The ancient walled city of Galway with its medieval alleys and beautiful views as well as its renowned music and food scene makes a great base for exploring Ireland’s West, just an hour’s drive from the Shannon Airport in County Clare. From here you’ll have a wide range of picturesque destinations and enticing attractions that can be reached within a couple of hours, opening up the opportunity for countless day trips. These are some of the best options to consider scheduling in while you’re in Galway.
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The Aran Islands, located just off the coast near Galway, can be reached by passenger-only ferry or a short scenic flight. The smallest, Inisheer, is especially tranquil and offers the chance to get a taste of old Ireland, with locals speaking Irish Gaelic as their first language and English as the second. The two-square-mile island can easily be walked, or you can catch a ride on a pony-and-cart driven by a local, enjoying commentary about what you’re seeing along the way. Discover everything from a shipwreck that was featured in the opening of the 1990s hit Irish comedy series, “Father Ted,” to a beautiful beach framed by clear turquoise waters where the local dolphin, Sandy, often makes an appearance, fantastic pubs and unique locally-run shops.
Cliffs of Moher
One of the most popular and famous of Ireland’s attractions, the Cliffs of Moher are less than a 90-minute drive from Galway. Towering more than 700 feet over the Atlantic, they stretch for nearly five miles from Doolin to Hags Head in County Clare, providing some of the most breathtaking views in the country. On a clear day, you can see the Aran Islands and the Twelve Bens mountain range in the distance. Often times, an Irish harpist will be playing near the edge of the cliffs, complement the sounds of the crashing waves below.
Connemara National Park
The mountainous Connemara region offers endless hiking opportunities, with the trek to Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park (about 75 minutes northwest of Galway) considered one of the finest hikes in Ireland. The 1,640-foot-high hill rises above the small village of Letterfrack, and from the top one can take a stunning panorama of ocean, island and mountain views. On the slopes are a megalithic tomb built by the area’s first farmers some 5,000 years ago and an abandoned 19th-century farm.
Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden
The most visited attraction in the west of Ireland, Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden is located in the Connemara region just a little over an hour northwest of Galway. Once known as Kylemore Castle before the Benedictine order of nuns made it their home in 1920, today it’s open to the public for tours. You’ll be able to explore the estate, including rooms in the Abbey, a neo-Gothic Church and mausoleum as well as the Walled Garden. The property also includes a tea house, cafe and gift shop.
The Connemara region is renowned for its spectacular mountain and lake views, but it also offers a number of beautiful hidden beaches. Coral Beach in Carraroe is only 45 minutes from Galway and it may be one of the most impressive. It’s made up of fine coral-like formations of lime that that were leached out of seaweed, hardening before eventually breaking along the shore. The dazzling clear blue waters at its edge are popular for snorkeling and diving.
Situated on the southeast corner of Clew Bay about 75 minutes north of Galway, Westport’s town center is a prime example of the Georgian-style. Its charming streets and promenades are lined with trees, and there are multiple bridges with flowers strategically placed among them, further adding to its appeal. Here you can visit the historic Westport House and Gardens which as links to the Pirate Queen of Connaught, Grace O’Malley, and enjoy a pint of Guinness in Matt Molly’s pub, owned by the famous Chieftain’s flutist for an unforgettable evening of traditional Irish tunes. If you’re up for a hike, nearby Croagh Patrick is a 2,507-foot high mountain popular for climbing, providing jaw-dropping views from the top on a clear day.
Located in northwest County Clare, near the Wild Atlantic Way about an hour’s drive from Galway, The Burren is a geological and ecological wonder and the very place JRR Tolkien got his inspiration for writing “The Lord of the Rings.” This area is renowned for its unique landscape that includes rare native flora and fauna. Visit in the summer and you’ll see a great diversity of colorful flowers and even Arctic-alpine plants that thrive right next to those that are normally found in the Mediterranean region, despite the land seemingly made entirely of rock. The Poulnabrone dolmen sits on this karstic limestone pavement. One of the most famous Irish dolmens, the portal tomb dates back to the Neolithic period, likely between 4200 BC and 2900 BC, with numerous human remains discovered here.
Lough Key Forest Park
Lough Key Forest Park in County Roscommon, less than two hours from Galway city, is home to one of the most beautiful lakes in Ireland. Here you can stroll among the treetops on the tree canopy walk, walk nature trails while enjoying scenic lake views, get a bird’s-eye view from an observation tower or even challenge yourself with a Boda Borg quest to see if you can conquer the 47 rooms that test mental and physical skills. You can also rent watercraft to paddle around the lake or take a boat tour to enjoy the sights that include Castle Island with its medieval castle ruins.
A two-hour drive northwest will bring you to Achill Island, connected to the mainland by a bridge. Ireland’s largest island has inspired countless artists and writers with its gorgeous landscapes that include lush mountains and miles of unspoiled beaches that are popular for swimming, surfing, windsurfing and kayaking.