We had originally planned an Ireland campervan holiday in Aug-2020 during the first Covid re-opening. We thought that a campervan would be a great way to see Ireland as international flights were not allowed and hotels were still not open. Apparently, many other people had the same idea so we couldn’t find a suitable campervan or campsites so we aborted the idea.
We revisited the idea in 2021 and decided to give it a shot again. A lot of internet research gave us the confidence that we could set out without any pre-booking, except for the campervan, and could find places to camp for the night, either in the open (wild camping) or in a campsite or the parking lot of a pub, B&B, or other safe options. Some apps, websites, and a Facebook group were invaluable sources of information. These are shared at the end of this post in the Resources section. We spent 2 nights wild camping, and 3 nights in different campgrounds. We were able to find these places quite easily via the apps and the information shared on the Facebook group, and never had to call more than a couple of campgrounds before we found one with a free spot for us.
We began the trip knowing only where we’ll be staying the first night – at the parking lot of the Hook Lighthouse, one of the South-Eastern tips of Ireland. The rest of the trip developed from there and over the next 5 days we covered the South-West of Ireland, primarily along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Day 1 – Dublin > Gorey, Co Wexford > Hook Lighthouse (map)
Day 1 started off with collecting the campervan from the Bunk Campers depot in the afternoon. Took about an hour for everything to be done and for us to be on our way. The van we took was 7m long (about 50% longer than the SUV I’m used to driving) so the first many kilometres were spent getting comfortable with the dimensions especially while turning. There is a fair bit of the body that extends beyond the rear wheel, unlike a car/SUV, so there is the danger of side-swiping something if the turn is not timed right.
After a brief detour to a Halfords store to buy toilet chemicals, and another to a small town along the way to load up on provisions at a Lidl, and to get some late lunch / early dinner, we arrived at the Hook Lighthouse. There were a few other campervanners, and a few tourists in cars when we arrived (around 8pm).
By about 10pm all the cars had left and it was just the campervans. The highlight of the night was the fog that came rolling in around 11pm, completely obscuring the lighthouse, the coastline, and the other campervans.
I also enjoyed the dark and the quiet in the middle of the night and the view of Hook Lighthouse at sunrise.
Day 2 of our campervan holiday. Woke up to a lovely sunrise and another day of outstanding weather. Had tea and breakfast in the campervan and then headed out towards the Wild Atlantic Way.
First stop was Fort James in Kinsale. Had to park about a km away because of crowds, not for the fort but for the beach next to it.
After a short walk around the fort, we walked back to our camper and had to drive through the village to get out via a looping one way. Unfortunately, at one spot, people had parked on both sides of the road leaving no clearance for a wide-bodied vehicle. After making a futile attempt to squeeze through, I had to reverse and park so smaller cars could squeeze through. We thought we may now need to wait hours for the owner of one particularly badly parked car to return. Luckily, we only had to wait about half an hour (that we spent eating ice cream!).
After the owner moved his car, the road was still quite narrow and at places there was barely 6 inches of clearance on each side, overhanging tree branches, broken road edges etc. and I was worried about whiplashing the long campervan into a parked car. It was the ultimate test of driving – a heavy, wide-bodied manual transmission vehicle, up a hill, through a very narrow road space with vehicles on each side. We should have taken pics but forgot.
After that adventure, we next went to the Old Head of Kinsale and were rewarded with spectacular views of cliffs and a shimmering sea. Kids enjoyed running around in all the wild grass on a wonderfully sunny, yet a tad chilly, day.
It would soon be sunset so we searched the apps for a suitable place for the night and found a lovely campground nearby – Sextons Caravan and Camping Park – that had spaces available. Enjoyed dinner at a local pub called The Speckled Door near the Old Head of Kinsale with more spectacular views and then headed over to the campground for a hot shower and a couple of beers under the starry sky.
Day 3 of our campervan holiday – a lot more views of stunning cliffs and shimmering waters. By now, we had settled into a rhythm of choosing a few places to see during the day and then deciding around 4pm where we may want to spend the night. Choices ranged from proper campervan parks to pubs that allow you to park in their parking lot for the night, to public car parks of prominent attractions, beaches etc. Quite a departure from our holidays of the past where we knew in advance where we would spend the night.
We spent the previous night at a campervan park (with hot showers!). This morning, we emptied the ‘grey’ water (water from the sinks) and filled up on fresh water at the campervan park. The ‘black’ water (toilet waste) did not need emptying yet. This was also a good opportunity to get rid of the recycling and other rubbish. From there we headed to another ‘head’ – rocky outcrops with cliffs, views of the sea, and typically a lighthouse – this time to Galley Head. The views were, as always, spectacular.
Did I mention the narrow roads?
After lunch at the pretty village of Rosscarbery on the way, we visited the stone circle at Drombeg, dating back to the bronze age (around 800-1100BC) and got a glimpse of how humans may have lived then.
Our next stop was a place called Baltimore Beacon, a tall structure on the top of a cliff at the mouth of the Baltimore harbour. Didn’t realise that Ireland also has a town called Baltimore, which I suspect came before the American town of the same name.
