West of Ireland
Galway Travel Resources
Please note we are not responsible for the content of third-party websites. We do not offer recommendations or vouch for quality.
Galway and Western Ireland
Ireland Travel Companion
The West of Ireland - home of Galway, Connemara, Mayo, Clare and the revered Croagh Patrick. A rugged coastline, splintered by the Atlantic's timeless persistence, is peppered with peninsulas, ports and tiny islands.
If you have brought your walking boots to Ireland, there is no better place to make use of them than here, where Ireland's westermost trails skirt secluded lakes, delve into scenic valleys, and meander along a coastline which yields some of Ireland's most breathtaking sea views.
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. Come here to find some of Ireland's best evening entertainments and folk sessions, perhaps a little more authentic than you might find in the most tourist-friendly haunts of Dublin and Killarney. Before you know it, you'll be singing along!
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. Visitors 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.
Trad on the Prom
If Riverdance did festivals...? This showcase of Irish traditional folk music and dance combines the best of Irish trad culture with a great openair 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.
Find out More
- Admission: Adult/child €30 /€10 (all admissions are included in our escorted tours)
- TripAdvisor Reviews
Spanish Arch & Surrounding Area
Perhaps not worth a special trip on its own, 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. Ranked #30 out of 75 on TripAdvisor for Galway attractions, you might not remember this as the most spectacular historical site of your trip to Ireland, but summer visitors will recall the atmosphere fondly. Stop here for lunch before you continue to explore the city. From here, take in the Galway City Museum or the rest of the Latin Quarter before heading to the shops and restaurants of Quay Street.
Hall of the Red Earl
Although it is situated in the same part of the city as the Spanish Arch and its neighbouring attractions, The Hall of the Red Earl will perhaps feel slightly less touristic than much of what you will find in Galway's rich city centre. With a story which begins in 1230 AD, the Hall is very much an archaeological attraction: expect fascinating artefacts and displays but, of the Hall itself, only the foundations remain. These were discovered as recently as 1997 when plans to extend the city's Custom House unearthed a sufficient wealth of archaeological finds to keep teams of excavators busy for two years. In 2001, the extension to Custom House, held aloft on stilts, was opened, encorporating the archaeology beneath as an integral feature. Anyone interested in archaeology should certainly make the short trip.
Find out More:Plan a Family Trip to Western Ireland
Detours and Diversions
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 it's 365 Islands, Westport House and Croagh Patrick.
Read about our own travel experiences in Westport
The location of the 1951 John Ford film The Quiet Man (starring John Wayne), Cong offers a step back in time. Those who are less interested in The Quiet Man Museum should head for the more historical attractions of Cong Abbey and Ashford Castle.
Killaloe & Ballina
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.
Connemara National Park
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.
- Admission to Visitor Centre: Free
- Visitor Centre Opening Hours: Mo-Sa 09:30-17:30 (later closing in peak season)
- Admission: Adult/child € /€ (all admissions are included in our escorted tours)
- TripAdvisor Reviews
Perched on the banks of the River Shannon, Clonmacnoise is perhaps the foremost of Ireland's many moastic cities. For thise interested in early Christianity, it is a must-see destination. Enclosed within the ancient city walls are various ecclesiatical ruins including a cathedral, seven ancient churches, three high crosses, round towers and the largest collection of Early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe - all remarkably well preserved and fascinating for anyone who is interested in Ireland's religious history.
Head first for the museum, an interactive multimedia experience housed in three conical huts designed to mirror the early dwellings of the region. The audiovisual presentation lasts 20 minutes but will provide important context for the rest of your time in Clonmacnoise.
The cathedral is perhaps the next logical stop-off point. 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 signifcantly. 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.
Roscommon and Strokestown Park
Westport House is a charming and elegant Georgian mansion and is still largely in possession of its original contents and decor. Prior to its 1730 construction, the site of the house was occupied by the by then ruined castle of the Sea Queen Grace O'Malley, a successful business woman or legendary pirate depending on your historical stance and susceptibility to fanciful lore.
Today, Westport House offers diversions for all the family, with a nearby (3km) Pirate Adventure Park providing every incentive for the kids to come along.Plan your own Visit
Find out More:
Clare's Trad Folk Sessions
Every part of Ireland has its own musical traditions and styles, and these generally find voice in the traditional Irish folk music nights, or trad sessions, of the local pubs. A trad of folk session is an informal gathering of musicians (almost always in a pub) who play traditional folk music together, not as a formal performance, but more in the style of what jazz, funk and rock musicians would call a 'jam' session; structured and based around a familiar tune, but relatively free-flowing and with a small degree of improvisation (mainly in harmony). There are a cappella songs, instrumental reels, jigs and hornpipes; people join in if they can, or just listen if they want to sit one out. If you're a musician, it's a great way to practice. If you're not, buy the players a round of Guinness and make yourself at home.
A typical Irish Trad Session
Of all the counties in Ireland, Clare is arguably the best for trad sessions, boasting an uncommonly high concentration of talented singers, instrumentalists and dancers. The best folk sessions are those where the musicians play purely for their own pleasure, but it is quite common on the tourist trail to find sessions which are slightly more staged for the visitors' benefit. But, whichever type of session you find in Clare, you should expect to hear 100% traditional Irish music (in other parts of the country, more contemporary pop styles have started to creep in).
