Ireland cliff with ocean

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way: Why it Should be at the Top of Your Bucket List

Most people who travel to Ireland tend to land in Dublin airport, Ireland’s largest airport with the widest range of flight options. These same visitors tend to thus stay in and around the capital city. Don’t get me wrong, it has plenty to offer, including the Guinness Storehouse, the beautiful Dublin Castle, Trinity College which is home to the Book of Kells, and the Dublin Writers Museum. Ireland, however, is so much more than this, the reputation it earns for its rolling green fields and incredible coastlines one that is very much grounded in fact.

To fully understand the incredible little island that is Ireland, anyone planning on visiting should most definitely consider Ireland’s west coast, or more specifically, the Wild Atlantic Way. This is Ireland’s first defined touring route, stretching along the Atlantic coast, all the way from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to the little town of Kinsale in County Cork. It is over 1,600 miles in length, and is actually one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world, offering all who visit stunning scenery, incredible oceans, and beautiful coastal villages.

Fáilte Ireland, the country’s National Tourism Development Authority, developed the concept for the Wild Atlantic Way, which was officially launched in 2014 by the Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring, T.D. The overall aim of the route was, of course, to drive tourists to the stunning island, but also to gain a name as one of the greatest driving routes in the world, and to become the European version of the Great Ocean Road in Australia and the Garden Route in South Africa.”

The Wild Atlantic Way is split up into four main regions, these being The Northwest, The West, The Midwest, and The Southwest, and to complete all four (and the fourteen sub-stages they are divided into), will mean one has travelled the entire length of the coastline. While creative license is encouraged, and there is no set way that people have to travel along the touring route, there are 157 distinctly marked out Discovery Points along the way, which are pointed out by signs with the Wild Atlantic Way.

Since its launch, one of the route’s greatest appeals has become taking a picture at as many Discovery Points as possible. Most crucial to your photo album, however, would be snapping a picture at the Signature Points, fifteen Discovery Points chosen as being “especially unique” and crucial to “shap[ing] the image of Ireland’s remarkable west coast.” Included in this list are Malin Head and Mizen Head, Ireland’s most northerly and southerly coastal points, as well as the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, which plays host to a stunning coastal golf course, played upon by numerous celebrities including Donald Trump and Tiger Woods. Check out the full list of the coastal route’s Signature Points here.

Here I’m going to bring up an idea that’s perhaps a little archaic – getting lost along the Wild Atlantic Way. I already know what anyone reading this is probably thinking … Get lost? You do remember a little invention called the Satnav, or what about Google Maps, ever heard of that? Well if you are thinking these things, humor me please. In Ireland sometimes the old-fashioned way is still considered the best way, and in certain cases, this adds to the little island’s charm. This is certainly one of those cases. The Wild Atlantic Way is marked out clearly for anyone travelling the west coast by road signs, and each time you follow one sign, more will be found shortly, leading you along the route, be that either southbound or northbound. And as the website so helpfully reminds us, “in case you should get lost, you shouldn’t have any problems finding somebody, who is willing to help you find back to where you want to go.” The Irish are amongst the friendliest in the world, after all! Ask someone for directions and you’re as likely to get invited in for a cup of tea as you are to actually receive them.


Right, so you know what the Wild Atlantic Way is now, but what about what it has to offer? The answer to that is, a whole lot, too much to cover in one article, so I’ll touch on some of its greatest locations. Being from Cork myself, I have to start with the incredible town of Kinsale, founded in the 12th century as a medieval fishing port. The name of the town comes from the Irish Ceann tSáile. meaning Head of the Sea. The town was recently named by Conde Nast magazine as one of Ireland’s most beautiful towns, and this is unsurprising when you consider all it has to offer.

As you enter into the town you are met by a stunning harbour, filled with yachts, ebbing and flowing gently with the water. Delve deeper into the town and you will find a treasure trove of wonderful independent stores, art galleries, cafes, and boutiques. It is so easy to waste away the hours perusing the shelves of Stone Mad, a small gallery selling everything from cocktail dresses to home décor, Swarovski jewellery to dance shoes, or quietly reading in Kinsale Bookshop, a family-owned traditional bookshop that has been running for over 20 years.

If you’re not adverse to a pop of colour, Kinsale may very well be the town for you, filled to bursting point with brightly coloured buildings, every shade from hot pink to luminous green, and never failing to put a smile on the face of all tourists, young and old. If instead you are more of a history buff, Kinsale will not leave you out in the cold, home to both Charles Fort and James Fort, both built in the 17th century, to protect the town and harbour of Kinsale, and both rich with history, of which you can discover through wonderful guided tours.

