Nestled at the edge of Clifden Bay, surrounded by the majestic Twelve Bens mountain range, lies a charming market town that’s just waiting to be explored. Clifden, the largest town and capital of Connemara in Ireland, is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to the region. And the best part? There are so many amazing things to do in Clifden that you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Clifden is located on the Wild Atlantic Way route, considered one of the main stops on the route in Connemara, and offers visitors a chance to experience the beauty of the Atlantic coastline and the stunning landscapes of western Ireland. While the natural beauty of this coastal town is a sight to behold, there’s much more to discover beyond the scenic views.
From exploring the rich history of a castle to soaking up the local culture in a traditional Irish pub or discovering unique works of art in local galleries, Clifden is a dream destination for anyone visiting Ireland.
If you’re planning a trip to Clifden, this is your one-stop guide! It covers everything you need to know about the top things to do, the best places to stay, the most popular eateries, and more. And with some insider tips included, you can rest assured that you’ll have an unforgettable experience. So, whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, let’s dive right into the article and start planning your Clifden visit!
- Where is Clifden, Ireland?
- What is the Best Way to visit Clifden?
- How long should I spend in Clifden?
- Top-Pick Tours to Visit Clifden
- 1. Visit Clifden Castle
- 2. Drive along the Sky Road
- 3. Relax in some of the local pubs
- 4. Shopping and souvenirs: where to find the best local goods in Clifden
- 5. Active adventures: outdoor activities to try in Clifden
- 6. Best Clifden Beaches
- 7. Try out some of the local hikes
- 8. Exploring Connemara National Park from Clifden
- 9. Day trips from Clifden: nearby attractions worth exploring
- 10. Go on a boat tour at Killary Fjord
Essential Tips Before You Visit Clifden, Ireland
Where is Clifden, Ireland?
Clifden is located within the beautiful region of Connemara. In fact, it’s the capital of Connemara, which is found within County Galway. The town is situated at the mouth of Clifden Bay and is just 48 miles (77 km) from the city of Galway, so it’s in a great spot.
Thanks to its location, it overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is found along the Connemara Loop, so it’s a top tourist destination. Clifden is also located along the much larger Wild Atlantic Way, so don’t miss out on this town if you’re driving one of the world’s most iconic road trip routes.
The distance to Clifden from Dublin is approximately 290 kilometers (180 miles) by road. The travel time can vary depending on the mode of transportation and the route is taken, but it usually takes around 4 to 4.5 hours by car or bus. You can also choose to go on this rail tour from Dublin.
What is the Best Way to visit Clifden?
The easiest way to reach Clifden is by car, as several major roads link Galway with other popular destinations. This includes Dublin, Shannon, and Knock. From Galway, it’s just over an hour’s drive to reach Clifden along the N59.
If you’re using public transport, then two bus companies offer services from Galway City. This includes CityLink Coach Service and Bus Eireann, so make sure you check the timetables before your visit. If you wish, you can catch the train to Galway and then hop on a bus from there.
You can also choose to go on this rail tour from Dublin allows you to see the Best of the West in two days. It includes transport, accommodation, admission fees, and any extra tours, so it’s well worth the money
How long should I spend in Clifden?
As there are so many fantastic things to do in Clifden, you’ll want to spend at least a full day here. Boasting a spectacular castle, the scenic Sky Road, and plenty of traditional Irish pubs and restaurants, you won’t want to rush your time in Clifden.
For the best experience, I’d recommend spending two or three nights in town. This will allow you to visit the most iconic spots and take day trips out of Clifden as there’s a lot to see within Connemara. You’ll also be able to experience the town’s nightlife this way and try some local dishes.
Top-Pick Tours to Visit Clifden
As I just mentioned, you’ll want to stay in Clifden rather than just pass through. However, if you’re struggling for time, then there are plenty of awesome tours that include a trip to this charming market town and its castle.
