Updated on September 20th, 2023
A road trip around the Wild Atlantic Way is the perfect way to discover Ireland. If castles, spectacular landscapes, ancient stone forts, rainbows and sampling the famous Irish hospitality interests you, then look no further. Exploring the coastline of Kerry & Cork gives the perfect mixture of well-known sites and less trodden paths. Here is the perfect itinerary for anyone looking to discover the beautiful Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days.”
Ring of Kerry in Kerry and Beara, Sheep’s Head & Mizen Peninsulas in West Cork. The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
In 2019 I turned 50 & to celebrate climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, took a tour of the Galapagos Islands & lived on Antigua in the West Indies for 6 months. These were mainly solo endeavours & I also wanted the chance to celebrate with my wonderful friends. I opted for hiring a house over a November weekend in Killarney, Ireland. However, I also wanted to get to know the Emerald Isle a little better. I chose to take a Wild Atlantic Way road trip around the Ring of Kerry & then head south to discover the less well-known routes of West Cork. My partner in crime was Nicky, who has been a friend since we met at university, over 30 years ago.
This Wild Atlantic Way route is circular, starting & finishing around Killarney. As I spent a few days at the end celebrating there, we chose to begin on day 1 in Killorglin. The closest airport is Kerry (20 mins drive), I flew to Cork (1 hour 15 mins) or there is Shannon (1 hour 45 mins).
In Killorglin, I stayed at Rivers Edge Guest House which was in a great location by the river. They offer a fantastic breakfast & have very helpful & informative staff. A perfect place to start the journey!
The summer months are incredibly busy on the Ring of Kerry. The small roads are swamped by coaches & all the attractions are crowded. If you visit, then consider which way round you take the route. We went in November. There was hardly any traffic on the road, but a few of the sights were closed or not running. The weather is less of an issue.
If you are hoping for blue skies & sunshine, then I would not visit Ireland! One of the locals told us that Ireland is more beautiful with angry skies. I couldn’t agree more!”
Ireland’s Beautiful Wild Atlantic Way in 5 Days – Kerry & Cork
Day 1: Ring of Kerry – Killorglin to Waterville
Our first stop was at Rossbeigh Strand, for a view of the wild seas out across the bay over to the Dingle Peninsula. It seemed like an appropriate place to start the journey before we headed over to the ancient stone forts of Cahergill & Leacanabuile. These 2 stone forts are estimated to date back to between 500BC to 400AD. That blew my mind! Cahergill in particular is worth exploring to admire the views from the top of the wall.
To take a tour of the Ring of Kerry in Ireland rather than drive yourself, check out the options below:
Valentia Island was next on our list, via the pretty harbour town of Portmagee. This is one of Ireland’s most westerly points, with amazing views & interesting history. For the best vistas, don’t miss Bray Head, Fogher Cliffs & Geokaun Mountain for its 360-degree views. In addition, the Tetrapod Trackway is a set of footprints from 385 million years ago. It is the first evidence of four-legged creatures leaving the water to live on dry land.
The Skellig Islands consist of Skellig Michael & Small Skellig which lie 13 km from the southwest coast of Valentia Island. The larger island is home to an impressively preserved 6th Century Monastic Settlement & a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, tours here have increased exponentially in popularity since the island was featured as the home of Luke Skywalker in the latest series of Star Wars films.
As well as Jedi knights, it is also famous for its birdlife, including thousands of puffins & gannets (April to August).”
If you are keen to visit, I advise booking well in advance (think 6 months). Be aware that the boat trips are also dependant on the weather conditions so may not be running every day (even if you do book). Unfortunately, we were not able to get out to the islands due to the conditions in the ocean. They don’t call this the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ for nothing!
Our final stop for the day was ‘Kerry’s most spectacular cliffs’. Before you ask, “Which ones?”, they are actually called “Kerry’s Most Spectacular Cliffs” & are very well signposted as such on your approach! We made it just as the sun was setting. They certainly lived up to their billing. Truly spectacular!
As the darkness descended, we made our way to Waterville for an overnight stay at O’Dwyer’s The Villa. The place is a shrine to the owner who is a local Gaelic Football hero, with some interesting décor for those of us who don’t follow the sport! But it is in the perfect location.
If you are loving the Ring of Kerry & want to read more, check out: The Ring Of Kerry, A 3 Day Self-Drive Itinerary
Day 2: Waterville to Kenmare
If you have read any of my other blog posts, you will know I like to take my time on my travels. It’s the journey & not the destination. Many people do the Ring of Kerry in a day, but we had enjoyed it so much on day 1, we needed to backtrack to see what we had missed after the sun went down on previous days adventures.
So, after a short stop for a photo opportunity with Charlie Chaplin in Waterville (he stayed here often for his summer holidays in the 1960s). We made a pit stop for some breakfast chocolate 😉 at Skellig’s Chocolate (perfect for any self-respecting chocoholic), before heading to Ballinskelligs. Here we blew away the cobwebs by taking a walk to the iconic ruin of McCarthy’s Castle.
Next came Derrynane House, the former home of Daniel O’Connell. He is known locally as “The Great Liberator” & an important figure in the history of Ireland. The house sits on 120 hectares of well-maintained parkland & gorgeous sandy beaches. Our final stop on Day 2 was Kenmare where we explored the Bronze Age stone circle.
Kenmare is the biggest example of over 100 circles in south-west Ireland. It is believed that the monument was built around solar & lunar events for ceremonial purposes.”
Our bed for the night was in the Kenmare Bay Hotel, a large hotel with plenty of rooms, a good location & friendly staff.
