It’s hard to imagine that the world’s longest defined coastal motorway is located in a country the size of Indiana. One might expect it to be in Australia or the United States. But Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way boasts a 1,550-mile scenic drive that would make any larger country green with envy.
We drove this road in the spring of 2014. Our journey started in the south of Ireland, in County Cork; from there, we spent two weeks driving up the west coast of the country, witnessing some of the most wild and untamed landscapes we’ve ever seen. The Wild Atlantic Way is truly one of the greatest road trips in the world. Here are our picks for the top stops along the route.
If there is one stop that you must make on the Wild Atlantic Way, it is a visit to Skellig Michael, an island located about 7 miles off the coast of County Kerry. Each year the Irish government grants 13 boat licenses to tour operators who run trips to the island from the mainland. Despite rough seas, a long journey, and a challenging climb to the top, the tour is worth your time. At the top of the jagged peak you’ll find exceptionally well-preserved beehive stone huts dating back to somewhere between the 6th and 8th century, when a Christian monastery was founded there.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most popular attractions in Ireland, drawing more than 1 million visitors annually. Located in County Clare, these dramatic sea cliffs stretch 5 miles along the Atlantic Coast, reaching a height of 700 feet. If you are not a fan of crowds, try the Doolin Cliff Walk with Pat Sweeny. Pat is a local historian and farmer whose land is located right beside the cliffs. On this guided walk, he allows people to walk along his seafront property all the way to the cliffs, interpreting the experience the whole time. Pat is a passionate man filled with stories and insider knowledge that gives visitors the chance to experience the cliffs from a different perspective.
Slea Head Drive
While riding horses in the hills above the town of Dingle, our guide asked us if we had plans to circle Slea Head Drive. We hadn’t even heard of it! The excursion ended up being our most scenic and interesting drive of the entire two-week trip. We ended up spending the entire day exploring beehive huts dating back to 2,000 B.C., the Gallarus Oratory (an early Christian church) dating back to somewhere between the 6th and 9th century, and a remarkable coastline with striking sea cliffs and windswept islands such as the Three Sisters and the Basket Islands. We were blessed with a sunny and beautiful day, and managed to stop our car regularly to enjoy hikes and explore secluded beaches.
Located in County Cork, many people prefer Mizen Head to the Cliffs of Moher. The former is the most southwesterly point of Ireland, and it is yet another gorgeous spot for viewing dramatic sea cliffs plunging into the fierce Atlantic Ocean. It was an old signal station in the early 1900s, and today you can explore the remaining buildings, which have been turned into a museum. Inside some of these buildings, there are old communication equipment used by Guglielmo Marconi and exhibitions showcasing the difficult life of lighthouse keepers. Also, don’t miss the wall displaying the hundreds of ships that wrecked off the shore in these dangerous waters.
Viewfinder Tip: When renting a car in Ireland, you’ll save money if you can drive a stick.
Ring of Kerry
Whenever and wherever we stopped for our nights on this epic road trip, people asked us if we had driven the Ring of Kerry, Ireland’s most famous circle drive. Thankfully, we had. What makes this drive so spectacular is the diversity of the landscape: Starting at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean it goes through quiet villages, rolling mountains, and the dense forests of Killarney National Park. Along the way, you can get out and stretch your legs as you take a walk to view the Torc Waterfalls, or pull over to witness jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic coast. I’ll never forget stopping on a mountain pass for a coffee when a woman asked the server, “Do you ever get tired of the view?”
Their exchange was Ireland in a nutshell: One beautiful scene after another, complimented by friendly locals welcoming us to their land and proudly showing off their deep-rooted history and heritage. The Wild Atlantic Way was a unique way to experience this magical place. It’s not only the world’s longest coastal highway; it’s one of the best.
If you could take one epic road trip, where would you go and why?