If you have been planning that dream trip, and looking for the best Wild Atlantic Way Route planner, you have got to the right place! Exploring the Wild Atlantic Way is undeniably one of the best experiences you can have in Ireland.
Wild Atlantic Way is one of the longest coastal routes in the world at an impressive 1600 miles (2600 km) long, so there’s a lot to see. Of course, you might not have time to drive the entire route. This is why it’s been split up into fourteen different sections, to give you a chance to explore this magical part of Ireland, even if you only have a day or two!
The first thing you’ll notice about any Wild Atlantic Way itinerary is its sheer beauty and ruggedness. Boasting pristine beaches, staggering cliffs, and picturesque islands, the scenery here is jaw-dropping. Whatever your interests, you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic time in this part of the world!
This Wild Atlantic Way route planner will go through key information like the best time to visit, how to explore the route, and the best places to stay. I’ve also included information on some key highlights that you don’t want to miss! If driving the whole route, you’ll be traveling through 9 different Irish counties so there’s a lot to see. Get ready to discover the best of the Wild Atlantic Route with this ultimate planner!
- When is the best time to Travel to Wild Atlantic Way?
- How Long do I need to explore the Wild Atlantic Way?
- How to Get to Wild Atlantic Way?
- Best Way to Travel Around Wild Atlantic Way
- Best Places to Stay at Wild Atlantic Way
- What are the Best Points of Interest at Wild Atlantic Way
- Additional Tips for your Wild Atlantic Way Route Planner
- Wild Atlantic Way Route Planner Conclusion
When is the best time to Travel to Wild Atlantic Way?
Let’s start this Wild Atlantic Way route Planner guide with the most important question: When is the best time to visit it? My genuine answer to you is that the best time to visit the Wild Atlantic Way will completely depend on what you want from your trip.
If you’re looking for the best weather, then the summer months of June, July, and August will offer you the highest temperatures and best weather conditions. However, this is also the busiest time to visit the Wild Atlantic Way. Due to this, you can expect relatively busy roads, lots of crowds at popular tourist destinations, and more expensive accommodation prices. Not only are hotels more expensive but they can often get booked up in advance.
For this reason, the best time to visit would be during Spring or Fall. This could be April-May or Sep-Oct, but either way, you’ll have a much quieter experience. Accommodation prices are likely to be much lower, and you’ll have a better experience at iconic attractions like the Cliffs of Moher.
Some people also choose to drive the Wild Atlantic Way during the winter. Just be wary as conditions can be quite blustery. If you’re not too bothered about the weather then it’s a great time to visit as the roads will be much quieter.
How Long do I need to explore the Wild Atlantic Way?
Now, this is the million-dollar question and the answer is – how long is a piece of string? I know that doesn’t sound very helpful but honestly, you could spend anywhere from 3 days to 4 weeks exploring this incredible part of the world.
If you’re looking to drive the entire coastal route then you’ll need at least 1 week. However, I highly recommend spending two weeks here instead if you can. One week will allow you to get from A to B but it’s likely to feel rushed, and you won’t get to make as many stop-offs.
For those lucky individuals who have even more time, then 2-3 weeks is the optimal time I’d recommend for the Wild Atlantic Way. There’s just so much to see, and you can make as many stop-offs as you want this way. You’ll even be able to head inland and hit up some sights too.
If you’ve got less than 1 week in Ireland, then you’ll really only be able to drive a few sections of the route so choose your favorite! To make your planning super easy, I have put together this ultimate Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary, so you can go into details and plan accordingly.
Hopefully, this Wild Atlantic Way route planner will give you a good idea of where to visit.
How to Get to Wild Atlantic Way?
It’s important to note that you can start the Wild Atlantic Way at any point. You’ve got complete flexibility when it comes to your route, and remember, you don’t have to drive the whole thing if you don’t want to.
For those who are planning to drive the whole coastal route then there are two main starting points; the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal and Kinsale in County Cork. This is where the route technically ‘starts’ and ‘ends’ and you can drive it either way.
