Wild Atlantic Way
If I were to invent a time machine, my first foray into the past wouldn't be to assassinate Hitler or travel back to yesterday to pick the winning lottery numbers, it would be to go back to the mid-90s Ireland and come up with the idea for the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Wild Atlantic Way was a concept that redefined travelling around Ireland and put the country at the forefront of world driving holidays. A concerted effort by a range of tourism and governmental bodies and local shareholders created a continuous scenic drive from County Donegal's Inishowen Peninsula in the north to County Cork's Kinsale in the south. Millions of Euros were ploughed into infrastructure to join up hundreds of photo stops, attractions, villages and towns, and a whole lot of stunning coastal scenery. It's a 1600 mile (2600 km) route that needs a couple of days to a week to traverse in one go and can be done again and again.
There is an official website for the Wild Atlantic Way but with so much information to digest we've taken some of our favourites and offered it up in a handy Wild Atlantic Way travel guide to get you started.
This guide to the Wild Atlantic Way will pick out some (definitely not even close to all) of the highlights and overnight spots. Here we split the west coast into what can roughly be described as the famous, busy south and the up-and-coming north with Galway City providing the dividing line.
North of the Wild Atlantic Way
What to see and do
Fanad Head Lighthouse - situated on a rocky peninsula at the north western tip of Ireland, this lighthouse seems like it is at the edge of the world.
Slieve League Cliffs - the highest sea cliffs in Europe are a much more natural cliff experience than the Cliffs of Moher. From the viewing point you will be treated to dramatic views of the cliffs and the squall beneath and the brave can even traverse the bay on terrifying cliff-side paths. A nice companion to the cliffs is nearby Malin Beg beach.
Achill Island - driving past Achill Island's contrasting landscape of cliffs, mountains and green fields dotted with white houses is a breathtaking experience. On the western tip, Keem Bay - rightfully on most lists of the world's most beautiful beaches - is a great place to aim for.
Clew Bay - an area just a stone's throw from the town of Westport where a few pubs, hotels and seafood restaurants overlook a string of islands and the peak of Croagh Patrick. Take a cruise to glide amongst the islands and visit a seal colony.
Connemara - one of Ireland's most beautiful national parks is a heady combination of dark blue lakes, grey marble peaks and green and brown bog land. It all comes together in an attention-grabbing ever-changing landscape.
Killary Fjord - Ireland's only inland fjord is enveloped by stunning green slopes. Take to the water on a boat cruise or hit up Killary Adventure Company for a spot of kayaking.
Sky Road - you could take the N59 Main Road through the Connemara National Park or you could choose adventure and take the tiny coast-hugging Sky Road. The views here are spectacular and you could also stop at Roundstone Musical Instruments for a tour of a bodhran (Irish drum) maker for a unique experience.
Kylemore Abbey - this working abbey sitting between a reflective lake and a wooded hillside is the definition of picture perfect. Good stop for the walled gardens and cafes also.
Where to stay
Donegal Town - the compact county town of Donegal offers up a bevy of pubs, restaurants and shops.
Glencolmcille - this tiny village with two pubs and a hostel encapsulates County Donegal. Great spot for a visit to the Slieve League Cliffs.
Sligo - one of the most populous towns on the Wild Atlantic Way offers various hotels and also a good nightlife down by the River Garvogue. When in County Sligo your gaze will always be drawn to the flat-topped Benbulben.
Strandhill - just west of Sligo is one of the Ireland's surfing capitals. Check out the surf schools, walk up Knocknarea Cairn for amazing panoramic views of the coast or just stroll along the vast beaches. Why not stay in a caravan for something different?
Westport - it would be a shame not to stay at least two nights in one of our favourite places in Ireland. The food and drink mecca is the perfect jumping off point for exploring Achill Island and climbing Croagh Patrick.
Killary Adventure Company - a modern hostel on Killary Fjord that offer dorm rooms for those wanting to add a bit of adventure to their Wild Atlantic Way experience.
