Planning a Wild Atlantic Way road trip itinerary is one of the true joys of mapping out a trip to the Emerald Isle. This sprawling coastal route on the west coast of Ireland is one of the world’s most scenic road trips. Ranging from the town of Kinsale in County Cork to Malin Head in County Donegal, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way encompasses some of the most iconic and striking sites to see in all of the country.
If you’re interested in driving the Wild Atlantic Way and don’t know where to start, then this article is meant to help you. When you look into it, there is so much to see and do on the Wild Atlantic Way that it can seem overwhelming to know where and when to start.
So whether you’re looking to drive a portion of this coastal route or are keen to tackle the whole thing, use this Wild Atlantic Way road trip itinerary to help you map out your perfect trip to the west of Ireland.
How Long Does the Wild Atlantic Way Take?
Before you can get into the nitty-gritty of planning your itinerary, it’s essential to work out how long it takes to drive the Wild Atlantic Way.
It can be easy to think that Ireland is a small country and the driving route only takes up the west coast of the island, so one shouldn’t need a lot of time to do it justice.
This simply isn’t the case.
In reality, the Wild Atlantic Way route is 2,500 kilometres and most of it is on narrow country roads where you can’t drive too quickly.
There are viewpoints and stop-offs around every corner and there’s also the fact that you don’t simply want to speed between each of these stops, you want to spend time in lots of different places.
With all this in mind, plan to spend at least 2 weeks if you want to drive the entire Wild Atlantic Way.
While you could certainly spend more time driving along the route (and we honestly recommend it), 2 weeks is just about the minimum that will allow you to travel from Kinsale in West Cork to the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal (or vice versa) while not feeling too rushed.
If you only have time for one week on the route, then you’re going to need to make a decision on whether you want to concentrate on the northern end or the southern end. While you could drive the Wild Atlantic Way in 7 days, you are going to be rushed and you won’t have time to enjoy any of the incredible places.
For those who only have a week in which to plan your trip, opt to either follow the first 7 days of this itinerary or the last. If you concentrate on the route from Kinsale to Galway, note that this is going to be the busiest, especially in the warmer, high-season months.
Alternatively, the route from Connemara to County Donegal is going to be a lot less crowded and a bit more off the beaten path. Both are absolutely gorgeous and have lots to offer visitors.
Getting To & Around the Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way is located along the west coast of Ireland beginning (or ending, depending on the direction you choose to drive – more on that later) in the town of Kinsale in County Cork. If you’re travelling to Ireland specifically for a Wild Atlantic Way trip, however, you do have a few options.
The highest-traffic and most popular option will be to arrive by air into Dublin. While this itinerary doesn’t include any time in Dublin (it’s not on the driving route) it is only about a 3-hour drive from the Irish capital to the town of Kinsale.
If you’re driving the Wild Atlantic Way from north to south, it’s similarly about 3 hours to drive from Dublin to the town of Muff in County Donegal, the official starting (or ending) point of the driving route.
Once at your desired starting point, the best way to get around the Wild Atlantic Way is, understandably, by car. This is a driving route, after all! You can browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices across major companies for hire cars.
Note that the majority of the route is along smaller, country roads which can be quite narrow. There is nothing too daunting about driving these roads as local drivers tend to be quite respectful, but do remember to that passing can be tricky at times if there’s oncoming traffic.
Because this is a coastal route, it’s also worth keeping in mind the direction you’d like to drive the route. Ireland drives on the left side of the road so if you want the ease of pulling over at lookout points and the best coastal views over the Atlantic Ocean as the driver, then driving from south to north is going to be your best bet.
Once on the driving route, you will notice blue WAW (Wild Atlantic Way) signs way-marking the route, so it’s not hard to stray from it. In fact, the route is so well-signposted that you may not even need to rely on GPS!
Because of its scenic nature, there are also plenty of Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points – little pull-off areas marked with the WAW logo and perfect for photo stops! Putting the discovery points into your GPS is a great way not to miss some of the most beautiful places on the route as you explore the Wild Atlantic Way.
If you don’t want to drive in Ireland, then the other main option is to take a guided tour. There are several options available such as this guided tour that explores many of the main attractions in the southern part of the country.
2-Week Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary
This Wild Atlantic Way road trip goes from south to north, which I believe is the ideal direction in which to drive this coastal route. However, if it’s easier for you to from north to south, you can reverse the order of this route without inhibiting your trip or experiences.
