Wild Atlantic Way – Tips for Driving Ireland’s Coastal Route

Written By: The Planet D

The Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland is the longest defined coastal driving route on earth. It’s easy to navigate and understand, but there are a few things you should know before you go. 

The Wild Atlantic Way Trip Guide

We started in Dublin where you will most certainly want to spend a few days. Check out The Best Things to do in Dublin.

1. Go South to North

slea head drive
Just follow the signs on the Wild Atlantic Way.

The Ireland tourism website outlines the route from North to South, but we chose to drive it starting in the south of County Cork.

Why drive South to North? For one, you will be on the ocean side of the road.

Remember, driving in Ireland is on the left hand side of the road, so if you drive north, the Atlantic Ocean will be on your left allowing you to pull of easier to take photographs and take in the view.

You won’t ever have to worry about crossing traffic.

It’s difficult to get lost on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, roads are marked with the WAW logo.

If Dave and I ever took a wrong turn, we’d just look for the signs, if we didn’t see one for a few km we knew we were off the Wild Atlantic Way and turned around until we saw the sign again. It’s brilliant!

Travel Tips: Where to Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way

2. Give The Wild Atlantic Way Time

Rossbleigh Beach
The beautiful Rossbleigh Beach

Most people think of Ireland as being a small country, but remember, the Wild Atlantic Way is 2750 km in length.

You can’t assume that you will be able to see everything in a week or two.

We found two weeks to be quite rushed and feel that three weeks to a month would have been the perfect length to explore all of it.

If you don’t have that long, choose either the South or North portion to explore. Don’t try to rush to fit it all in.

Get your hard copy route atlas at Amazon: The Wild Atlantic Way Route Atlas

We found that we could have concentrated on just one or two counties of the Wild Atlantic Way and still be quite content.

There are spectacular lookouts all along the routes and often times we wished that we had more time to explore one place rather than moving on the next day.

3. Spend Two to Three Nights in Each Location

bee hives
The famous Bee Hive Huts at Skellig Michael, Ireland

We suggest giving yourself 2-3 nights in each location and either exploring less of the WAW or taking longer than the 2-weeks that we had.

To see Skellig Michael can take a couple of days alone just to make sure you have a window of good weather.

While you wait, it is easy to set out to explore the Ring of Kerry and surrounding area.

One of the must see places on the Wild Atlantic Way is Skellig Michael, read all about it here!

4. Check Distances

wild atlantic way tips road
Remember, the roads are narrow and curved. I think this is the straightest road in the country.

Distances may seem short on the map, but you will find that you are in your car a lot. In Canada and the US, 100km takes one hour to drive. (Less than an hour if you are like most people and set the speedometer at 118 kph)

While most of the time the speed limits posted on the Wild Atlantic Way are 100km, you are driving on narrow and winding roads.

We found it nearly impossible to keep our speed up due to sharp curves, giving the right of way to oncoming traffic, following tractors, cyclists and even stopping for cattle and sheep crossing.

You will need a few hours each day to get to your destination.

5. Choose the Correct Automobile

wild atlantic way tips

As we said, roads are narrow, so don’t rent a large 4X4 truck. Rent a medium sized sedan for comfort.

Cars felt a bit narrower and smaller in Ireland, so a medium size automobile should do well.

If you can drive stick, rent a car with a manual transmission.

Because most people from North America prefer automatic, Dave and I received and upgrade to a manual BMW.

Manual transmissions are cheaper to rent too.  Also, book yourself a diesel – they go longer and diesel is cheaper  by a few cents a litre in Ireland.

wild atlantic way tips car
A mid-sized rental car is perfect when driving the Wild Atlantic Way.

Note: Ireland speed limits are in KM and gas is measured in Litres. 1 US Gallon = 3.7 Litres  and 1 mile = 1.6 km

6. Stay in Different Types Accommodation

wild atlantic way tips hotel
The B&B options are amazing like this one at the Dolphin Guest House in Clifden.

