A local’s guide to visiting iconic Kylemore Abbey in Connemara

If you share our love for travel, we invite you to dive into yet another exciting journey where you can try delicious foods, photograph vast landscapes and have a memorable time. I can’t explain the whole experience of the sensory overload we had a chance to undergo while travelling along Ireland’s West coast a few months ago.  At least not yet. But I know it was one of the best weekends that we’ve ever spent before the blustery autumn storms arrived.

When planning a weekend road trip around Connemara, we had our hearts set on driving the Sky Road, surfing wild Atlantic waves as well as re-visiting Kylemore Abbey & Gardens. We imagined a place full of rugged beauty and inexhaustible ocean vistas.

We arrived through Galway, also known as the City of the Tribes, passed through the lovely town of Oughterard and emerged into the spectacular scenery of Connemara where the peat fires and their unique blue smoke lingered in the air. We were delighted to finally see the blue sky, empty roads and rippling blogland’s that Connemara is so famous for.

Once we set foot in Connemara and wandered through the barren landscape to make our way to Kylemore Abbey, we knew we were in the right place. The dark and heavy rain clouds from the night before were in a process of clearing and watching the light come up on the nearby mountains was a fantastic way to start the day. Thank you Connemara, you were a dream.

Beautifully restored room at Kylemore Abbey, Ireland.

A short history of Kylemore Abbey

Believe it or not, but Kylemore Abbey, located at the foot of Druchruach Mountain on the northern shore of Lough Pollacappul was originally built as a private home. In 1840, Henry Mitchell, a very wealthy Manchester-born doctor, brought his wife Margaret to Ireland on their honeymoon. They both fell in love with Connemara and he purchased the 15,000-acre estate as a gift for her.

The Irish architect James Franklin Fuller who was responsible for some of Ireland’s best-known buildings Ashford Castle including was the one who designed Kylemore Abbey in collaboration with Samuel Ussher Roberts.

Over thousand man were hired to build the 40,000 thousand square feet Kylemore Castle that’s outfitted with 70+ rooms, Victorian walled garden and a miniature cathedral. The love story turned tragic when Henry’s went on a holiday to Egypt, where Margaret caught dysentery and died shortly after.

The castle changed hands a few times before it was purchased by Benedictine nuns looking for a new home after they had to flee their monastery in Flanders during World War I.

A trip back to Connemara has been long overdue but it was worth the wait.

Reasons to visit Kylemore Abbey

Originally built in 1867 as a romantic gift, Kylemore Abbey is one of the sought out tourist destinations in Ireland and for a good reason. Not only Kylemore Abbey & Garden is located in a superb picturesque lakeside setting and surrounded by the lush woodlands, the Abbey, with its impressive neo-gothic style exterior, is said to be one of the most admired buildings in Ireland. The wooden floors, fireplaces and oak panelling and much of the furniture you’ll see are original.

Visiting famous Abbey with its well-kept grounds and learning about history, culture, tragedy and romance is a great way to start your Irish adventure. It’s amazing to see what the Benedictine nuns have been able to achieve over the past century. With hard work and dedication, they’ve managed to create successful food, tourism arts and businesses, they’ve restored the heritage of the estate and established a centre of monastic spirituality.

Since June of 2019, the Abbey offers a Visitors Experience that that brings to life unique stories of people who lived, studied and worked there. The stories are told through audio-visuals, displays of artefacts, historic photographs and more.

While visiting the estate, depending on the time of the year, you can stay for a carvery lunch in Mitchell’s café, go on a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable staff members, stock up on delicious handmade chocolate from the Kylemore Craft & Design Shop and go on guided hikes above the estate.

Pedunculate and Sessile Oak are the two main oak varieties on the estate.

Things to see and do at Kylemore Abbey

If you come to Kylemore Abbey to tour a castle and its stunning grounds, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll find plenty of things to see and do at the Kylemore Abbey to make your holiday in Connemara even more rewarding. Here’s a few of them.

Walled Victorian Gardens

The 6-acre Victorian Walled Garden that’s divided by a mountain stream is one of the highlights of the estate and a true engineering masterpiece. Located one mile west of the main Abbey the walled gardens was one of the last ones to be built in Ireland during the Victorian times.

There were 21 glasshouses heated by three boilers and underground hot-water pipes measuring 1,538 metres in length to grow exotic plants and fruit. Sadly, the garden went into decline under the ownership of The Duke and Duchess of Manchester but was restored by the Benedictine Community and even and won the prestigious Europa Nostra Award in 2002.

At the western side of the garden, you’ll find a herb garden, fruit trees, and a rockery. The eastern half is dedicated to the formal flower garden which only contains authentic Victorian flowers and plants.