To find the best Clare folk sessions, head for Ennis, Ennistymon, Doolin, Miltown Malbay, and Kilfenora. Alternatively, if you find yourself in Westport, be sure to stop in Matt Malloy's, a noted trad pub owned by the eponymous fife player from The Chieftains.
Visit Kilfenora, Co. Clare
Visitors who are looking to discover authentic Irish music should add the Clare village of KIlfenora to their bucket list of Irish travel. This historic village is widely reognized as the home of traditional ceili music and the gateway to The Burren.
Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher
They are one of the most popular and frequently most hyped attractions in all of Ireland, the views they hold will not disappoint. Rising to a height of 203 metres, 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 you will not find.
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.
This is an immensely popular tourist attraction, and with good reason, but it does mean that you should expect to have lots of company as you take in the amazing views: during summer, in particular, there will be lots of people. To enjoy the cliffs alone, you will need to walk for ten minutes or so, so wander to Hag's Head and admire the tower without the bussle of the crowd.
Find out More:
Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden
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.
Among Kylemore's many notable attractions are the unmistakable Victorian Walled Gardens, restored in 2000 and now open to the public visiors. As a heritage garden, this beautiful space is worked using only Victorian gardening methods. Only seeds and strains from the 1800s are ever planted here.
The building of Kylmore 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. Following Margaret's death in 1874, Henry returned to Kylemore to live, and he remained here until his passing in 1903.
Kylemore has something for everyone, no matter what your age - visitors can enjoy the restored rooms of the Abbey, The Gothic Church and the Gardens. Many make use of the shuttle bus service between the Abbey and Gardens, but it is a very pleasant walk along the tree-lined avenues, too. For our little visitors there is a play trail, colouring in the restaurant - and don't forget to make a wish at the Giant's wishing stone.
Find out More:
- www.kylemoreabbeytourism.ie | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Admission: Adult/family €13 /€35 (all admissions are included in our escorted tours)
- TripAdvisor Reviews
A limestone plateau covering 250 square kilometres, The Burren takes its name quite aptly from the Gaelic for "rocky land" or "great rock". While in one sense very fitting, the name does not do justice to what experts have more justly termed "
one of the world's most stunningly unique natural heritage regions".
In another missed opportunity to describe the outstanding beauty of The Burren, and not without a certain relish, Cromwell's surveyor described it as "a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury".
Inviting visitors to "take a walk through time", The Burren Centre offers an altogether more illuminating, and certainly less ghoulish view of The Burren and its extensive history. Taking in the exhibition and talking to the local experts, visitors learn about the cultural, historical and spiritual significance of the area: "
With its innate sense of spiritual peace, extraordinary array of flora and wildlife, and megalithic tombs and monuments older than Egypt's pyramids, the Burren creates a tapestry of colour and a seductively magical aura which few people leave without wanting to experience again."
The Burren Centre
- Find the Centre on Google Maps
- Burren 4 Ticket: €27 - see website for details (all admissions are included in our escorted tours)
- TripAdvisor Reviews for the Centre
- TripAdvisor Reviews for the Burren
Also known as "The Reek", Croagh Patrick is perhaps Ireland's best-known mountain internationally, and stands at a lofty but comfortably manageable 765 metres. With a distinctive conical shape, Croagh Patrick is quite recognisable and can be ascended and descended in less than four hours.
Croagh Patrick is famed as the site of St Patrick's 40-day fast, making it a sacred and revered feature of Ireland's landscape, particularly on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, when pilgrms ascend the mountain in large numbers. In fact, pilgrimages to the summit have a more enduring history than this would suggest: worshippers have actually climbed Croagh Patrick since 3000 BC.
At the top, you will find a 1905 church, a ninth-century oratory fountain, and some fantastic landscape photo opportunities.
Find out More:
- Croagh Patrick on Wikipedia
- Admission: N/A (all admissions are included in our escorted tours)
- TripAdvisor Reviews
Right in the heart of the Burren, nested high on the mountainside with commanding views of Galway Bay, lies Aillwee cave, one of the oldest caves in Ireland. Ancient and alluring, the cave captures everything that makes the Burren so mystical and spectacular. Devlving 600m into the ground, the underground tour guides you through caves and caverns with underground waterfalls. Guided by expert staff throughout, you will learn about how the caves came into being.
Once you re-emerge, enjoy the Burren Birds of Prey Centre with its dynamic flight displays, informative talks and a 'hawk walk'.More Regional Attractions
Find out More
- Admission: Adult/child €12/€5.50 (all admissions are included in our escorted tours)
- TripAdvisor Reviews
Castles and Heritage Sites in Limerick and Shannon
Shannon and Limerick, like so much of Ireland's west coast, are known for their stunning natural beauty. But, even beyond the endlessly photogenic landscapes of the Wild Atlantic Way, there is no shortage of historic man-made beauty which is just as likely to have you reaching for your camera. Limerick and Shannon are particularly noteworthy for their fantastic heritage sites - here is a selection of our favourites. Don't forget to pack your camera!