Adventure awaits on the wild and untamed Surf Coast, a region of the Wild Atlantic Way famed for the crashing waves that sculpt its jagged shores. Moving from south Donegal and tracing the length of Sligo’s jagged outline before hugging north Mayo, this is one of the west coast’s most picturesque stretches. From quiet solitude in the shadow of a mountain that inspired one of the world’s greatest poets to invigorating adventure riding the famous Sligo waves, you’ll find yourself effortlessly giving into the Wild Atlantic Way of life in this enchanting place. Our handy three-day itinerary brings together the best of the Surf Coast; follow in Yeats’ footsteps on a special walking trail, visit secluded hidden beaches, relax in a seaweed bath and even visit the final resting place of a legendary Irish queen!
Stage 1: Rossnowlagh Beach
With gentle, rolling waves (and occasional crashing ‘prowlers’), pretty Rossnowlagh beach is the perfect place for budding surfers to try their hand at this fun sport. The friendly, laidback team at Fin McCool Surf School will talk you through the basics on dry land, before you head into the wild Atlantic together. Warm up afterwards with a Hot Toddy in front of the adjacent Sandhouse Hotel’s roaring fire.
Stage 2: Rossnowlagh to Mullaghmore (31.1km via R231 and N15)
Next up, hop in the car and make the drive south to the ‘Great Summit’ of Mullaghmore (40mins). Another surfing hotspot, this popular seaside resort centres on a charming little harbour; why not chat to locals over a hot chocolate in one of its buzzing cafés? It’s well worth going for a bracing walk around Mullaghmore Head too, as the views here are simply unrivalled – you’ll gaze up at the striking, flat-topped Benbulben mountain and out into the wild expanse of Donegal Bay.
Stage 3: Mullaghmore to Streedagh (13.6km via R279 and N15)
From Mullaghmore, travel on for 18 minutes towards another magical beach, Streedagh, but be sure to stop off at Trawalua Strand along the way. This remote stretch of beach isn’t accessible by car, so it’s often deserted, perfect if you fancy a gallop down its length! Island View Riding Stables is a family-run horse farm that offers year-round, blissful treks across this beautiful part of Sligo. If you’d rather a more relaxed activity, continue on to Streedagh where you’ll meet some very clever canines. Martin Feeney of Atlantic Sheep Dogs has been working with his trusty companions for years, and during this hour-long experience you’ll get to see the dogs at work, understand how they herd sheep on the farm and see the incredible teamwork between man and dog.
Stage 4: Streedagh to Strandhill (28.8km via N15, R291 and R292)
You’ll surely be hungry by now, so head to Drumcliffe Tea House & Craft Shop (13mins) for a spot of lunch. It’s beside the village’s cemetery - the last resting place of iconic Irish literary figure WB Yeats. The poet spent his formative years in Sligo and was enchanted by its landscape, particularly Benbulben, which inspired one of his loveliest poems. After leaving Drumcliffe, continue along the coast road towards the charismatic seaside village of Strandhill (24mins), a lively surfing spot where tradition and modernity meet in true style! Recent additions to this warm and welcoming community include a lively, modern craft beer bar, a funky café / design shop and a delicious artisan ice-cream parlour.
Once you’ve explored the town, make your way to Knocknarea Mountain (a 13min drive). Walking to its peak will take around 45 minutes - it’s quite steep towards the top - but you’ll be rewarded with some exceptional panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, including Croagh Patrick, the Ox Mountains and even the Sliabh Liag Cliffs in Donegal. As well as that, there’s a distinctive mound on Knocknarea’s peak that’s believed to date back to the Neolithic era… or perhaps even earlier! According to local lore, the legendary Queen Maeve – who ruled the area of Connacht during the Iron Age – is buried beneath the mound. Following your descent, spend the night in Strandhill.
Stage 1: Strandhill to Sligo town (9.4km via R292)
Next morning, make your way towards the county’s capital, Sligo Town (14mins). It has a fantastic cultural offering, and we recommend you check out the Niland Collection at The Model, a positively world-class gallery. Among other rich exhibitions, it features almost 50 paintings by acclaimed Irish artist Jack B Yeats. If you’d rather follow in the footsteps of his poet brother, make the drive to Lough Gill, immortalised by William Butler in his oft-quoted poem, The Lake Isle of Inishfree. You can admire the famous little island from the lake’s shore, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, have a go at SUP (stand-up paddle-boarding) out to it. The folks at Northwest Adventure Tours will lead you out onto the water, and once you find your balance, you can gently explore its grassy banks, hidden isles and variety of wildlife.
