Ireland is a small country but it’s full of natural beauty. You may think that driving around this island won’t take long but trust me, when you stop every 30 minutes to take in the scenery and take photos it takes some time to get around.
I visited Ireland over the August bank holiday and was therefore limited to 3 days. Although there’s so much to see in Ireland I knew my first trip (outside of Dublin) had to include the popular city of Galway and the Cliffs of Moher- Ireland’s most visited natural attraction, so the decision to travel the West Coast was made!
Now I just had to work out where to go and where to stay overnight!
Luckily I had Marco Polo’s Perfect Days in Ireland Spiral Guide on hand to help me out. Within the guide is a chapter for West and Northwest Ireland and a handy 5 day Itinerary for the area so I used this to give me guidance when planning my 3 day trip on where I should visit but also where I should be staying each night as I needed to know that I wasn’t giving myself any ridiculously long drives or trying to accomplish too much each day. It really helped me out and continued to help me out when I was on my trip so here’s how my trip worked out and how I would recommend you Road Trip the West Coast of Ireland in 3 Days!
Day 1 – Limerick to Galway
The next morning my trip really began! Shannon is very close to Limerick and as I have family who come from there and I visited when I wad very young I decided to make this my first stop. I parked up in the town centre in Arthur’s Quay Car Park, I took a walk along the river and headed towards the Castle. King John’s Castle was really interesting, not only did it offer a great view over the city but it was full of interactive rooms and lots of historic facts!
Next I headed to the Milk Market which was super busy on a Saturday morning but really good to see. Limerick has had many markets within the city and this is one of them that dates back to the 1800’s! These days it’s full of fresh food and local products and it was great to see real day-to-day life in Limerick here.
I headed to the commercial high street as I had googled a place for brunch called The Buttery, there was a bit of a queue but I know if you have to queue for brunch it must be good. It’s a really nice, modern cafe. I opted for the Full Irish Breakfast of course and wasn’t disappointed!
I was itching to get to the coast and get on the famous Wild Atlantic Way- 2,500km of coastline running all the way up the West Coast of Ireland! It was about 12:30 when I left Limerick. I knew the Cliffs of Moher would only be about 1hr 30minutes away if I drove inland however I had read online and even seen a sign in the airport saying not to get to the cliffs until at least 16:00, this is because they get sooo busy and the mornings are when the coach tours get there. Having my own car for once meant complete freedom so I knew I wanted to get there as late as possible!
I decided to drive West to a beachside town called Kilkee as it seemed like a nice Southern Western point to start my trip North up the West Coast.
Kilkee was nothing incredible but again it was nice to see somewhere that wasn’t touristy, in fact it is mildly touristy but only by the Irish visiting for their beach day or beach holiday so that was fine by me.
From Kilkee I knew I wouldn’t reach the Cliffs of Moher for about 2 hours so I drove up the Wild Atlantic Way taking in the scenery which was just so Irish and just what I pictured the Irish Countryside to look like- lots of farms and farm animals, stone walls and cute houses.
Just before the Cliffs of Moher I stopped at a town called Ennistimon. I found an Aldi car park which was free so I would recommend using this and I had a little walk onto the high street which was full of lovely colourful buildings. Doolin is near by too which is the home of the brilliant series Father Ted so I loved seeing this plaque below!
It was now about 17:00 so I was on track to getting to the Cliffs of Moher for the perfect time. Instead of trying to find a ‘quiet lesser known spot’ I just decided to enter the main car park (which is signposted from miles and miles away), pay €6.00 for my car park and entry ticket and head to the cliffs via the tourist centre. This is one of them situations where I feel like it’s just best to be a tourist and go with all the other tourists, especially on a busy summer weekend!
At 18:00 the Cliffs were busy but really not that busy so it was great, the sun wasn’t quite setting but it was going down (albeit behind the cloud) and as the cliffs are West facing it gave us a really good light. I had a walk up the left side which gives the iconic view you often see in photos. There is a small stone wall that separates the path from the edge but it’s easy to hop over the wall which is what nearly everyone does so I was right on the edge, it was a bit scary but it enabled me to get some space from everyone else. I also realised that looking out into the water there was no land now until Northern Canada!
