While Galway city is undoubtedly a gem, filled with colour, gorgeous buildings, culture, friendly people and lots of "craic agus ceol", the county of the same name has much to offer. It would be a shame to travel to the West of Ireland without exploring some of the beautiful towns and charming villages of County Galway. I spent numerous childhood holidays in the West of Ireland. In fact we had a little cute Irish cottage overlooking Killary Harbour, in Rosroe.
Here are 18 of my suggestions of charming villages and beautiful towns in County Galway for you to visit.
(In another feature, I've written about Galway's most beautiful places ...and shared some interesting legends as well!)
Located 1.5 km outside of Galway city, is the seaside town of Salthill which has been a resort as long back as the 1930's. These days it is like a beach extension of Galway city, situated on the coast road that takes you into the fabulously dramatic scenery of Connemara. Its original name in Irish was Bóthar na Trá which translates into the Road by the Sea.
Salthill By Freeskyline
Salthill's beach is a collection of a number of small beaches, some of which are sandy while others are pebble beaches. These beaches are separated by grassy and rocky outcrops. During the 1950s and 1960s, land was reclaimed from the Atlantic sea in order to develop the promenade that you can visit today. This long promenade is a lovely spot, popular with strollers, walkers and runners. In terms of spending time on the beaches in Salthill, there are lifeguards on duty during the summer season, which runs from the middle of May until the end of September.
The views from Salthill are varied and wonderful. As you glance to the left you'll see Galway City, and to the right you can see the Aran Islands. The beautiful Burren of County Clare can be seen across Galway Bay and off into the west, the mountains and bogs of Connemara beckon. Salthill has continued to grow and develop over the years, changing what was once upon a time a small fishing village into a bustling, modern seaside resort.
With superb views over to the beautiful Burren in County Clare on a clear day, Barna is a great choice for nature lovers, walkers and families. This picturesque fishing village is located a mere 8 km out of Galway city and 11 km from Spiddal, in an Irish speaking (Gaeltacht) area of Connemara.
Barna Galway Bay sunset by By Jacek Rogoz
Close to Barna pier is the blue flag beach, Silverstrand; a sandy beach with shallow water at low tide, perfect for young families. Silverstrand Beach looks out directly over Galway Bay, affording wonderful vistas of the Atlantic. The beach is not suitable for young children during high tide. You can find parking alongside the promenade.
Barna has a good selection of bars and good restaurants. A visit to Barna wouldn't be complete without a walk in the Barna Woods.
It is worth a trip to Spiddal to see the sunset lighting up the hills of the beautiful Burren over on the opposite shores of Galway Bay. An Spidéal as it is often referred to, as it is one of Ireland's most important Gaeltachts (Irish speaking areas), is 19 km from Galway city.
Sunset at Spiddal Beach By Andriy Tabachuk
If you're Irish or have watched Irish television, Spiddal will already be familiar to you because it is used as the set for the well known Irish soap, Ros na Rún. With idyllic sea views, a lovely sandy beach and a wonderful collection of craft workshops, An Spidéal is an amazing place to visit whether you're travelling solo, or as part of a family, couple or group.
View of the colourful art shops and cafe in Ceardlann Spiddal Craft Village Galway County, Ireland By Eleni Mavrandoni
In summertime it's really buzzing as lots of students stay in Spiddal to learn Irish. Personally I spent a year learning Irish in An Rinn (Ring, Co. Waterford), but a summer school in a Gaeltacht area for Irish teenagers is almost like a rite of passage.
As well as a lovely picnic area, Spiddal is home to lots of typical Irish pubs, charming restaurants and shops. Make sure to catch at least one night of Irish traditional music!!
Fadó, fadó .....a long, long time ago (in Irish), the locals of Carraroe lived beside the sea for convenience, as the sea was their source of food and earning a living. Later when the construction of roads began in the area, the local people began to build houses by the roads...and it was this that led to the building of Carraroe village as you can see it today.
The two attractions of Carraroe are its beautiful Blue Flag beach and the fact that Carraroe is the epicentre of the revival and preservation of the wonderful native Irish boats, known as Galway Hookers.
Galway beautiful villages Carraroe coral beach By Stefano Vale
The coral shingle beach, Trá an Dóilin, is set in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Around you'll find plenty of little rock pools, as well as being a good place for snorkeling and scuba diving. The festival of the Galway Hookers (Féile an Dóilín) takes place in June, making it a very special time to visit.
Situated in an area of wonderful, outstanding natural beauty, Roundstone is a picturesque, charming fishing village located a little south of Clifden. Overlooked by some of Connermara's distant mountain ranges, the town's harbour can be found almost in Roundstone's centre.
Houses in the harbour of Roundstone Connemara, Ireland by Michael Steden
The drama of the Atlantic coast plays a daily part in life here and while traditionally it was fishing that sustained the locals for numerous centuries, these days tourism is of great importance to the economy.
