If magnificent scenery and delicious food appeal to you then you really must plan to travel the Wild Atlantic Way which runs along the West Coast of Ireland. We share our tips for getting the most out of this incredible journey.
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The Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way follows the West Coast of Ireland, alongside the eponymous Atlantic Ocean. It is approximately 2,500 kilometres of rugged and stunningly beautiful coastline and also provides access to some of the most delicious seafood and dairy produce you might ever wish to sample.
It covers nine counties; those being Cork, Kerry, Clare, Limerick, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal. It can be traversed in either direction and is best done by car or, if you are hearty, by bicycle
Our Wild Atlantic Way Route and Itinerary
We started our journey in Dublin and headed to our first night’s accommodation in Kinsale, traversing Wexford and Waterford on the way, as well as bypassing Cork City. We also had a brief stop in the lovely seaside area of Dunsmore East. This was one of our longer journeys, so we didn’t stop for long anywhere, grabbing a quick lunch in a nondescript canteen in Waterford. Under different circumstances we would have loved to have eaten or indeed stayed at The Strand Inn right on the harbourside at Dunsmore East, but time was against us.
Kinsale is a beautiful town and is famous for its yachting harbour as well as its colourful buildings. Add in its narrow winding streets, its proliferation of excellent eating places and of course plenty of bars and pubs, and it would be hard to have a bad time in Kinsale.
We stayed just a few minutes easy walk uphill from the main township in a lovely guesthouse; Arundel Townhouse. This is a room only guesthouse but that was fine for us and we were quickly accommodated in an upgraded room and given plenty of local tips to help us enjoy our stay.
As the Townhouse is not currently available we recommend you avail yourself of one of the beaut options from Airbnb. You will be assured of Irish hospitality in this most friendly of towns.
We spent our time wandering the streets of this lovely township and soaking up the sunshine. We enjoyed the cafes and gift shops and the colourful buildings, as well as the harbour area. There are some very touristy shops in Kinsale but even they are quirky and not all are full of tourist tat. We didn’t do any tours whilst we were in Kinsale, but you can find a list of tours, as well as what’s on, at the Kinsale Tourism site. As well as the colourful buildings which will take your eye, you will also be treated to some beautiful Georgian architecture. And don’t miss Kitty O’Sheas pub for a fun night of music. If you are as lucky as we were, you might also witness some spontaneous Irish dancing.
We arrived in Kinsale armed with excellent eating out recommendations and availed ourselves of those over our two night stay. We greatly enjoyed our dinners at both Fishy Fishy and Max’s Wine Bar & Seafood Restaurant. We also enjoyed lunch at Lemon Leaf Cafe and a lovely brunch at The Cosy Cafe. Local food provenance is a serious business in Kinsale and you will notice this everywhere, with menus detailing the source of ingredients.
We had hoped to visit The Black Pig Winebar which is famous for it’s selection of wines, as well as small plates, but it was closed on the nights we were there. Other recommendations we received were for Bastion and for Finn’s Table, but sadly there just wasn’t time. We note that since our visit Bastion has been awarded a Michelin Star, so that is definitely one to put on your list.
Killarney is one of the most popular destinations on the Wild Atlantic Way and, perhaps due to that, it was my least favourite spot; it felt very touristy and busy. Not only do a lot of tours use Killarney as a base, it is also a very popular golfing destination.
We were very pleased that we chose to stay just out of the main town in a suburban area. Our accommodation was in a very pleasant bed and breakfast, but there is an enormous selection of accommodation in Killarney from low key to huge resorts. Use this tool to choose your best options.
Like Kinsale, we found excellent food in Killarney and were given recommendations for the following four restaurants; Bricin, Cronin, The Mad Monk, and Danu at the Brehon. As it turns out, we stumbled across The Mad Monk on our first night in Kinsale and ended up eating there twice. The food was delicious and the service good too, although we recommend you firmly request a downstairs table, even if it means waiting at the bar for a little while – I discoved the delicious Gunpowder Gin doing just that;-). We also enjoyed a pizza one evening at Four Star Pizza which is tucked down Kenmare Place.
