Ireland is a magical place filled with vibrant emerald landscapes that seem to grow right out of rocky cliffs. A land where leprechauns can appear at the end of every rainbow. A place filled with so much sad history that it tugs at your heartstrings but, where the people have persevered and have a positive outlook and a smile for you. There is a perfect Irish saying for any trip to Ireland, “May the road rise up to meet you, and may the wind be always at your back.” Ireland is indeed magical and if you get the chance to visit southwest Ireland, here are my top 20 Irish experiences along the Wild Atlantic Way to have.
Top 20 Irish Experiences Along the Wild Atlantic Way
Killarney is considered the premier tourist town in southwest Ireland. The city is also a starting point for the Ring of Kerry and for seeing the rest of the Wild Atlantic Way. With an abundance of accommodations, restaurants, and pubs along with wonderfully kind and friendly locals you can’t go wrong staying here. There is plenty to see and do within Killarney, including visiting Ross Castle, Muckross House, and Killarney National Park. And a great way to get a tour of the town is to hire a Jaunting car, the horse and buggy, you will see throughout the city.
Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a 125-mile scenic drive through the vastly different landscapes of the Iveragh Peninsula. From Killarney, it is best to take a clockwise route. This is the same direction that the coaches take. Personally, I would feel more comfortable driving with the coaches on the narrow windy roads than against them. The two most significant stops on the Ring of Kerry are the Gap of Dunloe and the Ladies View. Expect to take at least a half-day to drive the entire route which does not include stops.
Killarney Brewing Company
After a long day around the Ring of Kerry, come and relax at Killarney Brewing Company. They have a great wood-fired pizza and of course, adult beverages with ingredients all locally sourced. The operation is right out in the open so, you can see where they brew the beer. Lots of craft beers to choose from and you can even book a behind the scenes tour of the brewing operation.
You can’t come to Ireland and not try the local cuisine. My first night I ate dinner at Salvadors in Killarney. A great little restaurant with friendly servers. I ordered the traditional Guinness Irish Stew. Beef Irish stew cooked in Guinness and served over mashed potatoes. OMG, this was delicious! An excellent hearty meal to warm me up before I go out exploring the rest of Killarney.
Killarney has lots of options to enjoy live music in the evenings. I heard great musicians perform traditional Irish tunes at John M. Reidy’s and The Porterhouse. One night at The Porterhouse was particularly eventful. A bunch of new friends and I were eating dinner and enjoying listening to the guy playing the guitar in the back of the restaurant. Next thing we knew the entire establishment started singing “On the Street Where You Live.” But, what made it even more special is that one of the men eating dinner sang with an operatic voice and became the focal point of the entire room. He even did an encore of “Hallelujah” that brought tears to all of our eyes. What an unbelievable experience!
Celtic Steps is an exciting show that showcases traditional Irish dancing and mixing it with music & song to make an enjoyable night of Irish history and tradition. I saw Celtic Steps perform at the Killarney Racecourse as an exhibition for the TBEX conference I was attending. It is a high energy performance that will make you want to dance alongside them when it is finished.
Touted as the most scenic racecourse in Ireland, I would have to agree. Killarney Racecourse hosted the TBEX welcome party. We were treated to an up-close view of the racehorses around the parade ring. Such beautiful horses! But, the Coup de gras of the night was the amazing sunset over the mountains and racecourse. Wow! I could really enjoy coming here to the horse races with this scenery.
Most countries in Europe have loads of castle ruins but, none as picturesque as the ones in Ireland. The McCarthy Mór castle ruins are evidence of that. I saw this fantastic sunset and castle while on The Original Ghost Tour of Killarney. I also was able to see the ruins of Muckross Abbey on this tour. This isn’t the only castle ruin in Killarney with gorgeous views, Ross Castle is on the banks of Lough Leane, in Killarney National Park and is very impressive. When planning your trip make sure to put in some time to visit the many spectacular castles along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral
Saint Mary’s Cathedral is one of Ireland’s most distinguished Gothic Revival churches of the nineteenth century and has played an important part in Ireland’s history. The cathedral operated as a famine relief center for the sick and suffering before it was even finished being constructed. Saint Mary’s didn’t get finished until after the Great Famine. The story of the giant 100ft redwood by the cathedral is that this tree marks the grave of over 600 children who lost their lives during the Great Famine. And that one of the fathers of the lost children planted this tree, and it survives to this day.
Ireland’s southwest coast and especially along the Wild Atlantic Way is filled with jagged outcroppings of rocks that lead right into the Atlantic Ocean. The Irish have made their home right alongside these cliffs to enjoy the breathtaking scenery every day of their lives. There are numerous routes for you to experience this exceptional view including the Ring of Kerry, Slea Head Drives and even further north to visit the Cliffs of Moher. No visit is complete without seeing the Cliffs in Ireland.
The Seafari Cruise is a family fun adventure to see marine life that lives in Kenmare Bay. Captain Raymond Ross of the Seafari gives everyone the opportunity to intimately experience seals in their natural habitat. Plus, with the boat ride, you can see goats along the shoreline and birds of all sorts including eagles. Seafari Cruise is by far one of my favorite activities in Ireland.