Day 1 – Kinsale to Killarney
Colourful Kinsale located in County Cork is the official starting (or ending) point of the Wild Atlantic Way. Begin your day here, which is only about 30 minutes from Cork City. Take the morning to explore the cute little town and wander its charming streets before hitting the road to begin taking in the sites on this driving route.
Our final destination is Killarney, however, it’s worth noting that when driving the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s best not to take the most direct route. Instead, take your time to enjoy the smaller, coastal roads and make your way to some of the smaller towns and lookouts en route to Killarney.
Direct your GPS toward the town of Baltimore and take the time to explore a bit around here – this is also a great place to go whale watching if that’s something that interests you. Mosy along the coastal road to the town of Kenmare before reaching Killarney for the night.
Where to Stay in Killarney
Old Weir Lodge – Located in Killarney, this guesthouse makes for a great base for exploring the town and the area surrounding. They have an array of comfortable rooms on offer, a great location close to the town centre and there is also a fantastic breakfast available daily. Click here to check availability
The Killarney Park – Luxury travellers will love this beautiful hotel in the centre of Killarney. They have a myriad of plush rooms on offer and plenty of wonderful amenities to ensure that you’re well taken care of after a long day of exploration. Click here to check availability
The Black Sheep Hostel – Budget and solo travellers will love that there is a backpacker’s hostel in the centre of Killarney. Offering dorms and privates, they have clean self-catering facilities along with good common areas. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Killarney hotels!
Day 2 – Killarney
On day two, take the time to explore the town of Killarney and take in some of the natural beauty of Killarney National Park. Killarney makes for an excellent base in this area of Ireland as it’s central to a number of different highlights of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Especially if you want to beat some of the crowds on tomorrow’s Ring of Kerry drive, it can be a good idea to spend this day enjoying the splendours of Killarney National Park. There are lots of things to do and see there, including visiting the Torc Waterfall, seeing Ross Castle and taking in the ruins of Muckross Abbey.
The town of Killarney itself is charming and worth wandering through and enjoying the atmosphere.
Day 3 – Ring of Kerry
On the third day of this Wild Atlantic Way, it’s time to take on one of Ireland’s most iconic scenic drives – the Ring of Kerry. Beginning and ending in the town of Killarney (how convenient that you’ve been based there for 2 nights already!), this route can get incredibly busy, especially in high season, so it’s worth getting as early a start as possible.
Because you’ve already knocked off some stops on the Ring of Kerry drive yesterday (in Killarney National Park), you can head straight to the Ladies View. Other incredible sites on the Derrynane Beach, the village of Sneem and the offshoot Skellig Ring – which you will definitely have time for since you’re getting an early start!
The Ring of Kerry drive will take up your whole day, so spend your evening unwinding in a pub in Killarney.
Day 4 – Slea Head Drive
Day four brings you to another scenic drive within this scenic driving route – this one is the Dingle Penisula Drive, more accurately called the Slea Head Drive. Located north of Killarney, this is a scenic circular driving route that encompasses the beautiful Dingle Peninsula.
This beautiful drive includes gorgeous, sandy beaches, charming little towns and fascinating historic sites. You will be astounded by the dramatic vistas and the narrow roads only add to the charm.
Like with the Ring of Kerry, this is a popular driving route so it’s good to get an early start in order to beat the crowds and large tour buses.
Day 5 – Doolin & the Cliffs of Moher
After enjoying some of the highlights of County Kerry, it’s time to make your way north through County Clare en route to Galway City. However, there are some iconic places to stop off at along the way. Again, it’s good to get an early start on this day!
The highlight of this day is the incredible Cliffs of Moher, some of the most iconic sea cliffs in Ireland (though not the highest, you can see those on Achill Island). The Cliffs of Moher are another incredibly popular site, however, the area is huge and if you’re up for a hike, it’s easy to avoid the crowds.
When visiting the Cliffs, make sure to also spend a bit of time in the lovely little town of Doolin and maybe even take a boat tour to see the Cliffs from below. As you wind your way north toward Galway City, enjoy the beautiful, bucolic nature of the Burren National Park, as well.
Where to Stay in Galway
The Stop B&B – Located in Galways Claddagh neighbourhood a bit outside the city centre. this cosy bed and breakfast makes for a great stay in the city. They offer a number of great rooms along with a fantastic breakfast each morning. Click here to check availability
Park House Hotel – This luxury hotel in Galway is perfect for more upmarket visitors to this Irish city. Located on Eyre Square, they offer an array of lovely rooms on offer and plenty of great amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel – Those travelling on a budget or solo will love this hostel located near Eyre Square. Highly-rated, they have both dorms and private rooms along with breakfast available in the morning. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Galway hotels!
