Surf Coast & Bay Coast Touring Route: 5 Days

Elemental and wild, Ireland’s west coast is a true feast for the senses. Constantly bathed in an ever-changing light, each season offers up its own unique colour palette. Indeed, when you witness twilight descend on the coast’s haunting landscapes, magical islands and soaring clifftops, you’ll understand that the Wild Atlantic Way is as enchanting during those bracing winter months as it is in summer. This special five-day itinerary brings visitors on a winding tour around two of the Wild Atlantic Way’s six regions. The Surf Coast is a rugged stretch that runs from south Donegal into Sligo and down to north Mayo. It’s a region famed for crashing waves and golden beach, and attracts surfers from all around the world. You’ll also take in the neighbouring Bay Coast, which hugs the jagged coastlines of Mayo and robust Galway. It’s home to a host of islands dotted in the region’s many bays and inlets, as well as plenty of vibrant towns bursting with character and charm. As you meet friendly locals, sample the delicious seafood the region is famed for and enjoy a lively traditional Irish music session or two, you’ll really begin to experience the unique and invigorating Wild Atlantic Way of life.

  
 

Day 1

BALLINA - DOWNPATRICK HEAD - ERRIS - BELMULLET

 

Stage 1: Ballina to Downpatrick Head (34.9km via R314)                                   

Setting out from your starting-point of Ballina – a beautiful Mayo town situated on the majestic River Moy ­– travel towards Downpatrick Head (44mins). En route, pause at Killala Quay Discovery Point, and take a moment to gaze out at fishing boats bobbing in the pretty bay. Lackan Strand is also a slight detour where you can enjoy a stroll along its vast and golden sandy expanse. When you finally reach Downpatrick Head, you’ll realise what makes this Signature Discovery Point so special. Rising almost 40m above the crashing Atlantic below, it offers up breath-taking views of the Staggs of Broadhaven islands and the majestic Dún Briste sea stack, which protrudes dramatically from the sea.

 

Stage 2: Downpatrick Head to Erris Head (72.2km via R314)

From Downpatrick, make your way towards another stunning piece of jutting land, Erris Head (1hr 22mins). On the way you’ll pass through Ballycastle, a small but charming town with a rich history. Find out more at the Céide Fields, a 6,000-year-old Neolithic site that’s home to the world’s oldest known stone-walled field system. The viewing platform there sits hundreds of feet above the ocean, and from it you can gaze back to Downpatrick, and on a clear day, all the way to Sligo and Donegal.

 

Stage 3: Erris Head to Belmullet (9.5km via L1201 and R313)

The awe-inspiring views continue as you arrive at Erris, once voted the ‘best place to go wild in Ireland’! The Erris Head, Carrowteige and Children of Lir looped walks are a great way to explore all of this lush area. You’ll wind along cliff-edges which act as fantastic vantage points – gaze out at the Stags of Broadhaven, a series of five steep rock islands jutting dramatically from the crashing Atlantic, and across to the spectacular Dún Chaocháin cliffs. When you’ve had your fill, make your way to Belmullet (14mins) for dinner before settling down for the night.  

Sunset at Erris Head, County Donegal
Sunset at Erris Head

 

Day 2

BELMULLET - BLACKSOD POINT - MULRANNY

 

Stage 1: Belmullet to Blacksod Point (20.3km via R313)

Belmullet serves as your base on the second day of this Wild Atlantic Way adventure. Your eventual destination is Blacksod (20mins), but in order to get there, you’ll traverse the length of the Mullet Peninsula; 33 kilometres of unspoilt natural beauty and mystique. Make your way first to Dún na mBó, where visitors can experience uninterrupted views of the Atlantic. Annagh Head meanwhile lies on the western edge of the peninsula and offers fantastic views of Eagle Island to the north, and the Children of Lir’s Inisglora to the south. Continuing on down this scenic stretch, be sure to stop again at Elly beach. This blue-flag awarded sandy strand is perfect for both relaxed strolls, or if you fancy a dip – swimming and watersports! Along the way there are plenty of stops including Fal Mór (Falmore) Discovery Point, the ancient and holy site of St. Deirbhile’s Church and nearby well. You’ll pass Deirbhile’s Twist; a granite boulder sculpture that was created as part of the Tír Sáile Sculpture Trail before finally reaching Blacksod, a charming working harbour that looks out onto the sublime bay. Look out for its iconic lighthouse too, it dates back to 1864 and is still operational today. Soak in these beautiful surrounds before making your way back to Belmullet.

 

Stage 2: Belmullet to Mulranny (59.5km via N59)

Next up is the hidden gem of Mulranny (55mins), but not before taking in some of the sights along the way! With a population of just eight, Claggan was only officially declared an island in 1991. It’s accessible from the mainland via a narrow, sandy causeway that divides the Bays of Tramore and Blacksod, and is circled by a host of beautiful sandy beaches. Continue on to Ceann Ramhar (Doohoma Head), passing through the delightful little village of Doohoma.  The views across to Achill Island and Blacksod are un-missable. Finally, travel back to Bangor Erris, continue on the N59 to Ballycroy, and on to Mulranny. This idyllic seaside village has historic connections to the remarkable Irish pirate queen, Gráinne Mhaol, who fought to protect the freedom of Gaelic clans in the 16th century. In fact, nearby Rossturk Castle was one of the strongholds of her sea-faring family.