There are five international airports in Ireland; Belfast (which is Northern Ireland), Dublin, Knock, Shannon, and Cork. If you’re starting from the North, then you’re best off flying into Belfast as you’ll be just a 2-hour drive from County Donegal. If you’d prefer to start from Cork in the South then naturally, you’ll fly into Cork or even Shannon which isn’t too far away.
For those in the United Kingdom, you can catch the ferry to Dublin or Belfast. This way, you can bring your own car over and just start your route from there. The same goes for France although it’s a much longer ferry ride!
Best Way to Travel Around Wild Atlantic Way
Now there are a couple of ways that you can travel along this iconic route. This Wild Atlantic Way route planner is going to outline each way, and discuss which is the best.
1. By Rental Car
Hiring a car is by far the best way to explore the Wild Atlantic Way. This is because it offers you complete freedom and flexibility. You won’t be restricted to public transport or tour schedules, and you can create your own itinerary based on where you’d like to visit.
Depending on which airport you fly into, you should be able to just pick up a rental car from there. Then, you’re set to go! As I just mentioned if you’re traveling from the United Kingdom you can take your own car via the ferry.
Just keep in mind that you’ll need to get accustomed to the roads in Ireland as many of them are relatively small. You’ll also encounter plenty of sharp bends, tractors, cyclists, and even cattle so just keep that in mind. Another thing to note is the amount of time required to get between places.
No matter the speed limit, always allow for extra travel time on this route. It’s easy to get delayed, and you often won’t be able to go the speed limit anyway due to twists and turns.
2. By Public transport
It is possible to explore most of the Wild Atlantic Way by public transport. However, it doesn’t allow you nearly as much freedom. First of all, you’ll need to note there are six regions of this route. These are the Northern Headlands, Surf Coast, Bay Coast, Cliff Coast, Southern Peninsulas, and Haven Coast.
The services and timetables tend to differ with each region so that’s something you’ll need to consider. Some of the services only operate in the summer during peak months too so you’ll want to keep that in mind.
There are two main services along the Wild Atlantic Way and these are TFI local link and Bus Éireann. Most of the sections offer both types of service, but the Cliff Coast section is only covered by Bus Éireann. For more information, you can check out this guide from Transport for Ireland.
If you’re unable to drive, then you can get around by using the bus services. However, your time in each place and tourist attraction will be limited to the bus schedules and honestly, it’s a lot of effort to keep track of the times.
3. By Organized Tours
Ireland is extremely popular with tourists, especially with citizens from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Although the UK is just a hop over the Irish Sea, North America is a fair trek and you may just want to relax once you get here.
If that’s the case then your best option is to head out on an organized tour. This way, all the transport and accommodation are included and you won’t have to sort these out yourself. Exploring the Wild Atlantic Way by organized tour is convenient, but you will have to share your experience with plenty of others as they’re often large coach tours.
You’ve also got the option of booking through online companies such as Get Your Guide and Viator. The benefits when you book with them are that they work with high-quality tours and offer flexible cancelation policies. They are the tours I use, trust, and recommend to my readers. Here are my top choices for short organized tours:
This overnight tour will take you to several popular destinations including the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, Cork, and the city of Limerick. Accommodation, transport, breakfast, and admission fees are all included in this tour.
With this tour, you’ll get to visit some of the most popular spots in Ireland on this tour including the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry, and Killarney National Park. This jam-packed itinerary will allow you to see so much of this iconic route!
This day tour will allow you to admire the dramatic landscapes of the Wild Atlantic Way. It lasts for around 7.5 hours and includes the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Dunguaire Castle, Aillwee Cave, and Doolin.
4. By Private Tours
If you’d prefer not to go on an organized tour then I’d recommend looking at private tours. Essentially, the difference will be you’ll just have a guide/driver, rather than traveling with a group of other people.
