There has never been a wilder and more beautiful road trip than Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Covering an entrancing 2,500 kilometers of epic coastline and breathtaking scenery, this is one of the easiest ways to get off the beaten track and see some of the hidden gems all along the west coast of the country.
The driving route stretches from the southern city of Cork all the way to the northern tip of Donegal and allows you to explore the westernmost point of Europe. With Ireland’s unpredictable climate, it won’t be a journey you’ll be taking in an open-top convertible but with a good rain jacket and pair of sunglasses (for every eventuality of course), you’ll get the most out of one of the best driving routes in the world.
There are a whopping 157 ‘Discovery Points’ to explore along the way and you won’t regret it if you visit everyone. If time isn’t on your side, however, we’ve taken the essential stops you need to make while driving Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. You’ll see the absolute best of the country and get back home with some amazing stories to tell. Start the road trip in motion today by adding them to your BUCKiTDREAM planner!
Starting from the bustling city of Cork, take some time to explore the renowned gourmet scene. Forget the meticulous planning and just walk into any of the thriving, independent restaurants or cafes nestled in little laneways. Many of them pride themselves on using fresh, local produce with a strong emphasis on earthy, rich flavors. If you want to give the cooking a try for yourself, or just want to stock up on some nibbles for your journey, visit the English Market, a mecca for all the foodies in the region. From local cheese, meats, vegetables, and preserves, you’ll find everything you need for the journey – and picnics – ahead.
Dingle, Co Kerry
Everybody who’s had the pleasure of visiting this charming seaside town comes away with the feeling that they’ve just visited somewhere very special. It feels like you’ve reached the edge of the world, a place where the frantic pace of life slows down to a more comfortable stroll. In the summer, the accommodation and pubs will be packed as international and Irish travelers flock down to enjoy the nightlife and the jaw-dropping scenery. You can even take a boat trip out the harbor to catch a glimpse of the famous local dolphin, Funghi, and get a better look at Dingle Bay. Don’t be put off by visiting in the winter, however. Many restaurants do close for the off-season but you’ll have more space and freedom to explore the town and the long, dark nights will mean you’ll have all the excuses in the world to sit by a roaring fire warming up with a hot whiskey.
Loop Head, Co Clare
Take the long way to this scenic spot and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the fascinating tales of Irish mythology. Start at the iconic Loop Head Lighthouse, which has existed in some form since 1670 – you can even still see part of the very first cottage on the site. The defined trail will lead you on a brisk two-hour trek passing through moors and grasslands, and you’ll learn how the ancient Irish mythological hero Cuchulainn and his exploits helped name the headland. If you’d like to extend your stay after the walk, you can sleep at the meticulously restored Lightkeeper’s Cottage for a fully immersive maritime feel.
Cliffs of Moher
No trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher, which are conveniently located in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s the country’s most visited natural attraction and it’s not hard to see why; on a clear day you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the Aran Islands off into the distance. The Cliffs are considered to be one of the modern world’s natural wonders and it’s also a prime location to do some wildlife spotting. It’s also one of the most popular selfie spots in the country, so make sure your camera is charged up!
You could travel the earth for the rest of your life but you’ll never find a sight as otherworldly as the famous Burren. A cracked, exposed pavement full of limestone from the glacial era, it’s one of the most fascinating geological and archeological sites in Europe. The limestone and the incredible flora and fauna it helps create is protected by a vast National Park surrounding it.
The more adventurous traveler will get the chance to do some rock-climbing at Ailladie or go underground to explore the caves of Pollnagollum. When you’re done exploring this incredible terrain, it’s time to retreat to the local village of Doolin, one of the best places in the country to find a traditional Irish music session. Thousands of visitors flock there every year to hear some of best musicians play in local pubs. If you have a talent, don’t be afraid to bring your instrument with you to join in one of the sessions. For food, pints, and table service while enjoying a tune or two, head to Gus O’Connors Pub where you’ll find live music every night from February to November.
Rest up before hitting the town of Galway for what will be guaranteed to be a legendary night out. Drink your way from pub to pub, enjoying a vast array of traditional Irish music, soak up the craic and maybe even meet some new friends along the way! Shake off the inevitable hangover the next day by exploring the fascinating Latin Quarter, a quaint, cobblestoned area of the city brimming with boutiques and family-run businesses. Keep your ears peeled for the sound of Irish as well; the Galway region is full of Gaeltacht areas, where the ancient language of Irish is still used in daily life.
Mullaghmore, Co Sligo
Grab your surfing board and tackle the waves at the renowned surfing spot of Mullaghmore. Both amateurs and hardcore surfers will find swells to entertain themselves here. Beginners will find suitable waves at the northeast of the headland, while experienced enthusiasts can challenge themselves in the huge waves that break off the headland itself. Late winter and early spring are the peak time to enjoy when waves can reach up to 15 meters high.
After a long day of surfing, you might need something to relax those tired muscles and what better way than getting more up close and personal with the Atlantic ocean itself? Head to one of the local spas like Voya Seaweed Baths where they use seaweed to calm your skin and soothe your muscles. They also practice sustainable harvesting so you know you won’t be damaging the delicate coastline while you soak your cares away.
Before turning the car back towards the airport, reward yourself with a visit to Malin Head, the most northerly part of the island of Ireland. Keep your eyes on the turbulent seas and you might even see the dolphins playing in the surf. If you’re visiting in the winter, really lucky travelers might even see the Aurora Borealis from here!
Time to fire up that BUCKiTDREAM planner and start making these dreams of the Emerald Isle a reality! Don’t forget to share any snaps of perfect pints of Guinness, the odd leprechaun or any pots of gold that you spy on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.