21 Mar Top 11 Must Do’s on The Wild Atlantic Way
Ireland’s “The Wild Atlantic Way” is the longest coastal drive in the world. Stretching more than 2,500 km along its rugged and dramatic west coast (West Cork in the south and Donegal in the north). More than 150 discovery points await you in this area of the Republic of Ireland.
The visual beauty of this amazing coast should best be explored by car. Here are the top 11 “Must Do’s” along the Wild Atlantic Way.
1) Kinsale: Begin your drive from Kinsale, Southwest tip. A historic port and fishing town with trendy, colourful markets, shops, cafes and restaurants. This town has the distinction of being designated as the culinary capital of Ireland and home to an amazing restaurant called, “Fishy Fishy.” The fresh catch literally happens at the restaurant’s doorstep. Chef/Owner Martin Shanahan, one of Ireland’s leading seafood chefs and celebrity himself, hand picks and prepares the catch of the day to immaculate perfection.
2) Dursey Cable Car: Visit Dursey Island, there are no shops, pubs or restaurants there. The island is a historic site and a hikers haven with spectacular views of the coastline. A small, shaky cable car (6 people capacity), suspended high above the torrent water below, gets people to the island. The cable car looks daunting and is not for the faint of heart. Known as the “tin can,” it sways with the wind gusts and people’s movement inside. Once used by farmers to transport their animals to the island for grazing, it is an experience one will not soon forget!
3) Dingle Horse Riding: The town of Dingle with its dramatic coastline, postcard views, beaches, mountains, and colourful narrow streets is Europe’s most westerly town. Music resonates every night from the pubs. What better way to see the area than by horseback? The views from the mountain tops around Dingle are simply breathtaking. The Dingle Horse Riding stables take great care in making sure all visitors have a great and unforgettable experience and pair the horses based on your riding ability. From carefree galloping along the beach, to a leisurely ride up a mountain trail enjoying the magnificence of the area.
4) Aran Sweater: About the halfway point on the Wild Atlantic way is the city of Galway. Hop on a small airplane-Aer Arann to Inishmore Island, a short 15-minute low altitude flight and pick-up one of the most iconic sweaters in the world-the Aran Sweater.
Community knitters produce this unique sweater that is water repellant, warm and needs little care. The stitching patterns on the sweater represented a clan or community. Centuries ago fisherman faced storms in the torrent Atlantic and some would drown. As their bodies washed up along the coastline, they were identified by the stitching pattern on their sweater and thus returned to their community. These handmade sweaters are pricy but last a lifetime.
5) Falconry: The Village of Cong is home to Ashford Castle. Constructed in 1228 this castle sits on 350 acres of groomed gardens, woodlands and waterways. Here, experience one of the oldest sports in the world-Falconry, the sport of Kings, through Ireland’s School of Falconry, the oldest established Falconry school in Ireland. Get your very own falcon/hawk, walk the grounds and fly your bird of prey.
The bird seems to bond with you, but the trainers will say, “birds of prey do not form a bond with humans, they just land gently on our arm because of the food we provide them every time.”
6) Afternoon Tea: After an exhilarating walk-about with your falcon, its time to relax and enjoy a long established tradition, afternoon tea at Ashford Castle’s Drawing Room. Featuring a vast selection of specialty teas, the star attraction is the castle’s elegant interior and spectacular views of the grounds. Along with your tea, perfectly portioned finger sandwiches, freshly baked goods like scones, pastries and cupcakes with homemade cream and jams are served. The room has a Royal look with its perfectly positioned couches, chairs and vintage tables.
7) Ciffs of Moher: Ireland’s most iconic natural attraction is captivating and the highlight of the Wild Atlantic Way. Located in County Clare, the cliffs stretch approximately 8 km and rise 214m at their highest point as the wild Atlantic water pounds at their base. On a clear day when the sun is in the right position overhead, shadows are cast between the cliff coves creating a striking view for the camera and onlookers. Visitors can walk along marked paths to get as close to the edge as safely allowed. The Cliffs of Moyer will take your breath away.
8) Morans of the Wier: Pick and eat the world’s best oyster right in Kilcolgan. Put on a rubberized overall and walk in the water at low tide under the guidance of the Kelly brothers (Kelly Oysters). Pitchfork and pail in hand, dig up what they call the best oysters in the world. If you have never had an oyster right out of the salty water, they are already pre-salted and taste amazing. One is never enough.
Stop at “Morans of the Weir (Morans Oyster Cottage),” established in 1797, for a lesson on shucking oysters, exceptional seafood and a pint. Located on a picturesque riverbank in Kilcolgan this traditionally styled thatched roof cottage dates back more than 250 years, and is known across Ireland. The sea fare is cooked to perfection by the Moran family as they have done for 7 generations. International film stars and prominent government dignitaries from around the world make Morans Oyster Cottage a regular stop. The food is outstanding and so are the pints!
9) The Derrigimlagh bog: A unique historic site located in Clifton Ireland where the very first non-stop transatlantic flight crash-landed on June 15, 1919 after 16 hours in the air. British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown flew a modified 2-engine World War 1 long-range bomber departing from St. John’s Newfoundland and inaugurated the transatlantic aviation boom. The location and surroundings are very picturesque and locals love to tell the story.
10) Seaweed Soup: Stop at the Village of Mullaghmore on the Mullaghmore peninsula, and have seaweed soup or seaweed anything at “Eithna’s By The Sea” restaurant. Seaweed of all types is harvested when the tide recedes and cooked up by Eithna. Seaweed soup or seafood chowder are the rave. A book giving a slew of healthy recipes incorporating seaweed has been written by Dr. Prannie Rhatigan, the world’s expert. The benefit of seaweed is that it does taste good and has cancer-fighting agents. Eithna and Dr. Prannie collaborate to create hundreds of recipes together.
11) Malin Head: End your Wild Atlantic Way experience sitting on Malin Head-the most northerly point in Ireland on the Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal. Marvel at the waves crashing against the sheer cliff drop-offs. As you stand on what seems to be the edge of the earth. If you are lucky, you may spot dolphins or even the Aurora Borealis. A great spot for pictures, having a coffee or snack before heading back.
The Irish have a Gaelic greeting; “céad míle fáilte,” meaning-“a hundred thousand welcomes.” That is why every location along the coast yells out, “don’t leave, you have found your place.”
Frank Greco is a world traveler; television producer of a culinary series and host of his own internationally broadcast travel show. Follow Frank on Twitter (www.twitter.com/iamthetravelguy) or become his friend on Facebook.