When you ask someone to picture the world’s best coastal drives, there are several places that immediately spring to mind. Maybe the Great Ocean Road in Australia or Highway One in California… but certainly not Ireland. What does Ireland have to offer?
Introducing… The Wild Atlantic Way.
Starting at the Inishowen Peninsula in the north, heading all the way down the west coast of Ireland to the picturesque town of Kinsale, County Cork in the south, the Wild Atlantic Way offers a stunning drive with breathtaking scenery. There are towering cliffs, winding mountain roads, spellbinding beaches, and unrivaled natural beauty along the Irish coast of the powerful Atlantic Ocean.
Driving the Wild Atlantic Way was one of the most extraordinary adventures of our lives. It was more beautiful than we could have ever imagined, and we can’t wait to go back. Through extensive research combined with our personal experience, we’ve put together the perfect seven day road trip for you.
Note: The full route is over 2,500km long, and with only seven days to explore, we recommend starting in Galway and driving down the southern half of the Wild Atlantic Way. While it would be possible to drive the full length in a short period, it is much better if you take your time and enjoy it.
Day 1: Galway
The adventure begins in Galway, a small harbour city with lots of history and culture. There are plenty of things to see, do, and eat here, and we have listed some of our favourites below.
Galway City Museum
This small museum is free to visit and open Tuesday – Saturday. Learn about the tribal history of Galway as a small fishing town, and the role that it played during the Great War and the Irish revolution. Spot the Spanish Arch on your way in, built in 1584.
Galway Cathedral is the most recently built stone cathedral in all of Europe. It’s an awe-inspiring and peaceful location, with picturesque stained-glass windows, sculptures, and mosaics. The dome is a prominent landmark in the Galway skyline, and can be seen from many places in the city.
The Dough Bros
The Dough Bros might have the best pizza in all of Ireland. The food is inexpensive and delicious, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the staff are friendly. Make sure you get the garlic bread too – I can still remember every bite.
Located just by the docks, Burgatory is a hidden gem with just a few tables. The mouth-watering burgers are freshly made and they have a wide selection of decadent loaded fries to choose from. They also serve hard milkshakes to wash it all down. (Confusingly, the sign out front says The Burgerstory – we couldn’t figure out which one was the official name!)
Stay at: Dun Aoibhinn House B&B
This is a simple, no frills guesthouse. The location was great, the owner was friendly and helpful, and there was ample parking. While it was a little run down and the breakfast wasn’t much, it was excellent value and we’d stay there again. It is the perfect option for guests on a budget.
If you are looking for something more glamorous, check out the House Hotel.
Day 2: The Burren, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Flaggy Shore, Doolin
As you head South along the Wild Atlantic Way, the scenery will dramatically change. You will enter the Burren, a UNESCO-recognised geopark with exposed limestone rocks lining the mountains. The roads are narrow and can be nerve-wracking to drive on for the first time, but don’t worry – you’ll be well used to it by the end of the trip! Take it slow to admire the magnificent landscapes.
Stop 1: Poulnabrone Dolmen
Poulnabrone Dolmen is an ancient megalithic portal tomb, and is one of Ireland’s most iconic archaeological monuments. It is easy to find, with a car park nearby. An hour is more than enough time to spend exploring the impressive structure.
Stop 2: Flaggy Shore
Next head to Flaggy Shore, just a short drive from Poulnabrone Dolmen. There is a small bay with parking that offers great views across the Atlantic Ocean. We timed it so that we were there for sunset, and the orange glow in the sky was absolutely breathtaking.
Stop 3: Doolin
Drive another 45 minutes south along the shoreline and you’ll reach Doolin, an excellent place to stop for the night. Doolin is widely regarded as the home of traditional Irish music, and there is no better way to spend the evening than by sampling Irish drinks and listening to some of the finest musicians in the country.
Take a fully guided tour of Doolin Cave to explore 200 feet under the limestone of the Burren landscape. Learn how the Burren was formed, and see the Great Stalactite – the largest stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere at 7.3 metres and weighing over 10 tonnes.
We opted to skip the cave to spend more time in the pub.
There are four pubs to choose from in Doolin: McDermott’s, McGann’s, Fitzpatrick’s and Gus O’Connor’s, each serving pub food and hosting live music sessions. We chose McDermott’s, and had a wonderful evening enjoying drinks and music until late into the night.
Stay at: Aille River Hostel
The Aille River Hostel, an excellent place to stay, is a 300-year-old cottage in the centre of Doolin. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and there is a massive kitchen – perfect for preparing a picnic for the following day.
Day 3: Cliffs of Moher, Kilkee, Bridges of Ross, Limerick
Stop 1: Cliffs of Moher
A short drive from Doolin will bring you to the Cliffs of Moher. Parking is available at the visitor centre, which costs €6 per person. You can expect to spend up to three hours walking along the cliff top and appreciating the stunning views.
