Ireland’s West Coast is home to many of the country’s most striking vistas. The best (and most economical) way to experience them is by car, following the Wild Atlantic Way. The route maps more than 1,000 sights — most of which are free to enter —along the jagged 1,553-mile coastline. It is the longest defined coastal drive in the world.
Rent a car from Dublin Airport and make sure to pack a backup camera battery and charger (trust us, you'll need 'em).
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1. Malin Head, Donegal
Ireland’s northernmost tip, Malin Head, is a stunning system of cliffs and rock formations that pierce the torrent sea. Still relatively untouched, the region affords panoramic views of green hills covered in seagrass and heather and sandy paths that seem to lead to the end of the earth. It's no surprise that Malin Head was featured in Star Wars Episode VIII. Noteworthy spots include Hell’s Hole, a subterranean cavern that fills with rushing sea water; a natural arch called Devil’s Bridge; and Banba's Crown, from which you can see the Scottish hills (on a clear day) and, depending on the time of year, you may be able to spot the Northern Lights. Tip: Bring a jacket — the wind up here is fierce.
Also, don't miss the idyllic Five Finger Strand, which is home to some of Europe’s largest sand dunes. You can go mining for shells and, in the warm months, lay out. Afterward, grab a pint at Farrens Bar, Ireland’s most northern pub, or spend the night in the colorful and quaint Malin Town. Be sure to stop by Lily’s Bar, which has traditional Irish music on Thursday nights.
2. Slieve League, Donegal
The sea cliffs at Sliabh Liag, or Slieve League, stand at nearly three times the height of those at the more famous Cliffs of Moher (and they're far less touristy). They offer sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal Bay, and the Sligo Mountains. Daredevils may walk One Man’s Path. However, be mindful of the weather: It can change unexpectedly and cause treacherous conditions. Should you muster up the courage, the walk will surely be one to remember.
3. Mullaghmore Head, Sligo
One of the best big-wave surfing locations in the world, Mullaghmore Head frequently sees 50-foot-high waves. In the backdrop is the imposing monolithic Ben Bulben mountain. Shaped during the Ice Age, the flat-topped mountain has a vertical drop to one side. It is possible to climb, and, it's fairly easy if you approach from the south side. Those who make it up will be rewarded with an astounding view.
4. Downpatrick Head, Mayo
Downpatrick Head, a stretch of electric green land that juts out into the ocean at just over 130 feet above the waves, offers picturesque views. The best view is of Dún Briste — a sea stack that was formed around 350 million years ago — which was severed from the mainland to reveal a colorful spectrum of layered rock. Today, it is a haven for rare birds due to its isolation from land predators. Another postcard-worthy spot is Pul na Sean Tinne, a blowhole which, during stormy weather and rough seas, expels foam and vapor.
5. Clare Island, Mayo
Clare Island is most famous for having been the home of Grace O’Malley, Ireland's infamous pirate queen. You can see her imprint at Granuaile's Castle ruins on the eastern edge of the island, and at Clare Island Abbey, which contains the O'Malley Tomb. Inside the abbey, rare medieval paintings (which resemble ancient cave art) cover the ceiling.
While on the island, take a day hike across the Green Road and the scenic coastal route. Surrounded by incredible cerulean sea, you'll get unparalleled views of the mainland and nearby islands Inishturk and Caher. Bikes are another good way to see the island, and can be rented beside the pier. The now-defunct Clare Island Lighthouse (which dates to the 1800s) operates as a guesthouse. Nearby, there are several bed and breakfasts, as well. You can reach Clare Island by ferry, which runs daily from Roonagh Pier near Louisburgh.
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6. Aran Islands, Galway
These three rocky islands at the mouth of Galway Bay are home to ancient sites, including the prehistoric hilltop fort Dún Aonghasa; the ruins of the medieval Seven Churches; and remarkable early clocháns (dry-stone beehive huts from the early-Christian period). There are also natural wonders, such as a natural rectangular pool called the Worm Hole, which is used in the Red Bull Cliff Diving Competition; and the cliffs of Inis Mor, which span the entire western side of the main island. Ferries operate to all three islands from Rossaveal in County Galway (year-round) and Doolin in County Clare (seasonally). You could also fly here, too.
7. Cliffs of Moher, Clare
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the country’s most photographed vistas, and for good reason. The five-mile stretch of undulating cliffs extend toward the horizon. Serious hikers can try the 12-mile Coastal Trail. From O’Brien’s Tower (c. 1835), you can spot the Aran Islands to the west and the mountains of Kerry to the south. For an alternate view, hop aboard a boat tour. Time your visit around sunset — it's the best time to go — when the crowds start to thin-out, admission is free, and the cliffs are drenched in a golden light that'll leave you in awe.
8. Skellig Michael, Kerry
Some 1,300 years ago, Gaelic Christian monks built a monastery atop this jagged ocean crag. It was abandoned in the late 12th century, but traces of the structure have survived, along with the ancient beehive huts the monks lived in. The rocky isle was recently used as backdrop for the last scene of Stars Wars: The Force Awakens and appears in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. The steps up to the monastery are rocky, steep, and crumbling in parts. Climbs are treacherous year-round and are not permitted during wet or windy weather.
9. Dursey Island, Cork
Accessible by Ireland’s only cable car, Dursey Island has a scenic walking trail that affords visitors the opportunity to spot rare birds. However, the most beautiful view is from the cable car itself.
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10. Mizen Head, Cork
End your road trip in Mizen Head. The tip of the peninsula is cut off by a deep chasm, which is now connected by an arched suspension bridge. Visitors can still climb the 99 steps — supplemented by a series of paths and viewing platforms — that were part of the original access route to the old signal station (now a museum), a weather station, and a lighthouse. From here, you can see Fastnet Lighthouse, which sits on "Ireland’s Teardrop": the last slice of Ireland that emigrants saw on their sail to America during the Great Famine. It is also a renowned spot for spotting birds, dolphins, whales, and seals.