The Wild Atlantic Irish Road-Trip

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Duration: 17 Days
Expenditure $ 1650

The very first post I wrote about my time in this wonderful country was titled 'Ireland - 50 Shades of Green, Blue & Beer' - you can find this on my website titled Nomadic Lives (for some insightful reading, I promise); here are some useful links:

7 Travel Lessons from my 1st Independent Excursionhttp://nomadiclives.com/travel/7-travel-lessons-1st-independent-excursion/

Ireland - 50 Shades of Green, Blue & Beerhttp://nomadiclives.com/travel/ireland/ireland-50-shades-green-blue-beer/

11 Irish Facts & Myth Bustershttp://nomadiclives.com/travel/ireland/11-irish-facts-myth-busters/

Coming back to the point at hand, I believe I managed to capture a lot of what makes Ireland special in that one single title. Admittedly, I missed out on the single most amazing thing about it - its people. The overwhelming greenness of the Emerald Isle, is quite simply unsettling at first sight. Despite it's tourist friendly nature, Ireland, even today, is a rather wild country - with more sheep than human beings treading its lovely lands. A country steeped deep in history, Ireland is abundantly blessed by merry local men & women, all of whom are raging romantics. The Irish are one of the most charming bunch of folks anywhere on the planet - a self-deprecating joke, an ancient folklore, an extempore verse or an enchanting singing voice is always just around the corner. Between the countless stunning sights of the land and experiencing the vivacious local culture, a traveler on a schedule always gets torn in two by his constraints. 

One question I often get asked aplenty is how many days are enough to explore Ireland reasonably well. To be fair - that's one of the toughest questions to answer for any traveler. For me 15 days fell too short and yet, I know travelers who were happy with a 7 day trip. It depends a lot on your priorities and what it is that you're seeking from your travel. For me, slow travel is vital - it is crucial for me to settle down and become a part of the local culture in my own small way to experience the lifestyle of every place my wanderlust brings me to. To be more generic though, 2 weeks is a reasonable amount of time to cover a good part of Ireland. 

The most important thing is to lay down your priorities. All countries/cultures/regions, are famous and on the map for a bunch of things that are exclusive to the land or the land is exceptionally good at them. In Ireland's case, if I'd to lay down a few highlights they are as follows:

i) post-card worthy landscapes around every bend in the road

ii) a significantly hearty culture

iii) literature & history a-plenty

iv) a pub-culture worth envying, accentuated by vehemently endorsed breweries & distilleries

v) camping & trekking

Almost all of these things matter to me wholeheartedly, but I decided to rate them in terms of priority and planned my trip accordingly. Amongst Ireland's largest attractions is what is widely known as the Wild Atlantic Way - a roughly drawn road-map that covers most of the rugged, scenic beauty of coastal Ireland. Starting from County Kerry in the south-west and ending in the northernmost County Donegal, the Wild Atlantic Way covers some of Ireland's iconic landmarks such as the Ring of Kerry, The Dingle Peninsula, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, the charming towns of Dingle, Killaryney & Galway and culminates in the northenmost point of Ireland - Malin's Head. You will encounter a higher concentration of tourists on this route than all of the rest of Ireland put together (probably even Dublin); however, this is nothing to worry about - with a little extra effort and subtle planning, you can avoid the pesky tourist hordes and experience the many treasures on offer at your own leisurely pace. 

Pro Tip #1: Most famous tourist places follow a set pattern in tourist visits. For example, almost all tour companies & coaches drive through the Ring of Kerry anti-clockwise; use this piece of information and drive in the opposite direction to avoid getting stuck behind slow-moving tourist coaches.

Pro Tip #2: Straying off the trodden path is often rewarding - don't stick to your travel book; though often useful, travel books are very influential and will completely hijack your experience, if followed word to word. Instead, pluck up some courage and speak to locals - they are the best tour-guides you can ever ask for, and what's better? They are free! 

Pro Tip #3: Ireland is blessed with countless breweries and more tasty brews than you can imagine. Taste your way through the local brews at every pub and thank me later. Some of my personal favorites: The Galway Hooker, Tom Crean's Fresh Irish Lager, Harp Lager & Beal Ban from the West Kerry Brewery. A lot of these brews are only available in the areas of their produce and NOT a treat to be missed out on!

While the west coast of Ireland single-handedly wins the popularity pageant, there are great treasures to be discovered in the largely under-rated county of Cork. The south and west of County Cork is dotted with tiny little hamlets hugging the coast, each a pretty gem waiting to be unearthed in its own right! Take a day trip to cruise past several of these towns to the west of Cork City and cap it up with unimaginable scenes at the Mizen Head Signal Station - Ireland's south-westernmost point. 