I could write an entirely separate article on the wonderful food Kinsale has to offer, particularly due to its status as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. Thankfully, the town offers an extensive food tour for those who wish to experience it all, but if I could offer any future visitors on recommendation, it would be Fishy Fishy, the award-winning  seafood restaurant run by husband and wife Martin and Marie Shanahan. It is located right on the harbour, uses fresh fish from the waters of Ireland’s south coast, and the building was once an art gallery, an element that remains at its core, meaning a display of constantly changing artwork will also welcome you on arrival.

Dursey Island

Also on offer in County Cork is Dursey Island, or Oileán Baoi, Island of the Bull, a location I know well due to many childhood trips. This island can be found on the tip of the Beara Peninsula, and there is only one way to reach it – a journey across the Dursey Sound on a cable car, the only one located in Ireland. Don’t be too surprised if you find yourself joined in the car by a cow or two, when I say it is the only way back and forth, I mean it, and farmers have to make use of it too. It is a highly unique location in that It has only a handful of semi-permanent residents, no shops, pubs or restaurants, and remains mainly undisturbed by humankind. Birdwatching, as well as dolphin and even whale spotting are all popular activities on the island.

The Cliffs of Moher

If we travel slightly further north we hit County Clare, and one of the route’s most spectacular Signature Points, the Cliffs of Moher. Despite living only a few hours drive from here, I had never visited the cliffs until last summer, but let me assure you that the wait was well, well worth it. They stretch for an entire 8 kilometres, and are one of the country’s most visited natural attractions. The cliffs themselves have featured in many Hollywood films, including The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and it is very easy to understand why. Looking out from the pathways, upon the rugged coastline, the crashing waves, and the seemingly never-ending expanse of water, which goes on until it blurs with the skyline, can be described as no less than a spiritual experience. It is a location that will make you feel entirely connected to nature, to land, and remind you of the natural beauty the country of Ireland has to offer its visitors.

Croagh Patrick

I couldn’t possibly explore the Wild Atlantic Way without mentioning Croagh Patrick, or Cruach Phadraigh, Ireland’s holy mountain, found in County Mayo. Irish legend is very important to this mountain, which tells that Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, spent 40 days and nights on this mountain, fasting and praying in order to banish snakes from the island of Ireland forever. This is celebrated yearly in Ireland on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday od July, upon which thousands climb the mountain, some even doing so barefoot, to honour Saint Patrick. The views from the top of the mountain make the 2,500 foot climb worth it, showing the expanse of the wonderful Clew Bay, and the surrounding Mayo countryside.

Fanad Head Lighthouse

Reach Donegal, in Northern Island, and you will have completed your travels along the Wild Atlantic Way, but don’t skim out on all this wonderful county also has to offer. Fanad Head Lighthouse is an incredible spot, lying on the Fanad Peninsula between Lough Swilly and Mulroy bay, and looking towards Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head. The lighthouse is over 200 years old, and remains in operation, and even more amazingly, you can stay in there, in one of its fantastic refurbished cottages. The lighthouse has sensational views, offers fascinating tours, and is one of the great Lighthouses of Ireland. I could write a book full of the other incredible locations along the Wild Atlantic Way, but a fully comprised list exists right here.

Things to Do

There are also a whole host of incredible activities on offer along the way, only adding to the incredible coastal scenery and small villages. The Island View Riding Stables in Sligo offers a chance to ride horses along the beach, providing a four hour trek along the beach and across a channel at low tide to a small island. If you are in the mood for something traditional, almost every town and village along the route is host to pubs and venues where Irish traditional music is a speciality, and trad seshes, as they are so fondly known, are a nightly occurrence. If you have never nursed a pint of Guinness while listening to the sounds of the uillean pipes, banjo, fiddle and flute, then you have not fully experienced Ireland. If you would like to hear the Irish language spoken eloquently, then visit any one of the many Gaeltacht (Irish speaking areas) on your travels, and hear for yourself how beautiful the native tongue can sound. Other unique experiences on offer include a bicycle ride around the Aran Islands, surfing in Strandhill, night time kayaking on Lough Hyne, or a seaweed bath in County Sligo.

Ireland may be a tiny island, and there may be many presumptions that exist surrounding it (think leprechauns, never-ending bad weather, very little to find beyond farm after farm). However, in reality, it is a gem of an island, offering tourists an experience that is utterly unique, and that could not be found anywhere else in the world. The Wild Atlantic Way exists to open tourists eyes to this, and to expose them to the real Ireland, and to all the incredible things it has to offer, from food to music, landscape to coastlines.

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