Something different: exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

We’re already into May, and summer will be with us faster than you think, so now is an exciting time to start making plans for the months ahead.

If you have considered visiting Ireland, there has never been a better time to go. The Irish Tourist Board has mapped out an easy-to-follow coastal drive called the Wild Atlantic Way, with the best sights the Atlantic (west) coast of Ireland has to offer.

Book a short flight or ferry. Grab a map, download the app and you are on your way!

Planning your route
‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ stretches from Donegal in the north-west to Cork on the south-west coast. Whether you have two days or two weeks, with 157 discovery points and over 1,000 attractions, you will be spoilt for choice.

The route is well signposted, with a wave symbol indicating frequent points of interest, and is quite an easy drive. However, to discover the truly remarkable points of interest, the signposts will often lead you down narrow country roads. It’s not uncommon for cars to be held up by a tractor or a wandering sheep! Enjoy it. After all, when holiday memories begin to fade, it is these experiences you will always remember as the ‘Only in Ireland’ moments.

When planning your journey, try to include some of the lesser known sights as well as the well-known locations. By contrast, popular locations such as the Cliffs of Moher, picturesque Kinsale Harbour, Bunratty Castle and the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula will always attract large numbers of people.

However, the beauty of this route is that it offers access to other hidden gems along the way: you may choose to take a guided boat tour out to see dolphins, whales, puffins, and the numerous other breeding seabirds; or you could watch the sun set on a deserted beach along this rugged coastline.

There are plenty of opportunities to get active, with popular activities such as angling or golfing. For the brave at heart, experience the exhilaration of swimming in the Atlantic Ocean on any of the blue flag beaches scattered along the coast, such as Lahinch. The northern edge of the Loop Head Peninsula also has great cliffs and a lighthouse.

Whatever your preference, The Wild Atlantic Way route will ensure your trip to Ireland is one that you will remember for a lifetime.

When to go 
May to September are the most popular months to travel around Ireland. The month of May is arguably the most colourful. As summer arrives, the landscape is awash with wild flowers blossoming, green fields against an Atlantic Ocean backdrop.

In the months of May and September, you are most likely to find you are the only person on a secluded beach or cliff walk. From June to August, the towns and villages buzz with activity, and you might be lucky enough to happen upon one of the many food or traditional music festivals held across rural towns and villages in the summer months.

Experience the culture, gourmet food and drink 
Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a local. You will often find they are fiercely proud of their local area and will enjoy sharing their knowledge on its history, hidden sightseeing gems, or the best restaurants.

From gourmet bistros to artisan food markets, there are plenty of pit stops along the way to tickle your taste buds, and you will find the locals are the best guides for advice. Spend an evening sipping on an Irish coffee or a cold pint of Guinness while enjoying a traditional music session in a pub. You will find trad sessions in most rural villages and towns each night. Again, the locals will be happy to point you in the right direction. If you really want to immerse yourself in the culture, it is worth booking into a B&B to truly experience an Irish homestead at its best.

What to pack
Although Ireland has relatively mild summers, the Atlantic coast can bring in sweeping brisk winds that are sure to make you feel alive! Be prepared for warm sunshine, rain, and hail all in one day. It’s easiest to wear layers, with cosy knits and raincoats. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must.

Finally, don’t forget your camera. There are photo opportunities around every corner of the Wild Atlantic Way! Consider whether the camera on your smartphone is really up to the task, and perhaps treat yourself to a new compact camera to capture the stunning views.

Bord Failte, the Irish tourist board, offers an informative website and smartphone application to help you plan and navigate your trip. See http://www.wildatlanticway.com