One of the best road trips to do in Ireland has to be the Wild Atlantic Way. It is an absolutely incredible coastal drive that spans 2,500 km across the west coast of Ireland. There are parts of the Wild Atlantic Way that are hugely popular like the Ring of Kerry, and then there are some really amazing hidden gems that the tourists haven’t yet flocked to, like Sligo.
We wanted to create this concise guide as a part Wild Atlantic Way route planner, and part 5 day Wild Atlantic Way itinerary. We have listed the must-see places along the route, as well tips for travelling and much more
So here is our Wild Atlantic Way road trip planner.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, so if you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission, at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.
- Wild Atlantic Way itinerary and background
- How long do you need for your Wild Atlantic Way road trip?
- Wild Atlantic Way route planner – tips
- Why visit the Wild Atlantic Way
- Wild Atlantic Way guide to getting here
- Wild Atlantic Way Route Planner – where to start
- Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary -car rental tips
- Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days – what to see
- Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 1 – The Haven Coast
- Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 2 Southern Peninsulas
- Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 3 The Cliff Coast
- Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 4 The Bay Coast
- Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 5 The Surf Coast
- Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 6 The Northern Headlands
- Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary
- Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary – Where to sleep
- Wild Atlantic Way Map
- Trying to condense it down? What are the best things to see along the Wild Atlantic Way route?
- Wild Atlantic Way road trip packing list
- How much money do I need for my Wild Atlantic Way road trip?
- Wild Atlantic Way route planner – when to visit
- Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days – a recap
Wild Atlantic Way itinerary and background
If you are starting in the south of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way officially begins in Kinsale in County Cork. It then snakes its way up the west coast of Ireland finishing in the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. There are so many places to see and explore in between, and if you are planning to do the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days you are unfortunately going to have to cut out quite a few stops. Still you will be able to see a lot of the highlights and some hidden gems along the Wild Atlantic Way.
And if you are wondering if Ireland is worth visiting this is a handy post.
How long do you need for your Wild Atlantic Way road trip?
Realistically to see everything along the Wild Atlantic Way and make the most of your time you will probably want to spend a good 2 weeks driving along the coast. Of course, that isn’t always feasible, so we have focused on completing the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days for this post. There really is a lot to see along the Wild Atlantic Way route, so the longer you have the better. This then allows you to explore and discover some hidden gems along the way.
Doing the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days is still pretty doable. You will get to see the highlights, enjoy some incredible bits of nature, and get a real feel for the Irish people and the culture.
Wild Atlantic Way route planner – tips
The easiest way to come up with your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary is to break it up into sections. The official Wild Atlantic Way website breaks the route up into 6 key sections. Including the Haven Coast, Southern Peninsulas, The Cliff Coast, The Bay Coast, The Surf Coast, and finally the Northern Headlands. In this guide we make our way through some of the key locations and highlight the best things to do and see in each section of the Wild Atlantic Way Route.. If you are wanting to do the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days then you may need to skip a few of the places we mentioned, due to time constraints.
We will go through each section in detail so you should be able to make a choice of where you absolutely want to see as part of your Wild Atlantic way road trip and where you can afford to skip.
Why visit the Wild Atlantic Way
When planning a trip to Ireland you might be wondering why you should visit the Wild Atlantic Way, when there are so many incredible sights to see. We highly recommend it because it really is one of the nicest drives in Ireland.
You also get to experience Irish hospitality at its finest as well as a chance to immerse yourself in Irish culture. Along the Wild Atlantic Way you can explore parts of Ireland that inspired poets and artists. On top of that, there’s coastal walks, rugged cliffs, and due to its proximity to the ocean some incredible culinary seafood delights.
The Wild Atlantic Way is also one of our recommendations on our Ireland bucket list which you can read here.
Wild Atlantic Way guide to getting here
So when doing the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days, it is important to know where the main airports are. That is assuming that you are flying in from Europe to start your trip. If you are flying in from further afield you do have fewer airport options, but we will go through that below.
