If you’ve ever visited the West Coast of Ireland, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say is a magical destination guaranteed to steal your heart.
No one can resist its picturesque villages, dramatic landscapes, and awe-inspiring views. It combines a rich Irish culture with breathtaking natural beauty, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s becoming such a popular travel destination.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know when planning a trip to the West Coast of Ireland. Whether you want to experience the culture, challenge yourself with a new activity or adventure, or sample the local cuisine, we’ll point you in the right direction.
Not only will we advise you on the best things to see and do around Donegal, Limerick, and Mayo, but we’ll also share some handy tips on the best ways to get around and what you need to pack to be comfortable throughout your journey.
Must-See Attractions on the West Coast of Ireland
There are so many wonderful places and sites of historical interest on the West Coast of Ireland that wherever you go, you’ll find something to take your breath away. There are a handful of attractions that you simply shouldn’t miss, and those include:
#1 The Cliffs of Moher
A trip to the West Coast of Ireland isn’t complete without a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. One of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions, the cliffs tower over the rugged coastline of West Clare, offering spectacular views over Galway Bay and the Arran Islands.
The cleverly designed visitor’s center is modern, informative, and home to two cafes and a craft and gift shop.
You’ll need at least two hours to make the most of your visit, and you should book online to avoid disappointment.
The easiest way to get to the Cliffs of Moher is by car, although there’s also a bus service that runs daily from Galway and a train that will take you to the friendly town of Ennis, from where you can get a local bus to the cliffs.
#2 Connemara National Park
Situated close to the village of Letterfrack in County Galway, the Connemara National Park is the place to go to experience the mountains, woodlands, and bogs that make the Connemara district so unique.
The 2,000-hectare park includes some of the mountains that make up the famous Twelve Bens or Benna Bola mountain range, and experienced hikers will enjoy the challenge of climbing Diamond Hill.
Less strenuous hiking trails are also available, including the new Tree Trail, which takes you through ancient woodlands, highlighting their natural diversity.
The Connemara National Park is also home to some rare indigenous breeds, including the Connemara pony, Cladoir sheep, and Moiled Cattle.
The Connemara National Park is situated approximately 80km from Galway, and you can get there either by car, taxi, or bus. Parking is free, and there is no entrance fee. And if you want to relax, check out the best beaches in Connemara.
#3 Kylemore Abbey
Close to the Connemara National Park lies one of Ireland’s most eye-catching buildings – Kylemore Abbey. Built in the late 1800s, the abbey has been home to the Sisters of the Benedictine Order in Ireland since 1920.
The picturesque Victorian Walled Garden is one of the highlights of the estate, as is the neo-Gothic church that nestles on the shores of Lough Pollucapal.
You can also pop into the Kylemore Kitchen for a taste of the abbey’s famous homemade food.
Kylemore Abbey is open throughout the year, and you can book tickets online.
Situated on the banks of the River Shannon, the Clonmacnoise monastery was established in the 6th century and by the 9th century, was a “major center of religion, learning, craftsmanship, and trade.”
The ruins include nine churches, a cathedral, two round towers, and over 700 grave slabs. Three original high crosses are also on display in the visitor center.
Although the coffee shop is currently closed, the ruins themselves are open all year round.
Clonmacnoise is situated 17 km from the pretty town of Athlone, which you can easily reach by either bus or train. You can then get a taxi to the monastery or, if you’re feeling adventurous, board the Viking Ship and sail downstream to your destination.
No trip to the West Coast of Ireland is complete without a visit to its cultural capital. Stroll along the cobbled streets, pop into a traditional pub for a pint of Guinness, or head to the Spanish Arch and soak up some of the city’s colorful history.
Galway is the place to be if you want to experience traditional Irish music and dancing and sample some of the highlights of the local cuisines. It’s also where you’ll find some of the best hotels on the West Coast of Ireland.
#6 Achill Island
Off the coast of County Mayo lies the windswept island of Achill, with its population of friendly people and woolly sheep.
The island is also home to some of Ireland’s most beautiful beaches and boasts no less than five Blue Flag beaches.
It’s a great destination for those wanting to try their hand at kitesurfing, scuba diving, or snorkeling.
It only takes a couple of hours to drive the length and breadth of this tiny island, and getting there is a breeze. The island is connected to the mainland via the Michael Davitt Bridge, so you can choose to either drive or take a bus from either Westport or Castlebar.
The best time to visit is between June and October when the weather’s a little warmer, and there’s less chance of rain.
#7 Burren National Park
The unusually fertile rock landscape that dominates the Burren National Park formed over millions of years, and as the bedrock dissolved, it created a cracked pavement interspersed with caves, sinkholes, and underground springs.