There are several different types of accommodation along the Wild Atlantic Way ranging from BnB’s to farm houses, hotels and luxury resorts.

You can even stay in castles. Most places offer breakfast included in your stay.

It’s a good idea to plan your route and book your accommodation in advance, however, we were there in April and most places had a lot of vacancies.

Often times we were the only people staying there, so if you are more of a go with the flow type of person, you may be able to take a chance and keep an eye out for accommodation on the road.

We saw rates as low as €20 per person and stayed in places with prices as high as €500 per night.

For more information read: Where to Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way

7. Food – Where to Eat on the Wild Atlantic Way

tim hortons ireland
Tim Hortons has invaded Ireland!

The Wild Atlantic Way food choices can range from budget to five star. It depends on what you want to spend. Many times we’d buy lunch in a gas station and spend less than €10 on our meals.

Pubs are quite reasonable to eat at and there are supermarkets in towns to pack picnic lunches as well as food carts all over the country.

Tim Hortons has infiltrated Ireland, so you can get coffee and donuts on the road as well. We found gas stations best for take away coffee.

If you want upscale dining, the hotel restaurants were our choice for a night out. People in Ireland are always open to giving recommendations.

wild atlantic way tips guinness
We loved the pub culture in Ireland.

But for us it was the Pubs that offered the perfect combination of something hearty to eat and the true Irish culture. You don’t want to miss that.

There are so many things to see along the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s impossible to tell you what to see and do, although we’ve made a few lists at Top Scenic Views on the Wild Atlantic Way and Offbeat things to do on The Wild Atlantic Way.

Our best advice is to decide what you like and plan your trip around that.

Do you like active vacations? Scenic vacations? Photography? All along the coast there are amazing scenic views and activities to suit everyone’s needs.

Places to See on the Wild Atlantic Way

wild atlantic way tips camera
The views are magnificent along the Wild Atlantic Way.

We have many other articles about the Wild Atlantic way that you can check out here:

View Highlights Southern Half of the Wild Atlantic Way
Mizen Head, Skellig Islands, Dingle Peninsula, Ring of Kerry, Loop Head, Cliffs of Moher, The Burren

Read:

View Highlights Northern Half of the Wild Atlantic Way
Malin Head, Fanan Head, Horn Head, Aran Islands, Slieve League, Killary Harbour, Clifden

Activity Highlights: 
Surfing, horseback riding, kayaking, canyoneering, seaweed baths, cliff walks, hiking,

Facts about Ireland: 

  • Ireland is a separate country from Northern Ireland although they are the same Island. The Wild Atlantic Way Doesn’t cross into Northern Ireland.
  • Currency: Euro
  • Distance: kilometres
  • If you cross into Northern Ireland there is no border, but currency changes from Euro to Pound and speed limits are in miles. (we forgot about the miles and quite a while thought 30km per hour was awfully slow until we realized that it was 30miles per hour. Haha)
  • Electricity: 230v 50hz it’s the same three pronged formation that is used in the UK
  • Most hotels and guest houses offer free wifi
  • Portable wifi can be rented from Tep Wireless
tips-for-driving-the-wild-atlantic-way
Tips for Driving the Wild Atlantic Way

Read More about Northern Ireland Travel

Traveling to Northern Ireland? See our Northern Ireland Travel Guide

You May Also be Interested in:

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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

36 thoughts on “Wild Atlantic Way – Tips for Driving Ireland’s Coastal Route”

  1. Hi Dave and Deb,
    I’m starting to re-plan our trip along the Wild Atlantic Way for 2021. (We were going to go Spring of 2020…oh well)
    I found your post very helpful. We were going to go South to North, but stop at Clifden. I’m going to see if I can talk my travel companion into 3 weeks. I don’t want to miss that spectacular Donegal scenery and beaches. Many thanks for the decisive comments.

    Dee

    Reply
  2. Love your tips… we are Planning our trip for early May. Just wondering if there are ample opportunities available for accommodations. We would like to be able to wander at our own pace and be able to stay where we wind up at the end of the day without making reservations ahead…..we will of course reserve a few strategic locations on the route….
    Any advice would be appreciated…
    Thank you.

