An unmissable road trip, the Wild Atlantic Way tourist trail is 2,500km (1,553mi) long and features 157 discovery points and 1,000 attractions along the western, southern and northern coastlines of Ireland. Culture Trip has picked the 15 must-see places along the way.
The crowing point of County Donegal’s Fanad Peninsula is a lighthouse dating back to 1817; it was built in response to the sinking of a warship in Lough Swilly, in which the sole survivor was a parrot. Still a functioning lighthouse, it’s one of 12 that make up the Great Lighthouses of Ireland – a new initiative allowing visitors the chance to visit or stay in an Irish lighthouse.
Looking out over the North Atlantic from mainland Ireland’s most northerly point at Malin Head feels a bit like reaching the end of the world, with little separating you from the Arctic other than the ocean – you can even see the Northern Lights from here if you time it right. This area is also home to the popular mobile coffee shop Caffe Banba, where you can enjoy a warm beverage while you take in the view.
Donegal’s largest town, Letterkenny, is known as the Cathedral Town, for having the county’s only Roman Catholic cathedral. It is also home to the Donegal County Museum, set in a former famine workhouse and officially recognised by the Irish government as the best of Ireland’s county museums.
A Benedictine monastery based in a 19th-century castle on a picturesque lakeshore, Kylemore Abbey in Connemara is well worth visiting. As well as exploring the abbey itself, you can tour the entire 405ha (1,000-acre) estate, including 2ha (six acres) of Victorian walled gardens.
Slieve League’s cliffs aren’t as well known as the Cliffs of Moher, but they are nearly three times taller. As Europe’s highest sea cliffs at 601m (1,972ft), seeing them is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The smallest of Galway Bay’s Aran Islands in terms of population, Inis Meáin is described as “one of the most important strongholds of traditional Irish culture”. An extension of the Burren’s karst landscape, this beautifully remote area is also home to the celebrated Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites – a wonderful place to rest your head for the night.
Welcoming and colourful, the harbour city of Galway has everything you could possibly want from an Irish locale, from fantastic places to eat and lively pubs to music venues and cultural attractions. It’s even the 2020 European Capital of Culture.
Strandhill is the biggest coastal village in County Sligo and among its most scenic, nestled at the base of Knocknarea hill and looking out across the Atlantic. A surfer’s paradise, the area also has a local market, seaweed baths, a golf club, plus plenty of restaurants and pubs.
County Mayo’s Ballina town has some notable architecture, with many Georgian buildings, and is also the site of the Jackie Clarke Collection. This major private collection has more than 100,000 Irish historical artefacts, including letters from Irish revolutionaries, rare books, maps and much more.
Among Ireland’s most visited sites, the majestic Cliffs of Moher on the Clare Coast need no introduction. Providing views of the Aran Islands, the Maumturks and Twelve Bens (Twelve Pins) mountain ranges, and Loop Head Peninsula, these spectacular cliffs are a national natural treasure.
Inside the Doolin Cave in County Clare, you will find the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe. A staggering 7.3m (24ft) structure hanging from the ceiling, it was formed from calcium deposits from a single drop of water, dripping over thousands of years.
County Clare’s 15th-century tower house known as Bunratty Castle has become another major tourist attraction, known for its long history (the site was originally a Viking trading camp in 970) and its Medieval-style banquets – a tradition that has survived since 1963.
Taking in some of Ireland’s most striking vistas, Dingle’s circular Slea Head Drive has so many fabulous stopping points that it’s impossible to pick just one. It’s best to set aside at least a half-day to get the most out of this breathtaking journey.
The cliffs at Mizen Head – the southerly equivalent of Malin Head – have a visitor centre, where the brave can cross a startlingly high bridge and look for seals, whales and dolphins in the waves below.