To get to the gardens you can use a shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes or you can walk through the beautiful woodlands.

Just recently, on the December 4th, Kylemore Abbey celebrated 100 years since the Irish Benedictine Dames of Ypres arrived in Kylemore in 1920.

The Rooms

It took four years to complete Kylemore Abbey and at the end, there were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a library, ballroom, study, sitting room, gunroom, domestic staff room and many more. The rooms were decorated in the Victorian style. The type of furniture at that time, as you can see in the photo below, can be distinguished by intricate carvings and natural images such as flowers, leaves, and curved lines. 

Keep in mind that only a small number of rooms have been restored to the splendour which the Henry and his family lived; the remainder of the Abbey is in use by the Benedictine nuns and is closed to visitors. Some of the rooms you’ll able to see, decorated in the style of the day are Mitchell Henry’s Study, the Drawing Rooms and the Dining Room.

Many of us still live in Victorian style houses today. They often come with round angles, stained glass, bright colours and decorative woodwork just to name a few features.

Gothic Abbey

One of the most notable features of the abbey is the magnificent neo-gothic church that’s adorned with angels. It takes just a few minutes to walk along the shores of Lough Pollacapull to reach it. The building of this church started in 1877 when Mitchell Henry decided to dedicate it as a memorial to his dead wife Margaret who was 45 at the time when she died from dysentery. She was beautiful and a mother of nine children.

An Irish architect J.F.Fuller who designed the main building was also in charge of the design of a private church on the Kylemore estate. With a ribbed vault ceiling, stained glass windows and pointed arches the Gothic Abbey is is considered to be one of the most accomplished works in the Gothic Revival style in Ireland.

Just after the church, on the left-hand side of the avenue, located in a quiet spot, is the mausoleum of Mitchel and Margaret Henry.

Many musical performances, cross-community celebrations and poetry readings take place at the church through the year.

Much of the estate was designed to honour Margaret and her evident feminine touch is a great source of beauty and delight that visitors get to enjoy to this day.

How to get to Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey is located in Connemara, Co. Galway, in the West of Ireland and the road to it is as beautiful as the place itself. The scenic drive gives you a glimpse of the spectacular Irish countryside. You’ll pass by Connemara ponies grazing at the foot of rolling hills, you’ll see vast fields dotted with sheep and you’ll get a chance to marvel at the jagged peaks of the Twelve Bens mountain range.

The Abbey is located on the N59 road between Clifden and Westport and is very easy to get to from Galway, Westport and Shannon. In the pre-Covid era, there were plenty of private tour operators which included a stop at the Kylemore Abbey, but nowadays you can get there by car.

Don’t forget that regional and local roads can be ridiculously narrow two-way roads that are often walled and has plenty of spray-painted sheep. Take your time getting to the abbey and once you arrive, leave your car in the outer lot and walk over to the estate to enjoy a great day out.

Driving distance and times to the Abbey :

  • From Galway – 80 km. Driving time: 1hr.10 minutes
  • From Clifden – 20km. Driving time: 25 minutes
  • From Westport – 50km. Driving time: 50 minutes
  • From Sligo – 144km. Driving time: 2hr.10 minutes
  • From Dublin – 284km. Driving time: 3hr. 30 minutes
The scenic roads in Connemara.

Kylemore Abbey addmission

Kylemore Abbey is a place of great beauty and isolation. The estate usually is open to visitors all year, but in accordance with the government guidelines and pandemic crises, remains closed for now. You can still join the Benedictine nuns for religious and spiritual ceremonies via the recently installed webcam.

We visited Kylemore Abbey at the end of the summer and the ticket allowed us to explore the estate and included:

  • The Mausoleum
  • The Gothic Church
  • The restored rooms in the main building
  • Lakeshore and woodland walks
  • The Victorian Walled Garden
  • Entry to the performances in the church
  • Guided garden tours that take place in June, July and August
The church is more than just a resting place; it’s a tribute to love.

What to do nearby

If you are looking for more things to do after your visit to Kylemore Abbey, why not consider visiting nearby villages, taking in the Wild Atlantic seascapes or going for a looped walk known as Diamond Hill Loop. Connemara includes the largest Gaeltacht-speaking regions in Ireland and you’d be mad to miss its rugged beauty.

The Abbeys close proximity to the beaches and mountains makes it easy to extend your stay to enjoy a few outdoor activities. After all, you are in 2,957 hectares of outdoor paradise called Connemara National Park.

Some of the nearby villages worth visiting are Cliffden, Letterfrach and Laeanunn. In the Town of Clifden you’ll find The Marconi Station, where in 1907 the first trans-Atlantic telegraph was received between North America and Europe. There’s also the old Clifden Rail Station which now houses a theater and The Station House Museum.

