(Kylemore Abbey)
Galway, to the surprise of many visitors, is not just a lively cosmopolitan city but it’s also a large county with stunning scenery and a ‘must see’ for any visitor wishing to experience a breath of what Ireland had to offer. County Galway is the fifth largest county on the island of Ireland and over a quarter of a million people live within its boundaries. Between thirty to forty thousand of those residents are primarily Irish speakers.
Galway city has two large degree awarding colleges, with over 25,000 student populating the city from September to May each year. When the students leave, the visitors take over and the months of May to September see the city heaving with visitors. It’s not just international visitors that come to Galway City, It’s a favpurite destination for the Irish, especially for the Galway Races in late July. In fact the Galway Race week could legitimately claim to be Ireland’s foremost National Festival.
Visitors to Galway City come for the bohemian atmosphere, the arts, the influence of Irish language and literature and the incredible atmosphere and in the pubs and restaurants of the Quay Street area. If you wish to see the Irish ‘at play’ go to Quay Street.
However, in my experience as a tour guide, the magnet that Galway City is often causes visitors to neglect what lies west of the city. To me this is where the real uniqueness of Galway is to be found, and the further west you go, the more unique it gets. In the course of touring Ireland in 2018, I convinced many of my own clients to consider basing themselves in the Clifden area of West Galway and using it as a base for touring. None were disappointed. This prompts me to set out my favourite parts of Galway outside the city area which are –
(1) Clifden: a market town over 45 miles west of Galway City at the mouth of Clifden Bay, this lovely small town (population circa 2,500) is known as the capital of Connemara. A friendly town with some lovely pubs/restaurants the scenery and setting of this town near the Twelve Bens mountain range can only be described as stunning. Clifden will make you feel you really are in a quintessential Irish Town. I have yet to meet a visitor not taken with Cliften
Roundstone: If you dream of experiencing a lovely Irish coastal village then Roundstone is the place to go. Set in breathtaking scenery, this village and the surrounding vista is absolutely gorgeous. A short half hour drive from Clifden, the road to Roundstone via Ballyconneely is also a treat. Roundstone is a place to stop, walk the village, walk down to the pier, soak in the atmosphere and have a drink or a coffee. Roundstone is by far my own favourite village in Ireland.
The Sky Road: a narrow coastal round starting west out of Clifden, the Sky Road Drive is not to be missed. At several points you will experience stunning Atlantic views. Not suitable for buses and a challenge to drivers unfamiliar with Irish roads, it’s a must see in West Galway.
Kylemore: Originally a Manor House but converted into a school by the Benedictine Order of Nuns, Kylemore Abbey and it’s surrounds is breath taking. The school no longer operates and therefore the property and its nearby gothic church and walled gardens is open to visitors. A high quality restaurant is also on site. Again a must see if touring in Galway.
The short list above is only a brief summary of what West Galway has to offer. Other beauty spots include Leenane, The Inagh Valley, the coast Road west of Galway and Connemara National Park. This area is also the gateway into County Mayo, in particular Westport, The Doolough Valley and Achill.
Overall, if planning to tour a good portion of Ireland, you must tour West Galway.
Classic Ireland Guided Tours conducts multi day private tours of West Galway as part of a private tour to Ireland. Groups of one to fifty visitors can be accommodated. The vehicle to be used will depend on the group size. For more information email: classicirelandguidedtours@gmail.com