Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way road trip
The Wild Atlantic Way runs the entire west coast of Ireland, over 1500 miles. This stunning stretch of road is broken up into six different and distinct regions. I spent ten days road tripping from the northern headlands of Donegal to the southern peninsulas of Killarney, to the west Cork Beara Peninsula and only explored a fraction of this awe-inspiring land.
Along the way I saw stunning sea cliffs that towered nearly 2000’ above the water below. There are also long stretches of sandy beaches and one area even had a slew of surfers. Come to find out, surfing is quite popular in Ireland. Surfing was not the only surprise I discovered, I also saw countless ruins and old and opulent grave yards.
Many of the country roads are quite narrow and would reveal hidden treasures like Thoor Ballylee, also known as Yeats Tower, which is well off the beaten Path. Thoor Ballylee was a castle built in the 15th century, it fell into ruins in the 1930s, but was restored and opened to the public in 2015. I spent a couple of hours strolling the ground and touring the castle. I even found a path to saunter down, finding a stone to perch on next to the creek where I watched the water float by and daydreamed of centuries past.
The angelic tapestry that forms Ireland’s landscape has taken thousands of years to weft and warp into a masterpiece that only nature could weave. The grass is so long in places that it braids together, eventually leaning to one side and crushing the grass beneath, forming a quilted layer of landscape that yields only for the flow of a small stream or livestock. The rural farmlands have sheep wandering aimlessly with cattle making their home in actual old homes.
During my trip down the Wild Atlantic Way I stayed in several types of lodging, from the opulent and historic castles, elegant manners and countryside estates, hip and modern hotels, cozy guest houses, to a romantic lighthouse. No matter your style or interest, there are plenty of lodging choices.
Along the way I drove through many fanciful villages that seemed like imaginary places described in children’s books, with their brightly colored buildings, thatched roofs, and historic monuments.
The Wild Atlantic Way gets it name for a reason—there is often wickedly wild weather creating waves and whitewash along the shores, which showcases the spirit of this Emerald Isle. There is a mystical veil that has been stitched over time in a shroud that allows visitors to enter a world that seems straight out of a storybook. Where leprechauns are more than myths and storytelling is legendary.
Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Guide
Fly into Dublin for a night or two before venturing off to the other side of the country and starting your Wild Atlantic Way road trip. I recommend strolling downtown on foot and exploring this vibrant city. After you’ve rested a bit from your travels and had a brief opportunity to explore Dublin, have Enterprise drop off a car for you at your hotel, this makes getting your rental so convenient.
- Lodging: I highly recommend the Intercontinental Hotel, it’s in a beautiful location. A bit outside of downtown in Ballsbridge, but there is a Hop On/Hop Off bus stop right across the street, or, a short cab ride or brisk walk.
- Restaurants: For fine-dining, don’t miss the Michelin rated L’Ecrivain. Or Restaurant Forty One, both are part of Ireland’s Blue Book, which is a fantastic resource for unique lodging and dining throughout Ireland. For more traditional Irish Pub food, check out: The Brazen Head (oldest pub in Ireland dating back to 1198), O’Donoghue’s or the Long Hall. Click here for a great article by Yvonne Gordon on the 10 best pubs in Dublin.
- Don’t Miss: A stroll through Trinity College. A photo of the Oscar Wilde statue. The lively pubs and cobbled streets of Temple Bar. And, Christ Church Cathedral (over 1000 years old).
Many people who travel to Ireland to explore the Wild Atlantic Way, fly into Dublin and drive straight across the country. I would recommend not doing this. I would suggest starting from the northern part of the Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal.
Donegal is a region worth spending several days if you can. The sea cliffs, beaches and rural countryside are sensational. If that’s not enough to go out of your way to see Donegal, it’s worth mentioning that NatGeo said Donegal was the coolest place on the planet in 2017.
