Looking for the best things to do in Clifden, Ireland?
Clifden is the beating heart of the region and the best place for tourists to make a hub to explore Connemara National Park. It’s a Victorian-era town set along the famed Wild Atlantic Way. That means it’s a coastal town set along the mouth of the River Owenglin with access to the sea via a long narrow bay.
It’s well known for its music scene with several pubs offering live music almost every night of the week. We had just come off an 18-hour flight and drove three hours from Dublin, but still managed to poke our heads into Lowry’s tavern for a “welcome to Ireland pint.” As with almost every night in Clifden, we were greeted by live music and a spirited crowd. Clifden is a lively small Irish town well worth a few days of exploration. Here are all the best things to do in Clifden.
If there’s one thing Ireland has, it’s beautiful ruined castles. Clifden Castle is one such edifice, and one of the best things to go and see in Clifden. The structure was once an imposing manor house belonging to John D’Arcy, the descendant of a noble family in the area who rose to prominence as the town’s magistrate. The beautiful castle was built in a Roman Gothic style, including turrets.
Over time, the castle passed to a different family, but when their patriarch died, it became all but abandoned, its furnishings sold off to pay for debts. Today, the interior consists of quiet, empty halls and spacious rooms. While it is on private property, it is open for visits—but there are no opening hours nor guided tours, so don’t expect any direction.
- Location: 5 minutes east of Clifden on Sky Road
- Insider Tip: While adventuring within the castle might seem exciting, be wary of weak and crumbling walls, and take extreme caution if you decide to venture inside.
This one is a sight to behold. While you could walk some of it, it’s probably better suited to something with wheels like a car or a bike, because at a total of 16km, it’s pretty long! Sky Road stretches along the Connemara coastline, offering some of the best views of the region—hence why it’s considered one of the most picturesque places in Ireland (and considering the rest of the country, that’s saying a lot).
You’ll be treated to views of the surrounding Connemara countryside, the islands across from the mainland, and nearby County Mayo and County Clare. You can even see past the islands and out to the endless expanse that is the Atlantic Ocean.
- Insider Tip: Be sure to stop at the single viewpoint to admire the scenery and take photos.
Connemara Heritage & History Center
This is kind of a two-part attraction. One part consists of the Connemara Heritage and History Center, which delves into the intriguing past of the Connemara region. The site is on a hill farm, with cows, sheep, and the famous breed of horses, Connemara ponies.
The heritage center was built on this location due to the second part of the attraction – a preserved 19th-century pre-famine cottage that once belonged to a man named Dan O’Hara, who was evicted and forced to emigrate. Don’t miss out on the demonstrations of historical activities, like soda bread making and sheep herding, and the crannóg and clochaun reconstructions (prehistoric lake and oratory, respectively).
- Location: Lettershea, Clifden
- Insider Tip: Guided tours are available, but you have to arrange in advance.
The Station House Museum
While the railway is no more, the structure of its Clifden stop station remains. After its train days were over, it was a tweed mill before becoming the museum that it is today. While the infrastructure is largely preserved as the original train station, the inside has been turned into exhibits on John D’Arcy (Clifden’s founder), the Connemara pony, and Marconi, among the first to bring telecommunications to Clifden in the early 1900s.
Nearby, there are other things to see as well – the Station House Hotel, the Old Engine House (detailing Marconi’s role in Clifden’s development), and the ‘Goods Store,’ which is now a theater and performance venue.
- Location: Station House Courtyard, Galway Rd
- Insider Tip: Hungry? Less than a five minute walk away is Mannions, a well-known local spot with seafood and bar snacks.
Monument of John D’Arcy
While the monument itself isn’t the most fascinating, it’s still pretty cool to see this modern-looking short obelisk paying homage to John D’Arcy, the founder of Clifden. It’s located just a few minutes east of the city (on the way to Clifden Castle), not far from the coastline. The monument does have some carved graffiti dating all the way back to its installation, which is always neat to see.
The main attraction here is actually not the stone monument, but the incredible view over Clifden. Gazing inland, you’ll be able to see clearly over the town. And looking towards the horizon, you can see across the water, making this an optimal sunrise and sunset spot.
- Location: 7 Beach Rd, Cloghaunard
- Insider Tip: To get to the top is a short hike. Along the way, there are a few Connemara ponies to see as well.
The Alcock and Brown Landing Site
Just a 15–minute drive south of the heart of town is a nondescript area with a very modern-looking monument. Designed to look like the tip of a plane, it is, in fact, a homage to the exact spot where 20th-century pilots John Alcock and Arthur Brown crash-landed their WWI plane after successfully (albeit, dangerously) completing history’s first-ever transatlantic flight all the way from Newfoundland, Canada.
