Planning the trip of a lifetime? Let me introduce you to the Wild Atlantic Way. A not-to-be-missed road trip where the spectacular views are free, the Wild Atlantic Way spans six regions and 2,500km of rugged coastal Ireland in a route that stretches from the wilds of Malin Head in County Donegal to the picturesque fishing town of Kinsale in County Cork, encompassing a plethora of hidden coastal-hugging hamlets in-between. To fully immerse yourself in the wonder and magic of this coastal Ireland adventure, take some time to venture off the beaten path of the tourist trail and live like the locals do as you discover the little known secrets of the Wild Atlantic Way. The celebrated Wild Atlantic Way is a must-include on any self-drive Ireland vacation.
The Northern Headlands
Steeped in culture and mythology, and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it’s no surprise that Donegal was recently named the ‘Coolest Place on the Planet’ by National Geographic Traveller. Speaking of cool, you’ll want to wrap up warm when you visit the Northern Headlands, for this is the place that puts the ‘wild’ into the Wild Atlantic Way. With its dramatic, windswept locales, including the country’s most northerly point, Malin Head, and some of the highest cliffs in Europe, a trip to the Northern Headlands allows for an authentic coastal Ireland experience. After a day spent exploring the sights, including the off-the-beaten track Wee House at Malin, retire to Ireland’s most northerly pub, Farren’s Bar for a pint of Guinness and a chat with the friendly locals.
Looking for something a little bit different? Take the ferry to Tory Island where you will find yourself immersed in Gaelic culture and receive a warm welcome from Tory Island’s very own King.
The Surf Coast
On the Surf Coast, which stretches from Donegal town to Sligo, it’s no surprise that waves are the order of the day. Take in the magnificent sights of Mullaghmore Head in Sligo, which attracts surfers and sightseers from all over the world due to its truly epic prowler waves, the likes of which are not seen anywhere else in the country. From here, venture off the tourist trail to one of Ireland’s best kept secrets, Streedagh Beach in North County Sligo. Here, you can visit the site of the Spanish Armada shipwrecks, marvel at the ancient fossils on display and take in the view of Classiebawn Castle, the former home of Lord Mountbatten. After a day spent amid the bracing winds of Ireland beaches, you’re sure to have a worked up an appetite. Since you’re in the heart of Yeats Country, why not indulge in the Yeats Dining Experience at Broc House, a seasonal Irish feast that invites you to relax and unwind in the presence of good company and spectacular views.
The Bay Coast
We’re heading to Galway, the ‘City of Tribes’, a colourful, bohemian city that is as well known for its warm welcome and live music tradition as it is for the unspoilt beauty of its rugged coastline. This route is home to some of the best of Ireland beaches, including the Blue Flag Beach at Salthill. Enjoy a walk along the beach before stopping off at Salthill Promenade, which offers unrivalled views of the famous Aran Islands. According to local tradition, if you give the prom wall a kick, it will bring you good luck and good fortune. One of the best little-known beaches on the Bay Coast is Doonloughan Beach, which is hidden away in the wilds of Connemara. Mainly frequented by locals, this difficult-to-find beach rewards the adventurous traveller with surf waves, sandy dunes and cool, clear swimming waters. To cap off your time on the Bay Coast, enjoy a night out at Galway’s iconic live music venue, The Roisin Dubh.
The Cliff Coast
Taking you on a rugged adventure from Galway City to the wilds of Kerry, a trip through the Cliff Coast will free your senses and relax your mind as you experience the natural wonders of a truly untamed landscape. One of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations, and its most visited attraction of all, the truly imposing Cliffs of Moher have to be seen to be believed. To experience the true and awe-inspiring scale of the Cliffs of Moher, take a cruise to the Cliffs of Moher from Doolin, a small-but-mighty village, known both as the gateway to the Aran Islands and the traditional music capital of Ireland. From here, you can explore the unique landscape of The Burren, while remembering to make a stop for tea and cake at Glanquin Farmhouse, a hard-to-find landmark that is famous amongst those in the know, due to its appearance in the popular TV show, Father Ted.
The Southern Peninsulas
From the cable car at Dursey Island to the bridge at Mizen Head, the motto of the Southern Peninsulas may well be ‘Don’t Look Down, Look Straight Ahead!.’ There are, however, less gravity defying pursuits that you can undertake on this most scenic trip through Ireland’s South West, including a walk along the golden miles of the sandy beach at Inch on the Dingle Peninsula. Ireland beaches are among the best in the world, and the beach at Inch just happens to be world famous too, having appeared in films such as Ryan’s Daughter. These days, no trip to the this part of the world is complete without paying a visit to the Skelligs, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is now famous due to an appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Due to choppy waters, a trip to the Skelligs is not always possible, but you can find out more about this most unique of sights by paying a visit to The Skellig Experience at Valentia Island.
With so much to see and do in the Southern Peninsulas, make sure you don’t miss out on a trip to the hidden gem that is Garnish Island, in Glengarriff, West Cork.
The Haven Coast
With a name that conjures images of peace and tranquillity, the Haven Coast is a place to relax and unwind, while enjoying the best in artisanal food and drink that Ireland has to offer. As your trip winds down, take a moment to reflect on the beautiful sights you have seen on your trip through Ireland, before stopping at your final destination, the vibrant fishing town of Kinsale, where a slap-up meal at the award-winning restaurant Fishy Fishy awaits. View Ireland vacations here.