Exploring Diamond Hill, situated on N59, is always a good idea.

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Now, over to you!

Have you ever been to Kylemore Abbey? Let us know in the comments!

Let us know if you are plotting a road trip to Ireland and have travel-related questions!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

52 thoughts on “A local’s guide to visiting iconic Kylemore Abbey in Connemara

    1. Thank you very much. The story of Kylemore is a truly remarkable one. We had a great time discovering the natural wonders of Galway Bay and Connemara. Seeing the Twelve Bens Mountains and exploring the beautiful Kylemore Abbey made for a great weekend. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

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  1. It’s hard to believe that Kylemore Abbey was built as a private home! This place and surrounding gardens look so incredibly charming. There are so many of these Marconi stations. I’ve visited the ones in Cape Cod and St. John’s Newfoundland.

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    1. Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden are one of Ireland’s prime tourist attractions and for all the right reasons. By now, we’ve visited multiple times, and we always found something new and amazing to see. Connemara’s barren landscape, that surrounds the beautiful abbey, and mountain views are hard to beat, too. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Are you guys all set for Christmas? Have a good day. Aiva

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      1. It’s always neat to visit the same place and discover something new. We put our tree and decorations up in November, so we’re all ready for Christmas! I figured we could use the extra cheer. Enjoy the holidays. Take care.

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  2. The name is familiar and I believe we stopped here in 1977 on our honeymoon in the rain. We bypassed it in 2017 and while we saw so much then, I am sad we missed this place. Thanks for sharing a beautiful Irish destination Aiva. Allan

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    1. Connemara makes for a perfect place to explore on your honeymoon, even in the rain! We were delighted to escape Sligo boarders a few months ago and see more of Ireland despite the pandemic crisis. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Ericeira is finishing school today, and then it’s full-on holiday mood and much-needed family time. Take care. Aiva

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      1. Wishing you the gift of happiness and family time at Christmas. our visits will be virtual this Christmas. Thank goodness for Skype and Zoom. Merry Christmas to you and your family Aiva and a better 2021. Allan

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    1. Thanks so much, Francisco. We are fortunate to have such beautiful places nearby. Exploring them makes you a little bit forget about the ongoing crisis and growing covid cases. I hope you are excited about Christmas, it’s only a few nights of sleep away! Aiva

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  3. You’ve whetted my appetite and Connemara is definitely oln my list for my next visit. If nothing else, the photograph of the long, empty road, convinces me that driving there would be a pleasure. Thank you for a lovely post – better than a guide book. The Irish Tourist Board should pay you a fee!

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    1. Thanks so much, Maris for such a lovely comment, you made my day! 🙂 Time and time again I am pleasantly surprised by how much there is to see and do in Connemara. I am glad we’ve had a chance to return this year. We took a walk around the lake, visited the Victorian walled gardens and then strolled through the woodlands back to the beautiful Abbey. It was a trip to remember, for sure. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day. Aiva 🙂 xxx

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    1. Thanks so much, Meg. Nowadays, Kylemore Abbey is an exclusive boarding school run by the Benedictine order but open to the public so that visitors may enjoy its splendour, too. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva xxx

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    1. I think that Connemara is one of the best places in Ireland. It’s home to beautiful mountains, white sand beaches and the beautiful Kylemore Abbey. It is a popular attraction among day-trippers from Galway, so if you would like to visit this castle, is it advisable to arrive a bit earlier in the day in order to avoid the tourist crowds. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

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  4. I’ve not been to this part of Ireland before, but holy (blue) smokes (pun intended), it’s gorgeous! Interior of the abbey is gorgeous, and it’s surrounded by great nature, wonderfully accented with fall colors. Thanks for sending me virtually there, and I’ll have now go there for sure in the near future!

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    1. Thanks so much, Rebecca. There are many things to do in Connemara and it really should be a part of your next Ireland holiday. You would love visiting castles, beaches and little Irish towns that are full of charm and character. Tha ks for stopping by and I hope all is well. May the holiday season fill your home with joy, your heart with love, and your life with laughter. Aiva 🙂 xxx

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  5. I stopped several times on the other side of the lake where the road passes, to take pictures through the reeds. Each time I postponed the interior visit to another time and finally I still have not been inside. The pictures of the interior rooms are very attractive, for once the Victoria style is not too heavy or too golden.

