“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow” – Anita Desai
Ask anyone who has been to Ireland if they enjoyed themselves – the answer is always YES. Despite the cold weather and constant rain, there is something about Ireland that continues to draw people in. Ask any of these visitors what they did, and you will probably get one of two responses. Most will say they spent majority of their time in pubs getting to know the friendly locals and others will say the countryside was what blew them away. I was lucky enough to experience both and would consider Ireland a second home.
I had been told a few things about Ireland before I arrived. They were:
- It rains… a lot. So expect it! This was, however what made the country so incredibly green and beautiful.
- The sausages will unexpectedly be the best you’ve ever had
- The locals will always want to talk to you.
I learnt that all 3 were things were true.
Majority of visitors that come to Ireland generally only see Dublin or Belfast. My Irish boyfriend also hadn’t seen the West coast of Ireland as an adult, and after living in Sydney for the past 9 years, he was eager to go back and see more of his stunning country. We decided to follow the famous Wild Atlantic Way and see where we ended up. The Wild Atlantic Way is 2600 km in length, and is one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world. It winds its way all along the Irish west coast from the Inishowen Peninsula in the North down to the picturesque town of Kinsale, County Cork, in the South. We started in Westport, only 3 hours west of Dublin and began a 7 day adventure.
Stop 1: Westport
According to the Irish Times, Westport is said to be one of the top places to live in Ireland. It has won awards for being the cleanest town in the country and also one of the most picturesque! It is also home to the Great Western Greenway which is an old railway line constructed in the 1800’s and has now been converted into a 42km cycleway from Westport to Achill. It’s free and such a beautiful, relaxing way to see the Irish countryside. We hired bikes from a place in the main town for only 10 euros and cycled almost all day stopping for pints of Guinness and ice-creams. Considering 300 people do this trip everyday, I would recommend an early start to avoid crowds. We only made it to Newport and then turned around but avid adventurers have been known to stay somewhere overnight and come back the next day to see more of the trial.
By the end of the day – all we could think about was enjoying a delicious meal and we got very lucky. Relying on Trip Advisor hasn’t always worked well for us – so we took a gamble and wandered down the main street in town in an attempt to stumble upon a winner. We got REALLY lucky and walked into Mangos Restaurant. It was so good in fact that we ate there again on the second night! (I rarely do that!) We had an awesome seafood feast of prawns, fish, oysters and delicious wine and then rolled down to Matt Malloy’s pub for live music and a few drinks. They have music 7 nights a week and some nights you will get to witness Ireland’s most famous flute player! Be sure to walk around the streets at night and take in the late sunsets and beautiful river that runs through the centre. If you are still thirsty – walk into Moran’s for a pint. Don’t be discouraged by the entrance – it is disguised as an old hardware shop for a bit of extra quirkiness!
Climbing a mountain was on our ‘to-do’ list in this area. Croagh Patrick is 2,500 feet so we considered this a good starting point as we were relatively unfit.
Fun Fact: Scientists in the 80’s discovered that there is a large amount of gold within the mountain (almost $360 million worth!) But the county won’t allow mining as it is a site of Christian pilgrimage associated with Saint Patrick who fasted on the summit for forty days in the fifth century A.D. Thousands of people climb the mountain on the last Sunday in July every year. (They even climb it barefoot to re-enact Saint Patrick’s struggles!).
WARNING: It is a lot harder than it looks! We had heard stories of 80 year old women climbing this mountain – so we thought it would be a piece of cake. We started with long strong strides with a pretty fast paced and quickly realised the task ahead. It was an unexpectedly hot day and after the 4 hours it took to climb up and back, we drove straight to the beach for a swim and relax.
TIP: Wear hardy shoes and get hiking sticks if available for the walk down Croagh Patrick – it is REALLY steep and hurts your knees!
While in Westport, we stayed in Woodside Lodge B&B which was a 5 minute walk from the main town and directly at the entrance of the cycleway to Newport. I would highly recommend!
Stop 2: Lahinch
Lahinch is a small town on Liscannor Bay, on the northwest coast of County Clare. It is popular for it’s beautiful golf courses and surf. But considering it’s only 2.5 hours away, we made some stops along the way. One of which was Mitchell’s Seafood Restaurant on Market Street in Clifden. It had been recommended to us by locals and we considered it a ‘must do’. Thank god we did. It was one of my most memorable meals. You definitely need to book as it is a small place. I’m certain I dreamt of popcorn prawns for 3 nights following!!!
A further 15 minutes south was Roundstone – a set of stunning white sandy beaches (a view I never really expected in Ireland) Dogs Bay in particular has crystal clear waters and beautiful sand dunes to explore. Most of the year it won’t be hot enough to swim but it’s worth just admiring the scenery anyway! A great place to stay in Lahinch is Crag Shore B&B for only 70 euros per night twin share. (This is also the place I had the best black pudding on the entire trip!)
