Galway is a city with a small town feeling that you could easily spend days in. Time slipping by without much notice. The cobblestone streets of the Latin Quarter emanating such ambience, it’s hard to leave. There is a lot within these old Irish buildings to keep someone busy while accomplishing nearly nothing. Between the buskers drawing crowds, people watching coinciding with day drinks on any of the outdoor patios, the café culture, restaurant scene and pub life with consistent live music, it’s nearly impossible to get bored. If on the off chance though you feel the need to escape or feel you are becoming stuck, know that there is a way out. Here are a 3 day trips from Galway that will break the cycle.
The Aran Islands – Heading out to the Aran Islands is an absolute perfect way to not only get away from the city, but the mainland completely. There are three islands total and these can easily be overnighted on if so chosen. The most visited and easiest to visit for the day is Inis Mor. Buses will take you to and from the port for a mere 9 euros and the ferry 25 euros. Now to the good part.
As the island gets closer, you’ll notice the quaint seaside town of the island where the ferry will make port. There is multiple ways to explore the island for the day from a van tour, horse carriage and my recommended way, pedal power. For 10 Euro, you can rent one for the day. To make the most of your limited time on the ancient island, eat a large breakfast and skip lunch (not something you’ll hear me say often).
Head off out of town to the opposite side of the island. There is a general loop that most day trippers do. A beautifully scenic road lined by age old fields sewn together by an imperfect grid of waist high rough rock walls that just spell medieval. I can’t help but imagine the lives that once tended these. Before too long you’ll come across a small beach and just a little further the parking area for Dun Aonghasa Fort. A small fee and a bit of an arduous uneven climb you will enter the ancient walls of the fort. Explore the remains and watch the wild Atlantic batter some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Just be weary. The winds can be strong and there is no barrier to prevent plummeting to the rough waters and sharp rocks below.
An artisan ice cream shop awaits you as you exit (I got a whiskey and honey flavour) and you can head over to the seven churches or make your attempt at finding the ‘wormhole’. I recommend the latter. On the way back to the port following the coast, make a stop at the Aran Island seal colony. Here lies the chance to see some seals basking in the afternoon sun. If you are looking for some souvenirs on the island, you needn’t look far. The Aran Island sweater company along with a few other stalls make for a more unique gift. The boat leaves at 5pm with or without you. Back to town in time for dinner, you can slide right back into routine and catch some live music and pints.
Check out my full experience on Inis Mor here – Day Trip to Inis Mor
Connemara – There are companies doing day trips via bus, but if you don’t have a car already, I suggest renting one for these next two day trips. Connemara is to the north of Galway. A stunningly beautiful drive through pastured hills, lakes and boggy marshland. The narrow roads hug the lakes winding through Connemara Valley. The main attraction of the area is Kylemore Abbey. Built as the home of a rich Englishman for his wife, the abbey later became a prestigious school for girls run by nuns and attracted students from far and wide. Undergoing some restoration on my visit, the building was beautiful, but the immaculately kept gardens, flowers and vegetables row upon row were the highlight of the grounds as a whole.
On the way back to Galway in the town of Leenane, there is a junction in which a loop can be taken opposed to the same road in reverse. Leenane is also the perfect place to stop for lunch. A quaint cottage like restaurant, Blackberry is right on the main road, looking at the lake across the street. Some of the best traditional home cooked Irish fare I’d eaten, I ordered a couple classics. Seafood Chowder and Irish stew. Simple, soulful, feel good food and was perfect for the dreary day we had thus far.
If taking the loop while returning to Galway, you will come across the town of Cong. A wander around the medieval village is worthwhile and if time permits through the forested paths in the surrounding area. For me, it is easy to lose time in a place like this becoming entangled by the history.
The Cliffs of Moher – Easily the most famous of the trips from Galway and from nearly anywhere in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher can even be visited on a long day trip all the way from Dublin. From Galway, jump back in that car you rented and head south. With a few castles to stop at along the way, the road follows a section of the Wild Atlantic Way.
A prefect spot for lunch is the small seaside town of Doolin. Day trippers arrive in mass to Gus O’Connors, a famous pub in the area. The food is good enough and arrived faster than my pint of Guinness was poured. This is great for a speedy feed, but as a chef, I know everything is just prepared in bulk ahead of time and dished out of a hot table. I would personally recommend finding another place in town.
Onwards to the cliffs, the coastline battered from the rough seas. Parking the car on the other side of the street, arriving midafternoon must have been just behind the hordes. It was reasonably empty from what one would expect of one of Ireland’s biggest attractions. The fierce wind nearly blew me over as I walked the cliff side path and stared out and over in awe. The natural beauty of the cliffs just made sense for a country with so much of it, I could immediately understand why hundreds of thousands flock here each year.
Returning to Galway through Burren National Park, there is a few nice stops to make along the way with the freedom of the car. In Kilfenora, a church with the seven crosses is a unique bit of history for the area and a little further down the road is Poulnabrone. One of 172 ancient portal tombs in Ireland dating back to the Neolithic period.
*Just slightly out of the way is the town of Athenry. This small medieval village is the best preserved area of medieval history on the emerald island, so if you’re fascinated by history, I recommend stopping for a wander.
This is just 3 day trips that can be taken from Galway. There is much to see, but I think the best way to explore the region (or country as a whole) is definitely by renting car and driving almost aimlessly through the picturesque, history laden countryside of this gorgeous country.