Van Life Ireland: The Ultimate Guide. 21 Things to Know Before Your Ireland Roadtrip
Updated: Jun 25
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:
When to go & the Irish Weather
Planning Your Route & Our Must See Recommendations
Activities: Hikes, Surfing, Star Gazing, Pubs & More
Where to stay: Wild Camping vs. Campsites
Water: Best Places to Fill up the Tank & Drinking Water
Keeping Fit & Gyms
Waste disposal: Rubbish & Recycling
Emptying Grey Waste: Drains Galore
Fuel: Petrol & Gas Canisters
Internet & Mobile Connectivity
Money Talk: Our Budget Breakdown, ATM charges & Contactless Payments
Mind Your Manners: Irish Road Etiquette
SOS: Mechanics & Roadside Assistance
You've got Mail: Receiving post while on the road
Getting to Ireland: Flight or Ferry
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.
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):
Slea Head Drive in County Kerry - one of Ireland's most scenic coastal roads.
Connemara in County Galway - for its epic mountains & lakes, resembling Canada.
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.
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!)
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.
Minimise your waste - buy less plastic/packaged goods & avoid food waste. The environment will thank you too!
Use small bag that can go into the bins.
You'll always find bins with bigger rubbish holes outside supermarkets like Lidl or Aldi, as well as in service stations.
There are recycling spots dotted around the country so hang onto your recyclables & dispose of them as you find them!
10. EMPTYING GREY WASTE: DRAINS GALORE
Drains are definitely not something you tend to notice until you live in a van and need to consider emptying your grey waste responsibly. The good news is that since it rains a lot in Ireland, there are a plethora of drains everywhere. This is definitely not something to take for grated though, as we found that in Scotland (where it also rains a fair amount) drains are surprisingly hard to come by ... just an FYI.
11. FUEL: PETROL & GAS CANISTERS
Petrol: It's worth noting that we rarely found ourselves short of a service stations, there are plenty. Jitters runs on Petrol & during our stay (Oct + Nov 2019), fuel prices varied from €1.43 to €1.49 for us. We found that Apple Green service stations had the best rates.
Gas: Being a British van, Jits takes Calor Gas canisters in 4.5kg or 6kg only. While we found that petrol stations often stocked Calor Gas, unfortunately for us, these were mostly European canisters meaning they were too big for our van. If you're like us and need a smaller gas canister, search ‘Corrib Oil’ on Google Maps. They seem to have to stock a wider collection of Corrib Oil.
Our intention is to hand wash & outdoor dry our clothes in the Summer months while travelling. However, now that it’s Winter, we are incredibly grateful for “Revolution”. Revolution is a large outdoor wash & dry chain, predominately found at services stations. Although a bit pricey, we’ve found them highly convenient. It means we can park up next to the machines and do our laundry while we top up with fuel, fill up with water, empty our grey waste in a nearby drain, wash Jitters (we treated her to a hot shampoo once), and use the service station toilet. Efficiency goals!
When possible, we purchased produce from local shops (particularly health stores). However we found that for big shops, nothing beat Lidl, Aldi & Supervalu for a bargain. Our weekly shops where quite reasonable. It's worth nothing that Adam & I follow a plant based diet and therefore generally this means bigger savings. In case it's helpful, we found that Aldi carry a much wider vegan selection although there seemed to be more Lidl stores than Aldi.
Good to know: Bigger supermarkets tend to carry more produce wrapped in unnecessary plastic. If this can't be avoided, most of them will accept the packaging after purchase, for them to recycle accordingly. Hopefully it also sends them a message that we as consumers, do not want nor need the packaging.
If you plan to visit the famous Cliffs of Moher, we cannot recommend enough that you swing by family owned 'Moher Cottage'. Not only do they serve "Ireland's Best Coffee" but they also stock the nicest range of local, ethical & natural products including handmade soaps, essential oils & books. We picked up vegan food wraps, a bamboo facecloth & a trough which I bet Irish designer Orla Kiely didn't foresee her customers using it for our intended purposes haha! Ps. If you're lucky enough to make it to here, please say hi to the owner Caitriona for us! Caitriona went above & beyond for us... sharing lots of her local recommendations. I've no doubt she'd welcome you just the same.