TIP: For the real foodies out there – stop at Moran’s on the Weir for a pint of Guinness and a plate of oysters – they complement each other extremely well.
In the town of Lahinch, I would highly recommend going to O’Looneys Pub right down on the promenade near the beach. If you get a spot on the balcony, you can watch the sunset (which takes hours to set in Summer!) The food and drinks are decent but it’s the view and atmosphere that make it worthwhile!
If the day didn’t tire you out enough – there is always a place for some live music in these Irish country towns. In lahinch – the place is go is Danny Macs. The locals are so into music, you might see a few of them opt to join in the band with their own instruments and next thing you know – you are surrounded by gorgeous Irish music and maybe some dancing if there’s room!
Stop 3: Dingle
Shortly after leaving Lahinch, we took a slight detour backward and visited Ireland’s famous Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction. The cliffs are 214m high and span over 8km! We parked our car near Lough North and walked along the cliffs admiring the views and watching the playful horses on the different farms. The terrain is easy to walk but it can be cold with the wind so be prepared!
TIP: 5 minute drive from the cliffs is a restaurant called Vaughans Anchor Inn. Don’t miss it – they have unbelievable fresh seafood platters! My advice is to go there hungry!
If you have a full day in Dingle like we did – there is endless things to do. However, after all of our eating and drinking, we decided that we would spend the day exercising and being as active as we could. Some people say we went overboard, but I would do it all again! We started with the day early and climbed Mount Brandon.
Fun Fact: Mount Brandon is 970m high. Considering how far west the mountain is, and also how high, it means it is the last place you can see the sun in Ireland before it sets. The locals believe this is one of the reasons it became a Christian site but no one really knows!
Normally this walk is supposed to take 3 hours. It took us 4 because we got very lost at the start. The initial part of the trial is very clear up until you get to a river, the track veers off to the right which is quite deceiving. DO NOT follow the track here. Stick to the river until you see more white markings and continue on. We made the mistake of following the faint path until it abruptly ended and we found ourselves on the wrong side of the mountain! Lesson learnt. The climb was really beautiful. Just like Croagh Patrick, this mountain is also considered a pilgrimage and has white crosses lined all the way up the path to the top. If you are lucky enough to get a clear day like we did – the view is magic. If not, don’t be disappointed. It is cloudy 95% of the time!
When we returned back to the car, we drove back to town and had a quick bite at Harrington’s Pub where we demolished the tastiest seafood chowder I have ever had. With fuel in our bellies, we then went directly to the bike hire shop. It cost us 15 euros each to hire a bicycle for 24 hours. We were pretty excited because we had read about an annual cycle challenge around the entire Dingle Peninsula (42km) but unfortunately we were missing the event by only a few weeks. That didn’t stop us – we decided to do the challenge anyway and begun cycling our way from town. We were either extremely unfit or the bikes were terrible, but we were exhausted only 1 hour in! The views throughout the peninsula were astonishing. We drove through farmland, small towns, cliff faces and then roads. It took us over 5 hours to complete the 42km cycle and it was worth it! We felt amazing afterwards!
We ate dinner at ‘Out Of The Blue’ Seafood Restaurant which was a recommendation from Irish locals and visitors from Dublin too. We were so hungry after the cycle and the climb that we ordered 4 dishes to share between us both (and we ate everything!) We had mussels, oysters, tuna and squid. It was awesome! Most nights you need to make a booking so if you have time – call for a table! We were super lucky.
We stayed at Baywatch B&B for 70 euros a night and I am positive these were the most comfiest beds we had experienced in months!! Considering all the work we did that day – it was priceless.
Stop 4: Killorglin
We learnt our lesson pretty quickly about the importance of a good bed after a day’s hiking. So when we arrived in Killorglin, it was a no brainer. We were planning on climbing the highest mountain in Ireland – Carrauntoohil and needed a night of comfort. We splurged and stayed at Country Lodge B&B for 120 euros a night. It was worth it. We met up with a bunch of mates from Dublin and enjoyed a nice meal at Sol y Sombra Tapas Bar which has been set up in an old church! Very cool. High ceilings, the bar as the alter and lots of grouped tables on the floor. It was an impressive place – and you paid for it too!
The next day we were ready to climb. Carrauntoohil is 1035m high (3400 feet) and takes 6-7 hours to complete round trip. We went through a local tour company as it is not something you can do on your own. We paid 46 euros per person to have our guide and there was approximately 15 people in our group. The walk takes you through many terrains, the most famous being the ‘devils ladder’ – a very steep rocky slope at the base of the climb which definitely heats up the legs. This part of the climb takes almost an hour itself but luckily enough you come down a different way. We packed sandwiches, and plenty of water and snacks which helped. The peak of the mountain is absolutely freezing so be prepared. We had a cloudy day so couldn’t see much of a view but if you are lucky enough to get a clear day – it is supposed to be beautiful.