Of course music is everywhere in Killarney and you will find yourself well entertained in any of the pubs that line the main street. Shopping opportunities are also plentiful, particularly if yarn or other woollen products are on your shopping list.
We spent three nights in Killarney and used it as our base for our drive to the Ring of Kerry, and we also enjoyed a visit to Muckross House.
The 13,000 acre estate and national park that includes Muckross House is well worth a visit. You can visit the house, the park and the traditional farm as you wish. It was wet the day we were there, so we did not see a lot of the surrounding gardens and park, but we loved our visit to the house. One of the fun facts from our visit was learning the origin of the term “mind your beeswax”: In front of the open fires we saw beautifully decorated screens that were used to protect the faces of the ladies whose makeup once included wax, which of course melted if exposed to too much heat. Hence, mind your beeswax.
It was busy at the estate when we were there, although house tour numbers are managed, but the onsite cafe was flat out and we chose not to eat there despite the extensive menu options. Not fans of lining up for a table, we completed our tour and moved on. It may have been the rainy weather, but be aware that you might face significant delays here if you plan to eat at peak times.
The Ring of Kerry
Driving The Ring of Kerry is a magical and scenic experience and we were extremely fortunate to have a mostly clear day. We loved our excursion despite the narrow roads and steep drop offs along the 179 kms. If you are the slightest bit apprehensive then you might like to consider taking a tour, but do plan to see The Ring of Kerry whichever way works for you. For us this was quintessential Ireland, with rolling green hills and outstandingly beautiful and scenic river and coastal views. It is no wonder that on your visit you will find many walkers out enjoying this part of Ireland.
You can choose to stay out on the Ring, but we returned to Killarney after a full and delightful day out. We self drove, and took the advice of our BnB host to drive in a clockwise direction to avoid getting stuck behind the tour buses that drive anti-clockwise. That also means you are more easily able to pull over and soak up the views, as the they are on the left as you travel.
One of the most beautiful spots is the area known as The Skelligs and you might enjoy spotting the world-famous Skellig Michael; filming location of 2015 & 2017 Star Wars movies.
But there is a little more to the Ring than scenery, as we found out when we discoved Skelligs Chocolate Factory where we were treated to a generous tasting before purchasing some samples for the road. Some even made it home to Australia, and we were also assured that they shipped worldwide.
We enjoyed a wander into Knights Town where we enjoyed a good coffee, sadly a rare treat in Ireland, and we liked this charming town which is also the stepping off point for the ferry to Valentia Island
From Killarney we headed to Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula. Dingle Town is a pretty fishing village and a delight to walk around. As it turned out I came down with a heavy cold at this stage of the journey and so Dingle became a bit of day time destination and we enjoyed wandering the streets and spying all the quirky shops including specialist provedores and chocolatiers. There is also a Farmers Market in Dingle on Fridays, but we missed that. Dingle also has a lot of ceramic studios which may make it a great place to find a special holiday memory to take home.
On two occasions we enjoyed a delicious lunch in the garden of Pantri, a small cafe offering really excellent food and pleasant service. This is a breakfast and brunch destination, not open in the evenings. Other recommendations we had, but didn’t eat at, were for Out of the Blue, The Fishbox and The Chart House.
We stayed just out of Dingle on the Peninsula in an Airbnb which would not be for everyone. Having said that there are loads of other Airbnbs to choose from in and around the town.
The Dingle Peninsula is a lovely place to explore and much favoured by walkers with well marked tracks and stiles to make life easy. We were captivated by this scenic and treacherous cove with a launching ramp that could surely only be chosen by smugglers ?
