Located on the west coast of Ireland, Connemara National Park sits within the broadly defined region of Connemara. It is located approximately 1-1h30 minutes north of Galway City within the northwestern stretches of County Galway.
Dublin is nearly a 4-hour drive away, meaning that to get the most out of your visit, we recommend that visitors base themselves on the west coast to visit this stunning region.
Though not technically a county – Connemara is part of County Galway – Connemara is a vaguely-defined cultural region in western Ireland that encompasses the national park, all the way up to Killary Fjord – one of just three fjords in Ireland – and down through Clifden and Roundstone and inwards to Oughterard and Lough Corrib.
Clifden is the unofficial capital of the Connemara region. Though home to just 1,500 inhabitants, it is still the largest town in Connemara. During summer, Clifden is a lovely and vibrant town, full of lively shops, pubs and cafes. This scenic seaside town was actually only founded in the 1800s, making it a relatively “new” town in Irish history.
Clifden is a great location from which to base your Connemara explorations. There are a number of places to stay in and around Clifden, from small B&Bs to larger hotels. Many of our small group trips to Connemara have at least one overnight in Clifden town.
Roundstone is surely one of Ireland’s nicest coastal towns. This seaside village is quaint and scenic, the perfect base for anyone looking for a quiet outdoor holiday. Colourful boats bob in the harbour, and equally colourful houses hug the shore. Tucked away in a remote corner of the region, Roundstone village is just under an hour away from Connemara National Park.
Though small, Roundstone can be a really cosy option to stay overnight while visiting Connemara. Or, you may simply like to visit the village and surrounding area – such as a walk along Dog’s Bay beach or squelching through the bog to the summit of Errisbeg Hill – on one of your days exploring the Connemara region.
Described by Irish writer Oscar Wilde as ‘a savage beauty’, the Connemara region of Ireland is full of wild and expansive landscapes. One of Ireland’s most sparsely populated areas, Connemara has some of the most beautiful vistas and unspoilt scenery that Ireland has to offer. The region is a combination of expanses of bogland, sharp quartzite peaks, teacup-sized villages, pretty lakes and quiet shores. Connemara National Park is one of Ireland’s six national parks and is also one of the most visited.
At its core is the iconic Diamond Hill, one of the peaks as part of the Twelve Bens mountain range (‘ben’ means ‘mountain’ in Irish). There is a visitor centre and a range of trails to the summit of Diamond Hill. Beyond that, the rest of the park is full of other wild hills, though, with no official trails through these peaks, the best way to explore these great places is with an experienced guide.
Landscapes of Connemara
This region of western Ireland, encompassing part of County Galway, is a cultural region rather than an administrative province. The borders of the region fluctuate but are generally defined as most of the regions west of Lough Corrib. It is associated with the Irish language, with several surviving pockets of the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking communities), Irish traditions and Irish culture. It is sparsely populated and wild, containing some of the most beautiful mountains in Ireland.
Connemara is one of Ireland’s most varied landscapes. The majority of Connemara is either bogland or mountainous – in many cases, it’s both. But there are also beautiful beaches, glittering lakes, green pastures and even a fjord. It is a region that is perfect for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts and offers many places in which to get off-road, both on trails and off-trail.
It is here that you’ll find the majestic summits of the Twelve Bens mountains, ideal places to explore for those who are itching to get off the trail and out into the wilds. Combine this with the mountains of Mayo, the next region to the north, home to notable peaks like Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht, and Croagh Patrick, the iconic conical peak, and you’ll have yourself the perfect peak-bagging hiking and hillwalking trip.
Flowers of Connemara
One of Connemara’s ever-present features is the heather and grass plants that cover the hillsides, ranging from vibrant purples in summer to golden brown in the winter. Connemara is largely bog, so there aren’t many trees (though there is a row of famous Scot’s Pines on Pine Island in Lough Derryclare), so expect wild expanses of rugged terrain. The most common is the beautiful purple moor grass that adds rich violet colours to the landscape.
But there are other more rare plants growing in the park too. Rare plant species from the colder areas of Europe and the Arctic may be found high up in the mountains, such as roseroot, purple and starry saxifrages, lesser twayblade, and mountain sorrel. There are also plants usually found in warmer climates such as pale butterwort, St. Dabeoc’s heath and St. Patrick’s Cabbage.
The bog supports a range of birds, such as meadow pipits, skylarks, stonechats, chaffinches, robins and wrens or birds of prey like kestrels, sparrowhawks and the occasional peregrine falcon. Outside of the park itself, along the Connemara coast, you can see coastal birds such as gannets, kittiwakes, fulmars and more. For those who want to know more, read our birdwatching guide here.
Those who take boat trips out to the islands such as Clare Island or Inisbofin might even be lucky enough to spot marine wildlife, perhaps even puffins in spring if you’re lucky.
