The Wild Atlantic Way along the West Coast of Ireland boasts stunning views of the rugged Irish coastline. Stretching 2,500km from Donegal to Cork, there are so many reasons to explore this route. As Ireland is so small, the best way to take in all it has to offer is by car. An Irish road trip is in fact one of the most memorable things you will ever do. With its vast beauty, endless countryside and miles and miles of stunning coastline, it really is a sight to behold. The Wild Atlantic Way is an established route which brings you all the way down the west coast from Donegal to Cork. Stopping at notable landmarks along the way, it really is a road trip to remember. In this article I, your Guru, am providing you with an example route; places to go, suggest things to see and give advice on some places to stay. So let’s get going :)
The Wild Atlantic Way Route
- Beginning at Malin head, Ireland’s most Northern point, you go through Buncrana, down through Co. Donegal; Rossnowlagh, Ballyshannon, Bundoran.
- Next to Co. Sligo; Mullaghmore, Rosses Point, Strandhill, Easkey, Inishcrone.
- Then into Co. Mayo, Ballina, Killala Quay, Lackan Strand, Downpatrick Head, Belmullet, Westport.
- Next on your route is Co. Galway; Clifden, Roundstone, Barna, Kinvara.
- After this it is Co. Clare; Ballyvaughan, Doolin, Lahinch, Doonbeg, Kilkee and Kilrush.
- You can go to Co. Limerick by continuing to drive the coastline to; Ennis, Bunratty, Limerick City.
- Co. Kerry is the next port of call; Ballybunion, Tralee, Castlegregory, Dingle, the Beara Peninsula and Ring of Kerry are a must when you are here.
- Finally Co. Cork; Bantry, Baltimore, Roscarbery, Clonakilty, Courtmacsherry and ending in Kinsale.
Places to Discover along the Wild Atlantic Way
There is so much to see and do along the Wild Atlantic Way, it would take weeks to take it all in so here are some of the highlights. The first port of call is Co. Donegal and as you leave Buncrana, make your way down to Donegal town to begin your trip. Some places to note in the county are Rossnowlagh beach, Newmills corn and flax mills, Glenveagh National Park and Castle and a walk around Donegal Town before setting sail to Co. Sligo.
Next stop is the surfers paradise of Mullaghmore Head where you can catch some waves or enjoy a seaweed bath. Streedagh Beach has a 16th century Spanish Armada shipwreck on its shore, well worth a visit. Then on to Sligo Town for the beautiful sight of Ben Bulben mountain in the home town of WB Yeats.
Continue down the coast, passing Strandhill beach, another home of surfing and on to Downpatrick Head; a popular pilgrim destination. Now you are in Co Mayo, so proceed through Ballina to the Neolithic Ceide Fields which are steeped in history from the Stone Age. Following this fascinating history, it’s on to the Irish- speaking Belmullet for some real heritage. A few other sites to be aware of are Ballycroy National Park, Westport House and the beautiful island region of Clew Bay where you can take a cruise tour of the islands.
Past Mayo lies the beautiful lands of Galway and the rugged Connemara; follow the Wild Atlantic Way to the village of Leenane to Killary Harbour and Ireland’s only Fjord in the West. Continue past the spectacular views of Ireland’s West Coast and drive on to the quaint town of Clifden where a night of traditional Irish music, dancing and craic is guaranteed. In the heart of Connemara, the village of Roundstone awaits you as you drive on towards Spiddal, now fully immersed in the Irish Gealtacht. Galway City is your next destination; possibly the most fun and eclectic city in Ireland. Don’t forget while you’re in Co. Galway that the famous Aran Islands are worth a visit. Also, you haven’t lived until you have taken a dive off Blackrock at Galway’s Salthill Prom.
Once you have fully experienced Galway it’s on down to Co. Clare and the exceptional Doolin; past the lovely villages of Kinvara and Ballyvaughan and the natural wonder of The Burren. Once you’re in Doolin you can bask upon the beauty of the Cliffs of Moher, which were once nominated as the eighth natural wonder of the world. On to Lahinch for more surfing opportunities before visiting Kilrush and Kilkee; two of the most picturesque seaside towns. For a view that spans for miles, travel to Loop head, recently voted Ireland’s best place to holiday, to take a look out of Ireland’s most famous lighthouse.
To get to Co. Kerry, you can get a boat across the Shannon Estuary or else continue to drive the coastline to Co. Limerick, Ennis, Bunratty, Limerick City and eventually arrive at the same place. The ferry allows you to take a short break from driving to look out upon the wondrous Atlantic Ocean. From there you can head to Tralee.
From Tralee, Dingle is your next port of call. Travel along the coastal route to Castlegregory, past some fantastic campsites and hidden beaches, and over the highest mountain route in Ireland; Conors Pass. Don’t let the beautiful views of Conor’s Pass fool you however, as it is one scary drive but when you reach Dingle it will all be worth it.