- Lodging: You’ll feel like a king and queen staying at Solis Lough Eske Castle. For something radically different and equally romantic, check out the St. John’s Point Lighthouse.
- Restaurants: No need to leave the Lough Eske Castle, they have a fantastic restaurant on-site. If you stay at the lighthouse, you’ll need to bring your own food as there are no restaurants anywhere nearby. They do have a full kitchen with refrigerator and utensils.
- Don’t Miss: Portnoo Beach. Glencolmcille Folk Village Museum. Slieve League (Sliabh Liag in Irish) Cliffs. And, Gleniff Horseshoe Drive (Nearby Sligo).
Enjoy a relaxing drive through the countryside stopping along the way to take in the countless views. Make reservations at Roseleague Manor, it’s a 19th-century country house hotel just a couple miles from Connemara National Park and 3 miles from Diamond Hill. The estate is situated among 30 acres of woodlands overlooking Ballinakill Bay.
- Lodging: Rosleague Manor
- Restaurants: No need to leave Rosleague, they have a lovely on-site restaurant as well as a lounge.
- Don’t Miss: Tyson, the K9 Concierge.
From Letterfrack, drive south toward Galway taking Sky Road. This route is absolutely sensational. Be sure to stop at the top of the hill where ample parking awaits to showcase the best views of this area. Continue toward Clifden, one of the most picturesque towns in Ireland overlooking the Atlantic with views of Twelve Pins Mountains. Stop by O’Malley’s Atlantic Coast Hotel for lunch, both the food and views are fantastic. Continue on to downtown Galway and check into the G Hotel to be centrally located.
- Lodging: G Hotel – This ultra-chic hotel has posh rooms featuring modern decor and furnishings.
- Restaurants: O’Malley’s Atlantic Coast, The G Hotel has several great dining options.
- Don’t Miss: Driving around Sky Road. Exploring the rugged landscape of Connemara. Fresh seafood in Clifden. And, live music in one of Galway’s city pubs.
Limerick is an old town well known for its role in the medieval-era with gorgeous Georgian character. From Galway, don’t miss stopping by Thoor Ballylee, it’s an old tower along a creek that was recently restored. It’s off the tourist path and a fantastic hidden gem. Just past Limrick is the small village of Adare, often described as the prettiest town in Ireland. Adare is indeed a wonderful place to explore, but it is quite popular, so parking can be a challenge. East of Adare is one of the most important archeological sites in Ireland, Lough Gur, which dates back some 6000 years and is similar to the more well known Stonehenge in the U.K. South of Adare and West of Lough Gur is a small village with a wonderful inn and restaurant perched on a hill called the Mustard Seed and Echo Lodge. The property, the gardens and the restaurant are amazing. My room was pretty modest, but I know they have many accommodation levels to choose from.
- Lodging: The Mustard Seed Echo Lodge
- Restaurants: The Mustard Seed is fantastic, one of my favorite restaurants in all of Ireland. I also tried the Blue Door in Adare, it’s a charming place, but mediocre food.
- Don’t Miss: Thoor Ballylee (also known as Yeats Tower), village of Adare, Lough Gur and St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Like Donegal to the north, Killarney makes a fantastic hub to explore the southern parts of the Wild Atlantic Way. From Dingle, Kenmare to the Beara Coast and so many places in between. In Killarney there are many outstanding hotels, nice restaurants and great pubs to check out. I stayed a bit outside of town at the Aghadoe Heights Hotel, which offers splendid views, fantastic accommodations and a lovely lounge and restaurant. If you want to be in the heart of it all, there are plenty of top-notch hotels that make it easy to walk to the countless shops, restaurants and pubs.
- Lodging: Aghadoe Heights Hotel, The Brehon.
- Restaurants: Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder.
- Don’t Miss: Killarney National Park. Healy Pass. And, driving the Ring of Kerry.
If you’ve ever road tripped the Wild Atlantic Way, please leave a comment below and share your favorite places.