High cliffs, barren mountains, rugged coastline, 50 shades of green, vast lakes, great car routes, unprecedented beauty! In short, that’s the west coast of Ireland. This is the place to go for a really cool roadtrip! At the west coast of Ireland it is great to follow (part of) the Wild Atlantic Way.
My 9 tips for a roadtrip through the west coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Wild Atlantic Way
The longest coastal tourist route in the world is the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland. In total, this route is no less than 2,600 km. The route runs from Malin Head to Kinsale and takes you along the beautiful and rugged west coast of Ireland. Along the way you’ll pass numerous high cliffs, lively and colourful villages, hidden beaches and great bays. If you have plenty of time, you can choose to drive the entire 2,600 km route, but you can also follow part of the route and discover the beauty of this part of Ireland. Along the way, there are several places where you can park your car and marvel at the view and watch the wild waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The route is clearly indicated by signs with the blue and white logo of the Wild Atlantic Way. If you follow the route in a southerly direction there is one (S), for a northerly direction there is one (N).
During my trip in Ireland I chose to cover the part of the Wild Atlantic Way around Connemara, Galway, Clifden and Killary Harbour.
My 9 tips for a roadtrip through the west coast of Ireland, a part of the Wild Atlantic Way
1. Discover the area of Connemara
Connemara is a breathtakingly beautiful and rugged area located in the rugged and very sparsely populated hinterland in the western part of the Irish county of Galway. Only along the coast you’ll find a number of small villages in this area, the rest is deserted and made up solely of nature. This is the region where the famous Connemara pony comes from.
Connemara is an inhospitable, hilly area, with marshes, bare rocks and little vegetation.
Two large lakes close the area of Connemara almost completely from the rest of Ireland. Because of this isolated location, the original Irish language and traditions have been able to maintain themselves well here. Connemara is steeped in a unique cultural heritage. Also special in this region is the centuries-old seafaring tradition and the smoked fish is a local specialty. Smoked salmon and smoked mackerel are particularly recommended!
2. Visit the Connemara National Park
Approximately 30km2 of this area forms the Connemara National Park. The park consists of mountains, peat bogs, moors, marshes, grasslands and beautiful flora and fauna. In the middle of the park is the valley of Glanmore where the Polladirk River flows. In the park there are traces of old settlements, including 4,000 year old megalithic tombs. The centre of the park is the summit of Diamond Hill. Here you have a spectacular view.
There are 4 paths to the Diamond Hill and in order of difficulty they are:
• Ellis Wood (1km, green signposts)
• Sruffaunboy (1.5km, yellow signage)
• Lower Diamond Hill (2.5km, blue signposts)
• Upper Diamond Hill (6km, red signposts)
The most beautiful and challenging walk is the Upper Diamond Hill, which starts at the visitor centre. The hike of 6 km takes about 3 hours. Please note, the last part of this route is a steep climb to the top and in bad weather this is not recommended.
It is advisable to start your visit to the park at the visitor centre of the park. This centre is located on the N59 in Letterfrack and is open from March to October and can be visited free of charge. Here you will receive a guided tour of the museum and more information about the interesting park. In the summer months they organize several guided walks through the park.
3. Admire Kylemore Abbey
Ireland’s most romantic building is located in Connemara. This is Kylemore Abbey, also the most visited attraction in the west of Ireland! The abbey is situated directly at the lake and at the foot of steep mountains. So beautiful! This monastery was built in 1867 by the couple Mitchell and Margaret Henry and it was their country house. Three years after its completion, Margaret died and Mitchell decided to build a church in memory of his wife. It was built in 1867 as a romantic gift. In 1920 the abbey was sold to the Irish Benedictine Nuns, as they were looking for a monastery. Until 2010, the nuns ran the monastery as a boarding school for Catholic girls. Did you know that even Madonna wanted her daughter Lourdes to go to Kylemore Abbey? Because the number of students decreased, the boarding school closed in 2010. Kylemore Abbey is a must because of the beautiful walled Victorian garden, the beautiful Gothic church and guided tours of the abbey. There is also a restaurant, tea room and a shop.
- Location: just outside Letterfrack on the N59 between Clifden and Westport.
- Entrance: €14,- for adults, children under 10 years free.
- The abbey is open 7 days a week all year round from 9:00 am to 18:00 pm.
Kylemore Abbey is one of the most famous and photographed buildings in Ireland.
4. Discover Killary Fjord on a boat trip
Killary Harbour is the only fjord in Ireland and stretches 16 km from the Atlantic coast to Aasleagh Falls. It is stunningly beautiful and forms the border between the counties of Galway and Mayo. The fjord is surrounded by mountains and the view is breathtaking. At the head of Killary fjord is the village of Leenane. This is a cozy village with a few bars, restaurants and hotels.
Recommended is a boat trip through the fjord and with luck you see dolphins. The best chance to see the dolphins is in the spring and early summer. During the 90 minute boat ride you will receive interesting information about the fjord and other places in the area.
- The boat trip can be made during the months of April to October.
- In June, July and August the boat sails at 10:30h, 12:30h, 14:30h and 16:00h. In the other months the boat sails at 12:30h and 14:30h.
