It can be an exciting but stressful task to plan a vacation. On the one hand you want to kick back and relax but at the same time you feel the pressure to make the most of your well earned holiday by seeing the best ‘must-see’ sights.
If you are considering a trip to the west coast of Ireland then this post will give you a checklist of the 15 best places to visit on the Wild Atlantic Way out of all the great sights along the 2,600 kilometre touring route.
Over 150 locations have been officially designated as Discovery Points. These have been marked locally with a special signpost. You can see a map and list of the Discovery Points in each county on the County Pages on this website for Cork, Kerry, Clare, Limerick, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal but the 15 best of these are featured in this article below with maps for each one.
A further 15 locations are highlighted as Signature Discovery Points of special importance. These are the 15 Best Stops along the Wild Atlantic Way. Take a look at the map on this page. We also list the distance between each location in miles and kilometres. We don’t suggest that you limit your vacation to just these sights but hopefully this list will help you to plan a great visit to Ireland.
1. Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork
The Old Head of Kinsale headland extends out into the Atlantic ocean for 3 km. At the start of the headland is the Napoleonic Old Head Signal Tower dating from 1805. The Signal Tower has been restored as a Viewing Point, and a memorial garden and museum devoted to the Lusitania which sank on 7th May 1915 off this coast with the loss of almost 2000 people.
Enjoy great views from the top of the Signal Tower of the headland including the world class Championship Golf Links out further on the headland and the black-and-white banded Lighthouse. Generally access to the Old Head golf course and lighthouse is restricted to golf club members except for a couple of days once or twice per year, in May and during Heritage Week in August, when locals and tourists are given access by bus to the lighthouse.
You can also read about when our blogger Kate visited Kinsale and this area and what she found out about the lighthouse and it’s workings on this link here.
2. Mizen Head, County Cork
Mizen Head in County Cork is Ireland’s most south-westerly point.
The Mizen Head Signal Station is over 100 years old and served to warn ships of the rocky shoreline. It had the first Radio Beacon in Ireland in 1931 and is now open to the public. Nearby there is a visitor centre with navigational and geological exhibits. The signal station and visitor centre is just a 10 minute walk from the car park.
You can walk down the 99 steps to the signal station and over the arched bridge as shown in the image above. You should be able to see seals and seabirds including kittiwakes, choughs and gannets. It is also considered a great place to spot dolphins, minke, fin and humpback whales.
There is a cafe and gift shop on site.
Just south of this point is the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse on a small outcrop out at sea known as ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’.
3. Dursey Island, County Cork
Dursey Island is a truly unique place and a derserving Wild Atlantic Way Signature Discovery Point. It is a mere 6.5 km long and 1.5 km wide and located off the south western tip of the Beara Peninsula in Cork.
The Irish for Dursey Island is Oileán Baoi (or Island of the Bull in Viking Norse).
It is accessed via Ireland’s only cable car which crosses between the mainland and the island on a cable 26m (80ft) above the sea. It is the only cable car in Europe that operates over seawater.
The story of Dursey Island is sad and bloody. In 1602, after the Irish defeat at The Battle of Kinsale, 300 of it’s inhabitants, were massacred. That winter the remaining 1,000 of the O’Sullivan Bere Clan set out on a long march in freezing conditions to join their kinsmen in County Leitrim. They were attacked by both Irish and English all along the route. Only 35 of the 1,000 reached Leitrim.
Try spotting dolphins or whales from the cable car or walking along the coastal paths.
A bus service is available on the island.
4. Skellig’s View, Bray Head, Valentia Island, County Kerry
Bray Head is situated on the western end of Valentia Island from where you can get a great view of the Skellig Islands. The Skellig Islands are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the location of the Star Wars movie ‘The Force Awakens’.
You can get to Valentia Island either by ferry from Renard Point on the mainland to Knightstown on the island or by bridge from Portmagee.
