Driving the Wild Atlantic Way is one of the best ways to make the most of your trip to Ireland. It’s also an opportunity to discover “the real Ireland” and the hidden gems that lie in between the most popular attractions. After all, you already know about the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry but what about everything in between?

With this in mind, I’d like to share my favourite hidden treasures on the Wild Atlantic Way and some places or experiences that I think you should keep in mind…

7 Hidden Treasures that You Shouldn’t Miss on the Wild Atlantic Way

1. The Monastic Site and Hidden History on Scattery Island

Located just off the coast of County Clare, Scattery Island is one of the most magical places that I have ever encountered in Ireland. It’s also one of the lesser-known islands on the west coast but I’m not really sure why. This island is also home to a 6th Century monastic site and one of the finest round towers in the country. This tiny landmass is also the place where the ancient high king of Ireland, Brian Boru, defeated “Ivor the Viking”. What’s more, there’s a huge gun battery that you can explore at one end of the island that was erected by British forces as a defense against Napoleon. If that’s not enough, Scattery Island is overflowing with birdlife, wildflowers, and insane natural beauty!

2. Capture Iconic Photos in the Famous Doolough Valley

Doolough Valley is best known for an extremely tragic story from the time of the Great Famine in 1849. When supplies ran out, a group of 600 locals decided to walk through this valley from Louisborough to Delphi Lodge in search of food. However, most of these people died due to the harsh weather and the remote, difficult nature of the land. Today, a road runs right through the heart of Doolough Valley and provides a comfortable way to experience the surroundings. It’s a truly magical valley and an opportunity to capture some iconic photographs in the heart of the Mayo bog-lands.

3. Stay Overnight in Doolin Fishing Village

Most people come to Doolin for lunch but then leave for the Cliffs of Moher and never come back. It’s true, the nearby attractions are more impressive but this little village offers a lot more than a bite to eat. For instance, the local pubs have traditional music and a lively atmosphere after dark. You can also walk to the Cliffs of Moher direct from the village and there are many places to eat and stay in Doolin. Whenever a friend is visiting Ireland and wants to see the Cliffs of Moher, I tell them to stay overnight in Doolin rather than returning to Dublin or Galway – and it never disappoints!

  • Doolin Fishing Village
  • Cliffs of Moher

4. Climb Up into the Hills to Diarmuid and Grainne’s cave

Diarmuid and Grainne’s cave is situated on a hillside in County Sligo. While the area is surrounded by private land, it’s possible to hike a rather exposed trail that leads up to the cave. With this in mind, favorable weather and a decent set of lungs are needed but it’s not considered a long or difficult hike. It’s one of the highest and widest caves in Ireland and was surely a stopover for the many tribes-people that came across this area back in ancient times.

5. Explore the Unspoiled Nature of Malin Head

For many people, Malin Head is really just the start or endpoint for their road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s such a shame because Malin Head is incredibly beautiful and worth at least one or two days of a trip around Ireland. Aside from being the north tip of the country, the area near “Banba’s Crown” was the location for a recent Star Wars movie, such is the magical nature of the scenery. The “Wee House of Malin” offers a wonderful insight into ancient customs and Five Finger Strand is simply one of the most interesting beaches in Ireland. You will also find some lovely places to stay in Malin Head and the surrounding area is a joy to explore on foot. Unspoiled Ireland anyone? Visit Malin Head!

Malin Head coast
Malin Head coast

6. Step Back in Time on the Great Blasket Island

The Great Blasket Island is my favourite “attraction” in Ireland. It’s nowhere near as popular as the Cliffs of Moher or even the nearby Dingle Peninsula but this remote island is far more interesting (In my opinion). But what makes it so special? The last inhabitants of the Great Blasket Island were evacuated in 1956 as the elderly locals could no longer deal with the harsh environment. Most of the young had emigrated or moved to the mainland in search of work and this brought an end to life on the island. However, you can still take a boat trip to see the old village remains and walk around this truly stunning island. Believe it or not, this is also the most westerly point in Europe and the birthplace for some of Ireland’s most celebrated writers. In short, this is the home of the last people from “old Ireland” but also a place that feels alive as soon as you set foot on the island!

7. Take a Hike on Sheeps Head Way in County Cork

I spend quite a lot of time hiking in Ireland and especially enjoying trails that feel untouched or far from civilization. While people often recommend the Wicklow Way or the Kerry Way for this kind of experience, I can’t help but think that Sheeps Head Way in County Cork is more unique. It’s not just the absence of people on this trail either, Sheeps Head Way is located on a stunning peninsula and dotted with stone walls and old cottages. As with much of Western Island, the ocean vistas never fail to impress and the trail is easily accessed from the Wild Atlantic Way. You might even decide to take more than a day hike on this trail and some adventurous folks can even take their tent….just saying!

County Cork