The final leg of the journey takes you around beautiful peninsulas with spectacular views of the Atlantic. Be careful while you are driving as there is some breathtaking scenery to behold. The Beara Peninsula brings you right into what you imagine a rural, coastal Ireland would be. With archaeological sites; stone circles, wedge graves and other relics, it is a corner of the country steeped in myths and legends. There are places to get out and walk or cycle and of course the Ring of Beara allows you to drive around it. There are some very popular fishing spots and a number of small villages and hostels if you wish to spend a part of your journey here.
One point of interest along this part of the route is Dursey Island, an inhabited island off the south-west coast. Curiously, it is served by Ireland’s only cable car. It is a haven for dolphins, sea-birds and butterflies. If you intend to visit, be sure to bring a packed lunch as it has no shops, pubs or restaurants.
From here you will continue on to Bantry in Co. Cork, a vibrant town known for it’s friendly character and helpful, funny people. There are a number of touring routes within Bantry and it offers fantastic scenery of mountains, lakes and waterfalls; a perfect place to stop and reminisce about your trip so far.
Onto the last part of your trip and you will continue on to another peninsula, Sheep’s Head. Much like Beara Peninsula it is made up of beautiful rugged coastline, stunning walkways and interesting sites. The Sheep Head’s Way walk was chosen as the best walk in Ireland by Country Walking Magazine. There is tons of water sports to get involved with or if you’re feeling adventurous, there is Carraig Abhann Garden and some horse riding and cycling.
As you started near Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point, you have to visit Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southerly point. Stand near the rocky cliff’s and view the ocean for as far as you can see before heading past some more fantastic viewing sites to your final stop, Kinsale. A old fishing port from the Medieval times, it is the perfect place to end your trip. It’s a relaxing town, full of choices, bustling with activity and a large variety of restaurants and pubs. Check out the galleries, hire a boat, take a tour or just stroll around enjoying the last few hours before you head back to reality.
Places to Stay along the Wild Atlantic Way
I have made this trip for October mid-term break, however feel free to establish a time frame which suits when you want to travel.
We’ll start at the beginning on this one which takes us to Co. Donegal. A nice hotel to kick of the trip is Inishowen Gateway in Buncrana. Buncrana is a the very tip of the country, not far from Malin head, so it is the perfect location to take off along the Wild Atlantic Way. Check the reviews.
The next stop on the journey is Yeats County, Sligo. Wanting to stay along the coastal route, I found this lovely beach side B&B called Ocean Heights, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Innismurray Island. The Cloonagh Cliffs are a short walk away and Raugly Pier is 5 minutes’ drive. Check the reviews.
And on we go to Mayo, following the coast down to Belmullet where you can stay in Kilcommon Lodge Hostel. Double and twin rooms are available, however the bathroom is shared among guests. If you’re travelling in a group then dorm rooms are available at a really discounted rate. It is at a bargain price for a picturesque stay. Check the reviews.
Way down west next to Galway, past the beautiful Killary Harbour to the town of Clifden. Keeping the budget in mind for a trip like this I have chosen Clifden Town Hostel which again offers private and dorm rooms but with a shared bathroom. It has received great reviews, however and is right along your route. Check the reviews.
Further along our route is Co. Clare, after stopping at the fabulous Doolin, continue on to the small beach town of Kilkee. Bay View B&B is a bit more expensive than the rest however there is no harm in taking in some luxury along the way. Check the reviews.
As Kerry is a bit of a trek, I have chosen Dingle for your stay for two reasons; it is the perfect picture of a town and it is a halfway point so you can enjoy the rest of Kerry the next day. The Dingle Harbour Lodge is a guest house that can accommodate groups also. It is a nice place to stay and good value for money. Check the reviews.
Again to Kerry, but a little further on, to Kenmare. After you view the beautiful Beara Peninsula and tour the Ring of Kerry you will want to rest again so Kenmare is perfect as it is the final stop at this part of the route. Awarded “The Best IHH Town Hostel in Ireland”, the Kenmare Failte Hostel is an absolute bargain. With a choice of private or dorm rooms with a shared or private bathroom, you can decide what is right for you. Check the reviews.
And to the final leg of our journey…Co. Cork. This is also a long section of the trip but, after splitting Kerry in half, it won’t be too bad. The last destination is to Kinsale and why not end in style with a stay in the Bridgeview Farmhouse. Unwind, relax and reflect on the journey you just came on. Check the reviews.
A list of places to stay along the Wild Atlantic Way
Explore the Wild Atlantic Way, your way
Now that I have highlighted some of the stops, suggested some great things to do and mapped out a few places to stay, you should be able to make an informed decision on how to explore the Wild Atlantic Way, your way! What I have outlined is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the route has to offer, so be bold, be brave and explore the Wild Atlantic Way.