Horses on Aran Islands, on Ireland's West Coast

West IrelandTravel Guide

West Ireland Visitor's Guide

Ireland's rugged west coast, splintered by the Atlantic's tireless persistence, is peppered with peninsulas, ports and tiny islands. Home to the famous Wild Atlantic Way route, this region is bejewelled by a wealth of Ireland's most popular tourist attractions. Visitors to the West of Ireland will marvel at its natural beauty and will cherish its memories as fondly as they do the friendliness of the locals.

Top Attractions in West Ireland

The top attractions of the west of Ireland centre around the epic landscape and rugged terrain it is famous for. Gigantic cliffs, endless Mars-like landscapes, ancient monastic cities, modern new-age cities and what is known as Ireland's most romantic buildings all await visitors to the west of Ireland.

1 The Cliffs of Moher

Top Attraction
Bring your Camera
See it on our Tours

They are one of the most popular and frequently most-hyped attractions on any of our Ireland Tours, and the views will not disappoint. Rising to a height of 702ft (214m) high and 9 miles (14km) long, these sheer vertical cliffs hold a steady, undulating line against the tireless advance of the Atlantic below. A better view of the sea and setting sun on any Ireland tour you will not find.

The Cliffs of Moher

Another thing you will not find is the visitor centre; at least, until you get close, you won't find it. Designed very cleverly to blend into the local landscape, this extensive attraction is all but invisible as you approach the cliffs themselves. Inside, it is large, modern and informative.

Insider Tips

To get the most out of this incredible experience, wrap up warm and allow enough time for a good walk about on the clifftops. Turn right and head toward O'Brien's Tower, then continue along the Burren Way footpath for one mile to reach the Viewing Point. From here, you will get some of the best angles for your photographs, but be warned that you will have competition from many other happy snappers.

2 Kylemore Abbey

Top Attraction
History & Culture
See it on our Tours

Kylemore Abbey is not only one of Ireland's most attractive buildings, since 1920, it has also been home to the Sisters of the Benedictine Order in Ireland. Even today, Kylemore continues to operate as a working Abbey: here, the sisters live, work and pray, as well as welcoming visitors from across the globe.

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Country Galway

Among Kylemore's many notable attractions are the unmistakable Victorian Walled Gardens, restored in 2000 and now open to the public. As a heritage garden, this beautiful space only uses Victorian gardening methods. Only seeds and strains from the 1800s are ever planted here.

The building of Kylemore Castle was inspired by Margaret Henry, to whom the Gothic Church still stands in tribute, serenely secluded in Kylemore's woods. It was Margaret's husband Mitchell Henry who produced, from little more than desolate bog land, the beautiful attraction we now know as Kylemore Abbey. Following Margaret's death in 1874, Henry returned to Kylemore to live, and he remained here until his passing in 1903.

Insider Tips

If time, mobility and weather allow, skip the shuttle bus to the garden and make your way on foot. There is so much to see along the way, you will be glad you did.

3 Galway City

Top Attraction
Shopping & Souvenirs
See it on our Tours

Galway, City of the Tribes, is one of Ireland's most popular tourist destinations, known for its charming cobbled streets, its friendly residents, and its pervasive sense of history. The city sits on the location where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean. The main hub of activity in the city is the 18th century Eyre Square, here you can find numerous shops, pubs, cafés and restaurants. Visitors to Galway City are drawn to the brightly-painted pubs, teeming with activity and traditional Irish folk music; the legendary street performers, enchanting the crowds; and the countless festivals which take place in Galway every year.

Galway City

In recent years, Galway City has become the cultural hub of Ireland, the city attracts people who share an artistic outlook and a more Bohemian way of life. For those interested in all things art, Galway City is definitely not to be miss your tour of Ireland.

Insider Tips

If you're visiting on a Saturday or a bank holiday, head to Church Lane by St Nicholas' Church in the centre of the city. Here you will find the local farmers' market, loved by locals and visitors alike for its vibrant atmosphere and its alluring mix of crafts and foodie treats.

4 Westport

Top Attraction
Good for Families

Westport is a charming town in County Mayo. Located about 1hr 30 mins from Galway, this remote area of Ireland retains all of its rugged beauty. There's plenty to see and do around Westport including the Great Western Greenway, Achill Island, Clare Island, Clew Bay with its 365 Islands, Westport House and Croagh Patrick.

