Spanning more than 1,500 miles, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way has inspired artists and poets, dreamers, and travellers for millennia. From towering cliffs to iconic lighthouses, thatched-roof cottages, and rugged mountains, this incredible stretch of Irish coastline offers a truly unforgettable experience from Donegal in the north through Sligo, Galway, Kerry, and more.
Located at the far northern tip of Ireland, the Inishowen Peninsula is a popular starting point for those traveling the entire Wild Atlantic Way. It’s also the place to go if you’re interested in catching the Northern Lights. Plus, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll find some familiar landscapes here. The peninsula is dominated by stony green hills, but you’ll find beaches tucked away here and there, such as Culdaff Beach with its pale sands and rocky outcrops. Make sure to visit Malin Head and Banba’s Crown.
Slieve League Cliffs
Travel south along the Wild Atlantic Way from the Inishowen Peninsula and you’ll come to the Slieve League Cliffs – towering, rugged cliffs that thrust out over the Atlantic’s waters. This is one of the most majestic landscapes in all of Ireland (and are some of the highest in all of Europe). There’s also a visitor centre that offers information on local history and culture (well worth the stop). Make sure to visit Donegal town while you’re in the area for more culture, plus shopping and dining options.
Continuing our southern journey, we move from Donegal and the Slieve League Cliffs down to Keem Strand in County Mayo. Keem Strand is the centre of Keem Bay – a long stretch of white sand bookended by rugged cliffs topped with green. It’s a Blue Flag beach (one of five on Achill Island, actually). If you’re not bothered by tourists, summer is a great time here, but if you’re seeking solitude, fall and winter will be your best bet. In addition to the beach, there’s lots else to explore, from fishing in Keem Bay to exploring the area’s archaeological history at the Archil Archaeological Field School.
Following the Wild Atlantic Way south, our next port of call is Connemara, where you’ll find some of the starkest beauty in all of Ireland. Nowhere else along the Way has inspired more artists and poets than the sublime land and seascapes, archaeological sites, and cultural heritage sites here. From Killary Fjord to Kylemore Abbey, there’s something here to pique anyone’s interest. Of course, there’s the entirety of County Galway beyond to explore, too. If you’re a film buff, make sure to take in the Connemara Film Trail, and for a traditional Irish evening, head to one of the many lively pubs.
The Aran Islands
There are few more ironically “Irish” areas than the Aran Islands. Set 30 miles west of Galway Bay, you’ll find lots to love with this trio of islands (Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, and Inis Oírr). Stack stone walls crisscross the rocky landscape, while tall cliffs provide unique vantage points over the water. To reach the islands, you’ll need to take the Rossaveal ferry, or you can hop over with Aer Arran if you prefer flying. From ring forts to shopping and dining, charming cottages to handicrafts, you’ll be able to explore culture, history, and fun across all three islands.
One of the most visited spots along the Wild Atlantic Way, The Burren in County Clare is a massive tumble of rough limestone hewn from the green landscape around it. Here, you’ll find caves to explore, fossils of ancient creatures, stacked stone walls (like those at the Burren Perfumery), and unique geological features. You’ll also learn about the unique form of farming practiced by the area’s residents for over 6,000 years.
Cliffs of Moher
While they might not be as tall as the Slieve League Cliffs, the Cliffs of Moher are probably more famous. They are also a UNESCO Global Geopark and home to some of the most incredible views over the Atlantic. Climb to the top of the 214m cliffs and feel the sea spray as waves dash themselves on the rocks below. Take some time to explore the other attractions in the area, such as O’Brien’s Tower, the local shopping and dining, or grab a pint within an area pub.
There are few spots along the Wild Atlantic Way that have inspired more paintings than the stunning backdrop of the Dingle Peninsula. Coumeenoole Beach is the place to go for stunning views of the Blasket Islands, but you must also explore Slea Head Drive and Dunmore Head. The Gallarus Oratory is more than just an archaeological attraction, too. You’ll find incredible views out over the water from this early Christian church. You must also take the time to trek through Conor Pass, which is Ireland’s highest mountain road. Of course, the town of Dingle itself is a huge draw with its eclectic collection of shops, eateries, churches, and pubs.
The Skellig Islands
The final stop on our trek down the Wild Atlantic Way is the Skellig Islands. Over 1,000 years ago, monks settled on Skellig Michael. Today, both Skellig Michael and Little Skellig are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many visitors are content with the view of the islands from the coast, but for those that brave the crossing, there are stone steps that take you across Skellig Michael, where you can also explore the ancient beehive structures left behind by Irish monastics. Puffins frolic along the rocky shores and seabirds soar on the Atlantic winds above your head. The Skellig Ring Drive (and the greater Ring of Kerry) is well worth your time, as well.
We’ll conclude our tour here, but the Wild Atlantic Way continues. From the Ring of Kerry, venture on to Kenmare and Durrus, where you can explore Beara and Sheep’s Head, and then from Durrus to Kinsale, where you can get to know the incredible area of West Cork.
From wind-lashed cliffs to hidden beaches, ancient ruins to incredible limestone formations – it takes very little to see how these landscapes and seascapes have inspired so many incredible artists, poets, and playwrights, and how they leave an eternal mark on your very heart.
Take a journey with us through our collections of paintings inspired by the Wild Atlantic Way