From Donegal to Cork, The Wild Atlantic Way plots and weaves its way through nine counties along Ireland’s rugged West Coast. There are many ways to traverse what’s described as the world’s longest defined touring route and with an abundance of sites and activities to enjoy, it can be hard to know where to begin. That’s where we can help with our list of top spots to visit on your way. In no particular order…
1. Sailing, Co. Galway
Become part of the crew on-board a traditional Galway Hooker sailing vessel. For €50 you can enjoy a two hour sailing trip on these beautiful wooden boats with their famous red sails. The crew will explain the history of these motorless fleet of vessels while you take in the beautiful islands, including St MacDara’s. Trips depart from the fishing village of Roundstone. Wildatlanticadventures.com
2. Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry
Designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1981, this expansive and mountainous national park is a must-see for nature lovers. It crosses the McGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland and Indigenous trees dot the terrain including oak woods, yew woods and evergreens. Aim to relax in the restaurant at Muckross House and gardens which is open seven days a week. If you’re lucky you may spot a red deer on your travels too.
3. Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
The mere sight of the cliffs and choppy-sea views alone are reward enough for stopping by this magnificent rocky coastline. But, if you’re looking for a more intimate and challenging experience, there are dedicated cliff walks along protected paths and rocky off-trail terrain. Come prepared for all weather and wind-levels.
4. Donegal Food Festival
At this year’s Taste of Donegal 120 exhibitors will flaunt their culinary delights in a tented village along the pier jutting out into the magical Donegal Bay. This year’s festival includes cooking demonstrations from Celebrity chefs Neven Maguire, Catherine Fulvio and Brian McDermott, music entertainment from The Dean Martin Tribute Band and the Singing Chefs and an evening firework display on opening night.
5. Tory Island
This Irish-speaking Island off the coast of Donegal is an extension of the Gaeltacht and home to the last King of Ireland. Tradition has it that the 130 residents choose a king to rule over the Island’s circumference (5 miles long and half a mile wide). Visitors can expect a royal welcome from the King, one of his few official duties. The Island also boasts many historical monuments such as the monastic Bell Tower, dating back to the 6th Century or the much more recent Tau Cross which only dates back to the 12th century. Practically modern! Plan ahead when it comes to ferry timetables as they can be infrequent.
6. Horse Riding, Connemara, Co. Galway
There are plenty of idyllic spots along the Atlantic Way for the equestrians amongst us. Connemara Wild Escapes offer excursions along their long, golden beaches and are a perfect place to start, offering various options from 1 to 4 hour treks including a trot over to Omey Island. For those horse-riding rookies, don’t fear, a quick assessment will ensure you’re teamed with the right horse and difficulty level.
7. Dursey Island, Co. Cork
Opened in 1969, the Dursey Island Cable Car is the most popular and evocative way to traverse across the Dursey Sound. Located at the western tip of the Beara Peninsula the Island doesn’t offer much in the way of activities, food or drink but there’s plenty of wildlife, dolphins and scenic views to enjoy. Sure, getting there is half the fun, just bring your own sandwiches.
8. The Mary Robinson Centre, Ballina, Co. Mayo
For those planning ahead, The Giving Voice exhibition celebrating Ireland’s first female president and human right’s activist Mary Robinson is due to open in Victoria House in Ballina in 2017. The successful exhibition toured ahead of its opening and includes installations from Ballycastle-based visual artist Varvara Shavrova and over 500,000 documents and artefacts charting her varied careers and meetings with world leaders and cultural figures. The Giving Voice exhibition at Ballina Library, Ballina, Co. Mayo.
9. Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry
You don’t need many reasons to visit the remote and ethereal Skellig Islands with their monastic ruins, and jagged cliffs, jutting out of the sea. Beauty aside, they’ve also featured as a location for the new ‘Star Wars: The force awakens’ film, which is only set to enhance the appeal. Protected under the UNESCO World Heritage list, Skellig Michael and Little Skellig make up the two sea crags with ruins dating back to the 6th Century. If you’re not a history or Star Wars fan then maybe the birds might interest you. Little Skellig is home to the second largest colony of gannets in the world along with some puffins, Arctic terns and black guillemots. Access the Island by ferry from the town of Portmagee.
10. Ballybunion Wild Atlantic Seaweed Festival
Never in short supply around and the town of Ballybunion, seaweed has put it to good use. There’s plenty to do at this festival, whether it’s foraging for seaweed, partaking in cookery classes or luxuriating in the therapeutic benefits of a seaweed bath. You’ll have a great time, provided you love seaweed.