22 GREAT MOUNTAIN ROUTES AND PASSES FOR YOUR ROADTRIP AROUND IRELAND

Last updated on February 6, 2024

Ireland has some amazingly beautiful mountains. How do you find the most interesting mountain passes, gaps and mountain roads? Keep reading…

Intro

The highest mountains are around 1000 metres high and most of them are found in the Macgillicuddy`s Reeks massif in Kerry. Most other low mountain ranges are a bit lower.

But the Irish mountains look completely different from those in Germany. They are more reminiscent of the Highlands in Scotland. Rocky and with green or brown bare tops.

High moors and small streams, green hills and then again rugged rocks. Large areas with heather or ferns. In summer they shine in purple and light green tones with brown and grey patches.

Sheep roam more or less freely on your mountains, only occasionally bordered by long lines of grey walls made of coarse boulders piled up by hand over years of work – some of them several hundred years ago.

Two bikes and one rider near Sally Gap
Two bikes and one rider near Sally Gap (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

If you want to do a round trip of Ireland, the wild Atlantic coast is the big highlight. An island captivates with its coasts and the Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal road in Europe.

But on the way there, or back, or in between, you can always take beautiful routes through the mountains. There are beautiful passes, beautiful viewpoints and many wonderful winding roads. Take in the mountains as a contrast to the coasts, they enrich the journey immensely.

To make it easier for you to plan your route, I have written down a whole series of beautiful mountain routes for you. How do I know them? I’ve driven them all, some of them several times. I did most of them by motorcycle, but you can use a car for these just as well.

We originate from Germany, but have our second home in Ireland where we run a motorbike rental business in the summer months (www.easycruiser.tours). We also offer nice guest rooms (www.the-view-accommodation.ie).

The following map is just meant to provide an overview. You can easily look up all the following places on Google Maps and also plan your route there.

Map of Ireland with mountain roads and passes
Map of Ireland with mountain roads and passes – map by Google Maps 2023

1 The Sally Gap

Sally Gap is arguably the most important hub in the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin (my home turf). From there it’s north to Dublin, west to Blessington Lakes, east to Lough Tay and south to Laragh and Glendalough. Any of these roads I can recommend.

2 The Wicklow Gap

The Wicklow Gap is not far away. If you drive from Laragh past Glendalough towards Hollywood you will come over the top of the pass which has a very nice viewpoint.

3 Mount Leinster and the Nine Stones Viewpoint

Many people know the Wicklow Mountains, but not many know the Blackstairs Mountains. These are the geological extension from the southern edge of the Wicklow Mountains to New Ross. The highest mountain in this range is Mount Leinster. On a clear day you can see all the way across to Wales from its summit. Below runs a very nice little road with a very nice viewpoint, the Nine Stones Viewpoint.

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4 The Vee Pass

Between Waterford and Cork lies Lismore. North of there is a small road that runs along a stream into the mountains, this is the Valley of the Vee. At the top there is the Vee Pass with beautiful distant views. The road is very nice to drive, if you can fit it in on your route you will enjoy it.

5 Healy Pass

The Beara Peninsula is a motorcyclist’s paradise – simply beautiful! An elongated ridge runs through the interior of the island. There lies the Healy Pass, probably the most beautiful pass in Ireland (see cover picture). You can cross the island via the winding road from north to south, or vice versa, or best of all both.

6 The Caha Pass

The N71 from Gleangarriff to Kenmare is also a very nice mountainous and winding road. You won’t be alone here in high summer, but I still highly recommend it.

Two motorcycles in the Blackstairs Mountains
Two motorcycles in the Blackstairs Mountains (photo by Josephine Gertberg)


7 Priests Leap

Priest Leap is a pass on a very small and rather lonely road parallel to the N71, but a little further inland. Looking for that special road that not everyone drives? Then this is the place for you.

8 The Molls Gap

Molls Gap is an important junction in Killarney National Park. To the east is Killarney, north is the Black Valley and west is Sneem and the Ring of Kerry. To the south is Kenmare. If you drive towards Killarney, you will come to Lady’s View, a famous lookout point.

9 Ballaghbeama Gap

The Ballaghbeama Gap is located in the interior of the Killarney Mountains. I highly recommend driving it from south to north. The small road takes you away from the tourist hustle and bustle of the Ring of Kerry into the beautiful and lonely mountains of Kerry.

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Ad for our own business The View Accommodation


10 The Ballaghisheen Pass

Ballaghisheen Pass is also in the middle of Kerry’s mountains. Pretty much the same applies here as to Ballaghbeama Gap.

11 The Gap of Dunloe

Near Killarney is the village of Dunloe. From there you can take this very scenic road to the Gap and then continue through the Black Valley until you come out at Moll`s Gap. The pass road is narrow, steep and there are lots of horse-drawn carriages with tourists on them. You will do better going uphill on a motorbike than going downhill, so ride from Dunloe into the mountains and not the other way round.

