Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way:
A 10-Day Itinerary

Carrauntoohill

At the age of 12, my best friend and I had a serious conversation on the school playground that led to a decision: we would go on a trip, someplace far away. So we started saving, quarters and pennies mostly. The next decision was tougher: Hawaii or Ireland. We chose Hawaii, but Ireland has lived on in our minds as a storybook land of cheerful fishermen, magical secrets and sheep — combining the best of Waking Ned Divine and The Secret of Roan Inish.

(In case you’re wondering, that piggy bank is still waiting for us with almost $300 in it, not bad when you consider we were paid 1 cent per snail we collected in the garden.)

While flying to Ireland a few weeks ago, I tried to ignore the size of my closet obsession with that big green island. My hopes were running dangerously high, stopping just short of rainbow skies, buckets of gold and spontaneous outbursts of synchronized song.

Gold and leprechauns alluded us, but every day was a patchwork of music, good conversations, bright colors, wood-paneled pubs, tiny roads and toothless grins.

There’s not one town, day or experience that jumps out as a “must-see.” We had 10 distinctly happy days, just moseying along. But more on Ireland’s deliciousness later. This week is all about the pragmatic.

For any of you toying with the idea of escaping to the land of Guinness, our recommendations, costs and full itinerary are waiting for you below. If you’re looking for a light read or have no interest in ever visiting Ireland, quietly slip away now. Don’t worry, I’ll have some stories and photos in the coming weeks.

wild-atlantic-way

Photo: wildatlanticway.com

Wild Atlantic Way: Road Trip at a Glance

The Wild Atlantic Way
A driving route along Ireland’s west coast that the tourist board began promoting a few years back

B&Bs
Our accommodation of choice. Travel on a budget and get to know locals. Pick up an official B&B Ireland catalogue at the tourist office

Costs
B&B’s: €30-35/night/person, breakfast included
Hotels in Galway & Dublin: €60/simple double room/night
Sixt Car rental, via Ryanair: €117 total for 9 days (about €14/day)
Flight to Dublin from Luxembourg: €177/person
Dublin airport-city bus: about €10 roundtrip (20-minute duration)
Pub food: €15-20 (meal and beer)
Guinness: €5-6/pint
Fuel (diesel): Dublin-Cork-west coast up to Sligo-Dublin = about €100
Total per person* = €950
*Budget traveler (one step above the backpacker), including flights from Europe, car, gas, food, drinking, sleeping, etc.
Subtract €250-300 if camping

Recommendations
Neary’s pub in Dublin
Kinsale & Clifden
Bridgeview Farmhouse
Carrauntoohill hike
Inisheer walk (Take a break at Aran Cafe & Tea Rooms)

Itinerary
Day One: Arrive in Dublin
Day Two: Dublin
Day Three: Cork & South Coast
Day Four: Southwestern Peninsulas & Gap of Dunloe
Day Five: Carrauntoohill Hike
Day Six: Dingle Peninsula up to Doolin
Day Seven: Inisheer, Aran Islands
Day Eight: Galway
Day Nine: Connemara
Day Ten: North Coast & Sligo
Day Eleven: Back to Dublin

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way: A 10-Day Road Trip Itinerary

Irish Road Trip Ring of Kerry Wild Atlantic Way

Ring of Kerry, Wild Atlantic Way

Day One: Fly to Dublin

Day Two: Dublin

A tried and tested strategy for exploring a city thoroughly is to do so by foot until the point of exhaustion, punctuated by coffee, beer and food breaks every couple of hours, or more depending on the weather and the quality of the beer.

After a full day exploring its parks, outer neighborhoods and main streets, I still couldn’t quite put my finger on what Dublin was all about. We enjoyed it though, I think.

The Long Room of Trinity College’s 17th-century Old Library, aptly named, was a highlight. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that humanity would look slightly different today had these books never existed.

From what I can tell, one visits Dublin for the smattering of Victorian-era pubs. Mulligans’ (1854) and Stag’s Head (1780) don’t disappoint, but my favorite was Neary’s. It’s like a historic museum without “please don’t touch” signs. Go into any of these locales and you’ll feel like business has been slowly puttering along for the past hundred years, paying no mind to the changing trends, shifts of power and occasional bloodbaths outside.

We stayed in a double room at Apache Hostel. It had light pretty rooms and a central location, but was almost too central and hostel-ly. Guess I’m growing up…

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: Woulda scrapped the museums and the neighborhood exploration, instead hitting up the 10 oldest bars in Dublin. These are essentially living museums full of locals and bartenders ready to give you a drunken account of its history.

