Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

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Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way is sprinkled with dozens of hidden gems along the route's 1,553-mile-long path.
Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is sprinkled with dozens of hidden gems along the route’s 1,553-mile-long path.

At the edge of Western Europe lies one of the longest coastal touring routes in the world—Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way—a 1,553-mile-long stretch of rugged coastline dotted with beaches, harbors, headlands, and quaint towns and villages that beg to be explored. Your clients can navigate the course on a tour by car, bus, boat, bike, or on foot while experiencing a range of cultural attractions, outdoor activities and historic landmarks.

The 411
The Wild Atlantic Way winds through nine Irish counties and three provinces along the Atlantic coast from County Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula to Kinsale in County Cork. Its untouched landscape encompasses towering cliffs, pristine bays and beaches, and storied islands. Since many of the route’s Discovery Points (points of interest) are isolated, the distinct traditions and the Irish dialects spoken in these locations have been well preserved. Failte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority and Tourism Ireland’s 150 Secrets of the Wild Atlantic Way brochure has uncovered these hidden spots and secluded destinations in an in-depth guidebook that breaks down each Discovery Point along the route by county and must-see attractions. Here are a few of the Signature Discovery Points highlighted in the brochure:

  • Malin Head in County Donegal, Ireland’s northernmost point, is an area that features notable landmarks steeped in history—from the 1889 wreckage of the Twilight vessel, which can be spotted at low tide from the banks of Trawbreaga Bay, to Ballyhillion Beach, where your clients can hunt for semi-precious stones on the shores of the raised beach system, which traces its origins back to the ice age. On the northwest coast of the county, the remote Tory Island plays host to a number of ancient customs, such as the appointment of the island king or Ri Thorai, a ritual still practiced today. The island is also at the center of a few Irish folklores. Legend has it that Balor, a giant with a large eye on his forehead who was also a Fomorian king, imprisoned his daughter Ethlinn in a tower on Tor Mor, the highest point of the island.
  • Farther south in Downpatrick Head, County Mayo, the ruins of a chapel, holy well and stone cross lay at the site of a church founded by Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick. This location was once a popular destination for pilgrims, who visited each year on the last Sunday of July to celebrate “Garland Sunday”—an occasion still marked today by a special mass. Blaskets View, County Kerry is home to the Blasket Islands, a small archipelago off Ireland’s west coast that attracted many writers in the early 20th century, who came to the isolated community in search of the country’s ancestral roots. Their stories later became the first written works to be published from the Irish oral tradition.
The Aurora Borealis in the night sky over Malin Head in County Donegal.
The Aurora Borealis in the night sky over Malin Head in County Donegal.

Charting the Way
In addition to its myriad historical landmarks, The Wild Atlantic Way also provides a treasure trove of cultural and outdoor activities. The following commissionable tours take guests out on the water, on to the beach and through rugged terrain to areas where locals hang out.

Irish Tourism has four Best of the Wild Atlantic Way itineraries ranging from seven days to 14 days. These self-drive tours with year-round, flexible departure dates include visits to the Killary Harbour in Connemara, where guests can take a catamaran cruise; the Dingle Peninsula, for a walking tour among roughly 2,000 archaeological sites; and Galway City’s 18th century Eyre Square, the city’s hub where locals meet for drinks, shopping and dancing at the area’s many traditional pubs, eclectic shops, stone-clad cafes and art galleries. Rates start at $464 pp per night dbl. Accommodation and car rental packages start at $590 pp per night dbl, and include accommodations in three-star hotels, luxury house hotels, and bed and breakfasts, plus daily Irish breakfast, an economy class car and car insurance. For more information, visit irishtourism.com.

Brendan Vacations’ 8-day Wild Atlantic Way tour is chock-full of sightseeing activities, including a bus tour on Aran Island, a cruise in Doolin and motorcoach tour on the Iveragh Peninsula. The Aran Island excursion begins with a ferry ride to its location in Galway Bay. After, guests hop on a minibus for a tour of the island’s diverse landscape, which features views of the Cliff of Dun Aengus and the Atlantic Ocean. During a 1-hour cruise in Doolin, guests can sail along the 5-mile stretch of Atlantic shoreline by the Cliffs of Moher—a natural wonder inhabited by birds, plants and other wildlife. On the Iveragh Peninsula, guests take a motor coach around the 108-mile winding road past mountains, valleys, lakes and sea with stops in Sneem, a quiet village sprinkled with craft shops and picnic areas; Kells, where guest can watch sheep dogs train; and Waterville, a great location for golfing. Rates start at $799 pp, and include all accommodations, a Hertz standard automatic 8-day car rental, daily breakfast and sightseeing activities. For more information, visit brendanvacations.com.

CIE Tours International’s 13-day Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way self-drive tour departs daily and features a waterbus cruise in Donegal Bay, a guided tour of Belfast and Dublin, a horse-drawn carriage ride in Killarney, and walking tours of Galway, Derry, Kinsale and Trinity College. Special excursions on the tour allow guests to take part in quintessential Irish experiences, such as dining on farmhouse tea and scones with sheepdog display in Kinsale, sipping Irish coffee at the South Pole Inn in Annascaul, and beer tastings at the Guinness Storehouse and Old Jameson Distillery. Rates start at $2,496 pp, and include 12-night accommodations, 23 meals, sightseeing by luxury coach, excursions and a tour guide. For more information, visit cietours.com.

For more information, visit failteireland.ie or tourismireland.com.