Rugged coastal scenery and invigorating outdoor activities fire up your appetite along Ireland’s dramatic Wild Atlantic Way. Along the route, you'll find artisans producing farmhouse cheeses, smoked salmon, chocolates, jams, beers, whiskeys and gins, and local specialities including foraged herbs and fresh-off-the-boats seafood. From north to south, hit the brakes at epicurean highlights on this once-in-a-lifetime drive.
Fresh salmon at a fish market in County Kerry © Martin Siepmann / Getty
Counties Donegal, Sligo and Mayo
Amid the rocky landscapes and green fields of County Donegal's north, Claggan is the site of the Haven Smokehouse where you can buy turf-smoked Atlantic salmon. Seagull-filled Killybegs is among Ireland's largest fishing ports; sample its haul at fuchsia-pink farmhouse Kitty Kelly's. Donegal Brewing Company beers are the drawcard of Dicey Reillys Bar in Ballyshannon, which is steeped in Neolithic and Bronze Age history.
At the big-wave surfing mecca of Mullaghmore, overlooked by the looming flat-topped mountain Benbulben in County Sligo, Eithna's by the Sea is a spectacular spot for crab and seaweed harvested from the sheltered bay out front. To learn how to harvest seaweed yourself – and for details of foraging tours, farm visits and more – explore the Sligo Food Trail.
The River Moy sluices through Ballina, County Mayo. Famed for mid-July's salmon festival – and oak-smoked salmon from Clarke's Seafood Delicatessen – the bustling town is also home to the Connacht Whiskey Company, offering guided tours and tastings. In the pretty 18th-century village of Newport you'll find feted Kelly's Butchers; try their artisan wares at Kelly's Kitchen next door. Georgian jewel Westport sits on island-strewn Clew Bay; succulent scallops from the bay among the menu highlights at intimate modern Irish restaurant An Port Mór.
Oysters are a staple in County Galway © foodandwinephotography / Getty
The epicurean action really ramps up once you cross into County Galway. On the hauntingly beautiful Connemara Peninsula, Ballyconneely's Connemara Smokehouse runs tours of its pier-side smokery. You'll also find its salmon for sale in the tantalising deli Connemara Hamper and on piled-high platters at seafood restaurant Mitchell's, both in Connemara's 'capital', Clifden. In the postcard-perfect Irish village of Roundstone, the catch from the docks opposite is served at charming pub/restaurant O'Dowd's. From Rossaveal, Mungo Murphy's Seaweed Company leads fascinating abalone aquafarm visits and coastal foraging tours.
Vibrant Galway city lays on a veritable feast; Galway Food Tours, departing from heady deli/cafe McCambridge's, provide a first-class introduction. Easter's Galway Food Festival and late September's Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival are big dates on the city's calendar, and every Saturday feels like a festival at the Galway Market. Get into the kitchen at Aniar Boutique Cookery School, run by Michelin-starred terroir restaurant Aniar. Other dining highlights include innovative seafood preparations such as seaweed-steamed Galway Bay lobster at Oscar's, and organic and/or foraged ingredients at Ard Bia at Nimmo's and at Loam, where dishes might incorporate hay, moss or hand-cut peat. Craft brews from long-established Galway Hooker (named for the traditional fishing boats) flow at legendary pubs like Tigh Neachtain.
Entering County Clare, you'll encounter the lunar-like limestone landscape of the Burren. At Hazel Mountain Chocolate, you can take a factory tour of its bean-to-bar operation or indulge at its organic cafe. Picturesque Ballyvaughan hosts a summer-Saturday farmers market; splendid dining options include own-farm meat and Burren-foraged herbs at the Wildflower Bar & Restaurant. In music-loving Lisdoonvarna, learn about the hot and cold salmon-smoking methods at the Burren Smokehouse. More chocolate awaits close to the Cliffs of Moher at trad music-famed Doolin, where the Doolin Chocolate Shop stocks Clare-made Wilde Irish Chocolates. Just outside Doolin, the cottage-housed Clare Jam Shop produces homemade preserves like whiskey marmalade and Guinness mustard. Pick up handcrafted St Tola Irish Goat Cheese from its southern Burren farm.
Breads at a farmers market in Ballyvaughan © Tim Graham / Getty
County Kerry's Dingle Peninsula centres on enchanting Dingle town, host of early October's Dingle Food & Wine Festival and a Friday farmers market, and home to the Dingle Brewing Company (offering self-guided tours) and Dingle Distillery (producing whiskey, vodka and gin, with guided tours by reservation). Murphy's uses the gin in its Dingle-made ice cream along with unique ingredients like locally extracted sea salt and caramelised brown bread. Rustic fishing shack Out of the Blue cooks up the day's catch; its commitment to seafood means it doesn't open if it isn't up to scratch, and it doesn't sully it by serving chips.
Murphy's storefront in County Kerry © UniversalImagesGroup / Getty
The breathtaking Ring of Kerry traces the Iveragh Peninsula. Drop into 1782-founded smokery KRD Fisheries at Killorglin, before detouring up the Cromane Peninsula, home to Ireland's largest natural mussel beds. Try them at Jacks' Coastguard Restaurant, inside a 19th-century coastguard station. Back on the Ring of Kerry at Cahersiveen, QCs Seafood Restaurant & Bar serves seafood from its own fishing fleet. On the spin-off Skellig Ring (the departure point for the Unesco-listed island monastery Skellig Michael, which appeared in Star Wars instalments The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi), watch chocolates being made in open-plan factory Skelligs Chocolate.
County Cork's foodie reputation precedes it, and seafood from its fissured coastline is sublime.
Sweeping Bantry Bay is famous for its oysters and mussels. Taste them – and other West Cork specialities – at farm shop/cafe Manning's Emporium. They're also on the menu at O'Connors Seafood Restaurant and Fish Kitchen. Catch Bantry's farmers market on Fridays.
When crab's landed at the quay in Baltimore, locals flock for crab sandwiches at Bushe's Bar. The area's seafood producers and restaurants showcase their wares during May's Seafood & Wooden Boat Festival.
In riverside Skibbereen, West Cork Distillers makes liqueurs, whiskeys and other spirits. On Saturdays, the town hosts a lively farmers market and in mid-September stages the Taste of West Cork Food Festival.
Colourfully painted market town Clonakilty is synonymous with Ireland's finest black pudding, made from pig's blood, oatmeal and onion. Buy varieties based on the original 19th-century recipe from butcher Edward Twomey. Or taste it in inventive dishes like Irish farmhouse chicken stuffed with black pudding mousse at knick-knack-crammed An Súgán, or at the small supplier-focused Farm Restaurant.
Culinary hotspot Kinsale is renowned for October's Kinsale Gourmet Festival. Fabulous meals span Black Pig Wine Bar sharing boards to seasonal menus featuring meat from the family's butcher at Finn's Table, and sumptuous shellfish platters at Fishy Fishy. Wednesday's farmers market is a great showcase, as are Kinsale Food Tours. The Wild Atlantic Way finishes here, but food trails fan out all over the Emerald Isle.