Amongst its many charms is its still active harbour, founded by Alexander Nimmo, a Scottish engineer, during the 1820s. These days its character is still very much alive and kicking, with a range of boats that are as diverse and bizarre as one could possibly imagine. Colourful hulls stretch out in front of your eyes in the early morning as they depart in search of their catch of the day. Traditional currachs sail past large trawlers in the Atlantic Ocean, coming and going to the village whose name is derived from the Irish: Cloch na Ron, which means Rock of the Seals.
The town has a good selection of gorgeous craft shops, cafés and bars. Some of the restaurants and bars have outdoor seating areas, so if the weather allows you can drink and eat outside, enjoying the beautiful views and ambience.
Roundstone white sandy beach By Lucky Team Studio
Roundstone village is a great base to explore the local lake-strewn, ice-age scoured bog. Due to the area's geology, there are numerous wild flowers which are rarely found in Ireland, that can be discovered...making this part of County Galway a botanist's dream.
Roundstone was claimed by the famous actor Peter O'Toole to be his birthplace, although official records show that his birth was registered in Yorkshire city. His father was a bookmaker from Galway, and O'Toole, who was incredibly proud of his Irish roots, would later have a house in a magnificent setting on Galway's Sky Road.
Having been introduced to Connemara by Peter O'Toole, Sting had a house in Roundstone for a number of years. Rumour has it that threats from the provisional IRA drove him out eventually, but no one can be sure. Read more about Sting's connection with Connermara is the Galway Most Beautiful Places feature.
Located 14 km from Roundstone is Ballyconneely, a ribbon development blessed with beautiful beaches nearby, some that even have coral strands, such as Mannin Bay.
As the entrance to the Errismore Peninsula, Ballyconneely is the perfect base for nature lovers who will be delighted with the surrounding countryside, that is wonderfully tranquil and unspoiled.
Mannin Bay Ballyconneely flock of sheep By Noradoa
It's a great area also for golf and pony trekking. In fact, Ballyconneely is where you can find one of Ireland's most picturesque and best golf courses, The Connemara Championship Golf Links.
Did you know that it was only a few kilometres away from Ballyconneely where the first non-stop transatlantic flight came to an end...in Derrygimbla Bog? Alcock and Arthur landed there on 14th June 1919.
Also not long ago, new evidence came to light that there was an early coastal settlement in the Ballyconneely area, that can be traced back around 5000 years.
Apart from lots of beautiful places, Connemara is also famous for its Connemara ponies.
Here is a free colouring page to download for children featuring Connemara ponies:
7. Clifden, Connemara
Commonly known as the capital of Connemara, Clifden is a cosmopolitan town in County Galway lying on Europe's edge. Placed between the Atlantic Ocean the Twelve Bens mountain range, the name Clifden is An lochán, in Irish, which means "stepping stone."
Its picturesque setting ensures that Clifden attracts lots of tourists. Like the rest of Connemara, it is a superb place to go for gorgeous walks and outdoor activities. Did you know that Clifden hosts the "Olympics of Connermara Pony breeding" each year? This event attracts enthusiasts from all over the world.
Located in south-west Galway, Kinvara is considered to be the gateway to the beautiful Burren. In the 19th century it was a thriving port town, where cargo such as turf was carried on the typical Connemara sailing boats. Above you can see the nearby Dunguaire Castle, which is undoubtedly one of the most romantic in the West of Ireland and unsurprisingly attracts heaps of tourists.
Kinvara is considered by some to be a town with lots of characters; the phrase characters being used in the Irish sense and in this instance referring to people who like to drink a fair bit. So it is a good place to hang out for a party weekend. You could stay at the Merriman Hotel which boasts Ireland's biggest thatched roof!
Lying only minutes away from Galway City, is the village of Oranmore. Nestling in Galway Bay, Oranmore is the place to go to the boat over to the Aran Islands, and also perfectly positioned to explore the Burren and Connemara. Its 12th century castle dominates it, while Oranmore's pubs are often known to host spur of the moment music sessions!
Its landscape is an interesting mixture due to its location between the Burren and Connemara.
Have you seen the 1952 Oscar winning film "The Quiet Man" starring Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne? It was filmed in Cong, in Ashford Castle's grounds. The movie has made Cong a major tourist attraction, but the town also has plenty of other assets such as the ruins of a Medieval Abbey, where legend says that the last High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor, died, plus its famed Celtic cross, the Cross of Cong.
11. The Claddagh, Galway City
Although the Claddagh is a district in Galway city, we felt that it deserved to be included in this feature - just to ensure that you don't travel to Galway and somehow miss seeing it!! The Irish translation of Claddagh which is ‘An Cladach’ means "the shore."
