From cliffs to coasts, open limestone landscapes to lush hills, and snug villages to ancient heritage, County Clare has a plethora of places to discover. Clare is the perfect place to soak up the west coast of Ireland’s natural beauty. Read our essential guide to get an overview of this small but amazing county along the central Wild Atlantic Way.
Browse this essential guide to take a dive into the amazing County Clare.
County Clare is located in the centre of the Wild Atlantic Way on Ireland’s west coast. Sandwiched between counties Galway and Limerick, Clare offers a slower pace, unique landscapes, and a rural environment.
How do you get to Clare? Clare is home to Ireland’s second-largest international airport, Shannon Airport. The train services the county at Ennis Train Station via Galway and Limerick. Bus Eireann has a number of bus routes throughout the county. But as always with Ireland, the best way to explore the more off-the-track corners is by car.
Have a look at the map to get an idea of where County Clare is located in relation to other regions you might like to visit.
For a relatively small county, what makes this west coast region unique? For one, the landscapes. Clare is home to many diverse and unusual landscapes, such as the famous Cliffs of Moher – 300-meter-high sheer cliffs that fall steeply into the sea.
And then there’s the Burren – a craggy, exposed limestone landscape that seems barren and moon-like from afar, but bursts with exquisite colour and dozens of rare flower species up close. It’s one of Ireland’s most bizarre and wild landscapes and should be experienced first-hand. Clare also has beaches, forests, windblown hills and patch-work pastures of sheep and cows.
Clare also has some great heritage sites, with Neolithic monuments jostling for space alongside imposing medieval towers and quaint Irish villages. The food is very good with some of Ireland’s best seafood found here – County Clare is home to the Burren Smokehouse, so expect to find lots of lovely salmon. The village of Doolin is often tooted as a top place to hear Irish trad music, so be sure to catch a session while having a pint of the local craft beer while you’re here.
Read one to learn more about what makes Clare such a special county.
Certainly the most famous place in Clare, and possibly the best-known landscape in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher run for 8 miles or kilometres along Clare’s coast. Most visitors arrive directly at the visitor centre, situated in the middle of the cliffs.
However, for outdoor lovers, the best way to properly experience the majesty and sheer size of the cliffs is to walk the cliffside path. Starting at Hag’s Head in the south where there is a place to park your car, hikers can walk along the Cliffs of Moher all the way to the visitor centre and beyond. Walking to the visitor centre and back is about 10 km and should take you about 3 hours, though it’s possible to walk one way and taxi back. There are also cliffside paths from the northern end of the cliffs.
This option allows you to enjoy the Cliffs of Moher in all their glory with fewer visitors to crowd the view. Stepping into the visitor centre is still an option for those who are interested.
The smallest of Ireland’s six national parks, the Burren National Park is also Ireland’s most unique park. Just 20 square kilometres, the Burren National Park encompasses a number of low bur rugged hills. The terrain is what makes this place to special. Once the seafloor 350 million years ago, the exposed limestone pavement creates an otherworldly atmosphere that almost reminds visitors of the moon.
But another spectacular aspect of the Burren is its biodiversity. From a distance, it might appear barren. But get up close, and you’ll realise that the rocky landscape is aglow with a carpet of wildflowers. In fact, the range of wildflowers here is incredible with species native to the Arctic down to the Mediterranean bursting into colour every spring and summer.
Read our guide to the Burren National park below for more detailed info.
While the Cliffs of Moher may get all the fame, the northern corner of Clare hides a little-visited coastal gem. Black Head combines stunning coastal beauty with the wild, craggy landscapes of the Burren. There are a number of walks of varying lengths in the region around Fanore.
Black Head offers a mixture of ancient green roads, quiet laneways and expanses of exposed limestone, similar to landscapes in the national park. As with other parts of the Burren, Black Head is a place of wild and rugged beauty, with exceptional floral displays during the spring and summer.
Calling to mind images of fantasy worlds, J.R.R. Tolkien spent time visiting the Burren while writing The Lord of the Rings, and fantastical landscapes like Black Head and the Burren influenced locations in Middle Earth within his classic trilogy. Explore this exceptional landscape while hiking the best of Kerry & Clare.
The arm that forms Clare’s southwestern-most corner, Loop Head is a narrow headland between the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the Shannon and the estuary. It is home to a lighthouse and to the north side, some smaller (but still stunning) cliffs.
Between the tip of Loop End and the village of Kilkee, there are plenty of great viewpoints, headlands and coastal spots. Whether you decide to drive the headland or bike it, there are plenty of ways to get outdoors in southern Clare.