The majority of flights that fly into Cork are European carriers, but even so it is one of the busiest airports in the Republic of Ireland, after Dublin and Shannon. If you are starting your Wild Atlantic way itinerary in the South then Cork airport is perfect and is around a 20 minute drive to Kinsale which is the start of the route. If you are hoping to follow our Wild Atlantic Way route planner, this is a good airport to fly into.
Knock airport is pretty small, however they have regular flights from the UK and some European destinations. Knock is relatively close to County Sligo which was our last stop during our 5 day Wild Atlantic Way tour. It takes about 45 minutes to get from Sligo town to the airport, although if you get stuck behind a tractor (and yes this has happened to us) it can take quite a bit longer. Again if you are following our Wild Atlantic Way route planner this is another good airport to fly into or fly out of.
A lot of International travellers will come in through Dublin Airport. It also has a lot of European flights from destinations that don’t fly into Knock or Cork. To get to the Wild Atlantic Way from Dublin you will need to drive a bit of a distance. But luckily we do have an Ireland road trip guide that will give you suggestions for things to see along the way if you have the time. Dublin to County Sligo is just under a 3 hour drive, whilst Dublin to Kinsale is nearly 4 hours depending on traffic. If you choose to go this route, we highly recommend stopping in Cork. Here is a handy guide to doing a road trip around Cork.
If you are flying in from the US in particular, then Shannon Airport is a good option. Shannon Airport is in the middle of our Wild Atlantic Way guide. It is about a 3 hour drive from here to Bantry which is one of our recommended starting points if you are doing the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days. And it is about 2.5 hours to get to County Sligo.
Wild Atlantic Way Route Planner – where to start
When coming up with your Wild Atlantic Way route you are probably wondering where to start. Because the Wild Atlantic Way is linear you will want to pick a starting point at either end to avoid doubling up on yourself. Your starting point will probably be based on your closest airport. So if you are flying into Knock for example you should probably start around Sligo or Donegal. To do the Wild Atlantic Way route in detail you will want to rent a car. This allows you to go at your own pace and to pick and choose the sites you want to see.
Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary -car rental tips
If you are driving the Wild Atlantic Way you will of course need a car. Cars can be rented from all the airports mentioned on the list above. Here are some tips for renting a car and driving around Ireland.
☘ The majority of cars in Ireland are manual (or stick as it is referred to in the US), so if you want an automatic you should book this in advance.
☘Get full insurance, because you never know, anything could happen.
☘ If you are driving in both Northern Ireland and the Republic then keep in mind that Northern Ireland uses miles and the Republic uses kilometres.
☘ Know what kind of petrol your car takes. It is usually either Diesel or Unleaded. Put the wrong one in and you will have major issues.
☘ If you are planning on returning your car at a different location to where you picked it up, then there will be a fee for doing so. It is not so bad if you are renting a car for a long period of time, but more noticeable if you only have the car for a few days.
☘When choosing a car in Ireland, bigger isn’t always better. Some of the roads can be incredibly narrow and having a smaller car is a lot better for this.
☘ If you get stuck behind a tractor, only overtake if it is safe to do so. It is pretty standard to have to drive slowly when there is a tractor in front of you. The reason I mention this as a point is because I had never been stuck behind a tractor in my life before driving in Ireland so it was a novelty and a nuisance all at once.
☘ If you are following Google Maps it will often give you what it perceives as the quickest route. This might include back roads and narrow lanes. Sometimes it is better to ignore the map and get onto a main road instead if it is nearby. That being said the back roads are some of the most beautiful parts of Ireland and if you are comfortable driving on these, then go for it.
Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days – what to see
Here is our guide to seeing the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days and some of the key stops that you have to make along the way. We have divided it into 6 sections to make the trip a bit more manageable.
Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 1 – The Haven Coast
The start, or end depending on your Wild Atlantic Way route is the Haven Coast which extends from Bantry to Kinsale. Kinsale is one of the most southerly points along the Wild Atlantic way and the good thing with that is that you can do a boat tour from Kinsale out to the Atlantics edge. Sadly this is the part of the Wild Atlantic Way that we spent the least amount of time in, which is a shame because there are a number of islands you can visit to see unspoilt nature and really get away from the hustle and bustle.
One of the places we did get a chance to visit though was Bantry. Perhaps it was the promise of fresh fish and chips, or the idea of heading to a sleepy little fishing town that cemented our decision to start our Wild Atlantic Way itinerary in Bantry. It used to be a major fishing centre, but these days it’s the beautiful coastal scenery that draws people in.
Bantry is a perfect introduction to the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s a great place to go for a brisk walk, eat fresh seafood, and go sailing or kayaking. There is a great fish and chip shop just by the car park of the harbour, although don’t be a fool like I was and take Instagram photos of your food with the water in the background. Let’s just say I had a lot of seagull friends.
Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 2 Southern Peninsulas
This part of your Wild Atlantic Way road trip is probably the most touristy, in part because it includes the Ring of Kerry and Killarney National Park. The route covers parts of County Kerry and Cork. And is certainly very dramatic and picturesque.
Kenmare was the town that began our journey through the Ring of Kerry. The Wild Atlantic way does pass through much of the same route as the Ring of Kerry but if you do the full ring you will divert from the coast and pass by Killarney National Park.
If you did want to do the full drive have a look at our Ring of Kerry route planner. Kenmare is a picturesque small town and definitely somewhere to add to your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary. If you do have the chance to explore this quaint place then do avail of it. It is also around here you’ll encounter a lot of winding roads, and you will discover tunnels built in through the mountainside.
Another place we recommend stopping in whilst you are driving the Ring of Kerry, is Caherdaniel. The water is so blue that you almost feel like you are in the Mediterranean as opposed to the coast of Ireland. Mind you the weather will certainly help remind you. We ended up stopping at a pub here for some snacks. It is a great place to stretch your legs and walk around the beach.
The Ring of Kerry is truly an insight into the Ireland that the guidebooks gush about. The greenery mixed with the blue of the Atlantic Ocean as it crashes against the shoreline is just incredible. It really does remind you why Ireland is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
If you have the time, we do recommend taking a detour through Killarney National Park. It will involve a lot more driving but there are some really incredible spots in the park that are worth visiting. Highlights include the Torc Waterfall, and Ladies Gap. Killarney is also a good place to stop overnight with lots of hotels, pubs, and restaurants.
If you are staying in Killarney there are some organised tours of the Ring of Kerry you can book to save you the hassle of driving.
Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 3 The Cliff Coast
This part of your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary will take you from Galway to Ballybunion. The absolute highlight here are the Cliffs of Moher, which I’m sure you gathered in the title ‘Cliff Coast’.
For us, no Wild Atlantic Way itinerary is complete without scheduling a stop at the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are around 203 metres above the Atlantic Ocean and they are just incredible. As you look down at the waves crashing at their base, it really does make you realise just how incredible nature is.
There are some really awe inspiring walks you can take around here, or if the weather really isn’t on your side like it was for us, you can explore the visitor centre.
Whilst walking around you will also come across O’Brien’s tower. The tower was built in 1835 to serve as an observation point for tourists visiting the cliffs. If you have the time, for a few extra Euros it is worth the entry.
When visiting, we highly recommend packing some decent walking shoes. An umbrella or raincoat wouldn’t go astray either, as the weather can be quite unpredictable. We recommend getting there really early or later in the afternoon once the tourist buses have gone. In the middle of the day it gets so busy so just keep that in mind.
As you leave the Cliffs of Moher, one of the more hidden gems in County Clare has to be the Burren. If you have time, we recommend taking a drive through here. The landscape is rather unique for Ireland, and is made up of limestone. It is a far cry from the green pastures you would have passed elsewhere on your Wild Atlantic Way road trip.
Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 4 The Bay Coast
The Bay Coast portion of your Wild Atlantic Way road trip covers everything from Achill Island to Galway Bay. Starting with Achill Island this magical island only accessible by a road bridge is not to be missed. You have dramatic green rolling hills and beautiful blue waters to admire as you spend time here.
Other highlights in this portion of your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary include Galway City, and the Aran Islands. We love Galway for a number of reasons. For starters due to its location along the west coast of Ireland the food is absolutely incredible. I don’t think we ate as much seafood anywhere else in Ireland.
One of our favourite places has to be McDonagh’s, a chipper and seafood restaurant that has been going since 1902. There is a lot to see and do in Galway including several markets you can visit, as well as exploring Galway Cathedral.
The real charm of Galway though, at least in our opinion is at night. The Latin Quarter comes alive with buskers, and boisterous pub goers. If you pop into one of the pubs and there is a ‘trad’ band playing then you are in for an enjoyable evening. Everyone is so welcoming and it will certainly be a memorable experience (although that is of course depending on how much you have to drink).
Another great thing about Galway is that it is a harbour city, and you are never far from the sea. Galway has some beautiful beaches that you can explore such as the one we discovered in Salthill.
The Aran Islands are of course another highlight, and it would be a mistake to plan to see the Wild Atlantic way in 5 days and not visit the Aran Islands. For us they are one of the hidden gems along the Wild Atlantic Way, particularly the smaller islands like Inis Oirr and Inis Meain. But the easiest island to get to from Galway is the biggest, Inis Mór. You can get a bus out of Galway Centre, to the ferry port in Rossaveal. Here you will board a boat and in around 45 minutes you will arrive in Inis Mór.
The boat ride over can be a little rough, and admittedly it was the point on our trip when we began to understand why it is called the WILD Atlantic Way. It actually got so rocky on our trip over that I actually said a silent prayer to let it end soon. Dave on the other hand lost all colour in his face and was probably only moments away from getting sick. Thankfully we made it and we were rewarded with the opportunity to explore Inis Mór. We have been told that it is not always like that and a lot of the time the sail over is pretty smooth. I guess we just picked a bad day.
The must see on the island is Dun Aenghus, a prehistoric fort that lies on the edge of a 100 metre high cliff. In some ways this was even more spectacular than the Cliffs of Moher. The views are spectacular and it is far less touristy then the Cliffs of Moher. It is so raw and beautiful and also scary because there is nothing stopping you from just falling over the edge. So do beware!
If you are looking for a guide with further information on how to get from Galway to the Aran Islands as well as things to do when you get there then checkout our post. We ended up going on a bus tour of the Islands which was great for us because we saw all the main attractions and got to hear the stories of the island. A lot of people choose to cycle around though, which we were tempted to do but it was pretty rainy so the bus option was more favourable.
There are also some day trips you can book from Galway if you want to save yourself the hassle of driving.
Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 5 The Surf Coast
The Surf Coast of the Wild Atlantic Way goes from Donegal Town to Erris. This is the part of the Wild Atlantic Way where you will encounter some of the best coastal scenery along the route. A large part of this section covers County Sligo, which is by far one of the best kept secrets in Ireland. And yes we are probably biased because this is the place that Dave grew up, but honestly you do need to see it for yourself.
The best thing about Sligo is that there aren’t that many tourists. So you won’t find the attractions spoilt by mass tourism. It’s also pretty chilled in this part of the country, so driving around is relatively stress free. We have written an article all about exploring Sligo’s Wild Atlantic Way route, so do check it out for some in depth information
Sligo’s beaches are just incredible and without busloads of tourists, at times it can feel like you have the place all to yourself. There are some fantastic walks you can do as well, including along the beach, or in the woods. We think Sligo has it all, but again, we are biased!
