PERCHED ON THE OUTER EDGE OF EUROPE, RAVAGED BY THE VAST OCEAN AND SHAPED BY THE STIRRING GALES, IRELAND’S WEST COAST IS RAW, PURE, AND DRAMATIC.
Weaving from inlet to beach, cliff to mountain, village to town, the rugged, windswept scenery has surrendered to nature in its purest form. Here the Atlantic light casts a spell over the landscape, delivering a palette unlike anywhere else in the world.
It’s these mesmerizing shades of green and grey, silver and slate, rust and mauve, that form the backdrop to one of the world’s most breathtaking road trips. Stretching south for over 2,500 kilometers, from the remote Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal towards the seaside town of Kinsale in County Cork, the Wild Atlantic Way is the world’s longest defined coastal touring route.
Launched in 2014, the beguiling road trip is well signposted, and has been cleverly broken up into 14 key experiences, allowing visitors to dip into individual parts along the route. History buffs can plan their stop- offs around dramatic landmarks, from historic castles to traditional thatched cottages, abandoned monasteries to megalithic sites. Nature lovers will be entranced by the diverse terrain-sweeping valleys, flinty mountains, vibrant wildflowers, bedraggled sheep, and rare birds. Adrenaline junkies can combine surfing in Sligo with mountain biking in Mayo and kayaking in Kerry. Those who come craving peace and serenity, and maybe even a digital detox, will find miles of deserted beaches, remote islands, crystal lakes, the purest Atlantic air, and endless horizons to calm and restore.
Passing through nine of Ireland’s 26 counties, those short on time can still enjoy the incredible scenery by starting their journey midway along the route. Galway makes a great entry point, the walkable medieval city offering a lively introduction to the best of Irish culture and history. Perched on the banks of the river Corrib, between sea and sky, the city’s labyrinthine streets pulse cool shops, galleries, restaurants, and the upbeat sounds of traditional Irish folk music.
The Irish are a gregarious bunch, both sociable and hospitable. Natural storytellers and singers, music and song play a central part in our identity. Experience the buzz of a live trad session while in town and you’re likely to witness the hypnotic effect of the fiddle (violin), tin whistle, accordion, and bodhrán (a handheld goatskin drum played with a double-headed stick) all played with an intensity that’s infectious. Don’t leave town without dining in Aniar: meaning west in Irish, this pared-back Michelin-starred restaurant serves seriously exciting food, and some of the most imaginative contemporary Irish cooking on the island.
Swap the city for the countryside and head south towards the rolling hills of The Burren, a site so otherworldly you may think you have landed on another planet. Arguably Ireland’s most extraordinary landscape, the ancient limestone plateau will stop you in yours tracks with
its remote beauty. Wild, vast, and lunar-like, this rich ecological terrain draws walkers, botanists, picnickers, and hikers who love sharing the space with the eclectic neighbors, ranging from bats to badgers and foxes to falcons.
For a taste of warm Irish hospitality, overnighting at nearby Gregan’s Castle is a smart move. The beautiful country house hotel majors in creature comforts, stylish interiors, and seriously delicious cooking, and makes a cozy hideaway in all seasons. Next day, you’ll likely make
a beeline for Ireland’s most famous natural attraction, the UNESCO World Heritage Cliffs of Moher. An impressive 8 kilometers long, and towering over the Atlantic’s mighty waves, the cliffs attract a huge seabird population, while reaching 214 meters at their highest point. If you think the view is impressive from the top, try heading out on a boat trip and viewing these beauties from the sea. The scale and drama will take your breath away. Should you fancy tackling the Atlantic waves for real, make for one of Ireland’s west coast surf schools. Counties Donegal, Sligo, and Clare all attract international pro surfers, drawn to the epic Atlantic barrels that break against our shore. The vibrant little surf town of Lahinch is minutes from the Cliffs of Moher, and a perfect spot to hire a board or take lessons. Friendly and chilled out, it’s
a pretty place to park up, watch the surfers, and tuck into the traditional Irish favorite of fish and chips. Liberally laced with salt and vinegar, and wrapped up in brown paper, it always taste best al fresco.
If you feel it’s time for more urban culture, take the route towards Limerick City, with its medieval heart and smart Georgian townhouses. Make time for King John’s Castle, the impressive Norman fort that dominates the shoreline. Offering visitors an enlightening romp through 800 years of local history, you can enjoy cutting-edge visuals and interactive displays, while getting to grips with castle life and medieval warfare.
If, however, you fancy staying rural and skipping the city, simply hop on the local ferry in Killimer which will whisk you across the Shannon estuary in twenty minutes. Here, before you, lies Kerry, a wild and pure county synonymous with cinematic scenery and some of Ireland’s most beautiful lakes and highest mountains.
Off-grid islands, endless sandy beaches, and thrilling cliff walks make Dingle Peninsula an unmissable part of your road trip. From lively Dingle town, with its resident dolphin, Fungie, to the dramatic Skelligs-rocky islets that recently starred in the Star Wars movies -Kerry’s scenery is as intriguing as it is magical. Point your car towards Kenmare, a thriving little town, and you’ll have earned a good night’s rest in one of the best hotels in the country, Sheen Falls Lodge. A former hunting lodge, the luxurious five-star hotel is built along the banks of the Sheen river.
The food here is pretty special, and, at this stage of your trip, you’re likely to have noticed a theme of culinary excellence across Ireland. An island nation, an Irish seafood platter makes a brilliant introduction to our ocean bounty, laden with crab claws, plump langoustines, and glistening oysters plucked from our shores. Along the way there will be plenty of opportunity to enjoy pots of steamed mussels too, delicate scallops, silvery mackerel, and silky smoked salmon on traditional brown soda bread.
The laws of probability suggest that a holiday in Ireland will feature rain at some stage too. This may seem like a bad deal, but first consider the benefits. Aside from quenching the lush scenery, and giving us an incredibly green countryside, it’s this emerald grass that produces our exquisite Irish lamb and beef, as well as our rich diary tradition of farmhouse cheeses, golden butter, fresh cream, and yoghurt. Once you’ve sampled our wares and legendary hospitality we’re pretty sure you’ll forgive us the occasional rain shower -or two.