Offering remote getaways, action-packed vacations – and everything in between – the wild west coast of Ireland is just waiting to be explored.
Donegal in the northwest of Ireland is known for its rugged landscape, towering clifftops and sleepy fishing villages. What’s more, its jutting headland of Malin Head is the country’s most northerly point, and an optimum viewpoint for the spectacular Northern Lights. Just remember to check in advance when they’ll next be visible. While you’re there, take a bike ride and discover the area’s wildlife, geology and history as you zip around near the proud watchtower at Banba’s Crown – the most northerly tip of the country, named after a mythical Irish queen.
zne hundred and twenty kilometres west is another rugged Donegal peninsula, Fanad Head, home to miles of golden, sandy beach. World-renowned, Ballymastocker Bay was voted the second most beautiful beach in the world by Observer magazine. From Fanad, we recommend you take 12km boat trip out to Tory Island, known for its art, folklore and rich cultural heritage. Among the artists living there is Patsy Dan Rodgers, the island’s king! Elected by the islanders, he’s a spokesperson for the community, and often comes down to the pier to welcome visitors. Peruse the artists’ impressive body of work while you’re there at the local gallery.
Home to some of the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, the Sliabh Liag range provides one of the finest views from the Wild Atlantic Way out across the wide expanse of the ocean. Walk down One Man’s Pass, which will take you to Sliabh Liag’s summit. Those more interested in a leisurely walk will also appreciate a stroll through the area, as its viewing platform offers breathtaking beauty. Or join like-minded hikers who organise regular hillwalks of the area. Discover authentic Donegal tweed, handwoven locally for centuries; it’s made using nature’s raw materials and inspired by the rugged landscape.
Sligo is often known as ‘Yeats Country’ as the famous poet lived there during his childhood. Its famous headland Mullaghmore translates as the ‘great summit’ and offers stunning views of nearby Ben Bulben Mountain. An ideal spot for a bracing walk; you can follow in the footsteps of Yeats who immortalised this majestic mountain in the poem Under Ben Bulben. With huge Atlantic rollers of up to 100ft crashing off the coast, these ‘Prowlers’ at Mullaghmore attract watersports enthusiasts and the world’s top surfing talent, like Portuguese thrill-seeker Nic von Rupp. Give it a try at one of the area’s many surf schools; we guarantee that riding the waves of the wild Atlantic is good for the soul! Or, if you fancy a more relaxing pastime, indulge in a coastal walk or a luxury hand-harvested Atlantic seaweed bath nearby.
This rugged Mayo headland looms an astonishing 126ft above the crashing Atlantic and is named after the country’s patron saint, Patrick. He founded St Patrick’s Church here in the fifth century, the ruins of which still stand today. Fancy a Wild Atlantic Way adventure? Denis Quinn of Wild Atlantic Cultural Tours takes groups out along the Killala shoreline and teaches them to forage for edible seaweed, oysters, mussels and clams. And later that evening, you can look forward to the feast prepared using the food you’ve gathered!
This golden stretch of secluded, sandy beach can be found on Ireland’s largest island, Achill, in Mayo. Nearby you can visit the island’s eerie Deserted Village, abandoned in the early 20th century it sits sheltered under Slievemore Mountain. A local practice known as ‘booleying’ or ‘transhumance’ meant that famers would live in different places during the summer and winter months, based on where their cattle could graze. Trace the footsteps of these long-gone villagers as you step inside their deserted stone cottages. The area is also home to some 5,000-year-old megalithic tombs, these pre-Christian stone burial sites offer a fascinating glimpse into life and death in ancient, mystical Ireland.
This is one of three glacial fjords (an inlet formed by the submergence of formerly glaciated valleys) in Ireland, located in the heart of the country’s famous rugged and dramatic Connemara landscape. Explore the region’s blanket bogs, beautiful beaches and small, remote islands. Beautifully framed by spectacular mountain peaks, the fjord’s rugged coastal landscape lends itself to both a rejuvenating getaway and an adrenaline-filled adventure! Fancy a spot of bungee-jumping, paintballing, kayaking or wakeboarding? Killary Adventures offers plenty of options.
