EIGHT THINGS TO DO IN CONNEMARA by Maggie Turansky
The World Was Here First Blog
Many foreign visitors in Ireland tend to spend a few days in Dublin before heading on a road trip of the southern coast of the country, culminating in Galway City. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this Ireland itinerary, it does leave a significant amount of the beautiful Emerald Isle unexplored.
Among the areas left behind is the stunning Connemara Peninsula, a wild expanse of land on Ireland’s west coast with its own unique ecosystem. Imagine dramatic peaks, miles of peat bogs, and white sand beaches so pristine they could be in the Caribbean: all of this and more is on offer in this fantastic corner in Ireland. There are many things to do in Connemara and it really should be a part of your next Ireland holiday.
The Connemara region of Ireland is located predominantly in County Galway, just north of Galway city. Less than an hour’s drive from the city will see you in the sparsely populated expanse of nature that few tourists take the time to get to know. These are some of the best things to do in Connemara:
1. Drive the Sky Road
The Sky Road is a twenty-kilometre scenic loop located near Connemara’s biggest town of Clifden. The circular road is considered by many to be one of Ireland’s best drives. On a clear day, the views of the dramatic cliffs, mountains, and seaside scenery are absolutely stunning. Also, despite this being one of the most popular things to do in Connemara, it isn’t nearly as busy as many other tourist attractions on the Emerald Isle.
There are multiple look-out points along the route where you can pull over and gaze at the stunning vistas and even in a busy tourist season (we were there over the Easter Holidays) we had absolutely no problem finding a parking space in any of them.
And, though winding, the road quality is very good and wide for a rural street. If you don’t have a car, it is also very much worth walking the Sky Road route and it will arguably be a better experience as you will likely spend more time enjoying the beauty of your surroundings.
2. Explore Clifden
Clifden is the largest town and unofficial capital of the Connemara region. Because of this, it is likely that if you are spending a couple of nights in Connemara that you will end up being based in this charming town. Besides being the jumping-off point for the Sky Road loop, it is worth spending a bit of time exploring Cliden itself.
The town is very picturesque and there are a number of cute shops and convivial pubs to while away the hours in. Most pubs also have live music in the evenings, so it’s a great place if you’re keen to listen to some traditional Irish folk music.
There are also a number of fantastic restaurants in Clifden. Mitchell’s is probably the highest-rated in the town. They serve up fantastic local seafood of great quality in a fairly casual setting. If the dinner prices are a bit too steep, consider heading here for lunch instead. The menu is extensive and the prices are a bit cheaper than in the evening.
Besides the great restaurants, cute shops, and neighbourhood pubs, Clifden is also home to the Clifden Castle which is also very much worth a visit if you’re curious about some of the history of Connemara. Without a doubt, exploring the quaint town of Clifden is one of the best things to do in Connemara.
3. Dog’s Bay Beach
While Ireland may not be the first destination that springs to mind when you’re looking to head to the beach, don’t be hasty to dismiss it. Dog’s Bay beach located only a few kilometres north of the village of Roundstone is one of the most beautiful and untouched beaches in Ireland. The soft white sand and strikingly blue water will make you feel as if you are in the tropics and it’s only when the chilly temperatures hit you will you remember that you’re actually in Ireland.
There is a car park close to the beach, so the amount of walking to get to the beach is minimal. It is, however, remote enough that you very well might get it all to yourself. A visit to Dog’s Bay beach is undoubtedly one of the best things to in Connemara.
4. Kylemore Castle/Abbey
Ireland has no shortage of castles to visit and the Connemara peninsula is no exception. One of the best castles to visit is Kylemore, which is located only about five kilometres east of the village of Letterfrack. Originally built in 1868 by a wealthy businessman and politician, it was turned into an abbey in the 1920’s and it is still functioning today.
There are also immaculately kept Victorian walled gardens and a restaurant and tearoom. 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. A full price entry ticket costs €11.70 for adults and €8.10 for students with a valid ID. It is worth noting that you till save 10% on the ticket price if you book online in advance.
5. Explore Cong
Located in the eastern part of the Connemara region in County Mayo is the charming village of Cong, which is most notable as the filming location of the 1952 movie The Quiet Man. Though this film was released more than sixty-five years ago, the town is still drawing fans of the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movie to this day. There is a statue depicting a scene from the movie, a number of souvenir shops dedicated to paraphernalia and you can even walk to the famous “Quiet Man bridge” and recreate scenes from the movie for yourself.
The village itself is very charming and picturesque and if you’re a fan of Hollywood’s Golden Age then a visit to Cong is one of the best things to do in Connemara.
6. Go Hiking
Connemara is one of the most mountainous regions in an otherwise mostly flat country, and with that comes some amazing hiking opportunities. The peninsula is home to the Twelve Bens, which are the highest peaks in Ireland. If you’re up for a challenge, it can be well worth it to try and summit one of these peaks while visiting Connemara.
If you don’t care to go on such a vigorous hike but are still keen to ramble along in the pristine natural surroundings, there are countless hikes and walks to choose from for any ability level. One of the best things to do in Connemara is to go experience the scenery on your own two feet, and hiking is one of the best ways to do this.
7. Pony Trekking
If you love horses and hiking isn’t really your thing, then Connemara is an excellent region to go pony trekking. There is a great history of horses and ponies in Connemara and there are a number of places within the region that you can do this. Opt for a horse riding tour along the coast and experience some of the most beautiful beaches that most people can’t easily reach by car.
8. VIST THE CONNEMARA SMOKEHOUSE
Ireland hasn’t particularly been known for its cuisine but that, however, is quickly changing. As inventive Irish chefs are reclaiming their routes and reimaging traditional Irish cuisine, local produce has flourished as a newfound passion for locally sourced food has been encouraged.
One of the best examples of this is the Connemara Smokehouse in Ballyconneely, where some of the top restaurants in Ireland source their smoked fish. You can visit the factory and purchase freshly cured and smoked fish directly from the source and it is truly some of the best smoked fish that I have ever tasted. If you want to taste some traditional Irish produce at its source, then a visit here is one of the best things to do in Connemara.
Accommodation in Connemara
While most hotels and B&B’s in the Connemara region tend to be located in or around Clifden, we stayed at the Island View B&B in the small seaside village of Roundstone. Not only was it a perfect location to explore all that Connemara had to offer, the couple who run the B&B are absolutely lovely, the breakfast is good and filling, and the rooms were clean and comfortable. This is absolutely one of the best places to stay in Connemara.