Best Wild Atlantic Way road trip planner

The Wild Atlantic Way road trip is an absolute must when planning a road trip in Ireland. Zurich brings you the complete guide with routes along this 1,600-mile stretch of coastline.

The Wild Atlantic Way is renowned for its stunning scenery, outstanding hospitality, beautiful nature and abundance of outdoor activities.

One of the longest defined coastal routes in the world, the Wild Atlantic Way starts in Donegal and goes all the way down to Cork so there are plenty of stunning coastlines to explore.

The route is divided into 14 stages to make it easier to navigate. Given the length of the route, you might want to break up this drive into different stages. Discover the various routes here and decide which ones you will take.

Below is a list of 14 routes or stages across the Wild Atlantic Way, with useful information about the different locations, which will come in handy when you are planning your trips.

Inishowen Peninsula

The Inishowen Peninsula is Ireland's largest peninsula with Lough Foyle on the east, Lough Swilly on the west and the Atlantic to the north. Malin head is the most northerly point of Ireland and is renowned for its dramatic landscape and rugged coastline.

If castles are your thing, the remains of Burt Castle with views over Lough Swilly or Carrickabraghy Castle built in the 16th century are well worth a visit as is the ring fort on Greenan Mountain.

If you’re more of a beach explorer, you won’t be disappointed and will be spoilt for choice on the Inishowen Peninsula.

At Culdaff Bay there are two picturesque beaches between Bunnagee and Dunmore Head. The remains of the old pier at Bunagee still stands, and at Dunmore Head, expansive views out across the sea are breath-taking.

The beautiful Five Fingers beach is another must visit. Surrounded by dunes that are up to 30 metres high –among the highest in Europe – the sandy shoreline and turquoise waters will have you wondering where you are in the world.

Kinnagoe, Lenan, Lisfanon, Pollan, Stroove, Trawbreaga, Tullagh …. The list of beaches and bays is endless.

Fanad Head

As you drive towards Bunbeg you will pass through Glenveagh National Park and Gweedore, renowned for its hillwalking being as it is so close to the Derryveagh mountains. There are a variety of activities for outdoor enthusiasts in this area such as walking, golf, kayaking and even island hopping.

As you head towards Fanad Head the scenery gets even more dramatic and the breath-taking lighthouse is spectacular.

Slieve League Coast

Heading south from Bunbeg along the Slieve League coast, islands are dotted all along the coastline, Arranmore being one of them. After a short break from coastal driving, take in the scenery of Glengesh Pass, taking care on the bendy road.

A must see on this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way is Silver Strand. Described by many as the most beautiful beach in Donegal, this horse-shoe shaped beach is situated at Malin Beg, near Glencolmcille.

Donegal Bay and Sligo

At Donegal Bay you can take a boat trip from the pier and cruise around the islands to soak up the magical scenery. Next stop Ballyshannon, thought to be the oldest town in Ireland, there is plenty of historical sights to visit here.

Bundoran is another place well worth visiting. A well-known seaside town, Bundoran has a host of outdoor activities for visitors and plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from. 

Mullaghmore Head is a stunning stop off point too, with expansive views across the Wild Atlantic Way. You’ll also find a harbour here where you can take the ferry to the island of Inishmurray.

Leaving Donegal, you’ll make your way to Sligo with mountains and coast aplenty. The most iconic mountain is Ben Bulben, a large flat-topped rock formation, it is part of the Dartry mountains.

Erris

At Belmullet the landscape is astounding. The Mullet Peninsula’s exposure to the Atlantic takes your breath away.

Cliff walks along Annagh, Benwee, Erris and Downpatrick Head are sure to blow the cobwebs and at Ballyglass lighthouse you can envisage how the lighthouse keepers lived in years gone by.

Céide Fields are certainly worth exploring too as they are considered the largest Neolithic excavation site in the world.

Achill Island and Clew Bay

Renowned for is sandy beaches and rugged cliffs, Achill Island is situated off the coast of county Mayo and is Ireland's largest island. Accessible from the mainland by bridge, Achill is a well-known surfer spot and is popular for all water sports.

As you drive from Achill to Westport you pass Clew Bay which according to folklore had 365 islands – one for every day of the year. If you’re feeling energetic climb Croagh Patrick to get the best view over the bay.

Killary Harbour

If mountains are your thing, you won’t be disappointed with the next stage of the Wild Atlantic Way as the drive from Westport all the way to Killary Harbour is a mountainous area.

As you journey south you pass through beautiful valleys, Doo Lough and Delphi finally coming to Ireland's only fjord – Killary harbour.

Places of interest on this route include: Kylemore Abbey, the National Famine Memorial and Clifden Castle.

Connemara

On the drive from Clifden to Galway you get the sense that you are in the real heart of Connemara. This Gaeltacht region still holds on to its heritage, culture and traditions, and the rugged landscape of the Twelve Pins and the Maamturk Mountains reminds us of what it must have been like to live in this area years ago.

