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Insider’s Guide to the Wild Atlantic Way



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Ever wonder what makes the Wild Atlantic Way such a special place to spend time?

While the landscapes of ever-changing sea and sky are breathtaking to behold, and the hidden towns and villages each possess their own unique flavour, there’s no denying that the real heart of the west is its people.

This spring, we’ve got you covered with local knowledge on all the best places to visit and unmissable experiences. From County Galway’s broad, inviting shores to all the way north to Donegal’s colossal cliffs, this is your Insider’s Guide to the Wild Atlantic Way from the people who know it best.

 
 
Mannin Bay with view to the Twelve Ben Mountains, Co. Galway
 

Galway

Meet Jonathan Powell and Amanda Burke of All Things Connemara, a specialist retail shop showcasing a broad array of experiences and gifts – some of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. A few of their favourite experiences in Galway include:

 

Maumeen Mountain Pass and pilgrimage

"At a height of just 260m, this pass between Maam and Recess boasts breathtaking views"

We find it special – even spiritual – to sit down on the steps of the altar here and listen to the bleating of the sheep and the sounds of passing birds. This place is the definition of peace and tranquility. At a height of just 260m, this pass between Maam and Recess boasts breathtaking views. Taken from the Irish Maum Na Ean, which means 'pass of the birds', it’s nestled between two of the Maamturk mountains. A visit reveals a tiny chapel with mass altar, a statue of St Patrick, and the Stations of the Cross scattered roughly around the rocky site.


Boat trip around the islands

"dolphins, amazing birdlife, and even passing whales offer a feast for your eyes"

If the weather is fair, there is nothing nicer than a boat trip around Inishturbot, Inishturk, High Island, and Inishark. With an abundant colony of grey and harbour seals, a great chance of seeing dolphins, amazing birdlife, and even the opportunity to spot passing whales and basking sharks, you will have a feast for your eyes. We always bring a picnic and sit on the rocks on an island and enjoy how peaceful and spectacular the mainland and backdrop of the Twelve Bens mountains are.


Coral beach and Mannin Bay

"Catch a glimpse of the wild seals and leaping dolphins in the pristine waves"

With the breathtaking backdrop of the Twelve Bens and the coral beach, Mannin Bay is the perfect setting to take in the Atlantic Ocean, and the ideal playground to explore, learn, and simply be in one of the Wild Atlantic Way's iconically beautiful spots. Catch a glimpse of the wild seals and leaping dolphins in the pristine waves, or spot the roaming Connemara ponies on the rugged headland. The coral beach and surrounding sands appear golden against the turquoise waters. It’s also a wonderful bathing spot in the fresh Atlantic waters.

 
 

Mayo

David Tyrell is the manager of Broadhaven Bay Hotel, a popular hotel and leisure centre located along the spectacular Mayo shoreline at Béal an Mhuirthead (Belmullet). He shares his can’t-miss things to do and see below

 

Scotchport Bay

"A natural harbour enjoyed by families in kayaks, stand up paddle boards and sporting snorkels"

A natural harbour near Corclough village outside of Belmullet, this is a stone’s throw from the blowhole at Dun na mBo. The old stone boathouse is a reminder of how important a role this natural harbour played in coastal life in years gone by, and if it could speak, I have no doubt it would tell amazing stories of yesteryear. Nowadays, it’s enjoyed by families in kayaks, on stand up paddle boards, and sporting snorkels – along with intrepid photographers out in the wild weather looking for that ever-elusive shot of a huge wave breaking over the rocks at the mouth of the bay.


Erris Head Loop Walk viewing point

There’s a place along this walk where the bay opens and, panning from left to right, one can see the Stags of Broadhaven Bay and Kid Island trying to hide Benwee Head (1005ft). The cliffs run to ‘sluggah rock’ on one side of the mouth of Sruwaddacon Bay, with Ballyglass Lighthouse standing proud on the other side. In the foreground, there are boats with fishermen pulling pots, and sea anglers angling for some of the many varieties of fish found in these pristine waters. Over by the slip, Wavesweeper Sea Adventures offer coasteering along the cliffs and caves.


