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Road Tripping on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

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We love road trips – there is nothing better than seeing a country through self-paced travel…one mile at a time. And no drive in the world is more epic than The Wild Atlantic Way Ireland driving route.

During our most recent trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland, we drove The Wild Atlantic Way Donegal and Sligo sections. Previous trips have taken us over the Galway, Dingle, and Cork sections. The entire route is absolutely stunning!

Abandoned fishing boat on the Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal
Abandoned fishing boat in Donegal

The Wild Atlantic Way route, or WAW, was launched in March 2014 to highlight the unique geography and culture of western Ireland. It is quite possibly the world’s most epic road trip – spanning over 1,700 miles (2,750 kilometers) from Derry in the north, down through Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Claire, Limerick, Kerry and Cork. This is the longest coastal touring route in the world!

The WAW drive strings together small villages with charming Irish bed & breakfasts, beautiful Celtic ruins, and impressive natural beauty that will stop you in your tracks. From hills and cliffs to sandy beaches, there’s a huge amount of diversity along the west coast of Ireland.

The Donegal coastline along the Wild Atlantic Way Ireland

Our journey started in Derry and headed west on the coastal route. Not far outside of Derry, we drove to the wind-swept summit of a very large hill to stop at the Grianan of Aileach – a ring fort built in the 6th century that was the seat of power for the Kingdom of Aileach. From the fort’s walls, we had commanding views of the Donegal coastline and the beginning of the Wild Atlantic Way route.

The Ring Fort of Grianan of Aileach, outside of Derry, Northern Ireland
Ring Fort of Grianan of Aileach

The west coast of Ireland is only a few hours drive from Dublin, yet it feels like stepping back in time 40 or 50 years. Nowhere on the Wild Atlantic Way drive made that more abundantly clear than the tiny little fishing port of Bunbeg on the Irish coast. And it is tiny! The little harbor can hold no more than a half-dozen boats (mostly of the two-man variety).

Leaving Bunbeg, we stopped a little coffee shop and listened to locals exchange banter and discuss the news of the day. Whenever I think of rural Ireland, it is these small, remote villages with their bucolic life that come to mind.

The tiny harbor of Bunbeg, Ireland
The tiny harbor of Bunbeg

At several points, we briefly diverted from our Wild Atlantic Way itinerary and headed inland. One such instance was cutting inland from Bunbeg to the Glenveagh National Park. The forests on the hillsides were lush green and the fields had taken a deep amber color from the summer sun. More than anything, these inland diversions impressed on us the vast geographic diversity in Donegal.

The hillsides of Donegal, Ireland
The countryside of Donegal

For many visitors, staying in one of Ireland’s castle hotels is a special treat and that was certainly true for us. There are castle hotels all over Ireland, but we were able to stay in two – one in Donegal and one in Sligo. A castle stay is probably one of the most romantic things we’ve ever done and we highly recommend it!

The Lough Eske Castle Hotel
Lough Eske Castle Hotel

Perhaps the highlight of driving the Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal is the sea cliffs. While the Cliffs of Moher are more famous, they are the little brother to the massive Slieve League cliffs. At over 1,900 feet, Slieve League is more than three times as high as the Cliffs of Moher. Because Slieve League in Donegal is less frequented than their more famous neighbors to the south, you can visit the Slieve League cliffs and have them to yourself.

Given Ireland’s notoriously unpredictable and frequently overcast weather, we were blessed to visit Slieve League on a perfectly beautiful sunny day with no wind whatsoever!

The sea cliffs of Slieve League
The sea cliffs of Slieve League, the highest in Ireland

Ireland is the kind of place that gets into your soul. You can keep back time after time and each visit is unique. This remarkable coastal drive is one of the most amazing road trips we’ve ever experienced.

The hill overlooking Bunbeg harbor
Bunbeg harbor
The Carrowmore Tombs in Sligo are located just off The Wild Atlantic Way
The Carrowmore Tombs in Sligo

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