If powerful seas, soul-stirring vistas and otherworldly landscapes pique your curiosity, a journey through the south-west of Ireland will definitely hit the spot! In a region that some say is at its most splendid during winter months, adventurers are afforded the opportunity to switch off from modern life’s bustle, and reconnect with the bracing energy of Mother Nature. Indeed, this five-day itinerary of the Cliff Coast and Southern Peninsulas is famed for its invigorating culture just as much as its beauty. You’ll begin in the rugged, rocky lands of the Cliff Coast, which stretch from south Galway into gorgeous Clare. Traversing south, and winding your way around the Southern Peninsulas of Kerry and West Cork, you’ll spend some time immersing yourself in local tradition and culture, even searching for dolphins in the depths of the Atlantic. There’s no doubt that unmistakable spark – unique to those who embrace the Wild Atlantic Way of life – will be ignited in the souls of all who visit!
BALLYVAUGHAN – THE BURREN – DOOLIN
Stage 1: Ballyvaughan to Linnalla to the Burren Perfumery (32km via N67 & R480)
Begin your adventure across the rocky landscapes of the Cliff Coast in the picturesque seaside village of Ballyvaughan. It’s got a charming personality, identifiable through its vibrant art scene and its passion for traditional music. Set against the spectacular backdrop of the Burren, the town is an ideal spot from which to embark on your Wild Atlantic Way trip. Make your way along the coast road to Linnalla (16mins) and enjoy one of their famous Sundaes or fresh fruit cocktails – we promise, it’s worth the trip! Another fascinating offering sure to enliven the senses is the Burren Perfumery (25mins), a family-run company where visitors can witness the creation and bottling of small-batch natural perfumes, balms and soaps.
The famous Karst landscape of the Burren
Stage 2: The Burren National Park to Doolin (26.7km via R476)
The Burren is one of Ireland’s most striking and unique natural phenomena. A blanket of limestone formed in a tropical sea over 325 million years ago, it’s divided by crisscrossing cracks, creating an almost lunar landscape. Explore the protected park by foot – there are lots of options for guided walks, including Tony Kirby, who’s a fountain of knowledge on all matters Burren-related. During a tour, you’ll gain a rudimentary understanding of the area’s rich heritage; from folklore and archaeology to its flora, fauna and geology. Be sure to also visit the famous Ailwee Cave while you’re in this rich, evocative area. This subterranean passageway takes thousands of awestruck visitors each year deep into the heart of the overhead mountain. With our adventure done for today, continue to your overnight location, Doolin.
DOOLIN – MILTOWN MALBAY – LOOP HEAD PENINSULA
Stage 1: Doolin
The charming town of Doolin may be well-known to many as the gateway to the Cliffs of Moher, but the town itself also offers its visitors some alternative rewarding experiences. The most obvious of these is the wondrous Doolin Cave, winding its way deep into the underground of the Burren. Reached by a 45-minute journey to its core, the cave is home to the Great Stalactite, which is suspended like a giant chandelier from the cavern’s roof. The Nature Trail, included as part of the cave tour, traces a looped walk around the surrounding lands that brim with rare flora and fauna native to the area.
Stage 2: Doolin to Miltown Malbay (30.8km via R478 & N67)
With a distinct sound perfected over many centuries, traditional Irish music is the heartbeat of the Wild Atlantic Way. Approximately 35 minutes south of the ‘trad capital’ of Doolin lies the town of Miltown Malbay, also considered a focal point of the indigenous music scene. Visitors would be well advised to immerse themselves in the exhibits at the Music Makers cultural centre, where they’ll learn about the lives of gifted local musicians and enjoy a specially commissioned film showcasing their talents. From Miltown Malbay, it’s time to retreat to the coast at Loop Head, where you’ll experience the breath-taking sweeping cliffs that give the region its name.
Stage 3: Miltown Malbay to Loop Head Peninsula (59.1km via N67 & R487)
To reach the tip of Loop Head (1hr 10mins), follow the N67 towards Kilkee, where you’ll join the Dunlicky Road that traces its way to the tip of the peninsula along the coast. The landscape that awaits is certainly of stark contrast to yesterday’s journey through the Burren. The view out towards the horizon from Loop Head Lighthouse is magnificent; so too is the sight of the dolphins basking in the estuary where the Shannon and Atlantic converge. For more outdoorsy types, Laura Foley of Long Way Round Walking Tours conducts guided hikes of this truly unspoilt corner of Ireland, teaching visitors about the history, geology, botany and wildlife of the region. Your ultimate destination of Kilkee lies 30 minutes east on the peninsula and is a great spot to get some rest ahead of tomorrow’s exploration!
KILKEE – TARBERT – LISTOWEL – DINGLE
Stage 1: Kilkee to Tarbert (31.8km via N67 & ferry at Killimer)
Today you’ll be leaving the rugged crag of County Clare for the gentler coastal landscapes of Kerry. Follow the N67 east to Killimer; from here, a car ferry departs each hour, on the hour, and carries commuters across the Shannon to the quaint town of Tarbert (1hr 31mins). On arrival, make sure to visit Tarbert Bridewell Courthouse and Jail, an attraction not to be missed. This 19th century judicial building operated for over 100 years, before it became derelict and abandoned, and was eventually restored as a visitor centre and museum. The town of Listowel is the next stop; taking the coastal route via Ballybunion, it lies a little over 45 minutes away.