Many of these depart from Galway but there are also some great multi-day tours if you’re looking to see more of Ireland. Either option will allow you to see a range of popular destinations including Kylemore Abbey, Aughnanure Castle, and even the Cliffs of Moher.
Find some fantastic tours that include a visit to Clifden:
This self-guided tour will allow you to pick up an electric bike in Clifden and then you’re free to explore the town and its surrounding areas. You’ll have the bike for 9 hours and will be given a map and lots of local tips so you can make the most of your visit. You’ll be given a lock and helmet and from there, you’re free to explore!
On this Connemara full-day tour, you’ll get to visit the charming Clifden and see the town’s castle. Depending on the weather, you’ll also be driven along the iconic Sky Road. This tour will allow you to see some of the region’s other popular attractions too including Kylemore Abbey, Ballynahinch Castle, and Aughnanure Castle.
This rail tour from Dublin allows you to see the ‘Best of the West’ in two days. It includes transport, accommodation, admission fees, and any extra tours, so it’s well worth the money. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to pay for meals yourself. On this tour, you’ll get to visit Limerick City, the Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Clifden, and Kylemore Abbey among other places.
10 Tops Things to do in Clifden, Ireland
You won’t be short of things to do in Clifden as there’s a lot on offer. If you’re limited on time, then make sure you explore the town itself and drive along its scenic Sky Road before heading out on a day trip. Whether you’re looking for traditional Irish music, to pick up some souvenirs, or try some outdoor activities, there’s so much to do in Clifden.
For those with more time, then there are plenty of awesome day trip opportunities from Clifden. I’ll include some of these below so you’ve got a good idea of what to include in your itinerary.
1. Visit Clifden Castle
- Location: Sky Rd, Fakeeragh, Co. Galway, Ireland
- How to visit: There are very limited parking spaces at Clifden Castle so you’ll want to get here early!
Clifden Castle is one of the most impressive buildings you’ll come across in the Connemara Region. It dates back to 1812 and was built by John D’Arcy who actually founded the town so it’s got plenty of history.
Originally the castle’s grounds covered over 17,000 acres as the D’Arcy family had owned this land for over 150 years. Unfortunately, they became bankrupt during the Great Potato Famine in the 1800s, and as a result, they lost all the grounds.
Over the years, Clifden Castle has changed hands multiple times and it eventually fell into ruin during the 19th century. However, it’s still a very impressive sight to see, especially when the ivy clings to the castle’s exterior. To get here, you’ll also have to go through a gateway arch which is pretty spectacular in itself. As you wander down the trail to the castle you’ll come across some standing stones that D’Arcy built for his family!
2. Drive along the Sky Road
- Location: The Sky Road starts from Clifden and then eventually joins back up to the N59
- How to visit: Allow at least two hours to drive along this route as there are some awesome places to visit
Driving along Sky Road is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Clifden. It’s a 16 km loop that takes you out along the Kingstown peninsula before joining back up with the N59. This road is also part of the Wild Atlantic Way so you don’t want to leave it off your itinerary.
Starting from Clifden, Sky Road will take you west as you get to appreciate the area’s rugged landscapes and panoramic views along the way. As you come across Clifden Castle, the road separates into ‘Lower Sky Road’ and ‘Upper Sky Road’. The lower road will take you closer to the coast, but the Upper road offers the best views!
If you take the Upper road, there’s an awesome vantage car park where you’ll be treated to striking views of the surrounding area. From here, you’ll get to appreciate Clifden Bay, some of the offshore islands, and the Atlantic Ocean.
3. Relax in some of the local pubs
Ireland is famous for many things but its pub culture is often what draws people in. Staying overnight in Clifden allows you to appreciate this, as you can grab a drink and listen to some traditional music. If you’re just passing through, you’re most likely to be driving so you’ll have to avoid that pint of stout!
Here are some of the best local pubs to visit in Clifden:
- Lowry’s Music & Whiskey Bar – One of Ireland’s best traditional bars, famous for its live music, friendly atmosphere, and drink selections.
