Oh Ireland, you Emerald Isle, you. Having traveled to Dublin more than once over the years (check out my Dublin travel guide here), I knew that the next time I visited the country I wanted to take the opportunity to get out of the city and explore the legendary countryside. For me, that meant roadtripping from Dublin to the Western coast of Ireland and exploring all of the natural wonders that it has to offer. Rent a car (make it a small one), travel with a companion who has experience driving on the opposite side of the car and the opposite side of the road, get a good auto insurance policy, and hit the tiny, winding road. I started in Galway and used that as my homebase for exploring the surrounding towns, and so have broken down my West Ireland travel guide by each area and attraction that I visited. Go to one, go to them all, but either way, the countryside will make you want to visit Ireland again very soon.
Don’t forget to check out my hashtag #caro_in_ireland for my photo diary of the trip!
Galway was at once very different from what I expected, and really special in all the right ways. I’ll admit that when I first arrived, it was significantly more of a high-tourist zone than I had anticipated. But once you get away from the dense area of tourist-driven streets, the highlight here is the incredible food scene. Ard Bia is one of my favorite restaurants in any country, ever. We ended up going for dinner (make a reservation) and then back for breakfast the next morning because it was so delicious and charming. Head to Loam is you’re looking for more of a fine dining experience (it has a Michelin star). We went to Kai Cafe every day while there for the assortment of incredible pastries and coffee, plus the perfect sunbathed window seat. Urban Grind is another excellent stop for coffee. At night, don’t miss Quay and Tig Coili for live music and a Guinness.
Connemara National Park
Do not under any circumstances miss a day hiking through the wilds of Connemara National Park. It is as beautiful as it is expansive, and there is a hike that takes you to the top of the rocky crags so that you can look out on the entire landscape of greenery. It was absolutely breaktaking. Stop at Veldons Seafarer on your way out of the park for mussels, chips, and a well-deserved beer.
Cliffs of Moher
I think that any child who grew up watching The Princess Bride harbored a secret hope to visit the Cliffs of Moher. This attraction is a double-edged sword, as it is densely crowded with visitors, but is truly naturally stunning. Go on the early side and take the time to hike out past the crowds – you’ll be rewarded with a view you won’t soon forget of where the cliffs meet the sea.
I almost didn’t take the journey out to visit the Aran Islands, but this ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip for me. There are multiple islands that can be accessed by an easy ferry ride, but we chose Inisheer, one of the smaller islands with the least amount of man-made attractions. You can explore this hilly island by footpath and enjoy the day out in nature by the sea. My favorite part was stumbling upon The Plassy, a well-preserved shipwreck that felt like it was from another era.
Also known as, the home of the tea rooms. Check into the little Wild Atlantic Lodge bed and breakfast, and wile away your mornings (or afternoons) at the Tea Rooms Ballyvaughnn, literally one of the most charming places I’ve ever experienced. Surrounded by lush gardens, this little seaside tea room is like walking into a baker’s heaven. You can go traditional with Irish scones, or samples a slice of their legendary carrot cake, all alongside a personal pot of tea. This is a great town to stop over in for an evening, or use as a launching pad for exploring the area.