Stop 2: Kilkee
Kilkee is a popular holiday resort in Ireland. It has a 1km long beach that is regarded one of the safest bathing places in the country, protected from the full force of the Atlantic by the sheltered bay and a large reef.
The Diamond Rocks Cafe
One of our favourite meals during the road trip was at the Diamond Rocks Cafe. There are huge windows that offer spectacular views across the bay. The owner was charming and attentive, and the food was fantastic quality and very affordable. The fish and chips were some of the best we’ve ever had, and Kayla had a tasty mint chocolate mocha. It was the perfect leisurely lunch.
Stop 3: Bridges of Ross
Historically the Bridges of Ross were three striking natural sea arches, although only one bridge remains. The bridge is a short walk from the car park, and there are spectacular views of the unrelenting ocean waves crashing over the rocks below.
Stop 4: Limerick
Continue driving inland to reach Limerick. Although technically not along the Wild Atlantic Way, this is a good place to spend the night. After a busy day of driving and sightseeing, you will arrive in Limerick in the evening. There will be some time in the morning to explore the city before you set off again.
The Locke Bar
In case you didn’t get your fill of Irish music in Doolin, head to the Locke Bar for more traditional Irish music and dancing every night of the week.
King John’s Castle
Built in the 13th century, King John’s Castle is open to the public and filled with interactive displays to learn about the history of the castle and the city.
Stay at: The Pier Hotel
The hotel is in a central location with a small private parking garage. It was good value, had an onsite bar and restaurant, and the staff were friendly and helpful.
Day 4: Castlegregory Beach, Conor Pass, Dingle
Head west to get back on the Wild Atlantic Way. You will quickly be surrounded by mountain landscapes as you begin your way around the Dingle Peninsula.
Stop 1: Castlegregory Beach
You can expect stunning views from Castlegregory Beach. Take a walk along the sandy dunes as you gaze upon the impressive mountains jutting out into the sea. Open to the North Atlantic, the beach often receives long rolling swells, providing excellent surf.
Stop 2: Conor Pass
As you continue driving, the road becomes very narrow as it winds up the mountain. One section of the road is known as Conor Pass – Ireland’s highest mountain pass – and the signs leading up to it warn buses and other large vehicles to turn back. It can be quite nerve-wracking to drive along, especially if you are in an unfamiliar rented car, but it’s also exhilarating. Be prepared to tuck in at the wider points in the road if there is any oncoming traffic . Upon reaching the top, there is a scenic viewpoint with one of the best views Ireland has to offer.
Stop 3: Dingle
Dingle was our favourite place along the whole route. It’s a colourful fishing town, filled with pubs, restaurants, and cafes. The scenery is beautiful, with mountains on one side and the ocean on the other.
Unlike many other distilleries, Dingle Distillery does not have a long history; they have only been distilling whiskey since 2012. They focus on crafting spirits of the finest quality at a modest scale, an ethos that is reflected in their distillery tours. The tour guide will take you through the entire history of Irish whiskey, leaving you with profound nuggets of information that will have you rethinking life on your way out. The samples of delicious whiskey, gin and vodka might have something to do with that too. The tour is €15, and you can find more information here.
Stay at: Tower View B&B
This was our favourite B&B that we stayed in. The family who own it are very welcoming and helpful. The room was great, with plenty of space and a luxurious bathroom. There is also a cosy lounge area with a telescope to admire the view from the window. It was a wonderful place to hang out in, and we could have spent a lot more time there. The breakfast was fantastic too! We ate sitting in a gorgeous bay window looking out at the scenery. I went for the traditional Irish breakfast, and Kayla had delectable Belgian waffles.
Day 5: Slea Head Drive, Mount Brandon, Inch Beach, Portmagee
Stop 1: Slea Head Drive
The Slea Head Drive loops around the Dingle Peninsula, and offers fantastic views of the Blasket Islands from the road. There are several stopping points along the way so you can really appreciate the dramatic sights. The drive will take approximately two hours with stops. You can explore some ancient beehive huts, built in the 12th century when the native Irish were forced off the good land by the invading Normans. You can also see some shooting locations for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Star Wars fans, you are in for a real treat the following day!)
Stop 2: Mount Brandon
Mount Brandon is the highest peak in the mountain range, and those feeling more energised and adventurous than we were can walk to the summit. Park at Ballybrack car park in Ventry at the foot of the mountain and take Saints Road to the top. You will be rewarded with striking panoramic views across the whole of Ireland. The relatively easy walking route weaves gently up the mountain, and should not present difficulty even for casual walkers. Leave approximately four hours for the round trip.
Stop 3: Inch Beach
Inch Beach has three miles of beautiful white sand, and is popular all year round. When you arrive, you can drive the car right onto the sand and park on the beach if you wish. The beach is a safe environment for all types of watersports, and you will see lots of surfers out enjoying the waves.
