Road Tripping Ireland's West Coast
The Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s answer to California Rt. 1, South Africa’s Garden Route, and Australia’s Great Ocean Road. The seaside track – actually a collection of hundreds of throughways united by new signage over the last year – winds a remarkable 1,500 miles on the Way south from County Donegal to County Cork, roughly 260-miles away as the crow flies.
The first questions is where to start. There are eight counties, several dialects, countless pubs, roughly a dozen world-class surfing breaks, and exactly 159 scenic “discover points” (Ireland Tourism helpfully labeled them) on the way. The coast of County Clare is thick with stand-up paddleboarders and the beaches of County Sligo now attract European surfers looking for “prowlers,” the local term for tube waves. At Kenmare Bay in Kerry, birders watch White-tailed Sea Eagles chase their prey over the lake lands and in the Irish-speaking region of Connemara there are more céilidhs than you can shake a shillelagh at. Fortunately, travelers stressed out by all this action can join the Hibernian hipster brigade at Dzogchen Beara Buddhist Retreat, where meditation and beer drinking make strange bedfellows.
Drivers on the Way can’t get up a head of steam due to a lack of straightaways, but this is far from a lazy country drive. Cavernous tunnels, hairpin turns, and humpback hills follow each other in every conceivable combination. And postcard-perfect hazards crowd the roads: dairy cattle ring their way across farms, red deer charge past in rutting season, and flocks of mountain sheep commute together. Ten days should be enough to get from one end of the road to the other, but sticking to that schedule is shockingly difficult.
After drivers navigate the southwestern leg of the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry, the lonely mountain road of the Healy Pass winds down to the rugged fringes of County Cork and Dursey Island. Reached by Europe’s only trans-sea cable car, Dursey is the end of Ireland and the end of the Wild Atlantic Way. Fortunately, the road back to pubs of Cork City is straight and fast.
More information: Aer Lingus fly from the U.S. to Ireland from $699 round trip while new spin-off Aer Lingus Cars offer two-week rentals from just $165. Hiring a GPS (a necessity for navigating Ireland’s labyrinthine byroads) can bump up a rental rate in Ireland, so BYO-Sat-Nav.
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