Discover the Wild Atlantic Way: An Unmissable Irish Coastal Road Trip
Updated On: March 06, 2023
Planning a trip to Ireland and looking for a memorable experience that you won’t quickly forget? Then you need to experience the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s one of the world’s longest scenic coastal routes, at an impressive 1600 miles long.
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the best ways to experience the mesmerising beauty that Ireland has to offer. It’s promoted as a tourist trail that begins on the west coast of Ireland, where you’ll pass through nine counties, from the beautiful County Cork to the unforgettable County Donegal.
The Wild Atlantic Way offers so much to uncover; hop in your car and experience the rugged west coast, majestic cliffs, as well as captivating Irish villages, ancient monuments and the truly enchanting Irish landscape.
This is one road trip where you won’t ever get bored because there is so much to discover and encounter along the way. It’s a once in a lifetime trip that you’ll remember forever.
Keep reading to find out more about this amazing Irish coastal road trip.
The Wild Atlantic Way Coastal Route
Pack your bags, grab your friends, get a road trip music playlist ready and head to your car; leave everything behind and get ready to embrace the west of Ireland, as you take on the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route.
You’ll drive through six regions in Ireland, showcasing the best of what the emerald island has to offer. You’ll be going home telling your friends all about this unforgettable Irish road trip.
But first, let’s look at the dreamy coastal route, you’ll want to dedicate at least 10 days to fully complete the entire road trip. There are many different ways you can take the route, but we suggest starting off in County Cork, at the Old Head of Kinsale discovery point.
Going south to north means you’ll be on the ocean side of the road, so you’ll get to fully enjoy the scenery.
Along the route, there are many discovery points, pointed out by signs with the WAW logo, making it easier for you to experience the highlights of the coastal route.
Key Points of Interest Along the Wild Atlantic Way – West Cork
The Old Head of Kinsale
As you begin your journey in Cork, its a must to discover the Old Head of Kinsale, as briefly mentioned above. Its consider a coastal paradise, full of moments where you’ll want to grab your camera and capture the surroundings. Once you arrive, it’s best to explore the area by foot to take in its beauty.
It’s one of the most popular spots along the Wild Atlantic Way, home to a world-class golf course, with spectacular ocean views. The area is also famous for its historic lighthouse, the iconic black and white ‘Old Head Lighthouse’, established in the 17th century.
Old Head of Kinsale is also home to award-winning accommodation and a magnificent spa, making it the perfect start of your Wild Atlantic Way adventure.
Next, head to the discovery point known as Galley Head, this area is also dominated by another Irish lighthouse and is home to some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in West Cork including Red Beach, Long Beach and Owenahincha Beach.
Its located 9.5 kilometres south-east of Rosscarbey along the Wild Atlantic West.
As you continue your journey, stop at Lough Hyne just 5km from Skibbereen, County Cork. Lough Hyne is famous for its unique marine life and is the only inland lake in Northern Europe.
Here you’ll discover an enclosed lake with a rich landscape surrounding it, taking you to a tranquil world like no other. One of the best ways to enjoy this beautiful lough is to take part in a Moonlight/Starlight experience with Atlantic Sea Kayaking.
It’s a very unique experience, you’ll be enchanted by the beautiful environment as you travel from dusk into darkness in a kayak. It’s a magical experience and we highly recommend doing this if you can.
Another highlight on the West Cork part of the Wild Atlantic Way route is Mizen Head, Ireland’s most Southwesterly point, offering a wealth of maritime history for you to dive into. Mizen Head stretches out to the Atlantic Ocean, captivated by sea cliffs and striking landscape.
One of the best things to check out in Mizen Head is the Mizen Head Signal Station, perched above the Atlantic waves on a tiny island that connects you to the mainland. It offers some incredible views to enjoy.
These are just a few of the highlights on the West Cork part of the Wild Atlantic Way, more places/attractions include Timoleague Abbey, Toe Head and Barely Cove.
Castlemaine to Kenmare Highlights:
This next part of the Wild Atlantic Way is considered one of the most popular parts of the journey, where you’ll see famous sites such as The Ring of Kerry and Skelling Michael.
Stop off at this beautiful white sandy beach, one of the prettiest in County Kerry and just take a moment to soak up the views, and relaxing atmosphere. It’s also close to Castlecove that’s worth checking out while you are there.
Ring of Kerry
This is definitely one of the most popular attractions to see on the Wild Atlantic Way, a stunning scenic drive along the Iveragh Peninsula. This is where you’ll uncover some of the most picturesque landscape that Ireland has to offer.
Points of interest along the Ring of Kerry include Muckross House, Staigue Stone Fort and Rossbeigh Beach. If you follow the route between Killorglin and Sneem, this will take you along the Ring of Kerry Route.
This is one of our favourite spots along this Irish coastal route, Coomanaspic Pass offers an ancient mountain landscape. If you manage to reach the top, which we recommend doing, you won’t be disappointed with the beautiful panoramic views of Valentia Island (one of the most westerly points in Ireland) and across to Dingle Bay.
Off the coast of Kerry, are two magical islands, one is Skellig Michael and Little Skellig, they are a must experience for any tourist coming to Ireland. You can take a boat trip over to Skellig Michael, home to an ancient monastic community that dates back to the 8th century.
The journey getting to the island in itself should be classed as an attraction, the views are incredible, as you get a glimpse of the awe-inspiring islands rising tall from the sea.
