There’s so much to see and do along the invigorating, wave-crashed Surf Coast. Sligo and Mayo are two of Ireland’s most photogenic and engaging counties and are ideal places to immerse yourself in.
This jam-packed two-day itinerary lets you experience the ‘thrill of Strandhill’; a bustling coastal town that boasts delicious food, fun outdoor activities and plenty of craic. There’s also an opportunity to learn about foraging for seaweed (an activity that’s been popular here for centuries), try a spot of surfing, explore hidden caves and enjoy captivating views from one of the coast’s most well-known headlands.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to activities in Strandhill in County Sligo. First up, we recommend a bike tour around the lowlands and coastal roads, taking in the idyllic surrounds. After you’ve explored Carrowmore’s megalithic tombs, enjoy a picnic in the sand dunes of Strandhill where you might even catch a glimpse of the local seal who lives there! Back in the town, a relaxing Voya seaweed bath will ease any muscle tension, and melt away all your cares. There are plenty of culinary options to choose from afterwards for lunch; try the pretty Shells Café or Draft House, where you can wash down your meal with a tasty local craft beer.
A Voya seaweed bath
Next, you’ll truly embrace the Wild Atlantic Way with a Seatrails guided walk of the Strandhill Heritage Trail. You’ll be taken along quiet shores and strands, with scenic views from the foot of Knocknarea Mountain. At the hidden gem of ‘Shelly Valley’, your guide will point out the region’s unique species of flora. Seatrails will also be happy to let you taste some locally sourced, freshly cooked mussels at the ‘midden’ site (where locals once collected, ate and discarded shellfish). It’s a truly unique al fresco experience that’s well worth experiencing.
With your appetite whet, enjoy a delicious dinner at any of the wealth of local eateries. Trá Bán is just one of many dedicated restaurants in the region that serves up fresh local steak and seafood. Afterwards, enjoy a night of unique Irish culture with fun traditional Irish sessions taking place in local pubs including the lively Strand Bar. Strandhill has many comfortable places to lay your head for the night, with some offering excellent views of the bay.
Stage 1: Strandhill to Aughris/Enniscrone
(33.5km via N59)
Those interested in learning about the nutritional, horticultural and cosmetic benefits of seaweed should start their second day’s adventure with a Sligo Seashore Secrets Discovery Tour in Aughris, a roughly 40-minute drive from Standhill. This 1-hour trail is led by local seaweed expert Marc Torrades, who’ll bring you on a fascinating exploration of Ireland’s magical seashore. You’ll learn how to identify different specimens, and even get to sample a homemade seaweed biscuit! Afterwards, tuck into some Aughris chowder, Dillisk bread and Carrageen panna cotta at the nearby Fairgreen Café. Or for those who’d prefer a dip in the wild Atlantic, enjoy a watersports adventure instead. With the fantastic team at Seventh Wave Surf School in Enniscrone (53 minutes from Strandhill) you can surf, stand-up paddleboard, body-board or kayak at any time of the year.
Some of the colourful seaweed dotted along the Wild Atlantic Way’s coastline
Stage 2: Aughris/Enniscrone to Downpatrick Head
(66.5km via N59 and R314)
The fun continues at the atmospheric Atlantic Caves and Blow Holes (a 1.5hr drive from Strandhill). More adventurous folks can kayak out to Poll na Seantoine (which translates as ‘hole of the ancient fire’). From its unique vantage point below Downpatrick Head, you’ll have amazing views of the coast’s jutting headlands. Paddling out along the rocky shoreline, you’ll steer inside the cave, where your senses will immediately become heightened – the echoing sound of the sea and the light glimmering off the water and rocks is truly unforgettable.
Stage 3: Downpatrick Head to Ballina
(32.5km via R314)
On departure from Downpatrick Head in County Mayo make a beeline for nearby Mary’s Cottage Kitchen, where you’ll be served up some well-earned tea and cake! The final leg of the journey will take you to the town of Ballina, a 33-minute drive away, where you can enjoy a visit to the Jackie Clarke Collection in the local Public Library. This exhibition holds over 100,000 items relating to Irish history’s most influential figures. Go for a stroll afterwards in the building’s pretty heritage garden, before enjoying dinner at the luxurious Mount Falcon Estate.
- Stroll along serene Streedagh Beach, and gaze out at where three of the Spanish Armada’s fleet were wrecked in 1588
- A highlight of the Rosses Point coastal walk is ‘On Waiting Shore’, a haunting statue dedicated to all those who lost their lives at sea
- Climb to Knocknarea’s peak, where legendary Queen Maeve is supposedly buried – you’ll also be afforded amazing panoramic views of the surrounding countryside
- Visit the grave of Irish poet WB Yeats at Drumcliffe Cemetery
- Admire Benbulben on this pretty looped walk
- Take a ferry out to Inis Murray, an uninhabited island that’s home to a sixth century monastery
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, Inis Murray Island and Classiebawn Castle. A popular spot with professional surfers, Mullaghmore makes world-renowned 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.
A sheltered beach surrounded by cliffs belonging to Ireland’s largest island, Keem Bay in County Mayo is a true treasure reached via the Atlantic Drive to Keel. The popular and pristine beach is the site of a Blueway snorkel trail, while many providers operate in the area if you’re looking to get up close and personal with marine life.
Once you’ve explored all of the Surf Coast, head north into wild Donegal. These one and two-day itineraries take in the county’s many highlights. Find out more about the many activities on offer on our online directory.