Sometimes, to experience the best of what Ireland has to offer, you need to get behind the wheel and explore the country for yourself. This special series of blog posts is here to shine a light on some of Ireland’s best road trips.
This week, we’re taking in some of the West of Ireland’s most charming and colourful towns and cities, as well as exploring the unique landscape and awe inspiring Atlantic vistas of Connemara. Buckle up and get ready for a trip rich in fine dining, cosy pubs, rare flora and views you won’t soon forget.
One of Ireland’s most vibrant cities, Galway was originally formed from a small fishing village located in the area near the Spanish Arch called ‘The Claddagh’ where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay. Now, Galway City is a thriving, bohemian, cultural city. Along with being a popular seaside destination boasting beautiful beaches and a breath-taking promenade, Galway is also home to a buzzing cosmopolitan city centre with labyrinthine cobbled streets, striking shop facades and a thriving café and bar scene.
Galway city is also renowned for its many festivals throughout the year with massive crowds gathering for the annual Galway Arts Festival and The Galway Races in particular. The city’s past remains on display, with turf fires and traditional music showcased in many of the city’s pubs. We recommend an evening stroll along the gorgeous promenade as you watch the sunset over Galway Bay, or watching the salmon fishermen on the River Corrib from the perfect vantage point of the Salmon Weir Bridge.
Shop Street, Galway City (Image courtesy of Ireland’s Content Pool)
As we leave Galway city, we begin to explore this gorgeous region in earnest. Hop on the R336 out of town and set your sites on Spiddal.
Galway → R336 → Spiddal
Just a short drive from Galway city centre, Ceardlann An Spideil is a hillside cluster of cottages where some of the country’s finest craftspeople ply their unique trades — from pottery and woodturning, to floral art, weaving, knitting, screen painting and jewellery design. As part of the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area), Spiddal offers the visitor a snapshot of a bygone era as well as some remarkable views of Galway Bay.
Having taken in the charm of Spiddal and maybe picking up a memento or two; it’s time to keep on moving. Pull back on to the R336 and head for Carraroe.
Spiddal → R336 → Carraroe
Galway Hookers are a distinctive form of boat native to Ireland, and the picturesque town of Carraroe is the epicentre of Hookers’ preservation and revival. Every year Carraroe hosts the “Féile an Dóilín”, one of the largest maritime festivals in the country. Féile an Dóilín sees the remaining Galway Hookers deemed seaworthy pitted against each other in a series of contests. You can spot working Galway Hookers sailing around these waters throughout the year with their distinctive black hulls and bright rust coloured sails. Up until the 1950′s the Galway Hooker was the means by which all supplies and livestock were ferried in and out of the nearby islands, the Hooker’s hull was built wide and deep to accommodate heavy loads.
Carraroe’s, “Trá an Dóilin” is a blue flag beach and one of just two beaches in the West of Ireland with coral shingle. This also makes it a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkelling.
Galway Hookers, Carraroe (Image courtesy of Ireland’s Content Pool)
Leaving Carraroe, we’re heading back on to the R336 until it re-joins the N59. From there, just follow the signs for Roundstone.
Carraroe → R336 → N59 → Roundstone
One of the west of Connemara’s most picturesque towns, Roundstone is set within an area of outstanding natural beauty. Roundstone is particularly popular in the botanist community as the surrounding countryside is home to an array of rare wild flowers.
The rugged backdrop to Roundstone is the striking mountain of Errisbeg, which rises to almost 1,000 feet. The charming harbour village is the ideal base from which to explore the unique landscape of Roundstone Bog or, to the South of the village the crescent-shaped beaches of Gurteen and Dog’s Bay.
Roundstone is also a wonderful spot to stop for a meal or an overnight stay. The town boasts a great selection of bars and seafood restaurants including O’Dowd’s Restaurant and Bar, Eldon’s Restaurant and Hotel and Vaughan’s Restaurant. Strolling through the town you’ll also discover several local craft shops and cafés to while away a leisurely afternoon.
Leaving Roundstone, we’re taking the R341 until it joins the N59 and setting our sights on Clifden.
Roundstone → R341 → N59 → Clifden
Clifden is the largest and one of the most beautiful towns in the region. Perched on high ground at the foot of the Twelve Pins Mountains, Clifden, is often referred to as the ‘Capital of Connemara. This energetic, cosmopolitan and lively town, is brimming with boutiques, souvenir shops, cafes, fine restaurants and lots of quaint Irish pubs making it a popular tourist destination.
Clifden is another good base for exploring the Connemara region, offering plenty of accommodation options from bed and breakfasts and self-catering holiday homes to 4 star hotels like the elegant Abbeyglen Castle Hotel.
Clifden, Connemara (Image courtesy of Ireland’s Content Pool)
One of the area’s best known beauty spots is just a stone’s throw from Clifden; The Sky Road.