- Guys Bar & Snug – Although known for its delicious food, Guys Bar & Snug is also a great place to visit if you’re looking for Irish music.
- Mullarkey’s Bar – Situated within the Foyles Hotel, Mullarkey’s Bar is one of the best music venues in Clifden.
- McGrath’s Bar – A quirky traditional pub that’s one of the town’s oldest family-owned establishments.
4. Shopping and souvenirs: where to find the best local goods in Clifden
You won’t be short of things to do in Clifden but if you’re looking for a relaxing activity, then make sure you check out the local retailers. This town has everything you could think of including boutique clothing stores, bookshops, craft stores, and souvenir shops.
Here are some of the shops in Clifden that you may want to visit:
- Lowry’s Sweater Shop – Offers Irish-made sweaters and a variety of other clothing.
- OHH! BY GUM – One of the best boutique stores in the country so is perfect for fashionistas!
- The Celtic Shop & Tara Jewellers – Possibly the best place in the area for Celtic jewelry and many of the items are affordable.
- All Things Connemara – This shop sells a little bit of everything from cosmetics to books.
- The Clifden Bookshop – If you’re a book lover then this place is a must-visit!
As you can see there are plenty of awesome independent stores in Clifden. If you’re still looking for a souvenir, then why not check out some of the local galleries? Some of the best options include Lavelle Art Gallery and The Whitehorn Gallery.
5. Active adventures: outdoor activities to try in Clifden
If you’re an outdoor lover like me then you’re in for a real treat. Whether it’s hiking within a national park or exploring the coastline by kayak, there are tons of awesome activities on offer in Clifden.
If you’re interested in trying out some outdoor activities then here are some tours that might interest you:
- Coastal Kayaking: This awesome 2.5-hour kayaking tour will allow you to explore Connemara’s remote bays. You’ll also get to learn all about the area’s geography and wildlife from your guide.
- Half-day guided walk: This 2.5-hour guided hike tour will take you along a loop walk in Derrygimlagh Bog. It’s located not too far from Clifden and you’ll get to learn all about the area’s local history, including a plane landing that happened here in 1919.
- Small group oyster tour: This tour will take you along the shoreline at Ballinakill Bay where you’ll get to learn all about how oysters are grown. As well as tasting, you’ll get to ‘shuck the oysters’ yourself and explore a working oyster farm.
6. Best Clifden Beaches
Like many other areas in Ireland, you’ll find plenty of beautiful beaches near Clifden. One of the closest is Clifden Bay Beach but it’s not the most picturesque so there are plenty of others that you’ll want to prioritize.
Here are some of the best beaches to visit near Clifden:
- Omey Strand (14-minute drive) – Best to visit when the tide is out as you’ll get to walk out to Omey Island.
- Eyrephort Beach (16-minute drive) – One of the most beautiful beaches in Connemara and you’ve got a chance of spotting dolphins.
- Connemara Bay Beach (19-minute drive) – Another popular beach near Clifden, as it can get especially warm during the summer.
- Renvyle Beach (25-minute drive) – With a breathtaking backdrop, Renvyle Beach is one of the most scenic beaches in Connemara.
- Dog’s Bay (26-minute drive) – Dog’s Bay looks like a tropical beach with its turquoise waters and white sands so it’s not one to miss!
- Gurteen Beach (26-minute drive) – Located near Roundstone, Gurteen Beach is a popular spot for windsurfing and catching the sunset.
As all of these beaches are within a 30-minute drive of Clifden, you’ll have no problems reaching them if you’ve got a car. If you’re relying on public transport you’re going to have a lot more difficulty.
7. Try out some of the local hikes
There are plenty of fantastic hiking trails in and around Clifden! Whether you’re looking for a gentle stroll or a challenging hike, there’s something for everyone. To give you an idea of what’s on offer, I’m going to list some of the best routes below:
- Beach Road and Clifden Castle (easy) – This 3.1-mile (5 km) loop follows the beach road and takes you to the castle.
