The West of Ireland is one of our country’s best hidden gems. With beautiful scenery, seaside locations, great hospitality and a friendly nightlife, the West of Ireland is a great place to spend a weekend. The only problem is that you won’t want to leave once you visit our charming towns and beautiful landmarks!
In this article we will discuss the best towns, cities and landmarks in the west of Ireland to visit on a holiday or staycation.
As someone who has lived in and travelled around the West of Ireland for all of my life, I have added some of my favourite things to do in the west of Ireland to this list.
Our article contains the following sections:
- How to get to the West of Ireland
- Getting around the West of Ireland
- Where to stay in the West of Ireland
- The Wild Atlantic Way – The West of Ireland’s Touring Region
- Islands to visit in the West of Ireland
- Galway – The land of the Tribesmen in the West of Ireland
- Roscommon – Visit the Rossies in the West of Ireland
- Mayo – The Yew County in the West of Ireland
- Leitrim – The Ridge County in the West of Ireland
- Sligo – Yeats County in the West of Ireland
- Clare – The Banner County in the South West of Ireland
- Limerick – The Treaty County in the South West of Ireland
- Final Thoughts – Why you should visit the West of Ireland
How to get to the West of Ireland:
Plane: You can actually fly into the West of Ireland directly via Knock airport in Co. Mayo. You may also choose to fly to Shannon Airport in Co. Clare or Dublin Airport depending on your location and preferences.
While you will also be arriving closer to your desired destination, both Knock and Shannon airport are not as busy as Dublin so you can avoid large crowds and traffic.
Bus / Train: If travelling from another part of Ireland you may wish to use public transport. This is especially useful when staying in a town or city as the majority of trains go from Dublin to towns such as Galway, Westport, Roscommon and Athlone. They will also stop at smaller towns along the way.
Ferry: If you are arriving from Europe or the UK, you may wish to bring your car with you to Ireland via ferry. You can enjoy the trip over from countries such as Great Britain, the Netherlands and France and then travel to the west of Ireland in the comfort of your own car.
Getting around the West of Ireland:
Public Transport: You can choose to use public transport to get to your location but when travelling around the west of Ireland we would recommend hiring a car or bringing your own vehicle if you are used to driving on Irish roads.
It is possible to use buses or train services but make sure to check timetables online for routes and plan your journeys in advance.
If travelling from another part of Ireland you may wish to use public transport to reach the West. This is especially useful when staying in a town or city as the majority of Trains go from Dublin to towns such as Galway, Westport, Roscommon and Athlone, stopping at smaller towns along the way
You can get a train directly from Dublin city to Westport or Castlebar which is useful.
A bus is a great way to visit a location, you may be able to find a guided tour bus to landmarks which can improve any experience.
Car: The fastest way to get from one point to another in Ireland is by car, motorways connect major cities and towns so you can avoid small roads when travelling from larger towns.
While we do recommend driving for the freedom it will offer you, some people may not like to drive on Irish roads to small villages, beaches and other attractions as they may be very narrow to the point that two cars cannot pass by each other. If you are not comfortable driving there is plenty of public transport, all of which you can view and book in advance.
Its important to drive slowly, you may find that speed limit signs are misleading so it safer to drive at a steady pace. Travelling around the West of Ireland may be daunting but you’ll find solace knowing that everything is relatively close to each other.
Where to stay in the West of Ireland:
There are no shortage of accommodation types in the West of Ireland, from five star hotels to cheap and cheerful hostels. While you may to choose to stay in a hotel because of the conveniences such as swimming pools, gyms, bars, restaurants, activities and live music, you may also want to save more money or create interesting experiences.
Hotels have become quite expensive and hostels are often booked out due to the high demand for both in large towns and cities. Book your stay well in advance to avoid hefty last minute fees, most hotels and hostels offer free cancellations up until a certain date before your arrival which is good to know.
Below we have listed other accommodation options you may find useful.
Bed and Breakfast (BnB):
BnB’s in Ireland offer a more personal experience for accommodation as you are usually staying in the owner’s house. While this isn’t always the case, it has been the owner themselves that have cooked the majority of breakfasts I’ve had in an Irish BnB, which usually consists of the traditional Irish fry, (which should be an item on your Irish food bucketlist!).
Usually the owner lives in the BnB or close by and has a great knowledge of the area, such as what to do and see and the best times to visit nearby attractions. You can learn about the local area from them and all that it has to offer. If you choose to stay in a BnB in a Gaeltacht area, you’ll experience Irish culture and language at its best without even leaving your lodgings!