Another not-to-be-missed item on the list is a visit to at least one of the several islands off the coast of Ireland. Be it the uninhabited Blasketts (Ireland's westernmost point), the hidden heaven of Clear Islands or the steeped-in-history-neck-deep Aran Islands, the remoteness and unparalleled beauty of these islands is likely to make you question the sheer inconsequence of your very existence. 

Ireland also boasts of some of the best national parks in the world, several medieval and pre-medieval castles to be explored and be awed by cathedrals & abbeys that can make even the most agnostic of folk feel a sliver of faith! 

So read on for more details on an itinerary that worked out miraculously well for me. Plan your trip in a manner that covers as many of your interests as it possible can and please feel free to reach out & connect in case you have any additional questions!

Preferred Mode of Transport: if you can afford it, definitely a self-driven car; and if you have the time & energy for it, almost certainly a bicycle or a bike - at least for certain parts of the route, which demand enough time & pit-stops with its ceaseless beauty. The narrow nature of most Irish roads means cars cannot stop as often as one would like; inspite of regular parking spots, I'd recommend a two-wheeler if you have the time & appetite for it.

Use Cork City as a base camp for the start of your Wild Atlantic journey. Technically, this falls outside the traditional 'Wild Atlantic Way' and Co. Cork is often known as the 'gateway' to the Wild Atlantic Way. Cork City is a compact town, with a mix of eccentricism. Though pleasant, I wouldn't spend longer than a day exploring the whole city. The real beauty of Co. Cork lies in the unexplored lands of Western Cork. Use the spare day to drive right down to Mizen Head - Ireland's south-western tip.
Photos of Cork, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
On you day trip to Western Cork, the first stop is the historic port-town of Kinsale. In medieval times, the importance of Kinsale to Ireland's political strategy was such, that the neighboring hamlet of Cork, was described as being 'near to Kinsale' - a stark contrast to today's times, when it's exactly the other way round. Charles Fort - a 13th century star-shaped fort built to protect the port of Kinsale from French & Spanish invaders is the prime attraction. The guided tour by a member of the Office for Public Works is hugely informative & entertaining (the fabled Irish wit, yeah?). Much of Kinsale's decline as an important port is attributed to the sandbar in it's harbor. Cork was identified as a natural alternative and the rest, as they say, is history. Kinsale town is a charming little spec of culture and rural bounty. Schedule your trip to Kinsale on a Wednesday and be blessed by the weekly Farmer's Market, held on every Wednesday, right opposite the Tourist Office in town. There's great food, amazing juices, mouth-watering deserts and some absolutely amazing local life to be experienced in this market - do not miss for anything!
Photos of Kinsale, Ireland 1/2 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Kinsale, Ireland 2/2 by Sanket Dhume
The coastal villages of Timoleague & Courtmachsherry are the beginning of a wonderful coastal drive towards Clonakilty. With distinct views of the Clear Islands on the horizon, experience a prehistoric shudder at the Timoleague Friary. Stop by to walk through it's tiny village center and marvel at the colorful houses.
Photos of Timoleague, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Clonakilty is the next sizable town on your way to Ireland's south-westernmost tip. Small town-center and no great attractions be seen - use merely as a pit-stop to re-stock and recoup. You could fancy a stroll through it's pretty lanes for a few minutes, but trust me there's prettier hamlets just around the corner!
Photos of Clonakilty, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Schull is where we stopped and decided to take a stroll around the town. The first impulsive shop we entered was a friendly jeweler's. He embarked upon a storytelling session about how the shop was found by his great grandfather who happened to spend several years in undivided India, in Lahore, which incidentally is now part of Pakistan! We then dove into another adorable little shop which was selling priceless souvenirs. I bought a few bookmarks that were impossible to ignore and decided to move on to our next stop!
Photos of Schull, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Goleen is the gateway to the Mizen Head Drive, which takes you right to what feels like the edge of the world at Mizen Head. Take time to admire the old local stone houses, many of which lie derelict in the fields now. The enormous effort gone into these buildings to withstand Atlantic gales is difficult to imagine/fathom.
Photos of Goleen, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Excellent views of the Wild Atlantic! Literally feels like you've arrive right at the edge of the world, with nothing but a ragged cliff falling into the limitless depths of the ice-blue ocean!
Photos of Mizen Head Signal Station, Cork, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Killarney is another of those dainty little Irish towns that have sadly succumbed to the tide of tourism. Mobbed in the summers, Killarney is best visited in late spring. Killarney at best, is used as a base-camp for a visit to the Killarney National Park. Attractions within the town are limited to the majestic St. Mary's Cathedral and the countless trad pubs on its tiny streets. Some notable names are O'Connor's and Tatler Jack's! O'Connor's in particular is one of Ireland's most renowned pubs, known primarily for its brilliant daily evening entertainment sessions & its relentless craic!
Photos of Killarney, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