Connemara National Park in the northwest section of Connemara. It is one of the island’s most popular wild places and contains a small visitor centre and museum, as well as a sizeable car park. From there, there are a few trail options, largely focused on Diamond Hill, one “ben” of the so-called Twelve Bens.
The rest of the Twelve Bens are wonderfully wild – Oscar Wilde’s ‘savage beauty.’ Though there are limited way-marked paths, the area is popular for hillwalkers and hikers. Though not safe for all the most experienced solo hikers, with a guide, you can get away from the busier Diamond Hill to hike the rough terrain of the Glencoaghan Horseshoe, where you can experience the true magic of wild Connemara.
Join us on a hiking adventure in Connemara and Mayo to explore the national park, the backcountry of the Twelve Bens and more.
Kylemore started its life in 1868 as a castle, though in 1920, Benedictine nuns from Ypres, Belgium arrived fleeing the war on the mainland where their previous abbey was left destroyed.
Restoring the abbey as well as the church and the fabulous Victorian walled gardens with loving devotion, the nuns also turned their new home into a boarding school for girls. Today, the abbey and gardens welcome visitors from all over the world.
Bike past this iconic site on an e-bike tour of Ireland’s west coast.
At 618 meters high (the 6th highest mountain in the Maam Turks mountain range), Leenane Hill is a great hike. Moderately challenging and quite wild, the beautiful views of Killary Fjord spill out to one side, while the wild bogs of Connemara and Mayo extend on the other.
From the top of Leenane Hill, enjoy panoramic views over the stunning and rugged Maam Turks Mountains, Mweelrea Mountain, and out across the fjord to the Atlantic Ocean.
Leenane Hill makes for a great off-the-beaten-track alternative to the ever-popular Diamond Hill.
Join us on a hiking adventure in Connemara and Mayo to summit Leenane Hill, the Twelve Bens and more.
On the southern side of Connemara, the cheery village of Roundstone hugs the edge of a small harbour. Home to several cafes and a pub or two – we like the Bog Bean – Roundstone is a lovely jumping-off point to exploring this faraway corner of Connemara.
A stone’s throw away is the shining sandy crescent beach, Dog’s Bay, which is surely one of Ireland’s most beautiful beaches. Rising up just behind the village is Errisbeg Hill, a wonderfully wild and boggy hill offering some great views over the beach, village and beyond.
Read about other stunning hikes through Ireland’s small hills in our guide.
Hike Errisbeg and visit Roundstone on a small group trip to Connemara.
A notable leader involved in the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin, the writer Padriag (or Patrick) Pearse also had an interest in the Irish language and in the landscapes of Connemara.
The infamous Padriag Pearse owned a small cottage in the remote western reaches of Connemara in tiny Rosmuck where he did the majority of his writing. Sadly, Pearse was executed afterwards for his part in organising the Rising.
Today, his cottage is home to a small visitor centre dedicated to the man, his life and writings, as well as the Gaeltacht culture of Connemara and is a great place to get acquainted with life in rural Ireland in centuries past.
One of Ireland’s only three fjords (the others being Carlingford in the northeast and Lough Swilly in the northwest), Killary Fjord marks the outer edges of both County Galway and the region of Connemara.
This narrow ribbon of deep water is wonderfully picturesque – some of the best views come from climbing Leenane Hill, or for those who prefer lower-level walks, the Killary Famine Walk.
You’ll also see the evidence of Connemara’s aquaculture including its oyster farms in the fjord itself. On the far side of Killary Fjord in County Mayo, the majestic mountain of Mweelrea rises up in dramatic flair – Connacht’s highest peak, and a great hike for anyone looking for a challenge.
Visit Connemara on a deluxe tour from coast to coast.
At the southern extremity of Connemara, and well into the Gaeltacht region, why not add a bit of island hopping to your Connemara explorations?
Head out along a tiny peninsula where you can hike to the little-known Garumna Island. The trail meanders through a series of local lanes and paths, eventually passing Trawbaun graveyard with its neatly preserved medieval church.
Along the shore of Greatman’s Bay, get the camera ready – you’ll pass stunning coral beaches and the rocky foreshore but it is the views of Connemara’s Mamturk and Twelve Bens mountain ranges that will draw your eye (and lens). Read more about Garumna in our guide to the islands of Ireland’s west coast.
Visit Garumna Island and more on our small group island hopping adventure along the west coast.
Heading inland, visitors can wind their way through the Connemara wilds on Mám Éan, also known as the Pass of the Birds.
This pilgrimage walk is marked by the Stations of the Cross, eventually leading to a tiny stone chapel, as well as a cave-like recess known today as St Patrick’s Bed, watched over by a statue of Saint Patrick himself dressed as a shepherd.
