West Ireland Travel Guide: Exploring Ireland’s Western Coast

by Jon Miksis
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Looking to experience the best of the Emerald Isle? West Ireland is calling your name. It’s home to colossal cliffs, vibrant towns, and an authentic Irish culture that you won’t find anywhere else. The West of Ireland offers so much culture, history, and nature – that it’s easy to see why so many people fall in love with it.

While most visitors of Ireland choose to stay in and around Dublin, the true magic lies in the countryside. And as far as that goes, there’s truly no place better to visit than Western Ireland.

Here, you’ll find wild, windswept coastlines and green, unspoiled scenery that show why Ireland’s called the “Emerald Isle.” Add to that lively towns with cobblestone streets, thatched-roof cottages, and traditional pubs, and you’ll see why it’s a top bucket-list destination.

I recently did an 8-day guided tour with Globus Journeys, where I got to explore the west coast of Ireland firsthand. This was one of their Choice Touring itineraries, a new concept combining traditional touring with a more immersive, local experience. So, in addition to visiting must-see sights around the island, we also did custom excursions based on our own individual interests. Such a fun (and flexible) way to travel!

If you’re looking for unique things to do in West Ireland, keep reading. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the western coast of Ireland.

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The best places in Western Ireland for all types of travelers
Disclosure: My trip to Ireland was in partnership with Globus Journeys. As always, all opinions are my own.

Western Ireland at a glance

Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the River Shannon, West Ireland is a great place for adventure. It’s best known for its coastal landscapes, including cliffs, mountains, and beaches. However, the West of Ireland is also home to friendly people and unique cultural and historical sites.

It rains a lot in the west of Ireland
It sure rains a lot in the west of Ireland. That’s why the grass looks so green!

The West Region of Ireland encompasses three counties:

1. County Galway

2. County Mayo

3. County Roscommon

West Ireland map of 3 counties
West Ireland map (highlighted in dark green)

In this part of Ireland, there wasn’t much influence by the British. This means that its traditional Gaelic roots are very much still intact. The region is mainly rural, so you’ll hear native Irish spoken, particularly in small towns and villages.

Rathbaun Farm in County Galway.
Loved learning about farm life at Rathbaun Farm in County Galway.

The largest city in Western Ireland is Galway, which has a population of 79,000. Other cities and towns include Castlebar, Ballina, Tuam, Ballinasloe, Roscommon, and Westport. The region is connected to Dublin by rail, and there’s also an international airport here called Ireland West Airport Knock. In addition, you can get here by car or bus.

I found it super convenient to visit Western Ireland on a guided bus tour with Globus Journeys. We stayed a couple nights in Galway and Westport, two beautiful towns with a rich and local heritage. It was easy to get around and explore the region from these two home bases.

If you’re looking to discover the West of Ireland, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the top destinations and experiences you should know about.

Irish west coast views
The landscapes on the Irish west coast are truly unbeatable

Best things to do in West Ireland

From nature outings to cultural experiences, here are some of the top attractions in West Ireland.

Wild Atlantic Way

Spanning over 1,500 miles (2,414 km), the Wild Atlantic Way is one of the world’s longest coastal roads. It extends from the Inishowen Peninsula up north to County Cork in the south. As its name suggests, this road is absolutely wild—offering stunning vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and emerald water at every turn.

Coastal cliffs in the West of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland has no shortage of awe-inspiring coastal cliffs

During my tour with Globus, we had the opportunity to visit several scenic parts of the Wild Atlantic Way. This includes the Cliffs of Moher, Achill Island, and Keem Bay, among other beautiful photo stops.

Drive, bike, or walk along the Wild Atlantic Way and you’ll see why it’s a top attraction in the Emerald Isle. The sounds and smells of the sea, paired with the traditional seaside culture, makes this a driving route like no other.

Sheep dot the coastline on the Wild Atlantic Way
Sheep dot the coastline on the Wild Atlantic Way

From picturesque villages and beaches to towering cliffs, Ireland’s Atlantic coastline does not disappoint.

Map of the Wild Atlantic Way
Map of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland | Image Credit: thewildatlanticway.com

Cliffs of Moher

Towering over Ireland’s western coast, the Cliffs of Moher are some of the most epic sea cliffs imaginable. It is Ireland’s second most visited attraction after the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, and it’s easy to see why.