In 1996, the island was given UNESCO World Heritage status and has even been featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie.
All tours to the islands depend on weather and sea conditions.
Dingle Peninsula Highlights
On the next part of the Wild Atlantic Way road trip, is to experience the Dingle Peninsula home to amazing beaches and the friendly town of Dingle, which is steeped in history literature and music.
If you’re looking for somewhere nice to stay to help break up your road trip, we highly recommend Dingle town. The friendly fishing town is filled with great places to eat and stay with lots to see. Dingle is famous for its wealth of literature and known as one of Ireland’s creative hubs.
You’ll be sure to find live traditional music in every pub here, as you can imagine, music plays a huge part of Irish culture. The people are friendly and will make you feel right at home, and you might even meet one of Dingle’s most famous visitors, Fungi the Dolphin, down by the marina.
This stop on the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route is one you don’t want to pass by, often acknowledged as one of the most gorgeous spots in the Emerald Island. Located on the west of Dingle Peninsula, is this dreamy landscape, one of the discovery points along the route.
Here you’ll find another world-class Irish beach, Carrignaparka Beach. Every beach in Ireland is special and this one won’t let you down with its beauty. Blasket Sound is also right next to the head of Dunmore Head, with a short hike you’ll be able to reach.
Once you reach the top of Dunmore Head, you’ll come across more magnificent views of Blasket Sound and the Blasket Islands. Making the climb worthwhile.
Another unmissable attraction on the Dingle Peninsula part of the Wild Atlantic Way is the historic Minard Castle. The 16th-century castle ruins are located on the hill above Kilmurry Bay, backing out to the Irish sea.
The attraction will request your undivided attention, as you explore its ancient ruins and surrounding landscape.
Stop by the incredible Dunbeg Fort, another part of ancient Ireland that was built during the Iron Age. The fort is perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking Dingle Bay.
A visitor centre is also located here, where you can find out the history of the fort and check out audiovisuals displays, a craft room or even enjoy a bite to eat at its restaurant and cafe.
The Burren and West Clare Highlights
Drive towards West Clare on the Wild Atlantic Way road trip, where you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a fantasy world, with the spectacular attractions and sights you’ll meet along the way.
The first stop on this journey should be made to Lahinch, a pretty little town that is often popular with visitors to the area. It’s a great place to spend a day or two, as you make your way around the Wild Atlantic Way.
The town is bursting with energy and is very inviting, located right at the head of Liscannor Bay, offering 2km of golden sandy beaches to soak up. Lahinch has been a favourite among surfers due to its unique location that makes for the best surfing conditions.
The perfect place for those that enjoy all kinds of water sports including swimming, canoeing, fishing and sailing.
This is one most unique landscapes you’ll come across on the Wild Atlantic Way route. The Burren is surrounded by picturesque greenery and hills and famous for its remarkable variety of plants and animals. It’s estimated that over 70% of Ireland species of flowers are located here.
You need to really explore this amazing landscape, to find all its hidden gems that aren’t initially seen on first look.
Cliffs of Moher
This attraction is one of the most visited places in Ireland and best known for its mesmerising sights of Ireland’s west coast. The uniquely formed cliffs, perched over the Atlantic Ocean are truly awe-inspiring.
This is one sight you’ll want to make sure you capture, so you can forever remember the amazing moments on offer.
On a nice clear day, you’ll be greeted with views out to Aran Island and Galway Bay. Also, make sure you stop at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor centre to uncover its fascinating history and more about the area.
Clifden to Galway Highlights
The coastal road trip continues down narrow roads with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean on show. This part of the Wild Atlantic Way is one of the Gaeltacht regions, where nearly half of the Irish language community live. The region is filled with strong Irish language traditions and culture.
Things you shouldn’t miss out include…
This is the biggest of the three Aran Islands in Galway Bay, popular amongst tourists and locals alike. You can explore the island by foot, the place is famous for its Christain sites such as Dun Aonghasa. But to actually reach the island you need to take a ferry from Dollin or Rossaveal in Connemara.
There’s also great accommodation facilities located around the island if you choose to stay over. Inishmore is also home to a small museum and the Aran Sweater Market – a popular spot among visitors.
Another must stop on the Wild Atlantic Way road trip, is to the picturesque town of Roundstone in Connemara. The place is considered an area of outstanding natural beauty, everywhere you look there are photo opportunities, from the pretty Irish houses to the intimate harbour.
Pearse Cottage, Gortmore
Take time to visit Pearse Cottage located in the famous Connemara landscape that includes rich green hills and beautiful lakes. The cottage is named after Patrick Pearse one of Ireland’s famous writers and political activists, who played a dominant role in Irish history.
At the cottage, there is a dedicated exhibition to Pearse for those interesting in finding out more about his influence on Irish History.
Unforgettable Experiences of Ireland
These attractions don’t even cover half of places and areas you’ll come across on the Wild Atlantic Way. If you continue your journey, make sure to visit Achill Island, Clew Bay, Donegal Bay, Sligo, The Slieve League Coast as well as Fanad Head and ending in the Inishowen Peninsula.
Each area has so much to offer visitors, you’ll soon realise for a small country, Ireland is truly mesmerising.
The Wild Atlantic Way offers one of the best ways to experience Ireland, up close and personal, discovering hidden gems and the captivating landscape that has been inspiring people for centuries.
Have you ever drove around the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route? Or have we inspired you to plan a road trip? Share with us in the comments below 🙂