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Surf Coast Driving Route

The thrust of the Atlantic Ocean makes powerful waves all along the Wild Atlantic Way, but perhaps nowhere more so than the stretch that spans Donegal Bay, through County Sligo and into County Mayo at Erris Head. This unspoiled region known as the Surf Coast is world-renowned as a big wave surfing destination (hence the name!) with professionals and beginners alike regularly taking to its waters. It isn’t all watersports though, along this route you’ll also find great locations for walking to suit all levels, traditional music and a whole host of Irish heritage, with many sites here dating back to over 5,000 years ago. 
 

KEY STATS

•   RegionSurf Coast 
•   Highlights: Mullaghmore HeadInishmurray IslandDownpatrick HeadBelmullet
Erris Head
•   Distance: 216 km
•   Duration: 3 hours, 24 minutes 
•   Starting point: Ballyshannon
•   Finishing point: Erris Head

 

Begin your journey in Ballyshannon and make your way south on the R267 to the vibrant seaside resort of Bundoran, County Donegal’s surfing haven. 

A short skip south and you are navigating Leitrim’s tiny coast line. Taking a short detour via the R279 will have you in Mullaghmore, County Sligo. With its breathtaking views of Donegal Bay you may be lucky enough to catch sight of the very brave surfers riding 40m waves -a phenomenon which usually happens in the winter months!


Explore beautiful Benbulben mountain in County Sligo
Benbulben Mountain, County Sligo, image via Alison Crummy

The village of Mullaghmore itself lies under the watchful eye of the majestic Benbulben Mountain, which has inspired scribes throughout the centuries. At his own behest, W.B. Yeats is buried beneath the mountain at Drumcliffe church yard. Dating back to the 6th century, Innismurray Monastic Island can also be reached by boat from Mullaghmore, but is very tidal dependant. 

Other significant ‘must sees’ along your route include Streedagh Beach; the location of the Spanish Armada wrecks in 1588, Rosses Point with its seafood fare and long sandy beaches, Strandhill which is bustling with surfers, locals and visitors alike and Aughris, where you’ll enjoy possibly the best view of any pub in Ireland from the front door of the thatched Beach Bar. Elsewhere, Easky is world famous for professional surfers in the know, while Enniscrone with its long sandy beaches and seaweed baths is worth a stop if you have the time.

 

Crashing waves of the Wild Atlantic Way at Downpatrick Head, County Mayo
Crashing Atlantic waves at Downpatrick Head, County Mayo

Travel a little further west and you will find yourself in the market town of Ballina. Visit the Jackie Clarke collection to be transported back in time. Two very significant points of interest await further along the N59; Downpatrick Head and the Céide Fields, both making for inviting detours. Just before Downpatrick Head whilst on the R314, stop for refreshments in the village of Ballycastle. The locally-made gooseberry jam from Mary’s Cottage Kitchen is especially worthy of your attention!

Way out west – next stop America – is some of the richest scenery along the Wild Atlantic Way populated by some of the friendliest people you will meet. Conclude your trip through the R313 by touring Erris in County Mayo. Also known as the ‘Mullet Peninsula’, Erris is a remote and pristine Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area, which was recently voted Best Place to Go Wild in Ireland’ by readers and judges of The Irish Times newspaper.
 

Related Activities: 

  • With a spectacular sandy beach and boat hire available for sea angling, Mullaghmore Village is a great overnight spot, should you have the time to soak up some local charm.​

  • A trip to Inishmurray Island affords the chance of some amazing views of the monolithic structure, as you walk the sea cliffs to the noise of crashing waves.

Exploring the islands of the Wild Atlantic Way
Flowers in bloom on Inishmurray Island, County Sligo

  • A visit to Downpatrick Head provides ample opportunity for exploration. The area boasts arresting natural scenery and wildlife alongside church ruins, a holy well and a stone cross, all of which make up the site of an early church founded by St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Here you’ll also find the sea stack of Dún Briste that soars almost 40 metres out of the sea and houses different-coloured layers of rock, as well as nesting birds.

  • There are a myriad of walking and cycling routes available in Erris, plus several water-based activities such as boat trips and lighthouse viewings. Golf enthusiasts will enjoy a round at Carne Golf Links at the nearby town of Belmullet. At the very end of your journey, be sure to take a photograph next to Ceann Ramhar (Doohoma Head), one of the most picturesque spots along the entire Wild Atlantic Way!

Nearby Highlights:

For more great drives along the Wild Atlantic Way, check out guides for the Northern Headlands, Bay Coast, Cliff Coast, Southern Peninsulas and the Haven Coast. For the best surf spots on the coast that bears its name, click here

Header and teaser image via Raymond Fogarty