The Cliffs of Moher are truly timeless
The Cliffs of Moher are truly timeless

The Cliffs of Moher are among the most iconic and widely recognizable sights in Ireland. It’s been featured in many Hollywood films and music videos over the years, including Harry Potter, The Princess Bridge, and Snow White and the Huntsman.

Walk along the paved pathways where you’ll encounter sweeping views of the Atlantic. Some of the cliffs are as high as 702 ft (214 m), which is unlike any other sea cliffs I’ve seen. Plan to spend around two hours here; however, you can easily spend much longer, as these cliffside walkways extend 14 km along the Atlantic Coast.

These sea cliffs are home to many bird species, including puffins.
These sea cliffs are home to many bird species, including puffins.

Note: For photographers planning to visit the Cliffs of Moher, be aware that stone barriers have been put up to prevent people from getting too close to the cliffs. In prior years, people could walk up to the edge of the rim, but now there are stone slabs there for safety purposes. Some of these fences along the Cliffs of Moher are more than 10-15 feet from the edge. This means that many popular photo spots are no longer feasible to get to, so you can’t capture images like the one below:

Me overlooking the Cliffs of Moher
Me overlooking the Cliffs of Moher

Are the Cliffs of Moher one of the best places to visit in West Ireland? Absolutely!

Achill Island

Located off the coast of County Mayo, Achill Island is one of the top tourist attractions in the west of Ireland. It is the country’s largest island and takes a few hours to drive around it. Here, you’ll find no shortage of beautiful beaches, rugged mountains, and cute sheep.

Sheep are everywhere on Achill Island
Sheep are everywhere on Achill Island

There is a bridge connecting Achill Island with the mainland, making it easy and convenient to get to. Once you get to the island, it feels like you’ve been transported to a whole other world with its vibrant verdant landscapes and roaring seas. The highest sea cliffs in Ireland are found here, as well as a variety of flora and fauna.

The island is quite large, so you’ll want to cover it in a bus or call rather than on foot. We visited here as one of Globus’ Choice Tour excursions, where they showed us some beautiful photo spots and beaches along the way. On a coastal ride this beautiful, it can be a bit overwhelming to determine where to pull over and stop. Fortunately, Globus took care of this for us, making it a fun and hassle-free day.

With its jaw-dropping scenery and rustic farmland, Achill Island is a must-see on a Western Ireland itinerary.

The West Coast of Ireland, including Achill Island, is about as green as it gets
The West Coast of Ireland, including Achill Island, is about as green as it gets

Kylemore Abbey is among the best places to visit in West Ireland

Looking to get your Ireland castle fix? Kylemore Abbey won’t let you down. This grand estate in the west of Ireland is brimming with beauty and splendor. Here’s why you should visit on a Western Ireland travel itinerary:

Kylemore Abbey is located in Connemara, which lies along the Wild Atlantic Way
Kylemore Abbey is located in Connemara, which lies along the Wild Atlantic Way

As one of Ireland’s top tour attractions, Kylemore Abbey is the oldest of the Irish Benedictine abbeys. It was built in 1868 as a private estate before becoming a monastery in 1920. The estate is set on 1,000 acres – overlooking scenic mountains, forests, and a lake. Such a romantic setting!

The Victoria Walled Garden has 6 acres of flowers, vegetables, and herb garden plants.
The Victoria Walled Garden has 6 acres of flowers, vegetables, and herb garden plants.

It was amazing to stroll through the interior and see the ornate fixtures throughout the building. Ten nuns still live, work, and pray here, though we didn’t see any on the tour. In addition to the abbey, there’s also a neo-gothic church, mausoleum, and beautiful Victorian Walled Garden on the property.

As far as things to do in Western Ireland go, this is a must!

Ireland's Taj Mahal
Just a 5 minute walk from the Abbey, this church is considered Ireland’s Taj Mahal.

Galway, Ireland

The city of Galway is one of the coolest places to visit on Ireland’s western coast. Nicknamed the City of the Tribes, Galway retains its medieval city walls and other traditional buildings and customs from centuries past.

