14 Breathtaking Scottish Walks To Add To Your Travel Bucket List

Fancy watching dolphins leap in the water while you hike across an unspoilt bay? Come to Scotland.

1. The Fife Coastal Path

This beautiful footpath is part of the larger North Sea Trail and runs from the Forth Estuary near Edinburgh to the Tay Estuary in the north, passing beautiful towns and villages like St Andrews and Crail on the way. You don’t have to walk the entire 115-mile stretch: There are plenty of short walks you can do, including this scenic 12-mile jaunt from Lower Largo to Pittenweem.

2. The Great Glen Way

This iconic 115-mile walking route links Inverness with Fort William via the Great Glen: a sweeping, 62-mile-long valley that cuts through the Highlands and contains several lochs, including Loch Ness and Loch Linnhe. If you don’t have time to walk 115 miles, then you should try the 12-mile Gairlochy to Laggan section. It runs alongside Loch Lochy, so it’s a particularly scenic option.

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3. The Moray Coast Trail

This 50-mile hike along Moray’s rugged cliffs is ideal for wildlife fans, as the Moray Firth is home to the only pod of resident bottlenose dolphins in the UK, as well as innumerable seabirds and friendly seals. If you don’t want to walk the whole trail, the seven-mile Portknockie to Cullen section is a fantastic option as it passes the rock arch Bow Fiddle Rock (above).

4. The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way is one of the most popular long-distance trails in Scotland, as it passes almost all of Scotland’s most iconic sights, including Loch Lomond, Buachaille Etive Mor, and Glen Coe. It takes a week to walk the 96-mile route, but there are plenty of places to stop along the way, including Clachaig Inn, where scenes featuring Hagrid’s Hut were filmed for the Harry Potter movies.

 

5. Mull of Galloway Trail

This volunteer-run coastal trail runs the length of the Mull of Galloway, which is the southernmost tip of Scotland and famous for its breathtaking views. The route is 35 miles long, so you could theoretically walk it all in one (epic) day, but if you want something a bit less challenging try the 11-mile Glenapp to Stranraer section, which runs around pretty Finnart Bay.

6. The Speyside Way

If you like whisky then you should definitely hike the beautiful Speyside Way, as it runs through one of the most famous whisky-producing areas of the Highlands. It starts on the Moray Coast and follows the River Spey valley, passing several distilleries in the process, including Aberlour. If you want a shorter stroll, the final, 6-mile Boat of Garten to Aviemore section is a real treat.

7. The Three Lochs Way

The “three lochs” in the name of this trail are Loch Lomond, The Gareloch, and Loch Long, which all form a scenic backdrop as you walk the 34-mile route. Along the way you’ll pass the Cobbler, one of the largest hills in the area. If you only have time for a short walk, try the Tarbet to Inveruglas section: You can get a ferry from Inveruglas back to Tarbet at the end of the day.

8. The West Island Way

This 24-mile walk around the Isle of Bute is sometimes confused with the West Highland Way, but it’s a lot easier, flatter, and almost as scenic. The route runs around the entire island, and forms two handy circular sections that are ideal if you want a shorter hike. The 5-mile Kilchattan Bay circular is a particularly gorgeous way to spend an afternoon, especially on a sunny day.

9. The Rob Roy Way

This seven-day hike is named after famous 17th-century outlaw and folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor, and follows some of the paths that he was known to use. It runs from the picturesque village of Drymen to the equally pretty town of Pitlochry, past Loch Venachar, Loch Lubnaig, and Loch Tay. For a shorter walk, try the Ardtalnaig to Aberfeldy section: It passes the majestic Falls of Acharn.

10. The John Muir Way

This 134-mile-long trail links the west and east coasts of Scotland. It starts in Helensburgh near Glasgow, and ends in Dunbar, East Lothian, the birthplace of renowned Scottish naturalist John Muir. There are lots of shorter walks you can try along the route, but the final 5-mile North Berwick to Dunbar section (pictured) is arguably the most scenic.

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11. The Kintyre Way

The unspoilt Kintyre Peninsula is best explored on foot, so it’s great that there’s a 100-mile trail running from Tarbert in the north to Machrihanish Bay in the south, passing beaches and hidden coves along the way. If you haven’t got a week to walk the full route, then the Clachan to Tayinloan stretch is a good option: It runs beside the sea and offers views of the Isle of Gigha.

