Ireland’s west coast has long been famed for its wild beauty and authenticity. I have to say that regardless of how many times I visit it, it still manages to always take my breath away. A trip to the West coast leaves me feeling refreshed and invigorated. Even as I write this, I wish I was there!
In recent years, the West has become more popular, especially since the development of Ireland’s first long distance touring route and the title holder for the longest defined coastal route in the world – the Wild Atlantic Way. Stretching 2400 km (a little less than 1500 miles) from the most northerly point of the island, Malin Head in Donegal, to Kinsale in West Cork in the south, it encompasses some of Ireland’s most stunning landscapes, picturesque villages and best hospitality.
Since the launch of the Wild Atlantic Way, more resources are available than ever before to discover and explore this captivating part of Ireland nestled on the western edge of Europe.
Here are 6 reasons to inspire your trip and help you plan your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary. Regardless of whether you plan on doing the entire road trip or selecting some highlights along the way, it will be a tour to remember!
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Sandy beaches, spectacular sunsets over wild Atlantic waves, dramatic headlands, secluded bays, beautiful bogs, windy roads, plenty of sheep and miles and miles of stone walls. This is the Ireland you recognize from calendar images.
In a world which is all too often dictated by deadlines and stress, why not escape from the hustle and bustle and let your mind wander and soak up your surroundings? From North to South you will be greeted by stunning landscapes at every turn along the Wild Atlantic Way drive. If you think that the Cliffs of Moher are spectacular, then you haven’t seen Slieve League in County Donegal, which are the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Perhaps you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights on the Inishowen Peninsula or perhaps star gaze in Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve.
The rare beauty of limestone landscape of the Burren, County Clare can be described as otherworldly and just in case you need to be brought back to reality, why not check out the laid-back vibe in the colorful and lively “City of the Tribes” – Galway. Not only is there no shortage of great scenery, but access to nearly all of the scenic areas is free. So, grab your camera and see what the West of Ireland has to offer.
Amazing Outdoor Activities
When I think of the West of Ireland, my thoughts automatically drift to being outdoors with the wind in my hair, fresh Atlantic Ocean air in my lungs and that wonderful content tired feeling that you get after being active all day in surrounding that make you just simply feel good.
The Wild Atlantic Way offers some of the country’s most stunning walks and hikes for a variety of abilities. Some reasonably short, well signed routes are Diamond Hill (Co. Galway) which offers marvelous views of Connemara National Park or Torc Mountain Walking Route (Co Kerry) which includes views of the Killarney lakes, as well as the nearby MacGillycuddy Reeks. For those of you more interesting in more strenuous, challenging routes, then very scenic the Coomasaharn Horseshoe Loop Walk or a personal favorite, Mount Brandon via Faha Ridge might be more to your liking.
If watersports tempt you, then the West of Ireland is certainly a haven for all of those who are not put off by cold water! Lahinch and Bundoran are great locations for beginner surfers, while Strandhill, Co. Sligo is better for those with more experience. Other water sports such as coasteering, stand-up paddling, kayaking and sailing are also well catered for and allow you to get a different perspective of the rugged Irish coastline.
Don’t forget that the weather in Ireland can change very quickly and it is possible to have all seasons in one day (sometimes more than once!). It is important to make sure that you have the right clothes and equipment for outside activities.
Fabulous Flora and Fauna
The West of Ireland provides fantastic opportunities to get up close and personal with Ireland’s spectacular nature. Take a boat tour to see Fungi, the wild dolphin who has made Dingle harbor his home since the 1980s. Or visit one of the many islands off the coast, such as Cape Clear, County Cork which is also an incredible spot for observing wildlife. On the island, it is possible to watch dolphins and whales from the headlands, as well as catch glimpses of many rare migratory birds. Further up the coast, near the Cliffs of Moher you could check out the biggest gannet colonies in the world. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars to make the most of your experience!
If the world of plants takes your interest, then prepare to be amazed by the beauty and ecological diversity of the flora in the Burren. (Yes, the Burren gets a second mention here because it truly deserves it!) Here you will have a chance to see the highly unusual combination of Mediterranean and Arctic-Alpine plants co-existing side by side in the nooks and crannies of the limestone rock. The Burren is famous for its colorful orchids which are especially stunning between April and September. Take a guided walking tour of the area, if you would like to know more.
Please note: Many of the plant species here are protected by law so please tread carefully and do not pick the plants!
Authentic Irish-Speaking Communities
On the west coast, life moves at a different pace than in the bigger cities. As the roads get narrower and more windy, take the opportunity to slow down and to revel in the little towns, fishing villages or even the odd thatched cottage. In my opinion no holiday would be complete without some level of cultural immersion.
The Gaeltachts or Irish speaking areas are particularly special and if you want a uniquely Irish experience then I would definitely suggest visiting one. Spiddal on the outskirts of Galway and Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula are particular favorites of mine. You could also sign up for an Irish language course if you fancy learning a few words (cúpla focal) yourself!
Alternatively, you could also visit the Aran Islands, where you will also hear Irish being spoken and get a feeling for what island life is like. The impressive cliff fort Dun Aengus and the oddly shaped wormhole are a must if you are visiting Inis Meáin (Inishmaan), the largest of the Aran Islands.
Live Traditional Irish Music
After a long day of sightseeing and exploring, could there really be a better end to a day other than listening to a traditional music session in a pub? Feel free to joining in clapping hands or tapping to the beat and have a bit of craic (fun) in an open, relaxed, informal atmosphere. No tickets required! The lively music of the fiddle, tin whistle, spoons, bodhran, uilleann pipes and flute will leave you toe hopping and if you are in luck, perhaps there will also be a bit of dancing too.
Traditional music can be heard in pubs throughout the country, but it is Clare that is known as the ‘Trad Capital’ of Ireland. Definitely spend some time in the pubs around Doolin, Kilfenora and Ennis to experience the slightly slower, lilting Irish melodies. There are also many different trad music festivals spread throughout the year so why not plan your trip to coincide with one?
Excellent Accommodation with World-Class Hospitality
The right accommodation can enhance a holiday immeasurably. Luckily when it comes to the West of Ireland, there is such a diverse range of amazing accommodation on offer, there will be something to suit everyone’s tastes and budget.
Have you ever dreamt of staying in a luxury castle? Sit down by a roaring fire and enjoy being pampered like royalty for a change! There are many castle hotels to choose from along the route such as the five-star Lough Eske Castle Hotel in the remote wilderness of Co. Donegal, the luxurious Ashford Castle in Co. Galway, as a base for exploring Connemara and Kylemore Abbey or the exquisite Dromoland Castle in Co. Clare.
Alternatively, you could also try something a little more unique like staying in a lighthouse such as Clare Island Lighthouse in Co. Mayo. (While there you can learn more about Grace O’Malley, the legendary pirate princess who had her stronghold on the island in the 16th century.) or in a thatched cottage with a view in Co. Donegal, or glamping in Kilkee?