Be seduced where the ocean kisses Ireland

Keam Bay in Achill.

Keam Bay in Achill.

What is this Wild Atlantic Way you speak of? Are you ready for the journey of a lifetime that will take you along the snaking route of one of the most westerly parts of Europe, where the ocean kisses Ireland; that bitter bowl of tears that brought so many people from this island right across the world for centuries.

Today, its lapping waves are bringing millions of people back to Ireland, to experience this liberating journey along the side of the continent that faces out into that ocean. There are a million of you who live longside this route, yet have never sampled it as part of this wondrous adventure that is the Wild Atlantic Way. There are millions more overseas who long to come to the edge of the continent, to look out and to dream your own personal dream.

Along this way, you will hear fantastic sounds, see wonderful sights, eat and drink the freshest and most welcome of cuisine. You will let the Atlantic breeze massage your visage and you will fall in love with a part of Europe that has remained untouched for centuries.

So, let me take you on a journey along the Wild Atlantic Way. We are starting in the north, in the city of Derry and we will conclude in the south, in the culinary wonderland that is the town of Kinsale in Cork. Belt up for the journey ahead.

You can take the whole trip in one journey from north to south or start in the south and make your way up towards Donegal, but there is much to discover and many details to explore, which takes a lot of time. You can always revisit the Wild Atlantic Way and explore the stages one by one and take your time, instead of taking the whole trip at once. The rocky coast of Ireland has been here for a few thousand years and more, so it's not going anywhere soon.

If we commence in the north of the tour, we encounter the Northern Headlands and Surf Coast which includes the Counties Donegal, Sligo and north of County Mayo. The stages of this part of the Wild Atlantic Way are:

Inishowen Peninsula — Derry to Letterkenny

This section of the Wild Atlantic Way takes you to the Inishowen Peninsula and follows much of the popular "Inishowen 100" circular route.

Framed by Lough Foyle to the east, Lough Swilly to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Ireland's largest peninsula is lined by water on three sides. In many places, you will encounter beautiful beaches and breathtaking views of marvellous stretches of coastline.

In the remoteness of Malin Head, you reach the northernmost point of the Irish mainland. The wild, rugged coastline around the northern tip of Ireland bears witness to the force with which the tides of the Atlantic have always shaped the land.

At the Gap of Mamore, the road winds steeply up a 240 metre high pass, offering a panoramic view of the entire northern coastline. Then the adventure begins. With a gradient of up to 30%, the onward journey is like an Alpine ski descent.

The Signature Discovery Point of this section is Malin Head, which has already been introduced.

Fanad Head – Letterkenny to Bunbeg

From Letterkenny, the Wild Atlantic Way winds its way north along the shores of Lough Swilly. The farther you leave the city behind, the more you immerse yourself in the remoteness of County Donegal.

On the edge of the Knockalla Mountains, the coastal road gradually climbs and offers fantastic views of Lough Swilly and Ballymastocker Bay. With its three golden beaches, the bay was once voted the second most beautiful beach in the world by readers of the British Observer. At Fanad Head, the northernmost point of the peninsula, one of Ireland's most beautiful lighthouses towers majestically above the waves of the Atlantic.

A particularly spectacular section of this stage of the Wild Atlantic Way is the Atlantic Drive on the Rosguill Peninsula. Here, the interaction of the natural elements has created a unique natural beauty.

The wildest and most dramatic peninsula of Donegal is Horn Head. The power of the ocean is omnipresent here and have formed bizarre cliffs in the very north. The panoramic view from the old signal tower above the cliffs stretches from the Fanad Peninsula to Tory Island. Speaking of Tory - on the island, 14 kilometres off the coast, according to ancient tradition, there was still a king until 2018. With the death of the last incumbent, Patsy Dan Rodgers, Ireland's last kingship seems to have come to an end.

The Signature Discovery Point of this section is Fanad Head, where the legendary lighthouse stands as an impressive testament to human invention and the natural beauty of the Irish coastline. Perched on the craggy cliffs, it offers breathtaking panoramic views across the Atlantic Ocean - a sight that inspires a sense of wonder and awe.

