Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way winds along Ireland’s western coast from Cork to the town of Donegal, just west of the border to Northern Ireland. The route covers 1500 miles of majestic coastline and is saturated with stunning natural features. Jagged cliffs tower over the sea in many places, sandy beaches are sprinkled along the coast, and there are plenty of opportunities to spot Ireland’s wildlife. There are also ancient ruins to explore. The entire stretch would be hard to cover in less than a month’s time, but if time is on your side, the journey is well worth it. For others who are limited to a few days on the road, it is hard to go wrong with any area. Here are some of the highlights that might help you narrow it down.
The Southern Peninsulas
Five peninsulas on the coast of southwest Ireland offer some of the most spectacular views on the Wild Atlantic Way. The most well-known is The Dingle Peninsula, which is home to Connor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland and an ideal road for a scenic drive. Dingle is also a great spot for whale-watching. Iveragh Peninsula is where you can find the iconic Ring of Kerry, another scenic route, which overlaps with the Wild Atlantic Way. This 120-mile driving loop has dramatic views, sandy beaches, charming villages, and ancient stone forts. The Beara Peninsula is below Iveragh and features Ireland’s only cable car, connecting the western tip of the peninsula to Dursey Island.
The Cliffs of Moher
Among the most well-known areas on the Wild Atlantic Way are the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are about a 90-minute drive south from Galway and about a 75-minute drive north from Limerick. They stretch for about five miles, and at the highest point rise 700 feet above the sea. Because the Cliffs of Moher are a popular tourist spot, there is a visitor’s center and organized tours are available. The majestic beauties are best explored up-close-and-personal by foot, but there are also ferry tours and breathtaking aerial flight tours available.
Not to be outdone by the scenic views, seabirds are abundant around the Cliffs of Moher. Unlike in other areas, the puffin population along the cliffs is increasing in size. You are most likely to view the black-and-white birds while visiting in the early summer, from May to July. Other seabirds in the area include razorbills and guillemots.
The Inishowen Peninsula
The Inishowen Peninsula is home to Ireland’s northernmost point, Malin Head. The peninsula is so far north, in fact, that you can see the Northern Lights under the right conditions in the winter and spring. One of the reasons this is possible is the low light pollution on the peninsula, due to its remote location. The area is well-known for having great beaches, and its geography helps to moderate the temperatures so it is milder than you might expect so far north.
Getting There and Getting Around
Depending on which area you decide to explore, there are an abundance of hotels, inns, and rental properties available for lodging along the Wild Atlantic Way. There are also plenty of great campgrounds along the coast, particularly in the Galway area. Cities with airports near the route include Cork, Galway, and Donegal. Renting a car is generally easy and affordable, but international travelers should be aware the Ireland drives on the left side of the road. Getting to the Wild Atlantic Way will be easy. The challenge will be leaving its wonders behind to go home.