So if you want to experience our famous hospitality, a BnB in the West of Ireland is a good choice.
Glamping has become a trendy way to spend a night in the wilderness. Who says you have to compromise on comfort when experiencing nature? Even locals like to try out the unique experience that has become so popular in the West of Ireland.
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Camping and Caravan sites:
While the weather isn’t the mot reliable to go camping in a tent, a campervan or caravan is a great way to tour Ireland, especially if you are following the coastline during your stay!
As airbnb has become more popular across Ireland, there is really every type of accommodation available, from classic cottages to modern houses and everything inbetween.
Wherever you choose to stay in the West of Ireland, we’d recommend doing your research. Check price options and the reviews left by customers before you rush into any costly decision. Also think about convenience and location. How far away are you from amenities and locations you want to visit and how do you plan to get to them?
Places you must visit in the West of Ireland:
Sometimes people may visit a specific location in the West of Ireland such as a family homeplace, not realising that they are within an hour of some of the most beautiful destinations in the world. One of the advantages of our country being relatively small is that you can see so many different things with very little travel time.
The Wild Atlantic Way – The West of Ireland’s Touring Region
If you are looking for a road trip during your stay in Ireland, then the Wild Atlantic Way is the perfect adventure. You’ll take in amazing landscapes intertwining with the Atlantic ocean, with coastal tourist towns scattered along your journey, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Ireland as it really is.
The Wild Atlantic Way makes up one of three touring regions in the Republic of Ireland, the other two are Ireland’s Ancient East and the Hidden Heartlands.
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world. Winding all the way from the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal down along the west coast of Ireland to the picturesque town of Kinsale, Co. Cork the route is 1600 miles or 2600km in length.
If you do follow the route you will experience some of the best things that Ireland has to offer, from stunning coastal views, to friendly towns that welcome tourists in for a pint and a delicious meal as well as ancient monuments which each add a small bit of history to the Island.
Untameable tides have created the rugged coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way, from towering cliffs to idyllic beaches there is something unique about the West of Ireland, our exposure to the harsh erosion of the Atlantic Ocean has shaped many beautiful geographical landmarks. It is rare to have such a well preserved area of nature so close to modern towns and cities, and so locals really get the best of both worlds.
If you would like to learn out more about planning the trip, we have created a guide for the Wild Atlantic Way, breaking down the trip into sections and highlighting the best locations in each section. Ideal if you wish to plan a road trip around the routes of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Islands to visit in the West of Ireland
There are so many unique islands scattered around the West of Ireland. As someone who has visited many of them I can’t recommend a day out or even a weekend in the following islands if you want to unwind, enjoy nature, visit picturesque beaches and enjoy the simple things in life. From traditional Irish pubs and restaurants with live music and Irish Céilí sessions (music and dance), to great food and outdoor activities, there is something for everyone.
The Aran Islands
The Aran islands in Co. Galway are a great day trip and only a ferry away; you may even see some dolphin’s on your way over! Enjoy the journey across the waters by admiring the rugged West Coast and majestic waves. We have a blog dedicated tothe Aran Islands, everything you should know before going and the best things to do while your there if you’re interested!
The Aran islands are comprised of three individual islands, from largest to smallest they are:
- Inishmore (Árainn / Inis Mór which means the big island)
- Inishmaan (Inis Meáin which means middle island)
- Inisheer (Inis Oírr which means island of the East)
How to get around the island
One of the best ways to explore the islands is by bike. You can hire bicycles from the pier on Inis Mór if you arrive by ferry or you can get a bike delivered to your accommodation. There is something really enjoyable about cycling along the winding roads following the stone walls and passing by green field after green field.
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The Aran Islands are an official Gaeltacht region, which means that locals speak Irish as their primary language. If you want to see traditional Irish culture alive and well the Gaeltacht areas across Ireland are a treat; from trad sessions to GAA sport clubs and beautiful scenery, there is so much to experience. Gaeltacht areas are tourist friendly and the majority of people living there are fluent in English as well as Irish.
Annual Red Bull cliff diving
Did you know that the annual Red Bull cliff diving event has taken place on the Aran islands, specifically in Inishmoore in 2012, 2014 and 2017. It was actually meant to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
It is no surprise that the Aran islands have been used so frequently for the Red Bull Cliff diving competition, the breath taking island provides stunning views and plenty of steep cliffs.
