Best Beaches of Wild Atlantic Way
11 Best Beaches of the Wild Atlantic Way
Swim in every Blue Flag Beach in Ireland was the aim of one man in 2020. Blue Flag beaches in Ireland get the award from An Taisce and new lists come out annually in June. These beaches must have a very high standard of water quality safety, beach management, environmental education and information provision. Details of the Blue Flag Beaches of 2020 on the blog here. There are great beaches all along Ireland’s coast and we have detailed blogs on the best beaches of the Wild Atlantic Way from Cork to Donegal. Ireland’s beaches are free to all and some have particular activity taking place on them.
We detail our favourite beaches but why not look at the detailed blog on the beaches of each county of the Wild Atlantic Way when planning your holiday. Some beaches are suited to small children as they are very safe, or great for sandy beaches for buckets and spades. Other beaches are more suited to those who can swim well and can enjoy diving, surfing or other water sports. On most public beaches in Ireland boats with engines (Dingy, Fishing boats, or Deck boats) or Jetskis are banned from getting within 50 m of the low tide watermark and have to moor at specific points. Sailing dingy or catamarans can land on beaches, while surfing, snorkelling or kayaking takes place on many of the beaches on the West Coast of Ireland. We suggest trying an activity first and then if you really like it buy the equipment.
Make a plan for 2021 to get out and visit as many Blue Flag beaches as you can. Start preparing early with getting the correct clothing
- Wetsuits come in winter and summer weights. For most of us the summer weight wetsuit is the most suitable as the winter weight ( ) can be too warm in summer. For those who swim all year round booties and mittens are a useful addition to the swimming wardrobe.
- Togs work much better for women than a bikini, as less chance of being removed by the large waves of the Atlantic!
- Towels – a dry towel or two would be very useful for swimming. Bring in a waterproof bag so can access as soon as getting out of the water.
- Accessories – swimming hats are a bit of nuisance when sea swimming. Googles or Snorkelers are useful for experienced swimmers to see the seafloor. For those with sensitive ears wear earplugs ( available in chemist)
- First Aid Kit – in case of an accident on stones or rocks or jellyfish. Bring some bandages, antiseptic cream and I always have a bottle of malt vinegar in the car in case of Jellyfish.
1. Barleycove Beach, Co Cork
Most South Westerly beach in Ireland.
Suited to -Walk- Swim – Surf – Small Kids Beach
At the south-westerly point of Ireland, just before Mizen Head Lighthouse is Barleycove Beach in West Cork. The wide sandy open beach has gentle to large waves breaking along the beach.
The access is via the hotel or a designated car park with toilets and path across dunes to the beach. Popular in summer, with lifeguards for safety, due to its size it never feels too full. Bring a picnic. The beach lost its Blue Flag in the summer of 2020 due to lack of toilets, but hopefully, these will be restored by the Co Council for the 2021 season. Dogs on lead welcome and they love the dunes where rabbits roam!
Note – For people with young children and lots of ‘stuff’ to take to the beach nearby Galley Cove and Ballyrisode beaches may be more suitable, though with no lifeguard or facilities.
2. Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry
Suited to – Family- (bucket and spade), Wheelchair friendly, safe swimming
West of Killarney off the Ring of Kerry are many sandy beaches. The most westerly beach in Ballinskelligs Bay, on the Skellig Ring, is a long Sandy Blue Flag Beach. Overlooking St Finian’s bay is a soft, sandy Clea beach over 1km long with plenty parking a coffee shop toilets and lifeguard in summer. The beach is a favourite for families due to its safety and easy access. This beach is a great place for swimming and water sports.
Note – For Wheelchair Users – Kerry Co Council provides moveable matting and a beach wheelchair at Ballinskelligs for wheelchair users ( pre-book the buggy). The pier at the western end of the bay allows access to the water for wheelchair users.
3. Cumeenole, Dunquin, Slea Head, Co Kerry
Great Slea Head Drive.
Suited to -Family (bucket and spade beach), Swim for experience, relaxing,
West of Dingle are many beautiful sandy beaches made for family holidays. Cúm uí Dhíneoil ( in the Dun Chaoin Gaeltacht area) and on Slea Head is one of my favourite beaches. The beach is on the western tip of Slea Head after the Blasket Centre. A narrow road (limited parking at the top) leads down to the small, beautifully sheltered sandy beach. The waves here can vary in strength from gentle to very rough crashing against the cliffs so the beach is suited only to good swimmers. I spent many happy days as a child on this beach with a bucket and spade. The views of the Blasket Sound are amazing any time of the year, but the beach is open to the full force of the westerly winds and is not officially wheelchair friendly. Though when I was a child a disabled family member parked just above the beach and was able to access the beach
Note – Arrive early in the day and bring a picnic as there are no facilities.
4. Kilkee, Co Clare, Ireland
Best Natural Swimming pool in Ireland
Suited to – Safe swimming, Walking, Wheelchair Friendly
Take the N67 south from Ennis to Kilkee or if coming from the south take the Shannon Ferry from Tarbert in Kerry to Killimer in Clare. Kilkee is one of Co Clare’s most popular resorts and its beach is protected by a reef, giving a crescent-shaped golden strand. The beach has been a destination since Victorian times and the town grew around it with lots of accommodation and caravan parks. There is a lifeguard on duty in summer and ramps for wheelchair access.
