The Gateway to Western Ireland
Galway is a lively and inviting city, but so many of my American friends have never even heard of it. That, in and of itself, is a crime. But Galway also acts as an excellent base from which you can explore the rugged and varied west of Ireland. We’ve got mountains, we’ve got towns, we’ve got ancient history. But with such choice, how can you know which day trips from Galway are right for you?
I lived in Galway for six months, so I had plenty of time to get out and poke around the surrounding area. I’ve listed here my eight favorite places to visit around Galway. If you wanted to, you could combine a few of these to make a mini Ireland Itinerary for yourself. These trips work with a car or public transport. For all up to date bus information, visit the Bus Eireann website.
Check out my 24 Hour Galway itinerary!
This would be my highest priority day trip if I were planning on visiting western Ireland. The landscape is something out of a fantasy novel. The drive along the Connemara Loop provides plenty of variety in terms of sights and stops. In a single day you can go from a historic abbey to sandy beaches to craggy mountains to sweeping fjords. Your eyes will thank you.
Getting there: You can usually take a day trip out to the park offered by a bus company, but this is one of those times I’d rather rent a car and go on my own. I have a whole post dedicated to exploring Connemara if you want more information.
Aside from the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands are one of the most famous places to visit in all of Western Ireland. The islands are known for their continued use of the Irish language, and each contains sights of historic and cultural value. Inishmore, the largest island, is home to Dun Aongasa, a walled settlement over 3500 years old. Inisheer is the smallest island and easily covered on foot, by bike, or by pony trap. Highlights include walking to the lighthouse, the wreck of the old ship Plassy, and the ruins of Saint Cavan’s church. Inishmaan is the least visited of the three islands, meaning you will find a more authentic slice of life here.
Getting there: Many tour companies offer day trips to one or more of the three islands, or you can opt to catch the ferry on your own. Ferries leave twice daily from Rossaveal outside of Galway city. A shuttle from Galway City Center to the ferry leaves from their offices near the Kinlay Hostel and costs €5 for a single or €9 for a return ticket. Travel times on the ferry range from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on which island you are travelling to and cost €25 euros return.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are probably the most frequent day trip people take from Galway. Tour companies offer multiple trips a day during the high season. The Cliffs are nothing short of spectacular to see in person. Many of these day tours include trips to other sites such as the Aran Islands and the Burren. If you are feeling a bit ambitious, you can always take on a section of the coastal hike that goes from the town of Doolin, past the Cliffs, all the way to the town of Liscannor. This is by far the best way to take in this stunning coastline.
Getting there: The 350 bus goes from Galway to the cliffs in a little over two hours, costing between €24-30 round trip. Unless you want to do the hike, I would recommend taking a day tour as they are often a similar price, and you get to see more of the countryside.
Doolin is adorable. It has to be said. The town consists of a single street running toward a harbor for ferries to the Aran Islands. Doolin is a popular stop on many day tours outside of Galway because it is so close to the Cliffs of Moher. However, Doolin is also impressive in its own right. I heard some of the best trad music in Doolin’s pubs, and the brightly colored houses along the main road are instagram gold. If you begin or end your cliff walk in Doolin, make sure to stop at Doonagore Castle.
Getting there: The 350 bus runs regularly to Doolin and costs €24-30 round trip from Galway Bus Station.
Lahinch & Ennistymon
Lahinch is known as one of the most popular surfing towns in Ireland. Surfing in Ireland? Yup. It’s actually a pretty big deal. Whether you visit in July or February, you’ll probably still see people out in the freezing water taking surfing lessons. Lahinch has the laid back vibe you’d expect of a beachside surf town with an Irish twist. Whether you want to get in the water yourself or sit back and watch from the rocky shore, Lahinch is perfect for a day at the beach. In the off season it definitely quiets down, but it is still worth a visit.
Ennistymon is a small town on the banks of the Cullenagh River. Within easy walking distance of Lahinch, the two towns make a perfect day trip. You can walk down to take in the falls beneath the old stone bridge through the center of town and follow the footpath along the length of the river to the elegant Falls Hotel & Spa. Though diminutive in size, Ennistymon is full of local shops housed in historic buildings, too. If you’re hungry, stop by Oh La La for delightful sweet and savory crepes.
As you make your way between the towns, stop by the An Gorta Mór Memorial, a memorial dedicated to those that died in the Great Famine.
Getting there: Take the 350 bus. The trip is two and a half hours one way and costs €30-34 round trip. Lahinch is a 45 minute walk from Ennistymon, or a €2 bus ride one way.
Clifden is a small coastal town known as the capital of Connemara. Aside from the delightful town center, the castle is one of the biggest draws in the area. The castle is about a forty minute walk from town or a five minute drive. You will get some spectacular views of Clifden and the seaside. When I visited, the fog was so thick we could only walk to the gatehouse before having to turn back. It looked like something out of a creepy horror film.
Getting there: The main bus that runs from Galway to Clifden is the 923 and costs €17-21 round trip. Bus times may change depending on the season.
The Carrowbeg River flows through the center of Westport lined by trees and punctuated by stone bridges. Westport Quay is a 30 minute walk from the center of town but provides beautiful views over the water. You can see the iconic mountain Croagh Patrick rising in the distance. The main attraction is Westport House. A tour of this Georgian Era estate costs €13, but the grounds are free to explore including a scenic woodland walk along the water. There is also a pirate adventure park? In case that is your jam.
Getting there: The 456 bus runs every other hours from Galway to Westport and costs about €22 round trip. The trip takes just under two hours.
If you have had your fill of dramatic landscapes and want a change of pace, head down to Ennis. This charming town of grey stone is situated on the River Fergus. Take a look at the shops along high street passing Ennis Friary, the old mill water wheel, the Clare Museum, and the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul. Wall Candy is a street art project giving some TLC to some of the town’s abandoned wall space. Maps are available showing the location of the artwork. If you’re looking for a bite to eat, try Café Aroma or Bia Agus Caife.
Getting there: Buses run frequently from Galway to Ennis Bus Station and cost about €20 round trip.
Galway is just the start.
I’ve only scratched the surface of Ireland’s wild west. The region is full of history, drama, music, and culture. The vibrant atmosphere is unlike any other place in the world. There is so much more to take in than just the Cliffs of Moher. Whatever your style or travel preference, Ireland has plenty to see. Take a few days and see what the country holds for you!