Wild Atlantic Way
Winding along the length of the Emerald Isle, from Malin a willingness to step off the traditional tourist trail then Head, the northern tip of County Donegal, to the southern culinary you must visit the Wild hotspot of Kinsale in County Cork, The Wild Atlantic Way journey is the longest Atlantic Way – a 2,500 km fully signposted coastal driving route in the world, presenting 157 discovery points, 1,000 attractions and, with more than 2,000 activities, a huge array of touring route which promises to share the potential stopping-off points.
From a 10-day chauffeur-driven journey to your own bespoke itinerary, Dream Escape can craft you a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will take you off the beaten track and to the most beautiful parts of Ireland. From Cork in the South, through regions like Connemara, Galway, Clare and Kerry, to Donegal in the North, we can ensure you find the Ireland you have always imagined.
Passing by towering cliffs and twisting roads, your excursions will range from helicopter flights to exclusive access to magnificent stately homes, with overnight stays in intimate and luxurious accommodation. Expect blasts of sea air, stunning views and dramatic landscapes, and some of the most remarkable places to both visit and stay imaginable - castles, gardens and waterfalls by day, elegant, authentic and unique hotels, country houses and private residences by night, all hand-picked exclusively for you by the team at Dream Escape.
The most beautiful and celebrated part of the Emerald Isle, this is spray-in-your-face, salt-on-your-windscreen territory to rival any of the world’s great coastal trips – and to whet your appetite, here is just a small taster of some of the unforgettable highlights to expect on your magical Dream Escape journey:
THE SPECTACULAR SOUTH
Begin your exploration of southern Ireland with a visit to Cork, Ireland’s second largest and southernmost city with a history dating back to the 6th century. Founded on islands in an estuary, waterways circle the city centre crossed by over 20 bridges. Hilly neighbourhoods climb the river banks, stacked with colourful houses. The Georgian architecture gives the city a Continental feel, and it is a creative and exciting place, renowned for learning, with a world class university and specialist colleges. It has a rich musical tradition and is home to no less than 24 festivals running throughout the year.
For luxury accommodation in the heart of Cork city you won’t find better than Hayfield Manor - the estate was originally owned by the Musgrave family, the famous Cork merchants. The current owners, the Scally Family, purchased the estate from the Musgrave family and established Cork's first 5 star hotel. Treat yourself and indulge in a treatment at Beautique Spa, and when hunger calls head to Perrotts Garden 2 AA Rosette Restaurant.
Nearby, Kinsale is one of the prettiest small towns in Ireland, with its crooked streets, slate hung houses and bow-fronted shops. It has a long and chequered history. The Battle of Kinsale in 1601 was the ultimate battle in England’s conquest of Gaelic Ireland.
The Irish forces and their Spanish allies were defeated which signified the end of the old Gaelic order, Irish resistance and marked a turning point in the history books. For over 300 years it was a garrison town and port of consequence, which left a legacy of Georgian and Victorian architecture.
Overnight, Perryville House is a Dream Escape team favourite – a masterpiece of Georgian architecture with later Victorian embellishment, built in 1820 by Captain Adam Warren Perry for his family whose ancestors continued to reside there until the late 1950s. Situated in the heart of Kinsale, overlooking the harbour, it is a fabulous starting point. Sink into one of the sumptuous sofas in the Drawing Room; indulge in afternoon tea or artisan coffee with home-baked treats in their light-filled Garden Room; or savour your favourite Irish tipple or aperitif. Whatever mood you’re in, you will be made to feel at home here.
For some peace and quiet away from the mainland, Dream Escape can arrange a sailing trip across the crystal-clear waters, passing seals on the rocks and relishing the to Garnish Island, located in the sheltered harbour of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay.
Known as the “Garden Island” this is a delightful and peaceful place to reflect and wander, and see the charming Italian gardens, pool, miniature temple and towers. It is known to horticulturists and lovers of trees and shrubs all around the world as an island garden of rare beauty.