The rock pools at the Pollock Holes are one of the best free swimming spots in Ireland. These are 3 large natural rock pools for safe sheltered sea swimming. Take the cliff walk to the west end of the beach, where Richard Harris the actor used to walk.
Note – To the south is Loop Head and the lighthouse, a great place to cycle to along the flat countryside, with the Shannon estuary on one side of the peninsula and the Atlantic waves on the other.
5. Lahinch, Co Clare, Ireland.
Suited To – Walking, Swim Surf, Golf.
Lahinch is famous for its links golf course and 1.5km long sandy beach. It’s a world-class surfing destination year-round and in winter the record-breaking waves attract professional surfers with some making their homes here. The beach is so long it never feels crowded and it’s a great place to walk your dog. The town backs onto the beach with lots of restaurants, shops and cafes. A long car park fronts the boulders at the top of the beach with easy access to the beach down the steps past the boulders and a ramp for disabled access.
Note – For those who just want a quick dip in the seas the beach at White Strand in Miltown Malbay is the favourite swimming spot
6. Salthill, Galway City
Ireland’s best City Beach.
Suited to – Family – (bucket and spade), Diving
To the west of Galway city, about 1km from the city centre, in the suburb of Salthill with a 900m long blue flag beach. Access is by the frequent city bus service or you can park on the Salthill promenade as the beach is made up of several small sandy stretches and some pebbly areas. Easy access from the many car parks along the main road and the main beach has a lifeguard in the summer season. This blue flag beach is popular with city residents and the multi-level concrete diving stand juts out into Galway Bay. Suited to all ages with a sandy beach for the children and diving at different heights for those with diving skills.
Note – If you stay in Salthill accommodation, you can have a swim before breakfast.
7. Dogs Bay, Connemara, Co Galway
Suited To – Family (Bucket and Spade), Swim, Wild Beach
Dogs Bay 3km West of Roundstone on the R341 are 2 beaches Gurteen and Dogs Bay, over 60 km west of Galway. The two beaches are built on a sand spit of seashells with Gurteen on the eastern side of the headland. There are a caravan and camping site at Gurteen.
A 1/2 km west of Gurteen is Dogs Bay with a lane to a car park to a horseshoe bay of sand. A large sand and grass habitats separate it from the west-facing Dogs Bay in a horseshoe of golden sand looking towards the Atlantic Ocean beach is great for swimming, surfing and other water sports.
8. Keem Beach, Achill Island, Co Mayo
Irelands Most Beautiful Beach.
Suited to – Swimming, Walking, Great drive to the beach.
Drive or cycle the full length of Achill Island Co Mayo, until the road goes no further west! Keem beach is 17 km west of the bridge at Achill Sound. Keem beach is a small jewel of a beach 300 m long down the winding lane, with car parks and notice boards on each bend. Facing east the beach is protected by the highest sea cliffs in Europe.
Turn at the car park by the beach, drop off the family and may have to park at one of the upper car parks. There is a ramp for disabled people to the water but no disabled toilet facilities. A lifeguard is on duty in summer and there are lots of sheep in the area! Can get very congested in high summer.
Note – The drive to this beach at sunset is magical as the sun sets to the west.
9. Strandhill, Go Sligo
Suited to – Surfing, Walking the dog on lead, Golf.
From Sligo town take the R292 south for about 7 km to Strandhill village and its long beach famous for swimming and surfing. There are great views of Sligo Bay, long dunes behind the sandy beach and dramatic Ben Bulben mountain in the distance. The surf is considered one of the best in Europe with large Atlantic waves all year round and the National Surf Centre is due to open in 2021. Plan a surf lesson here when on holidays in the early morning or afternoon. There are lifeguards in the high season, but due to strong currents, swimming is often forbidden. Keep the dog on the lead on the beach.
Note – Cafes, shops and bars are nearby as is Strandhill Links Golf Course.
10. Rosnowlagh, Co Donegal.
Suited To – Walking, Surfing
Donegal has more Blue Flag beaches than any other county in Ireland with 14 named in 2020. Rossnowlagh Beach is off the R231 between Ballyshannon and Donegal Town. There is parking by the beach or the Sands Hotel. The long sandy beach is popular with locals and tourists. It’s a great beach for walking and never feels crowded or busy.
Note – The surf school is a great way to learn to surf or to hire equipment. Walk the dog on a lead.
11. Marbelhall Beach, Co Donegal
One most beautiful beaches in the World.
Suited to – Family (Bucket and Spade), Swim. Surf, Walk.
In north Donegal is another beach called one of the most beautiful in the world. Marble Hill Beach, 8 minutes east of Dunfanaghy, is popular with swimmers, surfers, bathers, walkers, sand-castle builders and just about everybody who knows of its existence. At high tide, it is split into two different sections, with several small yachts and boats moored in the bay during the summer season.
To reach Marble Hill Beach from Dunfanaghy, take the N56 towards Creeslough. After 4km turn left just after Faugher National School on a small road marked “Scenic Route”. Follow this road, which affords superb views over Kilahoey, Port-na-Blagh, and Sheephaven Bay. After 2km you will reach Marble Hill Beach.
Note – Don’t forget to call by The Shack, if you fancy a coffee or ice-cream before you head home