- Price: adults € 23,50
- Location: Nancy’s Point, 2km from Leenane
- More information can be found on the website of Killary Harbour Boat Cruise
5. Explore The Lost Valley
The Lost Valley is a special place where you can get a unique insight into the cultural heritage of the west of Ireland. It’s an active farm where you can take a guided tour. The Lost Valley is extremely remote and this makes it a special place. You’ll experience life and learn all about the history of this remote place. The valley around the farm is vast and beautiful. Gerard and Maureen Bourke (the owners of the farm) are passionate and give you an unique insight into their lives. The Lost Valley has remained largely unchanged since the villagers were expelled during ‘The Great Famine’ in the middle of 1800.
- Location: From Westport take the R335 to Louisburgh, about 22km away. Continue straight through the village of Louisburgh on the A378. At the end of the road is the farm.
- Price: adults €20,- and children €10,-.
- Reservation is necessary.
- More information can be found on the website of The Lost Valley.
6. Visit the village of Clifden
Clifden is one of the largest and most pleasant places in the region. It is full of shops, bars and restaurants. The village is colourful and atmospheric. Just outside the center on the Sky Road is the castle of Clifden. This castle was built in 1812 by John D’Arcy. The estate of Clifden Castle was originally more than 17,000 acres, but when the D’Arcy family went bankrupt (due to debts incurred during the Great Famine) a lot of land was sold and changed owners. At this moment the castle is a ruin and partly covered with thick ivy.
- Location: Sky Road, about 2.5 km west of Clifden.
- From the parking lot it is a short walk to the castle.
- Entrance is free.
7. Visit the city of Galway
Once a small fishing village, Galway has now grown into a lively student town. It is the largest city in this area of the west coast of Ireland. Walking through the city centre you’ll see both the old city walls from the Middle Ages, the Spanish Arc, but you’ll also find modern shops. There are street musicians who play traditional Irish music. The King’s Head pub on High Street has been around for 800 years and has live music every night. The Galway city museum is also very nice! Here you’ll find everything about the culture and history of Galway and you’ll also understand why this city is a Unesco film city! Galway is located on the Atlantic Ocean and the best district to visit is Salthill. This is located by the sea and has a cozy promenade of 2 km. The place to eat delicious fish & chips, sit on the beach and watch the sunset. The O’Connor’s bar is also very cosy. In Galway there are many eateries, bistros and restaurants in the city and this makes the city a fine culinary destination. Are you in Galway in the summer? Then make sure you visit one of the many festivals!
The Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival is highly recommended. Every year in September, around 500,000 visitors come to this largest food festival in Ireland. And they eat more than 3 million oysters!
8. Being active in Connemara
The region is perfect for a variety of activities. In addition to the many walks and bike rides you can make, there are many other options, such as abseiling, fishing, bodyboarding, horseback riding, kayaking, mountain climbing, sailing, diving, surfing and much more. My tip is that kayaking is especially recommended!
9. Cool other short car routes in the region
The Inagh Valley Road. The most beautiful piece of motorway in Connemara is this road! This road winds through the mountains, around picturesque lakes and through the heathland. You really want to stop here any time to take pictures! The view changes continuously and is even different at any time of the day. There are possibilities to park your car and take a walk.
The Sky Road. Coastal route at Clifden and also called Ireland’s most impressive coastal route because of the panoramic views along the way. This route is a round trip and starts and ends in Clifden, the largest city in Connemara County. From Clifden you can choose between the top and bottom route. On the upper route there is a parking lot halfway through with breathtaking panoramic views of Clifden Bay and the islands off the coast.
How to get there?
I flew to Dublin and rented a car there. From Dublin you drive all the way to the other side of the country. You drive right through the heart of Ireland and it takes about 2 hours on the motorway. It’s fast and a bit boring, but once you get off the motorway, you end up on small and narrow roads. Driving on the left, the narrow roads and the beautiful views mean that you won’t drive as many kilometres per hour during the last part of the trip. But it is enjoyment! The more you drive west, the more beautiful it becomes. It’s no big deal that you spend quite some time in the car, before you finally reach this part of the Wild Atlantic Road. It took us almost 4 hours to check in at our first hotel (Leenana hotel).
If you don’t feel like driving that long you can also choose to fly to Shannon and rent a car there.
Tips hotel West Ierland
If you want to discover this part of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, there are plenty of hotels and small B&B’s in Connemara where you can spend the night. If you want to discover this part of Ireland, then the town of Clifden, and the area close by, is an excellent base from which to explore Connemara. These are the accommodations I slept in and I liked them a lot.
Leenana Hotel is a nice hotel and is situated in a beautiful location on the fjord. Almost all rooms have a view of the water and the steep hills. Food in the restaurant is excellent and everything is produced locally. The lounge is attractive with a fireplace and comfortable sofas and the reception gives extensive information about the region. Rooms are fine, but a bit old-fashioned, but this makes it nice and cosy. The staff is very friendly. The hotel is centrally located for various trips in the Connemara to make.
- Check here the prices for Leenana Hotel
- Not what you are looking for? Check here more great accommodations in Connemara.
Hillside Lodge is located on the Sky Road in Clifden. This B&B is a must, because the location is beautiful. There is attention to detail and you can see that everywhere in the B&B. The hospitality of the friendly owners is very pleasant. The rooms are fine and clean, the beds are lovely and the breakfast is divinely delicious. Nice side note is that the man of the lady who runs the B&B is the technician of U2. Everywhere in the accommodation you can see pictures. Opposite this B&B is the castle of Clifden.
- Check here the prices for Hillside Lodge
- Not what you are looking for? Check here more accommodations in Connemara.