Although they often tend to be much more expensive, many of them offer you a customizable itinerary. This way, you can tell your driver your ‘must-see’ spots and they’ll make sure they’re included. Depending on your time frame and budget, you can either head out on day tours or multi-day tours. Here are a few of the best private tours on offer:
This private full-day tour will take you along the Wild Atlantic Way and the Ring of Kerry. You’ll truly get to appreciate the beauty of Ireland’s landscapes and will have a knowledgeable guide with you at all times.
With this tour, you’ll get to see popular sights including the Cliffs of Moher, Dunguaire Castle, Corkscrew Hill, and the Burren, all while traveling around in a private vehicle.
This tour offers a custom itinerary for up to seven people so you can enjoy the Wild Atlantic Way as a family or small group. Your tour guide will stop off at your requested spots and teach you all about the Irish culture along the way.
Best Places to Stay at Wild Atlantic Way
You’re going to need at least 3-5 days to drive the Wild Atlantic Way route, so you’re going to need a base or two. If you’re just driving a small part of the route, then you can always just base yourself on one destination. Just make sure it’s in a relatively central location so you can make the most of your time here.
For those who are looking to drive the entire route, you’ll want to stay in several towns along the way. It’s the best method for splitting up your trip and this way, you won’t have to drive back and too along the same stretches of road.
This Wild Atlantic Way route planner is going to outline the best towns/areas to stay in. This will allow you to split up your trip. I’ve also included one for several counties so you’ve got plenty of options. So let’s take a look at where to stay and some great accommodation options for each place!
Letterkenny, County Donegal
The largest town in County Donegal, Letterkenny has a lot to offer. It’s known for its incredible architecture, fantastic nightlife, and Irish culture which makes it a great base for your trip. However it’s right at the start/end (depending on which way you drive) of the Wild Atlantic Way, so is only suitable for one day really unless you’re planning to do just one or two sections.
- Luxury: Rockhill House – One of the grandest places in Co. Donegal, this hotel offers luxurious rooms and a beautiful location.
- Mid-range: Radisson Blu Hotel – Known for its fantastic facilities including an indoor pool, steam room, sauna, fitness center, and bar.
- Budget: Mels Accommodation – A great low-cost option, this place offers cozy rooms and is in a brilliant spot for sightseeing.
Westport, County Mayo
The town of Westport overlooks Chew Bay and it’s an incredibly scenic place to stay. Full of beauty and charm, this place is a great option for one or two nights. It’s situated along the Carrowbeg River and you’ll find plenty of things to do here. That includes visiting Westport House, hiring a bike to explore the nearby area, and heading out on a cruise.
- Luxury: Westport Plaza Hotel, Spa & Leisure – This 4* hotel offers luxurious rooms, excellent facilities, and multiple dining options.
- Mid-range: Clew Bay Hotel – All of the rooms are elegantly decorated and you’ll have free access to the leisure center next door.
- Budget: Cú Chulainns Accommodation – This place offers cheap (but cozy) rooms, an on-site bar, and free WiFi.
Clifden, County Galway
Next up we have Clifden which is one of my personal favorites. It’s a charming market town that’s famous for its stunning location, as it’s situated between the Twelve Bens mountain range and the ocean. Aside from the scenery, you’ll find plenty of great food spots and pubs, and there are lots of things to do here. Don’t miss driving on Sky Road or visiting Clifden Castle.
- Luxury: Abbeyglen Castle Hotel – One of the most luxurious hotels in the area, you’ll be staying in a castle that dates back to 1832.
- Mid-range: Buttermilk Lodge Guest Accommodation – With a great location, cozy rooms, and free breakfast, it’s a great option.
- Budget: All the Twos Lodge – This quaint guesthouse offers reasonably-priced rooms, mountain views, and a large guest sitting room.
Doolin, County Clare
As the country’s music capital and the gateway to the iconic Cliffs of Moher, Doolin is a popular spot for an overnight stay or two. Boasting breathtaking ocean views, traditional Irish music, and clifftop walks, this isn’t a place you want to miss. Of course, you can just visit for a couple of hours, but why rush your time here? Especially, as there are plenty of fantastic accommodation options!
