In magical, mystical Ireland,
a walk on the wild side

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

On foot, by bike or in a vehicle, there’s no wrong way to explore Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

Picture a rich tapestry of charming and colourful towns, pristine coastlines dotted with thickets of gorse, and verdant fields grazed to a velvety nub by millions of gambolling sheep.

On foot, by bike or in a vehicle, there’s no wrong way to explore the Wild Atlantic Way, a panoramic highway that stretches 2,500 km along Ireland’s western seaboard. 

I did all three on a road trip through the northern section of world’s longest defined coastal touring route, and I can attest that this journey showcases Mother Nature at her most brilliant.

Here are 7 magical sights you shouldn’t miss:

Great Western Greenway in Ireland

1. Great Western Greenway

Every moment on the 49-km-long Great Western Greenway is a bit like being in a scene from a movie, and traversing this off-traffic route on foot or by bike is a superb way to take it all in.

Pastures with fluffy sheep and frisky lambs abound, as do leafy woodlands separated a patchwork of farmland and the occasional village. If you’re lucky, as I was, you’ll walk or ride under azure skies and cottony white clouds.

It’s especially lovely the greenway only exists thanks to the generosity of landowners who agreed to allow the public access through their lands. Wherever you go, it’s like finding the pot of gold at the end of an Irish rainbow.

You should know: Begins in Westport, ends on Achill Island. Bike/ebike rentals at towns along the greenway; some companies offer a pick-up service.

Keem Beach in Ireland

2. Keem Beach

Framed by the vertiginous Croaghaun Mountain and sheltered by the horseshoe-shaped Keem Bay, Keem Beach is a sublime study in contrasts — striking yet secluded, dramatic yet tranquil.

After watching The Banshees of Inisherin, parts of which were filmed here, I knew I had to visit.

Keem’s star has shone even more brightly since Lonely Planet named it one of the top 100 beaches in the world for 2024. With its cerulean waters and sunkissed sands, there’s no question Keem Beach is ready for its closeup.

The beach is on the western tip of Achill Island, accessible by a corkscrew cliff-top route. Bring your Gravol and watch for sheep casually crossing the road.

You should know: Popular activities include swimming, surfing, snorkelling. Parking is available near the beach. The village of Keel is 10 km away.

Mayo Dark Sky Park and Wild Nephin National Park

3. Mayo Dark Sky Park 
4. Wild Nephin National Park

If you were captivated by the aurora borealis over Vancouver Island recently, you’ll be utterly dazzled by Mayo Dark Sky Park, home to some of the darkest skies in the world.

Mayo is Ireland’s first Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park and the premier location to see thousands of stars blazing in the night skies as well as the occasional meteor shower, all with the naked eye.

But remarkably, Mayo Dark Sky Park is actually two sights in one: On terra firma, this same 150-sq-km area is known as Wild Nephin National Park, with untamed grasslands and mountainous terrain that comprise some of the most remote lands in Ireland.

Most of Wild Nephin is geared for experienced hikers but there are several walks on the mild side with scenic views of the Nephin Beg mountains and Owenduff bog, one of the last active blanket bog systems in Western Europe.

Want to experience the magic in daytime and night from the same spot? I recommend the Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail. In daylight, explore on a gently curving boardwalk set atop the massive bog. Walk back along the seashore, keeping your eyes open for the otters and grey herons that call this area home.

Then at nightfall, settle back in your front-row seat for a cosmic display that’s out of this world.

On a clear night, you can almost see forever.

You should know: Both parks are free to visit year-round. Parking is available near the Claggan trail, located seven km from the village of Mulranny.

Simply put, Slieve League embodies Ireland’s iconic landscape, and it’s breathtaking.

5. Slieve League

There’s a reason Lonely Planet has named Donegal the fourth best region in the world to visit in 2024 — it’s Slieve League, the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe.

Rugged, remote and akin to being at the edge of the world, the mountain soars dramatically 601 metres into the heavens, three times the height of the more visited Cliffs of Moher. In fact, at Slieve League, they sometimes refer playfully to the Cliffs of Moher as the “Steps of Moher.”

At Slieve League’s peak, wispy tendrils of cloud reach down to embrace jagged edges; at its base, foaming whitecaps crash where the Atlantic Ocean meets the land. Ever-present sheep graze at their leisure, adding a timeless charm to the scene as they step nimbly from luxuriant knolls to craggy outcroppings.

Simply put, Slieve League embodies Ireland’s iconic landscape, and it’s breathtaking.

You should know: Free to visit. Parking fees vary depending on the lot and season. Shuttle bus available. Fully wheelchair-accessible. Located 50 km from Donegal town.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

6. Giant’s Causeway

Did Irish giant Finn McCool create the eye-popping Giant’s Causeway to reach his Scottish rival to do battle — or so he could stride across the Irish Sea to the lithesome lass who was his one true love? Or, as geologists posit, was this exceptional concentration of 40,000 hexagonal basalt stones created in a volcanic age 60 million years ago?

Whichever explanation you prefer, it’s not surprising that Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site is also one of its most Instagrammed. Basalt stones are uneven and smooth, so if, like hundreds of thousands of tourists who’ve clambered high onto the columns, you want a picture-perfect moment, good lace-up shoes are a must. 

Don’t forget to head to the lower columns and water’s edge for phenomenal views of Scotland.

You should know: Ticket pre-booking recommended; prices include parking and tours. Excellent visitor centre and Causeway Green Trail are fully accessible. Walkable (3 km) from Bushmills village, N.I.

Carrick-a-Rede, Northern Ireland

7. Carrick-a-Rede

From following in the footsteps of giants to wobbling in the footsteps of fishermen … I’m no thrill-seeker but I’ve long wanted to visit this 20-metre-long rope bridge, built by salmon fishermen in 1755 so they could walk to the rocky island of Carrick-a-Rede for better fishing.

At certain points in its history this bridge had only one guardrail — eek! — but goosebumps now come from undulating some 30 metres above a chasm in the Atlantic, as well as the unrivalled views of Scotland from this vantage point. 

The coastal walk from the parking lot to the bridge also features outstanding views and photo opportunities.

You should know: Bridge is closed during strong winds. Prebuying tickets is essential. Not wheelchair accessible. Located eight km from Ballycastle town, N.I.

This article originally ran in the Victoria Times-Colonist

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Find more travel inspiration on my Instagram, @JuanitaNg

except Mayo Dark Sky Park/Wild Nephin National Park, which is courtesy of the park