The Wild Atlantic Way never straying too far from Ireland's west coast and spanning from County Donegal at Malin Head in the north to County Cork at Kinsale in the south. Along this Drive to Discover route, you will experience the world-famous views of the sweeping, green landscapes and sheer coastal cliffs that are so characteristic of the Emerald Isle. Dolphins, whales, and thousands of species of birds wait to be seen on this route, as well, giving animal lovers something to look forward to. Aside from natural attractions, the Wild Atlantic Way also passes by some of the country's most significant historical sites, including castles, monasteries, lighthouses, and ruins. Local food and fun make this trip one of the most unforgettable to take on the island, for families and groups, as well as couples on an adventure together. Whether you begin your journey through the Wild Atlantic Way with a car rental in Londonderry, Cork, or somewhere in between, you are sure to see some breathtaking scenery and take part in some interesting activities. The route is easy to follow and is marked with hard-to-miss signs along the way.
Looking for other things to do in Ireland? Check out our other Drive to Discover guides where we explore the best road trips in Ireland including a Ring of Kerry Tour, a guide to 7 historic places in Ireland that can't be missed and a round trip beer tour from Dublin!
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The journey begins in the north of Ireland at County Donegal. At Malin Head on the tip of the Inishowen Peninsula, the raging sea continues its millennia-long battle against the shoreline, carving out the rocks into craggy crevasses and jagged cliffs. Just north of the town of Malin head, Banba's Crown, a historical military watchtower named after the mythical queen of Ireland, offers magnificent views of the rugged coastline. Another historical landmark nearby is the Grianan of Aileach, an ancient ring fort of stone that dates to 1700 BCE and is said to have a connection to the pre-Celtic inhabitants of the island, the Tuatha de Danann. Saint Patrick is reported to have visited the site 2000 years later to perform baptisms and convert the locals to Christianity.
Further south in County Donegal are the Slieve League Cliffs. These marine cliffs are among the highest in Europe, giving travelers awe-inspiring views of the coastal region and the crashing waves below. You can also take in the breathtaking scenery of the distant Sligo Mountains in neighboring County Sligo from the top of the Bunglas cliff face, which soars to 600 meters. The Slieve League Cliffs are a few miles' walk from the parking lot to the cliffs, so if you intend to make a visit to this natural wonder, make sure you have comfortable shoes to wear. For those who have their sea legs, sailing tours of the cliffs are also available.
The Coasts off of Sligo produce excellent waves for surfing, so whether you partake in this exciting sport or just like to watch as the professionals do their thing, this is a great place to stop, especially during the winter months when the waves really get going. Just remember to bring a warm sweater, because the winds will chill you to the bone. Sligo also offers horseback riding tours. The beaches of Dernish Island are perfect for riding, and no matter whether you're a beginner or a long-time equestrian, the experience is sure to be unforgettable.
Nature lovers are guaranteed to love the walking trails of Gleniff Horshoe Valley. Meandering past a mill from the 1800s and through woodlands, the sylvan scene of the Benwisken Trail makes for inspiring photographs to remember your adventure by. History buffs will want to check out Streedagh Beach in Sligo, where a portion of the Spanish Armada was ripped apart by a rough storm in 1588. Some of the wreckage can still be seen during low tides.
Crossing over to County Mayo, you can visit Downpatrick Head where the ruins of a stone church founded by St. Patrick can still be seen. The place seems draped in mystical energies, as ancient and mysterious as the ruins are. Farther south, you can join a foraging tour along scenic Killala Bay. Crossing mudflats and rocky shoreline, you will be guided to search for different sea creatures like mussels and clams. Make sure you lollygag, because whatever you find will be your dinner. If foraging for your own food doesn't sound appetizing, don't worry. You can visit the original Coney Island and take a nice picnic with some local food from the market out on the beach and enjoy the sunset.