12. The Arran Coastal Way

Like the West Island Way, this route runs all the way around an island, making it ideal for people who want a circular walk. As Arran is a bit bigger than Bute this path runs for a more challenging 65 miles, passing beautiful sights like Lochranza Bay, where Queen Elizabeth II spent her honeymoon. Try the scenic Sannox to Lochranza stretch (9 miles) if you want to see it for yourself.

13. The Southern Upland Way

The Southern Upland Way is an epic, 212-mile coast-to-coast trail, which links the pretty harbour town of Portpatrick in the southwest of Scotland to Cockburnspath in the Scottish Borders. For a particularly satisfying short walk, try St Mary’s Loch (pictured) to Traquair: You can end your day sampling the home-brewed Bear Ale at Traquair House, a listed building that was built in the 1770s.

14. The Cape Wrath Trail

This 200-mile beast of a walk is also known as “Britain’s Toughest Trail”. It ends at Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point on the mainland, passing stunning glens and steep mountains along the way. It takes around three weeks to walk the whole route, but you can do shorter sections. The Rhiconich to Sandwood Bay stretch is particularly beautiful: In fact, it’s like nowhere else on Earth.
H/t Jade Riley Photography and Visit Scotland.

 

 

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Things to Do in Edinburgh

2015-10-30-1446213128-4267013-IMG_5574-thumbGo on a historical walking tour.

A walking tour in Edinburgh is a must as so much of the city’s history is in its streets, hidden in alleyways and market squares. There are loads of tour companies and last minute street tours you can join.

Wander through the shops on Victoria Street.

The collection of restaurants and shops in this colorful bend in the road is one of the hippest corners of the city. The Red Door Gallery is a great spot to grab some local souvenir artwork or take home a Harris tweed bowtie from Walker Slater.

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Picnic in Princes Street Gardens.

If you’re lucky enough to have sunshine in Edinburgh, you have to spend at least one afternoon spread out in these gardens that are in the shadow of the castle. I buy bread, cheese, fruit and wine at the Marks and Spencer Food Hall to share with friends in the park.

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Get your whisky on.

Right on the Royal Mile is a spot I try to pop into whenever I’m in Edinburgh. It is a bar called Whiski. They have live music (often Scottish folk) every night. With over 500 whiskys, they are sure to stock your favorite single malt, but they also offer tastings or “whisky flights” if you’re new to Scotch whisky.

I especially like the flights that highlight the different regions so you can taste the difference between an island malt (peaty/smoky) or a Speyside (usually more smooth).

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Climb a hill for a view of the city.

If you’re feeling energetic, head to the top of Arthur’s Seat for the best views of the city. The walk starts at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Holyrood Park, past the Palace of Holyroodhouse. A smaller hill to climb that also has a great view of the city is Calton Hill. It’s on the opposite side of town from the Royal Mile.

Go to a museum.

There are several great art museums in Edinburgh. My favorite is the Scottish National Gallery in Princes Street Gardens. Bonus: Admission is free. It boasts an impressive collection of both Italian and Dutch masters and of course, famous Scottish artists. Look for William McTaggart’s gorgeous landscape paintings of Scotland’s dreamy west coast. Also free to visit, the National Museum of Scotland is worth a wander just to view the building. It is usually my rainy day back-up plan to any outdoor activities because it is massive.

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There are loads of great tea rooms in Edinburgh, which make it easy to stop multiple times for tea on a rainy day. Valerie Patisserie is our family favorite. Some of the loveliest tea rooms are inside the museums where you can pop in for a slice of cake and some tea to revive you after wandering the exhibits.

Every guidebook to Edinburgh will include touring both Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. These are both great places to visit, but I’ve omitted them because they are already well covered. If you only have one day in the city, you might view these buildings from the outside in favor of a few other choices, especially during the high summer season as they can be very crowded.
Whatever you do in Edinburgh, you are sure to fall in love and want to come back again and again to see the hilltop fort and spires rising up around you.

