The longest and now the best known coastal touring route in Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is perhaps the best way to take in the scenic beauty of Ireland. Covering over 2500 kilometres and passing through 9 Irish counties it takes visitors through some of the most beautiful sights in the country. And the most stunning section of the Wild Atlantic Way may be the route through the middle western counties, Mayo and Galway. Book into a comfortable budget hotel like the Travelodge in Galway as the end point of your travel plans and pinpoint the following five highlights of the rugged beauty of Mayo and Galway along the wild Atlantic.
The beginning point on this tour of five Wild Atlantic Way highlights is the charming and beautifully preserved heritage town of Westport. Dominated by Westport House, whose owners, the Brownes, created the town in their own image back in the 18th century, Westport is an elegant and intact Georgian treasure trove that manages to keep its old world charm while not feeling old fashioned. There is a terrific mixture of welcoming cafés, top class restaurants and pubs that host some of Ireland’s best traditional musicians and singers on a nightly basis. It’s a great place to relax and cut loose after a hard day’s travelling.
You don’t have to go far from Westport to get a very different perspective on the Mayo coastline and get splendid views of Clew Bay. The ancient and holy mountain of Croagh Patrick is well worth the slight detour off the Wild Atlantic Way but it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a good three and a half hours to the mountain top but the view at the end of exertions is memorable with incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean and the parcel of islands lying out on Clew Bay. On the way up, the perfect spot to catch your breath and gain some historical perspective is at the National Famine Monument which commemorates the catastrophe of the Great Famine in Ireland in the 19th century.
There are only three fjords in Ireland and Killary Harbour is the only one on the Wild Atlantic Way. And its unique wild beauty makes this a must stop on your route. Killary Harbour actually forms the border between Mayo and County Galway and its very deep and very sheltered anchorage on Ireland’s western coastline make it ideal for shellfish farming. It extends in some 16 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean to Aasleagh. The amazing contrast between the deep water and Mweelrea, the highest mountain in the province of Connacht well as the Twelve Bens and the Maumturk Mountains to the south make this a simply majestic experience. It’s well worth taking a boat trip around the fjord to get the full benefit of this unique location. If you have time you can also take a guided walk along the banks of the fjord along the Famine Trail.
Letterfrack to Roundstone
Moving now into County Galway, the next highlight isn’t a destination in itself but a journey, the road from Letterfrack to Roundstone. Follow the switchback roads back and forth around a lake-dominated landscape and you can really see why this land has inspired so many local legends of evil spirits and monsters. This is pretty and pretty intimidating, starkly beautiful countryside. Passing though Clifden the traveller on the Wild Atlantic Way comes onto Derrigimlagh bog where Alcock and Brown landed after their plane crossed the Atlantic for the first time and where Marconi established the first ever commercial transatlantic wireless station. And you can see why as the next stop really is America.
The Aran Islands
You simply can’t do this part of the Wild Atlantic Way and not visit the Aran Islands. If you want a glimpse back into the past of Irish traditional life then get yourself to Rossaveal and onto a ferry across to Inis Mór, Inis Meáin or Inis Oírr. These three Aran Islands are the best place to enjoy traditional Irish culture, the Irish language, traditional crafts and especially traditional music at a slow but steady pace. There’s plenty to see alongside that traditional culture with Dun Aengus prehistoric fort, ancient monuments and church ruins giving the islands a unique air of mystery and timelessness. The views of the Irish coastline are dramatic and even in the summer the visitor gets a real sense of the hardiness required to live in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean throughout the storm-tossed year.