive than the last. This torch is perfect it has 5 modes, is rechargeable, super lightweight and waterproof you couldn’t ask for more. 

What areas of South East Ireland are your favourite?

Are there places that should be on this list that I missed? If you want to write about a place you have visited please feel free to contact me and I will add it with your photos and links to your blog and SM channels.

Hope you enjoyed your visit to Ireland’s Celtic Coast and your Ireland Road Trip if you want to create an Ireland Itinerary and need some more information just let me know and I will try to help.

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East Coast road trip Ireland from Wicklow to Cork

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