 

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Ten best kept tourist secrets Dublin has to offer

Dublin is one of Europe's top tourist spots, attracting almost four million visitors every year.
But well-known tourist attractions like Trinity College and the Guinness storehouse are just some of great things travelers can discover.
Here are ten of the best kept secrets Dublin has to offer.

 

1. The U2 Wall

The graffiti-covered wall at Windmill Lane studios stands as a testament to where the iconic Dublin band recorded some of their greatest tunes.
A music lover must-see, this fan wall is more of an accidental gallery than a contrived piece of art
Situated at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, it’s covered in cartoons, lyrics and declarations of love from home and abroad for the greatest band on the planet.
While the studio itself was demolished in April to make way for apartments, the wall – much like the band – remains intact.

 

2. National Leprechaun Museum

If you fancy something a little more left of center, why not visit the cute National Leprechaun Museum?
Learn the history of the leprechaun and other figures of Irish mythology at the museum on Jervis St.
Venture inside the house of a giant, find the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow and even learn how to spot fairy folk in everyday life.
Every bit as mad as it sounds.

 

3. Grangegorman Military Cemetery

Some might find visiting a graveyard spooky but this cemetery feels more like a chilled out sanctuary.
History buffs will enjoy learning about the World War I casualties buried throughout the graveyard.
The Graveyard is on Blackhorse Avenue, off the Navan Road so if it’s a nice day pack a picnic and head to the Phoenix Park afterwards.

Forty Foot

4. The Forty Foot

Swimmers have been diving off this bathing spot at the southern tip of Dublin Bay for over 250 years.
If you really want an authentic experience – and can stomach the mortification along with the cold – hop into the water naked as this bathing area was traditionally a nudist bathing haunt.
After drying off, head to the Martello Tower once inhabited by Oliver John St Gogarty and James Joyce right next to the baths.
Now the James Joyce Tower and Museum, it’s also where the opening of Joyce’s iconic novel Ulysses is set.

 

5. Experience a GAA Match

You’d be hard pushed to find a more exciting day out than watching a Gaelic football or hurling match in Croke Park.
Check the GAA website for fixtures so you can catch a game during your visit – or check out Experience Gaelic Games for a more hands on experience.

 

6. City of a Thousand Welcomes

Dublin is considered one of the friendliest cities in the world, so who better to show you around than a local with insider knowledge?
The City of a Thousand Welcomes is an innovative scheme which helps tourists connect with locals.
More than 3,000 Dubliners have signed up as ambassadors to guide tourists around the city.
Experience the capital with a local by your side and make sure they bring you for a pint of the black stuff.

 

7. Take a tour around Kilmainham Gaol

If history is your thing, a visit to Kilmainham Gaol is unmissable.
A tour through this former prison where 1916 rebels were executed will give you a real feel for Ireland’s resistance to English rule.
You’ll be horrified by tales of life and conditions of 18th and 19th century prisoners, where death in the cells was common.

 

8. The Little Museum of Dublin

This adorable little museum tells the incredible tale of Dublin in the 20th century.
Launched in 2011 with a public appeal for historic objects, this little gem has gone from strength to strength since.
The Irish public have responded generously and today there are over 5,000 artifacts in the collection.
Children attend free civics classes here every morning. The museum also launched the City of a Thousand Welcomes project.

 

9. Dublin Literary Walking Tour

Immerse yourself in the lives of our greatest writers like James Joyce and Jonathan Swift.
Tour participants visit the places where these famous Dublin writers lived, taking in some of the city’s most iconic landmarks at the same time.
You’ll learn which writer was a university athletics champion and who stole and married the gal of a fellow famous novelist.
Literary idols like James Joyce, Johnathan Swift, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde will come to life on this tour, leaving you feeling both learned and cultural.

 

10. Howth loop cliff walk

The views on this breathtaking walk are simply spectacular. On a clear day you can see all the way out to Wicklow Head – and all it will cost you is the price of a Dart ticket.

