So I arrived back in Ireland the other day, unplanned but that’s another story. I had just spent 21 hours in Athens airport so was pretty tired and trying to sleep in yet another airport, this time Dublin as I had to wait 7 more hours for a bus out West. Whilst I was half asleep on yet another ultra-comfortable airport bench I could hear the freshly arrived American accents. So where do you want to go first? Dingle or Killarney. The buzz word in the airport seemed to be Kerry and the ring of Kerry.
Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful down there and for the most part the ring of Kerry is a nice drive. But Ireland has so much more than this! The whole west coast of Ireland is an amazing combination of mountains, ocean and scenery that all give the tourist trail a good run for its money. There is also plenty of towns with more rustic and genuine charm than Dingle.
There is a route that covers it all, the wild Atlantic way. If you have the time you should do the whole drive. I have driven it in sections a couple of times and as you can tell from my blog I am fairly well travelled but that drive is hard to beat anywhere in the world. It includes the ring of Kerry but I honestly don’t think you would find that part the highlight!
So what else is there in Ireland?
Number one on the list is Westport and Clew bay.
I will start with Co.Mayo, now I am being a little biased here as it is where I have lived for most of my life and the place I call home. I have a good reason to be biased though as it is an awesome place!
Westport and Clew bay are the main tourist draw in Mayo. Westport was voted the best place to live in Ireland and has also won numerous other awards. Westport town itself in extremely pretty and friendly. Here you will find lots of bars, quality restraunts and craic. If you are backpacking there is a couple of hostels. If you want splurge there is luxury hotels. It is in fact a postcard perfect part of Ireland that caters for tourist in every way but most tourist never make it this far up the coast!
Situated on the edge of Clew bay, a bay full of hundreds of little islands with some of the best sunsets I have ever seen in my life. Westport lies to the north of Connemara and the mountains (Coming up next). The scenery around here is unreal! As are the beaches and walks.
Westport is home to the famous Croagh Patrick Mountain and no visit would be complete without climbing it, following the well defined pilgrim route. A harder climb than one would imagine but the rewards are the views from the top over the Whole County and Connemara national park. You will also be surprised to find a church up there, leaving you wondering how the hell they managed to build it. Legend has it that St. Patrick did a forty-day Lenten ritual on top of Croagh Patrick hence the name. Every year on the last Sunday of July tens of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the summit, some in bare feet.
Irelands must see places number two. Louisburgh, Dephi valley, Lennane and the mountains.
From Westport you can follow the coast road across the edge of Clew bay to the village of Louisburgh. Around here you will find a good selection of wind swept beaches and coastal country lanes. From Louisburgh follow the sign for Leannane and it takes you through the Delphi valley, one of the most scenic places on the planet. This narrow postcard perfect road cuts through the mountains in to Delphi where you will find a lake surrounded by hills. It is truly beautiful here and wild! It’s hard to even get a phone signal in these parts. The mountain scenery here is every bit as stunning as the more well-known parts of Ireland but without the mass tourism.
From Delphi the road takes you to Lennane along a river, past a waterfall and on to Killary fjord, Irelands only fjord. In Lennane you can take a break at the pub where the film “the field” was filmed. From here you can carry on in to Connemara national park (just down the road) or take in even more stunning mountain and valley views on the main road back to Westport.
Number three on the list of Irelands best is Connemara national park.
Connemara national park is another place you have to visit if you appreciate breath taking mountain and costal scenery. The main places to stay here are Letterfrack and Clifden. Both have lots of accommodation options and off course plenty of pubs. The backdrop is the twelve Ben Mountains where you have some excellent and challenging walking trails, or if you fancy an easier walk then the Diamond hill loop in Letterfrack has a well-defined trail starting at the visitors centre with awesome views from the top. Also near Letterfrack is Kylemore abbey, a place that is seen on many postcards and images of Ireland.
Around Clifden and further on towards Galway you will find many beautiful beaches, some you might just have to yourself. You also have the options of visiting the islands of Inishbofin & Inishturk or the more well know Aran Islands from Connemara.
Number four, Galway city.
Heading south from Connemara you come to Galway city. Ok this one is not exactly off the beaten path but it is in my opinion the best town in Ireland by far. Galway, the city of tribes is my second home and a place I spent a few years in. No visit to Ireland would be complete without visiting Galway and there is always something going on to entertain you. Especially in July when the city comes to life with the international arts festival.
When the sun is shining there is no better place to be. The whole town comes out and hangs around the water’s edge at the Spanish arch, a green area to the West of the city centre or the town beaches of Salthill.
Number five on the list is the Beara peninsula.
This amazingly beautiful peninsula is actually the next peninsula down from the ring of Kerry yet in comparison it retains an untouched by the masses feel and remains a lot more old school. Like a step back in time this is a place not to be missed if you are heading to SW Ireland. Here you will find more narrow roads, mountains and insanely beautiful costal scenery. It is Irelands best kept secret with the masses ignoring it and heading to the ring of Kerry or Cork instead. They are missing out big time! You can easily drive around the Beara peninsula in a day but I would definitely recommend staying overnight at least. From the end of the peninsula you can take Ireland only cable car to Dursey island.
So there you have five more places to consider if you want to avoid the tourist traps and see more of Irelands natural beauty and friendly locals. By no means a definitive guide and there is so much more to see. These places are just my favorite places in Ireland and I am sure if you visit them then you may just end up saying the same thing 🙂