The Wild Atlantic Way is now established as Ireland’s premier touring route, taking visitors along the entire west coast of Ireland from Donegal in the north west to Cork in the south west with many amazing sights and sites along the way. About 2,500 kilometres in total the Wild Atlantic Way has a lot of highlights and many of them are in the northern section of the touring route with special places to visit like the Sliabh Liag cliffs and Glenveagh National Park.
Grab a comfortable budget hotel like Travelodge in Derry, the starting point for the Wild Atlantic Way and look out for the following five gems to stop and stare at on the way down south.
The northernmost tip of Ireland, Malin Head is a rugged and unforgiving landscape but a stunningly beautiful one. With striking beaches like Ballymastocker Bay, many with huge sand dunes and names like Five Finger Strand, there’s plenty of scenic beauty to behold in this part of the Wild Atlantic Way. But there’s also plenty of history to catch up on as well with signal towers from Napoleonic times and look out posts from the Second World War to explore. On a clear day you can also see, out to the west, the next stop on this Wild Atlantic Way, Tory Island.
Just over 12 kilometres off north Donegal, Tory Island is the most remote of Ireland’s few inhabited islands and a place where Irish traditions and ancient customs are still maintained in the face of modernity and the harsh Atlantic Ocean. A ferry awaits visitors to the island where they’ll be met individually by the ‘King of Tory’, currently an artist and musician, Patsy Dan Rodgers, another of a seemingly never ending line of superb artists and Irish traditional musicians. There are also monastery ruins and a round tower to explore on Tory and having run the gamut of the tiny island, you can travel to the mainland or ‘back to Ireland’ as the locals would put it.
The Slieve League or Sliabh Leag sea cliffs may not be as famous as the Cliffs of Moher but they are just as impressive. At 600 metres, they’re not just Ireland’s highest sea cliffs but almost double the height of the cliffs in Clare. The views are quite extraordinary, out over the North Atlantic and you can also see clearly the Sligo Mountains and Donegal Bay. The cliff top walks are things of real beauty too and repay any spare walking time.
Moving slightly inland, the heritage town on Ardara is worth the detour. Situated on the River Owen and dubbed the festival capital of Donegal, a competitive title, Ardara was the centre of the much vaunted tweed weaving industry. Donegal Tweed used to be a mark of real quality and the Ardara Heritage Centre tells the story of the area’s expertise in the clothing industry from the sheering of sheep to the hand-weaving and final manufacture. The pubs in the town are all welcoming and there is a lovely friendly atmosphere all around.
Glenveagh National Park
Perhaps Donegal’s biggest tourist attraction, Glenveagh National Park and Castle is just over 20 kilometres from Letterkenny and was created all the way back in 1873. Taking its cue from the Victorian Scottish highland mansions, a castellated house was built with magnificent mountain views in the midst of 16,000 hectares of raised boglands, stunning lakes and extensive woodland, creating a fairy tale feel to Glenveagh. There are guided tours of the castle while visitors can also walk through the beautifully maintained gardens and look out for the herd of wild red deer hiding in the woods. They can also look above for the formerly extinct golden eagles, now once again soaring in Ireland’s north west, safe once again in this Irish national park.