The second night in Killorglin we all ate at Nicks (bookings needed!). This was a treat to ourselves for all the hard work we had endured that day. Nick’s specialises in seafood but also had steaks and pasta too. We had plenty of cocktails and wines and was the perfect way to finish the day!
Stop 5: Kenmare
The Ring of Kerry is the most popular part of the Great Atlantic Way. Driving along this part is really memorable and should be done slowly. You can realistically drive around the whole ring in only a few hours, but I would recommend stopping in as many small towns as possible and getting a feel for the various festivals, foods, atmosphere and people that you come across. We stopped at the “spectacular cliffs” (which would have been spectacular if we were able to see anything through the fog!), Waterville (to see a statue of Charlie Chaplin), Port Magee (for delicious seafood chowder and view of Valentia Island) and lastly in Derrynane where we got out to stretch our legs and did a 15km nature trial hike called the “Derrynane Mass Loop”. It was beautiful and refreshing and went through rainforest, beaches, rocks, cliffs and farms.
Most of our accommodation was booked by simply door knocking which is a really refreshing way to travel. Many people I’ve told since were nervous to hear we took so many risks, but there was never a problem finding somewhere decent. This time in Kenmare, we stayed at Hallissey’s B&B for approximately 60 euros a night between us. Unlike other nights, we had planned to end up in this town so we could eat at Packie’s – a well known gastronomical restaurant that had impressed both locals and tourists for years. It was a perfect, small, cosy atmosphere. The food was amazing – fancy dishes with a cool twist all for reasonable prices.
TIP: Order the sticky date pudding at Packie’s – it was the best I’ve ever had!
Stop 6: Kinsale
We went to check out the famers markets just before we left Kenmare and found ourselves wishing we had an apartment with a fridge so we could simply buy everything we saw. They had cheese, conserves, fresh bread, fruit, veggies, tarts, chocolates, sweets and even freshly brewed coffee. Yum!
Our plan was to drive from Kenmare to Kinsale, which directly only takes 1.5 hours, however we had the whole day so we drove via the Wild Atlantic Way on the coast and it took 3 hours all up. We stopped at Baltimore because we had heard it was a beautiful little town – but it wasn’t worth it. I would avoid it. We left instantly. We stopped and took pictures on most cliffs we drove by and soaked up the sun we had been missing the previous days. We had lunch at Clonakilty – home of the famous black pudding. It didn’t disappoint. We went to Scanalli for lunch and tried their best crab salad with black pudding and we didn’t speak the entire meal we were so immersed!
When we got to Kinsale, we wandered around the town looking for some decent accommodation for good value. We found this town significantly more expensive than the others which was interesting. More tourists I guess. We noticed a sign in the window of a cupcake bakery called Joe’s Cupcakes and it said “rooms available” and when we enquired, they were half the price of the others! This worried us a little bit but when we saw it – it was great! Exactly what we needed. The town is buzzing with pubs and bars – so different from the rest of the small towns we had encountered. We went for a run down to Kinsale Fort too and explored the ruins. It was only 6km away and was a great and private walk along the bay. If you go at sunset, the town looks absolutely stunning in the orange light.
After a pleasant sleep above Joe’s Cupcakes – we hired bikes from the local tourist office and cycled to the Old Head of Kinsale for the views. It blew our minds. The ride itself was quite hilly. There were parts I had to walk my bike up because my legs just weren’t strong enough but it was a decent challenge.
TIP: Stop at Ballinspittle bakery for their delectable cinnamon scrolls!
Majority of the cycle track on shared with the road but it wasn’t busy. That night we were pretty proud of the gruelling cycle we had completed so we rewarded ourselves with a long boozy night at the Black Pig – a cool and quirky tapas bar at the entrance of town. They have an incredible homemade bread that I couldn’t get enough of!
Stop 7: Cork
Hungover, we got up and drove straight to Cork. This was our last night of the trip so instead of a hostel or B&B, we opted for Foto Island – a beautiful resort & spa just outside of Cork. We spent the day between sauna and spa and then met up with a group of friends from Australia in town. We decided to meet at Oliver Plunkett’s Irish Bar as a meeting point before moving on ad exploring the town – however it was so fun that we never left and ended up getting kicked out at close! They had live Irish music and even got us all up to learn Irish dancing. It was so fun!
The next day we drove back to Dublin from Cork which only took 2.5 hours. I could’ve easily stayed longer everywhere we went but it was a perfect taste test of what the west of Ireland is like.
There is so much more of this beautiful country still to see. More to come.