Sunset at Tarbert
Stage 2: Tarbert to Listowel (43.1km via R551 & R553)
It’s said that the Irish have a captivating way with words, not just in their general discourse, but also in the many works of literary excellence produced throughout history. Kerry is a hub of these talents, birthing such esteemed writers as John B. Keane, Maurice Walsh and Bryan McMahon. At the Kerry Writers’ Museum, visitors can enjoy a stimulating journey of discovery through their words and stories. Fuelled by the wealth of rich characters, humour, romance and tragedy taken from the towns and villages of North Kerry, you’ll come away from your visit with a sense of the people and places that shaped the county’s literary genius.
Stage 3: Listowel to Dingle (96.6km via R537, R558 & R560)
For the last leg of the day, navigate back to the coastline, taking in views of the beautiful Fenit and its neighbouring islands. Along this route, you’ll stumble upon some of the most majestic views Kerry has to offer. This dramatic road to Dingle (1hr 52mins), through the peninsula's middle, exists thanks to powerful glacial movement that occurred in Ireland over 20,000 years ago. Thick ice sheets covered much of the region’s land; and when they slowly drifted towards the sea, the glaciers dragged huge quantities of rocks and debris with them. The result is a landscape brimming with steep cliffs, jagged peaks, sharp ridges and deep corrie lakes. Along this route is the Conor Pass, the highest mountain crossing on the Wild Atlantic Way, offering breathtaking views that extend as far as the Aran Islands in Galway, and Loop Head in Clare. As you descend from the mountainous paths, the bustling town of Dingle will come into view; a town famed throughout the country for its welcoming atmosphere as much as its immense natural beauty.
Stage 1: Dingle
Day four is a fantastic opportunity to take a break from driving and really get to know the vibrant town of Dingle. Its winding streets are the perfect place for some daytime meandering, and there’s certainly plenty to see and do! Endearing craft stores exhibit the works of local artists and a variety of food and drink options await as well. Dingle is famed for the quality of its seafood, with renowned chefs rustling up delicious international and traditional dishes from the daily hauls of the fishing fleets. Although if you’d prefer to add a more personal touch to your dining experiences, stop into the Dingle Cookery School, where you can learn to ‘Eat like an Irishman’. You’ll master the art of traditional sausage making and bake your own brown soda bread! Of course, no traditional Irish cooking class would be complete without learning cúpla focail (a few words) in the Gaelic language.
Artisan breweries and distilleries have been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years, with Dingle Distillery recently releasing a batch of acclaimed malt whiskey. The distillery offers visitors the chance to explore the facilities and learn about the production process of their whiskey, gin and vodkas. Of course there’s a complimentary tasting session for all who come! For those interested in aquatic life, or with young families, Dingle Oceanworld boasts a collection of sea creatures sure to excite adults and children alike. Visitors can come face-to-face with deadly sand tiger sharks, meet a community of Polar penguins or stroke a friendly ray in the Touch Tank. The nightlife in Dingle is positively infectious, with friendly conversation and traditional music emanating from the many colourful pubs that line the streets. Settle into a nice, cosy snug and while the night away in the company of locals and fellow travellers.
Spectacular views from the Conor Pass near Dingle
DINGLE – KILLORGLIN – CAHERSIVEEN
Stage 1: Dingle to Killorglin (53km via R561)
Before leaving Dingle, no visit is complete without introducing yourself to Fungie, the famous local dolphin who has called the town his home for many years. All year round, you can hop aboard Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours, captained by experienced local guides, and breathe in the surroundings of Dingle Bay. Once you’re back on dry land, make the journey to the next of the Southern Peninsulas, Iveragh. Take the N86 for approximately 18 minutes before turning onto the R561, which runs past one of Ireland’s most scenic beaches, Inch. Feel free to stretch your legs or dip your toes in the refreshing ocean, before jumping back in the car. A short 12 minutes later, you’ll reach Killorglin, famous for its annual Puck Fair festival which takes place in August. Also to be found in Killorglin is the remarkable ‘Seven Ages’ collection donated to the state by Irish artist Pauline Bewick. The works are internationally unique, as they feature pieces from seven decades of Bewick’s life – culminating in an incredibly moving portrayal of growing up in Ireland.
Stage 2: Killorglin to Cahersiveen (39.9km via N70)
From Killorglin, travel westwards across the Iveragh Peninsula coast, stopping off to see the century-old sailing vessel, ‘Sunbeam’, washed ashore on the sands of Rossbeigh beach. This magical spot has connections with the legendary Tír na nÓg, the island of eternal youth that appears throughout old Irish folklore. Be sure to also visit Kells Bay Gardens, known locally as the ‘Jewel on the Ring’. Further on is the town of Cahersiveen, the final destination of your five-day journey (42mins). It’s a place that holds significant importance in the history of the Irish state. Firstly, it is the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell, the father of the Irish independence movement after whom O’Connell Street in Dublin is named. The Old Barracks overlooking the marina is now a fascinating visitor centre, housing historic memorabilia from the Irish Civil War. Check into a cosy hotel or guesthouse and make sure to enjoy yourself on your final night on the Wild Atlantic Way! From Cahersiveen, adventurers continuing their journey can join the Skelligs Ring and visit the famous island of Skellig Michael.
Now that you have some inspiration for your travels along the Clare and Kerry coast, discover more handy itineraries covering all sorts of activities, across all six Wild Atlantic Way regions.