‘Waiting on Shore’ sculpture at Rosses Point
Stage 2: Sligo Town to Rosses Point (7.5km via R291)
The historic, maritime village of Rosses Point is just nine minutes’ drive from Sligo Town. This walking trail runs along its coast, so-called because the poet and his siblings used to holiday here as children. It’s an area steeped in sea-faring lore, and on the trail you’ll hear tales of smuggling, pirates, shipwrecks and hauntings. Another option is to view this pretty coastline from the water, on an eco-tour with Sligo Boat Charters. You’ll cruise by Oyster and Coney Islands, Blackrock Lighthouse and the famous ‘Metal Man’ statue – based on (or so the story goes) the only Rosses Point man who never told a lie! Once you’ve returned to dry land, you’ll see the ‘Waiting on Shore’ sculpture (above), dedicated to all those who lost their lives at sea. Make your way back to Sligo for dinner, before spending the night locally.
Stage 1: Sligo Town to Strandhill (9.4km via R292)
The ‘thrill of Strandhill’ still has more to offer, so make your way back to this delightful little town in the morning. The Killaspugbrone Loop is a gorgeous coastal walk that winds through the area’s salt marshes, sandy dunes and fresh, pine woodland. You’ll pass the ruins of Killaspugbrone Church, founded by Saint Patrick in the fifth century. According to local folklore, Patrick tripped on rough ground outside the church and lost a tooth. It was recovered, and this gold relic now sits proudly in the National Museum of Ireland! If you’d prefer to immerse yourself in Strandhill’s artistic heritage, head along to local studio Breeogue Pottery for a demonstration with Gráinne Mac Laughlin. In this elegant converted 18th century building, you can watch as Gráinne skilfully produces high-fired stoneware and contemporary lighting.
Stage 2: Strandhill to Enniscrone (59.3km via R292, R297 and N59)
Next up, seaweed. This amazing plant has both nutritional and cosmetic benefits, both of which you can experience in Enniscrone (1hr 10mins from Strandhill). On the way, though, you’ll pass some more epic scenery – be sure to stop for photos at Aughris Head before lunching in the village of Easkey. When you arrive in Enniscrone, you’ve got two options. One is to relax in a hot and soothing bath at Kilcullen Seaweed Baths. The silky oils in the locally sourced seaweed soothe muscles and leave skin soft and moisturised. What’s more, the baths here overlook Enniscrone Beach and Killala Bay, making for an incredibly blissful and therapeutic experience.
Colourful seaweed can be foraged along the Wild Atlantic Way
Your other option is to find out more about seaweed’s beneficial properties on a Sligo Seashore Secrets walk. Marc from Seashore Veg will show you how to identify and cook the various plants found on the beach, and afterwards, you’ll tuck into a tasty bowl of Aughris seafood chowder with Dillisk bread – yum.
Stage 3: Enniscrone to Ballina (14.6km via R297)
Finally, drive on to Ballina (19mins) for a visit to Belleek Castle. On a tour of this impressive, neo-gothic structure, you’ll enter its medieval banquet hall, opulent dining rooms and, of course, the Marshall Doran Collection. This exhibition of arms, armour, fossils and antiques is housed in the atmospheric castle dungeons, and even includes the last wolf shot in Connacht! Back upstairs, enjoy dinner in the romantic restaurant, or have a drink in the maritime surrounds of the Armada Bar. It’s full of character and is pretty authentic – having been constructed from an actual Spanish Armada ship.
Make sure you get your fill of traditional Irish music; this site has daily updates around upcoming gigs and sessions
Pirate Queen Gráinne Mhaol is said to be buried on Clare Island; regardless of whether the legends are true, it’s a gorgeous and remote hidden getaway
Trace Ireland’s colourful history at the interactive Jackie Clarke Collection – home to 100,000 rare Irish books, proclamations, posters, political cartoons, pamphlets and handbills, spanning 400 years
Before departing Strandhill, take some time out to watch surfers perform in one of the best-known surfing beaches in the country, while enjoying an ice-cream from Mammy Johnston’s
Surf Coast Signature Points
The quaint fishing village of Mullaghmore in County Sligo takes the meaning of ‘the great outdoors’ to new heights. Ideal for swimming or windsurfing, the golden beach located here is a vast plain of leisurely opportunity. Mullaghmore is also a great connecting point to the likes of the Sliabh Liag cliffs and Inis Murray Island. A popular spot with professional surfers, Mullaghmore makes waves.
A local legend in every sense, the mighty Downpatrick Head, County Mayo is situated about 5km north of Ballycastle village and offers up unrivalled views of the Atlantic, including the Staggs of Broadhaven; a unique cluster of islands. History enthusiasts will want to explore the ruins of a sacred site, holy well and stone cross that mark the site of a church founded by none other than St. Patrick.
There’s plenty more stunning Wild Atlantic Way coast waiting to be explored, whether you’re seeking a relaxing break or a thrilling adventure. Check out our various itineraries here.