The park is home to around 75% of all the plant species found in Ireland, including 23 different species of orchid.
Its diverse habitats create an ever-changing landscape that shifts from a cracked limestone pavement to hazel scrub and deciduous forest.
Numerous walking and hiking trails traverse the Burren, giving you the chance to enjoy the wildlife and spot the tiny wildflowers that eke out an existence in this harsh environment.
The Burren National Park is one hour’s drive from Galway, and buses run regularly from both Galway and Dublin.
The heritage town of Westport in County Mayo sits in the shadow of Croagh Patrick on the banks of the river Carrowbeg.
Its tree-lined streets are dotted with colorful pubs and eateries, including the award-winning An Port Mór Restaurant, which is famous for its fresh seafood and artisan cheeses.
Just down the road from Westport, you’ll find Rockfleet Castle, where the pirate queen Grace O’Malley is believed to have died.
Other nearby attractions include the 18th-century Westport House estate and amusement ground and the Holy Trinity Church, which is believed to have been the last church to be built “before the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871.”
Westport is an excellent place to stop off while exploring the Wild Atlantic Way and has such a diversity of attractions and activities that it will appeal to all the family.
The Best Time to Visit the West Coast of Ireland
I visited the West Coast of Ireland in October, and I wouldn’t recommend it. The wind was howling, and the scattered showers were persistent throughout the week. I still had a wonderful time, largely thanks to the friendly locals, but wish I’d gone when the weather was a bit warmer.
Spring is the ideal time to visit Ireland. It’s much warmer than in the winter but not as overrun with tourists and holidaymakers as it is in the summer.
On a typical spring day on the West Coast of Ireland, you can expect average daily temperatures of between 51°F (11°C) and 59°F (15°C). You’ll probably get some clear, sunny days, although you should always prepare for the occasional shower wherever you are in Ireland!
If you’re planning on driving the Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll want some good weather so you can enjoy the views and vistas in all their glory. If, on the other hand, you plan to visit all 11 of the best pubs in the West of Ireland, you probably won’t care too much what the weather’s doing!
Getting to the West Coast of Ireland
Getting to the West Coast of Ireland is relatively simple. You can fly, drive, or get a bus or train.
Although Dublin is on the other side of the country, you get the greatest choice of flights if you head for the capital. This also means it’s usually cheaper than flying to either Cork or Shannon.
Shannon is the only airport on the West Coast, and from there you can either hire a car and drive or get a bus into either Limerick or Galway.
The journey from Shannon to Galway takes around an hour, whereas the drive from Dublin to Galway is approximately two hours and 25 minutes.
If you’re already in Ireland, you could take a train from any of the major cities to Galway, from where you can connect to places like Westport in County Mayo and Ennis in County Clare.
The West Coast of Ireland is pretty well-connected with railway services, and several bus services travel portions of the Wild Atlantic Way several times a day.
Hiring a car and meandering along the Wild Atlantic Way is by far the best way to see the West Coast of Ireland. You can pick up a hire car at any of the major airports and towns.
Local Cuisine and Eateries on the West Coast of Ireland
Wherever you go on the West Coast of Ireland, you’ll find a quirky eatery or seafood bar not far away. Friendly locals prepare deliciously fresh food, much of it locally sourced from the neighboring ocean.
It’s almost impossible to travel along the Wild Atlantic Way without tasting Galway’s infamous oysters or the fresh mussels from the Killary Fjord in northern Connemara.
If you’re a complete foodie and can think of nothing better than eating your way along the West Coast of Ireland, why not join one of the Wild Atlantic food tours?
These self-drive tours will take you to the best restaurants where you can sample everything from seaweed to a traditional potato pancake known as a boxty.
Make sure you take the time to visit the Fisherman’s Pub at Ballynahinch Castle in County Galway and Harry’s in Inishowen, County Donegal, both of which offer uniquely Irish culinary experiences.
Preparing For Your Trip: Climate and Packing Tips
Regardless of when you’re planning to visit the West Coast of Ireland, make sure you take a raincoat! I’m not saying you’ll need it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when visiting a place that gets “about 225 days [of rain] a year.”
The weather can be tricky to predict, so take along lots of lightweight layers that you wear together if it gets chilly or shed when the sun comes out.
A warm fleece, a pair of jeans or hiking pants, and a decent pair of boots are pretty much essential, even if you’re not much of a walker.
You’ll find yourself doing a lot of walking when you visit the West of Ireland, even if it’s only ambling along cobbled streets, so you want to be prepared.
If you’re traveling to the West Coast of Ireland in the summer, take a swimming costume along so you can enjoy the lakes and streams or even take a quick dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
Bear in mind that, even in summer, the evenings can be chilly, so a warm fleece or jacket might come in handy.
