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 – Road Trips Along the West Coast
The world’s longest “defined” coastal road starts in Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal winds along the counties southwards and ends in lovely Kinsale in Co. Cork. It will give you a fantastic impression of our gorgeous little country.
How long is the Wild Atlantic Way
The drive is around 2600km long, so if you really plan on discovering the whole coastal road you should at least take 2 weeks, better 3 not to be pressured. You also want to enjoy the way and not rush from town to village to harbour to beach :)
Let’s face it – there is so much to see and do along the Wild Atlantic Way that it would take weeks to take it all in! So let’s go slow and focus on the biggest sights in each county. We’ll be starting our adventures along the Wild Atlantic way in Co. Donegal. Start all the way at the top at Malin Head, the northernmost point in the island, and slowly work your way down towards Donegal Town itself. The county itself has got loads to get stuck into, including lovely beaches such as Rossnowlagh Beach, Bundoran and Portsalon. And you just have to head up to Bunglass Point for those awesome views of Slieve League!
Plan a little stopover in Letterkenny for visit to the Newmills Corn & Flax Mill, a great place to learn about the heritage and industry of the are. And of course, you can’t forget about Glenveagh National Park, the second largest national park in all of Ireland. The sweeping hills, mountains and glens are absolutely stunning to behold – outdoorsy types could even plan a night in the to get the most out of the hiking and hill-walking on offer here. After that you can chill out in Donegal Town for a little while before continuing south!
We now find ourselves in Co. Sligo. Your first port of call should be the surfers’ paradise of Mullaghmore Head, where you can catch some waves or enjoy a seaweed bath at the Pier Head Hotel & Spa – a welcome break from the driving I’m sure! A little further along, you’ll find Streedagh Beach, which features the remains of a ship dating back to the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century (eat your heart out, Zakynthos!).
Head a little bit inland for a brief moment – since we’re in these parts now you just can’t miss an opportunity to soak up some of Sligo’s best views over at Glencar Lough. Close to where the waterfall is you’ll find a vantage point that offers views of the lough all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean. The perfect spot for a picnic! Then it’s 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 surfing hotspot – and continue on to 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 Gealtacht village of Belmullet for some real heritage – it’s such a cute little place that you just have to stop off for a little while, have a bite to eat and enjoy the stunning scenery all around. A few other sites to maybe pop on your itinerary are Ballycroy National Park, Westport House and the beautiful island region of Clew Bay where you can take a cruise tour of the islands. Or why not swing over to lovely Achill Island?
Past Mayo lies the beautiful lands of Galway and rugged Connemara; follow the Wild Atlantic Wayto the village of Leenane to Killary Harbour. Killary is situated in Ireland’s only true fjord (geographically speaking) and is one of my absolute favourite spots along the west coast. 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, nowfully immersed in the Irish Gealtacht. Galway Cityis 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, just a little further on from the lovely villages of Kinvara and Ballyvaughan and the natural wonder of The Burren. Once you’re in Doolin you can bask upon the breathtaking 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. It’s up to you which route to take! 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, Dingleis 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 – it can be a bit of a demanding 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, which straddles the border between Kerry and Cork, 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 the Ring of Beara is one of the best drives you can do in the country. 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 its friendly character and helpful, funny people. There are a number of touring routes around 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 Peninsulait 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 southernmost point. Stand near the rocky cliffs 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
If you’re feeling inspired to head to the west, then I’ve got some great recommendations for places to stay along the coast too!
Inishowen Gateway – situated in Buncrana, just a stone’s throw away from Malin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland.
Ocean Heights– a cosy B&B in Ballinfull, Sligo, with fantastic reviews!
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 whenever you get the chance! It’s an experience you’ll never forget…
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