Howth

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By Public Transit From Dublin…

Hikes, Vistas and Seafood, All for a Song

For its vertical limestone cliffs and unspoiled sea views, Ireland’s dramatic western coastline may get top billing. But visitors to Dublin hoping to catch a glimpse of the rugged beauty of the Emerald Isle needn’t spend extra hours and expense traveling west. For little more than the cost of a pint, they can hop on Dublin Area Rapid Transit, or DART, the city’s electric rail network that winds roughly 30 miles along the eastern coastline, for convenient under-an-hour escapes. The following day trips — whose draws include staggeringly scenic sea cliffs that are destinations in their own right, a James Joyce museum and, no surprise, excellent seafood and beer — promise memorable, and frugal, additions to any Dublin vacation. (Factor in maximum prices for “the Dort,” the Dublin Bus, and the Luas light rail tram system — at 10 euros a day, $12.20 at $1.22 to the euro, or 40 euros a week — and travel costs become even cheaper.) And while wintertime daily highs average in the mid-40s, confining swimming to only the hardiest souls, with views like these, who needs a dip in the ocean?

Sandycove

About 30 minutes by DART from central Dublin (6 euros for a round-trip ticket, or 4.82 euros when purchased with a prepaid Leap card), the village of Sandycove has one pub, one bistro and little more than a handful of other storefronts. Its main lure is the sea, most notably at the Forty Foot, a (free) bathing spot set among a promontory of rocky outcroppings, with its “Gentlemens Bathing Place” metal sign still intact, though no longer enforced. It is popular year-round — especially on Christmas Day, when hundreds of swimmers line up along its stone steps to plunge into the icy waters in what has become an annual tradition.

On the chilly autumn afternoon I visited, I watched a steady stream of seasoned bathers peel off their jackets and sweaters to bathe in the frigid sea, among them Caineach Brady, a 67-year-old Dublin priest who said he swims two to three times a week at the Forty Foot through winter. “It’s absolutely wonderful, the sea against skin,” Father Brady said. I got my feet wet, but demurred at the thought of a full dip, and instead soaked in views of the sea and the sprightly swimmers.

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Sandycove’s other main attraction, just beyond the Forty Foot, is the stone Martello tower where James Joyce had stayed for six fateful nights when he was 22, and provided the setting for the opening scene of “Ulysses.” After a six-month renovation, the James Joyce Tower and Museum (free admission) reopened in April. I pored over a small, captivating collection on the first floor that contained various first editions and other rare books that included a 1935 printing of “Ulysses” with illustrations by Henri Matisse, and a hodgepodge assortment of Joyce’s possessions: a guitar, a leather cabin trunk, a checkered tie he gave to Samuel Beckett, and his last cane.

James Joyce Tower

But it was when I left the first floor that things got more intimate. I climbed my way up an extremely narrow, winding set of very short stone steps — each was about half the length of my foot — and found myself in a re-creation of the “gloomy domed livingroom” Joyce had described in “Ulysses,” with an iron-framed single bed covered with a tattered blanket pushed up against one wall, and a hammock slung across a corner nearby. Up another set of tightly wound steps, and I was on the circular rooftop of the 40-foot tower, with superb views of the endless expanse of Dublin Bay.

“The snotgreen sea” was how the “Ulysses” character Buck Mulligan described it, but as I stood where he made his pronouncement, I couldn’t help but think that description was ungenerous. With waves crashing onto the sharp-edged gray rocks below, sea gulls squawking plaintively above and the heady smell of salt in the air, the turquoise-gray water before me felt meditative, mystical and potent.

Bray

Five stops south of Sandycove on the DART, and about 40 minutes from central Dublin (6.65 euros for a round-trip ticket, or 5.74 euros prepaid) lies the town of Bray, which in the mid-19th century had been one of the country’s largest seaside resorts. During a visit in late October, I found its beachfront — whose sandy stretch gives way to a wide swathe of gorgeously smooth, oval stone — calming and restorative, dotted with just the occasional kite flyer and dog walker, as well as another brave swimmer.

But I found real tranquillity when I ambled along the roughly four-mile Cliff Walk, a stunning coastline path hugging the side of the nearly 800-foot-high Bray Head that squashed my long-held belief that the more challenging a hike, the greater the payoff. The Cliff Walk has a gentle incline (less than 400 feet from bottom to top), picnic tables and benches generously scattered about for frequent rest breaks, and beautiful low stone walls and wire cliff railings in place for much of the path. In return, it affords views of strikingly scenic slate cliffs and Dublin Bay’s thousand shades of blue while winding past stretches of shoulder-height fern and patches of flowering yellow gorse. Out there, I found colors so sharp and vivid, it was as if they had been passed through a saturation filter.