From the Cliffs I headed to Galway, it was about a 2 hour drive so I didn’t arrive until fairly late but again, it was a lovely drive.
I was slightly gutted though as the Marco Polo guide recommended visiting The Burren which is close to the Cliffs of Moher however I ran out of time as it was getting dark and I wanted to get to Galway for a decent time. I would recommend making time for The Burren though as it’s a really interesting area of land that is almost waterless, all but deserted and largely made up of grey limestone however there are lots of flowers growing between the deep cracks of the Limestone. From the pictures I’ve seen it looks almost otherworldly!
I arrived in Galway at about 21:00 and checked into my hostel – Snoozles Hostel, it was a pretty decent hostel and in a quiet area of the city. It was close to a big car park too which was really handy.
I was in real need of some dinner so had a walk into the main area of the city which on a Saturday night was of course alive with people! What I loved was how many people were singing and performing in the street.. the Irish love their music and Galway really is a great Irish City!
Day 2 – Galway to Westport
After my Day 1 I was pretty much on track with the Marco Polo guide’s Day 3 (I had to miss out some parts due to having less time) as the guide had recommended staying in Galway after visiting the cliffs which I did and then on Day 3 head north into the Connemara National Park, ending in Westport.
Before leaving Galway on Sunday morning I wanted to have another walk and see it in the daytime, I walked back through the main streets of the Latin Quarter I had seen the night before which were looking very empty and different now, I got a coffee and some breakfast and headed down to the water. I love a city on the water and I pretty much fell for Galway, I can see why it’s such a popular city! In hindsight I wish I would have fitted in a morning walking tour as I bet this city has some serious stories to tell!
The drive from Galway into the Connemara National Park is incredible. The scenery was completely different to what I had seen on Day 1 as this time there were mountains and so many lakes! I pulled over even more on this day to take photos and take in the scenery! On this note there are so many lay-bys on both sides of the road for drivers to pull into whenever you fancy it.
The Connemara National Park is a really big area that you can drive through so even without visiting the Visitor Centre you can still be visiting the park, however I wanted to do a little walk so after a couple of hours and a little stop in the cute town of Cliften as recommended in the guide I arrived at the Visitor Centre. There was lots of parking which was really handy as it was pretty busy. Luckily, after spending the morning in Galway and taking a leisurely drive here I didn’t actually arrive until mid afternoon, like with the cliffs the majority of coach tours had been and gone by this point so although it was busy car wise when I got there, it didn’t impact me negatively on my walk.
There are 3 recommended walking routes, I opted for the middle one called the Lower Diamond Hill which was a 3km low demand loop estimated to take an hour although it probably took me about 45 minutes. I headed out of the visitor centre, climbing up the hill in front. I kept turning back to see all of the mountains and lakes in the distance. There was heather all over the grassy areas and the Irish Countryside was looking fabulous!
There’s a cafe in the visitor centre so I got a sandwich before heading onto my next destination, a place I had been wanting to visit for years after seeing it so many times on Instagram – Kylemore Abbey! Which is only a 10-15 minute drive from the Connemara visitor centre.
Kylemore Abbey is a beautiful building. The iconic view of the Abbey is from across the lake which is the view you get as soon as you leave the car park and head towards the visitor centre. It costs €13.00 to enter which gives you access up close, inside and into the gardens however if you are on a tight budget or schedule then you can park for free and walk towards the lakes edge for free too where you’ll get a pretty good view. I decided to get a ticket and I’m glad I did as I went inside the Abbey, which is now a museum, and read all about the history. It was once a very fancy hotel and a boarding school, it has experienced a few fires but is now open to the public and aren’t I glad it is!
The gardens are a 1 mile walk from the Abbey however there is a complimentary shuttle bus that runs every 10-15 minutes. I wasn’t too bothered about going but as I had paid for a ticket I thought I should and I was really glad I did, the gardens are stunning and again hold so much history!