The island is renowned for its richness of plant form and colour, which change continuously with the seasons. Pathways wind around the landscape, leading to several fascinating garden buildings, such as the Grecian temple, the clock tower, the casita, and an original Martello Tower. Bryce House, the family residence on the island for many years, is presented as it would have appeared during their lifetime.
A selection from their vast collection of important paintings, prints, drawings, and books can be seen on display inside.
Let your journey continue to ‘The Kingdom’ of Kerry, a land of majestic beauty – where a glorious mix of moody mountains, vibrant towns, historic houses and a superstar island will take your breath away.
Make your first stop the beautiful heritage town of Kenmare - a haven of gourmet food, riding and breathtaking scenery. Stop at the famous ‘Ladies View’ - a lovely gift and clothing boutique with a coffee shop and panoramic views of Killarney’s Lakes and mountains. Head to the shores of Kenmare Bay to discover the sea life or try your hand at water sports.
Or why not try a chocolate making course? Find out the origins of chocolate, and make your own, under the helm of French chocolatier Benoit Lorge, who lives in Bonane, Kenmare.
Kenmare is a gourmet’s dream with so many quality restaurants to choose from, in town head to The Lime Tree Restaurant, housed in a beautiful building dating back to 1832, and for spectacular waterfront views, The Boathouse Wine House and Bistro - and you mustn't leave before trying at least one scoop of the delicious Kenmare homemade ice cream!
Deep in the heart of County Kerry, the Killarney National Park is one of the most majestic parts of the Wild Atlantic Way, with soaring mountains, tranquil waters and indigo-coloured lakes. Walking or cycling around here is a real delight, but you might prefer to discover this landscape in a traditional jaunting car - a light two-wheeled horse-driven carriage. With a soundtrack of hooves clip clopping along and a cheerful guide leading the way, the tour covers the park’s most scenic spots including the 15th century Ross Castle and the moodily beautiful Lough Leane – all you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy a uniquely Irish mode of travel.
Getting here by kayak, silently gliding through the inky waters, you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, and watch the wildlife - peacefully undisturbed by your arrival.
Another way to explore is by private boat, with a knowledgeable captain who will peruse the waters of Lough Léin, the largest of Killarney's three scenic lakes, while telling stories about the area’s rich history and the stunning mountain-shrouded valley where the lakes reside.
Sit back and enjoy the ride taking in the local sights of Ross Castle and wildlife including whitetailed eagles and red deer as you glide by.
If you are feeling adventurous, you might like to kayak in Lough Leane to Innisfallen Island, the largest and most interesting of Killarney National Park's twenty-six islands. It's an incredibly romantic spot, heavily wooded, littered with age-old ruins and home to a herd of sika deer.
Getting here by kayak, silently gliding through the inky waters, you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, and watch the wildlife - peacefully undisturbed by your arrival.
Or why not take a private tour of Kerry’s historic houses? Within Killarney National Park you will find Killarney House, restored to its former glory, and the magnificent Victorian mansion, Muckross House with its traditional farms. Here you can experience an authentic outdoor interpretation of rural life in Kerry in the 1930s and 1940s. Or, situated on the scenic Kerry coast, west of Killarney, you will find Derrynane House, the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connell, the Irish statesman who played an important role in gaining Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Together with 120 hectares it makes up Derrynane National Historic Park.
Wonders of coves and islands, beaches and bays dotted along this curvaceous coastline is an experience as real and raw as Ireland gets. This is a place to lose yourself, get that inner calm and learn to match the famously relaxed pace of the locals.
One of the most luxurious hotels in County Kerry, Sheen Falls Lodge sits on a 300-acre estate just outside the heritage town of Kenmare. Offering a range of lavish guest rooms and sumptuous cuisine, Sheen Falls Lodge is an ideal place to relax, surrounded by magical woodlands and cascading waterfalls, at the edge of Kenmare Bay. Unwind at Easanna Spa, which includes an indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room and Voya and Elemis treatments. For active breaks, there is plenty to do without ever leaving the estate, including horse riding, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, falconry and kayaking. The surrounding area also offers golf, water-based sports, mountain climbing, chocolate making and pottery lessons.
