Situated in West Ireland, Galway is a quaint Irish city that’s in prime position to be your gateway to the rugged, spectacular Atlantic West Coast.
Galway is just a day trip away from outstanding areas of natural beauty.
The famous Cliffs of Moher are just down the road, while off the coast a short boat trip will take you out to the Aran Islands; rugged and isolated islands in the Atlantic where life is slower than on the mainland.
The whole west coastline is known as the Wild Atlantic Way because this wind swept and misty world is really just that: a wild and natural place to explore, with traditional Irish villages and medieval abbeys just waiting to be discovered amongst the spectacular scenery.
Further afield there are more Irish cities to explore if the country life isn’t for you.
Head to Limerick for a day to experience Irish history and poetry, or head to Shannon for a taste of contemporary Irish life.
1 . Cliffs of Moher
The most spectacular day trip from Galway is to the Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most visited attractions and a place that sees millions of tourists every year.
They all make the journey to see the weather-beaten, dramatic cliffs that rise to heights of 200 meters and stretch for 14 kilometers along the Atlantic Ocean.
The Cliffs of Moher are a windy, misty place, and the grey fog that can descend seemingly out of nowhere just adds to the mysticism of this outdoor wonder.
There’s a visitors center and viewing area that sees most of the tourism, but intrepid travelers can find quiet and secluded spots by hiking to almost any of the locations along the lengthy coastline, or even by taking a cruise in the choppy ocean water below to get a unique perspective of these cliffs from the water.
Suggested tour: Full Day Cliffs of Moher & Burren Tour from Galway
2. Aran Islands
Off the coast of Ireland in Galway Bay lie the Aran Islands, a collection of three islands that are a throwback to the Ireland of old.
The few residents that live on these isolated yet beautiful islands still speak the traditional Irish language, as well as English; it’s one of the best places in the country to experience authentic Irish culture firsthand.
Aside from being beautifully Irish, the three Aran Islands also have a long history, with excavated ruins and artefacts that date back to the Bronze Age.
Hill forts and stone ruins can be found across the islands, as can Ireland’s smallest church.
The real charm is the rural nature of the place; life here is slower than in Galway and on the mainland.
Although the weather can be fierce at times, the best way to enjoy the scenery is to ride a bicycle at your own pace through the winding country roads and along the high cliffside paths.
Available tour: Aran Islands & Cliffs of Moher Tour with Cruise
Doolin is a small, traditional Irish Village which lies near the Cliffs of Moher and faces out to the Aran Islands.
There are beautiful walking paths through the countryside and along the coastline, and nearby is the Doolin Cave, where a seven meter long stalactite hangs from the ceiling, one of the longest in the world.
Doolin is also a cultural hub, made famous by its traditional Irish Music.
Each and every night in the village there is a musical performance happening in one of the pubs, while the restaurants and small shops all have a real local vibe to them.
4. Ailwee Cave
The dark and gloomy underground cavern of Ailwee Cave is found deep in the countryside and extends for one kilometer below ground.
There are underground streams and even waterfalls to be found in the darkness, while the remains of ancient animals have been found here too.
The visitor’s center provides excellent geological and historic information on Ailwee Cave, while above ground, visitors can also visit the nearby Birds of Prey Centre, which is home to large Irish birds and hosts educational, entertaining shows that demonstrate the talents of these airborne hunters.
5. Connemara National Park
Connemara is a scenic, isolated and raw wilderness near Galway that is home to hardy villages and tall mountains.
The best place to experience the wild beauty is at the Connemara National Park, an area of protected land that features all the untold, dramatic landscapes that a visitor to Ireland could ever ask to see.
There are mountains to climb, hikes to enjoy and a diverse array of bogs, woods and wildlife to experience in the west’s premier National Park.
6. Kylemore Abbey
Located within the Connemara Region is Kylemore Abbey: a majestic Benedictine Abbey beautifully situated on the banks of a lake in the Irish countryside.
Originally constructed as an estate for nobility, the building ended up being converted into an abbey in 1920 by Belgian Nuns who fled their country during the First World War.
The history of Kylemore Abbey is an intriguing one, to say the least.
It’s an iconic place to explore, with lush green gardens, woodland walks, and a marvelous lake, to name just a few things.
7. The Burren
The Burren is a geological region south of Galway which is known for its rugged karst limestone landscape.
It’s the site of Ireland’s smallest National Park, where karst hills roll into the distance and form strange, natural pavements underfoot.
There are both easy and arduous walks for every level of fitness, and outdoor enthusiasts can take to the rocks for epic rock climbing or head underground for caving.
A remote and wonderful landscape, it’s another chance to experience the great Irish outdoors from the doorstep of Galway.
8. The Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way really encompasses much of the entire West Coast of Ireland, from the far north to the south, and is a heritage and outdoor route that stretches for thousands of kilometers along the Atlantic Coast.
It takes in many of Galway’s best villages and most stunning scenery, and from the city the best thing to do is simply rent a car and drive along this coastal route.
Get lost along the winding roads and explore everything Irish that’s found along the way.
9. Killary Fjord
In northern Connemara is Ireland’s only fjord at Killarney Harbor.
The fjord runs for 16 kilometers out towards the Atlantic and is a haven for endangered wildlife such as otters and turtles.
The best way to experience this spectacular waterway is to take a cruise along its length, where you will be surrounded by towering mountain ranges and epic scenery.
Along the route you will find small fishing villages and spot the local shell fishers out on the water, toiling away in the wild weather as they have for centuries.
Westport is a heritage listed town found in the secluded Clew Bay near to Killary Fjord.
It’s surrounded by high mountains, the most famous of which is Croagh Patrick, where Ireland’s patron Saint spent a long time fasting.
It’s a place of pilgrimage for Catholics, but also an outstanding sight to see in its own right.
The town of Westport is a small, rambling affair, and it’s a great place to walk around or to seek out some traditional Irish pubs in a great setting.
11. Cnoc Suain
Cnoc Suain is the place to go to learn about Irish culture and to experience Irish traditions in a nature-filled setting.
This is a cultural retreat far out in the countryside of Connemara, isolated and remote but still close enough to Galway to visit on a day trip.
It’s a collection of hillside cottages that have been turned into a cultural center by the Irish land owners.
The traditional Irish language is spoken here; it’s your chance to escape the city and be immersed in Irish country life.
12. Lough Key Forest
Lough Key Forest is a huge inland lake and forested area in the Roscommon region two hours north of Galway.
The lake itself is stunning and provides the perfect setting for outdoor adventures, while the forest that surrounds it is full of walks and ancient history.
Nestled in the park are the remains of old Irish villages and forts whose ruins can still be explored today.
13. Boyle Abbey
Near the town of Boyle, close to Lough Key, are the ruins of Boyle Abbey, a structure which dates back to the 12th Century.
The abbey is currently being restored, as after its abandonment a few hundred years ago it was left idle in the wilds of Ireland.
It’s a fantastic piece of heritage and the old ruins are breathtaking to walk through.
Limerick is one of the largest cities in Ireland but is still small enough to have retained a traditional feel.
It’s an ancient place, dating back to the 8th Century, and full of history, castles and legends.
Supposedly, the city is where the famous Irish form of poetry, the Limerick, originated, but no one is quite certain if this is really the case.
Shannon is just one hour south of Galway and has retained its small town feel over the years of development.
It’s a new town, without the history of places like Galway or Limerick, but with its own curious culture.
It is a great place to explore and experience contemporary Irish life and modern culture of the 21st century, a different experience from most other day trips from Galway.