15. INTERNET & MOBILE CONNECTIVITY
WiFi: You can count on most café’s & pubs to offer free WiFi should you need it. As you’d expect, the strength far weaker in rural areas - as we found out when painfully trying to upload a YouTube video.
Mobile: Adam & I are on different mobile network providers. Adam is on 3 mobile & I am on VOXI (Vodafone). As such, we found that between us we were generally covered with good mobile & internet signal. If one of us had poor signal, the other person had a decent one...most of the time. This proved very helpful when we found ourselves in the most Northernly point of Ireland (Malin Head) needing to send B-roll footage to her.ie for an interview piece they did on us. In the picture above you can see Adam tethering to his laptop, from an old WWII bunker, the only place his phone could get signal!
16. MONEY TALK: OUR BUDGET BREAKDOWN, ATM CHARGES & CONTACTLESS PAYMENTS
I thought it might be useful to share our top line weekly expense average, based on our 2 month stay in Ireland. Hopefully this acts as a helpful blueprint for your own budget. It's worth noting that we do a lot of cooking in the van & we did not stay in any campsites so that saved us a lot of money. Mechanical costs have also been omitted (we advise you set budget for mechanical 'emergencies').
Weekly Expense Average for Adam & Tania in Ireland:
Entertainment/Eating Out (Pubs + Cafes): £56
Total: £218 per week (no campsite costs)
ATM Charges: The majority (if not all) of Irish ATM machines do not charge for withdrawals like in the States for example. However your own bank may charge you. If euros are not your local currency, it might be worth you exchanging money in advance or getting a travel credit card with pre-fixed rates.
Contactless Payments: It's worth noting that most places accept contactless payments. Even the tiny corner store or quaint pub in remote places, accepted contactless from us. Always carry your cards & cash JUST in case, obviously.
Handy Tip: I've always heard that it's most sensible to accept the local currency when paying by card or withdrawing cash, as your bank should give you a better exchange rate that the one you're offered on the spot.
17. MIND YOUR MANNERS: IRISH ROAD ETIQUETTE
The rumours are true, Irish people are friendly folk & drivers. You may notice this even more so when you're outside of the hustle & bustle of the bigger cities. People tuck in on narrow roads to give way & wave/blink to say thanks. This may seem pretty standard for some but we know from experience that this isn't always customary in other countries. As such, we thought it was worth mentioning :)
18. SOS: MECHANICS & ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE
If you've watched our Ireland travel films on YouTube, then you'll know that poor auld Jits has ran into a few mechanically hiccups. Luckily for us, each time we've been met with the friendliest mechanics & service. In particular we want to recommend the following Garages:
Paul Smith Motors, Monkstown, Co. Dublin | These guys are top notch. They make you feel as though they have all the time in the world for you which is not easy to find.
Dingle Motors, Dingle, Co. Kerry | Again, great attention to detail. They took initiative to fix a part of Jits before it would become a problem.
Ireland AA - they came to rescue us when Jits failed to start at Slieve League Cliffs carpark. We rang the AA and within an hour, Neil showed up & helped us out!
19. YOU'VE GOT MAIL. RECEIVING POST ON THE ROAD
Forgot to take a picture of all the Irish Post Offices (called 'An Post') we went past, so here is one off Google. We found ourselves in a bit of a pickle halfway through our Ireland roadtrip & had to get something delivered to us from the UK. We found out that it's possible to get post delivered to your nearest 'An Post' & collect your parcel with I.D. Easy peasy. Good to know.
