After exploring the best of Galway, head out of the medieval lanes of town for the wild escape of Connemara National Park. One of Ireland’s six national parks, the Connemara reserve has 7,000 acres of expansive bogs and heaths set among sharp, rocky peaks.
Whether you plan to find the famed Connemara ponies or hike Diamond Hill, here is your complete guide to how to visit Connemara National Park:
What to Do There
Connemara National Park opened to the public in 1980 after land that was previously privately owned was donated to the Irish government. The park’s visitor’s center is set inside a building that dates back to 1890 and once belonged to the Letterfrack Industrial School. The visitor’s center has small exhibits about the landscape and provides maps with suggested trails and walks. The center, like the entire park, is completely free to visit. It is open from March to November, but the park itself remains open even in the winter.
The most popular walk inside Connemara National Park is the hike to the top of Diamond Hill. Starting from the visitor’s center, a well-maintained path guides hikers to the top of the summit where they can enjoy views of Kylemore Valley and the Twelve Bens, plus catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. The roundtrip hike takes around three hours to complete.
Diamond Hill is the park’s most famous walk, but the bigger mountains that dot the landscape are known as the Twelve Bens (or Na Beanna Beola in Irish). The twelve peaks of the small mountain range have “ben” or “bin” incorporated into their names, but the range is also sometimes known as the Twelve Pins. Several of the peaks sit inside Connemara National Park boundaries and experienced walkers sometimes attempt to tackle each of the twelve peaks in a single day.
For those who don’t have the time, energy, or appropriate footwear for longer treks, there are small paths that ramble near the visitor’s center and offer a taste of the plants and animals that can be found further inside the park.
Keep an eye out for a herd of Connemara ponies. The horses are the largest animals in the park and are a breed of prized ponies that hail from this corner of Ireland.
The national park also organizes special events for children, as well as the occasional guided walk. Check the official page for more information about the upcoming calendar of events.
How to Get There
Driving to Connemara National Park is the best way to get an early start or to maximize the amount of time for exploring the trails without needing to worry about bus schedules. The visitor's center and main park entrance are near the village of Letterfrack, which is off the N59.
That said, it is possible to catch a public bus from New Coach Station in Galway to Letterfrack, which takes about two and a half hours. Buses to Letterfrack also depart from the towns of Clifden and Westport. The small village sits on the edge of the national park and it is possible to make the rest of the way into the park on foot once you exit the bus.
Where to Stay Nearby
The entrance to the park is located in Letterfrack, Co Galway. The small town is the best place to stay in order to enjoy the national park over several days.
For more accommodation options, the town of Clifden is about a 20-minute drive away and has several more hotel options. Favorites include the updated three-star Clifden Station House and the quaint Abbeyglen Castle Hotel which greets guests with a champagne reception.
Facilities Inside Connemara National Park
Avid hikers can pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the trail, but there is also the Connemara National Park Tea Room for typical Irish toasted sandwiches and hearty vegetable soups. The Tea Room is open every day from 9:30 am to 5 pm during the months of March through November. In winter, the small eatery is only open on the weekends.
The park also has a free visitor’s center that gives out maps and offers a few exhibits on the natural history of the area. The only restrooms in the park are located here.
To round out the park facilities, there is a small playground not far from the tea room and visitor’s center that looks out at Diamond Hill. Otherwise, Connemara National Park is pure bogs, hills, and heath with a few prehistoric sites mixed in.
What Else to Do Nearby
Part of the land that now makes up Connemara National Park once belonged to the estate of Kylemore Abbey – a beautiful country home turned abbey that is one of the top things to see in Ireland.
To experience a less-visited castle, the ruins of Clifden Castle offer a look inside a manor home that has been abandoned to the elements after an ownership dispute.
Then, travel along the so-called Sky Road for incomparable views of Clifden Bay and to catch a glimpse of the islands that sit just offshore. It is possible to drive up this road outside of the town of Clifden but many people choose to walk or bicycle. From the top of Monument Hill, you can look down on the pretty village and the Twelve Bens in the background.