The sun was at just the perfect spot for a creative photo of the Baltimore Beacon looking like a birthday candle.
For our night tonight, we chose Mizen Head, which is the southernmost tip of Ireland. It’s not a campsite but has a large parking area near the cliffs. We stopped on the way for a serene sunset around the Galley Cove beach. The gentle sea waters in a cove surrounded by mountains was quite a magical sight.
The night was quiet at the Mizen Head parking area, with only a couple of other campers for company.
Day 4 of our campervan holiday. Spent a wonderful night at the car park of Mizen Head and walked around the Mizen Head cliffs in the morning.
After lunch and some restocking of provisions at Bantry, we took a small detour away from the coast in the afternoon to visit Gougane Barra, the site of a 6th century monastery built by St. Finbarr. A serene and peaceful place with a charming late 19th century oratory, and many walking trails around Lough Fadda surrounded by hills.
It was late afternoon so we stopped for tea at the pretty town of Kenmare and had some delicious local ice cream at Cafe Mocha (map) and a short walk to the Kenmare stone circle. Kenmare town is also a good start point for the Ring of Kerry, which we initially had planned to drive around the next day but, as so often happens with a campervan holiday, our plans changed.
We then headed to the Goosey Island Motorhome Park in Sneem which has parking for the motorhomes right next to the river, nestled among the mountains, and with pubs and many eating places within walking distance.
For anyone curious to know, this is also where we emptied the ‘black’ waste.
Day 5 of our campervan holiday. Woke up to a beautiful sunrise in the village of Sneem and had a delicious home-cooked Irish breakfast of eggs, sausages, bacon, black and white puddings, baked beans and toast at The Village Kitchen (map). A filling breakfast that kept us going many hours.
Highlight of the day was driving through the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow single-lane mountain road that reminded me of some roads in the Indian Himalayas. Driving in second gear almost all the way and keeping an eye out for any oncoming vehicles so we can figure out who moves over to the passing shoulder/lay-by. A tense but enjoyable drive that will rank among my most memorable.
Sharing the road with cyclists, walkers, horse carriages, and sheep!
As we were driving through the Gap of Dunloe, two car drivers that passed me stopped and told me that a bridge a little further down might be a problem for my vehicle. That was not good news as it would mean we would have to find some place to turn around on this very narrow road and then go back all the way. I decided to stop at a wide lay-by and walk over to recce.
The bridge did look quite narrow, and had sharp turns at both ends, but it seemed doable, especially after the really narrow gaps I had to manoeuvre between cars in Kinsale. With a little help from my navigator, we were able to safely cross the bridge, which was indeed a tight turn but not insurmountable.
Another amusing moment was when we went to Torc waterfall and followed Google Maps to hike about 1.5km to reach a spot that was barely 200 metres from where we had parked the van. Felt really silly not reading the signs before we started walking, but it was an enjoyable hike and the way back was unexpectedly short.
We also visited Ross Castle on the way where the little one had fun climbing the castle walls.
Spent our last night at another lovely camping park – Fleming’s White Bridge Camping Park – and enjoyed sitting out in the pleasantly cool night with a river flowing next to us.
Experience of Driving a Campervan
I had driven a very large campervan in the US many years ago but I found driving in Ireland a little more difficult as the roads are narrower. It takes some time to get used to the dimensions of the vehicle and to the constant checking of the side view mirrors to make sure that I’m not straying too much on either side. On narrow roads, I would also keep an eye out for any faster moving vehicles behind me and would pull over into a lay-by or a shoulder whenever there was an opportunity to let them pass.
The campervan is also the home and there are a few things that need to be managed when camping for the night. Hooking up the electricity if at a campground with the facility, turning on the gas, ensuring that the vehicle is using the right source of power, making sure that the vehicle is on level ground or using the provided levelers to make it level, setting the handbrake properly (don’t want the vehicle to start rolling with us inside!), remembering to open a window if using the gas cooker, etc. After a couple of days, the freshwater may need to be refilled, the ‘grey’ water (sink waste) would need to be emptied, and the ‘black’ water cassette would need to be taken out, emptied, cleaned, and refilled with toilet chemicals. These are all new things that I had never done before but Bunk Campers had very useful videos in their app that I could watch even before collecting the campervan. All of it was much easier than I had anticipated.
Almost every campervan we would cross while driving would cheerfully wave at us, and other campers at campgrounds and other spots would come over for a short chat. It’s a very social and friendly experience that we thoroughly enjoyed. I will definitely do this again.
These three resources below were the most useful in preparing for the trip and during the trip.
- Facebook Group – Total Motorhome Ireland. This group and their website, with over 9k members, is a treasure trove of resources, information, and experiences. The map on the website provides places to spend the night based on inputs from members.
- App – Motorhome Parking Ireland (Android/Apple). Map with over 1,400 locations for motorhomers. Mix of camgrounds, parking areas, pubs that allow parking on their premises, aires, gas refill stations etc.
- App – Campercontact (Android/Apple). Map, similar to the one above but no one app has a comprehensive list so best to download a couple.