Clifden- the Capital of Connemara

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Just the name, Connemara, evokes such wondrous imagery.  The “wild west” of Ireland, where roads may or may not drop you into the Atlantic Ocean as it crashes against the shore.  The place where famed Connemara Marble is cut from The Tweleve Bens mountain range.  Where romance tumbles with sadness and ends in hope at Kylemore Abbey.  Yes, Connemara has a different meaning to everyone who visits and the region's unofficial capital of Clifden is the place to settle yourself to experience it.

View from the Sky Road, Clifden, Connemara, County Galway
Driving the Sky Road in Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, for the first time is breathtakingly beautiful and heart-stopping-ly terrifying at the same time. The narrow road, the wild scenery and the cliff top views are incredible to describe with mere words.

Clifden, the “Capital” of Connemara

Defining what is and is not Connemara is entirely dependent on who you talk to.  For some, it is the land bordered on the east by Lough Corrib, on the north by Killary Bay, on the south by Galway Bay and extending into the Atlantic Ocean.  For others it is all of County Galway west of Lough Corrib.  Still others use Connemara to describe the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region) of western County Galway.     No matter how you define its boundaries, Clifden is a terrific base for a vacation in Ireland.

Clifden as a Base for Traveling

Ireland Pub Live Traditional music
This photo, taken at Conneely's Bar in Clifden, Connemara, is what an Irish pub is all about: a family friendly place to enjoy a bite, lift a pint, tap your toes to a few tunes and bask in the craic. Slainte!

Clifden offers plenty of lodging options, from resort hotels to self catering cottages and terrific B&Bs.  You'll easily find something to fit the style and budget of your Ireland family vacation.

Within the town of Clifden you'll have your pick of dining- with options ranging from pub grub and fresh seafood to Chinese cuisine and fast food for when the kids just really want a cheeseburger.  If you're filling your pantry or just buying nibbles for a picnic, the SuperValu grocery will have everything you need.

Live music reigns in Clifden, with a dozen pubs offering bands , you'll be able to find music most nights.  If the weather is nice you'll find most pub doors open, allowing music to pour out into the streets.

The best way to get a glimpse of what Clifden has to offer is to pick up a free copy of What's On Connemara.  You'll find these in shops around town, or your host will likely have a few on hand.

Things to do in Connemara

From Connemara you'll find plenty to keep you occupied.  These are but a few examples:

  • Drive the beautiful- and sometimes terrifying- Sky Road
  • Visit breathtaking Klyemore Abbey
  • Learn about Connemara history (and drink a bit of poteen) at the Connemara History and Heritage Centre and Dan O'Hara's Homestead
  • Dance in pubs (yes, the kids, too!)
  • Take a boat tour (you'll find a glass-bottom boat in nearby Letterfrack)
  • Ride Connemara ponies (a few stables offer this)
  • Shop in Clifden's wide array of stores for woolens, crafts, art, and more

    The Connemara Giant in County Galway
    The Irish sense of humor is well understood in this carving of the Connemara Giant in County Galway. Local legend says that if you touch the hand of the giant you will be blessed with the knowledge of his ancient tribe. Though the legend doesn't say which hand…
  • Visit Joyce's Craft Shop and touch the hand of knowledge
  • Visit Connemara National Park and hike to the top of Diamond Hill
  • Search for shells and sea glass
  • Go hill walking
  • Visit the Ocean & Country Marine Life & Heritage Centre
  • Take a day trip to Cong and visit sites made famous by the movie The Quiet Man
  • You can access Omey Island at low tide (so make sure you plan your trip accordingly or you'll be stuck)
  • Visit the site of the first transatlantic radio messages at the Alcock and Brown and Marconi site

Personally Recommended B&Bs:

OCEAN VILLA provides a scenic stay along the Sky Road.  Comfortable rooms and a hearty breakfast.  (Read full review) KINGSTOWN HOUSE is a terrific in-town B&B within walking distance of everything.  (Read full review)