Dingle Peninsula and Great Blasket Island
Ringed by sandy beaches and craggy cliffs, rolling hills and mountains, Dingle Peninsula is a beautifully untouched part of Ireland - west Kerry paradise at its best. With every turn leading down meandering country lanes to wild hedgerows, endless skies and cosy thatched pubs, it will steal your heart.
Idyllic beaches include Inch Beach on the peninsula’s southern stretch, a known stargazing spot, and Beál Bán beach, an easy walk from Ballyferriter village, only really known to locals. Inland you cannot miss the 952m Mount Brandon - and in the westernmost point of the Dingle Peninsula, located in the barony of Corca Dhuibhne, Dunmore Head. Watch the roaring waves roll in towards the sea cliffs and breathe in the bracing sea air. Take a hike on the magnificent headland to appreciate the stunning scenery. Look out for the Blasket Islands in the distance and admire the miles of undulating coastline.
Trek to the highest point and you will find an Ogham stone, a reminder of Ireland's ancient history, and see where the Spanish Armada ships, the Santa Maria de la Rosa and San Juan, perished in 1588. Spot seabirds swooping in the sky above you and marvel at the wildflowers dotted along the Dunmore Head Loop.
Have you ever visited a Gaeltacht village? Stop at Dún Chaoin where you are surrounded by more beautiful and picturesque walks, dramatic cliffs and more coastal scenery.
1km off the coast of Kerry is Great Blasket Island, where another abandoned village awaits you, otherwise the majority of the island is a wilderness site - a walker's paradise! Visit the Great Blasket Centre, at the halfway point of the Slea Head Drive, and learn more about the literature, language and way of life of the inhabitants of the Blasket Islands.
Scene of many shipwrecks over the centuries and once the home of a close-knit fishing and farming community, they have been uninhabited since 1953.
Take a memorable boat trip out to visit the jagged crag of Skellig Michael and the remarkable hermitage founded there by monks some 1,300 years ago. One of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country, Skellig Michael is an inhospitable rock rising out of the Atlantic covers an area of less than 50 acres. Monks settled on the rock during the 6th century; perched on a ledge and reached by an amazing 1,000-year-old stairway is an isolated early Christian monastery.
Head further north along the coast to Ballydavid and you will reach Gallarus Oratory, the bestpreserved early Christian church in Ireland. Built between the seventh and eighth century Gallarus Oratory represents the apogee of dry-stone corbelling, using techniques first developed by Neolithic tomb makers. The stones were laid at a slight angle, lower on the outside then the inside to allow water to run off. According to local legend, if a person climbs out of the oratory via the window, their soul will be cleansed. This is, however, physically impossible, because the window is approximately 18cm in length and 12cm in width!
Once you're ready to settle down for the night, Adare Manor, set on a magnificent 840-acre estate in the heart of the picturesque village of Adare, is a neo-Gothic architectural masterpiece, once the family seat of the Earls of Dunraven. Today it is defined by its spectacular setting, authentic historic character, and impeccable service - with Georgian-style furnishings, luscious textiles and marble bathrooms. Enjoy a plethora of activities in and around the sweeping estate of formal gardens, peaceful forests and rolling parklands.
Falconry, archery, gun dog displays, fishing and more are conducted on site, with further adventures such as horseback riding and shooting available within a short drive of the Manor House.
Golfers will be tempted by the prospect of a perfect round on the resort’s Tom Fazio designed championship golf course, which will be hosting the Ryder Cup in 2027, while Adare Manor boasts the only La Mer spa in the UK and Ireland. Just outside the Manor gates, the charming village of Adare is a beautiful blend of traditional thatched cottages, antique shops, boutiques and friendly pubs.