- Luxury: Fiddle + Bow Hotel – Not only will you be in a great location, but breakfast is included and the rooms are extremely cozy.
- Mid-range: Sheedy’s Doolin – Each room here at Sheedy’s Dooling includes a private bathroom, free WiFi, and complimentary breakfast.
- Budget: Coastal View House – The rooms here are beautiful and you’ll be in a great location for exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.
Dingle, County Kerry
Dingle is one of the most picturesque towns along the Wild Atlantic Way and that’s saying something! It’s located along the Dingle Peninsula and is famous for its pristine beaches, dramatic scenery, and colorful buildings. This place was once home to the famous ‘Fungi the dolphin’ who used to play in the harbor and had been welcoming guests since 1984. Unfortunately, he’s not been seen for a year or two now.
- Luxury: Cill Bhreac House B&B – Boasting stunning views, rooms overlooking the bay, and plenty of outdoor areas, this is a great option.
- Mid-range: Dingle Benners Hotel – It’s the oldest hotel in Dingle and offers traditional Irish dishes, cozy rooms, and a bar.
- Budget: Seaview Heights – This guest house is just a short walk from the seafront and offers beautiful rooms with plenty of amenities.
Kinsale, County Cork
Last but certainly not least, we have Kinsale. Like Letterkenny, this will either be the ‘start’ or ‘end’ of your coastal route. For this reason, you’ll only really need to stay for one night. This beautiful town is colorful and picturesque, and you won’t run out of things to do here either. During your time here, you can go on a food tour, take a kayak out to explore and head up to Charles Fort which is truly impressive.
- Luxury: Trident Hotel Kinsale – This is one of the most beautiful hotels you’ll find in Kinsale and many of the rooms offer harbor views.
- Mid-range: The Lemon Leaf Café Bar and Townhouse – Situated right in the heart of town, you’ll be in a great spot for sightseeing.
- Budget: Danabel B&B – One of the cheapest options in Kinsale and you’ll be just a short walk from the town center.
What are the Best Points of Interest at Wild Atlantic Way
Whether you’re interested in dramatic landscapes, ancient castles, or charming towns, this iconic coastal route has something for everyone. Depending on the time you have, it’s likely you’re not going to have the time to visit everywhere you want to. This Wild Atlantic Way route planner section highlights the best post of interest.
To make the most of your Wild Atlantic trip I recommend doing some research and pulling together a list of your top places. You can then add them to a map, and go from there. But, with so many places on offer, how do you possibly decide where to visit?
Below I’m going to list the absolute must-sees (in my opinion) of the Wild Atlantic Way. There are plenty of highlights to this iconic route, but there are a few places that you just can’t miss. Luckily this Wild Atlantic Way route planner is going to discuss the places you need to prioritize!
1. Malin Head, County Donegal
Malin Head offers some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes and you’ll literally be standing right on the edge of Ireland (and Europe for that matter). It’s the most Northern point of the mainland and there are plenty of great walks nearby. Aside from the breathtaking scenery, you’ll also want to keep an eye out for birdlife and marine life here.
2. Fanad Head, County Donegal
Out on the Fanad Peninsula, you’ll come across Fanad Head Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built after a tragedy took place here in 1811 due to a ship being wrecked off the coast in a storm. Today, the lighthouse is still working and you can actually climb to the top on a tour and admire the views. There are also three accommodation options here.
3. Slieve League, County Donegal
Slieve League is where you’ll find the highest cliff faces in Ireland standing at a towering 1,972 feet (601 meters). They’re actually one of the highest cliffs faces across the European continent in fact. To start your adventure, you’ll want to head to Slieve League Cliffs Centre. Then you’ll want to walk up to the viewpoints, and admire the breathtaking vistas all around you!
4. Downpatrick Head, County Mayo
Downpatrick Head is home to one of the coolest natural formations you’ll ever see, as it’s a sea stack located off the coast. However, Dún Briste Sea Stack isn’t the only attraction here. There’s a coastal trail which is a must-do if you want to admire the views, and it’s also a great spot for seeing nesting birds. If you’ve got a clear day, you’ll also be able to see the Staggs of Broadhaven islands.
