Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way celebrates 10th birthday

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way celebrates 10th birthday
Edited by Travel Weekly

    This year marks the 10th anniversary of the world’s longest-defined coastal touring route. The Wild Atlantic Way is an internationally acclaimed waymarked road trip stretching 2,500 kilometres along the contours of Ireland’s great western seaboard, from County Cork in the south to County Donegal in the north.

    With 188 Discovery Points along the way, the route has guided the intrepid traveller for the past decade to previously off-grid west of Ireland locations, bringing with it nearly two million extra visitors every year, helping to shape a thriving tourism industry which supports 121,000 jobs and delivers €3 billion to the economy per year.

    Weaving through nine coastal counties, this epic route is studded with coves and cliffs, caves and craggy rock formations, all sculpted by the sea over millennia. With its cinematic beauty and otherworldly landscapes, it’s a place that has attracted the attention of some of the world’s top filmmakers and TV producers, with Ryan’s Daughter, Star Wars, The Banshees of Inisherin and Normal People all shot on location here.

    The Wild Atlantic Way can be explored on foot, bike or by car and on any timescale. From idling away afternoons on one of its 63 beaches to connecting with nature in one of its five national parks, it’s a place of endless adventure, with 26 inhabited and hundreds of uninhabited islands, world-renowned golf courses, two Dark Sky Reserves and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael.

    At the core of this magnificent seascape’s success as a destination is its people and their famous hospitality. From the heart-thumping beats of a traditional music session to plates of super-fresh seafood, the Wild Atlantic Way is all about having a good time.

    There are award-winning whiskey distilleries and breathtaking accommodations from lighthouses to castles. There are Michelin-starred restaurants and traditional thatched cottage cafés driven by a commitment to local produce. And when it comes to pubs, the Wild Atlantic Way delivers with the traditional grocery-style pubs of Dingle, the buzzing music pubs of Westport, as well as countless ocean-side beauties along the way.

    Where to go:

    Counties Cork and Kerry

    Cork and Kerry are the most southerly counties of the Wild Atlantic Way and offer jagged peninsulas that jut out into the ocean with colossal mountains and crystal clear lakes in forested valleys.

    Kinsale in County Cork marks the start of the Wild Atlantic Way and is a charming introduction to Cork’s spectacular coastline, with its gorgeous little villages and dramatic locations, such as the Mizen Head Signal Station, Ireland’s most southwesterly point, known for its bridge over a dramatic swirling seascape.

    County Kerry is famous for its heavy-hitting attractions including the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula – as well as dramatic Skellig Michael, a 6th-century monastic site and Star Wars film location.

    Counties Limerick and Clare

    The estuary-hugging N69 road leads to Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum, birthplace of the Irish coffee! Limerick city boasts one of the finest Norman castles in the world, King John’s Castle, as well as lively riverside pubs.

    Once in Clare, the landscape changes dramatically, with Loop Head Peninsula offering edge-of-the-world road frontage and vertiginous views. Next come the Cliffs of Moher, goliath-like rock formations that tower over the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby, the scenic village of Doolin is a gateway to the beloved Aran Islands, as well as the limestone karst landscape of the Burren, a Special Area of Conservation. Clare is also famed for its traditional music scene, which can be enjoyed in the lively villages of Doolin, Ballyvaughan and Lisdoonvarna.

    Counties Galway and Mayo

    Always arrive in Galway city with an appetite, because it’s a top food destination along the Wild Atlantic Way. Beyond the city is Connemara, a wild, wind-scorched region once described by Oscar Wilde as a “savage beauty”. Visitors have an overwhelming choice of places to see, such as the fairy-tale Kylemore Abbey, set on a glassy lake, and the pretty ocean-fringed village of Roundstone.

    One of County Mayo’s star attractions is the buzzing town of Westport on Clew Bay. Matt Malloy’s Pub, owned by one of Ireland’s leading musicians, is always game for a good trad session. Achill Island, one of the settings for the movie The Banshees of Inisherin, is spectacular with Keem Bay a star attraction. Or reach back into the past at Céide Fields, a 6,000-year-old Neolithic site with views over a 110-metre-high cliffside.

    Counties Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal

    Ben Bulben, the famous flattop mountain that features in the poetry of William Butler Yeats and the television series Normal People, heralds the route’s passing into the northwest. Yeats’s trail knits both Leitrim and Sligo together and the coastal trail moves from the shortest stretch of coastline on the Wild Atlantic Way in County Leitrim to the shores of County Sligo. It’s here you’ll find Strandhill, home to one of Ireland’s top surf schools.

    Donegal’s untamed landscape is fringed by miles of deserted beaches, but the showstoppers here are the towering cliffs at Slieve League. For those who prefer something a bit more down to earth, Glenveagh National Park offers forests, exotic plant life and a castellated mansion with a fascinating backstory.

    In fact, the entire Wild Atlantic Way tells a fascinating tale with one of the most beautiful backdrops in the world, and those who come to visit rarely leave unchanged. As JJ Abrams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens put it while filming in the region “It’s sort of a miracle this place…we could not be more honoured to be here.”

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