Clifden → N59 → Sky Road
Justifiably famous for the views it affords, the Sky Road route takes you up among the hills overlooking Clifden Bay and its offshore islands, Inishturk and Turbot and is clearly signposted from Clifden’s Market Square.
The 16km circular route takes you out west from Clifden, onto the Kingstown peninsula, and back into Clifden via the N59. The route eventually splinters into the lower and upper roads – while the lower road is well worth travelling, the upper road is arguably the most popular because of the views it offers of the entire area. At the highest point of the Sky road you’ll find a car park and viewing area (about 5.5km from Clifden).
From the Sky Road, we can stick on the N59 and head directly to Connemara National Park.
Sky Road → N59 → Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park is the West of Ireland’s only national park, providing Connemara’s most spectacular scenery spread over 4,942-acres. Almost devoid of the signs of human inhabitation, the park is a blend of mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands, rivers, waterfalls, and nature trails. The area is also famous for the Blackface Mountain Sheep that graze nonchalantly alongside the narrow roads and the Connemara Ponies that roam the gentle landscape.
The Connemara National Park visitor centre in Letterfrack is also worth a visit, with a variety of exhibitions on the surrounding landscape as well as the flora and wildlife native to the area.
Derryclare Lough, Connemara National Park
Our next stop, is the rugged Renvyle peninsula. The drive is a treat in itself as you continue along the Connemara loop.
Connemara National Park → Connemara Loop → Renvyle Peninsula
The Renvyle Peninsula is one of the most northerly points of Connemara, hugging the border of county Mayo and surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic.
Renvyle Peninsula incorporates the villages of Tully and Tully Cross and was once home to legendary pirate queen Grace O’Malley. The ruins of her castle still occupy a commanding position at the Peninsula’s western fringe.
A famous landmark in the area is Renvyle House Hotel. First opened in 1883 and once owned by celebrated poet, novelist and senator Oliver St. John Gogarty, the hotel has played host to many famous guests in its time including Augustus John, W.B. Yeats and Winston Churchill. Renowned for its fine food, hospitality and entertainment Renvyle House Hotel is the perfect pit stop to unwind and recharge before the next leg of your journey.
Renvyle House Hotel, Connemara
Fully restored after your well-earned rest In Renvyle, we travel the short distance to Kylemore Abbey.
Renvyle Peninsula → N59 → Kylemore Abbey
One of the best-known tourist attractions in the region is the enchanting Kylemore Abbey. Mitchell Henry, as a romantic gift to his wife, built this fairy tale castellated mansion in 1868. In the 1920’s ownership passed to the Benedictine nuns who also ran an all-girls boarding school there, until 2010.
The Kylemore Abbey estate covers 1,000 acres and includes a restaurant and visitor centre, a number of forest and mountain trails and a 6 acre Victorian walled garden in a serene lakeside setting. This oasis of calm transforms the wilderness of rock and bog into a feast of flowers and plants set in geometrically designed borders and beds.
Kylemore Abbey, Connemara
Our next stop is the magnificent Delphi resort. As you pull out of Kylemore Abbey, rejoin the N59 and start heading for the Mayo Border.
Kylemore Abbey → N59 → Delphi
Delphi Resort is located in the heart of gorgeous Delphi Valley. With its stunning location, Delphi is an extremely popular destination for romantic getaways, indulgent spa escapes and adventure-filled family holidays.
Delphi Resort has undergone huge transformations over the last 30 years. What started as an adventure centre and hostel, particularly popular with school children from all over the country, has since evolved into a stunning leisure break destination – boasting a 4 star hotel, an award-winning spa and a yoga and wellness studio. Whether you’re looking for a wet and wild outdoor adventure or a relaxing, restorative getaway; Delphi has you covered.
From here, we’re headed for our final destination; the beautiful town of Westport.
Delphi → N59 → Wesport
A town steeped in history, the earliest settlements around the Westport area date back approximately 5000 years. This ancient past is reflected in the many megalithic monuments found on the Clew Bay Archeological Trail. In more recent history, the 16th Century saw Westport become known as an important stronghold for the O’Malley Clan. Grace O’Malley held control of the fortress in Westport as well as many other sites along the shores of Clew Bay.
In 1730, the Browne Family built Westport House on the site of the O’Malley Fortress, the dungeons of the old O’Malley fortress can still be seen on a visit to Westport House today. On the grounds of Westport House you’ll also find the Pirate Adventure Park. Recently voted Best Family Visitor Attraction in Ireland, the park has activities for all ages including go carting, water slides and inflatable obstacle courses.
Now the third largest town in Mayo, Westport hosts a thriving community and a vibrant, friendly social scene, with numerous cafes, restaurants and bars. Overlooking Clew Bay, with Croke Patrick in the distance, the surrounding scenery is simply breath taking. Westport is the perfect destination to close out your West of Ireland adventure.
Westport, County Mayo
There you have it! Your essential guide to one of the finest driving routes that the country has to offer. Now pack up the car and head out west, you won’t regret it. Check back with the Autoglass blog soon and as always stay safe on the roads.