5. Kildavnet Castle, County Mayo
Ireland is home to over 3,000 castles, but this is one of the most scenic ones along the Wild Atlantic Way. The tower house at Kildavnet Castle has been around since 1429 and it’s been home to various families and individuals over the centuries. Although there’s not too much to see, the castle has a breathtaking backdrop of sea views and mountains.
6. Aran Islands, County Galway
To make the most of your time in the Aran Islands you’ll want to allow a full day for this experience. There are three islands in total but the most popular by far is the island of Inishmore. You can easily catch a ferry over (where you might get to spot dolphins) but you can’t bring a car. No matter what; the best way to explore is to hire a bicycle and see the sights that way.
7. Galway City, County Galway
Galway is one of the best cities to visit in Ireland if you’re after traditional music, delicious dishes, and Irish culture. Boasting a wide variety of attractions, pubs, and quirky stores, you won’t run out of things to do here. You want to allow at least a full day here and you can stay overnight if you wish. However, Clifden isn’t too far away and that’s a more scenic place to stay in my opinion.
8. The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most visited attractions in Ireland and it’s not hard to see why! Aside from the fact that they were a filming location in Harry Potter, these cliffs are undeniably beautiful. The scenery is rugged and dramatic, and you’ve got a great chance of spotting marine life from the clifftop trail. There’s also a visitor center here which you should walk around.
9. The Ring of Kerry, County Kerry
Next up is the Ring of Kerry which is a scenic drive that takes you around the Iveragh Peninsula. There’s a lot to see in this area including the Gap of Dunloe, Moll’s Gap, and Torc Waterfall. In total, the route is around 111 miles (179 km), and along the way, you’ll get to see dramatic coastal cliffs, lush rolling hills, and beautiful beaches.
10. Great Skellig, County Kerry
The Great Skellig (or Skellig Michael) is a rugged island that’s located off the coast of County Kerry. Although the island itself is wild and beautiful, there’s another reason to visit here. The ruins of an old monastery are located on top of Great Skellig making this place one of the only UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country (the other is Brú na Bóinne).
11. Mizen Head, County Cork
As you get towards the start/end of your route, you’ll come to Mizen Head. It’s the most southwesterly point in Ireland and offers jaw-dropping views, a visitor center, and a fantastic trail. Although this may not be the best idea for those scared of heights, you’ll want to look down whilst here. If you’re lucky, you might get to spot seals, dolphins, and whales.
12. Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork
Another great place to visit is the Old Head of Kinsale. Like many of the other places listed above it offer stunning coastal views, but there are plenty of other things to do here as well. You can head to the golf course, walk the Old Head of Kinsale Loop, or admire the Old Head Lighthouse. You can even go on a kayaking tour if you wish!
Additional Tips for your Wild Atlantic Way Route Planner
1. Wild Atlantic Way Distances
As the total distance of the Wild Atlantic Way is over 1600 miles (2600 km) long, it’s been split up into 14 different sections to help make decisions that little bit easier. For those who are short of time, you can simply drive along specific stages of the route! You can also check my detailed Wild Atlantic Way itinerary for more details.
Here are the 14 different stages of the Wild Atlantic Way Route:
- Inishowen Peninsula: Muff to Letterkenny (122 miles/197 km)
- Fanad Head: Letterkenny to Bunbeg (101 miles/163 km)
- Slieve League Coast: Bunbeg to Donegal Town (106 miles/170 km)
- Donegal Bay and Sligo: Donegal Town to Ballina (119/192 km)
- Erris: Ballina to Belmullet (132 miles/213 km)
- Achill Island and Clew Bay: Belmullet to Westport (148 miles/238 km)
- Killary Harbour: Westport to Clifden (103 miles/165 km)
- Connemara: Clifden to Galway (109 miles/176 km)
- The Burren and West Clare: Galway to Kilkee (102 miles/164 km)
- The Shannon Estuary: Kilkee to Tralee (134 miles/216 km)
- Dingle Peninsula: Tralee to Castlemaine (93 miles/150 km)
- Ring of Kerry: Castlemaine to Kenmare (109 miles/175 km)
- Beara and Sheep’s Head: Kenmare to Durrus (130 miles/210 km)
- West Cork: Durrus to Kinsale (129 miles/207 km)
2. Wild Atlantic Way Passport
If you’re looking for a unique way to record your travels whilst here then I’d recommend picking up a Wild Atlantic Way passport! It’s essentially a quirky blue logbook that provides information and has over 20 stamping pages. What’s the purpose of these stamp pages you ask?
Well, for those who’ve been to specific discovery points you can call the local post office and get a unique stamp for each one. It’s a really cool way to document your trip to Ireland and is something that you’ll be able to keep forever.
As far as I’m aware, these passports can be purchased for €10 at selected post offices and Fáilte Ireland Tourist Information Centre, among other locations. Supposedly you can buy them online too, but I couldn’t find a link for this anywhere, unfortunately!
The purpose of this passport was to increase tourism in less-popular routes as you’d have to stop off in town to get your pages stamped.
3. Consider how long you have for your Wild Atlantic Way trip
Another top tip is to keep in mind how long you’ve got for your trip. This isn’t a place you want to rush as there’s so much to see, so it may be best to split up your visit depending on the time you have. As I’ve mentioned previously there are 14 separate sections and you don’t have to drive them all at once if you don’t want to.
Some people do prefer to cram in as much as possible but this all depends on your travel preferences! Here’s an idea of how you can split up your trip (this is based on those with a car):
4. Choose which way to do the route
As I’ve mentioned earlier the Wild Atlantic Way has two main ‘start’ and ‘endpoints. However, there’s no specific way you need to drive the route. You can change the direction based on your preference.
Typically, most people drive the Wild Atlantic Way from North to South. This way, you’ll be starting from County Donegal and then ending up in County Cork. Although the most popular option, you can drive the route from South to North and there’s a big reason for this.
First of all, cars drive on the left here rather than the right so you’ll be closer to the ocean if you drive from the South. Driving the route this way means you’ll get much better views of the surrounding landscapes. If you’re already on the left side then it’s easier to pull in at the side of the road as you won’t have to cross traffic.
5. Wild Atlantic Way Sign
Keep an eye on the Wild Atlantic Way signs. There are signposts along the route, so it is relatively easy to follow. They are brown tourist signs and they’ll have a blue section that just looks like a wave. Many of these signs will also have a North and South option. This is especially handy if you’re struggling with your location!
However, some people do report that they struggle with the signs and have missed a few. This can easily happen if you’re concentrating on driving on the other side of the road (if you’re not used to being on the left). For this reason, it’s best to have a map (either physical or digital) with you in case you go off the route by accident.
Generally, if you don’t see a sign for a good couple of kilometers you’ll want to check you’re on the right route. Either pull over or get your traveling companion to check for you. With this, we conclude this ultimate Wild Atlantic Way route planner!
Wild Atlantic Way Route Planner Conclusion
As you can see there’s a lot to think about when planning a trip along the Wild Atlantic Way. From finding places to visit looking for accommodation, there’s a lot to consider when traveling this iconic route.
Hopefully, this Wild Atlantic Way route planner has given you a good idea of the top things to do, and the best places to stay, and has offered some tips to ensure you have the best time possible! How much of the route you drive will all depend on the timeframe you have. Because of that, it’s best to work out how long you’ve got and then you can plan from there.
If you’ve got any further questions about this Wild Way Route planner and how to best visit this magical part of Ireland then just leave a comment below. If you’ve done the route yourself, where did you stay and what were your highlights?
If you are planning a trip to Ireland, then here are some other guides for you:
- Ultimate Wild Atlantic 7-day Itinerary
- Ultimate Guide How to Visit Dublin in a Day
- A Perfect 2-day Dublin Itinerary
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