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30th May 2019 Rebecca Spelman

The best things to do in County Galway

If you want a change of scenery or a day of exploration in the beautiful west of Ireland countryside, there are some wonderful one-day trips you can take within County Galway.

Wild Atlantic Way

Take to the water with a trip on the Corrib Princess, a 157-passenger boat which sails from Woodquay in the city centre and makes its way up the Corrib River to Lough Corrib. The boat sails every day from May to September, with some sailings also taking place in April and October. You can buy tickets in advance or as you get on the boat, then spend a 90-minute journey on the water, admiring the views and learning about the historical and natural findings in the area.

The tour includes an informative live commentary in all major European languages, and questions are always welcomed. The boat has a sun/observation deck and a heated indoor cabin, making this trip a fun choice come rain or shine. The Corrib Princess is also available for private bookings, at which you can request Irish coffee and interactive Irish dancing demonstrations. It’s advised that you arrive at Woodquay 15 minutes before the sailing time.

Wild Atlantic Way

Explore the Wild Atlantic Way

If you prefer the open road to the open waters, take a drive along the Galway stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. This breath-taking route stretches the length of Ireland’s west coast, reaching from Donegal to Kerry. Along the way there are amazing views, ancient historical sites, and beaches unlike any others in the world. The Galway section of the route can take between one and two days, depending on whether or not you want to make a quick visit to Mayo.

How you navigate the Wild Atlantic Way is totally up to you, so feel free to experiment with the journey based on where you want to go. Some great stops along the way include Rossaveal Pier, Sky Road, and the towns of Cliden and Roundstone. As the name suggests, it’s a great way to experience first-hand the wildness of the Atlantic coast and the untouched landscape facing it. It’s also a great way to see how people have lived in this area for centuries, from primitive people who would have lived on the land as it is now, to those who built the forts and castles that are now ancient ruins.

If you prefer the open road to the open waters, take a drive along the Galway stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way

The village of Cong

For any film buffs who love The Quiet Man, the village of Cong is a must-see. The iconic 1952 movie was filmed in this small village that straddles the border between County Galway and County Mayo. You’ll see a lot of resemblance to the film’s fictional village Inisfree, in part because the local community has kept their connection to the film alive with features like The Quiet Man Museum and a statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’ Hara.

Even if you aren’t a fan of The Quiet Man, Cong is still a great place to visit. There are tours of the area that show nature trails you can follow, as well as some stunning historical monuments such as Ashford Castle and the Royal Abbey of Cong. A popular way to see the local sights is to take a stroll along the river – simply follow the path through the woods and soak in the peaceful atmosphere. You might even find something to explore! Climb up the spiral staircase of the Guinness Tower, discover the Pigeon Hole Cave, or take a step inside history by exploring The Monk’s Fishing House.

Kylemore Abbey

Witness the breathtaking beauty of Kylemore Abbey

For such a small village, Cong has a lot packed into it. Kylemore Abbey is a truly amazing place to visit, both because of its breathtaking beauty and unique history. Nestled between the base of Druchruach Mountain and the shore of Lough Pollacappul, this gorgeous Victorian castle is not what you’d expect to see in the depths of Connemara. Built in 1868 by Henry Mitchell, this castle was initially dedicated to his beloved wife Margaret, who you can see depicted as an angel above the front door.

In 1920, the castle became Kylemore Abbey when a Belgian order of Benedictine nuns adopted it as their home after fleeing destruction during World War I. The nuns still live in and run Kylemore Abbey, holding religious ceremonies every day and making chocolates, soaps, pottery, and baked goods in their workshops. All of these items are for sale in the Abbey’s gift shop, and the food is sold in their cafes, creating a perfect picnic spot in the grounds with beautiful scenery for the adults and a play area for the kids. There are several great sights within the Abbey’s walls, such as the Victorian walled garden and the Neo-Gothic Church. The Abbey holds spiritual retreats all year round and also hosts special family-friendly events near Easter and Halloween. I

For any film buffs who love The Quiet Man, the village of Cong is a must-see. The iconic 1952 movie was filmed in this small village that straddles the border between County Galway and County Mayo

Cultural retreats

If you want to immerse yourself in traditional Irish culture, make sure you take a trip to Cnoc Suain. This unique cultural retreat is held in 17th-century cottages in the Connemara Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking section of Connemara), where you can experience both traditional and contemporary Irish language, music, and culture.

