Galway is one of the star destinations on Ireland’s western coast. There is plenty to do in Galway city, which has a history that stretches back through medieval times. However, after a few nights in Galway’s lively pubs, you may want to stretch your legs further afield. Luckily, Galway is well placed to visit some of Ireland’s major natural wonders, including the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren.
Whether you want to shop, lounge on the beach, or hike along the hills and cliffs, here are the nine best day trips to take from Galway.
Snaking along the crashing waves of the blue-gray Atlantic Ocean, the Cliffs of Moher are one of the top things to see in Ireland. The stunning natural wonder offers windswept walks high above the water and unforgettable views of the coast. The beautiful cliffs are in County Clare, but are a short trip from Galway and easy to see in a day. After strolling along the jagged edges of the cliffs, warm up in the visitor’s center, which has a tea room and several exhibits on the geology of the area.
Getting There: The drive to the Cliffs of Moher takes about two hours and follows the Wild Atlantic Way. Or you can take Bus Éireann, which leaves from Ceannt Station five times a day during the summer and heads to the cliffs along the 350 route. Many private tour companies also arrange guided coach bus tours to and from the major landmark.
Travel Tip: Climb O’Brien’s Tower for the best views of the scenic landscape.
Formerly the grand home of a well-to-do family, this historic landmark is now an abbey, bought by a group of Benedictine nuns forced to flee Belgium during World War I. The nuns still live and work here, and have restored and reopened parts of the castle and famed gardens to the public.
Getting There: From Galway, follow the N59 for about an hour towards Clifden; when you get to the village of Letterfrack, you can then follow signs to Kylemore Abbey. Citylink 923 buses do run to Letterfrack, but you will need to hail a cab to get from the bus stop to the Abbey. However, several tour companies offer day trips from Galway.
Travel Tip: After seeing Kylemore, drive to the nearby village of Leenane to admire the Killary Fjord.
Connemara National Park is one of six national parks in the Republic of Ireland, and offers the perfect escape from buzzing downtown Galway. With a lovely mix of mountains, bogs, and grasslands, Connemara is a spectacular place for walking among the hills. Don't know where to start? Diamond Hill is the most popular hike, and the trip to the summit well marked. The visitor's center can also provide maps with other recommended routes.
Getting There: If you are driving yourself, take the N59 to Letterfrack, where you will find the entrance to Connemara. Alternatively, you can take a Citylink 923 bus from New Coach Station to Letterfrack. From there, it's an easy walk to the park. Bear in mind that the bus route is slower and may leave you with less time to explore.
Travel Tip: A large herd of Connemara ponies lives inside the park, so keep an eye out while walking through the landscape.
Aran Islands: A Boat Ride Away in Galway Bay
The famed Aran Islands are located just off the west coast of Ireland, in Galway Bay. This archipelago of three islands is an easy ferry journey away but feels much more remote, probably because it's home to only 1,200 people. Here you'll find seaside walks and cozy pubs, ancient ruins and castles. Although the islands are a part of the Gaeltacht (a region where Irish is still spoken) don't worry: Everyone speaks English, too.
Getting There: Ferries leave from Galway Bay, Doolin, and Rossaveal.
Travel Tip: Inishmaan is the largest island in the archipelago and has some of the best ancient sites, including the ruins of Dún Chonchúir fort.
Located in a natural no man's land between County Clare and County Galway, the Burren is an unexpected change from the usual lush, green fields Ireland is best known for. In Irish, the name means "bleak area," although the rock-strewn countryside and limestone plateaus of the Burren are mesmerizing in their own way. For a full day excursion, you can even combine a drive through the area with a stop at the nearby Cliffs of Moher.
Getting There: Bus Éireann’s 350 route will get you to Lisdoonvarna, which is in the Burren. However, the best way to see the Burren is to drive yourself, and you can reach the landscape in about an hour from Galway City.
Travel Tip: Head out with a full tank of gas and a plan. There are no service stations in the heart of this bleak landscape.
Bunratty: A Castle and Folk Park Experience
Bunratty is a bit further outside Galway, but it is still an easy day trip from the city. The family-friendly castle is a major attraction, and has been fully restored and filled with antiques from the 15th and 16th centuries. The neighboring folk park—another must-see—provides a model of life in 19th-century Ireland, complete with costumed performers.
Getting There: Bunratty is about an hour's drive from Galway. There are no direct buses there, but it is possible to take the train or bus from Galway to Shannon and arrange private transportation from there.
Travel Tip: If you are traveling with kids, carve out time to visit the Viking playground and petting zoo at the folk park.
Dog’s Bay: Spend the Day at the Beach
Don't let the chilly Atlantic waters keep you away from the beach: County Galway is home to some incredible, sandy shores. Dog’s Bay is often known as one of the best beaches in all of Ireland, with pure white sand and crystalline, calm waters that are made for swimming.
Getting There: Follow the road to Clifden and you will find the beach about two miles beyond the village of Roundstone.
Travel Tip: Pack a picnic lunch as there are no restaurants along this stretch of sand.
Doolin: A Quaint Seaside Village
If you want to see small-town Ireland, plan a trip to colorful Doolin, right on the coast. Its location and character make it a great option for shopping, lunch in a traditional pub, or peaceful views of Doonagore Castle, pastures, and rolling hills.
Getting There: The best way to get to Doolin is to drive, and a trip here can be combined with the Cliffs of Moher or the Burren. Bus Éireann route 350 also stops in Doolin.
Travel Tip: Start in Doolin and hike the coastal trail to the Cliffs of Moher instead of driving.
Spanish Point: Golfing and Surfing on the Coast
Spanish Point takes its name from an old shipwreck that occurred here in 1588, though these days it is a popular seaside resort town outside of Galway. The coastal area is one of the best surf spots in County Clare, but those looking for land-based activities will find one of the oldest nine-hole golf courses in all of Ireland. The course is 130 years old and offers picturesque views between holes. In addition to swimming and white sand beaches, you can also take boat tours out to the Spanish Armada shipwreck.
Getting There: The best way to reach Spanish Point is to travel along the Wild Atlantic Way, heading towards Miltown Malbay.
Travel Tip: The Spanish Point Golf Club opened in 1896 and is often voted the best in Munster. Be sure to check online for information about booking a tee time.