County Galway is the perfect choice for a short road trip in Ireland. Narrow roads take you across vast, brooding landscapes, with the occasional small village or scattering of sheep. Traditional Irish culture is strong here, and recent years have seen a flourishing of the local food scene based on western Irish ingredients. This 4-day itinerary will take you from lively Galway City to the picturesquely desolate Connemara Peninsula, along it’s shimmering craggy coastline and across the bay to the beautifully windswept Aran Islands.
County Galway road trip highlights:
- Modern Irish gastronomy in Galway City
- Cycling around Inishmore, one of the atmospheric Aran Islands
- Connemara’s picturesque brooding landscapes
The best time to go to Ireland is between April and September/October, when days are long and the weather is mild. It can get busy during the peak season of July-August, book ahead in those months. At other times, last minute prices can drop considerably.
Day 1: Galway City
Drive to Galway City and spend a couple of hours exploring the small but lively student town. There are not many sights besides the Spanish Arch, but plenty of pubs and a dynamic traditional music and festival scene (enough to earn Galway the nickname of Ireland’s Cultural Heart). On sunny days everyone seems to gather around the River Corrib, which makes for a fun riverside stroll.
There are plenty of small hotels and B&Bs in Galway, but they tend to be rather disappointing for the price. One of the better options is the recently opened Continental Boutique Residence. It might try a bit too hard to be trendy, but rooms are nice. Alternatively, you can take a short drive out of town and stay at Ross Lake House (we decided to do this on our second night, to get some calm and a more spacious room).
In contrast to the lack of good accommodation, Galway has a surprising selection of great restaurants. It’s a real foodie hotspot, showcasing modern Irish cuisine and local produce. We had a superb gastronomic dinner at Aniar, sporting a Michelin star since 2013 and still on top of it’s game (reserve ahead).
Day 2: Aran Islands daytrip to Inishmore
Book an early morning flight from Connemara airport to Inishmore (or Inis Mór), the largest of the Aran Islands. Although the ferry takes only 40 minutes, Aer Arann Islands’ tiny planes take a mere 10 minutes and allow for some nice views over the island and bay, on a clear day. Early flights also arrive before the first ferry so you can beat the crowds, and they don’t cost much more.
Walk or take the shuttle bus from the airstrip to Kilronan, Inishmore’s main town, where you can rent bicycles (it would have been nice if they had rental bikes at the airport, too). The island is only 14 by 4 km and easily explored by bicycle, although you better stick to the coastal roads if you want to avoid going uphill. If the weather is not cooperating, it’s easy to find a bus tour or a more expensive but decidedly more fun traditional pony & trap upon arrival in Kilronan.
The main sight on Inishmore is Dun Aengus, a rather mysterious prehistoric fort and an important archeological site. Most impressive of all is its vertiginous setting right at the edge of a 100m cliff.
Have lunch near Dun Aengus at Taech Nan Phaidi. Consider going early or late as between 12 and 1pm there can be big tour groups at the cafeteria style restaurant and you might have to queue. Food is simple but delicious, enjoyed on the pleasant outdoor terrace or in the cosy interior.
A kilometer or so east from Dun Aengus along the southern coast is the so-called Wormhole (Poll na bPeist). This rather curious sight is like a perfectly rectangular swimming pool, made by nature and connected to the ocean. The place is not easily found (although the indication on Google Maps is pretty accurate). Cycle until the far end of the village of Gort na gCapall, from there painted red arrows indicate the path, but sometimes you have to search a little. After a few hundred meters, leave your bike at a gate with a sign that says “no trespassing”. There is an opening in the wall just on the left, and it seems absolutely fine to trespass: we saw plenty of people do it, with a guide or without. A 10-minute trail over the rocks (not always visible, again look out for red arrows) leads you to the coast and the Wormhole. This being a tidal pool, during high tide the lower level can become wet and slippery, stick to the path along the cliffs above in that case.
There are several other historic sites and ruins to see on the island, depending on how much time you have. I loved just wandering around, taking small side roads and exploring the picturesquely desolate countryside. Make sure to stop at Port Corruch along the northern coastal road to look for seals, there is a colony living here and at low tide you can see them sunning themselves on the rocks (search for seal colony viewpoint on Google Maps).
Head back to Kilronan in time for your plane (or ferry). Drive back to Galway for another nice dinner. We tried Loam, Galway’s other Michelin-starred restaurant. The place is very cool and modern, but the food was a little inconsistent. Some dishes were delicious, but others rather bland. Other, more casual, options include Ard Bia at Nimmo’s or Oscar’s Seafood Bistro.
Day 3: Connemara, Clifden and Sky Road
After breakfast at our hotel, we decided to visit Brigit’s Garden. This turned out to be a mistake: with so much beautiful nature around it is really not worth paying for a rather average garden. If you are a castle lover, you could check out Aughnanure Castle instead.
Slowly make your way to Clifden via the N59, crossing the Connemara Peninsula. It’s a very scenic road but there are not many convenient viewpoints to stop. Have a stroll around Oughterard and stop for a picture at Quiet Man Bridge, where a scene of the apparently famous 50s movie The Quiet Man was shot. Even if you’re not a fan of John Wayne, the views are lovely.
After a casual seafood lunch in Clifden at cozy Mitchell’s, go for a hike in nearby Connemara National Park. Several trails start from the visitor center, the longest loop is just under 7 km and goes all the way up Diamond Hill. The landscape is beautifully wild and rugged, but trails are a bit too well kept for my taste. Strangely enough for a country with so much nature, there are relatively few marked hiking trails (at least in Galway County) so it can get busy in Connemara, especially during weekends and holidays.
Take the coastal roads back towards Clifden, via Cleggan and the famously scenic Sky Road. You can stop for a beer at Boardwalk Café, overlooking Clifden Bay. Afterwards, continue south and take the Roundstone Bog Road, which is stunning in late afternoon light. If you still have time, make a little detour to Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay, two pretty sand beaches.
The best place to stay in the area is charming Cashel House, a delightful, quaint country house in a beautiful flowered garden. You can have dinner here in the pretty dining room, but unfortunately the food is nothing special. It might be better to go for pub style seafood at atmospheric O’Dowd’s in nearby Roundstone (reservations recommended).
Day 4: Kylemore Abbey and Killary Harbour
After a wonderful breakfast and a morning walk through Cashel House’s garden, we headed to Kylemore Abbey. Take the scenic R344 which takes you past the Twelve Bens mountain range.
Kylemore Abbey looks magical from a distance, but from up close it’s rather disappointing. It has been extensively restored, and as a result it feels a little fake. Only a handful of rooms can be visited. The Victorian walled garden is pretty, but it all seemed a little too expensive and over-marketed to me. However, if you go with lower expectations than I did, you might very well enjoy it!
Spend the rest of the day exploring some more pretty coastal roads, finishing your Connemara loop. Stop for a simple lunch at the Misunderstood Heron, a food truck on a little field near the Killary Adventure Centre, where you can enjoy fresh Killary mussels with great views over fjord-like Killary Harbour.
Continue your scenic drive all around Killary Harbour, maybe stopping for the short hike to Aasleagh waterfall, or venturing into County Mayo to the scenic Doolough Valley via the R335. You’ve now reached the limits of County Galway, and you can either head back to Dublin or continue your road trip to Westport and beyond!
I would love to know what you think of my County Galway itinerary! Please leave me a comment below!