Just short of the summit of Bray Head is Bray Tower, a signal tower built by the English in 1815 during the Napoleonic wars. More recently Bray tower was used as a Navy signal station in 1907 and again during World War 2 ( or ‘the emergency’ as it was known in Ireland). It was during this time that the coast watchers set out stones spelling the word EIRE to let passing pilots know that they were over (neutral) Ireland. Some of these stones remain today.
There is a car park (charge €2) from which one can walk the 90 minute loop walk up to the tower and again a little further on to the highest point. Views from the Tower are great and even more spectacular from the summit. Take care not to stray too close to the edge and supervise young children.
Read more on this page about Bray Head about the first transatlantic telegraph cable, the first accurate longitude measurements and the first evolutionary steps of a Tetrapod – a lot of pretty major firsts for such a small island off the Kerry coast.
You will not be disappointed with a day spent exploring Valentia Island.
5. Blasket’s View, County Kerry
The viewing platform at this location offers commanding views of the Blasket Islands, a group of 6 main islands, plus other small islands, no longer inhabited but very important to the cultural heritage of this area and in particular to the Irish language.
The main Blasket Islands are The Great Blasket (An Blascaod Mór), Beiginis (The Little Island), Tiaracht (Westerly Tearaght or Tiaracht), Inis Tuaisceart (North Island), Inis Tuaisceart (Inishtooskert), Inishnabro (Inis na Bró) and Inishvickillane (Inis Mhic Uibhleáin – Mac Uibhleáin’s Island).
If you can’t manage to visit the islands you may wish to visit the Blasket Centre on the mainland where you can get an idea of the islanders’ lives and appreciate the importance literary legacy of the area.
6. Loop Head, County Clare
Loop Head is located the western tip of County Clare, a narrow peninsula of land pointing out to sea. The peninsula is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land a mile long. The dramatic views from every angle make this a great destination for walkers. There are many excellent prescribed routes to take including The Loop Head Heritage Trail. Watch out for sightings of bottlenose dolphins, basking sharks, seals, whales and a great range of sea birds.
There has been a shipping signal here going back to 1670 although it was orignally a fire on the top of a single story building. The existing Loop Head lighthouse is open to the public. A guided tour is available. Climb to the top for wonderful views from County Kerry to the Cliffs of Moher.
There is also an interactive exhibit in the Lightkeeper’s Cottage.
7. Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare are 702 feet or 214 metres at their highest and stretch over 8 km or 5 miles. The are simply breathtaking and are a must-see desitination on the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Cliffs are part of the UNESCO Global Geopark, an area specially protected for seabirds and rare flora and fauna.
The iconic O’Brien’s Tower on the cliff edge was built by a local landowner, Cornelius O’Brien, as a visitor viewing area in the 19th century. The new visitor centre houses exhibitions about the history and natural hertigae of the area.
It is best to allow a minimum of 2 hours for a visit to the Cliffs of Moher.
8. Derrigimlagh Bog, County Galway
Derrigimlagh Bog is an area of blanket peat bog and lakes rich with diverse wildlife and plantlife.
It is also the scene of of 2 important historical events.
Marconi’s first transatlantic radio signal in 1907
It was from here in October 1907 that Guglielmo Marconi sent the first commercial transatlantic message to Glace Bay, Newfoundland, Canada. The radio station employed several hundred people from 1907 to 1922. The station was destroyed during the Irish War of Independence but the foundations of the buildings and workers’ houses can still be seen.
Alock & Brown’s Crash Landing
It must truly have seemed to locals in this area circa 1919 that this place, on the edge of Europe, was the forefront of innovation and adventure. Not only was Marconi’s Radio Station in full swing but on a summers day in June 1919 this remote place was the site of the crash landing of Alcock and Brown’s first non-stop trans-atlantic flight. The spot is marked by a white memorial shaped like an aeroplane wing.
Take a look through the binocular style interactive information viewing points on the new walkway through the bog to see the existing landscape overlaid with images of the view as it was in the early 20th century.
9. Killary Harbour, County Mayo
Killary Harbour is in Connemara. It is an impressive fjord, forming part of a natural border between the counties of Galway and Mayo. From this point you can see the Maumturk Mountains and the Twelve Bens.
