Part 3 of 5
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Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is one of the most stunning coastal drives in all of Europe and this guide will show you how to get the absolute most out of your trip. Planning a Wild Atlantic Way itinerary can be very hard as there is so much to choose from and it can be overwhelming to narrow down your options.
The Wild Atlantic Way is regarded as the “world’s longest defined coastal touring route”. Stretching 2,500km it sure is long but aside from its length, the Wild Atlantic Way is without doubt one of the most epic road trips I’ve ever done. Along the way, I was simply entranced by green rolling hills for which Ireland is famous, impressive mountains and tranquil lakes, daunting cliffs with its pounding surf, colourful towns, historic castles and abbeys, and rugged islands. The ever-changing weather seemingly colluded with the dramatic landscapes to create awe-inspiring scenes around every bend!
The Ireland tourism website outlines the route from North to South, but we chose to drive it starting in the south of County Cork. Why drive South to North? For one, you will be on the ocean side of the road. Remember, driving in Ireland is on the left hand side of the road, so if you drive north, the Atlantic Ocean will be on your left allowing you to pull of easier to take photographs and take in the view and you won’t ever have to worry about crossing traffic!
Unfortunately, our luck left us on the day we were to begin the Wild Atlantic Way as we woke up to a typical morning in Ireland with overcast skies, light rain and fog! However, undeterred, we left our accommodation in Cork, where we had been staying the previous two nights, and made the short drive to Kinsale.
Located at the start of the Wild Atlantic Way, Kinsale is easily one of the most beautiful towns in all of Ireland! Kinsale’s brilliant streets are literally the highlight of this town. Vibrant hues of red, orange, green, blue, and purple pop against an often-dull sky, luring visitors to wander in their colourful embrace. It’s impossible to walk these picturesque streets without stopping to take a zillion photos, so be sure there’s lots of space on your SD card and in the cloud.
After having walked around the many colourful streets, we had a quick look-around a little market, where we bought some delicious local meals. These were supposedly for our lunch later on in the day but some of us couldn’t resist opening the plastic bowl there and then and eating some of the delicious salad inside! I think I was the only one who resisted the temptation and placed my salad in the glove compartment for later!
After spending around one hour in Kinsale, we headed off to Killarney via the National N71 road. This drive is where you will start to really see some gorgeous scenery. This route passes through the town of Bantry and Kenmare which are two beautiful seaside towns that will make for lovely driving. Besides, the Bantry Bay makes a beautiful stopping off point.
Altar Wedge Tomb
On our way there, we were lucky enough to stop at a beautiful location, which we later found out was Toormore Bay and the Altar Wedge Tomb. This is a magnificent Irish dolmen built on a beautiful waterfront overlooking the bay. An exceptional setting for an archaeological site that has retained all its character!
The site is still intact and can be visited for free. The dolmen is spectacular, and consists of very long tables, which are supported by smaller megaliths placed vertically. The balance is perfect, and faces the sea! The charm of the place is unquestionable, and particularly restful.
Since we had left pretty early in the morning, we had plenty of time on our hands so we decided to make a detour via Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southwesterly point. Mizen Head is a major tourist stopping point thanks to its dramatic scenery, towering cliffs, and sweeping sea vistas. Unfortunately for us, we could see none of this as it was extremely foggy that morning but at least the drive was pleasant as we drove along the narrow roads surrounded by luscious green countryside dotted here and then by Frisian cows or white sheep.
Following our disappointing short stop at Mizen Head, we kept on driving along the peninsula until we once again joined the N71. Our disappointment, however, was short-lived when we reached the townland of Ballylickey, where we could not but stop to take some photos. In fact, this makes a beautiful stopping off point as Ballylickey is situated at the very heart of the magnificent Bantry Bay. Thankfully, the weather had by now improved somewhat.
Molly Gallivan’s Visitor Centre
Some ten minutes later we were back in the car and heading for Kenmare. On the way there, we stopped for a short while at Molly Gallivan’s Visitor Centre for a quick toilet break and to take in the views. The place is actually an old Tea Shop cum Craft Shop, where you can taste locally made foods cooked and baked in the traditional fashion and buy hand and machine-knitted Aran sweaters, grandfather shirts, locally made pottery, hats and scarfs, just to name a few.
However, what really caught my interest here was an old vehicle outside the premises and a statue of the Irish Druid, standing proudly in the car park. The Druid looks across the valley to the highest peak “Barra-Bui”, where a Cairn on the summit marks the resting-place of an ancient Chieftain.
After the obligatory taking of photos, we were off once again, this time heading towards Kenmare, (pronounced ‘ken-mair‘), a pretty spot with a neat triangle of streets lined with craft shops, galleries, cafes and good-quality restaurants. This is where we stopped to explore the town centre and Holy Cross Church before sitting down for a quick coffee.
Despite the fact that we were now rather tired, we HAD to stop at the ultra famous Ladies View. The place is simply magical, and is located in the heart of the great Irish wilderness, in the heart of a park of 10,000 hectares of nature, lakes and mountains. The view here is probably the best known of Killarney and is a major attraction for visitors. It is definitely one of Killarney’s most panoramic viewing points, offering unrivalled views of the rugged lake district. It is located about halfway between Kenmare and Killarney on the N71 road about 10 miles (16km) from Killarney Town.
The Irish Times ranked the Ladies View as one of the most photographed places in Ireland, while the Daily Edge ranked the views amongst Ireland’s finest on Instagram. Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting visited here during the royal visit in 1861. They were so taken with the view that it was named after them!
Exhausted but thoroughly satisfied, we then headed towards our four-star hotel just outside Killarney, where we were booked for two nights. In fact, Killarney is an excellent town to spend two nights in because it is one of the most scenic places in Ireland and there is a lot to do. The Killarney National Park is right on your doorstep and it is where you can find the Gap of Dunloe. It is absolutely gorgeous!
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