Westport, County Mayo

Westport is a charming town in County Mayo. Located about 1hr 30 mins from Galway, this remote area of Ireland retains all of its rugged beauty. There's plenty to see and do around Westport including the Great Western Greenway, Achill Island, Clare Island, Clew Bay with its 365 Islands, Westport House and Croagh Patrick.

Insider Tips

If you have a car with you, be aware that you will need to purchase a parking disc from any of the local shops. The first hour is free of charge.

Our own Visit

We headed to Westport ourselves for a fun few days of activities and adventure. Click here to find out about our Weekend in Westport

5 Clonmacnoise

Top Attraction
History & Culture
See it on our Tours

Perched on the banks of the River Shannon, Clonmacnoise is perhaps the foremost of Ireland's many monastic cities. For those interested in early Christianity, it is a must-see destination. Enclosed within the ancient city walls are various ecclesiastical ruins including a cathedral, seven ancient churches, three high crosses, round towers and the largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe - all remarkably well-preserved and fascinating to anyone, not just those with a special interest in Ireland's religious history.

Clonmacnoise, County Offaly

The cathedral is perhaps the most logical starting point after the museum. Built in 909AD, it has been significantly altered over the years. The 15th Century Gothic doorway with carvings of St Francis is worth a few minutes of closer scrutiny.

Clonmacnoise's small churches are known as temples; a derivation from the Gaelic teampall. Each has its own distinctive character, and states of preservation vary significantly. Giving each of these sites the attention they deserve, not to mention the many sites outside the city walls, will not be easy for those bringing young families. But, for grown-ups interested in history, Clonmacnoise is a fascinating and vivid realisation of Ireland's past.

Insider Tips

Head for the museum first, an interactive multimedia experience housed in three conical huts designed to mirror the early dwellings of the region.

You can also travel down to Clonmacnoise by boat from Athlone. Viking tours run boat journeys to Clonmacnoise and bus transfers back to Athlone.

Practical information

The average duration of a visit to Clonmacnoise is around an hour and a half. Guided tours in different languages are available. The audiovisual presentation in the museum lasts 20 minutes and provides important context for the rest of your time in Clonmacnoise. The museum also houses the largest collection of early Christian grave slabs in Europe and the original high crosses.

Opening hours

Open from 9:00 to 18:30 from June to August, from 10:00 to 18:00 in mid-March to May, September & October and from 10:00 to 17:30 in November to mid-March.

Admission fee

An entry ticket costs €8 for an adult and €4 for a child.

6 Flaggy Shore

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

Found in one of the most northerly parts of County Clare, Flaggy Shore is a geologist's dream. Made up of mainly grey limestone there are also the remnants of glacial rock from the last ice age, over 12,000 years ago, in the form of granite and limestone. Fossils of creatures from over 330 million years ago have also been found in the limestone. For us non-geologists of the world, Flaggy Shore is also just a simply beautiful sight.

Flaggy Shore, on the coast of County Clare

Insider Tips

Be advised that perhaps the biggest attraction of Flaggy Shore could also be seen by some as its biggest downside. Namely, there is nothing there but nature and peaceful solitude. Bring everything you need to this very isolated spot.

7 Kilmacduagh Monastery

Great for Returners
Religion & Spirituality

Kilmacduagh Monastery is located just outside the town of Gort in south west County Galway. Today only the ruins remain. Saint Colman is said to have founded the monastery in the 7th century. Legend has it that as Saint Colman was walking through the woods of the Burren when the belt from his robe fell to the ground. Saint Colman took this as a sign that this was to be the location of his monastery.

Kilmacduagh Monastery, County Galway

It was also said that in the village of Kilmacduagh, no man will die from lightning. This myth was tested when a man was struck by lightning and send over a ditch, into the neighbouring County Clare, where he was declared dead. It is not known if he died when he was stuck or after he crossed the border, so the myth lives on.

Insider Tips

An ideal detour en route to the Cliffs of Moher. Just an hour's drive will take you from this most peaceful retreat to the much busier tourist hotspot to the West.

8 Keem Bay

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

Another of Ireland's best kept secret beaches, found on the western shores of Achill Island in County Mayo. Framed by such an enchanted landscape, many visitors will find the journey here just as rewarding as the day out itself. A truly stunning location.

Keem Bay in County Mayo

See our page on Irish Islands for more hidden treasures like this one.

Insider Tips

Visitors are advised only to swim if there is a lifeguard as there is a very strong riptide. Even then, it would be best to swim with a partner and at a depth that you are comfortable with.

