UNIQUE THINGS TO DO IN IRELAND | HIDDEN GEMS ON THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY

The west coast of Ireland is a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind experiences and adventures. In fact, all six regions of the Wild Atlantic Way boast a wealth of activities and interesting off-the-beaten-path finds to suit every sensibility. Read on to find hidden gems from County Donegal, right down to County Cork. 

IN THE NORTHERN HEADLANDS

An adventurer’s paradise, Ireland’s northernmost headlands are ripe for exploration and full of unique things to do in ireland. Indeed some describe County Donegal as “the county that God forgot to finish”; such is its spectacular landscapes. In this region, you don’t have to look far to discover something exciting and eye-catching.  It’s no wonder Donegal was named the ‘Coolest Place on the Planet for 2017’ by National Geographic Traveller.

Given its terrifically mountainous terrain and sensational sea cliffs, climbing with Unique Ascent or Rock and Roam gives you the opportunity to see the Wild Atlantic Way from a different angle. Expert guides are on hand to take you on an unforgettable tailor-made journey with everything from climbing to coasteering, abseiling to wild camping, available. Go rock climbing on Cruit Island, sail around the islands of the Donegal Gaeltacht in a traditional lug rig, or for the outdoor photographer with a sense of adventure capture the great Donegal landscape with Donegal Photo Tours.

For something completely different, craft beer enthusiasts will relish the opportunity to go behind the scenes of a busy production facility. Tucked away in the countryside near Rathmullan, Kinnegar Brewing is known for producing some of the country’s finest beers. Take a tour of the intimate farmhouse brewery and taste a truly unique craft creation.

Check out some more exciting experiences on offer in the Northern Headlands.

ON THE SURF COAST

On the windswept Surf Coast there’s lots to do, as well as plenty of places to pause and ponder too. Thrill-seeking surfers, nature lovers and those who appreciate great literature and folklore will all find something to write home about in this charming region.

Waves, waves and more waves lie in wait here, whether you’re just getting to grips with a surfboard or if you love to hang ten. The gentle tide of Rossnowlagh Beach just south of Donegal Town makes for a perfect start while the experienced crew at Fin McCool Surf School will point you in the right direction. You can also learn and improve on your skills at Strandhill Surf School, just 8km outside of Sligo Town.

Having spent his childhood holidays in Sligo, Irish poet William Butler Yeats was inspired to pen some of his most famous romantic works. Follow in the man’s footsteps with the Yeats Experience over an intimate lunch or dinner in Broc House, a spectacular contemporary home with the sweeping backdrop of Lough Gill and stories of the great man for company. The view from the terrace takes in several locations that featured in Yeats’ inspiring works. Pay tribute to the visionary writer with a visit to Drumcliffe churchyard, his final resting place as chosen in the poem Under Ben Bulben. You can also rent a bike to enjoy the Yeats Country Cycle.

Grave of WB Yeats in the town of Drumcliffe County Sligo
The great WB Yeats’ grave in Drumcliffe, County Sligo

These are just some of the intriguing hidden gems that await you on the Surf Coast, discover more on the other coasts below.

ON THE BAY COAST

The fresh-air playground that is the Bay Coast boasts a salty landscape of sea-swept blanket bogs, postcard-worthy beaches and, naturally, huge bays that take the breath away. One of them – Clew Bay – is said to have 365 islands, one for every day of the year!

Further south in County Galway, near the Spanish Arch you’ll find the Galway City Museum, a terrific place to spend an afternoon and immerse yourself in the history of a city that prides itself on its rich culture and unique things to do. Free of charge and open all-year round (Tuesday to Saturday), the museum offers incredible views of the Claddagh, where the River Corrib’s waters meet Galway Bay and is home to such artifacts as the Galway Civic Sword, which dates from the Charter of King James I in 1610, and the Great Mace, a massive piece of ornamental silverwork crafted in 1710.

Visitors at the Galway City Museum near the Spanish Arch
Fine art in the Galway City Museum
While in Galway, why not get caught up in the vivacious spirit and… kick a wall? No, really! Take a stroll along the Salthill Prom – Ireland’s longest seaside promenade – and kick the wall across from the Blackrock diving boards before turning around and going all the way back again. This unconventional tradition is said to bring good luck and fortune. Also, don’t pass up the chance to trek through Connemara on the sure-footed Connemara Pony, the only horse breed native to Ireland.

