Taking in the most breath-taking scenery Ireland has to offer, the Wild Atlantic Way trail traces its way across nine western counties, from the rugged mountains of Donegal in the north through the buzzing City of Galway - home to the iconic Galway International Arts Festival – to the unspoiled beaches of Kerry and Cork in the south.
Along the way, visitors can take in stunning landscapes, enjoy local festivals, dine on some of the world’s best seafood, and partake in activities such as walking, hiking, cycling, mountain climbing, abseiling, snorkelling, fishing… and more.
Here are some of the highlights:
Experience the extraordinary in Galway
A must-see destination on your trip to Ireland, the lively City of Galway is always at the heart of the action. This is especially true during the summer months, when the acclaimed Galway International Arts Festival (13-26 July 2020) weaves its magical spell over the city and county.
Just two hours from Dublin and one hour from Shannon and Knock Airports, the medieval city is rich in heritage, culture and the arts, and an essential part of your Wild Atlantic Way journey. There’s nowhere else in Ireland quite like it.
An unmistakable buzz descends on the city’s streets each year, as visitors and locals alike turn out to enjoy the very best of music, art, theatre and more at the Galway International Arts Festival.
The eclectic Festival hosted over 260,000 attendees last year at 200 events across 30 venues, so you are guaranteed to find something to cater to your tastes. And be warned, everything from giant opera-singing dolls to enormous fire-breathing insects have been known to take over the city for street performances during the Festival!
So mark your diary now and come West to soak in the atmosphere, enjoy the world-class arts performances and explore all that Galway and Galway International Arts Festival have to offer during your Wild Atlantic Way journey.
Sit back and take it all in
A visit to Galway city situates you perfectly to explore even more of the Wild Atlantic Way. Lally Tours operates both guided and non-guided trips to each of the surrounding regions: The Burren & Cliffs of Moher and Connemara and the Aran Islands. If you're short on time, take their "Galway Bay in a Day” tour, a sampler tour where you can experience each region in just one day.
Enter another world on Aran
Outside Galway City, there is even more to explore. Located just off the coast of Galway are the Irish-speaking Aran Islands. The largest of the three islands, Inis Mór, has been described as 'one of the world’s top island destinations' by National Geographic.
Reachable by ferry from Rossaveal, a 40-minute drive from Galway City, the welcoming island is home to the World Heritage site Dún Aonghasa, a Bronze Age fort set on dramatic 300 feet high cliff.
The island’s unique landscape has seen it host the spectacular Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at the so-called ‘Serpent's Lair’, a naturally-formed, perfectly rectangular blowhole carved from rock by the sheer force of the Atlantic Ocean.
The island also played host to Galway International Arts Festival’s acclaimed 2017 production of Roddy Doyle’s hilarious show Two Pints, which was staged in local pub Tí Joe Mac’s.
Soak up the scenery in Connemara
One of the top-rated things to do in Galway on TripAdvisor, the scenic Connemara National Park covers almost 3,000 hectares of mountains, bogs and woodlands, all ripe for exploring.
The nearby Kylemore Abbey has a rich history - the 19th century Abbey has been home to Benedictine Nuns since 1920, having been forced to flee Belgium during World War I. Now the Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden provide a stunning backdrop while visitors enjoy a bite to eat in this truly exceptional setting.
Back to nature in Mayo
In County Mayo in the North West, thousands of pilgrims climb the 2,500 feet high Croagh Patrick mountain on the last Sunday in July each year. The mountain’s history as a place of worship pre-dates Christianity to 3,000 BC. Ireland’s patron saint Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days there, and, according to legend, even banished snakes from Ireland from the mountain.
While there aren’t any snakes, be warned that Croagh Patrick is a difficult climb, suited to the most sure-footed of experienced climbers. But it offers stunning views of Clew Bay, which is said to have 365 islands, one for each day of the year.
Cycling the Great Western Greenway
The entire Wild Atlantic Way is dotted with cycling routes taking in the best of the West, including the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo, the longest off-road route in Ireland. Rated one of the 'Top 10 things to do on the Wild Atlantic Way' by National Geographic, the 42km route is suitable for all abilities and follows a disused railway line from the buzzing town of Westport to the tranquil Achill Island.
Before you begin your cycling tour, there’s lots to enjoy in Westport, including the 18th century Westport House, while the more adventurous can try snorkelling, coasteering, rock-climbing or abseiling.
Accessible via a road bridge, Achill Island is well worth the cycle. This small slice of heaven off the West coast features relaxing beaches, walking trails, water activities, fishing and more to explore.
Take in the Cliffs of Moher
No trip to Ireland’s Western seaboard is complete without a trip to the Cliffs of Moher in Liscannor, County Clare. Formed some 300 million years ago, the spectacular cliffs reach 700 feet high. Ireland’s most-visited natural attraction, it’s the perfect place in the West to soak in the sheer power of nature.
Enjoy traditional music in Clare
County Clare is renowned for its traditional Irish music and there is nowhere better to experience it than the Willie Clancy Summer School (7 - 15 July 2018), a week-long programme of traditional music, song and dance. Visitors to the town of Miltown Malbay can learn to play traditional Irish instruments like the uilleann pipes, fiddle or harp, try some Irish dancing a la Riverdance, or simply soak up the festival atmosphere in the town.
Explore the Southern Peninsulas
With some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, County Kerry in the South West is home to TripAdvisor’s top-rated place to visit in Ireland, the 10,000-hectare Killarney National Park. The park features the highest mountain range in Ireland, The Macgillicuddy Reeks.
Other Kerry highlights include Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located seven miles off the Iveragh Peninsula. Rising dramatically out of the Atlantic Ocean, the island is home to a monastery that has existed in beautiful isolation for 1,300 years. Accessible by boat from Portmagee, Skellig Michael served as a spectacular filming location for the films Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
The scenic Dingle Bay is home to a friendly bottlenose dolphin called Fungie, who has lived in Dingle for over 20 years. Don’t miss the chance to take boat tour of the bay and possibly meet Dingle’s most famous resident.
That’s just a taster of the activities on the Wild Atlantic Way – the only way to truly experience the West is to explore it!
See the Wild Atlantic Way website for more information and assistance in building your own travel itinerary.