Quay Street in the heart of Galway
Quay Street in the heart of Galway


What I liked the most about Galway was its vibrant pub and food scene. Every night, you can find traditional Irish music playing at the city’s many bars and restaurants. Nothing beats having a pint of the black stuff as you listen to songs like Whiskey in the Jar and Fisherman’s Blues. Irish music is incredibly fun and festive – and I will certainly look for bars and restaurants around Boston where I can get my Irish music fix.

In addition, Globus brought us on a guided culinary adventure with Galway Food Tours, where we got a taste of the city’s best cafés, bistros, pubs, and dessert shops. Though Ireland isn’t particularly known for its food, the city of Galway does a great job blending international cuisines with the local flavor. From the raspberry croissants and fish & chips to the whiskey and ice cream, every place on the food tour was top notch.

Galway is an amazing homebase for exploring the rest of West Ireland. It’s situated at the halfway point of the Wild Atlantic Way, making it a great stop on a Western Ireland road trip. Definitely add it to your bucket list!

Galway is the festival capital of Ireland
With its incredible live music scene, Galway is the “festival capital of Ireland” with over 120 festivals occurring here throughout the year.

Aran Islands

Not far off the coast of Galway are the ever-mystical Aran Islands. They’re made up of three islands, of which Inis Mór is the largest. We got to visit this island, taking in the nature beauty, authentic culture, and ancient archeological sites.

The Aran Islands is one of my favorite places on this west coast Ireland tour.
The Aran Islands is one of my favorite places on this west coast Ireland tour.

My favorite stop on the island was Dún Aonghasa, a prehistoric fort dating back over 3,000 years. It offers unbeatable views of the Atlantic Ocean and there’s also a small museum showcasing the history of the fort and how it was used.

For lunch, Globus brought us to Joe Watty’s Bar and Restaurant, a cozy pub that plays traditional live music. The food was great and listening to From Clare to Here was a bonus!

A traditional thatched cottage near Dún Aonghasa
A traditional thatched cottage near Dún Aonghasa

With its raw nature and unique culture, the Aran Islands are a top place to visit on a West Ireland itinerary.

The cliffs at Dún Aonghasa are out of this world
The cliffs at Dún Aonghasa are out of this world!

Visiting Westport is one of the top things to do in Western Ireland

My favorite town in western Ireland was undoubtedly Westport. It’s situated right along the coast in County Mayo within reach of Achill Island, another favorite spot on the Globus itinerary.

Westport is a top destination on the west coast of Ireland
Westport is a top destination on the west coast of Ireland

From the moment you step into town, it’s easy to fall in love with its charming tree-lined streets, stone bridges, and colorful homes. Westport is filled with old world charm, as seen in the mighty Westport House that’s 300 years old. The famous mansion is set on 400 acres in a serene wilderness setting. It truly embodies the west of Ireland at its finest!

The Westport House is one of the few privately owned estates still standing in Ireland.
The Westport House is one of the few privately owned estates still standing in Ireland.

Aside from the many attractions and day trips, Westport is filled with quaint pubs and restaurants. I really enjoyed eating at J.J. O’Malleys Bar & Restaurant and having a few pints of the black stuff at The Porter House. The live music scene here was absolutely amazing!

For a proper taste of Ireland’s west region, Westport has got you covered.

Westport, Ireland is a colorful old town
This small town on the west coast of Ireland packs a punch with its vibrant buildings, charming promenades, and scenic river.

Where to stay on the west coast of Ireland

The Irish west coast is brimming with amazing places to stay, but which are the best? Here’s where I recommend:

If you’re looking to find a place that’s centrally located and well connected to other parts of the region, it’s worth staying in one of Western Ireland’s cities. Westport, Galway, and Limerick are three popular destinations out west that make excellent home bases to the surrounding sights and attractions.

Westport, Ireland:

Cheap: $The Wyatt Hotel
Mid: $$Westport Plaza Hotel
Luxury: $$$The Mariner, Westport

Galway:

Cheap: $Menlo Park Hotel
Mid: $$Harbour Hotel
Luxury: $$$Glenlo Abbey Hotel

Limerick:

Cheap: $Maldron Hotel & Leisure Centre Limerick
Mid: $$George Limerick Hotel
Luxury: $$$Limerick Strand Hotel

Taking a tour of Western Ireland

As mentioned above, I think the best way to see Western Ireland is on a tour. Sure, you can rent a car and do it all yourself, but it’s hard to have a local and immersive experience this way. Globus took us to local farms and on excursions with local guides, which can be difficult to find when you’re researching the trip yourself. When you’re exploring this part of the Emerald Isle, having a knowledgeable guide who can explain the breathtaking sights and landscapes is a huge plus.