Slieve League Coast – Bunbeg to Donegal Town

From Bunbeg, the Wild Atlantic Way winds southwards along the Atlantic coast. You pass The Rosses, an area with countless bogs and lakes. Small islands are located off the rugged coast, which can be reached on foot at low tide.

Travelling on from Ardara, you leave the coast for a while to cross the Glengesh Pass in a westerly direction. The route descends to Glencolumbkille, a tranquil settlement with numerous ancient monuments. A narrow road continues through one of the most unspoilt stretches of coastline on the Emerald Isle and ends directly overlooking a beautiful bay - the Silver Strand (Malin Beg ).

The steep cliffs of Slieve League are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe. They seem to change their appearance every minute, hiding in low-hanging clouds, only to shine again in majestic splendour a little later in the light of the sun. The Slieve League Cliffs are the signature discovery point of this section.

Donegal Bay and Sligo – Donegal Town to Ballina

Mullaghmore Head is a prime example of the Wild Atlantic Way.

To the west, the Atlantic Ocean shows its wild side, while Classiebawn Castle dominates the scenery inland.

Somewhat hidden below the castle is a marvellous sandy beach and a village with some delightful eateries. You have to taste the chowder...

Erris – Ballina to Belmullet

One of the most impressive natural wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way is located just a stone's throw from the coast of Downpatrick Head.

Here, the sea stack Dún Briste rises around 50 metres high from the waves and defies the forces of the sea. The stretch of coast between Downpatrick Head and Benwee Head is lined with several cliffs, some of which are over 100 metres tall.

Where the tides of the Atlantic meet the coast in the far north-west of County Mayo, you reach the Barony of Erris. Far away from the hustle and bustle of modern times, old Ireland is right at home here. We are in the centre of the Gaeltacht, an area where Irish is the primary language.

The Atlantic side of the Mullet Peninsula is virtually uninhabited and is constantly exposed to the forces of the Atlantic. To the east, the peninsula shields Blacksod Bay.

The Signature Discovery Point of this section is Downpatrick Head, which has already been introduced.

Bay Coast and Cliff Coast

The Bay Coast and Cliff Coast includes the Counties Mayo, Galway, Clare and north of County Kerry. The stages of this part of the Wild Atlantic Way are:

Achill Island and Clew Bay – Belmullet to Westport

This section of the Wild Atlantic Way leads through "Pirate country" along the shores of the pirate queen Granuaile, also known as Grace O'Malley.

There are two tower houses of the legendary buccaneer along the route: Carraigahowley Castle (also known as Rockfleet Castle ) and Kildavnet Castle on Achill Island.

Achill Island - Ireland's largest island - is accessible from the mainland by a bridge at Achill Sound. The island boasts mountains, lakes, wild bogs, extensive sandy beaches, picturesque villages and the highest cliffs in Ireland. The Atlantic Drive leads directly along the rugged south-west coast of Achill, offering impressive views over the coast and nearby Clew Bay.

The journey to Westport continues along Clew Bay. It is said to have 365 islands in this bay - one for every day of the year. No wonder the pirate queen set out on her raids from this tangled archipelago.

The signature discovery point of this section is Keem Bay, which is beautifully nestled between steep slopes in the west of Achill Island. Even from a distance, the horseshoe-shaped bay magically attracts everyone's attention. Keem Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland and is a tiny paradise where azure blue water meets golden sand and time seems to stand still.

Killary Harbour – Westport to Clifden

Between Clew Bay and Killary Harbour, spectacular mountain ranges dominate this section of the Wild Atlantic Way. As soon as you leave Westport, Ireland's holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, captures your attention. When I sampled here a few weeks back, I saw to my delight that the pathway has been made safe with the local stone, all thanks to a dedicated crew who worked at it for three years.

Ireland's national saint, Saint Patrick, is said to have fasted on the mountain for 40 days and nights and, by the way, banished snakes from the island forever from up here. However, the mountain already had an important significance in pre-Christian times, as the discovery of a Celtic hillfort on the summit shows.