Summer days are often warm enough that you can head out in little more than a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, but if you don’t wear bug spray, the midges will seek you out, especially at dusk!
If you’re brave enough to visit the West Coast of Ireland in winter, you’ll need to pack accordingly. That means throwing in an insulated jacket along with gloves, hat, and scarf. You might want to squeeze a pair of waterproof trousers in as well, just to be on the safe side.
An Adrenalin Lover’s Guide to the West Coast of Ireland
The rugged landscapes and rough seas of the West Coast of Ireland make it a great destination for adventure lovers and explorers. If you love the outdoors, you’ll never want to leave.
While hiking along coastal paths and exploring the dramatic Mourne Mountains is enough for some, adrenalin junkies might find zip-lining through the forest at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park more appealing.
Water lovers will find their dreams come true at Wavesweeper Sea Adventures in Belmullet, County Mayo, where kayaking, raft building, snorkeling, and stand-up paddle boarding are the order of the day.
Alternatively, you could learn to surf at one of the many surf schools along the West Coast of Ireland. Surf Mayo is situated at Carrownisky Beach, a 10-minute drive from Louisburgh, and offers both surf lessons and surfboard hire.
Those who, like me, prefer to see the world from the back of a horse can enjoy a 7-day horseback experience around the mountains and coastal areas of Westport in County Mayo, visiting charming villages and traditional pubs in between fast canters on the beach and stunning vistas from the top of Croagh Patrick.
Experience the Local Culture of Ireland’s West Coast
Galway is often regarded as the cultural hub of Ireland, with its art galleries, theaters, and live music venues.
While you’re unlikely to see any big international stars, you will get a taste of the best Irish talent and gain some insights into the city’s history and heritage. Other popular events include traditional fleadhs, or festivals, céilís, and Irish dancing competitions.
Galway’s also somewhere you can experience traditional Irish sports like hurling, either by watching a local competition or participating in a half-day Gaelic Games Experience.
If you prefer more mainstream sports, why not attend the Galway Races Summer Festival in July, or time your visit to coincide with the Galway International Rally?
Galway also hosts numerous international festivals and events, including an international arts festival and the oldest oyster festival in the world.
Whatever you plan to do while in Ireland, you’ll enjoy it more if you respect the Irish culture. The Irish are generally very friendly people, but there are some things they find distasteful or downright offensive.
Being polite and making sure you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ will get you a long way in Ireland. Be open to meeting new people and take the time to engage in a bit of small talk along the way – this will not only endear you to the locals but make your trip all the more interesting and authentic.
How Much Does a Trip to Ireland’s West Coast Cost?
Ireland is a notoriously expensive holiday destination, but you can keep costs down by visiting outside of peak season, and planning your route carefully.
You can save quite a bit of money by using public transport instead of hiring a car, but it will make getting to remote destinations more challenging, which is fine if time’s on your side.
Accommodation tends to be pretty pricey unless you’re prepared to camp, which isn’t always an appealing option, given the unpredictable weather!
Nevertheless, there are some amazing campsites along the West Coast, including the award-winning Wild Atlantic Camp in County Donegal.
If you prefer more comfortable accommodation, you can save money by booking a self-catering unit where you can prepare your own meals.
You’ll find some fantastic bargains at the local delis and food markets so you can still eat like a king while avoiding the pricey restaurants.
Is it Safe to Visit the West Coast of Ireland?
As a woman who likes to travel alone, I love the fact that Ireland is so safe and friendly. The worst thing that happened to me when I visited the West Coast was getting caught in a shower/deluge without a raincoat.
There is some petty crime in the main cities and towns, but you can avoid this by leaving your valuables at home and being wary of pickpockets.
The roads on the West Coast of Ireland are also safe, although you should try to get your longest journeys done during daylight hours when it’s easier to navigate the windy country lanes and sometimes confusing speed limits.
The West Coast of Ireland is full of magic and mystery. Its landscapes are dramatic, its villages quintessentially Irish, and its towns buzzing with local culture and cuisine.
Whether you’re looking for adventure or want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, the West Coast of Ireland is the place to go.
The rugged countryside of the West Coast of Ireland makes it a traveler’s dream, and a trip along the Wild Atlantic Way will take you through mountains and woodlands while offering glimpses of the dramatic coastline.
With so many attractions and activities to keep you occupied, you need to spend at least two weeks exploring the West Coast of Ireland – anything less simply won’t do it justice.
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to get the suitcase down from the attic and dust off the old hiking boots ready for a trip you’ll never forget.
"Like many so-called Brits, I have a bit of Irish and a bit of Scottish in my blood, which is possibly where the red hair comes from. I’ve been fascinated by the history of Ireland for years, since I discovered the story of the Irish Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.