Updated May 2022: For some, finding the best food in Ireland, specifically along the Wild Atlantic Way, might go hand in hand with exploring castle ruins, island hopping, horse riding, cycling, kayaking, or any number of other attractions that can be found on this popular stretch of western Ireland.
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And while the scenery is breathtaking to be sure and the locals are as friendly as you’ll get, there’s something different about the food that’s on offer here that wasn’t always available before.
This is not to say that you won’t get fresh, wholesome food in other regions of Ireland. You will.
Here we’ll explore the counties of Donegal, Leitrim, and Sligo and in the process, showcase the very best of what’s available in the Wild Atlantic Way’s most northerly counties.
Fancy learning about the benefits of seaweed in a real-life setting, or perhaps you'd like to know more about shucking oysters, then try eating them naked or dressed along with the perfect glass of wine?
From the Ground to your Plate
The fact that no place along the Wild Atlantic Way is very far from the ocean, coupled with the region’s growing sustainable agricultural practices, makes it the perfect place to embrace farm-to-table cuisine.
The West of Ireland and the Northwest of Ireland took the heaviest blunt from the effects of the Great Famine.
The land in the West was always considered poor.
In 1653 when Oliver Cromwell was pushing on with the English plantation of settlers, his choice to the native Irish was “to hell or to Connaught.”
Subsequently, the good land, much of it found in the midlands and on the East Coast, was given to the newcomers.
Today, Ireland is noted around the world for its transformative agricultural practices, in part due to an initiative called Origin Green.
Participants in the program, including farmers and other food producers along the Wild Atlantic Way and in other parts of Ireland, have committed to the practice of sustainability throughout the entire supply chain, which basically starts on the ground and ends on the plate.
Here are some of the treats that await when you go searching for great food and food-related experiences in Co. Donegal.
Experience a Wild Atlantic Way Seafood Feast – June through December
Be prepared to share the delicious seafood that’s on offer at the Market House Restaurant in Donegal Town’s Abbey Hotel.
The “Titanic” seafood platter promises to be quite the experience, with Donegal’s finest catch available for all to enjoy. Reserve by emailing [email protected]. Price varies.
A Trad Session Combined with Great Food – June through September
Leo's Tavern is known for its lively traditional Irish music sessions.
Why not stop by to listen and enjoy some great Donegal fare at the same time?
Enjoy locally sourced bacon and cabbage, followed by a tasty homemade dessert, as well as an Irish coffee. Learn how to make one during a special demonstration.
Reservations are necessary. Email [email protected]. Price: €20 (includes meal and entertainment).
Donegal Food Tours – Year-Round
Year-round Donegal Food Tours takes participants to restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, country houses, walled gardens, and more, making this a great showcase of some of the best food in Ireland.
Tours include Taste the North, a guided excursion that highlights the chefs, foodie destinations, and delicious produce in the northern part of Co. Donegal.
Taste the South is a journey through the lush green countryside and fabulous coastline of South Donegal while exploring some of the area's foodie gems.
Also available to tourists is the Gin Trail and a number of private tours based on visitors' preferences.
Email [email protected] for information. Prices vary depending on the tour.
Food Festivals: A Taste of Donegal, A Taste of Inishowen Food Festival, the Dunfanaghy Food Festival, the Dungloe Street Food Event, the Killybegs Hooked Festival, and Off the Street Food Festival. Find more information on all of them here.
Culinary Hot Spots: Belles Kitchen, Rathmullen; Fisk, Downings; Johnny’s Ranch Food Truck, Ramelton; Nancy’s Bar, Ardara; Smuggler’s Creek Inn, Rossnowlagh; The Lemon Tree Restaurant, Letterkenny; and The Olde Castle Bar and Red Hugh’s Restaurant, Donegal Town.
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County Leitrim has the shortest length of coastline in any county in Ireland, with only 2.5 miles of it touching the sea at Tullaghan.
Its limited proximity to the ocean hasn’t prevented the region’s food producers from offering up the very best of authentic Irish cuisine and firmly putting Leitrim on the list of places where you'll find some of the best food in Ireland.
Taste Leitrim is at the heart of the county's hospitality industry.
The Taste Leitrim Trail includes the town of Carrick-on-Shannon, as well as the following regions: Lough Allen/Drumshambo, North Leitrim, the Shannon-Erne Blueway, South Leitrim, and the Slow Adventure Trails.
Here’s what you can expect when you visit Leitrim, Wild Rose County.
There are over 30 restaurants/eateries to choose from in Carrick-on-Shannon, known locally as “Carrick.”
As the name implies, it is situated along the banks of the River Shannon, Ireland’s longest river.
There’s a huge range to choose from, including fine dining establishments, as well as cafes and gastro pubs, all featuring the very best of locally grown ingredients.
