The longest coastal driving route in Europe, the Wild Atlantic Way stretches from Donegal’s stunning Inishowen Peninsula to the picturesque seaside town of Kinsale in County Cork. Between the two lies over 2500 miles of stunning Atlantic coastline, just waiting to be explored.
What Can You Find Along the Wild Atlantic Way?
Though I haven’t driven every mile of the Wild Atlantic Way (an oversight I plan to set to rights this fall), I have been lucky enough to have taken in quite a bit of it over the past decade of travel in Ireland.
From north to south, here are some of the most spectacular stops along the Wild Atlantic Way:
The Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal
Just a note of warning – when you are told you can drive the ‘Inishowen 100’ in two hours, don’t believe it. A two hour drive does not do a bit of justice to Ireland’s most northerly area. Two days would be better. Don’t miss: Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point; Doagh Famine Village, where cottages were still inhabited until 1989 (with no electricity or running water); Mamore Gap and its ‘Magic Road;’ Fort Dunree, an incredible military museum perched on the cliffs overlooking Lough Swilly; and the breathtaking ringfort Grianan of Aileach.
The Slieve League Cliffs, County Donegal
Not so touristed as the Cliffs of Moher, which you will pass as you continue south, the Slieve League Cliffs have a more wild feel to them, part of the untamed west. You’ll want your hiking boots and a jacket, to be sure, as winds atop the cliffs can be strong. But the sights awarded to those who walk the cliffs are nothing short of magnificent.
Anchill Island, County Mayo
After arriving on Anchill Island, you may find that you don’t want to wander farther. Five of Ireland’s finest beaches can be found on this small island. Or get lost in the past at the Deserted Village at the base of Slievemore Mountain. Hiking, bicycling, cliff walking, and views of ocean life will keep your days filled.
Connemara, County Galway
You’ll get an amazing glimpse of “Ireland’s Wild West” as you drive along the Atlantic coast of Galway. Calming Killary Harbour is famed for its shellfish. Walk to the tidal island of Finish – just be sure to check tidal times so you don’t get stuck on the island! Spend a day or two in Clifden, the unofficial ‘capital’ of Connemara and enjoy the lively traditional music sessions, a drive along the Sky Road, a cycling adventure through Derrigimlagh Bog, or a day trip to the Aran Islands.
Too often overlooked as tourists flock to the nearby Cliffs of Moher, the Burren is Ireland as you will see nowhere else. Stark rock landscapes studded with megalithic dolmens gives way to otherworldly areas of flora and fauna not found anywhere else.
Loop Head Peninsula and the Shannon Estuary, Counties Clare and Limerick
Take in the view from the top of the Loop Head Lighthouse. Take to foot to cross the final sea arch at the ‘Bridges of Ross’ and watch the sea birds. Or board a Dolphinwatch boat and mingle with Ireland’s only resident pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. Be sure to take a side trip to Foynes to view the Flying Boat Museum.
County Kerry’s Famed Peninsulas
You’ll circle both – the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry – as you follow the route through County Kerry. Each is spectacular, each has its own stories to share. The Blasket Islands sit lonely, evacuated in 1953, just off the Dingle Peninsula, the remainders of cottages haunting to visitors. Skellig Michael, famed for its 6th century monastery, is a personal pilgrimage for many.
The Beara Peninsula, County Cork
Dramatic views of ocean and wildlife draw visitors to the Beara Peninsula. Just off shore Dursey Island, with no shops or pubs, may be the best place to ‘get away from it all’ in Ireland. The island is accessed by Ireland’s only cable car and boasts some of the most stunning sunsets you’ll see anywhere.
Mizen Head, County Cork
Ireland’s most southerly point is reached by steps and a high arched suspension bridge. Visit the old signaling station, which is now a museum, to learn the importance of Mizen Head in Ireland’s maritime history. A bit farther off shore is Fastnet Rock, ‘The Teardrop of Ireland,’ which was often the last glimpse of home for many Irish immigrants.
Kinsale, County Cork
The Wild Atlantic Way ends in picturesque Kinsale, a former Viking trading post. Filled with Irish and nautical history, the transatlantic liner “Lusitania’ was sunk by a German U-Boat just off the Old Head of Kinsale. If it’s food you’re interested it, then you’ve found the right place. Kinsale is also known as the “Gourmet Food Capital” of Ireland.