Uncovering Connemara: The savage beauty of Ireland
Ah, road trips. The smell of stale potato chips and soggy fast-food. The turn-offs that are unknown and undiscovered and turn into the best part of your trip (see our Northern Ireland turn-off as an example). The epic road-trip playlists and car dances that could win the next So You Think You can Dance competition. Road trips really are magical. Connemara is no exception.
Hands down, road tripping is the best way to explore Ireland. Sure, you could get here via a cramped tour bus, but why when for around the same price you could take a car and explore the region yourself without somebody forcing you to stick to their stringent time table? Can you tell I’m not a huge fan of the tour buses? 🙂
Take a breath of fresh air and truly enjoy how special this untouched region of Ireland really is. Oscar Wilde called Connemara the “savage beauty” of Ireland. With sweeping mountains, reflective lochs around every corner, sheep roaming freely through the land, and the prettiest Abbey I have ever seen Connemara is a “can’t-miss” during your Irish vacation.
Where to stay
We based ourselves in this amazing AirBnB which was a perfect driving distance from the sights and sounds of Connemara while also allowing us to quickly get into Galway. Click here if you’ve never used AirBnB for $35 off your first booking. The best part of this location though was the small village of Barna which had the best food I’ve ever eaten in Ireland at Donnelley’s.
If you don’t base yourself near Galway, the next best place is Clifden. With the picturesque Sky Road nearby plus the rustic Irish feel, Clifden is a great place to start your Connemara adventure.
When to come and for how long
We only spent one day in Connemara, but I would suggest at least two days to really explore the region. I think I could have probably spent 4-5 days here and been perfectly content. Anytime of this year would be perfect to explore this region as the temperatures are mild year-round.
What to do in Connemara
Since we only had one day we simply drove from Galway to Kylemore Abbey and back, but there is so much more to explore! If the weather is nice don’t miss Diamond Hill (highly suggested by multiple people) or driving along Sky Road near Clifden.
Galway is the entryway to Connemara. As soon as you depart the town center you will start to see the rolling hills. Within 30 minutes, you will turn a bend and your eyes will land upon beautiful “mountains” (not sure if they classify as mountains) surrounded by reflective black lochs.
As you drive, you’ll come across free-roaming sheep. If you happen to be here in the spring you’ll find baby lambs dotted throughout the landscape. Talk about picturesque.
Keep driving west and you’ll come around a bend to lay your eyes on the most beautiful Abbey. Because of the way the sun hits Kylemore Abbey and the blackness of the surrounding loch, it’s not hard to get that perfect Instagrammable photo.
To gain access to the Abbey, the walled gardens, and the gothic church you have to pay a €13 fee (€11.70 if you book online). I’m normally not one to pay for castles and gardens, but I am so glad we splurged on this. We spent over 3 hours here and it was worth every single second. Quick tip: Eat before coming here. Whatever you do, do not eat at the restaurant at the abbey. This is by far the worst food we’ve had in Ireland since moving here nine months ago.
Now, back to the beautiful scenery. After purchasing your tickets you’ll walk along a beautiful path to explore the Abbey and lookout.
Once you head into the Abbey make sure to take a quick peek out of the majestic doors. The Abbey, historically a home to nuns of Benedictine Order, was also a boarding school for girls from 1923 to 2010. Can you imagine attending this prestigious school and opening your doors to see this view every day?
After exploring the Abbey, turn left and head down the path to the Gothic church. Take your time walking and truly enjoy the surrounding landscape. If you brought a picnic because you listened to the warning of NOT eating at the restaurant, find these perfect chairs and enjoy a nice lunch.
After relaxing for a bit, continue down to the path to the church. Make sure you don’t skip the inside. It’s well worth checking out.
Remember how I told you that you had to pay €13 to get in? By this point, you’ve seen sweeping views of Connemara, the Abbey, and a Gothic church. But continue down the path and there’s even more. You could continue walking for quite some time, but we turned around after seeing this massive hand jutting out of the ground (a little too eerie for me after stumbling across the Mausoleum of Mitchell and Margaret Henry).
On your journey back to the entrance to catch the shuttle to the walled gardens, take your time again to make sure you don’t miss any of the perfect views of Connemara.
If you aren’t strapped for time, you can walk to the walled gardens. We took the shuttle (free with your admission) to save on time. Once there, walk through the oak plantation and then up to the gardens. The gardens are gorgeous and I’m sure looks very different depending on the season. It is a working garden so you’ll find all kinds of vegetables and fruits dotted throughout.
Connemara stole my heart last weekend. Make sure you add it to your Irish bucket list today so you don’t miss out on this perfect slice of heaven.
– Boots not Roots
*Thank you to the lovely Josh Moore for contributing some of the photos from this beautiful region.