Cnoc Suain offers a range of visiting options, from private cottage rental to one-day experiences. These events are often only open to people over the age of 18, with some options open to those over 14. Cnoc Suain can only be accessed through their official bus which leaves from Galway city. Due to these factors and the limited numbers for each event, it’s essential that you book in advance. Depending on the experience you choose, you can explore the unique ecosystem of the Connemara mountains and boglands, or listen to traditional Irish music and learn a few steps on the dance floor.

Connemara

Experience the best of Irish culture in Connemara

Cnoc Suain has received a lot of praise over the years for its dedication to both west of Ireland culture and landscape. Cnoc Suain has taken great pains to become one of the most eco-friendly retreats around, meaning that the fragile ecosystem has been maintained for future generations to enjoy. Visiting a coastal county like Galway means that there’s one thing you’re bound to find – great beaches! There are terrific beaches all along Galway’s coast whether you’re a swimmer or just enjoy a relaxing stroll along the sand.

Salthill is a popular choice among Galwegians, featuring the longest promenade in Ireland and a public diving board at the end. This is a great spot for swimming, and you can walk from beach to beach along the prom. Dog’s Bay is a stunning horseshoe beach of white sand just a few miles from Roundstone, so you can take a day trip to the beach and explore the small village when the sun begins to set. If you’re on the Aran Islands, Kilmurvey Beach on Inis Mór is incredibly safe for swimmers of all ages, and is also a great picnic spot.

If you want to immerse yourself in traditional Irish culture, make sure you take a trip to Cnoc Suain. This unique cultural retreat is held in 17th-century cottages in the Connemara Gaeltacht

Open-air activities

Trá an Dóilín (also known as the Coral Strand) in Carraroe is unlike any other beach in Connemara due to the presence of very fine coral. It’s a popular spot for snorkelling and diving due to its pristine water, and also has many rock pools to explore. One of the most amazing natural spots in Galway is Connemara National Park, a 2,000 hectare space that encompasses mountains, boglands, walking trails, and opportunities to spot local wildlife. Open since 1980, the Park is free to enter and has a visitors’ centre that can show you what you can do and where to explore.

This area has a long history that can still be seen today, such as 4,000-year-old megalithic court tombs, 19th-century features like a road, houses, and wells, and sections of land that used to belong to the famous Kylemore Abbey. These days, the land is owned by the State as a National Park, and is used for leisure and wildlife conservation purposes with the exception of the bogs, which are still used for fuel. There are some amazing walks in the Park that can show you the local wildlife, such as the purple moor grass that gives the land its distinctive colour, wild birds of prey, and animals such as rabbits, foxes, bats, and stoats.

Pony

Visit the ponies at Connemara National Park

The largest animal in the Park is the Connemara pony, a domestic animal that is a famous symbol of the area. Connemara National Park’s herd of ponies are descended from a herd that was gifted to the Park over a hundred years ago by former Irish President Erskine Childers.

Of course, there are several amazing natural areas to explore across County Galway. If you enjoy hiking, there are several options for any experience level. Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park is a popular option for families or less experienced hikers, whereas those who want a challenge like to take on The Twelve Bens, a series of 12 mountains that offer incredible views that stretch all the way to the ocean.

If you prefer a flatter trail, there are several trails in the Clifden area that can be walked or cycled, with lots of options for different experience levels. The Aran Islands are also a great spot for walking and cycling trails, and there are several trails you can take to cover different section of the islands, depending on how much time you have and which of the islands’ sights you’d like to visit.


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Image credits: ©Big Smoke Studio/Chris Hill/Lukasz Warzecha/Fáilte Ireland/Tourism Ireland/Ireland's Content Pool; Shutterstock.com

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