Wild Atlantic Way 1: Malin Head Guide

Ireland Blog & Vlog Travel Guide Series

This article is part of the series of blog posts and video guides exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.

Blog Series

This blog is the first in the series, exploring the area around Malin Head. Need an overview? Click here for an overview of the entire route.

Summary: The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500km (>1,550 mile) tourist route along Ireland’s Western coastline, from Malin Head in Donegal in the North to Kinsale in the South. It connects significant historic, cultural and geographic features into a manageable road trip from staggering clifftop vistas to golden strands and stunning lighthouses.  

VIDEO GUIDE to Malin Head

Malin Head

My Wild Atlantic Way adventure started at its most Northerly outpost, Malin Head, at the very tip of the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal.

I made my way in my campervan, Barbara Bailey, from Armagh for an unexpectedly delicious pizza lunch in Derry with my friend, Joanne. The food was so good it got its own blog! Malin Head is just a one hour drive from the Northern City of Derry and there are two routes: one inland and one coastal. As there was no major difference in trip time, I chose the coastal route to make the most of the views. It's one of the benefits of not being in a rush.

Where to Stay

Don't fancy a campervan? You may find these hotel and B&B options near Malin Head helpful.

My personal hotel choices are at the bottom of this page.

Weather in the North of Ireland can be your friend or your windswept frenemy! I chose a day to visit with high winds and huge, spattering raindrops coming in waves of showers. However, I don't let the weather stop me from much exploration when I'm touring Ireland, as it's often too unpredictable to ‘just wait it out in the van'!

Layout of Malin Head

There are two carparks at Malin Head – the lower car park has a useful information sign about the principal walking routes at Malin – the Hells Hole walk or Malin Head Trail is just over 1 kilometre there and back. While the first part of the route is on gravel, it can get a little slippy on rock further down (as well as around the Malin Head paths) and it's advisable to wear stout walking shoes or boots. Beyond that, the actual walk is of moderate difficulty.

This lower carpark is also the location of some rather groovy public toilets. This is NOT a feature of many of the ‘significant' Wild Atlantic Way discovery points, so major kudos to Malin Head for spearheading a much needed facility. On a recent trip to Norway, I noticed that major tourist sites not only have toilet blocks, but also have made a real architectural feature out of them, making them places to visit in their own right.

It is the upper carpark that is the site of the original Napoleonic Tower, a further useful infographic and what I discovered was the symbol of all Wild Atlantic Way sites, the rusty sign (see below).

The old signal tower is intact but has become a site for a small amount of flyposting. It was one of a series of towers built to see off the Napoleonic threat by the British and was constructed in and around 1805. It went on to have a life as a signal tower. There's an interesting technical history of it here.

It was also a perfect place to park up the campervan and walk around the site. You can see the layout of the facilities better from the following drone photograph. The toilet block in the centre-top is the location of the lower car park. My campervan is parked at the top carpark and there are pathways that circulate from car park to car park and towards the ocean.

The view out to the ocean is what Malin Head is all about. As the light catches and dives into the water, it shifts from steely grey to aquamarine, reminding you of more tropical waters.

The rain shot in to dull that one patch of light, and I had to give up wiping my glasses! In one sense, it's wise that these signs showing the name of each Wild Atlantic Way site are made to rust, as they're getting so much exposure to incoming weather! The symbol that you see at the top of the sign is the official logo or shorthand for the Wild Atlantic Way – WAW. It's used on these signs as well as on roadsigns and is a helpful visual mnemonic.

At last, inside and a chance to dry off!

Eire 80

I was fascinated to see the huge sign on the ground at Malin Head that reads ‘Eire 80' as you can see from the cover shot, which is also below.

I did some reading about this. I had some idea it might be to do with flights, but had no idea it related to the Second World War. In around 1942, 85 of these signs were etched into the Irish landscape using white stone. They were placed at key strategic locations and were designed to inform pilots flying over Ireland that they were entering neutral airspace. According to this article, Malin Head was also a strategic Look Out Point (LOP), one of 85 in Ireland, and its assigned number was '80'.

Bear in mind that pilots at that time had access to navigational aids but not to our modern geolocation techniques and technologies.

Accommodation Choices

Here's a list of the top accommodation near Malin Head from the least to the most expensive options. Personally, I'd recommend either of the following options.

Near Malin Head

Top-Rated, Value

White Strand B&B

Pool, Comfort

Ballyliffin Lodge & Spa

Find the accompanying video for this article below:

Check out the next blog in the series: click here for Fanad Head.