The walk ends in the quaint town of Greystones, whose DART station marks the southern extent of the train line. I popped on a waiting train back to Bray (3.15 euros for a one-way ticket, or 2.41 euros prepaid) where I rested my legs and ordered a crisp flatbread loaded with shrimp, sweet red peppers and caramelized onion (9 euros) at the year-and-a-half-old Platform Pizza Bar, easily the most stylish — and eye-catching — restaurant in town, housed in what resembles a slate-gray shipping container across from Bray’s mile-long beachfront promenade.

Revitalized, I went off to explore the town’s beer scene, starting first at the Porterhouse Bray, the original brewpub that belongs to one of Ireland’s earliest and largest microbreweries, which now has pubs in Dublin, London and New York. I parked myself in front of a roaring fireplace and sampled its super smooth Plain Porter (4.50 euros) followed by its Oyster Stout (4.50 euros), a spicy, bitter beer that takes its name from the fresh oysters used during preparation. Both came dark, cold and with luxuriously creamy heads.

Harbour Bar

I whiled away the rest of the evening at the nearly 150-year-old Harbour Bar, voted the “best bar in the world” in 2010 by Lonely Planet. It was also a haunt of Peter O’Toole, who gave it a giant moosehead decades before taxidermy-lined drinking dens came into (and went out of) vogue. It’s now a warren of cozy rooms brimming with bric-a-brac large and small — framed nautical knots, an Underwood typewriter, a rowboat — serving an excellent selection of beers like the beautifully nuanced amber ale from Wicklow Wolf (5.30 euros), a brewery just a five-minute walk away.

Howth

About 30 minutes on the DART from central Dublin (6 euros for a round-trip ticket, or 4.82 euros prepaid), Howth has a distinctly different mood from Bray: there’s a sandy beach, but it’s not visible from the center of town, unlike the working harbor. And compared with Bray’s Cliff Walk, the Howth Head walk, whose shortest loop runs 3.7 miles around the Howth Peninsula that juts into the Irish Sea, feels less cosseted and more raw.

In late October, when I attempted the walk, I wavered between feeling exhilarated and nerve-racked when the path wound dizzyingly close to the edge of the steep sea cliffs with their precipitous drops and noticeable absence of safety railings. (The misting rain didn’t help either, nor did the abundant “Dangerous Cliffs” signs.)

But I continued on, and I’m glad I did. I passed fields of purple heather and brushed up against bright-green moss-covered stones. And when I approached the summit, I had to agree with H.G. Wells’s description in his 1918 novel “Joan and Peter” of the view from Howth Head as “one of the most beautiful views in the world.” Cliffs now seemed to drop gently into the sea, enveloped in cascading blankets of tawny-colored heathland before the white Baily Lighthouse, which stood at the peninsula’s tip. Shafts of light cut through the clouds, and across Dublin Bay, I made out the looming shapes of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains.

Elated by the view, I headed back to town, where I angled for a seat at Crabby Jo’s, a popular restaurant attached to the Wrights of Howth fish market, more than a century old. As I warmed myself with a bowl of seafood chowder (5.95 euros), I became convinced all chowders would benefit from the addition of smoked haddock, whose rich, salty flavor permeated the creamy version at Crabby Jo’s. I also ordered the open crab sandwich, two lumps of fresh-tasting Kilmore Quay crab tossed with diced apple and celery on a bed of arugula and shallots on dense, crumbly brown bread (9.95 euros).

On a warmer trip, picnic options along the edge of the water abound, including piping-hot fried hake with chips from Beshoff Bros. (8.95 euros), and a messier alternative in whole smoked mackerel with a loaf of bread from Nicky’s Plaice (5 euros, fish priced by weight), a no-frills fish market near the end of the Western Pier. But I was just as happy to be enjoying a nourishing meal in a spot perfect for a wintry Dublin getaway.