The mudflats of the Shannon Estuary is an expanse of flat land where the River Shannon flows into the Atlantic known as the Mouth of the Shannon. Framed by Limerick City to the south and and Loop Head on the north side, the estuary is massively affected by the tides.
Both high and low tides offer great bird-watching opportunities. At certain times of day, there are ferry crossings from north Kerry to Kilrush in Co Clare.
Doolin is one of Ireland’s most musical villages. Sitting on the coast at the north end of the Cliffs of Moher and close to Black Head further north, this colourful and vibrant village is the perfect base for exploring Clare’s most amazing outdoor places, particularly the northern expanses.
Doolin is also one of the two places from which the ferry runs for the Aran Islands. Plenty of traditional pubs, local trad music groups and delicious cafes and eateries make Doolin a small but incredible part of Clare.
Ennis is Clare’s main population centre. It should tell you something about the size and density of the county when you learn that the population of Ennis is just 25,000.
Far from a throbbing metropolis, Ennis is a quaint bustling market town, the perfect starting point for travel in County Clare. Home to an adorable downtown district, a historic abbey, and a wide selection of cafes, pubs and restaurants as well as shops, get your cultural fix in Ennis.
A small and largely overlooked town by most international visitors, walking through Kilkee is reminiscent of past Ireland. This small coastal town has not changed much over the years. Though home to just a couple of streets, there are plenty of pubs to choose from. The village’s main draw is the coast. With a few beaches and headland paths, Kilkee is famously home to the pollock holes, tidal pools revealed at low tide and home to communities of sea life.
Atlantic waves crash against the west coast of Ireland, making it a truly amazing place for surfing. There are a number of surf towns dotting the Wild Atlantic Way, including one in County Clare, Lahinch. Whether you love surfing or have simply always wanted to give it a go, the surf village of Lahinch is a fantastic place to take a lesson or two on catching waves.
Clare might not be Ireland’s most Neolithic-heavy region, but like most of Ireland, the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages are never far away. One of the most incredible monuments in Poulabrone – an impressive portal tomb capped with a huge capstone.
This tomb is between 5,200 and 5,800 years old, and excavations unearthed the remains of at least 21 burials on site.
Learn more about Ancient Ireland here.
Bunratty Castle is a massive and imposing fortress. This medieval bulk sports a huge stone keep flanked by four huge stone towers.
The castle is one of Clare’s most prominent historical sites, and visitors are given a tour of the Middle Ages in the castle. Bunratty also hosts medieval banquets on certain evenings for those who want to get as close as possible to time travel.
The grounds of Bunratty Castle house an extensive folk park – one of the best in Ireland – which is like a step back in time. Peopled by re-enactors and history enthusiasts, wander the “streets” of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century towns to get a glimpse into Irish life of bygone eras.
A perfumery inspired by the landscapes unfolding on every side, the Burren Perfumery is a unique place in County Clare. The fascinating perfumery uses locally sourced and foraged ingredients to engineer its organic scents and cosmetics.
Passionate about sharing the magic of the Burren with visitors, the soaps and perfumes smell delicious and evoke the amazing biodiversity of the region. Learn more here.
The Burren is riddled with caves and caverns. Many are closed off to the general public, while others have yet to be discovered. The most famous – and accessible – is Ailwee Caves in north Clare. Discovered in 1944 by Jack McGan and opened in 19473, walk through the cool corridors amongst stalactites and stalagmites. Cross bridges over chasms and feel the spray of underwater waterfalls before experiencing true darkness when they briefly cut the lights.
In the south of County Clare, Scattery Island is a small place rich in history. Visitors can take a boat out to the island and marvel at the extensive ruins of ancient monastic sites, including five churches, a cathedral and a magnificent round tower.
There’s a lighthouse too, still working, and remnants of a Napoleanic artillery battery. No humans live on Scattery, but plenty of birds have moved onto this tranquil island.
Overlooking the quaint village of Doolin, the 16th-century Doonagore Castle sits on a hilltop with sweeping views out to the sea. The castle bounced from the O’Briens to the O’Connors, the two mightiest clans of Clare in the late Middle Ages. Doonagore Castle has a dark streak in its past – as with many other places in Ireland in the late 1500s, a ship from the infamous Spanish Armada sunk off the coast and, following government orders, survivors were killed rather than cared for. While there’s no access to the castle or grounds, it makes a rather stunning photo backdrop.