This area that lies on Galway city's western side was an ancient fishing village dating as far back as the 5th century. The people of the area spoke Irish, went out to see in the Galway Hooker boats, and sold their catch of the day at the Spanish Arch. The Claddagh community lived in thatched cottages and even had a King of their own. Unfortunately the lovely thatched cottages were demolished back in the 1930s.
The famous Irish Claddagh ring, that represents love, friendship and loyalty, was rumoured to be created by the Galweigan silversmith, Richard Joyce. Legend states that Joyce was kidnapped by Algerian pirates, who taught him his craft. Later he was released and he returned to Galway, where he designed the Claddagh ring. When you wear a Claddagh ring, you should position the heart inwards if you are in a relationship and outwards if your heart is on offer!
Situated 25 km east of Galway city, Athenry is considered to be Ireland's the best preserved medieval town. If you want to gain insight into Medieval Ireland, Athenry is the place to go. Athenry Castle, along with around 70% of the town's Medieval walls and its Dominican Abbey are in an excellent state of preservation.
Of course one of Ireland's most famous songs is the “Fields of Athenry.” The ballad that tells the story of a man called Michael, who fed his family by stealing food, during the Great Famine in Ireland. Although the man featured in the song is a fictitious character, he was truly representative of the horrendously desperate situation during that time. In the song, Michael gets brought to Botany Bay for his crime. The ballad has not only put Athenry on the map but is a much loved song amongst Irish sports supporters.
Famous for its Horse Fair, Ballinasloe is situated in the east of Galway. Steeped in history, Ballinasloe in Irish is Beal Atha na Sluaigheadh which translates into the Town of the Ford of the Hostings.
The ancient town rose in importance in the early 12th century when the King of Connacht, Turlough O'Connor, fortified Dun Leodha, building a stone castle which commanded the river crossing. The area around Ballinasloe is filled with historical ruins such as churches, abbeys and old forts.
Situated on Connemara's west coast is Carna, in the heart of Galway's Gaeltacht area. Before the Great Famine, the population there was around 8000 but these days there are approximately 170 people living in Carna village. However if like me, beautiful scenery is enough, then I think the photo below paints at least 1000 words ...maybe more!
And if you like to walk to explore and merge with the local environment, then you may agree that, "Three things work to make an enjoyable walk: the route taken, its stories and of course, the weather. When we came to walk the Lúibín Mhaírois, or Moyrus Loop, in the relaxed company of Padraig Ó Cianain and his fellow local residents, we were blessed on all three counts"....read the rest of this article about Carna and walking in this area.
Originally a Gaeltacht village where English was the second language, Claregalway is around 20 minutes from Galway city and is home to a beautiful Franciscan Friary, built in 1290, by John de Cogan.
As you can see in the photo above, the parts of the abbey which remain are actually quite well preserved. Look at the lines of the graceful tower and the wonderful arches, arcades and windows. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of its genre in Ireland. Close by is the old castle, which was built by the de Burghs.
If you drive around 15 minutes south of Galway, you'll find the small village of Clarenbridge. Situated on the mouth of the River Clarin, this little Galway village is best known for its September Oyster Festival and its hurling tradition. The Clarenbridge Oyster Festival celebrates its 65th year in 2019, and is on from 9th to 15th September.
Photo courtesy of The Lady Gregory Hotel
This iconic festival celebrates generations of local expertise in harvesting oysters from the surrounding shallow seas. Protected in the bay from the Atlantic, the oysters in Clarinbridge flourish in the perfect mixture of fresh and seawater. Perfect conditions combined with a wealth of skill and knowledge from the local community, mean that the taste of the Clarenbridge Oyster is unrivalled.
If you visit at any other time of the year, be sure to go to the world-renowned Moran's Oyster Cottage, which I featured many years ago in this article about top places to eat oysters around the world.
17. Gort – the below relates to Gort -Lough Cutra Castle
Situated in south Galway, Gort has actually been featured in the New York Times.
Photo courtesy of Galway Bay FM
The journalist, Dan Barry, does describe it as being.."a little grimy," however his trip following up on his ancestry obviously touched him. Here's a brief excerpt:
"A recent return confirmed my sense that no familial link is needed to appreciate what the town offers. Within a 10-mile radius you can find Coole Park, once Lady Gregory's sanctuary for the leaders of the Irish literary revival; Thoor Ballylee, the tower of inspiration for William Butler Yeats; Kilmacduagh, a sacred site with some of the finest monastic remnants in Ireland; Kinvara, an inviting fishing village; and the Burren, the dramatic limestone landscape sloping westward into the Atlantic." Read the full article here.
Last but certainly not least is Renvyle. The village of Renvyle is small, cute and simple. As you drive into it, you'll see a small smattering of shops and a bar or two, and thatched cottages.
Heading into the Renvyle Peninsula, some of Connemara's most spectacular scenery awaits you. This is what they meant when they conjured up the expression awe-inspiring.