Van Life Ireland: The Ultimate Guide. 21 Things to Know Before Your Ireland Roadtrip

Updated: Nov 29, 2020



After two months driving along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way (the world’s largest tourist coastal route) in our campervan Jitters (aka Jits), Adam & I can confidently say that Ireland is vanlife heaven! We’ve compiled everything we learned along the way to give you the ultimate guide to making the most out of this incredible country.


If you’ve watched our Ireland vanlife travel series on YouTube (embedded throughout this post), you’ll understand why; we wild camped at beaches, lighthouses, lakes, mountains, cliffs … and drove through some spectacular cliffside roads where we felt compelled to stop every 5 minutes to take pictures. We also met some of the warmest, friendliest & most hospitable people along the way, and of course, made friends with a load of sheep, cows & horses too.


If you are thinking or planning to visit Ireland in either a campervan or motorhome, then this is the blog post for you. We’ve jam-packed all of our valuable experiences below to help you plan for your own Irish coast adventure.




This blog covers the following:


  1. When to go & the Irish Weather

  2. Planning Your Route & Our Must See Recommendations

  3. Activities: Hikes, Surfing, Star Gazing, Pubs & More

  4. Where to stay: Wild Camping vs. Campsites

  5. Water: Best Places to Fill up the Tank & Drinking Water

  6. Toilets

  7. Showers

  8. Keeping Fit & Gyms

  9. Waste disposal: Rubbish & Recycling

  10. Emptying Grey Waste: Drains Galore

  11. Fuel: Petrol & Gas Canisters

  12. Laundry

  13. Groceries

  14. Shopping

  15. Internet & Mobile Connectivity

  16. Money Talk: Our Budget Breakdown, ATM charges & Contactless Payments

  17. Mind Your Manners: Irish Road Etiquette

  18. SOS: Mechanics & Roadside Assistance

  19. You've got Mail: Receiving post while on the road

  20. Getting to Ireland: Flight or Ferry

  21. Renting Camper


To help you out, I’ve also included a bullet point summary at the end of the blog. If you have any follow up questions or wish to share any of your tips with others, please do so in the comment section. Right, let’s get into it:



1. WHEN TO GO & THE IRISH WEATHER




Irish weather is ubiquitous with clouds, rain & all round unpredictability. So unsurprisingly, it plays a major role in itinerary decision making for most. Previously, I would have always advised people to visit Ireland in the Summer months to maximise their chances of ‘less rain’. Going against my own sound advice (and due to London work commitments), we started our Irish road trip in late September. It turned out to be a great decision & here’s why:

  • Better weather than expected: The weather was nowhere near as bad as I anticipated. Sure, there was rain here & there but the clouds passed by as quickly as they rolled in. It might have been down to luck but we seemed to have experienced more good weather than not. If anything, the coastal rain added to the dramatic atmosphere.

  • Great light for photography: The shorter Autumn/Winter days are easily compensated by the great light for photography; longer sunrises, sunsets and long shadows during the day when the sun does come out.

  • Off season perks: Little to no crowds during the off season meant we often had entire beaches & viewpoints to ourselves. Of course this also meant that some of the smaller seaside villages were closed for the Winter season but we were generally unaffected by this - you can always count on a welcoming pub to be open relatively nearby!

  • Vanlife perk: Having your home parked on location, means that you can quickly take shelter from bad weather & cosy up with tea, hot water bottles & a good book. There's also something so nice about chilling out when the weather is miserable outside.


TOP TIPS


  • Download Accuweather App: We found it very accurate in predicting the weather. This helped us better plan our day's activities; from walks & hikes to photography & droning. It can also be used to identify the best nights for stargazing.

  • Pack appropriate clothing: Before embarking on this journey, we did so much research on our outdoor gear. With limited wardrobe space, we made sure that every item that we packed was durable & would carry through the seasons & terrains. For us this meant lots of breathable layers & waterproof/windproof outwear. I plan to write a separate blog post on our minimalist wardrobe but for now we can highly recommend our jackets from Hemp Tailor & Hiking boots from Wills Vegan Shoes. They are both sustainable, ethical & vegan brand we love. Tip: Hemp Tailor jackets where bought in the Summer in their outlet sale so saved 75% - worth keeping an eye for sales as I realise they are expensive.

"there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing" - Scandinavian wisdom


2. PLANNING YOUR ROUTE & OUR MUST SEE RECOMMENDATIONS



The Wild Atlantic Way (WAW) is a 2,500km (1,554mile) route, along the stunning rugged

west coast of Ireland. What stood out to us from this route is how impeccably well sign posted it was & how useful the website is. It takes all the stress from planning because all the points of interest are clearly marked, online & on the road. We travelled Scotland’s NC500 & I can tell you that WAW signage trumps it by a mile. Likewise, the designated viewing spots, allow you to pull over safely.


With over 150 discovery points, it is impossible to appreciate them all in a short space of time. Hence why Adam & I ended up staying in Ireland for 2 months instead of 2 weeks, as we’d originally planned. Even then, there are still many places we want to come back for.


To ensure you’re getting the most of your trip, I’d advise that you go on the WAW website & plan the places you want to see but then also surrender to the fact that the drives in between each location are so beautiful, they will be peppered with pull overs. You may find yourself falling in love with a beach that you want to call home for the night & that’s perfectly alright.

To help you out, here are our personal top 3 must sees (pictured below in order):


  1. Slea Head Drive in County Kerry - one of Ireland's most scenic coastal roads.

  2. Connemara in County Galway - for its epic mountains & lakes, resembling Canada.

  3. Slieve League Cliffs in County Mayo - Europe's largest accessible cliffs offering unparalleled views. There is a lower & upper carpark, allowing you to suit your needs or fitness levels! We stayed in the lower carpark & walked up no bother.




