With the help of many local friends, we compiled the following recommendations for seeing the highlights of the Western Irish countryside in 2 days:
Day 1: Cliffs of Moher, Burren National Park and Galway
The 3h drive from Dublin to the West coast goes through the middle of Ireland full of peaceful rolling hills covered by lush green grass. The vegetation is watered by abundant rain coming from the evaporation over the Atlantic that condenses upon impact with Irish shores.
The Cliffs of Moher are a true highlight that cannot be missed in Ireland. Standing over 200m tall and stretching for 8km along the coast, these majestic cliffs are truly extraordinary to witness in person. They have even appeared in numerous movies, including Harry Potter. There is a national park where you can park and enter for about EUR 6 / adult, walk around the cliffs, and visit the early 19th century O’Brien’s Tower. On a clear day, you will even be able to see the Aran Islands to the West.
From the Cliffs of Moher, we recommend driving North to Galway on the Wild Atlantic Way (denoted with road signs of a wave) along the coast through a town called Murroogh. The road is bound to please those who love driving with its winding turns, while scaring your passengers as you try to squeeze with an oncoming bus in-between the stone walls on either side of the narrow road!
The Burren National Park is named after the Irish word “Boíreann” (a rocky place). You will witness a stunning bare limestone landscape stretching for miles ahead with barely any vegetation capable of growing in this arid land.
The city of Galway is a great place to go for dinner, walk around its romantic streets and spend the night.
- What to see: Stroll down the colorful lively Shop Street, the waterfront promenade and visit the Galway Cathedral.
- Where to eat: Our absolute favorite was Kai on Sea Road with its stone walls and delicious food (local crab and steak). Also recommended are Aniar (Michelin star) and Ard Bia (at Nimmo’s Pier). Definitely go to McCambridge’s for breakfast (there is a cafe seating area upstairs).
- Where to drink: Many pubs are located along Shop Street, the highlight is an authentic old local pub Tigh Neachtain that locals say serves the best Guinness in the world; it has many rooms with multiple bars connected by small corridors. Also recommended are Freeneys, Front Door, Crane Bar and Róisín Dubh that often play live music. For wine and cheese, check out Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.
Day 2: Connemara, Kylemore Abbey and Ballynahinch Castle
Sheep, sheep and sheep. Heading Northwest from Galway into the staggering rugged landscape of Connemara, the countryside is dotted with old barns, charming stone houses and thousands of sheep grazing on the orange-tinted hills and casually strolling up and down the country roads.
Our absolute favorite part of the Irish countryside was Kylemore Abbey. This majestic castle was built in 1867 by Mitchell Henry as a family estate dedicated to his beloved wife. After changing owners a couple of times, it became an abbey when the Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased it in 1920. Kylemore overlooks a beautiful lake situated in a long valley where Mitchell Henry planted more than 300,000 trees to transform the arid landscape. The castle itself is an impressive engineering feat with 40,000 sq ft of space, dozens of elegant rooms, pressurised water from a lake in the hill above and even fully electrified with power from a hydroelectric generator. A mile behind the castle in the hills are beautiful Victorian Walled Gardens worth visiting as well.
On the way back South along the coast from Kylemore Abbey, the Wild Atlantic Way winds through picturesque little coastal towns of Clifden, Derrygimla and Roundstone.
A definite worthwhile stop is the Ballynahinch Castle Hotel that specializes in salmon fishing, game hunting and horse riding. Time spent at the estate felt like we teleported two centuries back to become part of the local nobility, relaxing by roaring fireplaces and enjoying an absolutely delicious three-course dinner at the castle’s restaurant. The men’s room is probably the nicest one I’ve ever seen with a carved-wood wall decoration; located behind their casual dining Fisherman’s Pub, it could almost turn into a classy bar of its own!