Traveling south again along the coast to County Galway, you will see the vast, gently sloping hills that were formed over the centuries by the water of Killary Harbour. Be sure to have your camera at the ready for the dolphins that are known to appear and play together in the water. If you are in the area near Tullycross in the month of May, you might have the opportunity to attend the Connemara Mussel Festival and eat your fill of shellfish and other local delicacies. However, if you are not in town during the festival, worry not. There are plenty of pubs and restaurants along the way that offer fresh seafood and other great local favorites. If you prefer to work for your own dinner, take a tour of a lobster fishing boat and help bring in the day's catch. They'll have you back on land just in time to eat.
The island of Finish, which can actually be reached by foot when the tide is out, is an unforgettable stop on the Wild Atlantic Way. It's a great place to stop and rest, but take care that you don't stay too long because when the tide comes in you could get stranded.
Travelers with less time could always choose to rent a car in Galway and head north or south.
As you move on to County Clare, get ready for some of the most breathtaking views that you will see on your trip. Here lie the Cliffs of Moher, which are known throughout the world. This natural rock formation rises 214 meters from sea level at its highest peak and offers a look at the Aran Islands across the sea, as well as pristine Galway Bay, as the waves whoosh and crash violently against the rocks below. You can take a guided walking tour to learn a bit more about the region and its history, or for a different perspective, you can book a seaside cruise along the bottom of the cliffs. Either way, you are sure to love the time you spend at this magnificent location. Birders will love seeing all the different species of seabird that live along the cliffs. About 30,000 of these birds inhabit the area at any given time.
Next stop: 4 hours 3 minutes
Driving south again along the rocky coast, travelers can visit Loop Head Lighthouse at Kilbaha on the peninsula, where you can climb to the top and see for miles across the coastline to the recently visited Cliffs of Moher to the north, as well as to the green landscape of County Kerry in the south. Just a short drive to the east, the Shannon Estuary offers travelers a chance to see some more of the playful dolphins of Ireland in their natural habitat.
Moving on, you can travel farther south to Portmagee village in County Kerry. Though this seaside village is small, what it offers - aside from a picturesque example of an old Irish fishing village - is one of the best tourist attractions in Ireland: a trip by boat to the ancient island of Skellig Michael, where a monastery was founded from the 6th to 8th centuries during the early medieval period and was left abandoned in the 12th century. The impression of the island and monastery is so dark and mysterious that it was famously featured as an ancient Jedi temple in the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
As your boat goes out to sea, you will watch as the island dramatically grows, jutting out of the water as you get nearer to the island. The roughly built stone domes of the monastery are still intact, allowing travelers a glimpse into the lives of the monks that lived there over 1000 years ago. Be sure to go on a day with a clear forecast, because climbing the steps to the monastery is restricted during inclement weather.
The drive from County Kerry to County Cork is filled with excellent views of the surrounding country. You can stop at Dursey Sound and take a cable car to Dursey Island, where you will enjoy some peace and quiet away from the bustle of the mainland. This island has only a few resident farmers, but that doesn't mean there's not a lot to do. Attractions include the ruins of a castle, ancient standing stones like those of Stonehenge, a lighthouse, and a signal tower.
Near Baltimore, Ireland, you can go whale watching in the mornings and evenings to see humpback and minke whales, as well as a few more dolphins. At Kinsale, just a few hours' drive to the east of Baltimore, you can take in the history of the area, which has been home to a Viking trading post and has seen the invasion by Spanish troops in the 17th century. In the early 20th century, a German U-boat sunk the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, which was one of the events that led to the United States entering the First World War on April 6th, 1917. Kinsale also offers a vibrant social scene with its pubs and restaurants. If you are in the area in October, be sure to check out the Kinsale Gourmet Food Festival, where lobster, crab, and artisan delicacies are offered up for sale.
When you're ready to book your car rental, give our team of reservation specialists a call toll-free at 1-888-223-5555. Our knowledgeable agents can advise you about all relevant local fees and restrictions, explain the unique aspects of car rental insurance coverage in Ireland, and ensure that you receive the guaranteed best rate on your rental car.
We look forward to assisting you as you plan an amazing tour of the Wild Atlantic Way Ireland.