Along with Dublin and the Ring of Kerry, Ireland’s west coast is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. And, if you’ve seen photos of the wild Atlantic coastline, it’s not hard to see why. If you’re headed westbound on your Irish road trip, I’d implore you to consider Galway City as your west coast base. With Galway as your jumping off point, you’re near the Aran Islands, only 90 minutes from the Cliffs of Moher and close to the Connemara and the Burren regions.
Here’s my tips for your trip to Ireland’s west coast:
Fly into Knock versus Shannon Airport.
Why? First and foremost, arriving in lesser known Knock airport places you in a prime northern location to start your west coast road trip and travel south, allowing you to hit up some of the country’s most beautiful sites. Another benefit? Knock airport is TINY. This means you probably won’t be forced to wait in long lines to get through customs or to pick up your rental car. I’m not exaggerating when I say I wizzed through customs and had my rental car keys in hand just 15 minutes after my flight touched down. (I wish all international travel could be so seamless!)
Watch out for…? Limited flights. Since Knock’s airport isn’t as popular or large as Dublin or Shannon, there are less flight options in and out of Knock.
Drive through the Connemara.
Why? Ah… pictures do NOT do the scenic Connemara justice. The landscape is as varied as it is beautiful. Mountains, lakes, bogs… even fjords! (I hadn’t even realized that Ireland had fjords until my trek through this region).
Watch out for…? Narrow roads. To really experience the country, Ireland is best seen by car. But, once you get outside the major cities, the roads are very, very narrow. Basically, picture the most narrow road you’ve ever seen… now cut it in half. Oh, and that’s the width of both lanes. Forget the SUV and rent the tiniest little car you can get your hands on. Aside from the narrow width of the roads, they are also dangerously curvy. You’ll want to plan your drive during daylight and stay alert (because you will most definitely slam on your brakes and come to a screeching halt to avoid hitting a sheep on at least one occasion).
Plan for a stop at Kylemore Abbey.
Why? Umm, in one word, the abbey can be described as STUNNING. Above is easily one of my favorite photos from my entire trip to Ireland.
Watch out for…? The abbey’s operating hours. We made it just in time before closing. Some months of the year, the estate closes as early as 4:30 p.m. When planning your trip, make sure to check operating hours here.
Stay a night (or three) in Galway.
Why? Galway is a vibrant, fun, artsy town. Filled with university students and tourists alike, there’s always something going on in Galway. The city is known for it’s craic (an Irish term for fun and entertainment, especially good conversation and company), and you can find a rowdy crowd, low key pub or live music on every corner. Speaking of, if you’re searching for live traditional Irish music, The Crane Bar shouldn’t be missed. Looking to bring home an Irish souvenir? Check out Thomas Dillon’s, the store that claims to have created the Claddaugh ring and has been selling them since 1750. If you’re longing to soak in some of the beautiful scenery that the west coast is famous for, walk through the Spanish Arch along the waterfront for an idyllic view of hookers (no, not what you’re thinking… they’re traditional Galway fishing boats) and swans bobbing in the water.
Watch out for…? Overindulging in the Irish nightlife. I mean it when I say that Galway’s nightlife does not disappoint. Watch your whiskey and Guinness intake or you may set yourself up for a slow start the next morning.
Book your stay at Hotel Meyrick.
Why? Check out the photos of Hotel Meyrick and you’ll be asking yourself, why not? Black and white tiles, fireplaces and chandeliers aplenty – every nook and cranny of the place is gorgeous. The classic-styled four star hotel is also centrally located on Eyre Square, meaning you can walk to anything (and everything) in Galway City. Spring for a suite on the fifth floor facing the square and you’ll be treated to beautiful city views spanning the length of your entire room.
During my stay, it became clear that the hotel takes pride in catering to their guests. Anxious as to where you can park your car in downtown Galway? Forget about it – the valet will take care of it for you. Feeling lazy in the morning after a night out on the town? Eh. No worries, hang your breakfast card outside your door and have your full Irish breakfast delivered right up to your room.
Exhausted or jet-legged? Grab a meal in the hotel’s inviting Gaslight Bar and Brasserie (where I’d personally recommend the crab claws, fish and chips or sirloin steak), and then draw a bath in your suite’s spacious soaking tub and relax (which won’t be too hard since the hotel provides bath salts, fluffy robes and complimentary slippers).
Watch out for…? Departure anxiety. Hotel Meyrick’s superior service and attention to detail may make it difficult for you to leave.
Venture to the Cliffs of Moher.
Why? I mean, suffice to say, the cliffs were likely one of the sites that drew you to Ireland’s west coast to begin with, weren’t they? Make sure to set aside a couple hours to explore them and walk down the cliffs’ coastline.
Watch out for…? Non-ideal weather conditions. Rain is not a scarcity in Ireland. No doubt the cliffs have a mystical look in cloudy or foggy weather, but if that’s not your preference and you’ve only got one day set aside to see them, make sure you’re spending a few days in Galway. This way, you can plan to venture to the cliffs on a day when the weather and visibility is best.
I’m already wanting to plan my trip back! What tops your bucket list on Ireland’s west coast?
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