Steeped in history, this blanket bog in Clifden, Galway is a stark and otherwordly landscape with an unusual claim to fame! It was here that pilots Alcock and Brown crashed-landed to safety after completing the world’s first transatlantic flight in 1919. They happened to land near a wireless telegraphy station set up 14 years earlier by Italian inventor, radio enthusiast and Nobel Prize-winner, Guglielmo Marconi. Today the station is home to a memorial cairn dedicated to the pair. Hire a bike, navigate around tiny lakes and peat bogs, and discover this unique and beautiful area.
Cliffs of Moher
Looking out at the wild Atlantic from atop this towering 8km stretch of iconic, sheer cliffs is guaranteed to take your breath away. Head to the spectacular O’Brien’s Tower, which stands near their highest point (702 feet) and gaze out to sea towards the Aran Islands. Continue your adventure by visiting the smallest of the islands, the beautiful Inis Oírr. Explore the narrow lanes, stone walls and white sandy beaches or discover the ruined fort of Saint Caomhán, the island’s patron saint.
The Loop Head peninsula boasts panoramic cliff views, picturesque seaside villages and a lighthouse that’s served as a beacon for those at sea since 1670. It’s a remote and wonderful place, where you can experience huge Atlantic swells smashing into cliffs, or chance upon a spectacular rainbow. Enjoy aqua sports by day – perhaps a spot of kayaking – and relax while enjoying tasty seafood in local cozy pubs at night. Also, be sure to take a trip on a Dolphin-watch boat to see some of the 160 bottlenose dolphins that live off Loop Head.
The Blasket Islands off the coast of mountainous Kerry lie at the very edge of Europe – you can’t go any further west! Rich in both history and folklore, the now deserted village was home to legendary Irish storytellers like Peig Sayers and Tomás O’Crohan. Check out the Blasket Visitor Centre at Dunquin to see how people once lived, before you head to An Blascaod Mór (the Great Blasket). Back on the mainland, at the far end of the Dingle peninsula, why not try your hand at throwing a pot, inspired by your own unique journey, at the workshop of Louis Mulcahy, one of Ireland’s leading potters.
The Skelligs – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is comprised of two sandstone rocks jutting spectacularly out of the Atlantic Ocean, seven miles off Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula. These far-flung islands are a sacred 1,300-year-old place of pilgrimage, rich in history. The remote island of Skellig Michael was uninhabited before an early Christian monastery was founded there sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries. You can climb the 618 steps to its well-preserved monastery today; it lies on a shelf of rock 600ft above seawater. Nature fans, take note – there’s also an impressive array of wildlife living there. The smaller Skellig is home to puffins and razorbills, among others, and is renowned as an important breeding site for many threatened species of sea birds. Botanists meanwhile can marvel at the abundant local flora, much of which can’t be found anywhere else in Ireland. Finish off your day with a visit to Skelligs Chocolate Factory – where a great pleasure awaits!
Further south in Cork, remote Dursey Island is the most westerly of the county’s inhabited islands and home to just three farming families. Travel to the island via Ireland’s only cable-car service. Bear in mind though, sheep and cows also travel to and from the island on the cable car, and as they take preference over humans, you may have to wait in line! When you arrive, take the picturesque walk out towards the island’s lighthouse (which dates back to the 1880s) and castle ruins, while later enjoying what’s known as ‘Europe’s last sunset’.
Mizen Head in Cork is a rugged clifftop setting where out on the horizon you can see the imposing Fastnet Lighthouse, standing on a rock known as ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’, so-called as it was the last sight of Ireland that emigrants saw as they left during the Great Famine (1845 – 1849). As such, it’s often an emotional moment for visitors whose great-grandparents left to start a new life in places like the then far-flung USA. Cross from the mainland on the Mizen Footbridge to a rocky crag as the wild Atlantic roars beneath you and access the old signal station where you can explore a beautiful exhibition detailing the lives of the keepers and this historic location.
Old Head of Kinsale
This scenic headland in Cork is home to a picturesque 17th-century lighthouse and, if you fancy a round, a world-renowned golf course whose fans include US astronaut Daniel Tani. It’s said the best way to see Kinsale is from the sea, so for a maritime adventure take a boat out on the open sea with Jerome, a former fisherman and local of the area, who’ll regale you with stories of Kinsale’s rich history. A gourmet haven, Kinsale’s vibrant streets and atmosphere will delight you and ensure your experience is a memorable one.