It’s well worth taking the time to explore the salty, fresh-air playground of the Bay Coast, which moves from south Mayo through the expanse of County Galway. All along this enigmatic region of the Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll discover a jagged coastline made up of salt-breezed sandy beaches, sea-swept blanket bogs and serene hidden coves.
Whether you want to soak up the “savage beauty” and tranquillity of Connemara or sample the culture, music and craic in the lively city of Galway – this part of the coast really has it all. Give in to the unique Wild Atlantic Way of life on this two-day itinerary, which takes in breath-taking scenery, an ancient monastic site and even an adventure on the high sea! Your destination is one of the coast’s most beloved islands, where you’ll experience the Wild Atlantic Way through its unrivalled traditional culture and heritage.
Stage 1: Galway to Rossaveal Pier
(37.3km via R336)
From your starting point in the buzzing city of Galway, take the scenic drive towards Rossaveal pier (46 minutes away), passing through the village of Spiddal on the way. When you get there, catch the car ferry to Inis Mór, the largest of the famous Aran Islands.
Stage 2: Rossaveal Pier to Inis Mór
(10 nautical miles or 18.5km via ferry)
Located in the heart of Galway Bay, these islands offer visitors a glimpse into an ancient and traditional Irish way of life. One way to really experience Inis Mór’s raw beauty and charm is to take a bus tour with guide Patrick Oliver Faherty (known as Oliver), who’ll show you the island’s many beguiling sights; Christian ruins, medieval castles, cliffs, prehistoric stone forts, sandy beaches and rare flora and fauna.
Afterwards, pop into Tí Joe Watty's, one of the oldest and most traditional pubs on the island. Here you can enjoy delicious fresh seafood and unwind in front of Joe’s warm open fire. The island is steeped in folklore and myth, and if you’re lucky you’ll hear some rich storytelling around the fire too!
Idyllic Inis Mór
Stage 3: Kilronan to Dún Aonghasa, Aran Islands
(7.3km via Cottage Road)
There’s still plenty more exploring to be done on Inis Mór! After you’ve dined, call to the visitor centre (a 22-minute drive) before taking the walk to the top of Dún Aonghasa, an ancient ring fort that sits dramatically on the edge of the island’s sheer cliff. The walls of the fort have been rebuilt to a height of six metres and have wall walks, chambers, and flights of stairs. Also in the vicinity is a neolithic tomb and small heritage park with a traditional thatched cottage, and even an illegal poitín (a potent Irish alcohol) distillery... When you’ve taken in all that Inis Mór has to offer, return to the pier to catch the ferry back to the mainland.
Stage 4: Rossaveal to Roundstone via Kilkieran and Glinsce
(76.2km via R336 and R340)
Once back on land, travel to along the coast to charming Roundstone village (1h 34 mins), and enjoy panoramic views of its bay and the Twelve Bens mountain range. Stop for dinner at O’Dowd’s pub, a family-run establishment that dates back to 1906 and boasts the best pint of Guinness in the area. Afterwards, there are plenty of cosy options to lay your head down for the night.
Stage 1: Roundstone to Clifden
(43.5km via R341)
Next morning, depart Roundstone for the West’s ‘Gourmet Capital’, Clifden (a one hour and 17-minute coastal drive). This colourful market town is a constant hive of activity; browse its boutique shops and antique stores, or stop for tea and cake in one of its charming little cafés. From here, continue out to the Sky Road. This iconic stretch runs along the Connemara coastline and up into the hills overlooking Clifden Bay. It’s a fantastic, well-loved route and vantage point, offering jaw-dropping views of the Twelve Bens mountains and the islands dotted in the bay. Be sure to stop and take a few snaps to capture the experience too.
Stage 2: Clifden to Connemara National Park
(33.6km via N59)
Your next stop is the Connemara National Park (49 minutes away), home to some of the country’s most unique and haunting landscapes. Gravel footpaths and wooden boardwalks will ease your passage over the bog as you approach the mountains, with a steady climb up the western slopes to the summit ridge. From here, look out to sea at Inishturk, Inishbofin and Inishshark; to Tully Mountain rising over the harbour, and along the Connemara coastline. To the north and east, the Twelve Bens are nothing short of sensational. Your return to the visitor centre is along the same path as you made your ascent.
Historic Kylemore Abbey
Stage 3: Connemara National Park to Kylemore Abbey
(23.9km via Connemara Loop)
Continue driving for 42 minutes to Kylemore Abbey; one of the Ireland’s most iconic tourist attractions. Visit the restored rooms of the Abbey and learn about its history of tragedy and romance, before making your way to the adjacent six-acre Victorian walled garden. The beautiful gothic church is just a short walk from the Abbey too. If you’re peckish, stop into the Kylemore Abbey restaurant for lunch.
Stage 4: Kylemore Abbey to Killary to Westport
(73.8km via N59 and R335)
From Kylemore, make your way through Killary (36 minutes), where a magnificent fjord opens up the landscape. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can head out on a windswept cruise across the harbour. When you arrive in Westport (one hour, 7 minutes), be sure to hire a bike and cycle part or all of the Great Western Greenway, the longest off-road cycling trail in Ireland. This pretty 42km route primarily follows the line of the famous Great Western Midlands Railway, which closed back in 1937. You’ll pass through the towns of Newport and Mulranny, while enjoying views of Clew Bay and the soaring Nephin Beg mountain range. Once back in Westport, you’ll have worked up an appetite, so enjoy a hearty dinner in the town, where there are lots of delicious local options to choose from.
Bay Coast Signature Points
Located in the heart of Connemara, Killary Harbour is one of Ireland’s three fjords and forms a spectacular natural divide between counties Galway and neighbouring Mayo. Here, you will find some of the most dramatic scenery in Ireland, so dramatic in fact that the area was used as the primary location for the film adaption of John B Keane’s play, The Field. From the northern shore rises Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht at 814m (2,671 feet) and to the south you can see the Maumturk Mountains and the Twelve Bens.
This golden stretch of secluded, sandy beach lies nestled at the head of a valley between Benmore cliffs and Croaghaun mountain. To reach this idyllic spot, follow the Atlantic Drive to Keel and then head westward via a cliff-top road with spectacular views of the wild Atlantic. Near the beach, you can visit the island’s eerie Deserted Village, abandoned in the early 20th century.
Stretching from the Atlantic shore towards the mighty Twelve Bens, it was at the stark and otherworldly blanket bog of Derrigimlagh in Galway that pilots Alcock and Brown crashed-landed to safety. The pair had just completed the world’s first transatlantic flight (from Newfoundland to Ireland) in 1919. You’ll also find the remnants of the great Irish-Italian innovator, Guglielmo Marconi’s transatlantic radio station. He achieved the first successful commercial wireless transmission of Morse Code across the Atlantic from Derrigimlagh.
Now that you’ve immersed yourself in the one-of-a-kind landscapes and terrain of the Bay Coast, why not venture further afield? We’ve got itineraries for all the regions along the Wild Atlantic Way and our online directory is also full of helpful information for planning.