THE BEST OF THE WEST
In the western section of the Wild Atlantic Way you first reach Limerick, where your Dream Escape programme might involve coasteering – climbing, jumping, scrambling and swimming around the rock pools, cliffs and caves. Take a RIB tour of the Shannon Estuary featuring great wildlife and the historic Scattery Island, which contains the ruins of a 6th-century monastery, several medieval churches and a unique 10th-century round tower.
Or why not veer off the coastal route and pay a visit to Limerick City? Here you could visit the newly redeveloped King John’s Castle, or experience local produce at Limerick’s Milk Market.
Overnight, there are many wonderful hotels and private residences in this region. Stay a night or two at Glin Castle - Home for 800 years to the FitzGerald family, hereditary Knights of Glin. The castle stands proudly in the middle of its 400-acre spectacular wooded demesne on the banks of the Shannon. It is home to Catherine FitzGerald, an expert landscape designer, her family and Sooty the dog.
This authentic Irish castle is also ideal for golfers who want to enjoy golf at the world-renowned Ballybunion links course – Doonbeg, Lahinch, Tralee and Adare are also within easy reach. Just imagine coming back from a day on the fairways to your very own castle with roaring fires and a hot toddy waiting.
Outdoor pursuits include rough shooting and fishing on the Feale river at Listowel, cycling trips to explore the Kerry coast, visiting local private gardens and enjoying an afternoon tea with the owners. Back at the castle local traditional musicians will play during an Irish whiskey tasting evening in the hall, where there will be Irish dancing to accompany a botanical cocktail evening with an expert who makes his own cordials using botanicals from the Burren.
Next on your journey might be the unmissable ‘Banner County’ of Clare. Iconic towering cliffs, an ancient limestone landscape, rocky National Park (the Burren) and quaint towns full of character, Clare, is a coastal county brimming with natural charm, big screen stardom and outstanding views.
Lonely Planet named the Burren Ecotourism Network in their ‘Best in Travel 2021’. It puts the area in the top 30 places to travel in the world and is a great credit to the local community who have worked so hard.
Start your day with a private visit to the Burren Perfumery, to meet owner Sadie Chowen, who makes natural and organic perfumes, soaps, and skincare products inspired by the surrounding flora. Stop for some Linnalla artisan ice-cream made at the edge of Flaggy Shore (made famous in the Seamus Heaney poem ‘Spirit Level’) using milk from the shorthorn cows native to the Burren.
When hunger calls pop into the Hazel Mountain Chocolate Shop, a quirky café with gluten-free cakes and pastries, or head to the Burren Smokehouse, an Irish family-run producer of smoked fish.
Meet local farmer, walking enthusiast and historian, Pat Sweeney, to take you on a private hike along the coastal trail, and above the Doolin cliffs, which lead to the stunning Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s top attractions. With the green fields on one side and the pounding waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the other, this is a unique way to experience the stunning views and breath-taking rural beauty.
Overnight Gregans Castle Hotel is a stunning 18th Century manor house idyllically situated overlooking the unique Burren landscape, with breathtaking views across Galway Bay. Inside, guests will find welcoming open fires, candlelight and striking decoration ranging from modern art to antique furniture to pretty garden flowers adorning the rooms.
The location is ideal for days out in the Burren, from exploring the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands to wild food walks. The hotel sits on the Burren Food Trail - a celebration of local, wild and seasonal produce of the Burren. Other local activities include horse-riding, surfing, sea angling and golf.
Guests have included JRR Tolkien, who is said to have been influenced by the Burren when writing The Lord of the Rings, as well as other revered artists and writers such as Sean Scully and Seamus Heaney. a culinary tour around Galway, perhaps followed by a botanical cocktail evening, or private whiskey tasting experience is certain to be another highlight.