Carrick-on-Shannon Farmers Market – Year-Round
Organic local produce is what you’ll find at this weekly farmer’s market that runs every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the heart of the town.
Discover fresh fruit and vegetables, cut flowers and plants, fresh fish, organic meat, and homemade bread.
The Food Hub
Drumshanbo is home to the Food Hub, a successful food production and education facility.
One of its tenants is The Shed Distillery, which was established in 2014 and was the first to open in western Ireland in over 100 years.
It is known for its herbaceous gins, including its popular Gun Powder Gin, as well as potato vodkas and unique liqueurs.
Kinlough People’s Market – Year-Round
You’ll find over 20 stalls at this wonderful market that takes place in the village of Kinlough.
The market is open on the last Sunday of every month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can find all sorts of crafts here, as well as baked goods, delicious hot chocolate, barista coffee, and more. There are even treats for your pet.
Manorhamilton Farmer’s Market – Year-Round
Now in its 14th year, this farmer’s market is a popular event that takes place at the Bee Park Resource Center every Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Expect to find fresh fish, artisan Irish cheeses, local honey, freshly-baked bread, and cakes, as well as a variety of local fruit and vegetables. During the winter months, the market moves indoors.
North Leitrim’s stunning lakes are something to behold. The surrounding countryside is where much of the region’s organic produce is grown.
The Shannon-Erne Blueway
The Shannon-Erne Blueway is one of five waterways in Ireland.
The others include The Lough Derg Blueway, the Royal Canal Blueway, the Shannon Blueway, and the Lough Erne Blueway.
In this region of Leitrim, you’ll discover waterside pubs, as well as restaurants and taverns, all offering the very best in local cuisine.
This part of Leitrim is known for its gently rolling hills.
You’ll find plenty of great food in the towns that make up this part of the country. Carrigallen, Dromod, and Mohill are just some of the places you should visit on your culinary tour of Leitrim.
Afternoon Tea at Lough Rynn Castle Estate & Gardens
Don’t miss the awesome afternoon tea that is offered at the Lough Rynn Castle Estate & Gardens.
The afternoon delight takes place in the castle's Baronial Hall, where the original owners, the Clements family, had their own high tea over 200 years ago.
Choose from a selection of finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones, and desserts.
Tea is served daily between noon and 6 p.m.
The full Drawing Room Menu is available from noon through 9 p.m. While the afternoon tea may seem a little costly at €44 for two, it's totally worth it. Book your reservation here.
A Guided Landscape Walk in the Northern Glens of Leitrim
This guided landscape walk includes a forage through Leitrim’s woodlands.
Guides offer a range of walks so that you can explore the local scenery, nature, wild foods, history, and archaeology of the area.
Forage for edible mushrooms and plants as you go along, and anything else that is safe to eat.
You’ll also learn about the local archaeology and folklore of the area, including its megalithic treasures.
Email [email protected] for more information.
Food Festivals: Nature, Nourishment & Verse in Glencar, Leitrim Boxty Festival. More information can be found here.
Culinary Hot Spots: An Caife Bia Slainte, Manorhamilton; the Bush Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon; Cryan’s Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon; Glenview House, Ballinamore; Lough Rynn Castle Hotel, Mohill; Luna, Dromahair; Osta W8, Manorhamilton; River Bank Restaurant & Club House Bar; Carrick-on-Shannon; The Cottage Restaurant, Jamestown; The Courthouse Restaurant & Accommodation, Kinlough; The Landmark Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon; The Oarsman, Carrick-on-Shannon; and Vitto's Restaurant & Wine Bar, Carrick-on-Shannon.
Sligo might be a small county but it offers a lot for the food enthusiast and has rightly earned its place as one of the regions where you're sure to get some of the best food in Ireland.
No matter where you go, the ocean is never far away and Sligo chefs make good use of that resource, together with fresh produce and other organic ingredients from suppliers located across the county.
Here are some of the culinary experiences that await in Sligo.
Fancy Some Sligo Bay Oysters? – March through October
At WB’s Coffee House in Sligo, you’ll learn about the history and current farming methods involved in the harvesting of oysters along The Wild Atlantic Way.
The coffee shop’s owner, Aisling Kelly, provides a private oyster shucking demonstration and tasting for participants.
She also conducts oyster farm tours at 11 a.m. every Friday.
The Sligo Oyster Experience is available from March through October. Price: €25 per person.
Taste of Sligo Foodie Tour – Year-Round
Well-known Chef Anthony Gray leads the popular Taste of Sligo Foodie Tour, which takes visitors into the heart of Sligo.
The 2 ½ hour tour will give you an idea of what’s on offer in this vibrant town.
Learn about the multicultural flavors that are defining Sligo’s position as a culinary destination by following Gray on this tour of between 5 and 7 local restaurants that include everything from fine dining to craft beer and local whiskey, and more.
Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday, at 12 p.m. and again at 2:30 p.m for groups of up to 8+ people. Price: €55 per person.
Tours are also available for smaller groups.
German Natives Share Sligo’s Culinary Secrets – April through October
Gaby and Hans Wieland have been growing organic vegetables, sourdough bread, and artisan farmhouse cheeses from their base in Cliffoney for the past 20 years.
On this 3 to 3 ½-hour tour, you’ll stop for tastings and meet the personalities behind the town’s various food offerings. Tours start at the Sligo Tourism office on O’Connell Street. They are €60 per person and are given in German and English.
The couple also runs a food foraging tour at The Mill in Ballintrillick at the base of the Horshoe Valley, one of Sligo's most scenic areas.
On the tour, they will show you many of the wild foods that grow along Irish hedgerows, including dandelions, nettles, Meadowsweet, and Hawthorn, as well as leaves, flowers, berries, and roots. Learn about their nutritional value and how to use them. Tastings and recipes will be available at the end of the tour.
Price: €15 per person, €5 for children aged 12-18. Children under 12 are free. Call 087-902-9893 or email [email protected]
The Coney Island Experience – Each Year in July
Want to get up close to seaweed? You’ll want to join the annual Coney Island Experience, an annual one-day event each July.
Not to be confused with New York’s Coney Island, this one lies between Rosses Point and Benbulben.
Local seaweed expert Dr. Prannie Rhatigan of the Irish Seaweed Kitchen leads a tour of Coney Island starting and finishing at the Trá Bán Restaurant in Strandhill.
Rhatigan leads the tour along the seashore, introducing the fascinating world of edible seaweed and how to identify and harvest it.
Enjoy a lunch featuring local Lissadell mussels at the restaurant afterward.
Price: €30 per adult; €15 for children. Contact Rhatigan at [email protected] for more information or call her at 086-848-4876.
Experience the Ox Mountains and a Hearty Sligo Lunch – Year-Round
The Ox Mountains, which run the length of Sligo and then stretch into nearby Mayo, are the perfect place for a hike and a delicious lunch.
Take your pick from three available tours, one which will take you to a fort and a religious settlement, another which promises to show you the mystery and beauty of Sligo’s hidden caves, and an easier walk that will take you to some of the oldest and well-preserved megalithic passage tombs in the county.
Price: €55 for a half-day walking tour and three-course lunch; €85 for a full-day tour and three-course lunch. Call Cawley's Guesthouse at 071-918-5025.
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Take a Tour of the White Hag Craft Beer Brewery – Year-Round
Discover the secrets and the magic of the brewing process at The White Hag Brewery in Ballymote, County Sligo.
The brewery’s beers are produced from hand-harvested heather on Benbulben, the county’s – and perhaps – Ireland’s only table mountain, as well as from peat found in local bogs, the waters of nearby Lough Talt, and Irish oatmeal.
The 1.5-hour tour will give you a detailed insight into the brewing process and what makes the White Hag brand so good.
Cost: €15 per person. Contact [email protected]
Farm to Fork Experience at Coopershill House (Includes Overnight Stay) – Year-Round
Enjoy the beautiful surroundings of this Georgian mansion in the County Sligo countryside by taking a guided tour of its deer farm.
This experience includes afternoon tea upon arrival, a 4-course dinner, an overnight stay in one of the sumptuous bedrooms of the house, and breakfast the next morning.
The menu includes produce grown on the farm, as well as its award-winning venison.
Cost: €199/$204 per person or you can book a regular stay at this accommodation without the tour in the off-season for about €99/$104 per person.
Strandhill People’s Market – Year-Round
Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. experience this unique market set up in Sligo Airport’s Hangar 1.
There’s everything from local crafts, textiles and of course delicious food, including baked goods, fair trade coffee, freshly pressed juices, cheese, herbs and spices, teas, fresh meat, vegetables and so much more. Be sure to check out the market around the holidays.
Lots of opportunities to purchase gifts for the whole family at this market, including jewelry, ceramics, prints, knitwear, handmade soaps, and maybe even the best food in Ireland.
Discover more food experiences in Sligo at the Sligo Food Trail website.
Food Festivals: Sligo Food Trail Harvest Feast. Find more information here.
Culinary Hot Spots: Coach Lane Restaurant & Donaghy's Bar, Sligo town Eala Bhan, Sligo town; Eithne's by the Sea, Mullaghmore; Hargadon's, Sligo town; Harry's Bar, Rosses Point; Miso Sligo, Sligo town; Waterfront House, Enniscrone; and WB's Coffee House & Sligo Oyster Experience, Sligo town.
If you've been to the Emerald Isle, where have you experienced the best food in Ireland? If you have, let me know in the comments below and include the names of the restaurants you visited.