We know it would be great to say there’s enough time to go everywhere, to do everything, and to see everything. But we also know that’s not always the case when travelling. For those of you sitting down to plan a trip to Ireland this year, you may be facing this dilemma right now. There’s a lot to do and see in this beautiful country, including two famous must-drive routes: the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coast & Glens.
Tucked snuggly between Belfast and Derry (Londonderry), the Causeway Coast is 130 miles of rugged coastal landscape in Northern Ireland. Vast ocean views and cliff-top castles are just a few of the things waiting for you on this four-day drive. This route also boasts film sites from the popular TV show Game of Thrones, including the Dark Hedges and Castle Ward (home to House Stark).
If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, you could always explore the Wild Atlantic Way. At 1600 miles long, it’s one of the longest-defined coastal trails in the world and stretches the length of Ireland’s west coast. You’ll see some spellbinding spots on this route, brimming with stunning beaches, islands, and wild cliffs.
If you only have time to do one, fear not. Each route has plenty of incredible things to see. And we thought we’d help a little bit by showing off some of the highlights of both routes so that you can decide which one is best for you.
A dramatic cliff is good for many things, including getting those epic holiday shots that make those back home jealous. Which route has the best cliff? We’ll leave that up to you to decide, of course. But depending on what you’re looking for, here are a couple of suggestions.
For those who love a classic dramatic cliff-face, one that whispers hope that Captain Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl will appear on the horizon at any moment, we’d recommend journeying to the very top of Ireland to Malin Head. This can be found on the Wild Atlantic Way, at the northern-most point of mainland Ireland. Rife with local birdlife and Irish myths, Malin Head also played host to a Jedi Master. Star Wars fans will love walking out to the spot where the Millennium Falcon rested in The Last Jedi. If you’d like, we can take you there ourselves on our 4-day Donegal & the Wild Atlantic Way tour from Belfast.
For those who want to get in the thick of it, try the Gobbins Cliff Path along the Causeway Coast. This might be the most dramatic coastal walk in Europe and is not for the faint of heart. This tubular bridge allows you to walk a metal pathway over the sea itself, venturing between outcrops and through dark caves. As you peer out over the North Channel, be on the lookout for seals, dolphins and porpoise. You might even see the coast of Scotland on a clear day.
Along the beautiful Wild Atlantic Way is a little beach known as Inch Beach. Not so little, as the name suggests, this expansive beach stretches on for around 4 miles. It’s the perfect spot for water-sports enthusiasts and it’s even possible to drive directly onto the beach itself. With views of Dingle Bay and the mountains of Kerry, this is a great spot for adventurers and families. We head to Inch Beach on our 5-day Escape to the South West tour from Dublin.
For something with a little more of a ‘wow’ factor, head to Downhill Beach along the Causeway Coast & Glens. While still a great spot for water sports and that family day out, Downhill Beach is an Area of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation thanks to its sand dunes and the flora and fauna found there. You can also go for a cliff-top walk above the beach while you’re there and explore the incredible Mussenden Temple.
Finally, Game of Thrones fans might recognise this beach as the location used for Dragonstone, where Melisandre said her famous line: “For the night is dark and full of terrors.”
If you don’t fancy driving yourself, you can check it out on our 4-day Donegal & Wild Atlantic Way tour from Belfast which is available now.
A trip to Ireland isn’t complete without at least one castle. There are endless monuments to choose from, but here are two that we think are extra special.
We mentioned Mussenden Temple above, which can be found along the Causeway Coast, but let’s tell you a bit more about it. While not a ‘castle’, we think this is worth a visit. If its epic clifftop views aren’t enough, the 18th-century temple was designed based on the Temple of Vesta in Italy and was originally built as a library for the Earl Bishop. Imagine your library looking like that, perched on a cliff’s edge. Jealous, anyone? You can also explore the nearby Downhill House which is standing in ruins. Check it out on our 6-day The Wild Coasts of the North tour from Belfast.
Driving up the Wild Atlantic Way instead? Pop in at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Before Bunratty Castle was built, the site was an old Viking trading camp. Today, you can explore the castle as well as the folk park – 26 acres of countryside featuring over 30 buildings in a ‘living’ village. From rural farmhouses all the way up to the luscious Bunratty Castle, it’s a great place to explore a bit of history.
This one is debatable, because everything we’ve mentioned already has something incredible to it. As far as views go, they’re all spectacular. In a way, this category is a cheat so that we can simply list some more epic places you must visit.
While on the Causeway Coast & Glens route, you must visit the Giant’s Causeway. Most people have heard of this spot and for good reason. Some 60-million years ago, lava oozed out of fissures in the earth. As it cooled, the molten rock cracked into what you see today – 40,000 basalt columns bursting from the ground. It really is a site to behold.
While coasting along the Wild Atlantic Way, keep an eye out for Slieve League Cliffs. These are the second-highest sea cliffs in Ireland, three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher. Breathe in that salty sea air as you enjoy this killer view over the Atlantic Ocean. Here, you’ll feel as if you’re on the edge of the world.
No matter which route you choose, you can’t go wrong in Ireland. Whether you coast along the Wild Atlantic Way (even just a small part of it) or drive the scenic Causeway Coast & Glens, you’ll find endless spots to stop for a picture. What its comes down to now is: which route will you choose?
If you don’t fancy self-driving, we visit both on our small-group tours departing Belfast. And the best part? Our 6-day tour travels along sections of the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coast – so maybe you don’t have to choose after all.