Located on the west coast of County Galway, Connemara is widely known for its exceptional natural beauty, delivering a mixed background of high mountains, raw coastlines, quaint villages and fjords.
While drivers can devote a full day to explore this vast region, most intrepid adventurers choose to stay even longer to hike the numerous trails within its national park.
Starting the Route and Touring The Boglands
To enjoy the heart of Connemara is quite simple: drive along N59, follow almost a loop and stray away from it when you want to venture to less traveled areas or certain coastal routes.
One of these less traveled routes is known as the Bog Road and you can reach it by turning away from N59 and onto the narrower R341. With a rugged and gloomy marsh-like seacoast, the landscape along this semicircular drive is one of the most unique we encountered in Ireland.
Keep your eyes open for the beaches towards the end of this route - an area known as Mannin Bay - as you start to approach N59. The waters from this small coastline will follow the road and be surprisingly clear and nearly turquoise.
Before reaching N59 you will arrive at the picturesque town of Clifden. Our knowledge of this town was based solely on its Sky Road, a scenic route that contours a small peninsula.
As you make your way to the scenic drive, take some time to explore the different boutiques, butcheries and bakeries that line Clifden’s quaint downtown.
Tracking the Towering Diamond Hill
Sky Road should lead you back to N59 and into the heart of the region: Connemara National Park. This state-owned, 3000 acre park is free to visit and holds four of Connemara’s iconic 12 Bens, the area’s mountain range.
There are various trails around the park and one of them is the well-known Diamond Hill. Offering widespread views of the region, the estimated three hour scenic hike will take visitors to the top of the towering Diamond Mountain.
We decided to trek Diamond Hill and see how high we could go.
The trail has three phases that go from a thirty minute loop, to virtually a three hour loop to its summit. Crossing terrains blanketed in heather - giving the landscape a stunning purple tint - we hiked for almost two hours on very well maintained trails.
We made it almost halfway onto the final trail, but could not complete it since it required a steeper climb to the rocky summit. There was not enough time to finish the hike and see other sights in the region.
Tip: If you are interested in hiking the full trail, I recommend giving yourself at least three hours at Diamond Hill. You will have time to finish and appreciate the incredible views along the way.
Entering the Benedictine Abbey?
Off of N59 and no more than ten minutes away from the park is Kylemore Abbey, one of Connemara’s most popular attractions. This Neo-Gothic castle or country house was built by Mitchel Henry in the 19th century as a gift to his wife.
The manor became a Benedictine Abbey when nuns fleeing during WWI sought refuge there.
If the beauty of this abbey entices you, you can pay a somewhat steep fee to enter its grounds. Admission will give you the chance to see a few restored rooms inside the abbey, walk along its forested paths and experience its extensive garden.
Tip: If you do not have the time or feel like spending the cash, you can see the best views of this gorgeous landscape – as we and many others did - next to its entrance, in front of the parking lot.
The Best for Last: Fjords and Inagh Valley
More than likely you are in Ireland to see its beautiful landscapes and with that in mind, I recommend you drive twenty minutes to Killary Harbor, near the village of Leenane.
Extending 15km inland, the harbor is one of the three glacier fjords in Ireland.
To appreciate the desolate and stunning landscape found in Inagh Valley, you can cut across the region through R344 after you leave Leenane.
This twenty minute drive meanders through immense mountains, vast lakes and herds of sheep grazing in the middle of the road.
During our drive, the sun was starting to set and the fog rolled in creating a somber, yet peaceful end to our long day.
KEEP IN MIND
The Wrap-Up: Since we were staying near Galway, our drive west along N59 took a little over an hour before we turned into the Bog Road. It took us approximately the same time when we made our way back, where we arrived at our hotel around 7:00pm.
The B&B: Oran Hill Lodge B & B is located in Oranmore. Extremely comfortable and one of the more expensive inns we stayed. However, the innkeepers were extremely attentive - we could not find a place to wash our accumulating laundry for days and they took care of it as we toured the area.
- Want to see the full trip and plan your next? Check out our Ireland Two Week Itinerary!