Part of what makes the Wild Atlantic Way so diverse and compelling is the fact that it’s home to incredible sights, sounds and experiences all-year round. Indeed, the mix of Bay Coast and Cliff Coast in this fantastic five-day itinerary is especially inviting, given the rich array of activities and unique splendour on offer. Hugging the robust coastline, this journey boasts jutting bays, sandy beaches, hidden coves and gorgeous inlets. Along the way you’ll encounter pretty seaside villages that play host to traditional local music, while clifftop walks offer breath-taking views of ice-age landscapes. As you make the journey from North Mayo through to Galway, Clare and into North Kerry, you’ll find yourself effortlessly unwinding and relaxing into the Wild Atlantic Way of life.
CLIFDEN – DERRIGIMLAGH – ROUNDSTONE – PEARSE COTTAGE – GALWAY
Stage 1: Derrigimlagh, County Galway (R341)
Journeying south from Clifden on the R341, your first Discovery Point along the Wild Atlantic Way is Derrigimlagh. Home to one of the most arresting lowland blanket bogs in all of Europe, this haunting landscape offers much to explore and learn about, and marks the beginning of this thrilling itinerary. A five-kilometre signposted looped walk of the bog itself reveals a journey into the past, highlighted by monuments of magnificence including remnants of the world’s first permanent transatlantic radio station, constructed by Guglielmo Marconi in 1907, and a memorial to Alcock and Brown; the first pilots to fly non-stop across the Atlantic.
Interpretive panels along Derrigimlagh Bog
Stage 2: Derrigimlagh to Pearse Cottage (66.4km via R341 and R340)
Once you’ve finished up in Derrigimlagh, take the R341 and R340 to Rosmuc (1hr 20mins), pausing for stop-offs at stirring vantage points like Kilkieran and Glinsk Pier. Before arriving in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking region), you should stop at Roundstone where you’ll find bodhrán (Irish drum) maker Malachy Kearns’ workshop and retail centre. Here, Malachy crafts unique creations that have even featured in the famous Riverdance show! On arrival to Rosmuc, you’ll step into the shoes of Pádraig Pearse; revered writer, teacher and leader of the 1916 Rising. Pearse was hugely fond of this peaceful area, and his charming little cottage stands as a fitting reflection. Adjacent to it, you’ll find the Pearse Cultural Centre; it houses an interactive exhibition showcasing Pearse's powerful legacy, and explores the area’s rich history, culture and haunting landscape.
Stage 3: Pearse Cottage to Galway City (54.4km via R336)
The glorious city of Galway is next up. Hug the coast along the R336 for just over an hour, enjoying picturesque views along the way. Take a tasty bite out of what’s known locally as the ‘City of the Tribes’ with an immersive Food Tours Galway trail around this bohemian capital. Headed up by Sheena Dignam, the ‘Around the Market Place’ tour includes stops at award-winning eateries, as well as some delicious hidden gems. You’ll sample everything from cheese and artisan meats to chocolate and beer – yum! Once you’ve had your fill, bed down for the night in one of Galway’s many great places to stay.
GALWAY – BALLYVAUGHAN – DOOLIN
Stage 1: Galway City
A fabulous blend of contemporary and old Ireland, Galway should definitely be examined in more detail! Get to know the place yourself or opt for a walking tour though winding, cobbled streets, taking in iconic Eyre Square, the ancient medieval quarter and landmarks like the Gothic University Quadrangle. On the western edge of the city you’ll find Claddagh Village, once a distinct fishing community with its own king, now home to the beautiful and unique Claddagh ring. The village’s rich heritage can be further explored at Katie’s Cottage, a replica thatched cottage, arts centre and café, where music, dance, storytelling and a warm multicultural environment bring new life to beloved tradition.
Stage 2: Galway City to Ballyvaughan (50.1km via N67)
It’s slightly over an hour’s drive to the pretty fishing village of Ballyvaughan – the unofficial capital of the Burren – via the N67. There you’ll encounter the ferocity of nature at Aillwee Cave & Birds of Prey Exhibition. Perched high on the Burren’s terraced mountainside, Ailwee Cave is a dramatic underworld of bridged chasms, strange formations and a thunderous waterfall. The accompanying Birds of Prey Centre is a popular haunt for avian enthusiasts and novices alike. Or, you can opt for a ‘Hawk Walk’ through hazel woodland and across Burren limestone pavement, for a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
A clifftop walk in Doolin
Stage 3: Ballyvaughan to Doolin (29.4km via R477)
From one charming fishing spot to another – head to Doolin (40mins) and get lost in the magic of traditional Irish music at Doolin Music House. Warm and cosy, this humble abode boasts a lively atmosphere that’s second-to-none, thanks to Christy Barry and his partner Sheila. Christy is an informed trad musician, who’ll happily explain the nuances of this lively genre, while accomplished artist Sheila’s work is proudly displayed around the house. Sessions take place Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7pm – 8.30pm, but other days are available upon request. Enjoy a tasty dinner locally when you’re done, before settling down for the night.
DOOLIN – CLIFFS OF MOHER – LAHINCH – LOOP HEAD
Stage 1: Doolin to Cliffs of Moher (9km via R478)
Day three of your journey begins on an incredibly epic note, following a short 12-minute drive out of Doolin. Defined by nature across millions of years, the stunning Cliffs of Moher stand over 200 metres above the ocean, stretching as far as eight kilometres wide. Known the world over, the cliffs are home to the 19th century gothic-style O’Brien’s Tower, and provide a terrific vantage point for nearby wonders like An Branán Mór sea stack and the Aran Islands. If conditions are right (perfect stormy seas and easterly offshore winds are required!) you may even catch a glimpse of the mysterious, challenging surfing spot known as Aileen’s Wave!