20. GETTING TO IRELAND: FLIGHT OR FERRY
Fly to Ireland to Rent a Camper on Arrival:Ireland has 5 International Airports:
1. Dublin Airport - North of Dublin City on the east coast
2. Cork Airport - Just south of Cork City on the south coast
3. Shannon Airport - North of Limerick City on the west coast
4. Knock Airport (Ireland West Airport Knock) - in County Mayo in the North West
5. Belfast Airport - west of Belfast City in the North East
Hop on the ferry with your campervan/motorhome: Ireland has 6 main ferry ports:
1. Dublin Port
3. Dun Laoghaire
4. Rosslare Europort
This is what we did: We drove from London to Holyhead and got the ferry to Dublin Port. After visiting my mum in Dublin, we drove South towards Kinsale to start our WAW adventure from South to North.
TOP TIP: That reminds me, a top tip is to drive the WAW from South to North vs. North to South, if you can. The two main reasons are:
1. You'll have the epic sea view next to you as you drive.
2. You'll avoid coming head to head with the big tour buses on those long, narrow & winding roads, as they drive South to North.
21. RENTING A CAMPER IN IRELAND
We haven't received any first hand camper rental recommendations but we did seem to spot a lot of "Bunk Campers" on our travels. Or it could be that their logos are hard to miss!
A few rental companies I found on Google which is a good start:
Westcoastcampervans A family-run campervan rental business
Indie Campers - "Motorhome and campervan hire in 30+ destinations"
Right, I think that's it! I really do hope this was helpful to you. I know a few people have messaged us on instagram asking about Ireland, so hopefully it is.
Please comment & let me know if you have any questions or additions to this that might help others. Or just to say hi!
Ireland by Campervan - Roadtrip Top Tips Summary
When to go & the Irish Weather Irish weather is unpredictable but never as bad as it's made out to be. So be open to visiting off season.
Planning your Route & Our Must See Recommendations The WAW road signage is flawless. So not need to over plan your trip. Our top recommendations are Slea Head Drive, Connemara & Slieve League Cliffs
Activities: Hikes, Surfing, Pubs, Star Gazing & More - You won't get bored in Ireland! Bundoran & Lahinch are big surf towns. Mayo for star gazing. Visit Fungie the Dolphin. Go to all the pubs, try Guinness & ask for MiWadi for a classic non-alcohol option.
Where to stay: Wild Camping vs. Campsites Wild Camping is EASY & Campsite are a plenty but check availability in advance for Summer & note that many may be closed for Winter.
Water: Best places to fill up the tank & drinking water Water is free & easily available in service stations. Taps can also be found at piers & cemeteries.
Toilets Public 'Loos' are found in most beaches & towns.
Showers Found in Gyms & Leisure Centres.
Keeping Fit & Gyms Gyms & Leisure Centres are €5-7 for day pass. Hiking is free!
Waste disposal: Rubbish & Recycling Bins are hard to come by so reduce waste & hold onto your recyclables 'til you come across a depot. Bigger bins can be found at service stations & outside supermarkets.
Emptying Grey Waste Not a problem - Ireland has drains everywhere.
Fuel: Petrol & Gas Canisters Service Stations everywhere with fuel prices varying.
Laundry Google 'Revolution laundrymat', there are lots around.
Groceries Local shops & large supermarkets are a plenty.
Shopping Drop into 'Moher Cottage' for coffee/tea & ethical shopping gifts/souvenirs.
Internet & Mobile Connectivity 4G connection in cities & big towns, be prepared to go offline in rural areas. Free WiFi available in most pubs & cafes.
Money Talk: Our Budget Breakdown, ATM charges & Contactless Payments We averaged at €218 per week (no campsite costs), there are no ATM charges (but your bank may charge) & contactless payments are widely accepted.
Mind Your Manners: Friendly road etiquette is important in Ireland. Think friendly with an added dash of consideration & you'll fit right in. Always wave to say 'thank you'!
Mechanics & Roadside Assistance The Irish are always great help.
You've got Mail: Getting post while on the road You'r post can to be delivered to your nearest 'An Post' post office for you to pick up with ID.
Getting to Ireland: Flight or Ferry Plenty of options but getting to Dublin in the first instance is a great start. You'll experience the capital & have access to main roads to other parts of the country.
Renting Camper: Shop around for offers as there is plenty of competition.