The Wild Atlantic Way is a not-to-be-missed coastal road where the views are free!
It goes through 9 Irish counties and spans a total of 2,500 kilometers. It stretches from the rugged Malin Head in the Northwest of Ireland to the pretty fishing village of Kinsale in the South!
On your way, you will find a plethora of hidden hamlets hugging the coast, far-flung headlands, dramatic sea cliffs, national wonders, and some unique historical places. To fully immerse yourself in this magnificent area of Ireland, take some time to venture off-the-beaten tourist paths.
We'll give you a hand: Here, you find 10 little-known locations on the Wild Atlantic Way!
1. Inishowen Peninsula
A treasure in Donegal County is Inishowen Peninsula. A scenic route of 100 kilometers called the Inishowen runs around the peninsula boasting countless panoramas over the ocean. In Greencastle, you can find the street that leads to Stroove Lighthouse, where you can walk (or even a paddle) on either of the small beaches, which both have magnificent views. In addition, you can visit the Maritime Museum and Planetarium in Greencastle.
If you are looking for a secluded piece of Ireland, visit Malin Head on the most northerly point of the Inishowen Peninsula. Here you find yourself in magical scenery amid wildlife, rock formations, and history. Check out the watchtower at Banba's Crown, which was built to keep watch against an invasion from Napoleon. Did you know that the area near "Banba's Crown" was the film location for a Star Wars movie?
Be sure to also spend some time on the Five Finger Strand - getting its name from the five narrow sea stacks that protrude from the water. Massive dunes (up to 30 meters high) protect this beach and will impress you for its size and beauty.
2. Slieve League Cliffs
The Slieve League Cliffs are less known than the Cliffs of Moher, but they are no less majestic. These quartzite cliffs are 600 meters high (among the highest of Ireland) and boast breathtaking viewing points out across the vast expanse of ocean. Hiking enthusiasts should definitely try a walk along the sea cliffs, while a boat trip along the coast will provide you with magnificent panoramas.
3. Achill Island
A splendid mountain landscape, tall cliffs soaring from the Atlantic Ocean, and unique peatlands characterize Achill Island - Ireland's largest island - in county Mayo.
The island has an incredible coastline to explore, with many clean beaches. However, the most magnificent beach is Keem Bay. This peaceful kilometer-long beach with golden sand and clear turquoise water looks subtropical! From the nearby cliff, you get incredible views of the bay. Thanks to its constant breeze, Keem Bay is also the best place to surf on the island, and its scenery even inspired famous writers such as Graham Greene and Heinrich Böll.
Achill Island is also part of the Western Greenway cycling network, a 40km loop following along an old railway taking you from the picturesque town of Westport out to the idyllic scenery of Achill Island. An absolute treat for any leisure cyclist.
4. Foraging in Rossaveal
Rossaveal (Connemara) is a small village in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way. The village is probably most known as the ferry port for the Aran Islands. Yet, it is set in beautiful nature and is surrounded by lovely coastal towns such as Carraroe which boasts a wonderful coral beach. In Clifden, you can bike the 16-km-long picturesque sky road, and of course, you cannot miss a day trip to charming Galway!
We like to reveal another secret in Rossaveal, a wonderful foraging tour! On this walking tour - while breathing in the fresh Atlantic Sea air - you learn not only about local history but as well as edible sea plants, like seaweed! Passing old cottages and traditional stone walls, you can reach an abalone farm. If you opt for a farm tour, you get to know everything about land-based aquaculture and how abalone, as well as sea cucumbers and urchins, are grown! You even can taste fresh seafood dishes with the seafood and plants growing along the shore.
5. Loop Head Peninsula
Do you like to see and hear the dolphins… Then, don't miss Loop Head Peninsula!
Over 120 dolphins live on the peninsula that you might spot just offshore. But, if you want to see them up close, choose a dolphin-watching boat trip. Young and old will love this unique experience.
Loop Head Peninsula is also a great spot to sample fresh seafood such as oysters, crab, mussels, and mackerel. You can even catch fish for your own dinner! More adventurous travelers can go snorkeling in the rock pools, windsurfing, paddle boarding, coasteering, and many more exciting activities. Loop Head is also a paradise for wildlife lovers, with grey seals and thousands of seabirds on the cliffs. Drive up to the end of the peninsula to Loop Head Lighthouse. From up the tower, you have sweeping views.