- Doneen Greenway (easy) – With a total distance of 7.5 miles (12 km) this is one of the longest walks in the area.
- Derrigimlagh Discovery Point (easy) – A 3.1-mile (5 km) loop that takes you along Derrygimlagh Bog.
- Omey Island Walk (easy) – This 5-mile (8 km) trail offers you the chance to admire the area’s rugged beauty.
- Diamond Hill (moderate-hard) – One of the most popular walks within Connemara National Park; can do either a 1.8-mile or 4.3-mile loop.
- Ballynahinch Greenway (easy) – This 7.5-mile (12 km) trail takes you through woodland and past lakes.
8. Exploring Connemara National Park from Clifden
- Location: Letterfrack, Co. Galway, Ireland
- How to Visit: Minimize your impact on the environment by keeping your dog on a lead, disposing of your waste properly, and taking only photographs.
Covering an impressive 2,000 hectares, Connemara National Park isn’t a place you want to miss! Home to expansive grasslands, plenty of woodlands, and towering mountains, the scenery here is unparalleled. Whether you’re looking for some hiking trails or would prefer to do some wildlife-watching, there’s something for everyone here.
Typically the first point of entry is the National Park Visitor Centre which is located just outside of Letterfack. If you visit the center first, you’ll get to learn all about the park and weigh up some of the hiking trails that start from here. The Diamond Hill walks tend to be the most popular option!
While in Connemara National Park, you’ll also want to look out for the Connemara Pony, deer, foxes, and otters among other mammals. You’ll also find plenty of birdlife here with species including the peregrine falcon, robin, woodcock, and sparrowhawk.
9. Day trips from Clifden: nearby attractions worth exploring
If you’ve got the time, then make sure you check out some of the nearby attractions. Although Clifden has a lot to offer, you’ll also find plenty of wonderful destinations nearby (aside from Connemara National Park which I just mentioned). From ancient castles to quaint villages and towns, there’s so much to see.
Here are some of the best day trips from Clifden:
- Inishbofin Island – A gorgeous island that can be reached via a 30-minute ferry journey from Cleggan.
- The Alcock and Brown landing site (13-minute drive) – Here, you’ll find a monument dedicated to a cross-Atlantic plane’s landing site.
- Letterfrack (16-minute drive) – A charming village with Diamond Hill as its backdrop.
- Kylemore Abbey (21-minute drive) – One of the most popular attractions along the Wild Atlantic Way!
- Roundstone (25-minute drive) – Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque villages in Ireland, this place has a lot to offer.
- Glengowla Mines (43-minute drive) – Here, you can go on an awesome underground mine tour!
- Galway (1 hr 17-minute drive) – One of the most visited cities in Ireland, Galway is famous for its traditional Irish pubs and festivals.
10. Go on a boat tour at Killary Fjord
Although there are plenty of things to do in Clifden itself, you can’t visit here without heading to Killary Fjord. It’s the only glacial fjord in Ireland and the surrounding scenery is breathtaking. If you’re lucky, you might get to spot wildlife too including otters, seals, and dolphins.
This 1.5-hour sightseeing cruise is run by Killary Fjord Boat Tours. You’ll get to cruise along the country’s only fjord on an all-weather luxury catamaran, that offers both indoor and outdoor seating. While sailing along the 9-mile inlet, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Connemara, especially if you head to the top deck.
With guided tours available in English and other languages, wheelchair access, onboard toilets, and baby-changing facilities, this cruise is suitable for everyone. There’s also a cafe and licensed bar so you can grab something to eat or drink while you admire the views.
Best Places to Stay at Clifden
This charming market town is the perfect base for exploring Connemara. Aside from having plenty of awesome things to do itself, you’ll be in a great location for exploring nearby castles, beaches, and Connemara National Park.