Day Three: Cork & the Southwest (The Wild Atlantic Way begins)

Having fun on the beach near Renvyle off the Wild Atlantic Way

Boris being a champ near Renvyle off the Wild Atlantic Way

We picked up our car the next morning at Dublin Airport. Our Opal was upgraded to a brand new, manual diesel VW Jetta. Boris did the driving, because we didn’t want to pay extra to ensure two people (although I tried it out for fun, shh). He was a champ at backwards driving!

Anxious for our west coast tour to begin, we beelined for Cork, where we spent a lazy afternoon. Like Dublin, we weren’t quite sure what to do or see, aside from the English market and some quaint side streets. To be fair, it was pouring and we weren’t in the mood to meander.

After that, we broke free of what had been a city trip until now, and entered Ireland’s famed countryside. With RTÉ blasting, Ireland’s Gaelic radio station, we wound through misty back streets, giggling at their disregard for accessibility and mangled, magical beauty.

It was 6pm and we still didn’t know where we would be sleeping, but we knew the roads would drop us off somewhere at the coast, which they did. Following a small wooden sign up a hillside off the main road, now the R600, we discovered an attractive home claiming to be a B&B (Bridgeview Farmhouse). An older woman answered our knocks. In breathless, high-speed, Irish English, she welcomed us in, showed us our beautiful bay-view room, served us tea and scones, and helped us make nearby dinner reservations. It was still early in the trip and our ears were untrained to these stronger accents. We enjoyed the “conversations” nonetheless.

The night was spent in musical, waterside Kinsale.

Would, coulda, shoulda: Though all her dinner recommendations were fine, we shoulda eaten at The Pink Elephant from what we’ve heard.

Day Four: Southwestern Peninsulas & Gap of Dunloe

Beautiful Gap of Dunloe near Killarney on the Wild Atlantic Way

Gap of Dunloe road trip up the Wild Atlantic Way

The breakfast of local treats, cheese, pancakes and jams set the bar higher than any B&B would be able to match from there on out. It’s only a matter of time before this place is upgraded to four stars.

We stopped in colorful Skibbereen before continuing up the Wild Atlantic Way onto Sheep’s Head peninsula, recommended by our host as the most unspoiled of the Irish peninsulas.

The weather had other plans and a torrential downpour cancelled our hike. We drove the Beara Peninsula instead, stopping in Glengarriff for a meal. Leaving the peninsula at Kenmare, we drove through the Gap of Dunloe, eerie and still in May’s early evening. In some ways, we stumbled upon it after heading down through the sparsely populated Black Valley.

To get there heading north, follow signs from N71 to the Black Valley and you’ll eventually start going uphill through the Gap. The narrow mountain road takes you past peaks and lakes before dropping you back down into pastoral countryside.

With drooping lids, growling stomachs and happy hearts, we followed wooden signs to Farmstead Lodge, which had an available room. Eileen, the bubbly house owner sent us to Bunker’s bar — a cozy wood-paneled place where a circle of local friends were holding an improvised trad music session.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: It wouldn’t have rained and we woulda hiked around mountainous Beara Peninsula and slept nearby.

Irish Road Trip Day Five: Carrauntoohill Hike

Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohill, measures roughly 3,414 feet (1,041 meters). Four cars were in the parking lot when we set out, a much quieter day than you’ll see in summer. Here are instructions for this worthwhile 5-6-hour hike:

  • Start at Cronin’s Yard. There is sometimes a small parking fee
  • Follow the rocky path through the mountain valley, past farmland and a lake
  • After about an hour you’ll hit the Devil’s Ladder, a steep path of boulders, or what looks like a dried up waterfall. If you’re afraid of heights, this might not be for you. Scramble up for about an hour until you reach the ridge. By now you will have been walking for two hours
  • Hang a right and make your way to the summit. The trail is closer to the left side of the peak and not super well marked, but you’ll find it. Don’t walk off a cliff. On top of the peak there is a cross and a small stone shelter to help you hide from the wind. We braved the cold at the top to befriend some local, avid walkers who later greeted us in the parking lot with cookies and water
  • Either return the same way you came, or walk up the other side of the ridge and take the switchbacks or other trails down (you’ll need a map for this)

We ended the day exploring Muckcross House and the city of Killarney.

Day Six: Dingle Peninsula up to Doolin

Dingle is a lively little stop on the Wild Atlantic Way, made famous by Fungi, their resident harbor dolphin. Speeding by Tralee, we went straight to Tarbert and took a car ferry to Killimer for €16. The N67 took us up the coast past Milltown Malbay and Ennistymon to Doolin so that we were set to take the ferry the next morning. The area is known for its traditional music. You’ll have no trouble finding a session in one of the few nearby pubs.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: Shoulda slept in Ennistymon, an authentic, happy town about 15 minutes from Doolin. Doolin has some special bars, but it’s not much of a town.