Surfing on Aileen’s Wave
Stage 2: Cliffs of Moher to Lahinch (10.4km via R478)
A 15-minute spin takes you to the popular seaside resort of Lahinch, where excitement is in bountiful supply! Surfing, archery, sea kayaking and cycling are just a handful of the great family-friendly activities on offer. There are plenty of operators to choose from, including Lahinch Adventures, who have built their thriving business around the unique outdoor opportunities available in the area.
Stage 3: Lahinch to Loop Head (68.8km via N67 and R487)
After an active afternoon in Lahinch, make the journey south along the Clare coast towards Loop Head Peninusla. A shining beacon since the year 1854, Loop Head Lighthouse (open from March to October) is the major landmark on the northern shore of the River Shannon. From its soaring clifftop position, you can take in 90m-high views of the sea down to Kerry Head and Dingle, across the Shannon and up the Clare coast to the striking Cliffs of Moher. Be sure to opt for a guided tour, where you’ll learn all about the area’s rich maritime history. You’ll be ready for a well-earned rest at this stage, so after dinner, bunk down in any of the villages on the peninsula or opt for the pretty surrounds of nearby Doonbeg.
LOOP HEAD – TARBERT – BALLYBUNION – BROMORE CLIFFS – TRALEE
Stage 1: Loop Head to Killimer to Tarbert (55.4km via R487 and N67)
Stick to the long and winding road for just over three quarters of an hour as you pass through a series of towns and villages, before taking to the water. A 20-minute ferry ride across the Shannon Estuary will take you from Clare to the historic village of Tarbert. It’s in what’s affectionately known as the ‘kingdom’ of Kerry, thanks to its incredibly dramatic scenery. The only vehicle ferry trip on the main spine of the Wild Atlantic Way allows you to breathe in the rugged nature of land and sea as you experience the fresh salty sea air that sums this region up. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of dolphins swimming in the clear blue water.
Stage 2: Tarbert to Ballybunion (25km via R551)
Just 25 kilometres away lies beautiful Ballybunion, a land of abundant hidden treasures. Take a tour with a local legend; All-Ireland Piping Champion and friendly historian Danny Houlihan will guide you around Kerry’s lush glens and valleys and its colourful wildlife by bike or on foot, at your chosen pace. A premier seaside resort; Ballybunion is famous for its two golf links courses and is extremely popular with swimmers and surfers, thanks to its golden sandy beach and refreshing Atlantic waters.
Golfing in Ballybunion
Stage 3: Ballybunion to Bromore Cliffs (3.7km via R551)
Another titanic landmark of the aptly-named Cliff Coast; the sheer 180-foot Bromore Cliffs have been shaped and sculpted by the elements for thousands of years. Take the R551 for a quick seven-minute drive before enjoying a walk along the very precipice – don’t worry; it’s a safe and well-fenced area that’s suitable for explorers of all ages. The cliffs are also home to a wild array of wildlife and vegetation, with falcons, guillemots, and rock doves among the flying population, as well as a host of insects, butterflies and wild honey bees. In the ocean below, you may be lucky enough to spot Atlantic grey seals, bottlenose dolphins and the occasional sea otter!
Stage 4: Bromore Cliffs to Tralee (46.3km via R551)
Kerry’s capital of Tralee is just under an hour’s drive away; with the road gently sloping westwards towards the sea between the Slieve Mish and Stacks Mountains. In this buzzing town, you’ll have a chance to step back into ye olde Ireland – literally! On a walking tour of Ashe Street and Denny Street, you’ll take in Victorian period shopfronts and façades while covering key milestones in Irish history between 1895 and 1930. An evening at Siamsa Tíre, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, is another fantastic way to engage in native Irish culture, as the best of music, song and dance is regularly on display. Spend the night locally after enjoying a hearty dinner in one of Tralee’s many lively bars and restaurants.
TRALEE – TRALEE BAY WETLANDS – BLENNERVILLE
Stage 1: Tralee
There’s more to enjoy in Tralee on the final day of this itinerary. Known internationally for the annual Rose of Tralee festival which sees the streets come alive with music, theatre and street performance, the town is both a quaint slice of old Ireland and an ever-evolving cultural hub. Hungry for further historical wanderings? The Kerry County Museum & Medieval Experience is critically acclaimed for good reason, as it charts the history and archaeology of county and country across 7,000 years. Experience what it was like in the Middle Ages and inhabit recreated streets and homes from the local area in the year 1450.
Stage 2: Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre
The crystal blue waters of Tralee are a sight to behold, and you can traverse them in style with Tralee Bay Wetlands, conveniently located on the outskirts of the town. Explore the wetlands’ manmade lake in pedal boats and canoes, or stroll through the Centre’s pretty walks and cycleways. Its viewing tower boasts impressive panoramic scenes over Tralee Bay and out to the crashing Atlantic.
Stage 3: Tralee to Blennerville (4.7km via N86)
On the final leg of your journey, take the eight-minute trip to nearby Blennerville and pay a visit to Ireland’s largest working windmill. A monument of resilience, the impressive structure was first built in 1800 and operated for about 40 years before falling into disarray, only to be restored again in the 1980s. Today, it’s the centre of major visitor attraction on the shores of gorgeous Tralee Bay, and a relaxing way to conclude your journey.
To continue to travel further south on the Wild Atlantic Way, why not explore the Southern Peninsulas and Haven Coast routes [insert link when live]. And you’ll find many more touring route options here, covering all six regions and lots of activities and interests. Browse some of the various themes covered here.