Nearby is the Green Road, a 9km route built in the 19th century that weaves it’s way to the east along the side of the fjord toward Leenane, the location of Jim Sheridan’s movie The Field starring Richard Harris, Sean Bean, John Hurt, Brenda Fricker and Tom Berenger.
This is a magical place for a walking and fishing vacation. Take a boat tour in the fjord for some great photo opportunities.
10. Keem Strand, County Mayo
Keem Strand (or Keem Beach) is an idyllic sheltered beach on Achill Island located about 7.5 km west of the village of Keel. It is a popular spot for snorkeling with equipment for hire locally. If you are very lucky you may spot basking sharks in the bay.
The horseshoe shaped beach with it’s white sands is beautifully situated between cliffs on both sides, Croaghaun mountain to the east, and Moyteoge headland to the west. Climb to the top of Moytege, to an old coastguard station, and continue on along the Benmore cliffs for about 1.5km for panoramic views of Achill Island. Be careful not to go too close to the cliff edge and supervise children at all times.
11. Downpatrick Head, County Mayo
The headland of Downpatrick Head and sea stack of Dún Briste (the broken fort) is the quintessential image of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Vast panoramic ocean views from a dramatic and ruggedly beautiful vantage point make this a fabulous spot for that memorable photograph.
The sea stack is thought to have broken away from the mainland in 1393. Downpatrick Head is located between Ballycastle village and the discovery point of Ceide Fields, which is also well worth visiting.
Do take care, particularly with young children, and do not venture close to the cliff edge as there are no safety barriers.
12. Mullaghmore Head, County Sligo
Mullaghmore Head is a famous surfing destination with some of the highest waves in Europe. It is often the venue for international surfing competitions.
The village of Mullaghmore is a charming fishing village with a working harbour and a beautiful sandy beach with great views of Benbulben.
Do take the opportunity to walk around Mullaghmore Head. The photo opportunities are endless. Starting at Mullaghmore village walk north away from the village with the Atlantic on your right hand side. Follow the road all the way round Mullaghmore Head enjoying the views and watch out for sightings of wild birds such as Fulmars, Oystercatchers, Manx Shearwaters and Gannets. As you walk around the headland you will see the imposing sight of Classibawn Castle. This is an easy walk taking about 1 hour.
13. Slieve League, County Donegal
Slieve League (or Sliabh Liag in Irish meaning ‘Grey Mountain’) in County Donegal are among the highest marine cliffs in Europe. There is a car park with benches and picnic tables from which it is just a few kilometres to the top of the cliffs, at 601 metres. The views on the way up are impressive ensuring Slieve League’s staus as a Signature Discovery Point on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
There is also a visitor centre where you may learn more of the history and culture of the area.
Fog can land quickly on Sliabh Liag so care should be taken at all times. If you get into any difficulty the emergency numbers to phone are 999 or 112.
You can take boat trips around the cliffs from nearby Teelin.
14. Fanad Head, County Donegal
Fanad Head is on Donegals’ north coast between Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay. The road to Fanad from Rathmullan will reward you with some of the most spectacular views of the Inishowen Peninsula, Portsalon, Ballymastocker Bay and of course the Atlantic Ocean.
Fanad Lighthouse should not be missed and is a great photo opportunity. Enjoy a tour at the lighthouse visitor centre or even book self-catering accommodation there!
The whole headland and surrounding area is perfect for walking, watersports, picnicking or just to take the time out to contemplate the sheer beauty and majesty of nature.
15. Malin Head, County Donegal
Malin Head is the most northerly point of Donegal and the island of Ireland and a name familiar to sailors and those who listen to the weather and shipping forcasts.
From here, on a fine day, you can glimpse the hills of Scotland. It is a wild and awesome spot waiting to be explored and perfect for walking, fishing and swimming. Take a picnic and and soak up the wonderful vistas out to Five Finger Strand, Inistrahull Island and the Tory Islands.
We hope this list of the 15 Best Places To Visit on the Wild Atlantic Way will help you plan your vacation to Ireland.
Enjoy your visit!