Day Seven: Inisheer

9:30am, 45-minute ferry ride to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. To say that the three-hour walk around the sleepy, working-class island is worthwhile would be an understatement. It’s a must. I’d even dare to say that the Wild Atlantic Way isn’t complete with at least one island hop. Eat at Aran Cafe & Tea Rooms for yummy organic dishes and cakes made by an Inisheer local and his American wife, who fell in love when she visited as a tourist.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: Woulda left time for the seaweed baths, an Irish tradition.

Day Eight: Galway

About half way up the Wild Atlantic Way lies friendly, likable Galway, many people’s favorite city stop in Ireland. I see why. There’s a university vibe and charm that extends well beyond the city center. A river and waterfront promenade flow down to the harbor. Dark pubs full of white-haired locals lie right next to student hot spots and trendy patios. Music is everywhere, carried on a fresh ocean breeze. We were assured by visitors that we would never want to leave. After one afternoon and one morning we were itching to get back into the thick of Ireland’s rural beauty.

I booked the hotel in Galway (Eyre Square Townhouse) on booking.com an hour before arrival. It was central but nothing special.

Driving along the R336 to R340, we stopped for lunch in Roundstone at O’Dowd’s, a popular pub recommended by the hotel manager in Galway. The 340 then runs down through Clifden, one of my favorites for its vibe and restaurants. About 15-minutes after Clifden, while driving along one of the coastal Sky roads, we saw a sign for Ocean Villa, a farmhouse B&B alone on its own tiny peninsula. The house is authentic, creaky and charming and the owners are full of stories.

Dinner on both nights was in Clifden. We recommend Guy’s, but there are some famous fish and steak options too. The town’s relaxed, cheerful vacation feel makes it easy to visit two nights in a row.

Day Nine: Connemara

Renvyle's stunning white beaches on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

Wild Atlantic Way beach in Renvyle

Ocean Villa was home for two nights. We took a day to explore the Connemara national park, starting with Diamond Hill, a short but steep hike past bogs and valleys. Later, we drove out to Renvyle to play on the rocks and laze on the sands of its Mediterranean-like beaches. If you find yourself in the area, stop at the pub on the town’s main drag for some cool characters and a virtually incomprehensible Irish accent.

Day Ten: Coast up to & Sligo

Most of Ireland’s coastal towns are agreeable, but Westport was a particularly pleasant surprise. The busy streets, full terraces, bakeries and general bustle sucked us in during our journey northward.

Lunch was at Aughris Head’s terrific beach cafe, suggested by a local. The last full day of our trip was finished off with a beach walk and laughter-filled evening with newfound friends who let us sleep in their sexy vintage VW bus (I WANT ONE!).

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: With more time I woulda stopped by the highly recommended Voya seaweed baths

Day Eleven: Slow Morning then Back to Dublin

Alternatives

If you don’t have a friend in Sligo, spend an extra day at the Ring of Kerry, Aran Islands, Connemara or making the sweaty Croagh Patrick pilgrimage.

Driving the Wild Atlantic Way

Unless you’re a nervous driver or don’t know how to drive stick, exploring Ireland by car is the way to go. The combination of car travel and b&bs keep you independent but still very connected with local life.

Email me if you have any questions!

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Kathy Myers
    May 21, 2016 at 12:29 am

    Thanks for the tabletop tour of the Emerald Isle. I like the format addition of the “shoulda/woulda/coulda” information; very welcome to future travelers and is more realistic than a Rick Steve’s type cookie cutter suggestions. I’ve always wondered if the rapid-fire Irish speakers have as much trouble understanding those of us with thick California accents.

    • Reply
      Natalia
      May 26, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      Hope people find it useful! It’s always a little tedious writing itineraries (which is why I only have a few on the site so far). We ran into Americans there who said I don’t have an American accent, so I’m not sure what to think any more.

  • Reply
    Kathy Myers
    May 28, 2016 at 1:40 am

    You speak beautiful unaccented English. Maybe they expected all young Americans to start every sentence with; “I’m like…” and “She goes…” Our languages has degenerated to the point that when one speaks unaccented slang free English, a person can be accused of “putting on airs.” (happened to me once on the psych unit. I’ll consider the source.)

    • Reply
      Natalia
      June 20, 2016 at 9:03 am

      Haha, sadly true. Apparently my “R”‘s aren’t quite hard enough either. I’m worrrrrking on it.

  • Reply
    Laurie Landau
    June 11, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    I’m all like… that Natalia has done it again! She’s like totally awesome!
    I want to do this trip exactly as you laid it out- love the “shoulda, woulda, coulda”. After every trip I take I have my own s/w/c list.
    BTW if this travel writing thing doesn’t pan out we have lots more snails.

    • Reply
      Natalia
      June 20, 2016 at 9:05 am

      OMG, like, thanks! You SHOULD! Haha, it was definitely a defining moment in my career.

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