The Wild Atlantic Way leads south across the valleys of Doolough and Delphi towards Killary Harbour. This estuary stretches some 15 kilometres inland, surrounded by lush green meadows.

A constantly changing landscape and the interplay of majestic mountains and beautiful beaches are the trademarks of Connemara National Park. A real highlight can be enjoyed near Clifden, the capital of Connemara. Here, the Sky Road takes you to a fascinating panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and the offshore islands.

The signature discovery point of this section is Killary Harbour, Ireland's only fjord. This majestic inlet creates a stunning fusion of sea and land.

Connemara – Clifden to Galway

On narrow roads along the coast and in the neighbourhood of the cone-shaped Twelve Pins and Maamturk Mountains, this section of the Wild Atlantic Way leads through Connemara, the wild heart of Ireland.

The entire region has always been influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, its waves and currents and, of course, the forces of the wind.

Burren and West Clare – Galway to Kilkee

The first part of this section of the Wild Atlantic Way appears to be out of this world. The reason is the mesmerising karst landscape of the Burren, a brittle limestone mountain range with a rugged and rocky surface. The translation of the Irish name "Boirinn" is "stony place" and it could hardly be more accurate.

The world renowned Cliffs Of Moher stretch for eight kilometres and rise 214 metres vertically at their highest point. In good weather and with clear views, a walk along the cliff edge is an extraordinary experience.

Boats also sail from Doolin and Galway to the cliffs. Especially from the water, the panorama and the full scale of these mighty sea cliffs is impressive. The Cliffs Of Moher are the signature discovery point of this section.

The Shannon Estuary – Kilkee to Tralee

In the heart of West Clare, not too far from Kilkee, you will find a pristine coastal landscape with dramatic cliffs. Here, the Loop Head Drive runs along the rocky coastline - just a few metres off the cliff edge. The impressive rock formations rise up to a height of 80 metres against the waves of the Atlantic.

The estuary of Ireland's longest river, the Shannon, is an important habitat for numerous animal species. Especially dolphins, which live here permanently and give birth to their calves.

Humans also once lived in the Shannon estuary, more precisely on the small island of Scattery Island. Boats depart from Kilrush to Scattery, where you can visit an abandoned settlement, the ruins of a monastery with a well-preserved round tower and an old garrison.

Once you have crossed over to the south bank of the Shannon Estuary by ferry, the Wild Atlantic Way follows the varied coastline of North Kerry to Ballybunion. This popular holiday resort has beautiful sandy beaches and rugged cliffs.

The signature discovery point of this section is Loop Head, where a picturesque lighthouse guards the coastline. Loop Head is not just a spot on the map, but a reflection of the deep connection between the land, the sea and the people who have travelled these waters for centuries.

Southern Peninsulas & Haven Coast

The Southern Peninsulas and Haven Coast includes the Counties Kerry and Cork. The stages of this part of the Wild Atlantic Way are:

Dingle Peninsula – Tralee to Castlemaine

The Dingle Peninsula is blessed with never ending sandy beaches and dune formations both to the north (near Castlegregory ) and to the south (near Inch ).

In the far west of the peninsula, the Wild Atlantic Way winds over Conor Pass, Ireland's highest pass road, to Dingle Town and through Ireland's latest National Park, opened just this month. For some, the drive across the Pass is a real adventure, as the road is narrowed in many places by overhanging rocks and you have to cope with oncoming traffic. Not for the fainthearted.

Once you have made it to Dingle Town, the next adventure awaits with the Slea Head Drive. The route leads right into the heart of the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht region and through possibly the most beautiful area in Ireland. The narrow road winds its way westwards along a steeply sloping coastline.

Just off the coast are the Blasket Islands, the largest of which, An Blascaod Mór, can be reached from Dunquin. Once you have circumnavigated Slea Head, Mount Brandon, Ireland's second highest mountain, rises into the sky in the centre of the countryside in the immediate proximity of the Atlantic.

A multitude of Celtic and early Christian monuments, such as Ogham stones, beehive huts and ecclesiastical buildings such as the Gallarus Oratory or the monastery site of Reask, prove that people have lived in this beautiful region since prehistoric times.