It was now fairly late in the day and my next stop was Westport where I was staying so I was back on the road heading further up the Wild Atlantic Way. I might go as far as saying that this section of my trip was the best as I spent a lot of the journey driving a long side Killary fjord, who knew Ireland had a fjord right, but it does!
This is Ireland’s only fjord extending 10 miles in from the atlantic. It’s safe to stay I stopped a fair few times to take in the views and every corner I turned created a completely different view! From Killary Harbour it is possible to take a boat trip so if I had known and had more time this would have been good to do!
I arrived in Westport in need of some dinner so I parked up and had a walk around, this is another very colourful town, Irish towns love their colourful buildings that’s for sure! As it was a Sunday evening a lot of places were closed or were full of people. The music scene here is meant to be really good but as a solo traveller just looking for a quiet and quick meal I opted for an Italian restaurant I stumbled upon. I didn’t get to see a lot of Westport but it looked like a nice town and I agree with the Marco Polo Guide when they recommend to stay here overnight, especially if you want a Guinness and some good Irish music!
I had booked an Airbnb just a few miles from Westport in the Village of Carraholly with Maureen, I would recommend staying with her as I got the chance to see inside a typical Irish house and the Countryside around her is beautiful!
Day 3 – Achill Island – Sligo – Donegal
Today was the day I really didn’t have any plans for my morning. On Day 1 & Day 2 I had iconic spots that I knew I wanted and had to visit – Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Connemara National Park, however when looking at a map North of Westport I didn’t recognise any of the places.
Day 4 of the Marco Polo Guide recommends setting of bright and early from Westport and taking the hours drive out to Achill Island and describes Achill Island as ‘a big ragged outline attached to the mainland by a bridge road. This Irish speaking Island, superbly mountainous, is Ireland’s largest.’ After reading this I was sold so I headed out that way, which is still a long the Wild Atlantic Way.
Although it was raining quite a bit and the cloud was very low it was still a gorgeous drive. Once again the scenery was completely different although there were indeed a lot of mountains present. I headed over the bridge and onto the Island heading towards the town of Keel as the beach I had seen on the map and decided I wanted to visit was next to Keel.
I quickly saw signs for the beach and pulled into the car park. The beach was relatively quiet and the rain that I had experienced on the drive here was just stopping however the cloud was still very low. I took a walk along the beach and the quietness and remoteness really stunned me and made me incredibly calm and appreciative of this trip and what I had seen so far. I took out my Marco Polo guide to read about the Island again, only to realise that the cliff edge I had been staring at and taking pictures of was the very one in the guide for the County Mayo section!
Keel was another town that seems to be a holiday destination for locals, there were some rides set up and there was a caravan park but even on the last weekend of the summer it was very quiet.
I reluctantly got back into my car as my West Coast trip was now over. I had booked a flight back from Dublin at 20:30 so I needed to drive 4 hours across the country to Dublin Airport. I booked the flights for this trip 5 months beforehand before even looking into what I would do however if I had the chance to book that flight again I certainly would have flew out of Knock, Ireland’s West Coast airport so I had the afternoon on the West Coast without the 4 hours drive and I would recommend you do this too if possible.
If I had had the afternoon to spend on the West Coast I would have driven up to Ballycroy National Park and the town of Bangor Erris as suggested in the Marco Polo Guide as this isn’t far from Achill Island and then I would have gone to the town of Sligo which is described in the guide as ‘a delightful town, full of history and well supplied with pubs and restaurants’ and either stayed here overnight or headed to the airport if I was flying from Knock!
And there you have it! 3 Days in Ireland packed with the beauty of the West Coast!
As I said, I visited on the August Bank Holiday but considering it was one of the busiest weekends of the year it really didn’t feel that busy! I think this was largely due to the fact that I didn’t get to the Cliffs of Moher or the Connemara National Park until later on in the day so I missed the coaches and spent my mornings in the cities which is when the coaches would are driving around!
If you have any questions on my trip then please let me know in the comments or by tweeting me!
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10 Places you Must Visit on the West Coast of Ireland
1 Day in Limerick Guide
This post is sponsored by Marco Polo however all opinions, thoughts and ramblings are my own.