We’ve always been fascinated by the rural roads we get to drive in Ireland as the unknowns that come with each trip provide a visceral sense of completeness. And, because a road trip to Connemara, a beautiful and at times desolate area, has been on our wish list for way too long, two weeks ago, we set the sails towards County Galway.
Now, a few days later, sitting in front of the flickering screen and listening to the soft tapping of the rain, I’m still searching for the right words to describe our trip to Connemara. All I know, for now, this trip has been so widely successful, that I often talk about it with bright eyes.
And how can I not too! Connemara is a wild expanse of land dotted with miles of boglands, dramatic peaks and beautiful white-sand beaches. It’s home to interesting tourist attractions, Connemara National Park and a mixture of wild rivers and lakes. It’s a place where the Irish language is still spoken and it’s where many Irish traditions still thrive today.
In addition to beautiful scenery, we were treated to perfect weather conditions. The sun, the ocean and the warm summer breeze evoked lots of constructive emotions and contributed generously to the perfect road trip around one of the most scenic parts of Ireland!
Ireland travel guide: Top 9 things to see and do in beautiful Connemara
If you are planning on visiting Ireland in the future, then there is no better place where to see natural wonders and visit beautiful attractions than the Connemara region.
In Connemara, you’ll get a chance to talk to the local people about how they spend their days, the way they live and what they love. You’ll get a chance to rejuvenate and return home as a much happier human being.
If your itinerary allows, we would recommend at least two full days to explore Connemara and soak up all the goodness. Below we listed some of the most amazing things to see and do in Connemara.
#1. Explore amazing beaches
Connemara is known for its beautiful and secluded beaches. The Dogs Bay, Coral Strand, Eyrephort Beach and Glassilaun Beac are just some of the visually striking ones, but there are many more. On a warm summer’s day, when the water is crystal clear, and the sun is out, expect to find beaches busy with kids running around and with people enjoying beautiful surroundings.
After hiking adventures in Connemara National Park, we ended up on one of the most paradisiac beaches we have ever seen! As we sat together in an idyllically blooming meadow, surrounded by wildflowers and with cows wandering just a few feet away, the splashing of the water sparked our curiosity. The day was bright and calm and much to our surprise, we spotted a couple of dolphins playing in the bay.
#2. Drive The Sky Road
The Sky Road is one of the most picturesque areas in the Connemara region and well worth the short drive to take in the views of the Atlantic coast and its offshore islands; Inishturk and Turbot. Driving through Ireland’s rural regions where the roads are notoriously narrow, requires a steady hand, but with only 16 km in length, you have to give it a go – it’s considered one of the most scenic drives in all of Ireland.
The road is of excellent quality, and along the route, you’ll find a couple of lookout points as well as Connemara’s largest town Clifden. At the highest point, you’ll find a spacious car park and a viewing area which provides visitors with a perfect platform to take photos and enjoy the region’s natural beauty.
#3. Scale inviting mountain peaks
Diamond Hill is a 442m high mountain located in Connemara National Park, Letterfrack. The hike up Diamond Hill starts at the Visitor’s Centre and is one of the most incredible experiences in Ireland. If you love exploring national parks and going on walks while seeing the beautiful scenery then here, you’ll have several options depending on how much time and energy you’ve got.
You can choose to go for a restorative and relaxing walk on the Lover Diamond Loop walk or test your physical conditions on a steeper yet more rewarding hike on the Upper Loop from where you can see Kylemore Abbey, Mweelrea to the North, Tully Mountain to the West and the Twelve Bens mountain range to the North.
The trails are well marked and easy to follow with a mix of dirt, gravel and boardwalk cover. The Upper trail is moderately difficult and combined with the Lower trail measures around 7 km in length.
Opening Times | Visitors centre facilities provide a free car park, toilets, cafe, exhibition and picnic area. The Park Grounds are open all year round, and the Visitors Centre is open daily (except Christmas Day & St. Stephen’s Day).
#4. Discover Connemara islands
If time and weather permit, take a ferry to Insihbofin Island, located 10 kilometres off the coast near Clifden. The boat departs from Cleggan Pier, and the crossing takes up to 30 minutes, and once on the island, you’ll be greeted by rare flora and fauna, white sand beaches and a wealth of historical sites.
Once home to exile monks and fugitive pirates, today the beautiful island has a population of 200 full-time residents. In the summer month, there are three daily crossings and two during the winter. For ticket prices, updates and timetables, check the Inishbofin Ferry website.
If you don’t have enough time to go on a boat trip, you can stop by Derryclare Lough featuring Pine Island and take in one of the most beautiful views in Connemara.
#5. Visit Kylemore Abbey
One of Connemara’s jewels that are not to be missed is Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Gardens. The Abbey, once a 19th-century manor house built by a wealthy doctor from Manchester, is well preserved and beautifully restored and makes for a great day trip from Galway.
The entrance fee to the estate for an adult is Eur 14, and you’ll be able to see only four rooms on the ground floor, but it’s well worth venturing inside to hear the story and history of the place.
