Galway is situated on the West coast of Ireland right in the middle of it all! There are many places to see in Galway itself, but what if you have more time and want to experience the wilder side of Ireland? Fancy a swim in the wormhole? Care to look over the edge of a sprawling 700 ft cliff face? Dare to surf the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean?
Sticking to one city or county of Ireland when visiting is a colossal mistake, and can make or break your trip overall. You need to give yourself ample time to check out the striking coasts, dynamic cities and geological oddities the country has to offer. In my last article I gave you some ideas on what to check out in Galway, now let me give you some insight into some of the best places to check out in a day, from Galway city.
- Aran Islands: This has to be one of the most popular trips from Galway city but despite the many tourists that flock to these islands in the summer months it is well worth the time and energy. The Aran Islands are three sparsely populated islands off the coast of County Galway, with about 1300 inhabitants (total). Inis Oirr and Inis Meain are the smaller of the three, and if this is a return trip to Ireland I would suggest checking them out! The very authentic pubs and small wool sweater shops will captivate you (the Aran islands are famous for their cozy and not so itchy wool sweaters…definitely money well spent). This is a perfect spot to soak up some Irish culture. Both islands have many sites, churches, ruins, and natural wonders to look at. They even have a shipwreck or two! I would suggest renting a bike, grabbing a map and touring around to get the best views on the island.
Inis mor is the largest of the three, hosts the most visitors, and it’s by far the most popular island to visit. If this is your first time visiting the Aran Islands, despite being quite a touristy spot I would suggest visiting Inis Mor first. This island is really happening, when you arrive off the boat there is a small village with a few shops and pubs to check out (and a supermac’s if that’s your thing). I strongly suggest renting a bike and to see the best sights around the island. There are tour vans that go around and although they are informative, they can often get crowded with not the best views (do you really want to experience Inis Mor from a car window?… no didn’t think so).
When my friends and I visited the island for a late season camping trip, we decided to walk (regretfully carrying all our camping gear) to our first sightseeing spot. After an hour or so we arrived at our first destination, Dun Anonghasa (Dun-angus).
Dun Anonghasa is a prehistoric hill fort atop a 100-meter high cliff, dated between the bronze and iron age. This is an amazing sight to behold, hike up the hill to the top to gaze over the cliff face if you dare, or take in the sights from a safer location. After you come down from the site there are a few shops and cafes with locally made artisan crafts to browse, and a small cafe to grab a bite to eat. The food here is delectable and the locals who run it are very sweet. There is a dog that sometimes roams in and out, and if your keen, try and find the small calico cat names Pishnet. She’s also often seen running in and around the property, she loves visitors.
After spending the morning here we decided to head out and try to set up our camp before the rain. Keeping in mind the locals don’t really enjoy the sight of wild campers (although it is not illegal! I checked!) we were greeted by many of the island’s residents, who asked us about our day and if we needed a lift. We kindly declined and continued on our way. Finding our campsite was a tad tricky, following some faded spray paint arrows through fields of rock and grass, we finally made it to the wormhole.
The Wormhole aka the serpent’s lair is another popular attraction on Inis Mor. It is a naturally rectangular shape pool in the rock, that is located farther down from the Dun Anonghasa cliffs (It reminded me of a bigger, more choppy and cold Olympic size pool). This pool rises and falls with the tide and although it is not recommended that you swim here without proper gear and experience, the best time to do it would be high tide. Our group of adventurous (yet tired) girls opted out of the 6am October swim and decided to take some nice photos instead.
We set up our tent a few 100 meters away from the shoreline and after a long day of walking the Island we had a few drinks, then quickly fell asleep (I must say tenting in a coastal area, in October does not guarantee the driest night). In the morning to warm up we packed, then took a walk back to the wormhole one last time. We lingered around for a few moments, admiring the elegance and ruthlessness of mother nature and managed to catch a glimpse of two friendly seals bobbing off the shore. It was an exceptional morning.
Cliffs of Moher: This too is a popular and crowded attraction outside Galway, but instead of just telling you how stunning the cliffs are, I’m also going to talk about some worthwhile stops to make along the way.
When you leave Galway city headed for the Cliffs, 40 minutes down the highway, just outside of Kinvarra, you will see Dunguaire Castle. This small castle is often open to the public and makes an interesting first stop. Kinvarra (the nearby town)is very quaint and small (me, being the coffee addict that I am, made the group stop here to get coffee before heading to the castle). If you skipped breakfast this would be the best place to grab a bite to eat before embarking on the longer half of the journey. If you aren’t hungry feel free to just pull over, hop out and walk around the castle.
If you decide to take the longer scenic route to the cliffs you will come across some of the most rugged and barren landscape in Ireland, a place called the Burren. On a clear day the Burren can be seen from the Salthill prom in Galway, but seeing it up close in person is a whole different experience. The hills that climb up from the road, as well as the slope that heads toward the ocean, is just barren grey limestone rock, with a few bushes and moss here and there. As I stood there (coffee in hand) I was awestruck at how Ireland (at the time, I thought to be the greenest place on earth) could be home to such a desolate landscape that seemed to stretch on forever.
Finally arriving at the Cliffs of Moher we paid to park our car (after failing to cheat the system first) the headed for the entrance. After some distance, there is a break in the wall (the wall that’s supposed to stop people from hopping over) and you can quickly hop over, to get a better view of the cliffs. Please be careful! In rainy or misty weather the path on the other side of the wall can be pretty muddy and slippery!. I would say it’s worth it, though considering the view!
If you have time head further south to Lahinch for some delicious pub food or take a surfing lesson with one of the many surf schools here. Lahinch is a very popular town for surfing in Ireland and in the summertime, you will see many locals trying to catch a wave.
If you are exhausted and plan on heading back to Galway, make a quick stop in Doolin to grab some grub from Gus O’Connor’s pub. This very eclectic and amusing pub is full of notes, patches and license plates from around the world.
- Connemara: You can’t talk about the west coast of Galway without mentioning just how STUNNING Connemara is! Not to mention it is in the Gaeltacht (which means that Irish is the primary language). With many places to see in this area of Ireland, it’s hard to do it all in one day, but it is possible to hit up more than one spot in Connemara without having to spend the night!.
Kylemore Abbey is a great place for a history lesson. Learn about the origins of the man who built it and about the nuns that currently run it. I’ve visited Kylemore abbey twice in the time I lived in Ireland and I can say it never gets old! Although its a more touristy place (especially in the summer) You cant come to the west of Ireland without coming here! The gardens are a must see in the summer, the fragrance alone is enough to pull you in! Our tour took us through here as our last stop of the day and although scaffolding covered most of the abbey we were still able to take in the views!
and on the way back drive by Ireland’s only fjord, Killarney Fjord, and take in the view!
Cong in County Mayo also had a history lesson to boast and if your a fan of the movie “Quiet Man” you can’t miss this famous little town. Take a walk and explore the souvenir shops and have a bite in the pub before heading to Ashford Castle for a walk around the grounds and through the garden. Pop into the Quiet Man museum and learn a little about the movie that put this town on the map! I loved visiting this small town many times during my stay in Ireland, something about it just kept pulling be back!
Finally if your the more adventurous type, plan a hike up the 12 Pins (Na Beanna Beola), are you dedicated enough to hike all 12 in one day?
These is just the tip of the iceberg of the things you can do near Galway city. Ireland itself is so full of off the map it would be total lunacy to attempt to put them all in one article so you can bet i’ll be back with another article! This time it will be full of small, off the beaten path adventures you can take in the west of Ireland!