You can’t come to Ireland without hearing some Irish trad music and County Clare is one of the best hotspots to listen to these merry tunes. The village of Doolin is often recognised as one of the most important locales for Irish trad music. Connecting modern Ireland with the Ireland of past decades and even centuries, trad music is one of Ireland’s most important cultural elements
What is Irish trad music? Generally using a fast beat and lyrical, the songs are short and catchy, telling a story. Trad music also uses a variety of instruments. Universal instruments include harps and fiddles. Songs also use traditional Irish instruments like the bodhran (a type of drum), the tin whistle (a small wind instrument), a bouzouki (imagine a guitar meets banjo) and/or the uillean pipes (Ireland’s response to the Scottish bagpipes, though they are quite different instruments).
When to hear it? Though you’ll sometimes hear a band play mid-week, Thursday to Sunday is the most likely days you’ll encounter trad music. It starts late though – usually at 9 or 10 pm. Keep an eye out or ask your guide to ensure you get the chance to listen.
Trad songs can be in English or Irish, though you’re more likely to hear the English ones in pubs today. The songs recount stories and lives of the people of Ireland, particularly on rural life. Unaccompanied vocals are called “sean nos” or old-style singing.
Of course, Irish trad music is not unique to County Clare, but Clare is one of the best places to experience this iconic Irish interlude. Listen to our Spotify playlist of Irish music here.
The craggy landscape of the Burren may look monotone grey from a distance. But don’t let that fool you – up close, the Burren bursts with a rainbow of colour. Housing one of the widest natural displays of biodiversity in Western Europe, plants and blooms from the sub-arctic regions all the way to the Mediterranean grow side-by-side in the Burren, as well as plants normally found in acidic soil sprout next to woodland blossoms.
In fact, the Burren’s open limestone pavement is often regarded as one of Europe’s most biodiverse regions, and rich ecosystems with 75% of the plants found in Ireland flourish in the Burren region, including twenty-three of Ireland’s twenty-seven types of orchid. Learn more on the national park’s website here.
Puffins aren’t the only sea birds soaring Clare’s coasts. From gannets to kittiwakes, many birds are making their home here. One place that supports a sizeable feathered ecosystem is the Shannon Estuary.
Bird-watchers might be interested to know that the area affords a significant habitat for many species, including the cormorant, curlew, greenshank, golden plover, grey plover, lapwing, ringed plover, shelduck, and scaup, among others. The Cliffs of Moher’s sheer walls as well as other cliff areas in south Clare also provide “apartments” for seabirds who flock to these cliffs for protection.
Interested in Irish birdwatching? Learn more here.
The most famous type of bird in Ireland, it’s hard not to love the adorable puffin. Slightly comical and definitely endearing, these black and white birds, topped with great, rounded beaks in the spring, come to Ireland each spring and early summer to breed. From April to the end of June, these birds flock in huge numbers to certain coastal regions.
Most prominently seen on islands like Skellig Michael, Rathlin and the Saltees, some coastal regions of Clare – including the more secluded parts of the Cliffs of Moher – also beckon these iconic birds for a few months each year.
The waters off of Clare are also great for spotting marine wildlife. Seals bask in the sun at certain times of the year, particularly during the pupping season when the mothers head ashore to give birth. Further out to sea, dolphins, and porpoises patrol the waters.
Recently, videos of huge basking sharks were caught off the creatures swimming lazily off the shores of south Clare near Loop Head. From basking sharks to whales and other species, learn more about Ireland’s marine wildlife below.
Though less famous for cheese than France or Italy, Ireland has a little-known but strongly embedded tradition of rich, local farmhouse cheeses. Each region has their own local recipes, from Gubbeen in Cork to St Tola here in Clare. Cow’s milk is the most popular cheese base, but goat’s milk is a delicious alternative – and few do it better than St Tola.
St Tola is possibly the best-known Irish goat’s cheese for some foodies. A deliciously creamy cheese inspired by and made in the heart of Clare, St Tola includes a number of varieties including the ash log rolled in cinders.
One of Ireland’s oldest craft beers – it’s been around since 1996 – O’Haras is an established brand here in County Clare. You’ll find it all over the county and farther afield as well. There’s a brewery too if you fancy learning how it’s made, though you can taste it in most pubs.
Craft beer has seen a recent spike in Ireland. For a country famous for its beer, Guinness has long been most visitors’ go-to pint. But locals and visitors alike now have a lot more choices of beers, with regional craft breweries popping up all over the island.
Love fish? You’ll have to taste some of the delicious smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse. Established in 1989, the Burren Smokehouse prides itself in producing local, high-quality cuisine and culinary experiences.
While visiting the smokehouse, not only can you taste some of the organic smoked salmon trout, mackerel and other delicious goodies, but you’ll also get an immersive experience learning how the fish is smoked.