A trip to Ireland is not complete without a journey into the West. Having lived in Ireland now for ten months, I feel so incredibly lucky to have witnessed the natural beauty of this country. Sometimes I wonder if the colours of the landscape ever inspired the Irish flag. The climate keeps the grounds lush and patterned with shades of emerald. The mountains of County Clare are dyed a burnt orange and even in summer these peaks are bleached with a fine dusting of snow. Of all the places I have been in Ireland thus far, Galway and the Aran Islands remain by absolute favourite.
The Quick 5
How did you get there?
Buses operate daily between Galway and Dublin and the 3 hour journey is both peaceful and scenic. The city centre of Galway is quite small making the bus depot almost exclusively accessible by foot. If you are travelling at peak times, namely weekends, I highly recommend that you reserve a seat as a ticket alone won’t guarantee placement on your particular route. Rightfully, once passengers who have made a reservation are seated, many bus companies operate on a first come first serve basis. I learnt this this stressful way. After a few days of sight seeing I rocked up to the bus depot in Galway an hour ahead of my intended 6.30pm departure. I forgot to factor in that I was travelling on a Sunday evening and though technically being first in line was horrified to see the bus rapidly fill up with the passengers who had the smarts to reserve a seat. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky unorganized individuals who managed to get a seat but truly empathised with the many passengers who were left behind.
Where did you stay?
My time in Galway was made even more memorable thanks to my choice of accommodation. Savoy Hostel is unlike any other hostel I have stayed at and not only sets the bar high for first time backpackers but is undoubtedly the best hostel I have stumbled across throughout my travels. Firstly the location is superb, as you will find yourself not only in the heart of Galway city but a 7 minute walk to the aforementioned bus depot. The staff are incredibly friendly, the rooms clean and secure. I especially was appreciative of the fact that each bunk was fitted with individual lights and a personal USB port and outlet. Typically, due to my shyness I am backpacker who keeps to herself. However, Savoy really succeeded in bringing me out of my shell with their warm and cozy environment.
How long should I spend in Galway?
This quaint city is surrounded by such natural beauty that you will be spoiled for choice when venturing West. From Coonemara day tours, to the daring heights of the Cliffs of Moher or cycle explorations of the Aran Islands… you will be hard pressed to appreciate Galway in a day. For travellers with considerable time on their hands 4 days in Galway would be ideal.
A sample itinerary would include:
Day 1. Arrive in Galway City and explore the coastal town at your leisure.
Day 2. Day trip to the Cliffs of Moher.
Day 3. Catch a ferry to the Aran Islands and spend the day exploring by foot, bike or with a licensed tour operator.
Day 4. Relax on board a bus day trip to Coonemara which is particularly beneficial for those who spent the day prior cycling. Many tours companies will drop you directly in front of the bus depot for those with onward connections back to Dublin that same evening.
This time frame and sample itinerary would also suit expats like myself or foreign exchange students looking to take advantage of Ireland’s generous national holidays throughout the year. For those electing to travel over the Easter long weekend be sure to research what tour companies and shops operate during this religious break.
If you’re not really an outdoorsy type and a little more pressed for time I would suggest ensuring that tours to both Coonemara and Galway remain included in your schedule. However, though it pains me to say, you might consider omitting the Aran Islands as travelling there and back is a full day adventure and not something that can be rushed.
Now for those who have never visited Dublin one of the first things you will notice is how charmingly small it is. I would go so far to say my home away from home feels like a big village. In my experience I have found that many tourists over estimate Dublin’s size and in doing so book more nights here than they need to. Therefore, if you find that you have given yourself more time in Dublin than necessary and are looking for something to do, perhaps consider booking a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher departing from Dublin. That way when you arrive in Galway you will have already ticked a tourist hot spot off your list thereby freeing up your time to enjoy something else. Day tours operating out of Dublin are guaranteed to have an early start when crossing from one coast to the next with scheduled pickups scattered between 7.30am – 8.00am and arriving back in Dublin typically 12 hours later. A long day, but the natural attractions in Ireland are worth it.
How did you get to the Aran Islands?
Surrounded by the Atlantic waters three Islands known as Inishmore, Inishmann and Inisheer sit to the west of Galway and embody what mythical really means in the natural world. Words cannot express how fulfilled I am from exploring Inishmore solo by bike and the freedom I felt at that point in time.
Transfers to the islands operate out of both Doolin and Galway and there is an array of accommodation available for those intending to stay longer to suit all budgets. For those dependent on public transport a connecting shuttle bus operates to the port which roughly takes an hour, followed by a 40 minute crossing to the largest island, Inishmore. A return trip will set you back €25 and an additional €7 for those taking the shuttle bus to and from Galway. Please note prices are for 2015. For more information about crossings, packages, ticket purchase and wheelchair accessibility click here.
Now for the cycling enthusiasts, novices and adventurers the best way to explore Inishmore is by bike. However, small tours are also available if time is of the essence. Upon disembarking your ferry you will see a small collection of bike vendors but be sure to book ahead as this is a popular mode of exploration for tourists. Overall, bike hire for the day start at €10, not including a deposit typically another €10. Ensure to have cash on you as electric payment facilities are a rarity. For more information contact the companies below, whereby staff will only confirm the theory that the Irish are the friendliest people in the world:
Tips, tricks and advice?
Ireland is famous for their quality wool and all throughout this scenic country you will see authentic Aran jumpers and knitwear for sale. Compared to knitwear back in Australia I personally find these jumpers to be well priced, long lasting and quality made. However, if you are including the Aran Islands in your Emerald Isle tour buy your Aran jumpers from the source. Shops selling knitted goods are scattered throughout Inishmore and the goods are somewhat cheaper. Just be sure to hire a bike with a basket to store your purchases.
Ireland has more to offer than pints of Guinness and the Temple Bar and if you limit your exploration of Ireland to Dublin alone you are doing yourself a disservice… So venture west 😉