After Kilkenny, the Irish west coast has to be my second-favorite region in Ireland. West coast Ireland is as Irish as it gets; there are remote mountains, lakes, green pastures, tiny villages, absolutely spectacular coastlines, castles and plenty of watering holes.
Highlights of the West Coast Ireland
The place to use as a base for exploring is the Galway City. This busy little city is overrun by tourists in summer and is much calmer in spring and autumn – autumn probably being the best time to visit as temperatures are still high. The city, situated on the banks of the beautiful Corrib River, is chock-full of historic buildings, countless pubs, a stunning waterfront and a fine cathedral.
Highlights in Galway are the colorful row houses, Shop Street, Galway Cathedral, the Spanish Arch and the mouth of the Corrib River.
As the center of tourism and tours on west coast Ireland, there’s plenty of accommodation in Galway and you can explore the rest of the Irish west coast from there as well.
To the north lies the vast emptiness of Connemara, a spectacular landscape made up of barren hills, hundreds of lakes, stone walls, peat bogs, old stone houses and a castle here and there. In terms of scenery, I think that Connemara is my favorite Irish region. (The Ring of Kerry comes close, though.)
I spent a few days in Connemara, staying at what probably is the remotest hostel I’ve ever stayed at. After being dropped off by the bus, I still had to walk a couple of kilometers through green Rhododendron- and sheep-filled fields before I got there. I hiked a lot and also spent a day exploring the region by bike. It was brilliant. The weather wasn’t too good, but that only added to the mystic atmosphere and sense of remoteness.
Highlights in Connemara are Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey, Ashford Castle, the Connemara Loop Drive and just the magnificent landscapes.
Another major highlight on west coast Ireland lies south of Galway. The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s most-visited destination. They are breathtaking. Everyone who visits Ireland always raves about its coastline, and the Cliffs of Moher are the mother of all coastlines, really. You can walk along the cliffs on a paved walking path, offering fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean below. After a while the path turns into an unpaved track, which is part of a long-distance coastal trail.
Behind the Cliffs lies the Burren, a huge region that consists of nothing more than stones and rocks. That was a landscape I had never seen before; it was weird. As far as you can see, there are just rocks, stones and more rocks.
Highlights near the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren are the Poulnabrone Dolmen, the Kilfenora High Crosses, ringforts, the coastline – obviously – and Dunguaire Castle.