The Wild Atlantic Way on Ireland’s west coast leads you through one of the world’s most dramatic coastal landscapes, a landscape on the edge of Europe that has shaped the development of its people, communities and settlements, a landscape that has inspired its own particular language, literature, art, song and dance.
It’s a place of many natural features – seascapes, sea-life, cliffs, mountains, glens, loughs, trails and pathways.
It’s a place to experience nature at its wildest, a place to explore the history of the Gaels and their religion; a place to experience great events, great food and drink, great music and the craic.
The route begins (or ends, depending on your direction) in West Cork, following roads that hug the shoreline then suddenly switch back high above the Atlantic Ocean.
Here, the ocean’s force has carved a coast of wild, raw beauty … huge Atlantic rollers crash and churn, shaping jagged ocean crags, archipelagos and inlets, sea loughs, surfing strands, and the sheer granite walls of Europe’s tallest seacliffs. Rare sea eagles circle over glacial mountains, dolphins leap the waves, seals bask on the shore, puffins nest on cliff faces, geese gather in great estuaries. And lighthouses safeguard sailors all the way up the coast – from Fastnet to Malin Head.
Right along this spectacular coast you’re aware of the elemental power of the Atlantic Ocean, turning from grey to green to azure blue as great weather fronts roll in and through. You’ll drive on routes that ring great peninsulas, reaching out into the ocean. Tiny roads hug the shoreline then switchback high above the Atlantic swell. Cloud-shadows race across sea and land, followed by shafts of sunlight. You’ll probably see a lifetimes’s rainbows in just one trip …
You’ll want to stop often at the many small settlements and towns along the route. Every few kilometres there are places to stretch your legs and have a bite to eat. Maybe you’ll hunker down and stay a night or two to get to know the places and the people … to climb cliffs, surf waves, ride bikes … to join in the craic at sessions and festivals … to go island-hopping and visit ancient sites … to sit by turf fires in traditional pubs, where you’ll eat the freshest seafood and hear the Irish language, songs and stories. Out here in the west coast’s remote Gaeltacht regions, Irish is the mother tongue for many folk – and they’ll tell you “fáilte romhat isteach – you’re most welcome here.”
You could try to experience the whole route in one go – but you don’t have to. Instead, you may want to slow down, and dive in deep … For it’s out on these western extremities – drawn in by the constant rhythm of the ocean’s roar and the consistent warmth of the people – that you’ll find the Ireland you’ve always imagined.