Exploring the Wild Atlantic Way: Ireland's most epic coastal route
Tracing through Irish terrain, covering a total of nine counties and three provinces over a whopping 2,500 kilometers is the Wild Atlantic Way: Ireland's most epic coastal route.
Launched in 2014, as an initiative by Ireland's Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring, the tourist trail vies to encourage both local and overseas visitors to discover all that lies along the west, north and south coasts of Ireland.
"Make a Break For It" and "Call of the Wild": campaign call to action slogans for the initiative, which, to date, has inspired some 13.8 million site visits along the coastal route. With an extensive program of heritage sites and natural wonders, Michelin eats and five-star stays, it is plain to see why this novel Irish tourism enterprise has been so successful.
Should you be planning your next Irish excursion, the Wild Atlantic Way may be just what the doctored ordered. Here is your go-to guide, from what to see to where to stay.
The Wild Atlantic Way is broken into five sections, from north to south; these include County Donegal, Donegal-Mayo, Mayo-Clare, Clare-Kerry, and Kerry-Cork.
Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, these counties are as wild as the sea, characterised by dramatic coastlines and towering cliffs, remote beaches and weather-worn pastoral settings fit for a scene out of Edna's O'Brien's infamous, The Country Girls.
And given its lengthy course – it is, in fact, the longest defined coastal route in the world – a trip along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way is nothing less than spectacular.
Travellers can opt for a starter-sized portion of the Wild Atlantic Way, should the full course not fit your calendar. Weekend mini-breaks, as well as one-day adventures, are all possible along this trail; although should you be craving the pièce de résistance, we suggest you carve out at least three weeks to complete the route in full.
Working from the top down, a spectacular start point is the striking Malin Head – Ireland's most northerly point. Sunsets to make you weak at the knees pair with landscapes fit for a fairytale at this Donegal point of interest.
As you follow the long and winding road to County Sligo, make sure to discover Achill Island. Attached to the mainland by the Michael Davitt Bridge, it is wholly accessible on- and off-season. Sisters sands, Keem Bay and Keel Beach, are as cinematic as they come with crystal waters and white strands making for a perfect postcard picture.
Loop Head in County Clare defines "dramatic scenery". Towering cliffs hug the wild ocean, while scores of heather colour the landscape purple. Moving down to County Kerry, we urge you to take to the seas and visit the Skellig Islands, some 11 kilometres off-shore. Listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these two sandstone rocks were once the site of Celtic monastic settlements.
If you're exploring the northern tips of Donegal, the Buttermilk Art Café is a hidden gem art gallery cum café overlooking the picturesque Portnablagh beach and harbour.
Westport brings the concept of charming Irish towns to a whole new height; and, if you're keen to enjoy a quintessential Irish pub experience, head to Matt Malloy's for a pint of the "black stuff" (a colloquial term for Guinness), and some trad music.
Seafood in Ireland is known to be some of the best, so, make sure to stop off at the world-famous Moran's Oyster Cottage in Galway. For a fine dining experience, Restaurant Chestnut in County Cork is a must. This intimate 18-seater eatery promises creative dishes of local origin by Michelin-starred Irish chef, Rob Krawczyk.
If in search of unadulterated luxury, Harvey's Point Hotel on the shores of Lough Eske in Donegal fits the bill. Boasting a horde of accolades from top critics including the Georgina Campbell Awards, Harvey's Point Hotel is an experience like no other.
On passing through Sligo, we suggest you check out The Glasshouse Hotel for a four-star, stylish stay at an affordable price. However, if you're intending on resting your head further south, the Falls Hotel and River Spa is known to be Clare's most-coveted country house hotel.
The five-star Killarney Park Hotel in County Kerry is a great base to discover all the Wild Atlantic Way sights in the region. Although Herons Reach in Castlemartyr Resort is the crème de la crème of self-catering stays in Cork. Set on 220 acres, its stylish lodges are perfect for families and groups who like an added touch of independence on their travels.