Sheen Falls Lodge
Sheen Falls Lodge is just outside the town of Kenmare. It is one of the most stunning luxury 5-star resorts in the Wild Atlantic Way. The Lodge has 68 rooms/suites, and most of them overlook the magnificent Sheen Falls. Sheen Falls Lodge also has many activities that you can partake in such as fishing, falconry, clay pigeon shooting, horse riding, photography excursions, golf, and of course hiking. If you are looking for a nice getaway, to be pampered and enjoy nature at the same time book your stay at the Sheen Falls Lodge.
Molly Gallivan’s Cottage & Traditional Farm
Molly Gallivan’s is an incredible family adventure that takes you through what it would be like over 200 years ago to live and work on a farm. This is all done without the modern conveniences of machinery. You can tour the farm and meet the animals, Black Pudding, Jeanne, and Eddy, who are the stars of the farm. You can learn about Ireland’s famine history and even go back further with the Druids Sun Calendar. There is a lot to do here at Molly Gallivan’s Cottage & Farm that it wouldn’t be hard to make a whole day out of it.
Slea Head Drive
Slea Head Drive is a 30-mile scenic circular route you can take along the Dingle Peninsula, starting and finishing in Dingle. On this route, you will be able to see the lush green landscape of Ireland and even the rocky cliff coastline that symbolizes the Wild Atlantic Way. Some of the stops you can make are at Ventry Beach, Pre-historic Fort and Beehive Huts, Dunbeg Fort, The Dingle Famine Cottage, views of the Blaskets Islands and Coumenole Beach, Gallarus Oratory and the Páidí Ó Sé (Paddy O’Shea) pub. It is best to go in a clockwise direction with traffic. There are pullouts at most of these stops for you to enjoy them. Roads are narrow so, pay attention and don’t get distracted by the scenery.
Fahan Beehive Huts
When I heard about Beehive forts, I had no idea what to expect. What a surprise this is! These dry-stone houses, Clochán, were built probably before the twelve century on the side of Mount Eagle. For a small fee, you can walk up the hill to step in and around these single family dwellings. Also, there is an excellent view of Skellig Islands if the weather is clear.
Dingle is a cute little fishing town that has its own mascot, Fungie, the Dolphin. Fungie has lived in the Dingle harbor for 25 years. Apparently, this is one of the highlights of boat tours around Dingle. The town also has excellent restaurants and a ton of shopping opportunities and a great rest point as you travel along the Wild Atlantic Way.
One of the fantastic things I love about Ireland is that all the towns buildings and houses are so vivid. I wonder if that is due to the weather sometimes being dreary or just that the Irish love being different and not carbon copies of each other as in the United States. Either way, they are great to photograph!
Shopping in Ireland
No trip to Ireland could be complete without a little retail therapy. There are so many options for authentic Ireland souvenirs. I picked up a hat made in Ireland but, I could have gotten a sweater just the same. Especially living in Michigan, I love these sweaters! They keep you so warm!
Inch Beach is a grand stretch of coastline east of the town of Dingle. I was amazed at the length of the beach that I had to walk before I touched the ocean. I picked up a few shells before reaching the water. That water is cold! I’m not surprised with the surfers all wearing wetsuits but, I was surprised to see cars driving on the beach. This Wild Atlantic Way beach was the location for the movie Far and Away and Ryan’s Daughter. As a sign says “Surfers, shore fishermen, gulls, and film stars have all left their footprints on the sand.” And now I have left mine as well.
Star Wars Filming Locations
For those who know me, know that I’m a huge Star Wars fan. And I was super excited to see areas where they filmed. I wasn’t able to see the Skellig Islands since it was very dreary out this day but, I did get to visit the cliffs at Sybil Point to see Ceann Sibeal. This is where they filmed the Jedi Temples that you will see in Star Wars VIII.
I even got to hear Mike O’ Shea speak as the TBEX closing speaker. He is an amazing Irish adventurer and was part of the Star Wars crew as the Mountain Safety Team Lead. One of his goals is to cross all the world’s major ice caps. He told us that “If it is important enough to you, you will find a way. If it is not, you will find an excuse”. Words to live by! And that “influencers have the power to change the world.” I can only hope to do this one person at a time by sharing my stories with you.
I’ll leave you with an Irish Blessing. “Wherever you go whatever you do may the Luck of the Irish be there with you!” Oh, and a little joke from one of my tour guides. “Sheep Farmers don’t know how many sheep they have in Ireland. When they send someone out to count them, they keep falling asleep.”
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If you are coming to Ireland for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:
- The Ultimate List of Things to Do in Dublin
- Dublina: Experience Medieval Viking Dublin
- Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – Dare to Cross the Divide!
- Top 10 Amazing Things to See on the Dingle Peninsula
- Staying in the Lap of Luxury at Sheen Falls Lodge
- My Favorite Food and Drink of Ireland You Must Try
- Lush Green Views Along the Ring of Kerry
- Desperately Seeking Seals on the Seafari Cruise: Kenmare, Ireland
- The Best Ghost Tours Around the World
- Molly Gallivan’s Cottage and Traditional Farm Experience