Stop 4: Portmagee
Portmagee is located at the midpoint of the Ring of Kerry, so expect to see even more breathtaking scenery as you drive towards it along the Wild Atlantic Way. Portmagee is a very small fishing village, with one main street running along the picturesque harbour and just a couple of places to eat. It has gained popularity in recent years as the departure point for the Skellig Islands.
Stay at: Skellig Ring House Hostel
This clean and comfortable hostel is basic but good value for money. There is plenty of parking available, and if you leave the car there it is a just a short walk to the port.
Day 6: Skellig Islands Boat Tour, Killarney National Park, Kenmare
Stop 1: Skellig Islands Boat Tour
Book a boat cruise to visit the Skellig Islands. The larger of the two islands, Skellig Michael, was used as the location for Ahch-To, the secret island where Luke Skywalker hides in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In the summer months, boats are able to land on the island and you can climb the 600 steps to explore the monastery at the top. From March to November, you are able to get a boat tour that goes up close and around the islands, allowing you to fully appreciate their beauty.
We did the Eco Cruise with Skellig Michael Cruises during our visit in March, although there are several tour operators available. It was one of the highlights of our whole trip, even without being able to go on the island. We were also fortunate to see dolphins swimming alongside the boat. We hope to go back for the landing tour one day soon.
Stop 2: Killarney National Park
Once you have completed the Ring of Kerry you will temporarily leave the Wild Atlantic Way to drive inland through Killarney National Park. If you drive for about an hour you will reach Torc Waterfall, where you can park and go exploring. You’ll also pass Moll’s Gap, with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, before turning around and heading back to Kenmare.
Stop 3: Kenmare
Kenmare is a small holiday town with picturesque coloured houses neatly arranged into a triangle of streets. There are plenty of craft shops, galleries, pubs, cafes, and restaurants. The town has a friendly, charming feel; the kind of place you can imagine settling down after retirement.
Pick PF McCarthy’s for a casual dining option in Kenmare. There is a great ambience with friendly service, and the food is delicious. I would particularly recommend the potato cakes with marinated beef and pepper sauce. They also have live music on Thursday nights.
Stay at: The Rose Garden B&B and cafe
The landlady at the Rose Garden is very warm and welcoming. The rooms were pleasant, and the full Irish breakfast provided was excellent.
Day 7: Ballydonegan Beach, Mizen Head, Kinsale
Stop 1: Ballydonegan Beach
Ballydonegan is a wild and unspoilt bay on the Beara Peninsula, taking just over an hour to drive to. Upon arrival, you will find a gorgeous beach set against a mountain backdrop. A section of the beach is made from crushed rock, extracted from the ruins of a nearby copper mine.
We actually decided to skip Ballydonegan on the final morning of our road trip. The weather was exceptionally rainy and foggy, so we cut out the Beara Peninsula and headed straight for Mizen Head. This saved us considerable time, as the drive would have been very slow due to the bad weather conditions.
Stop 2: Mizen Head
Drive for another couple of hours along the route and you will reach Mizen Head, the most south-westerly point in Ireland. You will find a visitor centre that explains how the signal station was built to save lives off the treacherous rocky shoreline. From the visitor centre, it is a short walk down 99 steps and over an arched bridge that looks down upon a gorge to the signal station. The area is known for its stunning scenery and wildflower and wildlife sightings, including dolphin, whales, seals, and gannets.
Stop 3: Kinsale
Kinsale marks the end of the Wild Atlantic Way. It is a bustling historic town that was originally a medieval fishing port, and has now become a popular destination for tourists in Ireland. It is worth noting that most rental car companies will not have a location in Kinsale, so you will probably have to make the short drive to Cork to drop the car off.
And there you have it; the perfect seven day road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way. It truly is a magical experience. Regardless of which route you take and how you plan your own itinerary, we guarantee that you will love it and you will undoubtedly make memories that last a lifetime.
We strongly recommend booking accomodation in advance!
Especially during high season and at weekends, all the best spots can fill up fast. We always use Booking.com to find the best deals. Most places offer free cancellation, which is a great way to reserve a place to stay when your plans aren’t finalised.
Got more time?
If you have more time available, there are several great options if you would like to extend your trip.
- Explore the north section of the Wild Atlantic Way. You can begin your road trip as far north as the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal, and enjoy lots more natural beauty on your way down. You can even see the Northern Lights from Malin Head at the right time of year!
- Visit Dublin. We opted to spend a few days in Dublin before beginning our road trip. It was a fantastic city with lots to see and do. It is an easy drive from Dublin to Galway along the M6, our starting point for the Wild Atlantic Way.
- Visit Cork. It is likely that you will have to return your rental car in Cork, so it easy to stay for a few days after your road trip has come to an end. The friendly locals cheerfully refer to it as ‘the real capital of Ireland’, so spend some last precious moments soaking in the Irish culture before you have to leave.
Are you ready to start planning your Wild Atlantic Way adventure?
Comment below or send us a message if we can help you with anything.
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