9 Downpatrick Head

Great for Returners
Religion & Spirituality

Located just north of the village of Ballycastle in County Mayo, Downpatrick Head is a heritage site that gives visitors a unique view of the Atlantic Ocean. The Dún Briste sea stack lies close by, which looks like a chunk of Downpatrick Head that has been cut away from the mainland. Also found on Downpatrick Head are the ruins of a church founded by Ireland's patron saint Patrick, a holy well, a stone circle and nesting sea birds.

Downpatrick Head, off the coast of County Mayo

Insider Tips

Photographers will remember this visit forever, but watch your step and follow the signage on these treacherously high cliffs.

10 Bluebell Woods

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

Dereen Woods, also known as Bluebell Woods, is located outside the town of Boyle in County Roscommon. A magical setting throughout the year, the woods become even more special during the spring when they are carpeted with Bluebells. On a clear spring morning, Bluebell Wood is one of the most unique sights in Ireland.

Bluebell Wood, County Roscommon

Insider Tips

Visit mid-April to late May to get the full effect of the bluebells in bloom. Be advised that there is limited parking, especially during this more popular time.

11 The Spanish Arch

Great for Returners
History & Culture

The Spanish Arch arguably stands out more because of the vibrant atmosphere which pervades the surrounding area, particularly in summer when visitors and locals mingle together, eating out in the sun and enjoying the buskers and street performers. The arch itself is thought to be part of the original medieval city walls.

The Spanish Arch, Galway City

The Spanish Arch arguably stands out more because of the vibrant atmosphere which pervades the surrounding area, particularly in summer when visitors and locals mingle together, eating out in the sun and enjoying the buskers and street performers. The arch itself is thought to be part of the original medieval city walls.

Insider Tips

This is a great spot to sit and eat outdoors. But keep an eye on your lunch: there are many seagulls here and they'll be very grateful if you leave a tasty snack unguarded.

12 Cong

Great for Returners
History & Culture

Cong is a village on the border of counties Mayo and Galway, with a population of just 145 people. It is best known as being the location for the John Ford directed, John Wayne starring film The Quiet Man. The film remains one of the few Hollywood productions where the Irish language can be heard. Filming started in Cong in the summer of 1951 and employed numerous actors from the Irish Theatre, as well as extras from the surrounding countryside. Every outdoor scene in the film was shot in County Galway and County Mayo. While the majority of the film was shot in the village of Cong, it is set in the fictional village of Inisfree.

Cong Abbey, County Galway

Another notable aspect of the village is that it was home to Sir William Wilde, the father of, arguably, Ireland's most famous writer Oscar Wilde. Today, as well as visiting The Quiet Man museum, the most popular destinations of Cong include Cong Abbey and Ashford Castle.

Insider Tips

For a truly luxurious experience, you might consider an overnight stay in nearby Ashford Castle - arguably Ireland's most opulent castle hotel. Ideal if you're looking to treat yourself on one or two nights of your stay in Ireland.

13 Killaloe & Ballina

Great for Returners
Bring your Camera

Situated on the Clare and Tipperary banks of Loch Deirgeirt respectively, Killaloe and Ballina offer a tale of two cities ... well, two villages, perhaps. Close enough to be considered one destination, they have quite distinctive and different characteristics. Pack your camera before you head to Killaloe, the epitome of beautiful County Clare; then use it to get some foodie snaps over dinner in Ballina, where you will find fantastic pubs and restaurants.

Killaloe, County Clare

Insider Tips

Be sure to stop here if you are into watersports, if you enjoy a good day's fishing, or if you're tempted by a boat cruise up the River Shannon to Lough Derg.

14 Connemara National Park

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

Located in County Galway, Connemara National Park is one of Ireland's six national parks. Founded and opened to the public in 1980, the majority of the land had previously been part of the Kylemore Abbey estate. Evidence of human settlement across the park include 4,000-year-old megalithic court tombs and a 19th-century graveyard.

Connemara National Park, County Galway

Comprising three thousand hectares of mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands and woods, Connemara National Park is a nature-lover's paradise; home to countless native species including red deer, wild ponies and peacock butterflies. The park is also home to several of the famous Twelve Bens, the unmistakeable range of mountains which gives such character to the landscape of this part of Ireland. Dedicated walkers will find plenty of challenge here, but easier strolls can also be found on nearby Diamond Hill.

Insider Tips

Head to the northern reaches of the park, near Letterfrack village, to find the Connemara National Park Visitor Centre and tea rooms.

