After a visit to the west of Ireland, the pioneering travel writer H.V. Morton wrote “I know now where the world ends”.
While Ireland’s western seaboard is, of course, not the end of the world, it is bursting with wild, breathtaking scenery that can send one into euphoric delight.
The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest defined coastal driving route in the world, featuring 1,400km of untamed beauty and culturally-rich experiences from Donegal to West Cork.
Wherever you travel along the route you’ll meet wonderful Irish locals, discover world-famous views, as well as buildings harbouring thousands of years of history within their walls.
Divided into five main sections, our cultural tour guide provides historical hot-spots to stop off at on your drive.
Malin Head, at the very tip of the Inishowen Peninsula, is mainland Ireland’s most northerly point. With a subterranean cavern known as ‘Hells’ Hole’ and a natural arch called ‘Devil’s Bridge’, it a great starting point for the tour.
At a low tide you can spot the wreckage of the ‘Twilight’, which sank in 1889 while sailing to Derry. Make it to Banba’s Crown and you’ll discover the weather station where the first weather reports were recorded.
Heading down to Fanad Head, the shoreline is etched with golden sandy bays: one particular highlight is Ballymastocker Bay, once voted the second most beautiful beach in the world.
Before continuing your Wild Atlantic Way route, you may want to make a detour to visit the National Park and Castle at Glenveagh. Greta Garbo, Clarke Gable and Marilyn Monroe all spent their holidays here during the golden age of Hollywood.
From Fanad to Inishowen and down to Slieve League, Rathmullan House on the shores of the Swilly is the perfect check-in while discovering beautiful Donegal.
Donegal to Mayo
The route following from Donegal trickles through Mullaghmore Head and into Downpatrick Head, teeming with legend and folklore. Be sure to stop at the sea stack ‘Dún Briste’: legend says the people living there were rescued using ships’ ropes when high seas separated the stack from the mainland in 1393.
With a stop off in Sligo, you can stay in the elegant Coopershill House. Built in the 1750s, the Georgian mansion has been the family home to eight generations of O’Haras, and is the perfect spot for exploring the country of W.B. Yeats, as well as Sligo’s lakes, mountains and Neolithic tombs.
Continue with a drive across the road bridge to County Mayo’s Achill Island, which boasts five Blue Flag beaches, wild walking and surfing opportunities, and a deserted village in the foothills of Slievemore Mountain.
For a real taste of the rugged sea, spend the night at Clare Island Lighthouse. Once a safe haven for sailors, this heritage property at the entrance to Clew Bay now offers sanctuary of a different kind.
Mayo to Clare
From Mayo to Clare, take in Killary Harbour – a peaceful retreat that drew famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein there shortly after WWII.
Take the road to the wild and mysterious Derrigimlagh Bog to discover the scattered remnants of the world’s first permanent transatlantic radio station.
Head to the south-western edge of the Burren region in County Clare for the popular tourist destination, the majestic Cliffs of Moher.
With all that fresh sea air, it’s probably best to rest up. Gregans Castle Hotel is a haven of tranquility: guests have included J.R.R Tolkien, who’s said to have been influenced by the Burren when writing The Lord of the Rings. The stunning 18th century manor house is set in its own established and lovingly-attended gardens, and has spectacular views that stretch across the Burren to Galway Bay.
Clare to Kerry
As you travel from Clare to Kerry, discover a mix of incredible cliff views and fresh local seafood around Loop Head. Be sure to take a RIB Tour at Foynes Island, where you’ll explore Ireland’s largest estuary and the historic Scattery Island, which contains the ruins of a 6th century monastery, several medieval churches and a unique 10th century round tower.
Other must-see pit stops on this journey are Blaskets View, where you can gain wonderful insight into the people who were evacuated from the islands in 1953.
Further south is Skellig Michael – known throughout the world of archaeology as the site of a well-preserved monastic outpost of the Early Christian period. As well as a filming location for Star Wars The Force Awakens – the island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – making for a breath-taking personal pilgrimage.
Back on the main island, check into Victorian landmark Park Hotel Kenmare for splendid views over the glistening waters of Kenmare Bay and the ever changing light of the Cork and Kerry Mountains.
Kerry to Cork
End your journey in West Cork, stretching from the south-coast of Kinsale – sieged by Spanish troops in 1601 – to three rugged westerly peninsulas reaching into the Atlantic: Mizen Head, Sheep’s Head and Beara.
If you’re a bit of a foodie, head to the Kinsale Gourmet Food Festival in October to sample lobsters, crabs, prawns, artisan cheese and meats. It sells out most years, so be sure to book in advance.
Finish off your Wild Atlantic Way journey with a stay in the 250-year-old Blairscove House in West Cork, enjoying stunning views at the historical hotel’s waterside location. Formerly a piggery, coach house and servants quarters, each suite is individual in style and furnished with a dashing mixture of modern and antique furniture and original artwork.