Mám Éan is a lovely pass through the mountainous Connemara landscape. The bogs meander out on either side of the trail leading off to craggy peaks, providing a stunning and wild atmosphere. As Mám Éan is relatively flat, hikers will enjoy views of the Twelve Ben Mountains off to the west.
Learn more about Irish pilgrimage walks here.
The aptly-named Sky Road is an elevated road a stone’s throw from Clifden town that offers jaw-dropping views over Clifden Bay and the various islands including Inisbifin, Inishturk and Turbot.
Though many people choose to drive along the road, the best way to really experience the majesty of the road and its ocean panoramas is by bike. The 16 km loop from Clifden along the Sky Road and around to the north side of the peninsula is the perfect taster for biking in Connemara.
Of course, Sky Road isn’t the only worthwhile bike route in Connemara or in County Galway.
Exploring the region on two wheels sounds great? Why not join our small group e-bike trip, biking Connemara and the Aran Islands.
Connemara ponies are a famous breed of pony that was bred in this region of Ireland. They are known for their hardiness, versatility and easy temperament and are often seen in shows. Bred to suit the harsh Connemara terrain, there are several theories and legends that point to their origins.
One theory says that the ponies originated from horses brought over by the marauding Vikings. Another attributes their early breeding to an extinct breed from the Middle Ages and a more outlandish legend even claims that Connemara ponies came from the Andalusian horses rescued from the sinking Spanish Armada ships run aground on the shores of Ireland in the 1500s. Regardless, Connemara ponies are now one of the region’s most famous exports.
This region of Ireland was hit particularly hard by the Great Hunger of the 1850s. Even before the potato crop failed, the people of Connemara had a hard life. The conditions were – the terrain wasn’t very suitable for farming, the ruggedness and poor roads cut the region off from other parts of the country, and the weather could be harsh.
There are still remnants of this life left behind – abandoned villages and cottages dot the landscape, lines from the potato harvest are still visible in the landscape, and of course, the Famine Road along Killary Fjord is a testament to this part of the region’s history.
Killary Fjord is renowned for its aquaculture. In particular, the cultivation of oysters, which you can see in the fjord’s waters. For those who are curious, visitors can do an oyster tasting and even a visit to the farm.
There are also plenty of foraging opportunities – for those who are curious, take a foraging class and learn all about seaweed, Ireland’s superfood. For something even more unique, take a tour of a farm that raises sea cucumbers.
Whether you’re interested in learning more about a specific topic or time period, or are curious about Irish history in general, read more about Irish history in our guide.
While Galway makes a good case as a fun city full of nightlife, the best way to experience the magical wilds of Connemara is to stay in the region. Small towns like Clifden or Roundstone make great options, though rural castles, manners or B&Bs offer the ideal backdrop for a Connemara adventure.
Sitting on the shores of the river of the same name, Ballynahinch Castle exudes rustic elegance. This iconic Irish country house was built in 1754 on the site of a 16th-century castle once ruled by Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s infamous Pirate Queen. Converted into a shooting and fishing lodge for the elite of Ireland’s gentlemen in the 1850s, Ballynahinch was later owned by the Maharaja of Nawanager, a keen sportsman and cricket player.
Today, the 4 star Ballynahinch Castle is still known for its simple luxury. Capturing the wild spirit of the region, Ballynahinch serves as a perfect escape to the remote reaches of Connemara and the Twelve Bens mountains for enthusiasts of the great outdoors by enticing guests with an array of on-site activities coupled with the stunning outdoor playground on the castle’s doorstep.
Often thought of as Ireland’s most luxurious castle hotel, Ashford Castle is the place to go get pampered and live like royalty. With the castle itself dating back to the Middle Ages, Ashford Castle feels like a proper castle on the outside and an elegant palace on the inside. This 800-year-old fortress was once home to the famous Guinness family and has a long and rich history.
Today, this 5 star hotel has 83 rooms, 6 restaurants, 3 bars, and a spa, sauna and pool, and sits on a massive 350-acre estate, perfect for falconry, archery, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, horse-riding, hiking, boat trips, golf, paddling and more, making Ashford Castle a perfect pairing of luxury and adventure.
With 20,000-24,000 native Irish speakers, Connemara is Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht region. Most Gaeltacht regions are found on islands – like Cape Clear or the Aran Islands – or in remote peninsulas like Glencolmcille in Donegal or the northern shores of Dingle, making Connemara one of the most accessible locations as well. Learn more about Irish phrases in our essential guide here.
Though a small town, the charming town of Clifden is one of Connemara’s most important population centres. In 1919, this remote town was the landing site of the world’s first transatlantic flight, piloted by Alcock and Brown.
Some of the world’s earliest transatlantic wireless messages were made by Guglielmo Marconi between his new station near Clifden in the Connemara region, built in 1907, and Newfoundland, Canada. A huge station was built, capable of managing the high voltages required, until technology advanced enough to move the station back to the UK.