From here you can take a ferry to the Aran Islands – departing from Rossaveal and also from Doolin in Clare.

The Burren and West Clare

For nature lovers, the Burren is a piece of heaven. A National Park, the Burren is a limestone karst region renowned for its geological features, archaeological remains and home to magnificent flora and fauna.

Another world-renowned visitor attraction is the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. You can take a walk from the visitor centre back along the cliffs towards Doolin, or if you prefer to view the cliffs from the sea, you can take a boat trip out to view them from a different perspective.

Next, you’ll find Kilkee. From here the Loop Head Drive will allow you to take in the dramatic cliffs of Clare.

The Shannon Estuary

This section of the drive is a long stretch as you go from the Clare peninsula into Kerry. However, if you wanted to cut the journey slightly you could take the ferry to Tarbert, that’s if you don’t mind missing out on seeing the Shannon Estuary.

When you do arrive in County Kerry, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches with Ballybunion and Ballyheigue dominating the landscape of north Kerry.

Dingle Peninsula

Leaving Tralee, the drive across the Dingle Peninsula is out of this world with breath-taking views of sandy beaches, such as the Derrymore and Castlegregory. Take your time driving over the Connor Pass as the narrow road means cars have to give way to one and other at certain points.

Once in Dingle there are plenty of places to eat and stay. With craft shops and artisan food producers, Dingle town is a lovely place to spend a few hours meandering around the streets soaking up the atmosphere.

Next up, the Slea Head drive, which loops around Slea Head from Dingle town, is a very popular drive and rightly so. The seascapes are really something along this route and there are plenty of places to stop to take in the views along the way.

The Slea Head Drive starts and finishes in the buzzing town of Dingle. From there head to the beautiful beach at Ventry, which holds blue flag status. From there it’s on to Dun Chaoin Pier which has views out over to the Blasket Islands. Other great viewing points along the way are Dunmore Head and Coumeenoole Beach.

It’s not a long drive – about one hour – but with so many beautiful vantage points to stop at along the way, it’s best to give yourself 3-4 hours to really soak up the scenery.

Ring of Kerry

The world-famous Ring of Kerry is one of the most scenic drives in Ireland. Every summer the Iveragh Peninsula is thronged with cyclists taking part in the Ring of Kerry cycle, but if you want to take in this coastal route at your leisure, driving it provides many breath-taking views with lots of places to stop along the way.

Starting in Killorglin, famous for the Puck Fair festival, from there a short spin to the coast will see you get to Glenbeigh where the long, sandy, blue flag status Rossbeigh Strand awaits.

It’s then on to Cahersiveen, and from there towards Valentia Island, which you can drive onto over the bridge, or during the summer months, take the short car ferry over to the island.

Driving over Coonmaneaspig Pass you will come to St. Finan's Bay, with views of the Skellig Islands. Boat trips to the islands depart from Portmagee and Ballinskelligs.

The town of Kenmare is the next stop on this route and is a great place to stop off to refuel and recharge.

Beara and Sheep’s Head

With rugged mountains the backdrop to craggy coastlines, West Cork’s Ring of Beara is breathtakingly beautiful. Starting in Kenmare, a stunning drive along the coast brings you to villages such as Lauragh, Ardgroom, Eyeries and Allihies before going up the other sides of the peninsula towards Gour Pass.

Next stop is Castletownbere, a picturesque fishing town with views out on to Bere Island. Surrounded by the Caha mountains, the quaint village of Adrigole is another nice place to stop and take in the views. But if you want to drive on a bit further to Glengarriff (meaning the ‘rugged glen’), is a well-known holiday destination. Here there are plenty of dining options, all the while surrounded by stunning scenery. 

West Cork

The final stage of the Wild Atlantic Way is the drive from Durrus to Kinsale in West Cork. The Mizen Peninsula does not disappoint when it comes to picture postcard beaches and fishing villages. Barleycove near Mizen Head is a firm favourite with visitors as is the visitor centre at the Mizen Head signal station.

If islands are you’re thing, then get the boat from Schull to Cape Clear Island or from Baltimore take the boat to Sherkin Island.

Other places to stop along the way are Skibbereen, Glandore, Rosscarbery, Clonakilty and Corkmacsherry before arriving in the wonderful town of Kinsale. The Old Head of Kinsale is the most southerly tip of Ireland and an apt place to end the journey along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Scenic drives in Ireland

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic drives in Ireland. From rugged mountains to dramatic coastlines, Ireland has some spectacular scenic drives that take in outstanding countryside and seascapes. Read our blog here for some great scenic drives ideas.

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No matter where you are travelling to in your car, your car and protecting those in it will be the most important element of the journey. Car insurance is a legal requirement in Ireland and having your car insured with Zurich Insurance gives you peace of mind that should the worst happen such as a breakdown when you are on your road trip,  you are protected. Our car insurance also has many great benefits depending on the cover you choose.


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