A short walk from Kylemore Abbey is a Gothic Church. It looks fairly small from the outside, but once inside, you are in a different dimension. This little place is full of peace, love and tragedy.
Victorian Walled gardens are not too far away and having a walk instead of a bus ride gives you the opportunity to take tons of photos of surrounding peaks, old trees, lakes and all that greenness of Ireland.
#6. Explore Connemara National Park
With only 20 square kilometres in size, Connemara National Park is one of Ireland’s six national parks that are covered in scenic boglands, grasslands, forests and heat. The Park first opened its doors to the public in 1980 when the privately owned land was donated to the government.
The park and its visitor’s centre are free to visit, and you can stop by it to pick up maps and information on various walks and hikes. The Visitor’s Centre also houses several exhibits on natural history and the Tea Room, open every day from 9:30 am to 5 pm, serves hearty soups and toasted sandwiches.
The entrance to the park and visitors centre is located near Letterfrack, and the most popular walk in the Park is the Diamond Hill loop walk. Although the path is well maintained, you still need to bring proper footwear and rain gear. Once on the trail, keep your eyes open for unique flora, fauna and Connemara ponies.
#7. See the Killary Fjord
Seeing Ireland’s only fjord that stretches out 16 kilometres from the Atlantic ocean, forming a natural border between County Galway and County Mayo, is a must when exploring Connemara. No matter what the weather, the scenery is lovely, and the views are spectacular.
The Killary Fjord is home to a vast range of marine mammals and at its deepest reaches to 45 metres. It’s also a place for mussel farms where blue-shell mussels are grown and harvested.
An excellent way to see the fjord from a different perspective is to go on a Killary Fjord Boat Tour. You’ll get to see how the fjord weaves through the Park complementing the beautiful valley with its natural colours.
The tour departs from Nancy’s Point on the south side of the fjord which is only a short drive from Leenane and if you are lucky there’s a chance to see dolphins too.
#8. Visit Aasleagh Falls
Stumbling upon a beautiful place without expecting it is one of the best feelings. Situated a short drive from beautiful Leenane Village is Aasleagh Falls. To reach the picturesque setting, just head out northwest on R336 toward N59, past St. John Baptist Church and turn left onto R335.
You can park on a lay-bay near the waterfall, and if you wish to see it up close, from the road, there’s a little pathway winding along the River Erriff that can bring you right to it. The waterfall itself is fairly small and marks the natural boundary between County Galway and County Mayo.
The Erriff River provides an incredibly rich habitat for Ireland’s native freshwater species. A few days after we visited the falls, I learned that David Attenborough and a crew from the BBC had once filmed a documentary about young eels that live in the pools at Aasleagh Falls.
#9. Explore Inagh Valley
The R344 road takes you through the beautiful Inagh Valley with the Maum Turk mountain range to the right, and the Twelve Bens to the left. You can bike, drive or even walk through the stunning scenery which is said to be one of the most picturesque in all of Connemara.
Keep your camera ready because every twist and turn on the road takes you closer to the Irish countryside scattered with turf racks, glimmering lakes, and plenty of sheep and heather-covered mountains.
You can even escape reality for a couple of nights and settle into idyllically located Lough Inagh Lodge which offers beautiful lake and mountain views. It’s where the Hollywood movie Marley and Me starring Jennifer Anniston and Owen Wilson was filmed.
Driving past Ballynahinch Lough, keep your eyes open and you will see the ruins of the ‘castle on the lake’ which once served as a prison for those who had ill-treated animals.
How to get to Connemara
Beautiful Connemara, located in the northwest corner of County Galway, is known for its rugged beauty and vast landscapes and is easily accessible from both, Galway and Dublin.
It may look fairly small on the map, but due to the small country roads and the sheer amount of things to do, it’s best to plan everything accordingly and be on the road early.
- Day tours | There are plenty of organized day tours both from Galway and Dublin to Connemara. Depending on the tour you choose you’ll get to see Lough Corrib, Cong, Galway City, Kylemore Abbey and more. Organized day tours from Dublin can depart as early as 6.30 am, so you have to be ready for a long, but memorable day.
- By Car | The best way to reach Connemara and visit all the must-see sites is to rent a car and get a very early start to maximize your time in the area. Travelling from Dublin to Kylemore Abbey via M6 can take up to 4 hours one way and from Galway – up to 1 h and 30 minutes.
Where to stay in Connemara
If you wish to explore Connemara National Park then the best place to stay is in Letterfrack Village. You can also use Clifden as your base for exploring Connemara as it offers more accommodation options, guesthouses, B&B and the quaint Abbeyglen Castle Hotel.
Some of Ireland’s best camping and multi-award-winning campsites are located in Connemara. They might be a bit out of the way, but given the scenic locations, are well worth the drive. Clifden Eco Beach campsite is located on a white-sand beach and offers incredible mountain and ocean views.
Clifden Eco Camping Address: Claddaghduff Road Wild Atlantic Way, Connemara, Clifden H71 W024 Ireland
… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
Now, over to you!
Have you been to Connemara? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Connemara and have travel-related questions!