Five Must-Do Activities Around Connemara with Family
Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, is a vast stretch of land between mountains and the Atlantic ocean. The wild, unspoiled landscape developed over time as glaciers cut through marine sedimentary rocks and formed lakes and peninsulas all around. We visited Connemara with a baby and the grandparents, and here are my favorite activities around Connemara for the whole family to enjoy a memorable stay.
1. Drive Around Connemara to See Her Savage Beauty
When you drive on the roads in Connemara, you feel a sense of freedom and abandon, with only wild horses and lambs as company. The nature is unspoiled, the villages are spread out, and sometimes the only signs of civilization are the medieval ruins and the electric poles on the road.
Drive along the Connemara Loop (N59 from Galway) and Sky Road around Clifden for a taste of wild Atlantic views. Breathe in the refreshing ocean air, put on the Irish song “Connemara Cradle Song” (peaceful) or “Les Lacs du Connemara” by French singer Michel Sardou (invigorating), and enjoy the drive in Connemara country.
2. Visit Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden
As you continue on the N59, you rub your eyes wondering whether you’ve just seen a mirage over the lake…
No, it is not a mirage. It’s Kylemore Abbey above the lake with its ethereal presence. The castle was built in 1868, it has since changed hands between the original London textile merchant to the Duke of Manchester and then to the current Benedictine nuns. It was used as a stately home, then a girls’ day school, and now it’s an abbey open to public visitors.
As part of the estate, the Victorian Walled Garden was built at the same time as the castle, and can be reached by the free shuttle from the castle. You can wait for the shuttle on sheep.
The garden is set between mountains and has walls that are almost two hundred years old. It’s a lovely place to smell the flowers, play with butterflies, and contemplate where that guy at the shuttle stop got his glass of wine.
3. Picnic by the Lough Corrib Lake at Ashford Castle
After a breathtaking drive through the lands of Connemara, I like to mix in some history, and of course, some gastronomic pleasures. If you want to see a perfectly restored example of 13th-century neo-gothic Irish castle and taste some fresh fish, Ashford Castle is the place for you.
Visiting the castle is like walking through a living book of Irish history. The castle was founded in 1228 AD, was once home to the Guinness family (of beer fame), and today it is part of the Leading Hotels of the World collection, owned by the Red Carnations Hotel Collection that also owns the famous Hotel d’Angleterre in Geneva.
The estate sits right on the north shore of Lough Corrib, the biggest lake in Ireland, and right between County Galway and County Mayo. For non-staying guests, the castle is still worth a visit for its beautiful lakefront parkland and its fine restaurants. The fine-dining options include seven-course haute Irish cuisine at the opulent Georges V, or traditional Irish Afternoon Tea in the Connaught Room overlooking Lough Corrib. Make sure you taste Connemara’s local organic smoked salmon if you have a chance.
But the visit to Ashford Castle is not only for the high-budget. We simply had picnic by the lake to take in the beautiful sceneries, and later had tea and Irish coffee at Cullen’s at the Cottage, a casual restaurant in a traditional cottage with terrace seating.
4. Admire the Atlantic Ocean from the Cliffs of Moher
Cliffts of Moher is the single most-visited natural attraction in Ireland. Why? It’s a 8 km/5 mile stretch of cliffs that rise over 200 meters/700 feet above sea level and it's breathtaking. It's an one-hour drive away from both Galway and Shannon airports, and it’s definitely worth the detour. For a less crowded view of the cliffs, avoid the months of July and August.
The cliffs that stand tall against the ocean are striking to see. As you climb up the trail and watch the birds fly by, it all feels very serene. Until you see this lady…
...and your baby-carrying husband that decides to get closer to the edge for a better view.
A word of caution: despite the fact that over one million people visit the Cliffs of Moher each year, this can be a dangerous place with occasional strong gusts of wind. Do be careful and stay safe, don't be a victim.
The visitor center has a café that provides hot beverages that you'd appreciate after a walk on the cliffs. They also have a wonderful video of the Cliffs of Moher, which is another must-see.
5. Enjoy Wild Oysters and Guinness at Moran’s Oyster Cottage
No trip would be complete without tasting regional delicacies amidst locals. If you’re in the Connemara/Galway area, make sure you mark Moran’s Oyster Cottage on your itinerary!
The restaurant is in the town of Kilcogan right by the ocean. The traditional thatched cottage has been owned by the Moran family for seven generations since the 1760s. They serve fresh, local seafood including salmon, mussels, and of course, oysters.
We sampled the Gigas (grown locally) and Edulis (wild native flat type) oysters, and found the Edulis particularly flavorful, with a hint of that nutty taste often sought after in oysters. Since we were in Ireland, we decided to wash down the oysters with some Guinness. What a great compensation after the long rides on the road!
Travel Chic Mom's Tips for visiting Connemara
How to Get There and When to Go
The best way to get to Connemara is to fly to Galway. Galway itself is a charming medieval town with lots of lively bars and restaurants, and is a good base to explore the places mentioned in this post. We flew to Galway for the Galway International Oyster Festival that takes place every year around late September, but finally did not attend the festival and ended up exploring around Connemara. If you’re an oyster-lover like we are, go around late September. The weather is perfect, and there are loads of fresh oysters in season!
Connemara is best-visited by car. Road traffic drives on the left in Ireland, and we found that the locals have no issue driving over 100 kph/62 mph on narrow, winding roads even on the hills. Furthermore, the roads can get bumpy. Childrens’ carseats are a must, and for the carsick-prone, make sure you sit in front of the car, stay hydrated, and eat light, frequent snacks. Or take some Irish whiskey and nap away in the car (not the driver)!
Where to Stay
Five-star hotel set in a historical castle overlooking gorgeous parklands and the Lough Corrib lake, gourmet dining options, golf course, fishing and hiking, and a falconry school… It’s a splurge, but it’s worth it.
The Lodge at Ashford Castle is on the same estate, but instead of having a room inside the castle, you will be staying in a 19th century country house. It's at a lower budget than the castle itself but just as pleasant.
This mid-range authentic castle hotel is in the heart of Connemara with its very own salmon fishery. The Fisherman’s Pub at the hotel offers reasonably-priced dinner options in a rustic-charm decor.
This 18-room hotel is one of the most family-friendly hotels in Ireland. The hotel sits right on the beach, but if the weather doesn’t allow outdoor activities, the hotel provides children’s activities ranging from crafts, games, drama play, cooking parties, even cinema and video games for older kids.
And of course, last but not least, there's always...
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A Word on Hotel Bookings
I personally like to use Booking.com when I book hotels because of the competitive prices and the free-cancellation policy (most of the times) if something comes up. Book using the above affiliate links or the Connemara regional link to help support TravelChicMom.com ~ I highly appreciate it.
And here's my Connemara Map with all the places mentioned in this post:
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