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    1. I love stopping on the other side of the road, too. There is room for just one car and if the spot is free, I always pause and take in the unfolding scenery. By now I’ve been to the Kylemore Abbey five times and never get tired of it. I love its immaculately kept Victorian walled gardens and beautiful church. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Wishing you holidays filled with fun and laughter, and very best wishes for a prosperous new year. Aiva 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much, Glenys 🙂 Kylemore Abbey is such a scenic spot to explore in Ireland. It can get busy during the summer month, but then again, there’s plenty of room to roam around. Have a good day. Warmest wishes for a happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year. With lots of love. Aiva 🙂 xxx

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    1. There are many reasons why you should visit Connemara at least once in your life and Kylemore Abbey is one of them. The scenery in Connemara, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, is primarily undisturbed, rugged and well worth exploring and you would love it. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

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    1. I am glad to hear that you’ve been to Kylemore Abbey. It’s such a beautiful place, isn’t it? I love visiting Connemara; the combination of the mountains, the coastline and the bog-lands provide visitors to the area with an abundance of places to see and do. Have a good day. Aiva 🙂

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  6. Great detail … We didn’t get to Galway this year but….. the way things are going….. We’ll probably be looking at a lot of staycations again in 2021 so will definitely head in that direction some time…..
    Stay safe there in Sligo and I wish the 3 of you a lovely Christmas. XXXMarie

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    1. Thanks so much, Marie. I hope you had a lovely festive season filled with love and warmth. Wishing you a fun-filled holiday season and best wishes for a happy New Year! 🙂

      It’s only 140 km from Sligo to Galway, and that’s why we end up there at least a few times a year. Yes, you are right, Marie, from what it looks like, 2021 is going to be lots of staycations again. There are still a few places I would love to visit in Ireland like Malin Head and Sleave League. And I wouldn’t mind exploring more of Northern Ireland, too. Have a lovely evening. Aiva 🙂

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    1. Part of the land that now makes up Connemara National Park once belonged to the estate of Kylemore Abbey – a beautiful country home turned abbey, and I was so delighted to go back once more. Can you imagine going on a honeymoon and finding a perfect place to build your dream home only to die shortly after it was built? That’s so unfortunate. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. May the holiday season bring only happiness and joy to you and your loved ones. Aiva 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much. Kylemore Abbey is a fantastic place to explore because there is so much to see on the grounds. The site is made up of the estate itself, the Abbey building (castle), the walled gardens and the Gothic church. Wishing you and your loved one’s peace, health, happiness, and prosperity in the coming New Year. Aiva 🙂

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  7. They abbey looks and sounds fantastic! Can’t believe people actually used to live there! I love visiting those places and see how the used to decorate and arrange the rooms, look at old and intricate pieces of furniture and imagine how my life would be if I lived there! The surrounding gardens (and region) also look absolutely stunning! Thanks for sharing 😊

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    1. Thanks so much, Juliette. The most striking feature of Kylemore Abbey is the castle itself. The ground floor rooms have been carefully restored to showcase what life would have been like at the estate during the time when it was built. The upper floors of the castle are the still in use as an abbey by the Benedictine nuns who own and live on the property and are not open to the public and the walled garden was created at the same time as the castle and has been considered one of the best Victorian gardens in Ireland. You would love it. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva 🙂 xxx

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    1. Thanks so much. Looks like this year we gonna stay and explore more of Ireland as well. Our lockdown is set to continue for another month with stricter Covid rules for international travel. Thanks for stopping by and take care. Aiva 🙂

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      1. Thanks Aiva. Stay safe my friend. I admire your country & its people to willingly make that huge sacrifice to end the pandemic. In the U.S., it’s anything goes now despite of topping the world in covid cases. Leaders are traveling and promoting traveling even if the know they already have the U.K. strains in their communities. Money over people’s health & lives, So crazy! It’ll be an interesting Spring and Summer for sure.

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    1. Thanks so much, April! With its scene-stealing natural beauty and multitude of things to see and do, Ireland is worth visiting and exploring and that’s what we are planning to do this year. Sadly, it doesn’t look like there’s an opportunity to go abroad this summer. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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    1. You would love exploring Kylemore Abbey – the grounds are immaculate and the garden is brilliant. Set in a dramatic landscape, it’s an ideal destination for anyone visiting Connemara. And, yes, that’s one mighty gift; the house extends to over 40,000 square feet and the total cost of building it was £24,000, back in a day that was a lot of money. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day, Jason. Aiva 🙂

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  8. Visited Kylemore in November 2015, such a wonderful visit, so much to see but plenty of time to wander through the grounds, very tranquil, I loved it, am so glad we got there.

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    1. I am glad to hear you had a great time exploring Kylemore Abbey. I am in awe every time we visit. The blooming gardens is a work of art and the surrounding landscape can literally take your breath away. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

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