15 Trad on the Prom

Music & Show
Great for Returners

If Riverdance did festivals..? This showcase of Irish traditional folk music and dance combines the best of Irish trad culture with a great open-air festival atmosphere. Featuring world-champion dancers, as well as some of the Riverdance cast, the show has met with near-unanimity in its positive reception among visitors. The price tag might rule it out for some, especially larger families, but those who go are in for a treat. Be sure to book well in advance: shows sell out months ahead.

Trad on the Prom

Insider Tips

Be advised that this show is only available during the summer months. Check for the most up-to-date information about performance times and location.

Achill Island, County Galway

Getting to Western Ireland

Arriving by Plane

Shannon Airport

Shannon Airport is located in County Clare and services numerous airport in North America. To connect with Galway City from Shannon Airport you have the options of car rental or bus and train journeys. If you are planning to rent a car in Shannon Airport and drive to Galway City it is relatively easy. The drive takes you an hour north on the M18 motorway.

Bus Eireann operates a bus service between Shannon Airport and Ennis in County Clare, Limerick City and Galway City. Citylink also operates a service between Shannon and Galway. A train journey from Shannon to Galway is a little more complicated as there is no direct service. It will involve taking the bus from the airport to Limerick City and getting the connecting train to Galway City.

Dublin Airport

While it's the whole width of Ireland away from Galway, Dublin Airport offers the greatest option of flights into Ireland. Ireland is longer than it is wide anyway so the distance isn't too bad (208 km/129 miles). If you are renting a car in Dublin Airport and driving this journey it will take 2 hours and 25 minutes, travelling west along the M4 and M6 motorways.

Booking a Sat-Nav with your rental car is a good idea to make the journey out of Dublin City that bit easier, as well as exploring the smaller roads in western Ireland's rugged terrain. You can also travel to Galway City from Dublin Airport on the bus via Citylink for as little as 18 euro (one way), when you book online. There is currently no train running from Dublin airport. To catch a train to Galway you will first have to travel into Dublin City and to Heuston Station (route 747).

Cork Airport

To travel by car from Cork Airport to Galway City takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, travelling on the N20 and the M18. Again, if you are renting a car in Cork Airport and you're planning to drive anywhere outside of the main roads of the west of Ireland a Sat-Nav will come in handy along the way. Citylink run a nonstop coach from Cork Airport to Galway City for 20 euro return when booked online. The journey takes 3 hours and 20 minutes and runs twice a day. The train from Cork Airport can be a little trickier, it involves a bus journey from the airport to Kent Station in Cork City, a train from Kent Sation to Limerick and then onto Galway.

Arriving by Bus

The main bus station in Galway is the Seán Duggan Centre, close to Eyre Square in Galway's city centre. This station connects directly to all other cities in Ireland as well as the major towns in County Galway. In County Clare the main bus station is Ennis Bus Station in Ennis Town, again this will connect you with the rest of Ireland. You can find connecting buses in and out of County Mayo in the towns of Westport and Castlebar.

Arriving by Train

The Counties of Mayo, Clare and Galway are all well serviced with railway services. The main train station is Galway railway station which is located in Galway city centre. From this station you can connect to the cities of Dublin to the east, Cork and Limerick to the south. Travelling to Belfast City in Northern Ireland would require a change over in Dublin. The main train station in County Mayo is in the town of Westport and in the town of Ennis in County Clare.

Arriving by Car

Getting to Galway City, the town of Ennis in County Clare and the town of Westport in Mayo, from anywhere else in Ireland, is relatively easy. Over the past number of decades, the main road network across the whole of Ireland has been greatly improved. The same can't be said for the secondary and tertiary roads in certain areas. The west of Ireland is notorious for being as close to the old image of Ireland as people remember.

Once you travel off the main roads you'll be greeted with stonewalls and fields, rugged landscapes and scenic views. While it is all quaint and pleasing on the eye it can be a tricky terrain to navigate for the inexperienced. Narrow roads, a lack of signposts, some locals that claim they only speak Irish, a flock of sheep that don't want to move will all equal a great driving story on your arrival home. But these are not the most pleasant of experiences at the time. If you renting a car in the west of Ireland, might we suggest renting one that is as small as possible? Top tip: Most cars in Ireland are manual, so if you haven't driven one before you should definitely try to book an automatic. It's not fun getting to grips with a stick while you're battling uncharted territory. P.S. a Sat-Nav is also pretty vital when driving in the west.

Other Regions of Ireland