    Reply
  3. We will have only 5 days to visit the WAW and will have a family group of 6 adults and an 9 month old. We would like to stay in one accommodation and take day trips from there each day up and down and inland in the area. Can anyone recommend a particular stretch of the WAW that would have sufficient activities for a 5 days stay? Hiking, kayaking, church visiting, historical sites and sights, gardens, etc. — as just a sample of what I mean.

    Reply
    • This might help you decide.

      View Highlights Southern Half of the Wild Atlantic Way
      Mizen Head, Skellig Islands, Dingle Peninsula, Ring of Kerry, Loop Head, Cliffs of Moher, The Burren

      View Highlights Northern Half of the Wild Atlantic Way
      Malin Head, Fanan Head, Horn Head, Aran Islands, Slieve League, Killary Harbour, Clifden

      Activity Highlights: 
      Surfing, horseback riding, kayaking, canyoneering, seaweed baths, cliff walks, hiking,

      Reply
  4. I loved your article since it very aptly describes the beauty of the wild atlantic way. its really helpful for someone like me who is planning a road trip. i am planning to cover the WAW in October this year and wanted to know what kind of weather to expect in october. Also, what will be the general duration of the day (approximate timing of sunrise and sunset)?

    Reply
    • Ireland weather can change anytime, so I would prepare for rain, sunshine, cool temperatures and wind. Sunrise and sunet changes regularly, I would just google that when you arrive. We always just Google Sunset sunrise times Ireland. (or whatever location we are in at the time.

      Reply
  5. you have aptly described the beauty of the WAW in your article. i loved it. i am planning a road trip in october this year. i just wanted to know what kind of weather to expect in the month of october. Also, what will be the approximate duration of the day (sunrise and sunset timings)?

    Reply
  6. Great advice about riding from North to South and taking your time!

    MosSouth to North: t of the scenic vantage points will be on your left hand side, which means you are not crossing over against oncoming traffic. Take your time: It’s not just about the views, which are spectacular but having time to meet the people and immerse yourself in the Irish culture!

    Yes the roads can sometime be narrow, which is why we like to ride The Wild Atlantic Way by motorcycle. We offer free advice to any motorcyclist wishing to do the route and also provide motorcycle rental and tours for those who can’t bring their own. More details here
    https://lemonrockbiketours.com/tour/relaxed-wild-atlantic-way/

    Reply
    • Thanksf or the link. We would love to to the Wild Atlantic Way on Motorcycle. Since driving it, we both got our licences and said it would be epic on a bike!

      Reply
  7. This is the post I have been looking for! Doing a road trip of Ireland in Nov – bit worried about the season, but looking at your photos I cannot wait!!! Thanks for this! Love you guys!!

    Reply
    • Thank you! I’m glad we could help and enjoy Ireland. I think weather is hit or miss any time of year, so you may have great weather. We’ve been there in Feb, April, Sept and Oct and each time we’ve had really good weather. So maybe you’ll have some luck too!

      Reply
  8. Great Tips! I had planned to go North to South but will now change that – makes so much more sense!
    We will be there in May/June – should we pre-book places to stay? I don’t know when peak tourism happenes ther – we are coming from Australia.

    Reply
    • i would prebook some for sure. May/June is high season, so you could get stuck, especially if you have specific places in mind. We have a post called where to stay on the Wild Atlantic Way from Castles, to B&B to Farms, we made sure to pop into as many different accommodations as we could in our two weeks. https://theplanetd.com/stay-wild-atlantic-way/
      Have a great time, you are going to love it!