Surrounded by breathtaking scenery and home to traditional Irish pubs and unique shops, Clifden has so much to offer. Another reason to stay here is simply the variety of accommodation options. Whether you’d like to stay in a castle or a charming B&B, there’s something for everyone no matter your travel style!
Below, I’ve included an option for every budget so you’re sure to find something suited to you.
TOP OVERALL: Abbeyglen Castle Hotel
As the name suggests, you’ll be staying in a historic castle that was built in 1832. Offering stunning views, extensive facilities, and luxurious rooms, this place is a no-brainer!
BUDGET: All the Twos Lodge
This is one of the cheapest accommodation options you’ll find in Clifden. There are a variety of rooms available sleeping up to four people and there’s a spacious guest lounge area too.
MID-RANGE: Foyles Hotel
Foyles Hotel is the longest-established hotel in Connemara and is known for its fantastic atmosphere and cozy rooms. You’ll benefit from a patio garden, the on-site bar & restaurant, and live music.
LUXURY: Connemara Sands Hotel & Spa
Aside from its breathtaking location, Connemara Sands Hotel & Spa has a lot to offer. With cozy rooms, a private beach area, and extensive facilities including a spa, you won’t be short of things to do.
The best seafood restaurants in Clifden for foodies
Thanks to its coastal location, Clifden is home to a wide variety of seafood restaurants. The fish is caught locally and is cooked in traditional homemade dishes, making this town a great place to sample some of Ireland’s tastiest cuisine.
You’ll plenty of dishes to your liking but some must-tries include seafood chowder, Langoustine Bisque, and mussels in cream. There’s also the ‘Dublin Lawyer’ which includes lobster, a tasty sauce, and a side such as bread, pasta, or rice.
The best seafood restaurants in Clifden
- Mitchell’s Restaurant – Famous for its extensive range of seafood dishes!
- Mannion’s Seafood Bar & Restaurant – Here, you can have a variety of fresh local seafood including chowder, muscles, and fishcakes.
- Off The Square Restaurant – One of the finest seafood restaurants in Clifden known for its high-quality dishes.
- Ardagh Restaurant – Located within Ardagh Hotel, this restaurant offers panoramic views and a 4-course dinner menu.
- Ravi’s Bar and Restaurant – This gastropub offers a fantastic atmosphere, a spacious outdoor area with views, and tasty seafood.
Other restaurants in Clifden
If you’re tired of seafood after a couple of days, then here are some other fantastic restaurant options:
- Guys Bar & Snug – Although they offer delicious seafood dishes, there’s a variety of other options on the menu including burgers.
- E J Kings Bar & Restaurant – With friendly service, an extensive menu, and large portion sizes, this place is a hit.
- Upstairs Downstairs Cafe – Here, you’ll get to choose from tasty treats including waffles, salads, and other small bites like paninis.
Best Things to Do in Clifden Conclusion
As you can see there’s a considerable amount of things to do in Clifden! Offering a variety of traditional Irish pubs, plenty of unique stores and art galleries, and a spectacular castle, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this charming market town.
Thanks to its great location, Clifden is also the perfect base if you’re looking to explore more of the area. There are endless day trip opportunities including Connemara National Park, Roundstone, Kylemore Abbey, and the city of Galway. You’ve also got a variety of activities and tours available, so you can jam-pack your itinerary if you wish.
If you’ve got any further questions about things to do in Clifden then just leave a comment below. For those who’ve already been, what is your favorite thing to do?
If you are planning a trip to Ireland, then here are some other guides for you:
- Ultimate Guide On How to Visit Dublin in a Day
- A Perfect 2-day Dublin Itinerary
- Wild Atlantic Way Route Planner: How to Plan a Perfect Road Trip in Ireland
- Wild Atlantic Way Itinerary: Ultimate 7 days Road Trip in Iceland
- How to hike the Causeway Coast Way
- How to hike the Cliffs of Moher
- 10 Fun Things to Do in Galway
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