A positively swash-buckling adventure is in store as you set out to explore the thrilling wilds of the Surf Coast. Hugging the rugged outline of Sligo before moving into south Donegal, this jagged territory is famed for the kinds of crashing waves that attract surf lovers from all across the world. It’s a bracing and exhilarating stretch of north-west coast, boasting a diverse mix of epic towering cliffs, local legends, charming Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) villages, colourful wildlife, revitalising escapes and miles of picturesque open road. You’ll find yourself immersed in the unique Wild Atlantic Way of life as you walk along ancient natural structures, forage for well-earned and unique meals and learn about the Irish folklore heroes and villains who shaped the character of this region. During this jam-packed five-day itinerary, you’ll also view incredible collections of historical artefacts, visit remote islands with their own unusual stories and at every turn be enthralled by this magical terrain
Stage 1: Downpatrick Head
Your tour begins on the northern coast of Sligo – at majestic Downpatrick Head, which faces dramatically into the crashing North Atlantic. Standing a mighty 126ft above sea level and boasting incredible views of the unique cluster of islands known as the ‘Staggs of Broadhaven’, this Head is the perfect place to take a moment and appreciate the splendour of the ocean. From the small stone building at its peak, you can gaze out at the many species of birds that flock to the nearby Dún Briste sea stack, before exploring the ruins of a church, holy well and stone cross that mark the site of a former church founded by St. Patrick. Then it’s onto the pretty coastal town of Belmullet to kick things into second gear…
Sunset over Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo
Stage 2: Downpatrick to Belmullet (62.7km via R314 and L1202 and R314)
A pleasant drive along the pretty coast (1hr 8mins) will take you through the civil parish of Kilcommon and the townland of Barnatra before arriving at Belmullet, on the most northerly point of Mayo. The capital of the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region of Erris, Belmullet has just about every Wild Atlantic Way treasure you could wish for; remote islands steeped in history and archaeology, challenging golf links courses, equestrian adventures, intriguing local wildlife, famous landmarks and sights that feel like they’ve been lifted straight out of a grand painting! While you’re there, learn about the struggles encountered in Ireland during the Great Famine (1845 – 1849) at Ionad Deirbhile Heritage Centre. The nation’s emigration story is brought to life in this fascinating and often heart-breaking exhibition. Afterwards, visit the memorial gardens at An Fód Dubh (Blacksod Harbour), created in 2013 to mark the area’s first emigration sailing. When you’re done, enjoy a tasty lunch at local family-run café, An Builín Blasta. Sunset over Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo Stage 3: Belmullet to Erris Head to Belmullet (19.1km via R313 and L1201) There’s much to do on Erris Head, some 14 minutes away from Belmullet. Embrace the elements with a walk of the area overseen by local guide and archaeologist Agatha Hurst, or hit the waves of Broadhaven Bay with Wavesweeper Adventures. Under the guidance of the fun-loving team there, you can try coasteering, ride the swell across the waves or kayak along the Erris shore. You can also take a bite from nature’s larder on a wild foraging workshop with Gaol Siar on the shores of Erris. You’ll gather seasonal shellfish, try your hand at lobster and crab fishing, pick mussels and give shore angling a go before learning how to cook your catch of the day! Once you’re done, head back the way you came and bed down for the night.
Stage 1: Belmullet to Carrowteige (42km via R313, R314 and L1202)
From Belmullet, hug the coast as you travel to the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) village of Carrowteige (42mins). Here, you’ll be truly immersed in the Wild Atlantic Way of life as you hike along the very western edge of Europe with Rachel’s Irish Adventures. On this exciting tour, you’ll pass spectacular cliffs with the soundtrack of crashing waves and nearby wildlife in your ears, taking in the vast ancient bogland and mountain vistas. You’ll also hear stories of Irish legends like St. Patrick and the Children of Lir, and enjoy the authentic atmosphere created by those who dwell and speak the native tongue in this region.
Stage 2: Carrowteige to Ballina (77km via R314)
On your way to Mayo’s largest town, Ballina (1hr 23mins), be sure to pause at the Discovery Points of Lackan Strand and Killala Quay, both of which over fantastic views out to sea. Stop off too for an expert-led tour of Belleek Castle where you’ll learn all about the exciting life and times of original owner Marshall Doran; sailor, raconteur and all-round adventurer. At the castle you’ll spot the well-stocked armoury and visit many storied rooms, one of which holds the bed of Gráinne Mhaol; the legendary pirate queen of Connaught! Be sure to sample the Castle’s tasty culinary offerings, before hitting the road once again. It’s another incredibly picturesque drive from Carrowteige to Ballina, where you can continue to satisfy your cultural cravings at the Jackie Clarke Collection in the town’s local library. This amazing assembly is regarded as the most important exhibition of Irish historical artefacts available to the public, and comprises over 100,000 items spanning 400 years.
