Ireland's western coastline is one of the world's most stunning shorelines – a 2500km necklace of jagged cliffs, crescent strands and latticed fields strung out from west Cork to northeastern Donegal. This official driving route is richly decorated with the panoramic pit stops you came to Ireland to experience.
Cork to Kerry
Ireland's southwest corner is packed with scenic highlights along its 463km coastline, skirting around the best known (and most explored) peninsulas in the country.
- Mizen Head (Cork) The spectacular views from the rugged clifftop (cross the Mizen footbridge to get right to the edge) include the Fastnet Lighthouse, perched on a rock known as Ireland's Teardrop because this was the last sight of the country for emigrants leaving for America during the Famine.
- Slea Head Drive (Kerry) Only 47km long, this circular route around the tip of the peninsula is one of Ireland’s best scenic drives. The main distraction from the stunning scenery is the heavy concentration of prehistoric sites dotted throughout the hills.
Dursey Island (Cork) At the tip of the remote Beara Peninsula is a quiet island, blissfully free of shops, pubs and restaurants but worth visiting for its lighthouse, castle ruins and standing stones. Get here on a 10-minute cable-car ride, but remember that the handful of residents take precedence over tourists!
Kerry to Clare
Clare's coastline is justifiably renowned throughout Europe for its dramatic cliffs, shaped over aeons by the crashing waves of the relentless Atlantic.
- Loop Head This narrow shelf of headland, surrounded on both sides by the sea, has a long hiking trail between the tip and Kilkee. The views – of the Dingle Peninsula to the south and Galway and the Aran Islands to the north – are mesmerising.
- Cliffs of Moher Ireland’s most famous cliffs rise 203m from the sea and their majesty entirely justifies the busloads of visitors that come, gawp and leave in wonder. For the best views, head south for about 5km along the southerly trail to Hag’s Head.
Lahinch The Blue Flag beach at Lahinch is a surfers' paradise thanks to its flooding tide. Nearby is one of the best golf courses in Ireland and, a little further afield, Ennistymon is a fine spot for traditional music.
Clare & Galway
Wildness abounds in Galway, even beyond the crazy nights in its namesake city. Connemara is a stunning wilderness of bogs, mountains and glacial lakes, while the Aran Islands' dramatic desolation is at the heart of their beguiling beauty.
- Sky Road A 12km circular route from Clifden, Connemara's 'capital'. The scenery is staggering, especially northward towards remote Inishboffin and the islands of Clew Bay in Mayo. It's also a popular cycling route; you can hire bikes in Clifden.
- Aran Islands Forty minutes by ferry (or 10 by plane) and you're in another century. Take your pick of three islands, each with their own distinctive features (Inishmor the most visited, Inisheer the smallest and Inishmaan the most isolated) but each giving the feeling of living at the edge of the world.
- Dog's Bay & Gurteen Bay About 3km from Roundstone, the twin beaches of Dog's Bay and Gurteen Bay are among Ireland's most beautiful – two back-to-back crescents of brilliant white sand made entirely of tiny bits of seashells rather than the crushed limestone common on other beaches.
Mayo to Sligo
Less visited than their southern counterparts, Mayo and Sligo adorn the Wild Atlantic crown with some truly stunning and desolate landscapes, beautiful islands and a handful of superb beaches that are surfers' favourites.
- Achill Island (Mayo) Ireland's largest offshore island is easily reached by a causeway from the mainland. Once there you'll have soaring cliffs and sandy beaches to explore as well as blanket bogs and even a mountain range.
- Benbulben (Sligo) On a clear day you won't miss the distinctive peak of Sligo's most famous mountain, which is like a table covered in a pleated tablecloth. Its beguiling look inspired WB Yeats.
Mullet Peninsula (Mayo) Few spots in Ireland are as unspoilt and as unpopulated as this beautiful peninsula, which juts about 30km into the Atlantic. The eastern shores are lined with pristine beaches and the few people here speak Irish.
Wild, remote in parts and beautiful throughout, Donegal is the fitting end (or start) to the Wild Atlantic Way. Its jagged coastline of sheer cliffs, hidden coves and long stretches of golden sand are the stuff of myth and postcard – and an easy rival to any other county in the natural-beauty stakes.
- Sliabh Liag These spectacular, monochrome cliffs in southwestern Donegal get far less press than their southern equivalent, but they're taller, at 600m, and every bit as dramatic.
- Malin Head Ireland's northernmost point is a rocky, weather-battered promontory topped by an early 19th-century Martello tower called Banba's Crown.
Tramore Beach An exhilarating 2km hike from the pretty village of Dunfanaghy takes you through some impressive dunes to a beautiful, usually empty strand; at the far end a path leads to Pollaguill Bay.