by Tiggered

A travel guide to Connemara, one of the most beautiful Irish destinations.

I live within 30 km distance of Connemara. Every time I feel like running away from hustle and bustle of city life, this is where I head. I've seen Connemara in rain and sunshine, I drove around it in cold (ok, cold-ish - this is Ireland, after all) winter and I walked it in the summer. Each time was different, each precious. So many stories I brought back, from so many places that you too may wish to visit.

Thumbnail photo by Tiggered

Connemara coast, Connemara hills

The landscape of Connemara

Connemara has two faces - one rocky and one watery.  The Atlantic Ocean borders it from the west, with its usual assortment of stone, sand or even (in one instance that I know of) coral beaches.  Turn inland and you'll find yourself among hills, not too tall (600 m on average), but inaccessible due to their steepness and uninviting land at their feet.  Towns are few and far between, rather small, with even smaller villages scattered along roads.  Their borders are ill-defined, so what you see driving by are solitary houses here and there, with occasional cluster of buidings centred on a shop or petrol station.  Most of the land is privately owned and used as sheep pasture (the sheep are everywhere!), and as to the rest - if it's not a hill and it's not fenced off, it's probably a bog.  Deep blue lakes are generously sprinkled along driving routes, some bigger, some small, but all turning an astonishing shade of sapphire as soon as the sun emerges from behind the clouds.  And this is it, this is Connemara in a snapshot.

Photo by Tiggered

Have you ever been to Connemara?

View from Connemara

Achill Island
Achill Island
Photo by Tiggered

Getting around Connemara by car

When it comes to convenience, nothing beats a car.  Connemara roads are fairly decent, often narrow and full of twisting bends, but well maintained and properly signposted.  Sheep remain a constant hazard.  Do you know those postcards, with a flock of sheep blocking a road and cheerful message 'Irish Traffic Jam'?  I did see it happening in real life once or twice but this is not where the real danger lies.  Solitary sheep may be less showy, but they are more hazardous since they tend to stray onto the road, regardless of traffic levels.  Anywhere in Connemara, be ready to brake, unless you think lamb ragout is worth having your car smashed. 

Connemara is full of scenic drives (Sky Road off Clifden, The Joyce Country Drive, Doolough Valley Drive, to name only a few) and admiring the views without leaving your vehicle might be a good idea if you take into consideration how inclement the Irish weather can be.  If you decide to brave the elements anyway, free parking areas are not difficult to find. 

Each village has a petrol station, so there's no big likelihood of getting stranded, but it's a good idea to stock up on fuel before heading into Connemara - the deeper into 'wilderness' you go, the  more expensive petrol gets. 

Photo by Tiggered

Bus services in Connemara

Bus is the obvious alternative for non-motorists.  Bus Eireann coaches are comfortable and reliable, servicing most routes and arriving pretty much on time.  Unfortunately, they are also quite expensive (prices vary depending on your destination, but generally hover slightly below twenty euro level).  Don't count on daily service in all locations - a few times a week is more likely, so check the timetable carefully when planning your trip. 

Bus tours are easy to book from major cities - not the most pleasant way of getting around but a way nevertheless. 

More views from Connemara

Coral Beach, Carraroe
Coral Beach, Carraroe
Photo by Tiggered

Connemara destinations

Hitch-hiking in Connemara

For those low on cash or eager on adventure, there's hitch-hiking.  I thumbed my way all over Ireland and I gathered enough stories to fill another web page (I will write them down one day, I promise!).  It is not the most popular way of getting around here - beats me why.  I've never found myself in any sort of unpleasant situation when hitch-hiking and the longest I ever waited on the hard shoulder was perhaps half an hour.  Being cautious is always wise - emergencies aside, I always travel with my partner - but overall hitch-hiking in Ireland is highly recommendable. 

Drivers in Connemara are friendly and not in a hurry to crash (translation for dummies:  they drive safely).  Sometimes they will stop and ask you if you need a ride even if you don't thumb, or go out of their way to drop you off nearer to your destination. 

Gardai (Irish police) don't mind, unless you try to catch a ride on a motorway, where pedestrian traffic is not allowed at all.  But there are no motorways in Connemara, so no problem there :)

Photo by Tiggered

Connemara weather

When is the best time to visit Connemara?

Let's talk about the weather.

Ireland is a bit trying when it comes to atmospheric conditions and in Connemara this is particularly true.  Rain happens often - why did you think the island stays so green? - and it's usually accompanied by wind or hail.  While Connemara in the sunshine is excruciatingly beautiful, in wet weather it can get a tad depressing.  No season is precipitation-free, but arriving in late spring (May-June) or late summer (September) increases your chances of catching good weather.  July and August, while warm (15-20 degrees Celsius), tend to be wet. 

Camping is ok between May and September.  I tried camping earlier than that and definitely wouldn't recommend it.  Cold!

Thunderstorms are extremely rare in Ireland and if they do come, they usually consist of three remote thunders and a lot of rain.  Winds, though, easily reach galr force.  It is always a good idea to check Met Eireann (Irish Meteorological Bureau) website for weather warnings prior to a hiking expedition.

Early spring is a good time for driving trips.  Vegetation is gloriously green and newborn lambs can cheer even the most hardened soul.  Spring showers are frequent, but generously spiced with rainbows (although I wouldn't count on finding a pot of gold - those leprechauns hide them really well).

Winter in Connemara is generally not pleasant - wet, dark and snowless.  Avoid if you can.

Photo source

Where to stay in Connemara?

Connemara is geared for tourists, so finding accommodation is not difficult.  Frankly, I'm not able to advise you when it comes to hotels - they tend to stay on the expensive side and are far outside my budget (if you manage to find a room for less than 50 euros a night you can consider yourself lucky). 

Camping is another matter.  I've camped all over Connemara, both on campsites and rough - it works.

Campsites and caravan parks are very easy to find.  Ask anyone local or look for signs, there's bound to be a camping field in each larger village.  It costs around 5 euros a person and this price usually includes access to some sort of bathroom facilities.

Camping rough is officially frowned upon (especially by campsite owners).  Not that I recommend breaking rules, but I've camped rough many times and never had any problems.  I generally follow the guideline 'be no trouble and no one will bother you' - you know, clean up your rubbish, don't make too much noise, stay out of sight and nobody gets upset.  Some people can get quite angry if you trespass on their land so try not to jump too many fences, or, if in doubt, ask if it's ok to camp. 

Generally, camping in designated spots is risk free, but when it comes to ambience, nothing beats pitching a tent on some desolate beach without a soul around.

Photo source

Updated: 04/08/2013, Tiggered
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Tolovaj on 06/20/2012

Ireland is one of top destinations on my to-go list. After all it is the land of great beer and leprechauns!
Thanks for introducing Connemara, it looks like a great alternative to classic tourism destinations.

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