The signature discovery point of this section is Blasket Sound, the westernmost tip of the Dingle Peninsula and undoubtedly one of the most picturesque areas in Ireland. It offers unparalleled views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Blasket Islands, Dunmore Head and Carrignaparka Beach. This area is a paradise for those seeking tranquillity and beauty in its most pristine form.

Ring of Kerry – Castlemaine to Kenmare

This section of the Wild Atlantic Way is largely overlapping with the famous Ring of Kerry. The "Ring" is the most frequently travelled tourist route in Ireland to date and follows the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula.

In the west of the peninsula you find a picture-perfect version of Ireland. This is where the Wild Atlantic Way turns off the Ring of Kerry onto the Skellig Ring. This route takes you off the beaten track through one of the most unspoilt areas of Ireland. Highlights include a detour to Valentia Island via the bridge at Portmagee, the drive over the Coomanaspig Pass and the bays and beaches of St Finian's Bay.

Boats depart from Portmagee and Ballinskelligs to the two Skellig Islands, which are 12 kilometres off the coast of Kerry. These islands are little more than two rocky peaks, the larger of which, Skellig Michael, rises up to 217 metres out of the Atlantic Ocean. The smaller island, Little Skellig, is inhabited exclusively by seabirds and is home to one of the largest gannet colonies in the world.

The Signature Discovery Point of this section is Bray Head - Skelligs View on Valentia Island. This viewpoint offers unparalleled views of the Skellig Islands and the vast Kerry coastline. Here, the world feels boundless, a place of serene beauty and timeless wonder that captivates the heart and stirs the soul.

Beara and Sheep’s Head – Kenmare to Durrus

The Ring of Beara is significantly less busy than its "big brother", the Ring of Kerry.

In addition, the narrow roads are not suitable for buses and motorhomes. This section of the Wild Atlantic Way across the Beara Peninsula leads to sparsely populated areas away from the hustle and bustle. The rugged coastline and rocky mountains are under direct influence of the Atlantic year in, year out.

The far west of the Beara Peninsula is truly unique. Here lies Dursey Island, which is connected to the mainland by Ireland's only cable car. This exceptional method of transport is designed to carry people and animals alike.

Sheep's Head, which is near Bantry, is another peninsula protruding into the Atlantic. It is a place of heavenly peace, unspoilt beauty and tranquil scenery. At the most westerly point the tip of the peninsula – the actual Sheep's Head – there is a walking trail to a small lighthouse, which is built into the cliffs like an eagle's nest.

The signature Discovery Point of this section is Dursey Island and, as already mentioned, can only be reached by cable car. This extraordinary journey across the stormy sea is more than just a crossing. It is an invitation to a place where tranquillity reigns and the air is filled with the song of rare bird species. Dursey Island is not just a destination, but an experience, a moment of seclusion and connection with the untamed spirit of nature.

West Cork – Durrus to Kinsale

The Mizen Peninsula in the south-west of Ireland is a true hidden gem. It combines all the special characteristics that make the Irish west coast so charming: beautiful sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs and picturesque fishing villages.

The southernmost point of the Irish mainland is reached at Brow Head. From here you can see Fastnet Rock, which is known as „The Teardrop of Ireland“ as it was the last image of Ireland the emigrants had when sailing for the New World.

The Wild Atlantic Way continues eastwards to Baltimore, the hub for crossings to the islands of Roaring Water Bay. From the signal tower above the town, the Baltimore Beacon, you have a magnificent view over the islands in the bay.

The Old Head of Kinsale is a narrow headland, the flanks of which are lined with rugged cliffs. At the southern tip, a lighthouse towers high above the Celtic Sea. It is an idyllic spot that is particularly popular with golfers, as the headland is completely owned by a renowned golf club.

The two signature discovery points of this section are Mizen Head and Old Head of Kinsale. Both points symbolise Ireland's enduring connection with the sea and offer breathtaking views that touch the soul.

So there you have it...a taste of Ireland. If you want, you can turn around and go back up again. No matter how many times you travel the Wild Atlantic Way, you will see a new treasure, a delight along the route. Enjoy.

 

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