Are you including Galway in your Ireland vacation itinerary?
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Galway is the capital city of the West of Ireland and a lively one at that.
Popular with all age groups, the city has a lot to offer, including great restaurants, fun pubs, and a host of historical attractions.
But once you’ve covered all of the city (either by foot or on a Hop On Hop Off tour bus), you might want to explore what’s outside of Galway.
I’ll admit that having a rental car will make things easier when exploring the neighboring regions outside Galway, but it’s not necessary either.
All of the 7 affordable day trips from Galway in this blog post can be done by bus and ferry with an experienced tour guide.
Connemara: Killary Fjord, Kylemore Abbey, Leenane and Cong
Connemara is an area in County Galway that many visitors have a desire to visit. And I can’t say I blame them.
This wild, largely untouched area is located between Lough Corrib in County Galway and the southern regions of County Mayo.
It is one of the few remaining strongholds where the Irish language is spoken daily.
Known locally as the “Gaeltacht,” the region is defined by its rocky landscape and peat bogs.
But there are also many beautiful beaches along its coast that are worth exploring.
Most tours to Connemara from Galway include stops at the beautiful village of Leenane, which is located at the head of Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord, and nestled underneath the Maamturk Mountains on the Galway-Mayo border.
The highlight for many on a guided bus tour of Connemara is Kylemore Abbey & Gardens, the 19th-century abbey/fairytale castle lookalike that sits on pristine lake under the shadow of the Twelve Bens Mountains.
The neo-Gothic building has been run by the Benedictine Nuns since 1920 but before that, it was the home of a wealthy British politician named Mitchell Henry who constructed it for his wife, calling it “Kylemore Castle.”
Admission to Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian Walled Gardens is included in the price of all tours.
Other tours also take in Cong, which is located in South Mayo.
The main attraction in this small village is the 12th-century Cong Abbey, otherwise known as The Royal Abbey of Cong, as well as the beautiful Ashford Castle and the fact that much of “The Quiet Man” was made in the village.
Before heading back to Galway City, many tour buses stop at the charming village of Spiddal along the coast.
Many of you might want to stop at the Spiddal Craft & Design Studios, where you’ll find a range of high-quality, handmade Irish products like pottery, blankets, glass art, paintings, jewelry, and more.
Connemara National Park
This 2,000-hectare park is one of the six national parks in Ireland and includes mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands, and forests.
Much of the land here was once part of the Kylemore Abbey estate, but it is now managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
On a typical 6-hour day trip from Galway to this part of Connemara, expect to have two hours in the park where you can take one of three hikes.
The most popular hike in the park is the Connemara and Diamond Hill Loop, a moderately challenging route. If you can do it within the 2-hour timeframe that is allotted by the tour guide, then by all means go ahead.
However, it can take up to 2 hours and 40 minutes, so proceed with caution. The tour guide will no doubt give you the best advice.
You will also visit Leenane, Killary Harbour and Spiddal on this tour, one of the many affordable day trips from Galway.
This full-day tour includes stops at the picturesque Screebe Falls in Rosmuc, at Peakcocke’s Hotel in the legendary Maams Cross in the heart of Connemara, in the traditional fishing village of Roundstone, and the remote site known as Derrigimlagh, where Alcock and Brown crash-landed after making their maiden non-stop flight from North America to Ireland.
The site, a discovery point along the Wild Atlantic Way, is close to what was once Marconi’s Wireless Station, the first such station to connect Europe with North America.
On this tour, you will have a full 3 hours to explore Connemara National Park.
Kylemore Abbey and The Quiet Man Bridge are also included in this great value day trip from Galway.
Castles of Connemara
Connemara Wild Escapes offers the 9-hour Castles of Connemara minibus tour, which is intended to give visitors a glimpse of the region’s most noteworthy castles.
The tour includes visits to Aughnanure Castle, which once belonged to the powerful O’Flaherty family in the 1500s.