6. Explore sea life and history around the Blasket Islands
Stretching out into the North Atlantic ocean in Southwest Ireland, Dingle Peninsula must be on your bucket list. There are many reasons for visiting this headland, whether for its fantastic scenery, traditional culture, charming coastal towns (like Dingle), or winding roads. Off the coast of the peninsula lie the Blasket Islands, a small archipelago whose inhabitants moved definitively to the mainland in 1953, leaving behind its traditions and culture. Nowadays, you can view the ruined cottages where they lived and visit the Blasket Centre and learn all about this mystical place and the story of its community.
The Blasket Islands have, however, not only a rich history but also rich marine life, which you can encounter by boat! Experienced skippers will take you around the islands and the coast looking out for the best spots to spot whales and dolphins, basking sharks, grey seals to tens of thousands of migrating seabirds (including puffins) that nest during summer mounts. This is wildlife at its best while you will also take in the breath-taking views of the scenic Slea Head Drive, which starts (en ends) in the charming Dingle and goes around the outer edges of the peninsula. This coastal road of approx. 50 km is full of incredible viewpoints, so keep your camera at hand and be ready to stop!
7. Gap of Dunloe
The iconic Gap of Dunloe is a scenic narrow mountain passageway in County Kerry! The road - The Gap - is 11 kilometers long and passes through the valley. It has been famous since Victorian times, and despite its large number of visitors, it has still retained its authentic charm. The river Loe flows through the valley and connects five lakes: Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. Coosaun Lough and Black Lake are connected by an arched stone bridge, the Wishing Bridge. It is said that wishes made here come true!
By the way, you can also explore The Gap by foot, bike or horse-drawn jaunting car, passing quaint old buildings and many friendly sheep. Does it not sound magical?
8. Kenmare Bay
Kenmare Bay is a remote and tranquil area full of small natural harbors and incredible marine life consisting of friendly seals, dolphins, and seabirds. Thanks to the abundance of sea life, diving is popular in this area. In the bay, you can as well go kayaking and paddle-boarding, enjoying just the sounds of nature.
Adventurous guests can opt for kayak tours by night! Accompanied by the reflections of the mountains in the water, the shadows of the birds, and mystical sparks of bioluminescence, you will silently slide through the water. This experience you cannot miss!
9. Skellig Ring
Located on the Western tip of the famous Ring of Kerry, the coastal Skellig Ring takes you over narrow clifftop roads that look out over the wild Atlantic waves. At Saint Finian's Bay, you can take the passage to two inhabited islands that rise out of the water 12 km off the coast. One is called Little Skellig, home to large seabird colonies. And the other one is Skellig Michael, known for its well-preserved Christian monastery (that you can reach by steep steps), where Irish monks lived during the 8th-century.
The passage to the Skelligs is not always possible due to choppy waters, but its unique history and nature make it worth a visit. When you return from the islands, a wonderful smell of chocolate will welcome you... It comes from the Skelligs Chocolate factory, located right here at the most western edge of Europe. The ideal place for a tasting or a hot chocolate!
10. Sheeps Head Way
An untouched natural landscape, stunning coastal views, and no crowds, this is what you will find on the Sheep's Head Way in County Cork. Sheep's Head Way is set on a stunning peninsula dotted with old cottages. Enthusiastic hikers can walk the main trail of Sheep's Head Way (almost 90 km long) in about six days, or you can pick one of the shorter walks and day hikes.
Our favorite hike starts in the town of Bantry and heads right to the end of Sheep's Head peninsula, where Sheep's Head lighthouse is watching over Bantry Bay. Unfortunately, you cannot visit the lighthouse, but it provides a picturesque setting for some great pictures.
The calm waters of Bantry Bay are also ideal for kayaking, sailing, and fishing. And you cannot leave Bantry without trying its fresh mussels and other local seafood.
At the Wild Atlantic Way, there is always more to discover… and you might even encounter some other little-known wonders that, for many, are still a secret.