The flight itself was fraught with nail-biting conditions, like poor visibility, a failed radio, and dangerous weather, among other mechanical failures. However, against all odds, they reached Ireland’s western coast and landed (safely) on what appeared to be a strip of grass—which was really a bog!
- Location: Marconi St, Derrigimlagh
- Insider Tip: The surrounding area is wonderful for a short hike (usually done in under two hours).
Mannin Bay Blueway
A bit of a departure from the usual historical sights, this is something you’ll want to add to your list of things to do in Clifden. Mannin Bay Blueway is a stunning beach area with white sand, azure water, and verdant green dunes (you might almost forget you’re in Ireland). Find the Coral Strand Road, which will lead you to the beach via a small car park. Once here, this is a launch area for tons of water sports.
You can rent kayaks, go snorkeling, or just relax in the shallows of the water. In the summer, this is a bustling place for both travelers and locals, so arrive early to get first pick of the spots. Thanks to the ecology, Mannin Bay is a haven for beachcombers—especially those in search of seashells. Have your camera ready because this is unlike any scenery you’ll see elsewhere in the region.
- Location: R341, Shannanagower
- Insider Tip: There are no public toilets in the area.
Attend Market Day
This is an excellent option if you want an experience that will really immerse you in the town’s culture and make you feel like a local in the process. So, if you’re in Clifden on a Friday, don’t miss out on Market Day. Taking place in the aptly-named Market Square, it’s a network of local producers selling home-grown fruits and vegetables, flowers, conserves, and baked pastries.
It’s year-round, but naturally, the best time to be outside is in the warmer months. Picture a Friday morning with a steaming coffee and a fresh pastry as you sit and people watch.
- Location: Market Square, Clifden
- Insider Tip: Get here right at the start, as most sellers are cleaned out by noon.
Stop for a pint at Lowry’s Music and Whiskey Bar
Having a pint in Ireland is probably on anyone’s bucket list, but imagine having a pint in the bar voted 2019’s Best Traditional Bar in Ireland. The reviews speak for themselves: guests have commended everything from the ambiance to the toasted sandwiches. But the real treat isn’t just the bar food; it’s the vast selection of Irish whiskey and artisan gins available to sample. Plus, there’s traditional live music every night, seven days a week.
- Location: Market St, Clifden
- Insider Tip: Because of the live entertainment from traditional Irish musicians, the place fills up fast, so arrive early to get a seat.
Take a kayaking tour
It’s easy to get a stunning view of the horizon from the cliff’s edge, but if you’re interested in seeing a different point of view, then a guided kayaking tour (whether just a few hours or several days) could be right up your alley. You’ll be able to see the rocky cliffs from out on the glittering water, and witness the sea birds circling overhead, tiny in the distance.
Just a small sample of some of the incredible sights you can see on one of these tours – the Killary Fjord, the Delphi Blueway, and the Cleggan sea caves.
- See tour operator site here.
- Insider Tip: While kayaking is relatively easy to pick up, even as a beginner, the shortest of these outings can average four hours, so you might want to have some kayaking experience (and arm stamina).
Trek through Connemara National Park
If hiking in Ireland is your thing, then Connemara National Park will surely be a day well spent for you. It’s one of the country’s six national parks (not too shabby considering its modest size) and covers around 2000 hectares of bogland, verdant rolling hills, forest, and grasslands. While it’s perfect for anyone wanting to see some of the wild, rugged beauty Ireland has to offer, it’s also a lesson in history. There are many signs of early human habitation, such as the 4,000-year-old megalithic tombs.
If you’re quiet, you can even do a little fauna-watching. The area is home to many species of birds throughout the year. If you’re visiting in the winter, you might get lucky and spot a wild fox or a mountain goat.
- Location: Letterfrack, County Galway
- Insider Tip: Check out the visitor center if you need any resources or help getting started.
Visit Turbot Island
While Turbot Island used to house a small community, it has not had inhabitants since the 70s. Their houses remain on the northern side of the island. It was, incidentally, the first sighting of land by pilots Alcock and Brown as they finally reached Europe in their airplane.
While there isn’t much to do on the island as far as activities, it’s a beautiful example of Ireland’s raw and rugged beauty. There are a few summer homes that are occupied during these warmer months, but other than that, you are likely to be quite alone while exploring this stunning little plot of land.
- Location: Directly west of the Wild Atlantic Viewpoint along Sky Road.