Stage 1: Ballina to Easkey (26.1km via R297)
Travel through Enniscrone as you journey along the coast towards the glorious unspoiled village of Easkey (32mins) where breath-taking scenery meets exceptional surfing options. There’s plenty more than that, of course, with the opportunity for an award winning lunch at the Pudding Row Café, the inviting home away from home of husband and wife team Johnny Conlon and Easkey’s own Dervla James. If ceramic homewares is your thing, pay a visit to Rosie’s Pottery Studio to marvel at the unique creations of Rosemary McGowan, who has been lighting up the village with her decorative flourishes for over a decade.
Stage 2: Easkey to Streedagh (74.1km via N59 and R292)
Next up, the majestic spoils of Streedagh Beach (1hr 24 mins). Along the way you’ll pass Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points Aughris Head and Rosses Point (both well worth stopping for a photo), idyllic Strandhill beach, and Drumcliffe. This charming town is famed for being the final resting place of esteemed Irish poet, WB Yeats. He spent his youth in Sligo, and was inspired by its lush and haunting imagery. When you arrive at Streedagh, you’ll find three kilometres of golden sand, perfect for surfing, strolls or a family picnic. Nearby at Atlantic Sheepdogs, you’ll meet some of the smartest dogs in the world! Against the beautiful backdrop of Sligo’s Atlantic coastline, Martin Feeney will demonstrate how his trusty and clever canine companions gather sheep, on this typical Irish farm.
Classiebawn Castle on Mullaghmore Head
Stage 3: Streedagh to Mullaghmore Head (15.6km via N15 and R279)
The intimate fishing village of Mullaghmore marks your base for the next day, with the stunning terrain of Mullaghmore Head acting as the final stage of today’s trek after an 18-minute drive. This rugged slice of paradise is especially great for surfing in winter months, as the waves are regarded as some of the finest in all of Europe. It’s also a great spot for swimming and sea angling if you’d rather a more relaxing pursuit. On land, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the rugged headland, taking in superb panoramic views of the Sliabh Liag cliffs. Or simply let the raw vigour of the Wild Atlantic Way wash over you, while watching the waves crash under Classiebawn Castle as the mighty Benbulben looms large in the background. Overnight in the village, and prepare to go exploring tomorrow…
Stage 1: Mullaghmore Harbour
Next morning, set sail for an exhilarating adventure to Inishmurray Island. You’ll travel seven kilometres off the coast to explore this fascinating sixth-century monastic settlement. Tread carefully, though; the stones of the large altar known as the Clocha Breacha – the ‘Cursing’ or ‘Speckled Stones’ – are said to have dark powers! The Inishmurray Island of today is a wildlife sanctuary for both breeding and wintering birds. Depending on the time of year, you’ll find Arctic tern, shag, gulls and elder duck, as well as pairs of black guillemot, barnacle geese, storm petrels and fulmars. After an invigorating day spent immersing yourself in island life, return to Mullaghmore for a hearty dinner, drinks and some rousing trad tunes, before settling down for the night.
Stage 1: Mullaghmore to Rossnowlagh (34.2km via N15, R267 and R231)
It’s just over a half hour from Mullaghmore to Rossnowlagh Beach, via the lively surf town of Bundoran, sandy Tullan Strand and the charismatic town of Ballyshannon. In Rossnowlagh, you can learn how to catch waves with fun lessons at Fin McCool Surf School. If you fancy something a little more advanced, hit up Donegal Kitesurf School for private or group lessons in one of the most idyllic kitesurfing locations that the country has to offer.
Stage 2: Rossnowlagh to Donegal (18.2km via R231, N15 and R267)
Finish up your incredible Wild Atlantic Way jaunt with a 20-minute drive to bustling Donegal Town and the delights offered up by the nearby and increasingly inventive Craft Village. More than a grand illustration of Ireland’s many contemporary arts and crafts, this is your chance to meet the makers in their workshops before picking up an individual item or two to bring home, a great way to remember your time on this storied stretch of the Emerald Isle. Cap it all off a delicious gourmet lunch at Aroma, the award-winning on-site restaurant, before one last round of exploration and sight-seeing around this buzzing town. Later, settle down for dinner at Harvey’s Point Hotel, overlooking gorgeous Lough Eske.
Soak up local heritage and culture with a Seatrails horseback trek along Streedagh Beach
Cycle through the scenery that inspired much of WB Yeats’ works on the Yeats Country Cycle, centred around majestic Benbulben
Charter a boat and fish the plentiful waters of Donegal Bay at one of Ireland’s best top angling spots, Bundoran
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 and coasteering buffs, 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.
Now that you’ve extensively explored the Surf Coast, why not move into one of its neighbouring regions? We’ve got itineraries to suit all ages, tastes and levels of fitness.