One of the best beaches if you are wanting to surf is Strandhill. There is a local surf school here, and it’s a great place to sit and watch the surfers trying to stand among the waves. There is a great walk here, that takes you all the way to the old airport, and you get to explore along the sand dunes.
There are some great restaurants here as well so grab yourself a takeaway coffee and dip your toes in the cool water. Alternatively, if you are wanting to eat Shell’s Café is one of our absolute favourites. The food is really good quality, and all homemade.
Another beautiful beach to explore is Rosses Point. If the weather is right this is a great place to go for a swim as Strandhill is a bit too rough for this. In the summer, locals flock here to dip their toes in the water and build sandcastles. There is also a beautiful walk with some incredible views. The beach area itself doesn’t have much in the way of restaurants, but on the drive to Rosses Point there are a number of cafes and restaurants.
As this is the Surf Coast part of your Wild Atlantic Wayitinerary we couldn’t write this article without mentioning Aughris Head. This is a true hidden gem to add to your Wild Atlantic Way route. Not many people know about it, which makes it perfect if you just want to escape. The views along the cliff walk are stunning, and along the way you will be greeted by fishermen casting their rods into the deep blue water. If you are here in summer then it is absolutely incredible.
There is a nearby bar called the Beach Bar, where they serve hot food, and really good soup with Treacle Bread. It’s so nice popping in after a walk along the windy cliffside.
Mullaghmore is another highlight. It’s a seaside village with some beautiful views and a relaxed atmosphere. One of the best photo spots is by the cliffs with Classiebawn Castle in the background. It’s a great place to go if you are looking to eat Seafood, and there are quite a few restaurants and bars near the harbour.
If you deviate from the coastal route near Mullaghmore and head to Gleniff Horseshoe you will not be sorry. Here you will find a six-mile loop of narrow road surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain views we have ever seen. About 4 or 5 cars drove past us the whole time we were there and we honestly felt we had the whole place to ourselves. The below picture doesn’t even begin to do it justice. But honestly it is just so beautiful.
Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip Section 6 The Northern Headlands
The final part of the Wild Atlantic Way route (or first part depending on which way your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary) starts is the Northern Headlands. This covers Malin Head to Donegal.
Malin Head is the most northerly point of the island of Ireland and it has been said that you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the northern lights from here. Malin head has some pretty dramatic coastlines and it’s also pretty perfect for sunsets. In the summer months you will often see dolphins in the water, which is a great reason to add this to your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary.
Another absolute highlight in this area is the Slieve League Cliffs. They are one of the incredible natural wonders you will come across on your Wild Atlantic Way route. They are also one of the highest cliffs in Europe. Additionally for something a bit more traditional do check out the Glencolumbkille Folk Village, and the nearby beach.
If you are looking for a good meal and some comfortable accommodation we recommend Harvey’s Point in Donegal. It’s a great stop off especially if you are making your way to Knock Airport. The hotel is located on Lough Eske which make it the perfect place to end your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary.
The best route for this part of your itinerary is to start in Donegal Town and make your way up to Malin Head. If you are ending your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary in Malin Head this is the perfect gateway into Northern Ireland and the Causeway Coast.
Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary
|Day 1||Bantry – Ring of Kerry (Kenmare & Caherdaniel)|
|Day 2||Cliffs of Moher & The Burren|
|Day 4||Aran Islands|
If you are adding an extra day to your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary we highly recommend visiting Donegal on Day 6, otherwise you can see the highlights in Sligo County and Donegal County in a day. Although this will mean you are slightly rushed.
Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary – Where to sleep
We recommend staying the night along the Ring of Kerry for the first night. If you are willing to deviate from the route slightly there are a lot of good places to stay in Killarney and you can experience the incredible national park.
On days 2, 3, and 4, Galway is a great place to base yourself for the evening. There is a huge choice of accommodation here and the nightlife is also pretty cool.