3: ACTIVITIES: HIKES, SURFING, STAR GAZING, PUBS & MORE



Hikes: Ireland has is spoilt for brilliant hikes, all over the country. We loved Diamond Hill (pictured above) for its epic & easy access views. We found out about it via this helpful hike list.


Surfing: Lahinch in Co. Clare & Bundoran in Co. Donegal, are popular surfing towns. The latter is known to surfers as 'Cold Paradise'. Both places offer surf lessons for all levels, as well as rentals.


Pub Culture: You're sure to find no shortage of pubs along your travels. Adam & I love the cosy pub culture. The locals are always up for a chat & you can't beat the live music that accompanies it.


Star Gazing: Ireland's first international dark sky park is in Co. Mayo. Make sure to keep an eye out for the astronomy weather forecast through Accuweather.


Meet Fungie: Grab a boat tour to meet Fungie, Ireland's famous bottle nose Dolphin who lives in Dingle (first spotted in 1983!). The tours offer you your money back if you don't see him.


Activity Weekend: We loved our activity weekend at Big Style's Atlantic Lodge which had a mix of hiking, surf, yoga, outdoor jacuzzi, veggie eats & great nighttime craic over a fire. We met friends there but it would be a fab place to meet likeminded people if you travel solo.




4. WHERE TO STAY: WILD CAMPING VS. CAMPSITES



I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Ireland is vanlife heaven. For us that meant endless amount of epic wild camping spots all along the Wild Atlantic Way. If fact, during our entire 2 month trip, we didn’t pay for a single campsite. We parked up at beaches, piers, lay-bys, towns & views points. All the while, we were not once asked to move on. Quite the opposite in fact; we found people incredibly welcoming. If ever we were unsure of parking somewhere e.g. tucking ourselves up in a town, we would make sure to ask locals who worked in shops or bars if they thought we were okay to stay. I also want to add that we felt very safe in each location. It might have been that because it was off season, that there was no shortage of places of us to wild camp but my gut tells me you’d be absolutely grand anytime of the year.


And of course wherever we stayed, we ensured to be respectful of the area & to adhere to the camping code of ‘leave it nicer’ which a step further than ‘leave no trace’. For us, this meant picking up rubbish after others, as well as ourselves. Imagine if we all did beach clean ups every time we went. We’ve read a golden rule about picking up 3 pieces of rubbish every time you go to a beach, but this can be applied anywhere. Or the 3-minute cleanup, all you need is the timer on your phone & you can make a lil’ game of it.


With regards to campsites, we came across many signs for them along our travels so I doubt you’ll have any problems getting one if that’s what you’re after. It probably wise to call ahead to check availability; as they may be busy in Summer or closed for Winter. After looking online briefly, they seem to cost on average €20 per night.


If you’re keen to wild camp but do not have a van with shower or toilet, that’s no problem, I talk about that in points 5 & 6 below.



5. WATER: BEST PLACES TO FILL UP THE TANK & DRINKING WATER



Good news; Water in Ireland is FREE & so you’ll find no problem filling up your tank at petrol stations with service areas, which there are PLENTY. While for the most part we didn’t need to, taps can also be found at harbours & cemeteries (we’re told!).


For potable/drinking water, we use collapsible 5 litre BPA-free plastic bottles, which we found pubs, cafes or deli’s at service stations, were more than happy to fill up for us since it’s no skin off their nose. We do add filtration tablets to our eater tank which technically make that water safe to drink but we rather be extra cautious, as well as safe that water for washing up & showers.



6. TOILETS



We found public toilets (or 'loos' as they are referred to in Ireland & the UK) in most towns, beaches & almost certainly every service stations. And of course, as a customer, you can always use them in pubs, cafés, restaurants or hotel bars. If we’re away from civilisation, we try to go out in nature as much as possible to avoid filling up our van toilet (we try to use ours for 'emergencies').


For those that are unfamiliar with what a van toilet looks like, just imagine it as a version of an aeroplane toilet. All the waste collects in a ‘cassette’ which is mixed in with chemicals, & this then needs to be emptied (makes you appreciate a flush so much!) Due to the strength of these chemicals, cassettes can only be emptied in designated disposal areas, almost exclusively found at campsites (which are often closed in Winter!)


For us however, we use special chemicals that are ‘septic tank safe’. This allows us to dispose of our waste in public toilets safely & responsibly. If interested, this is what we use.



7. SHOWERS



In the same room as our toilet, we’ve go a shower (think mini wet room). We have a 60 litre water tank & some of that water (not exactly sure how much) heats up in 20 minutes using gas. If you don’t have a shower in your camper, you can find them in local leisure centres or gyms. Entry ranges between from €5 - €10 per person, for a day pass. Of course showers won’t be an issue if you’re in a campsite.



8. KEEPING FIT & GYMS



While we are on the subject of gyms & leisure centres, this is one way that Adam & I like to keep fit. If we are passing through a town with either of these two, we like to go in to get a strength training session in. Otherwise we keep fit with regular walks & hikes which there are plenty. We've also packed resistance bands, a TRX rope, weights & skipping rope but to be honest, it's been very hard to find the motivation to use these when it's cold out. The picture above was taken on a particular sunny & mild day! Once we are in a warmer climate & we are doing our outdoor van workouts, we will make a video/blog post on our routine - comment below if this is something you'd be interested.


9. WASTE DISPOSAL: RUBBISH & RECYCLING

It's worth taking note that since Irish councils have introduced a rubbish tax, which means they've removed a lot of bins from public places. The bins that you do find, have small holes to put rubbish through.


Top Tips:


  • Minimise your waste - buy less plastic/packaged goods & avoid food waste. The environment will thank you too!