12 Conor Pass

A peninsula further on you will come to Dingle. The coast road around Slea Head is a must! Then you can continue over the Conor Pass towards Tralee – or vice versa. At the viewpoint at the top of the pass you can see the coast in both directions – very beautiful!

Motorbike near Ballaghbeama Gap
Motorbike near Ballaghbeama Gap (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)


13 About the Burren

The Burren is a unique, very rocky, karstic hill landscape south of Galway. The small coastal road around the headland is beautiful. But it is also worth taking a detour over the mountains. For example, from Ailwee Cave to Poulnabrone Dolmen – or vice versa.

14 Connemara – from Letterfrack to Leenaun

Already on the winding N59 from Galway to Clifden you can see the beautiful mountains of Connemara, especially on your right. If you continue along the N59 after Clifden, there is another beautiful winding stretch between Letterfrack and Leenaun.

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15 Connemara – at Lough Inagh

If you have less time, you can skip Clifden and take the smaller R344 along Lough Inagh towards Killary Fjord. This route is also very beautiful!

16 Mayo – from Delphi to Louisburgh

Everyone has heard of Connemara – but very few know Mayo, and the mountains of Mayo are just as beautiful! A particularly beautiful route takes you from Killary Fjord via Delphi, past Doo Lough to Louisburgh, where you are then almost at Crough Patrick, the holy mountain of the Irish.

Motorcycle in the mountains of Beara
Motorcycle in the mountains of Beara (Photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

17 Mayo – from Leenaun to Westport

If you don’t want to take the Croagh Patrick detour, you can continue on the N59. The section from Leenaun to Westport is also beautiful through the mountains.

18 Gleniff Horseshoe Drive

If you take the N15 north from Sligo, you will come to Ben Bulben or Benbilbin, a massif of table mountains. On Glencar Lough below the mountain walls you will find Glencar Waterfall. On the other side, to the north, you will find simply Horseshoe, a very small road leading into a steep semi-circular mountain face – very picturesque. The small road is not easy to find, so look out for small signs at Cliffony pointing to Gleniff Horseshoe Drive.

19 Glengesh Viewing Point

Glencolumbcille is a village in an absolutely enchanting location. Cliffs, sandy beaches, rocky and green mountains come together here and in the middle of this location you will find a really beautiful little open-air museum, the Folk Village. From here, follow the R230 mountain road towards Ardara. You can’t miss Glengesh Viewing Point, in the middle of a double bend, it offers beautiful views into a gorge.

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20 Mount Errigal and the Bridge of Tears

High in the northwest of Ireland lies the scenic County Donegal. In the interior there is a mountain massif that is also a nature reserve, the Glenveagh National Park. The most prominent mountain, because it is a rocky sugar loaf, is Mount Errigal.

Coming from Gweedore, take the R251 into the mountains, past Mount Errigal and when you get to the R256, you can turn left to Bridge of Tears, or follow the R251 on to Glenveagh National Park Centre, or Lough Beagh. The whole NAturpark is beautiful to drive, these are just examples.

21 The Gap of Mamore

The northernmost point of Ireland and the island of Ireland is Malin Head. There are the remains of an old radio station and around it stand clueless tourists – the spot is not very interesting. However, the round trip around the Malin Head peninsula is very beautiful. There is also a ridge and a very nice pass road, that is Mamore Gap. From up there, the view follows the winding road down to the coast – really beautiful – and not touristy.

22 The Mourne Mountains and Spelga Dam

The Mourne Mountains are the mountains of Northern Ireland. If you drive south from Belfast towards Dublin, they come just before the border. The coastal road to (and around) Carlingford Lough is particularly beautiful. You can see the Mourne Mountains in the background. You can also cross them and get to Spelga Dam at the top. From up there you have a great view not only of the mountains but also of the coast.

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Conclusion

So, that’s a lot of mountain routes, some with winding pass roads and higher altitude and others simply “scenic routes” through mountainous landscapes. You certainly won’t be able to fit all of them into your tour, but if you can take at least a few beautiful roads through the mountains, then you will be rewarded – by many beautiful impressions of typical Irish landscapes.

With this in mind, I wish you a great motorbike trip in Ireland, and if you are still looking for a rental motorbike for your trip, then you know how to find us: www.easycruiser.tours. We look forward to seeing you!

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Photo credits cover photo: At the Healy Pass, photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg (www.easycruiser.tourswww.the-view-accommodation.iewww.irland-insider.dewww.ireland-insider.com)

Uli Written by:

Hello and welcome to my blog. Originating from Germany, my family and I now live in Ireland (at least part time). We have travelled this amazing isle many times and know many parts of it very well. In this blog, I would like to share valuabe tips and information for your next trip to Ireland with you. Enjoy the content, yours, Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg