Stretching for more than 1,500 miles along nearly the entire coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal driving route in the world and certainly one of the most interesting. I first experienced part of this massive driving route a few years ago as I explored the idyllic Dingle Peninsula in the southwestern part of the country. Grassy green cliffs that fall into the crashing sea, sprawling farmlands and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met were all highlights of my short time on the Wild Atlantic Way. Since then I’ve traveled back to Ireland a few more times, always undertaking a new stretch of this massive route. What I love most about the Wild Atlantic Way is that you really can’t do it all on one trip, unless you have a few months to spare. That means repeat visits to undertake different portions, finding new wonders each and every time. Most recently, that meant experiencing some of its most popular sections along the so-called Cliff Coast and then up beyond Galway to enjoy some of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most popular highlights.
I always have to remember to take warnings in other countries with a grain of salt. A “bit of a drive” in some countries translates to a normal day-trip from an American point of view. The drive from Dublin Airport to the coast wasn’t as long as I had feared – not even three hours really. One of the differences though between Ireland and the US is that most of that drive was along winding, country roads and not the sprawling multi-lane interstate I’m necessarily used to. Immediately though I knew that to be a good thing, as I sped past farms and villages, sheep and cows and those rolling green hills of Ireland that I remembered so fondly. In Ireland the drive IS part of the experience, and for that I’m grateful. It’s the best way to get to really see the country and admire those natural wonders for which she is so very famous. I was also jet-lagged and eager to get to my destination, and what a destination it was.
Cliffs of Moher
Ireland is green for a reason is my normal bit of advice to first-time visitors. Don’t travel to Ireland unless you can deal with a little bit of wet weather, no matter what time of year it is. When I landed in Ireland on my most recent trip, it was the fog that created the biggest headache, but even in the thick pea soup my first visit to the famous Cliffs of Moher was just as amazing as I had anticipated. Without a doubt Ireland’s most famous cliffs, they run for about 14 kilometers in County Clare and are one of the country’s most popular attractions. Visiting the cliffs was also an easy and seamless experience. A visitor’s center provides all the information anyone needs, and the walking trails up to the cliffs are easy to find and follow. Just be careful, especially on a foggy day but the slight trek through the rain was well worth it for the incredible views. I can only imagine what they’re like on a sunny day.
Galway and Beyond
I followed the Wild Atlantic Way the entire day until it led me to my first overnight spot, Galway. If I have any regrets from my most recent trip to Ireland, it’s that I didn’t spend nearly enough time in this colorful city. But with suddenly decent weather and an entire afternoon ahead of me, I tried to make the most of my visit.
Galway is famous for its artsy, laid-back vibe and even on a Monday afternoon the pedestrian streets were hopping with activity. Shops, bars and restaurants filled the downtown area, and if it was that active on a Monday I can only imagine how much fun the weekends must be. Traditional Irish culture also seeps out throughout the city, partly for the tourists I imagine but also thanks to the history of County Galway itself. The region is home to the largest population of Irish-speakers in the country, and that culture comes through loud and clear whether through the impromptu ceilidh jam sessions on the streets, or the many Claddagh ring shops lining the pedestrian way. I finished my evening the way I love to finish most of my evenings in Ireland, enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of a pub and some light bites watching people come and go. There are seemingly endless choices in Galway, but I settled on McSwiggans Restaurant & Café Bar, which has both a relaxed pub as well as a more refined restaurant. With more than 30 years experience as one of the city’s top eateries, it was the ideal finish to a fun day in County Galway.
Kylemore Castle was built in the 19th century by a wealthy family from London and was sold to the Duke of Manchester in 1909. The castle changed hands one more time when, forced to sell due to gambling debts, the final buyers were the Irish Benedictine Nuns, which is why today it’s called an Abbey. Sitting on the edge of a lake with mountain views, it’s as serene a place as you can imagine, and a majestic reminder of an era long since gone. It’s also a fun and easy stop as you meander your way along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Driving the Wild Atlantic Way is always a lot of fun, because it’s whatever you make it to be. You can follow it for as long as you want, deviate whenever it suits you best before picking it up again. Over the years, it’s also been a fantastic way for me to experience the best of Ireland and to visit places I know I’d never otherwise see.