 

Day 3

MULRANNY – ACHILL ISLAND – WESTPORT

 

Stage 1: Mulranny to Achill Island (22.3km via Great Western Greenway)

The third day of this fun-filled itinerary takes you along Ireland’s first off-road cycling and walking route. (Don’t worry though if you’d rather opt for the car – the drive is just as spectacular!) The Great Western Greenway route follows an old disused railway line, and offers a peaceful and leisurely trek through the unspoilt Mayo countryside. And though it runs all the way from Westport to Achill Island, you can join it any point along the way, including your current location, Mulranny. Rent a bike there, and enjoy a cycle along all or part of this pretty route. If you’re feeling up to the challenge, follow it all the way to your next destination; magical Achill…

 

Stage 2: Achill Island to Westport (51.5km via N59 and R319)

On this island (the country’s largest), you’ll find miles of golden, sandy beach. Be sure to follow the route to Keem Bay; this secluded Signature Discovery Point is sheltered by the Benmore Cliffs and Croaghaun Mountain. It’s a blue-flag beach too, so perfect for swimming or trying your hand at watersports. After your time exploring Achill, make your way back to Westport via Mulranny (1hr). It’s an absolutely buzzing town, with plenty on offer in terms of food and entertainment, before getting some rest in a local hotel, guesthouse or B&B.

Amazing Keem Beach, Achill Island, County Mayo
Unspoilt Keem Beach

 

Day 4

WESTPORT – CLIFDEN

 

Stage 1: Westport

Spend the next morning exploring the winding streets of Westport. A stroll along the pretty tree-lined banks of the Carrowbeg River (around which the town was built) is a great way to start the day. On a walking tour, you’ll learn about local history and the geography of the surrounding landscape, while at Westport House you’ll find out about the area’s rich maritime history. Steeped in local lore of pirate adventures, this heritage attraction was built on the foundations of another of Gráinne Mhaol’s ancient castles.

 

Stage 2: Westport to Clifden (126km via R335)

Leaving Westport, follow the coast via Murrisk towards Clifden (2hrs 47mins). If time allows, stop off at Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s sacred mountain. Not only does this magnificent structure soar majestically above the surrounding countryside, it’s also an ancient place of pilgrimage, attracting over a million pilgrims each year. From Murrisk, follow the south shore of Clew Bay, enjoying views across to Mulranny, Achill Island, Clare Island and on to Louisburgh. Continue through the gorgeous little village of Leenane (set against the dramatic backdrop of the Maamturk mountains), past the dramatic Signature Discovery Point of Killary Harbour, and finally on the Clifden. Known as the ‘Capital of Connemara’, this lovely market town is home to plenty of quaint and quirky shops, restaurants and pubs. Take your time exploring, tuck into a hearty dinner, and finally put your head down for the night ahead of this itinerary’s final day.

 

Day 5

CLIFDEN – DERRIGIMLAGH – ROSMUC – GALWAY CITY

 

Stage 1: Clifden to Derrigimlagh (7.7km via R341)

Your final day’s exploration begins on the outskirts of Clifden (14mins) where you’ll find Derrigimlagh, a 6,000-year-old blanket bog that’s witnessed a couple of incredible milestones in technological advancement! As the looped walk and interpretive panels guide you through this magnificent wetland environment, you’ll pass memorials to these great accomplishments. One marks the spot where pioneer pilots Alcock and Brown safely crash-landed in 1919, having made the first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland. You’ll also come upon Irish-Italian innovator Guglielmo Marconi’s Condenser House. Marconi sent the first successful commercial wireless transmission of Morse code across the Atlantic from this beautiful place in 1907.

 

Stage 2: Derrigimlagh to Rosmuc (73.1km via R340 and R341)

From Derrigimlagh, move along the coast through the villages of Ballyconneely, with its beautiful sandy coves, and Roundstone ­– home to a much-photographed harbour! In Rosmuc (1hr 29mins) you’ll find a fabulous historic attraction; Teach an Phiarsigh (Pearse’s Cottage). Overlooking the lush Connemara countryside, this small restored cottage was used by Patrick Pearse (schoolteacher and leader of the 1916 Rising), as a summer residence and summer school for his Dublin pupils. There’s an exhibition inside, and you’ll find the newly-opened Pearse Cultural Centre beside it too. It contains a visitor centre, Cosán Chonamara, which consists of 10 acres including some lovely looped walks, as well as an interpretative space focusing on Pearse’s powerful legacy.

 

Stage 3 Rosmuc to Galway City

After exploring this peaceful area, travel east and on towards your final destination of Galway City. Along the way you’ll encounter some of the most fantastic sights the coast has to offer; from jutting Carrickalegaun Bridge you can gaze out at the Kilkieran Bay Islands, while Rossaveal Harbour marks the embarkation point for the Aran Islands, should you wish to take to the sea! You’ll also pass through the pretty Gaeltacht village of Spiddal, before coming to the iconic Salthill Promenade, and into Galway. It’s a laidback and bohemian city, full of winding, cobbled streets and home to a plethora of musicians, poets and artists – the perfect end to a fantastic five days! 
 
That’s just one of our many Wild Atlantic Way itineraries; you’ll find more here, covering all six regions and lots of activities and interests.