- Insider Tip: Land your boat on the northern side of the island, as it’s easier to access that way.
Visit Kylemore Abbey
You’ve likely seen photos of this incredible abbey before. Located around a 25-minute drive from Clifden, this is a perfect day trip, or even just a half-day outing. In 1920, Kylemore Abbey was originally built as a Benedictine monastery by nuns fleeing Belgium during WWI. Today, it’s a year-round historical attraction serving travelers from all over the world. Its grounds comprise over a thousand acres of incredible architecture, nature walks, and a huge Victorian walled garden. It even has its own neo-Gothic church.
Being Ireland, the Abbey has many myths and legends, but the Battle of the Giants is extremely well-known. It tells the story of two giant – Cú Chulainn and Fionn McCool – fighting by launching stones at each other, one of which is still there today. You can even make a wish on it.
Take a day trip to Pearse Cottage
Around a 40 minute drive from Clifden is another historical cottage worth seeing if you’re visiting Connemara. Patrick Pearse was a writer and linguist, particularly passionate about the Irish Gaelic language and its preservation. Though he later became a revolutionary, during his humble beginnings, he purchased land and built himself a cottage with a thatched roof (unusual for someone of his stature even then, as this was associated with poorer housing).
After his execution, it was burned down by rivals and reconstructed in the 1940s. Today, it stands as a reminder of the architecture of the time and is a visual reminder of Ireland’s mystique and folklore. Sitting on the edge of a loch, it also makes for great photos.
- Location: Ros Muc, County Galway
- Insider Tip: Check out the newly-minted visitor’s center, which was established in 2016.
Owned and curated by artist Anne Merrins, the Clifden Whitethorn Gallery is a testament to the talent of Irish painters and sculptors. The gallery is full of pieces made by local artists, showcasing many paintings that display the magical essence of the Irish landscapes.
While these pieces can be pricey, you can always find something (be it a print or a painting) to take home as a reminder of your time in Ireland. Plus, you are supporting local artists, which goes a long way to maintain the region’s cultural identity.
- Location: Main St, Clifden
- Insider Tip: The gallery is a part of the Station House Courtyard, right near the Station House Museum.
Quick Ireland Travel Tips
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Gaelic: “Dia dhuit” and “Go raibh maith agat”
- Currency: Euro – (EUR) – €
- Visa: The Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland are separate countries on the island of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland known as ‘Ireland’ grants 90-day visas. Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom also grants 90 days.
- Weather: Expect lots of weather! Ireland is known for having rapid shifts in and lots of rain – it’s only the only reason a country like Ireland remains so green and fertile. See our full packing list here.
- When is the best time to visit Ireland? Ireland is a fantastic country to visit year round. Though you’ll find crowds during the summer. My favorite time to visit Ireland is in September when the weather is cool and the crowds are low. You can read all about the weather in Ireland here.
Renting a Car in Ireland
Self-drive vacations in Ireland are a trendy way to see the glories of the country, especially since many of its tourist sights and best natural landscapes are challenging to reach using rail or bus networks. Having your own vehicle also gives you the freedom to explore the sights and sounds which most interest you, when you want to, compared to the set itineraries of a tour group!
Renting a car is not a complicated process. Read our tips for renting a car in Ireland here.
Featured Travel Card
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The other option is to transfer the points to a large selection of airlines such as United, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, or Korean Airlines. This is one of the best all-around credit cards for travel! Of course, everyone needs something different so check out our post on the best travel credit cards here or you can learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred on Card Ratings!
What to Pack for Ireland
You’re going to need something to carry your belongings in while you’re traveling around Ireland. Even if you’re not doing extensive hikes you need at least something for carry on and day trips.
The fleece sweater is a perfect layer when combined with an outer shell to keep you warm. We purchased wool sweaters from independent retailers in Ireland, but good ones weren’t easy to find. For those with less time a little bit of online shopping for wool sweaters will suffice. Start here!
Goretex Rain Jacket
We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy many times. It can always rain in Ireland, so it’s best to be prepared. Rain jackets are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof and really a great travel rain jacket. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx.
Any jacket can do the job, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather.
I love real books, but for traveling it can be easier to carry a lighter and more compact item like a Kindle. Plus, then you can download new books on the go!
Please consider purchasing a travel water bottle before your trip! We hate to see one time use plastic bottles ending up in the ocean. The tap water is so good here – seriously please don’t be one of those tourists that buys plastic water bottles. It’s a waste of money and plastic!
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Last Updated on April 5, 2020