To help you make the most of your holiday in the west of Ireland, we have compiled an easy to follow driving route that includes some of the country’s top attractions like the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Aillwee Cave and others that you don’t want to miss.
This trip has to be at the top of your itinerary if you fly into Shannon International Airport, as this route is easily accessible from there. So, before you get your flight, hire a car, so that when you arrive at the airport you can beat the car hire queues and spend more time exploring the countryside!
Once you collect your car at Shannon Airport, make for the N18 to Ennis, which is about 20km away. This is the main road to Galway city. If you’re making your way from the east, north or southwest, follow directions for Ennis.
Exit Ennis on the N85 and head for Ennistymon, which will take you half an hour’s drive through the beautiful rugged countryside of County Clare. Ennistymon is a picturesque town located on a river in a wooden glen.
Next, to the town of Lahinch – one of the country’s best-loved seaside resorts with a golden sandy beach, a world championship links course and endless opportunities for outdoor activities and water sports – especially surfing.
As you drive along on the R478 coastal road you’re next stop will be the majestic Cliffs of Moher , which are truly a sight to behold – so get that camera ready! As you stand at the edge of the cliffs about 214 metres above the raging waters and look out over the Atlantic Ocean, you can see the Aran Islands, Galway Bay and the Twelve Pins Mountain Range. To learn lots more about the ocean, rocks and nature of this area, visit the nearby “Atlantic Edge” interpretive centre.
Back on the R478 again and you’ll come to Lisdoonvarna – a town famous for its annual Matchmaking Festival. It has plenty of pubs where you are sure to come across a traditional Irish music session and the town is also renowned for having Ireland’s oldest Spa, which uses mineral waters rich in iron, sulphur and calcium.
You are now in the Burren, translated as Boireann – a rocky place. The Burren is a magnet for archaeologists, botanists and geologists and people from all corners of the globe who come to admire its unique karst surface. If this distinctive landscape has you intrigued you can go to Kilfenora (R476 from Lisdoonvarna), where you’ll find The Burren Centre.
The next part of your journey is a beautiful coastal drive from Lisdoonvarna to Ballyvaughan, which should take you just over half an hour. But you might be tempted to pull over quite a bit to admire the superb views of the Ocean and the Aran Islands. A good viewing spot on this stretch of the journey is at ‘Black Head’, which overlooks the breathtaking Galway Bay and the hills of Connemara in the distance.
A short drive from Black Head will bring you to Ballyvaughan, a picturesque little fishing harbour at the shores of Galway Bay. It has some nice traditional Irish pubs and some good seafood restaurants.
As you leave the town look for signposts for Aillwee Cave. It is just one of many caves under the Burren which was carved out of limestone during the Ice Age. You can take a guided tour through the passageway and even see the remains of Bear bones! When you are finished in the caves, you can visit the farm shop, the garden centre, take a mountain walk or see cheese being made. Another attraction to see not too far away is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, which dates back to about 3,200BC!
Continue south on the R476 and you’ll see Leamaneh Castle, which can be admired from the roadside. This ruined 15th century castle and manor house was the residence of the O’Brien Clan and is steeped in a very long and eventful history.
Back on the R476 again until you come to Killinaboy where you’ll find a Sheela-na-Gig over the door of a 12th century church.
Follow the R476 from Killinaboy and you will finish up back in the town of Ennis. Ennis is the county town of Clare, which developed around a Franciscan Friary as a market town. It’s a pleasant town to stroll around with its narrow windy streets and old historic buildings.
You are sure to have returned to Ennis at this stage, with the most fantastic photos and lots of unforgettable memories, be it standing at the Cliffs of Moher overlooking the raging waters of the Atlantic Ocean, or walking the lunar landscape of the Burren and admiring its unusual flora and fauna. It could be mingling with the locals and enjoying the ‘craic’ in a bar in Lisdoonvarna, or walking the golden sands of Lahinch. Whatever you get up to you are sure to enjoy this fantastic day out.
Have you toured this area? Visited its attractions? What was the highlight for you? Or if you intend to do this driving route we would love if you would come back and let us know how it went…