Located on the shores of Lough Corrib, the castle is a prime example of a well-preserved tower house.
No doubt the tour guide will tell you how the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley, from an equally powerful West of Ireland family, married Donal O’Flaherty and that when he was killed by a rival clan, she successfully took back the castle.
The tour also includes a visit to Ballynahinch Castle in Recess, Connemara.
While today it is a popular luxury castle-hotel, it was once the home of Richard Martin, a descendant of the Martins who were merchant families and one of the “Tribes of Galway” who ruled the city from the 14th through the 17th centuries.
The land on which the property is situated once belonged to the above-mentioned O’Flaherty’s.
This tour also includes a visit to Kylemore Abbey and Gardens.
The Aran Islands: Doolin, Cliffs of Moher Cruise, Inisheer
The Aran Islands are a favorite destination for international tourists to Ireland as well as the Irish themselves.
The chance to escape the hurried world and go back in time to a slower pace as well as experience the islands’ wild beauty that is punctuated with miles and miles of ancient stone walls and clusters of ancient ruins, is another reason why the islands are among the top attractions for many tourists.
There are several affordable day trips from Galway to the Aran Islands, with all of them also including a visit to the legendary Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.
Wild Atlantic Day Tours offers full-day tours from Galway to the Aran Islands.
Typically, you’ll journey by bus through several towns in Counties Galway and Clare before arriving in Doolin where you’ll catch the ferry to the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inisheer.
You’ll have two hours to explore this beautiful island.
Some of its main attractions include St. Caomhan’s Church, which is named after the island’s patron saint, Caomhan, often anglicized as Kevin; O’Brien’s Castle; St. Gobnait’s Church; the Church of the Seven Daughters, and the Plassey Wreck, the remains of a cargo vessel that was wrecked off the island in 1960.
On the return journey by ferry, you’ll see the Cliffs of Moher up close from the ocean and when you’re back on land, the tour will give you the opportunity to see the cliffs from a different perspective.
The Aran Islands: Connemara, Cliffs of Moher Cruise, Inisheer
This combination coach and boat tour offered by Lally Tours will bring you first to Connemara, Rossaveal to be exact, where you will get the ferry to Inisheer.
You’ll have 2 hours and 30 minutes to enjoy the island and if you want, you could take a horse and cart ride to the remains of the famous shipwreck mentioned above.
The Aran Islands: Cliffs of Moher Cruise from the Galway Docks
If you’d prefer to visit Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, then this day trip from Galway is the one for you.
Take in the breathtaking Connemara and Clare coastline as you make your way to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands courtesy of Aran Island Ferries.
You’ll have 4 ½ hours to explore the island and see some of its popular attractions.
They include Dún Aonghasa, a prehistoric hill fort that dates from 1,100 B.C., St. Benan’s Church, the smallest church in Ireland that dates from the 7th century, as well as the Seven Churches, a former place of pilgrimage.
There is a lot more to see and enjoy in Inishmore, including great food and music in Kilronan, the island’s main village.
On the return journey to Galway, you’ll see the Cliffs of Moher from the vantage point of the ocean, as well as Ireland’s largest sea bird colony on the sea stack known as “An Branán Mór.”
The area around the cliffs is a favorite spot for puffins, dolphins, seals, and basking sharks.
The sea cave nearby was used as a filming location for the film, “Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince.”
Full-Day Wild Atlantic Guided Tour and Ferry Cruise
Colleen Irish Travel, also based in Galway, offers a full-day tour that also takes passengers directly from Galway Docks and on to Inishmore.
This fully guided tour led by Colleen Joyce, a native of Connemara, will take you to all of Inishmore’s main attractions, including Dún Aonghasa, the largest of the prehistoric stone forts on the Aran Islands, the island’s seal colony, and The Worm Hole (Poll na bPeist), among other attractions.
Lunch is also included in the price of the tour.
Are you interested in taking a day trip from Galway? Let me know in the comments below.