Day 6 – Galway City
The first five days of this Wild Atlantic Way itinerary have been dedicated to natural sites and small towns, however, day 6 is the only day of this 2-week route that allows you time in a larger city.
Galway City is one of the nicest cities to visit in all of Ireland and its compact nature means that you can easily explore all of the highlights within the confines of a day. To make the most of your time you can consider booking a walking tour or a guided food tour.
Wander around the Latin Quarter, listen to the street performers on Quay Street and walk under the Spanish Arch.
You can learn about the history of Galway in the Galway City Museum, if this is something that interests you, or you can absorb the culture by listening to some trad music in of the city’s many pubs.
Day 7 – Aran Islands
The seventh day of this Wild Atlantic Way road trip sees you leaving the Irish mainland entirely and heading out on a day trip to the inimitable Aran Islands. Located off the coast of County Galway, this archipelago can make you feel as if you’re stepping back in time and it’s a really good experience to have when you’re travelling to the west of Ireland.
To reach the Aran Islands from Galway, your best bet is to take the ferry from the town of Rossaveel to Inishmore – the largest of the islands in the archipelago. Keep in mind that this is a passenger ferry and visitors aren’t allowed to bring cars to the islands.
You can get around on foot, bicycle or, for those who want an extra level of old-world charm, horse and buggy. Alternatively, there are plenty of guided tour options such as this full-day tour or this guided tour.
Day 8 – Connemara
We’re onto week 2 of this Wild Atlantic Way road trip and this means that we’re making our way further north to the gorgeous Connemara region in County Galway. There are lots of things to do in Connemara and it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to explore for a short time.
Begin your time here at Connemara National Park and enjoy one of the many hiking trails you can find here. Then, make your way to Kylemore Abbey and take in the sites here. Afterwards, you can explore the town of Clifden and then drive the Sky Road, a lovely scenic route.
Of course, don’t miss the tidal Omey Island and the gorgeous Dog’s Bay Beach. Wind up your day with a pint in Clifden or in the small fishing village of Roundstone.
Where to Stay in Connemara
Errisbeg B&B – This bed and breakfast located in the quiet village of Roundstone is the perfect place to explore Connemara. Offering a great breakfast in the morning, they also have a number of clean and comfortable rooms to choose from and friendly owners. Click here to check availability
Sharamore House B&B – Located in Clifden, this bed and breakfast is another excellent option for those looking to stay in Connemara. They have a few rooms to choose from along with a hearty breakfast on offer each morning. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Connemara hotels!
Day 9 – Connemara to Achill Island
Day 9 of this itinerary is a bit of a driving day, however, there is a lot to see as we make our way to our final destination – Achill Island. First off, take the time to visit some places in the north of Connemara, such as the beautiful Killary Fjord and the charming village of Leenane.
Then, make your way to the lovely Aasleagh Falls before continuing on to some beautiful beaches to be found in County Mayo – including Silver Strand Beach and Carrowmore Beach. You can also opt to stop at Murrisk Abbey for some historic ruins.
Once you cross the bridge to Achill Island, you will likely have some time to see some sites on the island, as well. Or, you can simply post up on one of the island’s many pubs (or visit the Achill Island Distillery for some island-made whiskey!) and rest up for tomorrow.
Where to Stay on Achill Island
Teach Cruachan Bed and Breakfast – Situated in Keel village, this bed and breakfast makes for a great base when visiting Achill Island. Offering a range of great rooms, they have a wonderful breakfast available for guests each morning. Click here to check availability
Ferndale Luxury Boutique Bed & Breakfast – Those after a bit more luxe stay on Achill will love this boutique bed and breakfast. Offering a range of beautiful rooms, they have a fantastic breakfast available each morning and plenty of other amenities, as well. Click here to check availability
Cosy Keel Cottage – If you’re after a self-catering option on Achill island, then this little cottage is the perfect option. Fully furnished with everything you may need, it also has a great location for exploring all this lovely island has to offer. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Achill Island hotels!
Day 10 – Achill Island
The tenth day of this route sees you enjoying all of the highlights of Achill Island. As Ireland’s largest island, Achill has a lot to offer visitors and it’s truly a joy to explore.
Those looking for a bit of a hike, spend your morning on the scenic Valley Loop Walk – an easy walking trail that winds along the coast from Golden Strand Beach. Also, make sure to take in the beautiful Dugort Beach nearby.