Day 3: Beara Peninsula – Kenmare to Bantry
The next day we made a decision. Do we head up to the busy tourist trail of the Dingle Peninsula, or venture south to Cork? We did a bit of research & decided that the road less travelled was more our style. There are far fewer tourists along the peninsulas of West Cork which gave the perfect contrast to the Kerry Wild Atlantic Way.
The full route around the Beara Peninsula is 140 km which you can easily complete in a few hours. But that is without stops. And you will want to make a lot of stops!
Eyeries is a pretty village with cottages painted in all colours of the rainbow, making it perfect for a wander. Then head for Allihies.
The road from Eyeries to Allihies is spectacular. Winding, baron but with views that will take your breath away. In addition, look out for the remains of the old copper mines.”
From the tip of the peninsula at Lambs Head you will discover the famous Dursey Island Cable Car. The only one in Ireland. Dursey Island is a wildlife sanctuary & there are no cars or houses there. It is around 14km, so if you fancy walking it, allow 4 hours.
By this time, we were in need of refreshment & gratefully discovered the gem that is Dzogchen Beara Retreat. It is a serene, peaceful & relaxing Buddhist & meditation retreat with magnificent views out to the sea & a lovely café.
There is lots more to see & experience on the Beara Peninsula so if you would like to explore further then head to The Ring of Beara Route. A Road Less Travelled on the Wild Atlantic Way in Cork
Day 3 of our Wild Atlantic Way itinerary finished in Bantry. Bantry is home to a bustling town with plenty of bars & restaurants to keep you well fed & watered.
In addition, if you are here in the summer or early autumn, keep your eyes peeled as they have one of the largest populations of harbour seals in the country.”
Unfortunately, where I stayed is no longer in operation but you may like to try The Maritime, Doireliath, or Strelitzias for a self-catering option. All are centrally located with good ratings & most importantly an excellent cleanliness score! Or check out the other options using the search box below:
Day 4: Sheep’s Head & Mizen Peninsula
If you are looking for unspoilt & undiscovered Ireland, then you will find it at Sheep’s Head. The landscape is rugged & raw but it’s a great place to escape the crowds. The perfect spot to see Sheep’s Head in all its splendour is from the viewpoint at Seefin. Then head for the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse. Unfortunately, when we visited the wind was too much to contemplate the 2km walk to the lighthouse itself. You can see me battling the elements in the video earlier in this post!
The Mizen Peninsula is the most south-westerly in the country, known as one of the “Extreme Points of Ireland”. A drive around the peninsula takes you 64 miles (103 km) with much of the road hugging the impressive coastline. The towering cliffs & dramatic seascapes make this a major tourist spot. It is an area of exceptional natural beauty, culminating in a magnificent bridge & lighthouse.
Our main goal when we arrived on the Mizen Peninsula was to aim for the spectacular arched bridge at the end. The bridge connects the tip of Mizen Head to the mainland over a deep chasm which has been created by the towering cliffs.
As you cross the bridge keep your eyes peeled as it’s one of the best places in the world to see minke, fin, humpback whales & dolphins. Also seals & their pups often bask on the rocks below.”
Unfortunately, the bridge was closed in November. However, when open, you can visit the Signal Station, which was built to combat the huge loss of life on the treacherous rocks back in 1906.
To read all about how I managed to get these photos, check out: Misadventures on the Mizen Peninsula, Ireland. The Joys of Travel Out of Season
On the drive back, Barleycove Beach caught our eye. We crossed the causeway to access the beach, but it was worth it for a stroll across the boardwalks & over the sand dunes to the pristine beach below.
Our final stop was O’Sullivan’s in Crookhaven, the most southerly pub in Ireland. During the summer months, it gets busy, but we were lucky to have this friendly establishment all to ourselves. Don’t miss the crab sandwiches which are delicious…washed down with a pint of Murphy’s. We then returned to Bantry for our 2nd night before we made it back onto the Ring of Kerry in the morning.
Day 5: Bantry to Killarney & Killarney National Park
As we said goodbye to the Cork Wild Atlantic Way, we took the route over the Caha mountains, heading to Molls Gap & The Gap of Dunloe. The only disappointing aspect of this drive was that there were not enough viewpoints to stop & stand in awe of the spectacular scenery!
Then we entered Killarney National Park & realised that we had saved the best to last. This awe-inspiring park treats those who visit to Irelands highest mountain range (MacGillycuddy’s Reeks), picturesque lakes & over 10,000 hectares of magnificent landscapes.”
The morning we arrived; we were blessed with glorious blue skies & sunshine. It was breath-taking. We started with Ladies View giving us a panoramic outlook of the park. Then continued to stop at numerous viewpoints as we followed the road past the lakes towards Killarney. For me, this was the highlight of the whole trip.
The Meeting of the Waters is where all three of Killarney’s lakes merge together. It is a peaceful, picturesque spot marked by an Old Weir Bridge. Then, nestled in the base of Torc Mountain, it is well worth the short walk to 20-metre high Torc Waterfall.
Closer to Killarney, we checked out Muckross Abbey, & its eerie graveyard. The Abbey is an old 15th century Franciscan Friary, burned down in 1652. Nowadays it stands, roofless but with some impressive carvings on the walls. Our penultimate stop was Ross Castle which sits on the banks of Lough Leane. From here you can take a boat trip to the monastery island of Inisfallen.
Finally, the journey on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way ended in Killarney. In order to sample the Irish nightlife, do not miss the opportunity to stay overnight here. I had a ball! To find your perfect bed for the night in Killarney, check out the search box below.
In conclusion, to see Ireland at its best, I thoroughly recommend driving the Wild Atlantic Way in 5 days using this itinerary. For me, it provided all I needed from iconic bucket list routes to some of the less travelled ones on the Emerald Isle. What better place to experience the most dramatic scenery set off by tempestuous skies & some of the friendliest locals anywhere in the world? I just hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
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