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Hiking for ancient relics hidden by fog

From Galway 1 Hour by car

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When most people think of Ireland, they imagine bucolic green fields dotted with fluffy sheep, or cobblestone streets lined with signs advertising Guinness. But I was looking for a lesser-known side to the Emerald Isle. I was deep in the grey, barren mountains of the Connemara region, in County Galway, hiking through land that has remained virtually untouched for thousands of years. The only remnants of human activity are scattered relics left behind by the few others who have been devoted enough to traverse this inhospitable environment.

During the Act of Settlement in 1653, Oliver Cromwell famously ordered Irish landowners to go “to Hell or to Connacht”, one of Ireland’s ancient kingdoms. The two were synonymous in his mind because of the rocky ground conditions and mountainous landscape. Today, Connacht encompasses five counties in the western part of the country, including Galway. But while farming has destroyed most of Ireland’s forested regions, the Maumturk mountain range in Galway’s Connemara region was agriculturally useless, and it was left to grow wild.

Maumturk 1

Culture and information are fluid in this part of Ireland, which is home to the country’s highest number of native Irish language speakers. As such, climbing these mountains requires an equal amount of science (in the form of a good relief map and compass) and reliable local knowledge. My plan was to hike the 8km over the 609m-high Corcogemore (more commonly by known by its Irish name, Corcóg) into Máméan (known in Irish as Mám Éan), the pass that runs between the Inagh and Maum valleys. The Maumturks, a range of six peaks across Connemara, can also be spelled as Maamturks or even Mhám Toirc, and then sometimes colloquially referred to as “The Turks”. It is a reminder of the rapid changes Ireland experienced in its modern history. Not everything could keep up, and not everywhere wanted to.

I picked my steps carefully along Corcogemore, starting on thick, boggy terrain. The Earth’s crust cracked in parts, creating a recessed stream bordered by tall and muddy walls of peat. While not as statistically impressive as other ranges, the Maumturks present a surprisingly challenging climb. Parts of Corcogemore lack any kind of solid ground; sometimes I took a step and sunk up to my knees, other times the spongy ground only gave a few inches. After an hour, the brown and yellow bogscape gave way to granite. Half-dead grass and thick twigs poked out from the jagged rocks, which turned entire parts of the mountain white. The wind picked up and the mist rolled in. I walked through icy fog that cut through each layer of clothing and seeped straight into my bones. I could see the rain start to fall, but I could no longer distinguish that form of water from any other.

The Maumturks are an area of brooding beauty and solitude, which makes them both magnetic and dangerous. The weather changes abruptly and dramatically. A sunny day at sea level could turn into a fog so thick that it feels like it might choke you. The silence and greyness can be so disorienting that sometimes it is impossible to turn back.

Maumturk 2

For this reason, the Maumturks account for 40% of the Galway Mountain Rescue Team’s annual casualty calls, and the majority of those requiring help are tourists. Fluctuating temperatures and unpredictable weather put hikers in danger of hypothermia. Many people underestimate the difficulty and overestimate their abilities to correctly read a relief map and a compass. Beyond all of that, the volunteer-run Galway Mountain Rescue Team has never had a steady headquarters in its nearly 40-year history, making it difficult to train both prospective climbers and new rescuers before they both embark on the dangerous terrain.
A proposed rock climbing wall and mountaineering training centre at the Tonabrucky Quarry in Galway city might alleviate both of these issues. (Pending final approval, development could start as early as next year.) The site aims to draw in tourists before they head into the mountains, and would also serve as a training centre for the Galway Mountain Rescue Team’s volunteers.

 

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Wild Atlantic Way

Discover the Wild Atlantic Way!

The Wild Atlantic Way is set to be Ireland’s first long-distance touring route, stretching along the Atlantic coast from Donegal to West Cork. – The Wild Atlantic Way stretches for 2,500km along Ireland’s western seaboard. From Donegal in the north to Cork in the south, through regions like Connemara, The Burren, Galway Bay and Kerry, the route is the longest defined coastal drive in the world.

You could drive the whole route in one go but you don’t have to. Instead, you may want to slow down and dive in deep. For it’s out on these western extremities – drawn by the constant rhythm of the ocean’s roar and the consistent warmth of the people you’ll find the Ireland you’ve always imagined.