Galway stretches from green fields and rich farmlands to the unique karst landscape of the Burren and into Galway city, the trout fishing capital of Europe, and along the wild, rugged coast. Galway has one of the highest densities of restaurants in Ireland and includes two of the country ‘s Michelin Star restaurants: Aniar and Loam. Galway is a city with a proud seafaring tradition and Galway Bay is one of the most celebrated oyster fisheries, where the native Irish oyster is widely prized as a delicacy in the later months of the year. Under the huge skies of north Mayo, you could spend an afternoon, with experts, foraging for food along the shoreline. Later you could dry your seaweed, and prepare a feast from what you have found. Or pop across to Ireland’s largest island – Achill Island – with its tall sea cliffs, bare mountains and sweeping sandy beaches and Deserted Village - not to mention delicious oysters served straightfrom-the-ocean!
Back in Galway the off-the-beaten-track choices range from taking a walk out to the tidal island of Finish, to Irish music and dance classes, to catching lobster at Roundstone Harbour. Or head into the city to enjoy the delights of the Irish pub and music scene with ever-lively shopping streets providing much entertainment.
And last, but by no means least, stay overnight at Ashford Castle - a remarkable 800-year-old castle, set in 350 acres of woodland on the shores of Lough Corrib - once home to the Guinness family. Discover exquisite interiors with unique artwork, Donegal crystal chandeliers, panelled oak walls and hand-carved fireplaces, and rich silks adorning the walls.
Watch hawks soar at Ireland’s first School of Falconry; enjoy a round of golf on a course designed by Eddie Hackett and restore inner peace and harmony at the state-of-the-art spa. Take the lake cruise to explore the stunning scenery and surrounding islands or try your hand at the ancient pastimes of archery and clay shooting. There are over 25 activities on the Estate.
Extraordinary dining experiences await in the Dungeon, the George V restaurant and in the wine cellars beneath the castle, with fine Irish cuisine made from fresh seasonal produce, homegrown ingredients from the estate and sourced locally from artisan suppliers. In the evening, retreat to the billiards room, watch a movie in the 32 seater cinema, try one of the 60 Irish whiskies in the Prince of Wales Bar or enjoy the very best entertainment in the Drawing Room.
SLIEVE LEAGUE AND THE NORTH
Wild, dramatic, majestic – standing at the top of the magnificent Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) cliffs, it feels like you are at the very edge of the world! Rising almost 2000ft from the Atlantic, the Slieve League Cliffs are known as the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe - over twice as high as their more famous ‘slightly distant’ cousins the Cliffs of Moher.
From any of the designated viewing points, on a clear day you can see right across to Sligo and Leitrim and all the way to the mountains of the Mayo coast, Rathlin O' Byrne Island and Glencolmcille.
Experienced hikers wishing to reach the highest point of Slieve League, take a narrow pathway to the intimidating One Man’s Pass, which loops around onto the Pilgrim's Path.
There is nothing quite like standing 609m above the sea on top of the Slieve League cliffs, but there are equally breath-taking ways to survey some of Europe’s tallest sea cliffs. You might prefer an incredible bird’s-eye view from a private helicopter, or to soak up the vista during an intimate boat charter. Whichever you choose the views of these majestic cliffs - experienced from the ocean, land, or air - will be equally spectacular.
If by boat, on warmer days you could take a dip in the ocean – and swim in the clear waters, where dolphins, whales and seals are often spotted peaking up from beneath the waves, and birds will swoop overhead to nest in the nooks of the cliffs. If on foot, before you get to the cliffs be sure to pop into the award-winning Slieve League Cliffs Centre run by husband and wife team Paddy and Siobhan Clarke. Once a deep sea fisherman for twenty years, Paddy earned a masters in archaeology and qualified as a Failte Ireland tour guide, in heritage and hiking. Their craft shop stocks locally made knitwear and artworks and, in summertime, you can even catch a traditional Irish music session.
