From the wind-whipped tip of Malin Head to the safe haven of Kinsale Harbour, wrap yourself in the wilderness of the west coast of Ireland on the world's longest defined coastal touring route. The Wild Atlantic Way is a sensational journey of soaring cliffs and buzzing towns and cities, of hidden beaches and epic bays, with some of the most spectacular scenery and golf on offer in Europe.
The Northern Headlands
Untouched and virtually unexplored, this ruggedly beautiful and remote region lies at the far north of the Wild Atlantic Way. Nature is spectacular and bracing here, from the sheer granite walls of some of Europe’s highest sea cliffs, at Sliabh Liag (Slieve League), to the Northern Lights dancing in clear winter skies, to the millions of seabirds gathering in great estuaries, en route across the globe. This is where St Columba set sail for the island of Iona. Out here on Ireland’s northernmost headlands, 11 lighthouses shine out across the sea, and journeys – physical and spiritual – begin. The sea air revives, minds and horizons expand, stories are told, adventures are shared, and spirits lift.
The Surf Coast
The Wild Atlantic Way stretches west along the wave-crashed coast from Donegal Town to far-flung Erris. This particular stretch includes Bundoran and nearby Mullaghmore Head, renowned for drawing surfers and those who simply love to observe the battle between warrior and wave, from across the globe to see the fabled Prowlers wave in action. The red-gold beach of Strandhill, too, has become a mecca for those who simply want to feel the reinvigoration of the saltwater spray.
The Bay Coast
From the crystal waters of distant Erris to the “savage beauty” of much-loved Connemara, the Wild Atlantic Way skims south around some impressive bays. The largest of these – Clew Bay – is said to have 365 islets and islands, one for every day of the year. Connemara means “inlets of the sea” in Irish, and here water and land merge in a lacy shoreline of loughs, coves, islands and sea-swept blanket bogs. The Bay Coast is a salty fresh-air playground, with its dazzling beaches and Blueway trails. There’s history and culture too: from elegant Georgian Westport to the Clare Island stronghold of legendary pirate queen Grace O’Malley, and onward toward Connemara’s coarse and captivating Derrigimlagh Bog – a mosaic of tiny lakes and peat, where the first transatlantic flight landed. And looking west across the great sweep of Galway Bay, you can watch the sun go down behind the Gaeltacht Aran Islands.
The Cliff Coast
Where ice-age landscapes meet west-coast warmth, and music is a way of life. It’s a place for clifftop walks, island-hopping, traditional pubs and soul-stirring views: rainbows in the ocean spray along the Loop Head Drive; colonies of puffins on the sheer Cliffs of Moher; bottlenose dolphins in the mouth of the Shannon; and the view of Clare’s mountains from Kerry’s Cliffs of Dooneen. Then there’s the otherworldly Burren – a vast limestone pavement rich with rare flora, crossed by ancient green roads. And down to the Flaggy Shore, described by Seamus Heaney in his much-loved poem Postcript as a place that can “catch the heart off guard and blow it open”. Enough said?
The Southern Peninsulas
In Ireland’s beautiful far South West – where the ancient Kingdom of Kerry meets wild West Cork – five great peninsulas with mountainous spines stretch miles out into the ocean. It’s the furthest west in all Ireland: “next parish Manhattan”, they say here. And there’s a distinctly edge-of-the-world feel to the Southern Peninsulas, as both the mainland and everyday life are left far behind. You could find yourself paddle-boarding with dolphins, landing on a deserted archipelago once home to Ireland’s greatest born-storytellers, taking a cable car with the ocean crashing below, sailing to a World Heritage Site, visiting an abandoned copper mine, or star-gazing under Ireland’s darkest skies. Memorable – sometimes life-changing – experiences are ahead.
The Haven Coast
The southernmost stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way zigzags gently, from dreamy Bantry Bay through Skibbereen and on to Kinsale. Past gardens lush with sub-tropical plants. Between hedgerows thick with fuschia and monbretia. By hundreds of inlets, tiny coves, safe harbours and Blue Flag beaches, just right for long days spent in the salty air -beachcombing, island-hopping, whale-watching or simply enjoying a pint on the quayside while the fishing boats land their catch. There’s something restorative about the temperate Gulf Stream climate, the peaceful vibe and creative scene. There’s West Cork’s wonderful artisan food. Thriving arts and crafts. Scores of festivals – music, film, stories, food. And history, echoing all along this coast: ancient sites, coastal forts, Michael Collins’ home town, the wreck of the Lusitania, and – out on the horizon – ‘Ireland’s tear drop’ the Fastnet Rock.
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