Trip Reports

Trip Report Wild Atlantic Way – Donegal & Sligo

Trip Report Wild Atlantic Way - Donegal & Sligo

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way takes you on an unforgettable journey of tiny roads reaching out into the ocean, dramatic cliffs, golden beaches, spectacular lighthouses and tranquil villages and towns.  

This is the first post in a blog series authored by Melanie Nelson. She will share her day-to-day experiences of her trip along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, county by county. Today’s Trip Report takes you on a journey through counties Donegal and Sligo.

Follow Melanie’s upcoming Blog Posts as she uncovers the myth & magic of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way! 

Photos: Melanie - author of the blog – and her travel buddies Jody, Maggie, Tammy, Leah and Lori


Today's route with Kerry Experience Tours took us through four northern counties on the Emerald Isle - from Derry (the largest city in County Londonderry) to Sligo (administrative seat of County Sligo), with stops at Grianan of Aileach Fort (County Donegal), Slieve League Cliffs (County Donegal), Killybegs and Bundoran (seaside towns in County Donegal), a short coastal drive through County Leitrim, and the ocean views near Castle Classiebawn (County Sligo).


Cloudy and windy, occasional sun.


The Glasshouse Hotel literally overhanging Sligo's Garvoge River, large rooms and centrally located. Highly recommend!


Picnic lunch on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. My new favorite Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin with elderflower tonic made a wonderful cocktail. Dinner at Hooked on the river where I tried an interesting Mediterranean pita for a change of pace and a sticky toffee pudding.


A large marker describes the remote Grianan of Aileach Fort as “a very fine restored stone fort or cashel on Greenan Mountain commanding superb views along Lough Swilly, Lough Foyle, and Inch Island to the north.” They aren’t kidding. At about 800 feet above sea level, we felt like we were at the top of Ireland’s prehistoric world. An original hillfort constructed on this site in the eighth or ninth century was pillaged by the Vikings and destroyed outright by Munster forces in 1101. The wide ramparts surrounding the restored fort from the late nineteenth century, allow for a short stair-climb to award-winning views into the valleys.

Topping out at 2,000 feet, the views from the Slieve League Cliffs reminded me of Iceland. Slieve League Cliffs are three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher and equally less crowds. These rugged bluffs afford some of the best hiking in Ireland - and are a perfect reason to venture to Ireland’s northwestern-most County Donegal. A quick trek to the top of the first ridge revealed a small lake akin to an infinity pool overlooking the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. 

We also enjoyed the haunted looking Classiebawn Castle, a 10,000-acre estate built for the 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1784–1865) on Mullaghmore Peninsula near the village of Cliffoney, County Sligo. The castle's most notable resident, Lord Mountbatten (the maternal uncle of the Queen's late husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) spent his summers there until his death when his boat was blown up by the IRA in 1979.


Melissa (Mel) Ni Mhaolanfaidh, owner and operator of Sligo Walking Tours, led our private Dark Tales program through the streets of her native Sligo. Mel has worked in business/IT for several years, now certifying software for an insurance company. A few years ago, she pursued her passion, earning her degree in history and heritage. She runs her small tour company as a side hustle while juggling her full-time job and a new baby.

At the beginning of her tour Mel assigned each of us a main character who makes an appearance in one of her dark tales during the evening, a neat approach to engage the audience. She had great stories supplemented by photos and drawings related to each stop. We learned about the first mill on the river, a grand estate upriver, the jail that once housed rebel Michael Collins, the ruined abbey, the fever hospital, the cholera epidemic that inspired Sligo's native son Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the gravesites for poet W. P. Yeats' and his family. Super interesting. Highly recommend!


The last stop on Mel's tour took us into the Church of Ireland's graveyard where she shared stories of Bram Stoker's and W. P. Yeats' families. We were drawn in, engaged, concentrating on her twilight tale, wondering what would happen next, when suddenly the church bells struck ten. We jumped out of our skin, tripping over gravestones and colliding with each other as we collected our senses. Mel giggled. 

About the author

Melanie Nelson is a devoted aunt to five nephews, skillful genealogist, ardent fan of the Florida Gators, U2 zealot, gin tippler, avid traveler (anywhere in Ireland!), amateur photographer, and eager learner. She fused her passions into her business which offers genealogy research and family heritage planning. The Emerald Isle holds a piece of her heart. Find out more at MelNel Genealogy and her posts about Irish genealogy in the Tracing your Irish Roots blog series.

Tailormade Multiday Tours of Ireland

Interested in learning more about a tailor-made multiday tour of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way? Find out more here.

About Kerry Experience Tours

For a truly local experience in one of the most charming and warm cultures in the world, Kerry Experience Tours will show visitors the most magical parts of Ireland. On offer are private day tours, and multiday tours  tailored to suit your wishes. Enjoy the most scenic drives, spectacular land and seascapes, historic wonders, inspirational places, and hidden gems off the beaten path, completed with background information and stories. Enjoy the absolute best Ireland has to offer, creating memories that last a lifetime. Join Kerry Experience Tours and find the Ireland you’ve always imagined.