Connemara is a peninsula along the Atlantic coast in Ireland that is riddled with rugged, untouched beauty. Bucolic pastures, low hills jutting into the blue ocean, narrow roads through the countryside, and small towns with a laidback lifestyle, a day trip to Connemara from Galway is the perfect way to explore this rural part of the country and mingle with the locals.
Although we were greeted with rainy and cold weather during the initial part of our trip (not uncommon in Ireland), we felt blessed to see the sun in the last few days. It was the perfect weather we needed to take this day trip to Connemara. Given a choice, one can spend way more time in this rustic district of Ireland however, as usual, I had to fit my itinerary into one day and make the most of the time we had.
We took the day trip to Connemara from Galway with pit stops to enjoy the idyllic landscape, have a drink or simply take in the beauty. Here are my suggestions on the route to take and the stops on the way.
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Day trip to Connemara- Breakfast in Spiddal (30 min)
Google maps will show you a shorter route to reach Connemara National Park but the purpose of this day trip to Connemara is to enjoy the beautiful drive rather than reach the destination. We decided to take the longer (and more scenic route) along the coast and came upon this very cute breakfast place in Spiddal, a coastal fishing village on the Galway Bay. Pádraicíns Bar & Restaurant is a maritime-themed bar, located on the coast, with lovely views of the sea. Unlike more other bars, it was open for (and serving) a traditional Irish breakfast, along with other options of course. The perfect start to the day!
Optional: Spiddal Craft Village
Nothing is more authentically rural Irish than this cute little craft village in Spiddal. Home to local artists making unique crafts with stained glass, contemporary paintings depicting aspects of life in Ireland, porcelain and paper crafts drawing from Irish mythology, this is where you can pick up some traditional yet quirky gifts and souvenirs.
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Gurteen Beach, Roundstone (1 hour)
To be honest, I included a visit to this scenic coastal town only for its unparalleled beaches. Thanking my stars for the sunny weather, I wanted to make sure that I would get to see some lovely waters and walk barefoot in the white sand. When I saw pictures of Roundstone, I was instantly mesmerized. I knew I wanted to go there!
Although Roundstone Harbour is quite lively, with several boats constantly going in and out, you need to cross this place and move ahead towards one of the most picturesque beaches I have ever seen! White sands, black rocks, and crystal clear blue waters are what make this beach a treat for the eyes and absolutely Instagrammable! If you find the water too cold to swim, simply walk along the beach and climb the rocks to enjoy views from a vantage point. Lucky for us, there were not too many people around. There is no feeling like having a stunning place, all to yourself!
There aren't any cafes or restaurants on site so make sure to carry a picnic and drinks. There is, however, a public toilet so you don't need to worry about that.
Lough Inagh (30 min)
The drive through Inagh Valley is a magical one. Laced with glacial lakes such as Lough Inagh, set in the backdrop of mountains, rivers and grazing sheep, the road has several 'photo stops' and you're bound to want to stop very often! A day trip to Connemara, no matter where you're driving from, has to include the drive through woodlands and Inagh Valley has been rated as one of the top scenic drives in the country. Majestic mountains, boat houses, fishermen, farms, and lakes are what make this area seem almost like you're in a painting.
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Connemara National Park & Kylemore Abbey (15 min)
If you're doing a day trip to Connemara, you may not have enough time to explore Connemara National Park and it's hiking trails. Nature lovers, hiking enthusiasts and adventure seekers will find themselves spoiled for choice with scenic routes and trails beginning from the Visitor Centre.
However, if you're short on time, you must visit the hidden historical gem located in the heart of the park - Kylemore Abbey. I had seen enough pictures of this spectacular architectural wonder but when I walked in to the abbey's grounds, the first view of the castle-turned-abbey made it seem so surreal. A black and white, lake-side baronial structure seemingly small in the green mountainous backdrop, forms a dramatic image.
Unfortunately, you can visit only 5 rooms on the ground floor of the abbey but the exhibits on display give an insight into the history of the abbey, which was once a castle, and the Victorian way of life. Constructed originally in 1867 as a castle, Kylemore Abbey's history is riddled with romance, tragedy, spirituality, innovation and education. A fascinating audio visual presentation takes place inside one of the rooms in the abbey, which is a great way of learning about the past and present owners. A free guided tour also takes place three times a day.
The stunning building was constructed by a wealthy cotton merchant from Manchester, England and still houses the remains of his beloved wife, who died too early for her age, in the a beautiful memorial Neo-Gothic church on the shore of the lake about a mile from the castle, where he eventually joined her. After you've visited the abbey, I recommend you to take this short walk to the church, which is quite impressive as well.
Having being passed from one family to another, the castle eventually landed with the Benedictine Nuns, the current owners, who ran it as an educational institution for a while before it caught fire and almost burned down completely. The rooms and Walled Victorian Gardens were eventually restored to their current glory and open to the public. Today, Kylemore Abbey functions as a self-sustaining working monastery.
You can choose to explore the extensive woodland around the abbey or enjoy a lakeside walk through the beautifully manicured estate. On the other side of the abbey, you can visit the Victorian Walled Gardens which are very unique because they grow plants and vegetables which grew in Victorian times.
There is a cosy and traditional tea house in the vicinity of the Victorian Walled Garden which offers home-cooked food from the recipes of the Benedictine nuns. Do try their freshly baked scones and hot chocolate! Another restaurant where you can have lunch or pick up some sandwiches, is near the entrance. The Arts & Crafts shop is a good place to buy some Irish souvenirs.
Back to Galway ( 1.5 hours)
This marks the end of your day trip to Connemara. Drive back to Galway through the shorter route or the more scenic one along the coast. Visit one of the many amazing Galway pubs at night for some live music and dancing.