The best part about Killarney National Park, outside of it's abundant natural beauty of course, is the existence of charming horse-drawn buggies! A mode of transport long extinct in most parts of the world, it can be experienced in abundance while exploring the National Park! Dominated primarily by its three lakes - Lough Leane, Muckross Lake & the Upper Lake, the National Park is more than 10000 hectares of pure relentless natural beauty. Reserve at least one whole day to explore at leisure!
Photos of Killarney National Park, Ireland 1/3 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Killarney National Park, Ireland 2/3 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Killarney National Park, Ireland 3/3 by Sanket Dhume
Amongst the top 3 circular drives in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is the longest & most diverse. Combining jaw-dropping coastal scenery with stretches of land that are simply green and blissful, the 179 km long circuit winds past pristine beaches, distant views of the island-dotted wild Atlantic, medieval ruins, mountains & lakes aplenty. Tour buses navigate this route in an anti-clockwise direction fro Killarney - to avoid getting stuck behind one, navigate the route in a clockwise direction. You can take regular pit-stops at some charming villages like Kenmare, Sneem, Caherdaniel, Waterville, Caherciveen & Killorglin! Between Waterville & Caherciveen is the secluded village of Portmagee, which can be used as a launching pad for a one day excursion to nearby Skellig Michael - one of Ireland's 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is an island 11 kms off the mainland coast, which houses a pre-historic monastic settlement.
Photos of The Ring of Kerry, Killarney, Ireland 1/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of The Ring of Kerry, Killarney, Ireland 2/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of The Ring of Kerry, Killarney, Ireland 3/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of The Ring of Kerry, Killarney, Ireland 4/4 by Sanket Dhume
Three quarters of the way round the Ring of Kerry, lies the quaint little hamlet of Glenbeigh! Made up of the Tower Hotel - the village's cornerstone pub and as many houses as you could probably count on the fingers of your hand, Glenbeigh is a respite from the otherwise tourist infested towns on the Ring of Kerry! It has a blue flag beach of it's own known as the Rosbeigh Strand, which is one of the most unusual beaches in all of Ireland, with a tendril (I shan't tell you why, go on and find out for yourself ;)
Photos of Glenbeigh, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
By far, the most charming town I've ever come across, Dingle is all water, color, ever-changing fogs and the most charming little shops your vivacious brain can ever imagine. Dominated largely by the in-house dolphin - Fungee, Dingle has turned itself into one of the largest attractions in the country. It is also the start of arguably Ireland's best road-route - The Dingle Peninsula and becomes a strategic pit-stop for many a traveler. It is also renowned for some of the best sea-food in the country, some of the best locally brewed ales and (by far the toughest choice I've ever had to make) some of the most gifted musicians around. Spend an evening pub-hopping through several live-music sessions and enjoy a locally brewed beer at each :)
Photos of Dingle, Ireland 1/8 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle, Ireland 2/8 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle, Ireland 3/8 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle, Ireland 4/8 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle, Ireland 5/8 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle, Ireland 6/8 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle, Ireland 7/8 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle, Ireland 8/8 by Sanket Dhume
By a very small margin, the Dingle Peninsula beats every other road-route in Ireland on its beauty quotient. Absolutely stunning views of the Atlantic, roads that can barely accommodate two cars at once, with a free falling cliff on one side and a raging peak on the other, with lambs & sheep aplenty to keep you company, and sometimes block the road altogether, this is as close to wild-paradise as you can get! From several parking spots, you can see the nearby Blaskett Islands on clear days - some of these views are simply indescribable by words or pictures; they are an experience and nothing else can possibly do them any sort of justice!
Photos of Dingle Peninsula, Ireland 1/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle Peninsula, Ireland 2/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle Peninsula, Ireland 3/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dingle Peninsula, Ireland 4/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Great Blasket Island, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Stay over for the night after the long drive from Dingle!
The stunning Cliffs of Moher - iconic value of this monument is highlighted quite simply by the fact that it is the first major 'tourism advertisement' you encounter after stepping off a plane at Dublin Airport! The awe-inspiring beauty of this place is often harangued by the ceaseless hordes of travelers that arrive in coach-loads; however, like every other tourist attraction in Ireland, a little effort & research, will gift you your own private spot to soak in this unbelievable monument. HINT: Look for Hag's Head!
Photos of Cliffs of Moher Walking Trail, Clare, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Galway is a bohemian paradise; accentuated & summarized by the effervescent Quay Street, which houses the city's best restaurants, pubs & musicians, Galway is known for its interesting flux of the traditional and the contemporary. With a growing student & tourist population, Galway offers a great modern view to the Irish experience. Experiences range from communal parties on its many canal-facing grasslands or as sombre as sipping coffee in a cafe on a sunny day, appreciatively listening to a busker right across the road. Galway is Ireland's second party destination after the capital, and pub-crawls are aplenty on weekends!
