Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way takes on the status of one of the longest coastal drives in the world at 1,600 miles. It joins the ranks of other great coastal roads like Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail, Big Sur, Maui’s Kaekili Highway, and South Africa’s Garden Route.
Drive down narrow one-lane roads to see secret beaches, towering cliffs, ancient stone architecture and more. This drive really does have it all; views, culture, and of course beer. The whole time I was driving along the Wild Atlantic Way I thought about the admiration I had for the Ireland Tourism Organization.
Not many tourism offices would decide to take the smallest, single-lane, dangerous roads in the country and market them out to the world to come and drive on them! But thank goodness they did as that’s what really sets it apart from other coastal drives I’ve done. It really does offer some driving thrills.
Here’s the nitty-gritty to help you plan a trip like mine for yourself with this Wild Atlantic Way Map and Route Guide providing answers to your frequently asked questions.
Wild Atlantic Way Map
1,600 Miles is a big area. Here’s an overview map so you can plan at a high level:
The complete 1,600 miles of the Wild Atlantic Way is a lot to tackle in a car!
However, my best advice for a Wild Atlantic Way map is to use Google Maps for day-to-day driving directions. Or simply throw the map out and simply follow the Wild Atlantic Way Signs either North or South. There’s an abundance of signage to follow and if you get lost for a bit – who cares, it’s fun to get lost!
How Long Does it Take to Complete?
To do the entire Wild Atlantic Way would take a solid 2 ½ to 3 weeks hustling and not really stopping much. The distance of 1,600 miles is deceiving, because you have to take into account the state of the roads. They are small, narrow, and don’t allow you to get up any speed really. (unless you are a local!)
These are not roads you can set your cruise control on and speed through. If you have 4 weeks do the whole thing and take your time – that’s the ideal situation.
However, the reality for most people is that you only have 1 or 2 weeks, so I then suggest you pick one area and focus on it in depth. I personally really loved the Sheepshead and the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. I also really loved the Burren and County Donegal where it seemed even more rugged and the hiking was superb.
When is the Best Time of Year to Go?
Travel in October and you’ll be treated to Autumn colors.
Most people would tell you to go during the summer months – and if you ask the Irish they would say that September is ideal. However I went during October – a traditionally volatile weather month in Ireland (aren’t they all?) and I really loved how quiet it was. I also loved the moodiness of the weather from a photography standpoint.
I much prefer the shoulder seasons to travel in – spring and fall would be ideal on the Wild Atlantic Way. However if you want to take advantage of all of the beautiful beaches along the way, then go in the summer.
Size Matters – What Kind of Car To Rent
This all depends on how daring and comfortable you are driving on small roads in foreign environments. Even though my rental company wanted to ‘do me a favor’ and upgrade me to a bigger car, I had no desire to be driving a big car on the WAW. I requested the smallest car they had since it was only me on the trip.
I preferred small and zippy for the little roads.
Be aware that most Americans want only automatic cars, so they go fast and you’ll need to specifically request an automatic when you rent the car else you may be grinding gears and struggling with a clutch for 1,600 miles! Before you go I recommend confirming the reservation for an automatic with your rental car company just to be sure.
I had two different rental cars I used (long story), both compact and strangely both red. One thing to take into account is there is an extra fee to drop the car at a different location than where you started. And, since many of the towns are small along the WAW, you have to be sure that there is an office in the village you want to drop it off at. Most airports along the WAW (even though they are small) have rental car drop-off facilities, but you’ll want to make sure of their opening hours as it’s a small operation and they aren’t 24 hrs.
Places to See Along the Wild Atlantic Way
Now – to the fun stuff! There are so many places to see you could spend your whole time outside of the car! So do a little research before you go and determine what you may want to see.
Check out my list of my favorite stops I made on Trover. A map is even provided to get you to each of these places!
What Gear Should You Pack for the Wild Atlantic Way?
Weather on the Wild Atlantic Way is completely unpredictable. Sun, rain, wind, sideways rain, and hail are all possibilities – all in the same day! My most used piece of clothing was by far my rain gear.
Bring a rain jacket and rain pants. Bring clothes to layer, and SmartWool socks that dry fast.
Exofficio makes great bad weather travel gear. Quick drying, light, and durable!
On the tech side, bring multiple cameras/video as you’ll be salivating at the gorgeous views. A GoPro is also highly recommended for all of the driving shots!
It’s great to drive on the Wild Atlantic Way, but it’s even more fun to stop and really experience it from the cliffs and from the water! I kayaked, jumped off cliffs, and did a lot of hiking in all kinds of weather.
Best Places to Stay On the Wild Atlantic Way
By far my favorite places to stay were the little family owned B&B’s along the way. It was at those little homes where I had the most fun and got the best local advice and tips.
Plus, as a solo traveler it was a super way to socialize. The Irish are so kind and welcoming, and they love to show off their home. I never made reservations more than an day in advance, however I was traveling in October, an off season. If you are traveling during the summer, I suggest that you book ahead more than a few days in advance as the B&B’s are small and fill up fast.
Some of the owners did my laundry, let me borrow rain pants, went to dinner with me, took me to visit their family, and more. On the other hand, the hotels were nice, but they just couldn’t compete with the hospitality of the B&B’s along the way.
What to Eat and Drink Along the Route
Try a lot of fish and chips, burgers, and seafood soup. However there were a few new things I tried too such as learning how to adore vinegar on fries. The more the better! I also of course had my share of Guinness and Murphy’s Irish Stout (the other Guinness).
Disclosure: A small part of my trip was supported by Failte Ireland, however all opinions are my own.