From Dingle we headed to Clifden, known as the Capital of Connemara. We stayed here for only two nights but really enjoyed our stay at the lovely Errismore House apartment in the centre of the township.
We didn’t have any particular plans for Clifden, it was in a way a break in the journey for us as we continued north, but a highlight for us was a lovely drive out to Claddaghduff where we treated to beautiful beaches, with loads of visitors even in September.
We also enjoyed a delightful dinner at Mitchell’s a few short steps away from our accommodation
Our last stop on The Wild Atlantic Way was Sligo where we again stayed out of town; at Rosses Point in a pleasant family run Airbnb. I think though that next time we might choose the scenic Strandhill area or perhaps even Mullaghmore.
There are many delightful accommodation options in this part of the world, check out the possibilities on Airbnb.
Sligo County was the last stop on our Wild Atlantic Way route, and one of the most lovely. We had two nights in the area and were yet again delighted with the beauty of the area.
Strandhill is a surfing mecca and not unlike many surfing spots around the world, it had a clean fresh feel to it (although as an Australian I can only imagine how cold the water was). It was a great spot to seek out some healthy eating alternatives after all that rich dairy and seafood, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch and friendly service at Shells Cafe.
But it may have been our serendipitous visit to beautiful Mullaghmore that was a favourite experience on our Wild Atlantic Way route. I was still dealing with a head cold and we wandered into this beautiful area late on a crisp afternoon with the shadows lengthening. It was our last night in this part of the world and we were captivated by the beauty. We had a long drive ahead of us the next day and so decided to seek out an early dinner followed by an early night.
Even though it was the end of the tourist season, we were incredibly lucky to find open the lovely award winning Eithna’s By The Sea, where we not only did we enjoy delicious food, we also had a truly delightul exchange with Eithna herself. This was one of those quintessential Irish experiences where, hearing my cough, Eithna quickly brewed me up a herbal remedy which included local seaweed. You simply cannot buy those experiences.
Eating out along the Wild Atlantic Way
The food on the Wild Atlantic Way route is heavily seafood and dairy based. The ocean is right on your doorstep and you will be treated to amazing dishes from lobster, to true Atlantic salmon to scallops. And dairy cows are everywhere too; it isn’t hard to see where your food comes from.
Delicious as it is, the food is also rich, so do be prepared for that. We were happy to seek out some healthier options from time to time, but we also relished the fish pie, the mornays and these truly delicious scallops amongst other treats. The Irish are justifiably proud of the food of this region and with very good reason. Come with good appetite and open minds and you will be in for many treats.
Driving in Ireland Tips
Finally a few tips on driving in Ireland. We strongly recommend you hire a car if that suits your itinerary, one of the joys is getting lost down narrow country roads. And believe you me there are plenty of those, and at times you will need to pull over or perhaps back up. Be patient and enjoy the experience; I am a terrible backer but a tractor coming in the opposite direction gave me some good practice on at least one occasion.
Take careful notice when you are picking up your hire car. At Dublin airport Sixt actually deducted 3,000 Euros from Rowan’s credit card (yes you read that right, deducted rather than just using the card details as a guarantee). We had never experienced that before and they wouldn’t be our choice next time, our car was booked by our travel agent before we realised their choice of supplier. Our preferred rental car provider is Europcar.
Allow plenty of time when planning a drive; not only to allow for other drivers but also to enjoy the scenery. And look down as well as out and up; even in Autumn we found loads of wildflowers and fuchsia growing on the side of the road. And of course do be very weather aware; there is a very good reason Ireland is so vibrantly green
Be conscious too that street addresses can be hard to locate outside major centres and this is where Eircodes can be very useful. You will find that locals will often quote these. It took us a while to catch on and until we did we found ourselves literally going around in circles on some occasions.
Whatever time you have to drive The Wild Atlantic Way Route you can be sure of a wonderful time that will almost certainly leave you wanting more
Have you driven The Wild Atlantic Way? Is it on your bucket list?