Clifden - a great central spot in Connemara that offers two streets full of pubs and seafood restaurants. There are two hotels or a number of very reasonable apartments.
South of the Wild Atlantic Way
What to see and do
Cliffs of Moher - number one on many an Ireland travel bucket list and images of these truly impressive cliffs have been used to sell the island for decades. Thse giant cliffs rise 390 ft (120 metres) out of the Atlantic Ocean and stretch over 8 miles (14 km) along the Burren coastline. Definitely worth battling the crowds if on this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Burren - a moonlike landscape of grey karst limestone rock is unlike almost anywhere else in Ireland. Punctuating the seemingly neverending rocky plateau is the Poulnabrone Dolmen photo stop, Burren Perfumery and Caherconnel Stone Fort.
Ring of Kerry - one of the world's greatest drives within one of the world's greatest drives. The 111 mile (179 km) Ring of Kerry drive is impossible to be done without leaving your car for a photo stop at least twenty times. A full day is needed to see everything from the Ladies View and Molls Gap viewing points to the delightful towns of Sneem and Waterville, and the multitude of beaches and cliffs in between.
Dingle Peninsula - the Ring of Kerry's lesser known but equally attractive younger brother, the Dingle Peninsula offers the same rugged beauty. Relax on Inch Beach, take the terrifying yet stunning Conor Pass and enjoy a dram at the world-leading Dingle Distillery.
Aran Islands - leave the car behind at Rossaveal (Connemara, north of Galway) or Doolin (Burren, south of Galway) and take a ferry to one of the Aran Islands for a day. This small cluster of islands is made up Inis Mor, Inis Oirr and Inis Meain with Inis Mor being the most developed for tourists. The islands have the feeling of a world gone by and with no cars allowed on the ferries you will be getting around by bike, pony and trap or minibus.
Foynes Flying Boat Museum - an unprepossessing museum telling the curious story of the flying boat which unfolded around this area. It's also reputedly the birthplace of the Irish coffee, so, you know, why not? A real hidden gem.
Doolin Music House - spend an evening in an Irish musician's home listening to a traditional Irish session, munching on local snacks and listening to stories about Doolin's musical history. The ultimate meet-the-locals experience.
Seaweed foraging - finding your own food is very trendy in Ireland at the moment. I don't really get it but many enjoy spending a couple of hours on a windswept Irish beach learning about and the different types of seaweed native to these shores. Wild Irish Seaweed based on the County Clare coast is just one of the places you can do this on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Skellig Michael - the pre-historic beehive huts of Skellig Michael first properly grabbed the world's attention with a starring role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There are boat trips that circle the island and boat trips that embark the island. The latter are very popular and expensive but all-in-all the experience is worth the price.
Where to stay
Kinsale - the foodie capital of the West Cork coast and if you can't get some decent seafood here then there is something wrong with you. There's also a fort overlooking the town's harbour and some nice walks. You can equally use this description of the other West Cork gems of Clonakilty and Skibbereen.
Killarney - touristy as hell but charmingly and a way which has not lost its natural delights. This gateway to the Ring of Kerry offers a large forest, horse and carriages and a good selection of pubs. Seemingly every building in Killarney is a hotel but it's still quite pricey due to the popularity of the town. A cheaper alternative is Tralee, an hour to the north.
Dingle Town - just so damn cute. Dingle Town gets two thumbs up thanks to a delightful mix of colourful buildings, traditional pubs and ice cream shops galore. On top of this there's harbour cruises, a celebrity dolphin, and an aquarium and distillery for those rainy days.
Doolin - a village built on its musical heritage played out every night in the pubs. It's pretty much a street of pubs, artisanal shops and guesthouses but what more do you need?
Galway City - this student city has arguably Ireland's best nightlife. Clustered around Shop Street in the city centre is a lively hub of traditional bars catering for a mix of students and tourists. Has the most accommodation on the Wild Atlantic Way but supply and demand don't quite match up.
Skellig Island photo courtesy of @storytravelers