      Reply
  9. We are heading to Ireland late March staying two weeks. Weather? Clothes? I would love another week at least but the wife is a teacher and could only get two weeks. Have been poring over book and blogs, we live in Alaska most of the time and have remarkable scenery there. Are cliffs of mother must see? Newgrange? Burren? My mind is boggled. Any input is welcome. Thanks

    Reply
  10. Great write up about a fantastic addition to tourism in Ireland .
    I agree about taking your time with this , there is just too much to see and do in 2 weeks .
    This is about a relaxing journey through some of the most beautiful sights you could imagine . If you see an area that you really like you can just pull in for the night and awake to a spectacular new view every morning when you pull the blinds in a luxury motorhome from Ireland West Motorhomes.
    http://www.iwmotorhomes.ie are ideally based right in the centre of The Wild Atlantic Way , so the choice is yours . Do I want to go north ? Do I want to go south ? Or do I want to do it all ?

    Reply
  11. Great advice guys, specially about not rushing. It’s all about quality and experiencing, not doing and ticking boxes.

    Reply
    • Thanks Christy, I find that’s good advice in general for travel too. When you take your time to really explore a place, slow down and take a breath, the experience is so much more fulfilling.

      Reply
  12. Your photos stunning and the countryside looks so very beautiful. I reminds me alot of home which is Nova Scotia. Since you haven’t travelled here you should really come for a visit , it is an awesome place. We have great views, ceilidhs everywhere in the summer, good food and friendly people, if I do say so myself. 🙂

    Reply
    • That’s exactly what we’ve heard….that Ireland is similar to Nova Scotia. We really want to visit the East Coast of Canada too. We’re embarrassed to say that we’ve never been! But it is high on our list now. The entire time we were in Ireland, we kept thinking how it must be similar in Canada and how it’s terrible that we’ve never been.

      Reply
  13. We love your write up. You have portrayed the WAW perfectly. It’s our favourite stomping ground. We are located minutes from the WAW and provide Classic Car and Retro Motorcycle Rentals for self guided tours. What better way to explore. Please check us out. RetroVentures Ireland.

    Reply
    • Ooh, we’ll have to talk to you the next time we’re back in Ireland, we got our motorcycle license this summer and would love to ride some of the WAW by motorbike!

      Reply
  14. I’m returning in July 2014 for another Golf Trip. Ireland is Heaven on Earth!
    The air is so fresh and clean and the people friendly and hospitable.

    Reply
    • Amazing! Have a great time. We saw quite a few golf courses there. And yes, you are so right, the people make the trip special in Ireland.

      Reply
  15. If you’re looking for good value but unusual places to stay in Ireland – Irish Landmark Trust have some great places – castles, lighthouses, old lodges etc… all with original features, no tv, just pure atmosphere and charm (there’s a UK one too). I stayed in two different light houses with them. And looking out over the crashing Atlantic waves while perched on the edge of a cliff… with the light circling in through the window at night was just amazing…
    Here’s the site.
    http://www.irishlandmark.com/

    Reply
  16. Hey, great post. One of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland is Portsalon Beach in Fanad, Donegal. Not to be missed. And there’s a great little village called Glen with a fantastic pub and restaurant. The other big tip I’d offer is for accommodtion – stay in a homestay and experience daily life with a local host family. We’ve got lot of homestays along the Wild Atlantic way at Homestay.com.

    Reply
  17. beautiful photos guys, it looks like you really had a wonderful time! This is on my list of things to do, going South to North is a great tip too!

    Reply
    • Thanks Adam, yeah, it’s a little thing, but it helps to be on the right side of the road while driving to be able to do those last minute pull overs to enjoy the view. No need to cross traffic.

      Reply
  18. Looks beautiful! And some great tips.

    Slightly ashamed to say that I’ve never been to Ireland, despite living in England for most of my life. Will definitely have to make my way over there and get exploring!

    Reply
    • Hi Katie, you must get yourself to Ireland. It was really one of the best travel experiences we’ve had in a long time. But I know how you feel, we haven’t been to the East Coast of Canada and the entire time we were on the Wild Atlantic Way we kept thinking “I bet they are very similar”

      Reply
    • No worries Katie, there’s still time to visit. Maybe you were just waiting for them to open the Wild Atlantic Way 😉

      Reply