40 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps I should say I am Irish and have had many family holidays as a child on the west coast. I will refrain from getting into some inane debate about my kids and their presumed lack of imagination. Lookin at old ruins, pubs, stunning landscapes etc all sounds great but my 3 and 4 year old would get as much enjoyment from at aplay park out the back of a mickey D’s!! The pony riding (which let’s face it will be to a large degree weather dependant as will the ferry ride) aside unless u get reasonable weather clifden is not a hot spot for young children. The main saving grace is that gal way and Westport r about hour away where can take kids for burger and chips finished off with afternoon matinee. Might get to pub in the eve for pint but will have to leave early cause the poor ee numbered up kids will be bored by all the strange goings on (dancing). Be in clifden next week with the kids for a week – should meet up, sounds like I could learn a thing or 2!!!

      patches4321 Pat- you are luckier than I.  This site is written from the perspective of a visitor to Ireland- not someone who has the beauty outside their door.  For visiting children, Ireland is a magical place.  We don’t see castles and dramatic landscapes as a common occurrence.
      You might want to check the handy app Ireland: Are We There Yet (for Android & iPhone) or MyKidsTime.ie for County Galway.  I’ve found these resources to be very helpful when we visit Ireland- especially on those days when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
      I appreciate the invite to meet up, unfortunately we won’t be returning to Ireland until October.  But I do think the Connemara Region is a terrific getaway with kids- you just have to get below the “surface” to find the activities that work for your kids.

    So what exactly are the kids activities again? Beach combing, sitting in the back of the car, staring at the horizontal rain lashing the window or if all else fails we can set them loose on the locals as the parent take solace in drink! Stunning location etc but far from convinced in the context of kids. (Parent to 3 and 4 yr olds)

      patches4321 Hi Pat.  I have been traveling with my kids to Ireland since they were infants; when we visited Clifden last year, they were 5 & 7.  I suppose if your children need constant stimulation, or if they need fun made for them, this is not the place for you.  However, Clifden- and Connemara- have quite a lot to offer.  
      My girls do absolutely love beach combing- I get tired of it far easier than they do.  
      Dan O’Hara’s Homestead is great for the entire family.  Boat tours, riding Connemara ponies, and exploring Connemara National Forest are all great familiy activities, as well.
      It’s true that Ireland is not DisneyLand- nor should it be.  The magic here is real and is waiting for you to discover it, if only you will take the time to do so.
      Jody

    DiscoverIreland iatraveler What a lovely way to relax for a few days!

      Tempting isn’t it Zookyjim 😀 Ever been to Connemara yourself? Kylemore Abbey just exudes peace and calm…http://t.co/QbrLcKKlgq

        DiscoverIreland Zookyjim I am going there at the end of June and can’t wait for my trip

          DiscoverIreland it’s 55 days, yes I am touring around and I am going to Galway and also to the beautiful Ashford Castle as well.

          catja25 DiscoverIreland Have a lovely time Samantha!

        DiscoverIreland Zookyjim I go back to Ireland in July and I just can not wait any longer …

          DiscoverIreland I don’t think. This time I want to do a whole week in Dublin ..

          DiscoverIreland I will try to see the few things that I’ve never seen …

          albertconvert Sounds like you’ve a lot of first-hand experience 😀 What would you recommend to first time visitors to Ireland? 🙂

          DiscoverIreland the first time it is nice to discover Dublin. By day and by night one of the most beautiful city in Europe..

        DiscoverIreland the Abbey was a definite highlight of our trip.

          Understandably mac_crowley!When were you there?The Victorian Walled Gardens surrounding the Abbey really make the visit,would you agree? 😀

          DiscoverIreland I was there in May of 2012. Part of a 16 day tour. Such a breathtaking location.

          I’m sure you saw a good part of Ireland in 16 days mac_crowley, did you have a favourite spot at all? 🙂

          DiscoverIreland mac_crowley Difficult to have a favourite spot in but one can name one or a number of many favourites 🙂 #HelinasTravel

          DiscoverIreland : The cliffs of Moher were on the list, along with the Ring of Kerry. Everyday of the trip brought a new favourite.”

        DiscoverIreland Zookyjim We went there in january 2012: wonderful experience!

        DiscoverIreland Yes. Connemara is my favourite place in the whole world! Nice Guinness in Clifton!

        DiscoverIreland Zookyjim The area is fantastic!! In Connemare and the Abby this past September!!

    […] unofficial capital with breakfast, late check out and dingin credit. You’ll find plenty to keep you amused in Clifden- from pubs and live music to local legends and magnificent views.Purchase by May […]

    WanderingEds One thing I didn’t mention in article about Birr Castle- the 3rd Earl Rosse was homeschooled. 🙂

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