Photos of Galway, Ireland 1/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Galway, Ireland 2/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Galway, Ireland 3/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Galway, Ireland 4/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Galway, Ireland 5/5 by Sanket Dhume
Take a day off to explore the ancient islands of Inismore, Inisheer & Inismaan - the trio that makes up the spectacular Aran Islands off the coast of Galway. Inismore is the clear winner here and the most visited island. Brilliant location to experience breath-taking beauty, have a brush with ancient history and even learn some Gaelic (if you are planning a longer stay)
Photos of Aran Islands, Galway, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Letterfrack is the official entry point to Connemara National Park. A tiny village at the foot of the park, Letterfrack works as the perfect base-camp for your trek up to Diamond Hill - the most famous of the several 'bens' (or hills) in the park! Make yourself at home at one of the two prime hostels (The Bards Den or the Connemara National Park Hostel and enjoy the local life of a small Irish village!
Photos of Letterfrack, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Connemara National Park is another of the absolute endless expanses of lake-land, coniferous forests, small but steep little bens and one of the only places in Ireland where you may possibly spot the red-spotted Irish deer! A nearby must-visit POI is the Kylemore Abbey - built on the bank of a lake by an affluent British doctor, Mitchell Henry as a honeymoon gift to his wife, Margaret. It was later converted into a monastery by Benedictine nuns in 1920. The Abbey grounds house a restored Victorian Wall Garden, some really pristine woodland walks and a couple of high-terrain hikes. Great place for a day excursion
Photos of Connemara, Letterfrack, Ireland 1/3 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Connemara, Letterfrack, Ireland 2/3 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Connemara, Letterfrack, Ireland 3/3 by Sanket Dhume
My personal booty-call from Sligo was the fabled Yeats Society/Center - a homage paid to the legendary Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Located in the city center, the Yeats Society has regular readings and performances of his work. At a little known village nearby - Drumcliffe, lie the remains of this ridiculously talented man! Sligo is also known for its dainty little pubs, that come to life in the evening with some great trad sessions and overflowing craic!
Photos of Sligo, Ireland 1/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Sligo, Ireland 2/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Sligo, Ireland 3/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Sligo, Ireland 4/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Sligo, Ireland 5/5 by Sanket Dhume
Bundoran is a tiny surfing village located between Sligo & Donegal. It boasts of one of the best surfing spots in Europe and naturally attracts surfers from all over the world. There's also a pretty good cliff-diving spot in Bundoran, if you're up for that kinda adventure! The pub scene is dominated by Maddens Ould Bridge Bar - a proper sea-facing tavern with all its history & achievements plastered on its walls & ceilings.
Photos of Bundoran, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
Donegal is a dainty little town, best for souvenir shopping and little ice-cream shops!
Photos of Donegal, Ireland 1/1 by Sanket Dhume
The cliffs at Sliever League deep in Co. Donegal are the tallest in Ireland (amidst some speculation - the tallest in Europe) at 600m. The hike up to the top is tiring and steep, but richly rewarding! Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the top, the whole place was smothered in mist & cloud and we were robbed off the promised views; we are told though, that these are just as spectacular as their counterparts in Moher, only lot less known and by extension, less crowded! Don't miss for anything if you're fit enough to climb!
Photos of Slieve League, Donegal, Ireland 1/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Slieve League, Donegal, Ireland 2/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Slieve League, Donegal, Ireland 3/4 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Slieve League, Donegal, Ireland 4/4 by Sanket Dhume
The cliffs at Sliever League deep in Co. Donegal are the tallest in Ireland (amidst some speculation - the tallest in Europe) at 600m. The hike up to the top is tiring and steep, but richly rewarding! Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the top, the whole place was smothered in mist & cloud and we were robbed off the promised views; we are told though, that these are just as spectacular as their counterparts in Moher, only lot less known and by extension, less crowded! Don't miss for anything if you're fit enough to climb!
Photos of Dublin, Ireland 1/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dublin, Ireland 2/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dublin, Ireland 3/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dublin, Ireland 4/5 by Sanket Dhume
Photos of Dublin, Ireland 5/5 by Sanket Dhume
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Explorer. Blogger. Wannabe Musician. Workaholic. Alcoholic. Baller. I am a massive culture-seeker. I seek experiences that I can take to the grave. Regional music and literature has the same effect on me as a cocaine-rush. I run my own website titled Nomadic Lives. Ping me for anything ranging from the list of interests mentioned here, or... Read More

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