You also cannot miss the historic Slievemore Abandoned Village and, of course, head up to Keem Beach, one of the most stunning on the island and of the entirety of the Wild Atlantic Way. You can also hike to the Croaghaun Cliffs if you’re up for it – these are the highest sea cliffs in Ireland.
There are countless more things to do on Achill so you certainly won’t be bored on your day here.
Day 11 – County Sligo & Donegal
After enjoying Achill Island, it’s time to head north once more. This day sees you driving through County Sligo with an eventual stop in the southwest of County Donegal. Of course, there are plenty of great places to stop off at along the way!
Start at the beautiful Glencar Waterfall before making your way to the iconic Benbulben (one of Irleand’s most famous mountains). If you’re up for a bit of a walk, the Benbulben Forest Loop is short, easy and perfect for views of the mountain.
And for more incredible scenery, drive the Gleniff Horseshoe Route while en route to Donegal. Make a pit stop at Tullan Strand and the Fairy Bridges in Bundoran before ending your day in Donegal Town.
Where to Stay in Donegal
Ros Dún House – Situated just outside Donegal Town, this bed and breakfast is a great base when explore this area of Ireland. Offering a myriad of different rooms to choose from, they also have a great breakfast and on-site parking. Click here to check availability
Bayview Country House B&B – Located in the quaint town of Ardara, this bed and breakfast is perfect for those looking for a quiet stay in County Donegal. Offering an array of comfortable and cosy rooms, there is also a great breakfast for guests in the morning. Click here to check availability
Mill Park Hotel – This hotel is a great choice for those looking for a more traditional hotel stay while in County Donegal. Located in Donegal Town, they have a number of rooms along with a cafe/bar and an on-site swimming pool and fitness centre. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Donegal hotels!
Day 12 – Southwest County Donegal
This day is dedicated to taking in all of the splendours that this area of County Donegal has to offer – the most notable of which are the Slieve League Cliffs. These sea cliffs are nearly three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher and also attract only a fraction of the crowds and are an absolutely unmissable stop.
On this day, also make sure to take in the beautiful Malin Beg Beach, learn about local history at the Glencolmcille Folk Village and head to the incredible Maghera Beach. The latter is also home to interesting sea caves that are only accessible at low tide – very much worth the stop.
Take the time to explore the lovely village of Ardara before driving the gorgeous Glengensh Drive – another scenic route with incredible views.
Day 13 – Glenveagh National Park & Fanad Peninsula
Our penultimate day on the Wild Atlantic Way sees you still exploring some splendours of County Donegal.
Begin your day at the lovely Glenveagh National Park where you can stroll along the tranquil Lough Veagh and visit the Glenveagh Castle. There are plenty of hiking routes here for those who want to get a bit more active.
Also, you can drive up to Horn Head for some incredible natural scenery and visit Doe Castle for a small, ruined castle that’s free to enter and wander around. Of course, you cannot miss the Fanad Head Lighthouse on the Fanad Peninsula, which is one of the most iconic places to visit and see in County Donegal.
There are plenty of other gorgeous beaches to visit on this day, as well, including the stunning Ballymastocker Beach – one of the most beautiful in the area.
Day 14 – Inishowen 100
The final day of this Wild Atlantic Way road trip includes another scenic loop and also the most northerly point of the island of Ireland.
The Inishowen 100 stands for the driving loop that encircles the Inishowen Peninsula at the very northeast of County Donegal. There is a lot to see on this drive but it’s also likely going to be the least busy of the scenic loops on this itinerary, which is excellent for taking in the wild scenery.
Take your time to visit Lisfannon Beach, Fort Dunree and drive the beautiful Gap of Mamore before heading to the gorgeous Glenevin Waterfall.
There are also more gorgeous beaches to take in on this drive, including Kinnagoe Bay and Five Finger Strand – the latter is also known for its striking sand dunes.
You can also visit the Inishowen Head Lighthouse and finish off your drive on the Wild Atlantic Way in the town of Muff, which is located right before you cross into Northern Ireland.
Have More Time?
If you have more time to devote to your west coast Ireland road trip, you could either opt to spend more time in some of the stops along the way and dig deeper there or head into Northern Ireland after driving the Inishowen 100.
It’s easy to reach the city of Derry from County Donegal and you’re also only a stone’s throw away from the Giant’s Causeway and the highlights of the coast here. You could also opt to spend a few days in Belfast if you’re keen to explore more cities.
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the world’s most beautiful road trips and planning an itinerary here is truly a joy. With beautiful scenery around every corner, a road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way is one that you won’t soon forget.
Are you driving the Wild Atlantic Way? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!