Globus Journeys tour of Western Ireland
Globus offers an incredible Ireland itinerary

In addition, traveling on a guided tour with Globus was simply much more convenient. It’s nice to have all the logistics and trip planning taken care of. No stress, no hassle, no getting lost. Just pure enjoyment! Globus takes care of the hotels, airport transfers, and getting you to and from all the sights. That way, you can be present and fully immerse yourself in the moment.

Choice Touring with Globus

In addition to having all the characteristics of a typical tour, this itinerary is a part of Globus’s Choice Touring program. As part of this new style of touring, we had the ability to choose from a selection of customized, local excursions during the trip. In Westport, Galway, and Dublin, we had choices to experience – from food tours and pub crawls to nature excursions and bike rides. So, not everyone in the group had to do the same thing every day – we could all chose different activities throughout the week that best aligned with our personal interests. It’s not easy for tour operators to organize this, which is why none of them do it…except for Globus!

Our tour guide for the week, Helen, guided us every step of the way – from Dublin, around West Ireland, and back to Dublin. Being local to Galway, she was super knowledgeable in sharing the history, culture, and fun facts about the places we visited. Not to mention that she always answered our questions with a great sense of humor. I would do this trip again in a heartbeat!

Helen, our Irish tour guide, leading us through our excursion on Achill Island.
Helen, our Irish tour guide, leading us through our excursion on Achill Island.

Looking to book a trip to Ireland soon? Globus is offering a $200 per person discount on their Choice Tours through the end of October. Click here for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Western Ireland

What is considered West Ireland?

Under the government of Ireland and Eurostat classifications, West Ireland includes three counties in the north and western regions of the country. It comprises County Galway, County Mayo, and County Roscommon. These counties make up a big part of the Connacht Province of Ireland.

Why is the west of Ireland a tourist attraction?

Visitors of Western Ireland come for the jaw-dropping scenery and colorful towns and stay for the pub scene and friendly locals. This makes the west region one of the best tourist attractions in Ireland, hands down.

A traditional Irish meal in the western part of the country
A traditional Irish meal entails soup or stew, brown bread, and of course, a pint of Guinness to wash it down.

How far is West Ireland from Dublin?

From Dublin, it takes about 3.5 hours to get to Westport and 2.5 hours to get to Galway. Depending on where you want to go in the western region, you’re looking at 200-250 km from Dublin.

What counties are in the west of Ireland?

In the western region of Ireland, there are three counties: County Galway, County Mayo, and County Roscommon. If you include the southwest and northwest (which are technically different regions), then you can also include the following counties: Clare, Kerry, Limerick, and Sligo.

Rugged coastal landscapes in the west of Ireland.
Rugged coastal landscapes in the west of Ireland.

How long does it take to drive the west coast of Ireland?

The west coast of Ireland is 1,500 miles (2,414 km) long, which is nearly three times longer than the Pacific Coast Highway on the USA west coast. This extends from the border of Northern Ireland in the north to Cork in the south. If you wanted to drive all of it, it would take 1-2 weeks with stops along the way. So, how long would it take to drive the entire west coast of Ireland? At least 50 hours.

The western coast of Ireland is truly surreal
The western coast of Ireland is truly surreal

What is the west of Ireland known for?

Western Ireland is best known for its dramatic coastal landscapes and romantic cities and towns. The region is filled with breathtaking scenery, seaside villages, and friendly locals. It’s easy to see why millions of people a year make it to Ireland’s West Coast.

Where do you fly into for western Ireland?

The main airport to fly into the West is Ireland West Airport Knock (“Knock Airport”), which is in County Mayo. Other airports include Galway Airport and Shannon Airport.

The best places to see on the west coast of Ireland

Hope you enjoyed reading this Western Ireland itinerary and travel guide! Have you been to the west region before? Let me know your favorite spots! Happy Travels! -Jon

The west coast of Ireland is a must-see destination in the British Isles
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