The jump over the cave in Glenlara

The rush of the plunge into the sea and the feeling of the sea’s power – ‘the washing machine’ effect – whilst coasteering with Wavesweeper Sea Adventures is second to none. Open-sea swimming in and out of caves accessible only by climbing or swimming is not for the faint of heart. For me, it provides a real feeling of being alive; it’s undoubtedly a privilege to explore this wilderness from the water.


Meeting of the Sweeneys at the lighthouse in Blacksod

The Sweeney family are third-generation lighthouse keepers and still maintain Blacksod Lighthouse, one of the only two square lighthouses in Europe, to this day. They are full of information on the history of the lighthouse and the area; if you’re really lucky, they’ll show you around the lighthouse and reveal the inner workings of the lights of today versus how things were done in the past.


McDonnells Pub

No trip to Mayo is complete without meeting pub owner Padraigh in McDonnells in Belmullet town. Famous for his talents as a host and entertainer, I guarantee Padraigh will buy you a drink, and if you come back the following year, he will remember who you are and where you’re from and will buy you another drink. Also a great musician and singer, he plays a central role in the impromptu sessiuns (sessions).

 
 
Sunset surf at Strandhill, Co. Sligo
 

Sligo

Down on the sands of Sligo, the Sligo Surf Experience is the vision of waterman and outdoor enthusiast Seamus McGoldrick. When he’s not giving surfing and bodyboarding lessons, Seamus can be found out chasing his own waves, enjoying some of his favourite spots in Sligo along the way:

 

A very Sligo surf trip

"Watch brave men and women battle some of the biggest waves in Europe while sitting on the headland at Mullaghmore"

As a surfer growing up on a hundred kilometres of wave-rich surf coast, my favourite thing is to hit the road on a surf trip around Sligo. I start off checking the booming Atlantic waves at Easkey Pier from the top of Easkey Castle (built in 1207) before grabbing a coffee at the picturesque Pudding Row Café. Then I head south to Strandhill Beach, a hidden gem with the most popular country market in the northwest, for some food or a pint in the world-famous Strand Bar – a veritable surfing museum run by the legendary surfing brothers Johnston, John, and Bingo. Then it’s off to behold the big waves of Mullaghmore. Sitting on the headland at Mullaghmore watching brave men and women battling the biggest waves in Europe is one of the greatest sights you'll see along the Wild Atlantic Way.

 
 
Glencolmcille Folk Village, Co. Donegal
 

Donegal

Glencolmcille Folk Village is a thatched-roof replica of a traditional rural Irish village perched above beautiful Glen Bay Beach in the Gaeltacht area of southwest Donegal. Its manager, Margaret Cunningham, has a few tips and tricks up her sleeve for intrepid visitors who venture north for a little Wild Atlantic Way adventure of their own:  
 

Glen Beach

"Step back hundreds of years in time and experience heritage living first-hand in Glencolmcille Folk Village"

My favourite spot along the Wild Atlantic Way, this beach nestles along the foothills of Glen Head, Glencolmcille. The wild Atlantic crashes in with great force to the strand, and, if you’re lucky, you might catch sight of cormorants saluting the sun as they dry their wings on the rocks, or a flock of oystercatchers might come hopping along comically on one foot. It's a delight to walk off the shoreline and into Glencolmcille Folk Village to step back hundreds of years in time, experience heritage living first-hand, or simply to enjoy a warm bowl of world-famous soup.


Lug Na Druan

This secluded fishing harbour lies in the shadow of the promontory fort of Doonalt, Glencolmcille. It's a place where spirituality, culture, and our fishing heritage come together as one.”

 

The Claddagh at Port, Glencolmcille

This spot holds a special place in my heart, as it's where my family fished for generations. They had a great respect for and understanding of the sea; this may explain my love for coastal photography in all types of weather.

 

Live music

There is little to compare with the welcome at the Sliabh Liag traditional singing circle in Evelyn's Bar, Carrick, on the last Friday of every month. Traditional music is rooted deep in the southwest of Donegal; The Rusty Mackerel in Teelin is a terrific example of fine dining and fiddle tunes – both at their best.

 
 

Now matter how you decide to embrace the Wild Atlantic Way of life, it pays to listen to what the people who live and love it every day have to say about what makes their region so unique. Let these insider tips inspire your next Wild Atlantic Way getaway, then plan your trip so you can get out on the road to find your own best-kept secrets.

 
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