Main image: Cliffs of Moher, County Clare (Tourism Ireland)
Few regions can compete with the staggering natural beauty of Ireland’s west coast — unsurprisingly, the Wild Atlantic Way is recognised as one of the most inspiring and user-friendly routes in Europe. Alongside the waves and apricot sunsets are lavish hotels and once-in-a-lifetime experiences to ensure this road trip will be etched into your heart and soul forever.
After flying into Shannon Airport, exchange aircraft for luxury cruise boats and admire the majesty of the Shannon, Ireland’s largest river, which rambles through the heart of the destination.
Join Sionnan River Cruises to unlock the secrets of this mystical waterway, named after a Celtic goddess. Marvel at wild dolphins or grey seals sashaying across the Shannon Estuary before exploring Scattery Island’s 5th-century monastic sites and Napoleonic artillery battery.
With its imposing baronial façade and 500-acre estate, Dromoland Castle is the ancestral home of the O’Briens of Dromoland, whose lineage dates back to Brian Boru — one of the last High Kings of Ireland. Today, it’s the guests who are treated like royalty.
Following a round of golf, allow the Earl of Thomond restaurant to wow you with outstanding Irish produce from the sea and land. These culinary delights are complemented by the restaurant’s lavish surroundings — Venetian silk walls, sparkling chandeliers and invigorating estate views.
Executive Helicopters will spirit you away from Dromoland Castle for a once-in-a-lifetime experience — flying alongside colonies of sea birds and viewing Ireland’s favourite visitor attractions from above. Formed over 320 million years ago, the spectacular Cliffs of Moher tower over the Atlantic Ocean at a height of 700ft and sit astride the region’s other natural phenomenon — the Burren. Together, they enjoy the status of a UNESCO Global Geopark.
Adventures by the sea create an appetite — luckily, the award-winning and family-run Burren Smokehouse is nearby. Opened in 1989 in Lisdoonvarna — home to the world’s most famous match-making festival — the restaurant serves delectable smoked salmon amongst other locally sourced fish.
This treat for the senses continues at the Burren Perfumery, whose cosmetics and perfumes — inspired by the surrounding landscape — are made on-site, by hand, in small batches. Here, journey into the fascinating world of scent and create a unique fragrance — a memorable way to document your stay in Ireland.
Galway, the City of Tribes, is the cultural heart of the West, where animated storytelling and traditional music infiltrate every lane, pier and road. A lively culinary scene fuels this bustling destination. Across the centre’s burrow of streets is the Michelin-starred Aniar, whose ever-changing menu is the perfect reward following your day’s outings.
On the city’s outskirts and overlooking Lough Corrib is the five-star Glenlo Abbey, dating to the 18th century. Ideal for golf enthusiasts, this five-star establishment personifies elegance and even houses former carriages from the Orient Express on the grounds — the captivating Pullman Restaurant. Relax for the evening in the bedrooms or suites, which deftly encapsulate the property’s old-world charm.
Return to Galway, where Galway Food Tours will introduce you to artisan producers, chocolatiers, brewers, traditional business owners and young entrepreneurs, all devoted to nurturing the city’s rich culinary scene.
If you’ve room for lunch, visit Ard Bia at Nimmo’s, one of Galway’s most popular eateries, which places equal emphasis on community experiences and serving great food. While its roots are local, the kitchen’s inspiration is universal.
Exchange the fast pace of Galway for the otherworldly Connemara. You’ll be lost for words while basking in the riot of colours or spotting the smorgasbord of wildlife amongst the heather and grasslands. Light and sound, dancing in tandem, activate this multifaceted environment.
A highlight of any visit to Connemara is a stay at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, which effortlessly marries indulgence with fortifying activities. Curl up in front of an open log fire with a book from the library or explore the landscaped walled gardens. Better yet, accept the call of the waters and enjoy some on-site fly fishing. The many salmon and sea trout navigating the river give Ballynahinch its reputation as a leading destination for anglers.
While Ballynahinch Castle Hotel operates a catch-and-release system, you can sample the delights of the local region in its Owenmore restaurant, where dishes are simple yet sophisticated. The space doubles as a gallery with walls bestrewn with masterpieces from icons like Louis le Brocquy, Jack Yeats, Mary Swanzy and William John Leech.
Few places demonstrate the harmonious interplay of nature than Connemara National Park’s 2,000 hectares of mountains, bogs, heaths and woodlands. Enrich your body, mind and soul amongst the myriad walking trails, habitats and unique flora and fauna.
French poet Leon Paul Fargue once argued that “eating an oyster is like kissing the sea on the lips.” Put this vivid description to the test at the Dooncastle Oysters Food Truck, perched on the shores of Kylemore Lough, before visiting Kylemore Abbey, one of Ireland’s most admired and spiritual properties, thanks to the presence of the Benedictine nuns.
Constructed in the late nineteenth century, the abbey’s impressive neo-gothic-style exterior calls to mind a fairy-tale castle. The Victorian walled garden and magnificent church, resembling a miniature cathedral, are highlights on the grounds.
Your exploration of Ireland’s most lauded architecture continues at County Mayo’s five-star Ashford Castle, the former home of the Guinness family and a crown jewel in our hospitality industry. Amongst its many assets is the George V Dining Room, named in honour of the future monarch’s visit in 1905.
Under the watchful eye of Waterford Crystal chandeliers and rich panelled walls, the restaurant’s signature dishes include beef, carved from a table-side trolley, and the daily catch of the day, sourced from nearby waters. Be sure to pack your best dinner jacket. Later, recline in your bedroom or suite, where the castle’s original features and carefully sourced antique furniture sit alongside the latest modern luxuries and sumptuous fabrics.
There’s no better way to mark the end of your expedition along the Wild Atlantic Way than a trip across Lough Corrib, one of many activities organised by Ashford Castle. Spend the morning gliding along the clear waters in a traditional, hand-crafted wooden boat. Alternative on-site experiences include falconry, clay shooting, archery and horse-riding along the woodland trails.
Before setting off for Ireland West Airport, sample the local and international dishes in Ashford Castle’s Cullen’s at the Cottage. Aside from its current role as a restaurant, this charming thatched property once served as a cinema for the people of nearby Cong, recognised as the first place in the world to screen the locally filmed, Oscar-winning masterpiece, The Quiet Man — even before it was shown in Hollywood.
This honour is fitting because today, every visitor exploring the Wild Atlantic Way is treated like an A-list star.
Ready to indulge in your own luxury road trip adventure across Ireland? Then start planning on the official Tourism Ireland website.