The best known of several prehistoric hill forts on the Aran islands, Dun Aengus lies on the edge of a 100 metre high cliff.
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One of the locals favourite beaches, Kilmurvey beach was awarded a blue flag which is the highest rating a beach can get. There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in the West of Ireland as you will soon find out!
The Black fort is another hidden secret on the island. A ring fort on the edge of a cliff made of limestone, the fort got its name as it turns black when wet.
Poll na bPéist, which means the wormhole, is where the Red Bull Cliff diving takes place, another sea cliff on the island that is completely natural but looks as though it has been carved out. It is advised that only professional divers attempt cliff diving as it can be dangerous.
Seaweed & Sweaters
The islands have a unique range of flora and fauna and a long growing season due to its temperate climate. It is rare to see arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants in one location, but the combination of the aforementioned climate conditions and limestone landscape support a wide range of floral growth.
It is tradition in the Aran islands to harvest seaweed, and has been done for generations. It has become a modern trend as the health benefits of the food have become more known. Rich in minerals and vitamins, the food is surprisingly versatile in cooking and can even be enjoyed on its own. You can sprinkle seaweed flakes over any meals, cook as a spaghetti substitute or you can even eat the smoky and salty leaves raw as a snack
It is also becoming a popular natural ingredient in cosmetics, you can learn more about the magic of seaweed from bláth na mara’s offical website.
The Aran Island sweater is an iconic piece of fashion. Made from sheep’s wool, the sweaters are comfy and water proof – essential for Irish weather! Originally worn by Aran fishermen and farmers to keep dry while braving the elements, they are highly functional yet stylish; a timeless classic and staple of many wardrobes across the world that originated in the West of Ireland!
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Achill island in Co. Mayo is a jewel in the crown of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. With beautiful secluded beaches, the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, and the iconic Keem Bay, the island is the perfect place for a getaway. One of our favourite locations in the West of Ireland, Achill island is a popular area for Irish tourism during the summer, and it is honestly no surprise.
It’s no wonder Collin Farrell won best actor at the Venice film festival for his role in the ‘Banshee of Inisherin’. The movie was filmed on location in Achill island, which certaintly added to its charm. The Irish Times shortlisted it as one of the top 5 best places to holiday in Ireland.
Getting around the island
Achill is accessible by road via the Michael Davitt Bridge so you can drive over at any time. It is generally recommended to travel around the island by car, but you can also rent a bike or travel on the bus which operates seasonally.
Achill has 5 blue flag beaches
- Keem Bay Beach
- Tramore Strand beach
- Silver Strand beach
- Golden Strand beach
- Dooega Beach
There is also a sixth blue beach nearby in Mulranny.
Keem Bay was named the best Wild Swimming Spot in the UK and Ireland, and is located at the western tip of Achill Island. Nestled in between the slopes of Croaghaun mountain and Moyteoge Head. You can even try snorkelling on the Bluewat Trail at the bay.
On a fine Summer’s day there is nowhere more perfect than Achill’s beaches, the crystal clear water and soft sand will make you forget you’re in Ireland. One of the best things about Irish beaches is that they are much more secluded than in other countries – you may have the whole beach to yourself!
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Achill’s Blueway, Greenway & Atlantic Drive
Achill’s Blueway network is a network of water trails at which you can experience a variety of water sports including kayaking and snorkelling.
The Greenway is a world class cycling and walking trail and the longest one in Ireland. The route follows the trail from Westport to Achill. In 2011 the Great Western Greenway was awarded the EDEN European Destination of Excellence Award for Sustainable Tourism.
The Atlantic Drive comprises over 20km of coastal scenery which is a perfect car or bike adventure. On the route for the Atlantic Drive is the tower at Kildavnet, a 16th century Irish tower used by the legendary Pirate Queen Granuaile or Grace O’Malley as she was also known as.
There are plenty of accommodation options on the island, from an extensive selection of BnB’s, hotels, hostels, guesthouses and self catering options. You may choose to go camping or stay in a caravan during your time in Achill. You can find out more about all of the types of accommodation as well as eating and drinking options on the offical Achill Tourism website.
Clare island in Co. Mayo is just a 10 minute ferry ride from Roonagh Quay which gives you just enough time to appreciate the many iconic landmarks in the West of Ireland such as the coastline of Achill island, the Nephin mountain range, the islands of Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick and Inishturk.
This post first appeared on Travel Blog, Culture And Travel Vlogs From ConnollyCove, please read the originial post: here