Find out even more to discover on the Bay Coast.

ON THE CLIFF COAST

The rugged Cliff Coast often provokes a riot of the senses. Clifftop walks, island-hopping, spectacular views and charming marine life all help give this stirring region its considerable character.

Take to the crisp waters in County Clare with the Doolin-based North Clare Sea Kayaking and explore secret areas and hidden caves that pepper the coastline of Liscannor Bay. Visit Mutton Island as part of the Island Exploration Tour and discover hidden treasures such as beautiful rare sea birds, a colony of Atlantic grey seals and many inviting rock pools perfect for an invigorating swim. For climbers, there are challenges in store at Ballyryan on the edge of the Burren. Here you’ll find more than 300 climbing routes with incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Aran Islands.

Walk in some pretty big footsteps on Scattery Island as you follow the path laid down by the Vikings during the 9th century. Located just 1.5km off the Kilrush coastline, the island is home to a monastic settlement founded by local-born St Senan in the 6th century. The ruins of six churches and one of the highest round towers in Ireland (approximately 40m) are also found here.

Explore even more to see and do on the Cliff Coast.
Aerial view of monastery on Scattery Island County Clare
An aerial view of Scattery Island, image via Raymond Fogarty

ON THE SOUTHERN PENINSULAS

Drink in that edge-of-the-world feeling and enjoy unforgettable experiences on the Southern Peninsulas with walking trails that offer vistas that are both isolated and stunning.

Step into the shoes of Charlie Chaplin with a visit to Waterville in County Kerry, a favourite holiday spot for the legendary actor and his family in the 1960s. Stroll along the picturesque town’s promenade and breathe in the rich Atlantic air before posing for a photo alongside a life-sized bronze statue of the comic genius. If you’re over during August, be sure to head along to the annual Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival.

Statue of Charlie Chaplin in Waterville County Kerry
Statue of Charlie Chaplin in Waterville, County Kerry

Further south, why not whip up something delicious at Dingle Cookery School? This half-day hands-on class serves up a deeper understanding of how Ireland’s rich culture and wild landscape have influenced our food and ingredients for hundreds of years. Enjoy the tempting aroma of brown soda bread straight from the oven, prepare local fish, meat and vegetables and take a bite out of the Wild Atlantic Way’s finest offerings. Or go a little further and take a ride on Ireland’s one and only cable car at Dursey Island on the tip of the Beara Peninsula. The views in the cabin at 250m above sea level are nothing short of breathtaking.

Found in the south west of County Kerry, the International Dark-Sky Reserve is an astronomical haven with sights that rival the Grand Canyon and the desert plains of Africa. The only Gold Tiered Reserve in all of the Northern Hemisphere, this beautiful nocturnal haunt gives you the chance, on a clear moonless night, to see thousands of stars of varying sizes and colours, the band of the Milky Way galaxy, nebulas, additional galaxies, clusters, planets, satellities and falling stars, and all with the naked eye.

The Southern Peninsulas are alive with a host of fun and interesting activities.

ON THE HAVEN COAST

Aptly named, the Haven Coast is something of a dream escape. Pretty and pristine, here you will enjoy a peaceful vibe and a vibrant community.

Tour the fascinating exhibits at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre in County Cork, located in a striking and award-winning old gasworks building. Learn about the Great Famine, which spread through Ireland in the mid 1800s, with an informative talk given by an expert guide. Marine life enthusiasts will love a trip to Lough Hyne, Ireland’s first Marine Nature Reserve where you can also avail of walking trails or embark on a kayaking trip.

Marine Nature Reserve aerial view at Lough Hyne County Cork
Lough Hyne image via Cork County Council

See the old Cork railway line in miniature form and get an idea of how life was back in the 1940s at the West Cork Model Railway Village. View the now-defunct railway line and the towns it served and take a seat in an original train carriage for an authentic and quaint slice of the past. In Kinsale, become a skipper for a day and tour the coast in your own boat, stopping to fish or catch sight of local wildlife at your leisure with Kinsale Boat Hire. Boats are available to hire by the hour, day and half-day from sunrise to sunset with no license, permit or experience required.

Check out more exciting activities and non touristy things to do in Ireland available on the Haven Coast.

For more great escapes and unique sights and sounds on the Wild Atlantic Way, consult our handy directory.

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