The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the most impressive and scenic driving routes in the world. From the energetic city of Galway to the serene, rugged mountains of Donegal and beyond, it runs up the length of Ireland for a staggering 2,500km across nine counties. Punctuated by historic landmarks as well as jaw-dropping cliffs and mountainscapes, the signposted route is also home to some of the best hiking, cycling, climbing and walking in Europe – not to mention world-class seafood and of course the Galway International Arts Festival. Not sure where to start?
Here are some of our tried and tested recommendations.
Experience the extraordinary in Galway City
Informally known as Ireland’s creative capital, the lively City of Galway has long drawn artists, foodies, musicians and performers alike with its buzzing arts scene. This is especially true during the summer months, when the Galway International Arts Festival (17-30 July 2023) casts its magical spell over the city. From giant opera-singing dolls to street performers and world-famous theatre, the eclectic festival hosts over 300,000 attendances every year as part of 200 events across 30 venues, so you’re guaranteed to find something to enjoy. Just two hours from Dublin and one hour from Shannon and Knock Airport – Galway is an essential start to your Wild Atlantic Way journey and the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding coastline.
Sit back and take it all in
A visit to Galway City situates you perfectly to explore up and down the coast 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.
The untamed beauty of Connemara
As you head up this magical stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way, towards the windswept scenery of the Connemara National Park (and its rugged Twelve Pins mountain range) you will be met with some 3,000 hectares of mountains, bogs and woodlands, all ready to be explored. Don’t miss the nearby Kylemore Abbey – a 19th century Abbey that has been home to Benedictine Nuns since 1920. In the summer, the Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden provides a stunning backdrop for a bite to eat.
Next Stop: Inis Mór and the Aran Islands
Next stop, the Aran Islands – three Irish-speaking islands just off the coast of Galway. Described as 'one of the world’s top island destinations' by National Geographic, Inis Mór is the largest and most famous of the three. Reachable by ferry from either Rossaveal, a 40-minute drive from Galway City, or direct from Galway City via Aran Island Ferries’ new city route, 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. *Banshees
Back to nature in Mayo
Further north now, and we’re heading towards the atmospheric scenery of County Mayo. With a coastline that varies from rugged cliffs to deserted stretches of greenery, Mayo is home to the 2,500 feet high Croagh Patrick mountain, up which thousands of pilgrims climb 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. Other must-see attractions in County Mayo include Foxford Woollen Mill, a historic mill renowned globally for their handcrafted blanket and throws, and Cong – a beautifully scenic village that straddles the border with County Galway.
Nature on Two Wheels
The entire Wild Atlantic Way is dotted with cycling routes that will allow you to explore the best of the West at a slower pace. Our particular favourite is 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.
Drama at the Cliffs of Moher
To the south of Galway now, and no trip to Ireland’s western seaboard would be complete without a visit to the Cliffs of Moher in Liscannor, County Clare. Formed some 300 million years ago, and stretching five miles along the Wild Atlantic Way, the spectacular cliffs reach 700 feet high and are without doubt one of Ireland’s most incredible natural landmarks. Add this spot to your itinerary for some of the best views (on a sunny day) across to the Aran Islands, the Maumturks and Twelve Pins mountain ranges to the north.
With the Wild Atlantic Way stretching some 2,500km along the West Coast of Ireland, it’s safe to say there will be too many places to visit in one trip. But, if you love the coastline of Ireland as much as we do, we can guarantee you’ll soon be back for more. 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.
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!
For more information about what’s on offer along the Wild Atlantic Way, visit Discover Ireland.