On the final night, stay in Sligo and get a flight out from Knock Airport the next day. Sligo has a range of accommodation options from larger hotels in town to some beachside B and B’s along the Wild Atlantic Way route.
Wild Atlantic Way Map
Here is a map for our Wild Atlantic Way itinerary so you can see the distance covered. This is based on the route we took starting in Bantry and ending in Sligo.
Trying to condense it down? What are the best things to see along the Wild Atlantic Way route?
If time is really of the essence then these are the non negotiable must sees that you should add to your Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary.
The Cliffs of Moher
Obviously the Cliffs are a major tourist attraction, and despite the fact they attract large crowds there is obviously a reason, they are just that beautiful.
Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is another major tourist attraction and for good reason. The rugged and picturesque drive really does evoke those picture perfect images of Ireland.
Not everyone will agree with me here, but I say if you are short on time skip Galway, and make sure you see the Aran Islands. They are completely different to any other part of Ireland you will visit and the scenery is incredible.
Or if you are looking for something a little different we have a guide to 5 days in Ireland with various driving routes.
Wild Atlantic Way road trip packing list
For your Wild Atlantic Way road trip we recommend making sure you pack the following items.
- Waterproof coat – even in the summer months the weather in Ireland can be a bit unpredictable so make sure that you can still enjoy the outdoors even if it rains.
- Hiking boots – You will want to do a lot of walking as part of your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary so make sure that you have the proper footwear. It does get mucky with all the rain so this is vital.
- Layers – The weather along the Wild Atlantic Way can be quite intense, especially with wind and rain. For that reason make sure that you layer up to keep yourself warm.
- Swimsuit – If you get lucky with the weather you should be prepared in case you want to take a dip in the ocean.
How much money do I need for my Wild Atlantic Way road trip?
Before you start planning your Wild Atlantic Way itinerary you might be wondering how much it will cost. It’s difficult to give an accurate indication as this depends on a lot of factors such as the time of year you visit, and how much you plan to see and do. What I will say is make sure you are budgeting for things like:
Car Rentals: €100 + per day on average (depending on car type, what insurance you want to purchase, and any extras). Car rentals can be expensive in Ireland, and there are often hidden costs such as surcharges for returning the car at a different location from where you rented it. Always check your fine print on any rental contract.
Petrol: €100 to fill the tank (this will vary depending on the type of car) – also keep in mind that petrol prices right now are pretty high! It is wise to rent a smaller more economical car for your Wild Atlantic Way road trip.
Accommodation: A minimum of €100 per night for something mid-range (depending on location, time of year, and amenities)
Attractions: €20 per person per day although this is probably on the high side
Food & Drink: €60 per person per day for standard pub style meals and a few drinks
Overall we would recommend budgeting about €100-€150 per person per day. Costs can be brought down especially if you opt for cheaper accommodation and meals.
Wild Atlantic Way route planner – when to visit
You might be reading this Wild Atlantic Way route planner, and wondering when to visit. Summer is probably the best time to plan your trip. The weather is warm, and it is a great time to drive the coastal roads and enjoy the beaches. That being said August gets quite busy with school holidays so we recommend avoiding this time. Spring is another great time to visit. You won’t want to take a dip in the water as it will be a bit cold, but the days are brighter and sunnier on average. You can visit in winter, but keep in mind that the weather is not ideal. You tend to get a lot of rain, and sometimes ice and snow, which is not ideal for driving. It also gets dark earlier so you have limited hours to explore.
Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days – a recap
We hope this guide to seeing the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days has been useful. It is one of our favourite drives in Ireland and there is so much beauty to discover. If you have longer, you should definitely complete the route up to Donegal as this will allow you to complete the full Wild Atlantic Way route. We also hope you will enjoy Sligo, one of the hidden gems along the Wild Atlantic Way. And the fact that so few tourists know about it makes it all the more special.
We hope you have found this Wild Atlantic Way road trip guide useful. Make sure that you pin it for later!