At the base of the cliffs do not miss the imposing Giant’s Desk and Chair, while megalithic tombs revive mythical links to Finn McCool and the Fiona of old.
Let your adventure continue, taking you back inland to Donegal. There are a million reasons to visit this wild and wonderful county, from the rich cultural heritage to the breath-taking adventures, incredible landscapes, towering peaks, rugged coastlines and a host of golden beaches.
Be sure to take time to visit the majestic Portsalon, once voted the second most beautiful beach in the world. Nine miles off the coast of Donegal you might enjoy a private boat charter to explore Tory Island and meet their king! The island is today home to a community of artists, as well as 130 Gaelic Villagers led by their very own king. The Tau Cross carved from a single slab of slate and a place of prayer for fisherman heading out to sea, is a must see.
You might like us to arrange you a private visit to McNutt of Donegal, producer of fine Irish weaves for over 60 years - or perhaps a private experience to meet the family behind the famous Magee Tweed.
Head into the Derryveagh Mountains and beautiful Glenveagh National Park, a wilderness of rugged mountains, pristine lakes, tumbling waterfalls and oak woodlands. Surrounded by the Derryveagh Mountains, Glenveagh National Park's remoteness only heightens its haunting beauty. This vast wilderness boasts the largest herd of Red Deer in Ireland and has also reintroduced the Golden Eagle to Irish Shores.
And for the pièce de résistance, Glenveagh Castle on the shores of Lough Veagh is another must - constructed in 1867, the castle was inspired by the Victorian idyll of a romantic Highland retreat, while the castle gardens still retain their original Victorian layout and are considered a horticulturist masterpiece. Meet the Gardener and enjoy a private tour - of note are the Walled Garden, Italian Terrace and Tuscan Garden.
If you fancy learning a bit of the language in a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area to see you on your way, we can put Glen Columbkille on your route. Here you can watch hand weavers at work and take away a piece of Donegal tweed at Studio Donegal in Kilcar, while another great stop is Leo’s Tavern, the home of the first lady of Celtic music, Moya Brennan of Clannad fame and her world-renowned sister Enya.
Head into the Derryveagh Mountains and beautiful Glenveagh National Park, a wilderness of rugged mountains, pristine lakes, tumbling waterfalls and oak woodlands.
Overnight the private estate, Coopershill will be certain not to disappoint. Set in an idyllic corner of Sligo, inland from the coast on an estate boasting 500 acres of mature woodland, deer pastures and a river, this gorgeous country house has been the beloved family home of the O’Haras for eight generations.
Explore the rugged Sligo countryside, mountains, lakes, megalithic tombs and stunning beaches. You might also enjoy kayaking, horse riding and fishing - and don’t leave before experiencing one of Sligo's famous seaweed baths!
Back on the 500-acre estate take a stroll through the woods and deer pastures - a haven for wildlife including red squirrels, pine martens, fallow deer, woodpeckers and Irish stoats. Follow the Hawk Walk before heading back inside for a gin and tonic beside an open log fire.
Back in Donegal, you might want to complete your journey with an overnight stay in the magnificent Lough Eske Castle – where your own Castle suite, or secret hideaway, Lake Lodge, awaits. Set within 43 acres of forest at the foot of the mountains, this stunning castle boasts a luxurious spa and beautiful gardens. An ultimate sanctuary for relaxation – the perfect end to your unforgettable tour of the Wild Atlantic Way!
TIMES TO TREASURE
Wherever your Dream Escape takes you along this amazing road trip, you will encounter moments of magic, times to treasure and experiences that capture your senses.
Colourful cottages, windswept lighthouses, and luxury accommodation will give you all the comfort to retreat to after each day’s adventure, and a traditional Irish breakfast will set you up for the next days’ encounters, be it with surfers, swimmers, walkers, kayakers, artists, storytellers, and islanders. Once experienced never forgotten. You will soon want to come back and lose yourself again in this winding, thrilling piece of coastline, the place they call Ireland.