Located on the west coast of County Galway, Connemara is widely known for its exceptional natural beauty. In this craggy region at the edge of Europe, you’ll find soaring mountains, gorgeous coastlines, quaint villages and majestic fjords.
Much of the region’s wild beauty is the result of its remote location, and often harsh weather conditions. Oscar Wilde once wrote of Connemara’s ‘savage beauty’, declaring it a ‘wild, mountainous country’, ‘in every way magnificent’.
Connemara is also one of the only places in Ireland you’ll find locals who still speak the Irish language. Today, Irish is spoken by a small minority of people as a first language.
While many Irish people learn some Irish in school, it’s becoming a dying tradition and getting lost with each generation. For those without Irish roots, you may wonder why the Irish language has faded over the years.
The biggest factor is English colonisation, who discouraged the use of it. Then, the great Famine hit between 1845-1852, tragically wiping out 1 million of the 8 million population. In addition, another 1 million Irish emigrated, starting a trend where more and more people emigrated to English speaking places, like the States.
While the rugged region situated north of Galway city has seemingly always been a popular getaway with locals, its popularity with foreign visitors is rising. Though, most coming to Ireland tend to spend a few days in Dublin, before road tripping parts of the southern and west coast before ending in Galway city.
Stretching just beyond Galway though, lies a world of incredible natural beauty.
My first visit to Ireland, our road trip itinerary took us through Dublin, Kilkenny, Cobh, Kinsale, Limerick, Adare, Doolin and culminated in Galway. While I flew back to London, my friends continued on through Sligo and then to Northern Ireland, but also didn’t spend much time in Connemara.
When I moved to Ireland, I knew it was a region I needed to spend more time in. Planning west coast road trip in summer 2020, we carved out a day to see some of the region’s highlights. And while a day was enough time to get a taste for what Connemara has to offer, I’d love to return for an entire weekend.
How to Get to Connemara
If you’re flying into Glaway, rent a car and head north. If you’re coming from Dublin, in non-COVID times, there are regular bus and train services from Dublin Airport to Galway City.
While it’s possible to get close to Connemara without renting a car, you’ll want to rent a vehicle to see the best of the region on your own time. So many times while driving through the region, we were overcome with the beauty of what we saw before us. Having the freedom to pull over and take in a view, or detour to check something out is seeing Connemara at its best.
Where to Stay in Connemara
On our visit, we spent the night prior in Westport (after having spent a day on Achill Island), and spent the night after exploring Connemara in Doolin, before heading further south to Kilkee and the Ring of Kerry.
There are however, plenty of beautiful places to stay in Connemara. If you want to stay somewhere with easy access to restaurants and pubs, take a look at places in Clifden.
What to do in Connemara?
Beyond driving around and just ogling the sheer beauty of the region, these are my favorite places to stop and linger.
Clifden: Ah, the picturesque town of Clifden. One of Ireland’s most beloved towns, Clifden is the largest town in Connemara and packed with restaurants and jolly, music-filled pubs.
We stopped in Clifden for a little over an hour, wandering around before getting back on the road, but if returning to the town, I’d love to stop in EJ’s, a historic pub that opened over 100 years ago on Clifden’s main street.
Drive the Sky Road: A scenic route originating in county Donegal and ending in county Cork, the stretch that contours the Connemara peninsula is breathtaking. Driving the road is simple, just venture along N59. Once you’re in Clifden, you can even rent bikes from Mannion Bike Hire to bike along parts of the Sky Road.
Connemara National Park: Nestled in the heart of the region, this state-owned, 3,000 acre park is free to visit and holds four of Connemara’s iconic 12 Bens, the area’s mountain range.
There are various trails around the park, including the well-known Diamond Hill. Offering widespread views of the region, the three hour hike loops toward towering Diamond Mountain. The trail offers three phases that range from a thirty minute loop, to the three hour one to its summit.
When we visited, we did the thirty minute loop, and couldn’t get over how incredible the views along the way were. On our way out, we also did the 15-20 minute forest walk, it’s so peaceful with hundreds of trees, gentle, bubbling falls, and even poetry attached to trees to read while on the trail.
Kylemore Abbey: Off of N59 close to the national park, you’ll find Kylemore Abbey. This Neo-Gothic castle or country house was built by Mitchel Henry in the 19th century as a gift to his wife.
If you’re either short on time or don’t feel like spending money on the entrance fee, you can still see the best views of the abbey and gorgeous landscape surrounding it from the parking lot entrance.
Fjords + Inagh Valley: Did you know Ireland has three fjords?
Near the village of Leenane, Killary Harbour is the most dramatic of the fjords. Extending 15 km inland, the harbour is one of three glacier fjords in Ireland. Twenty thousand years ago, you could walk on ice from here to Norway.
To drive into the fjord, you’ll want to follow R335. It’s a short drive- about 10-20 minutes from the start to the inner part of the fjord, and there are a few places to pull off and enjoy the beauty of the landscape. Keep an eye out for sheep- they’re often grazing on the size of the road, or tumbling down from the mountain side.
Before you leave the area, stop at Aasleagh Falls, a group of waterfalls with a mountain backdrop. It’s a perfect place to stop for a riverside walk or picnic.
Derryclare Lough: A small lake with dark waters and mountains in the background, the small island covered with trees in the middle is breathtaking. Look for the ‘Pines Island’ viewpoint for a place to stop and admire the view.
Enjoy other villages in the region: Each town in Connemara has its own distinct character, so if you have the time, don’t miss stopping in Roundstone, Ballyconneely, Cleggan, Claddaghduff and Letterfrack.
Have you ever visited Connemara? Is it a region of Ireland you’d like to visit one day?
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