Vibrant villages, haunting landscapes, magical islands; the Bay Coast really has it all. Moving From Achill Island along the spectacular Mayo coast and jagged curves of Connemara into Galway city, this diverse region is home to hidden coves, winding inlets and of course, some of the coast’s most scenic bays. Whether you want to embrace the Wild Atlantic Way of life by soaking up the area’s lively music and cultural heritage, or by losing yourself in some of the coast’s most enchanting landscapes, there’s something for you here. During this extensive and varied five-day itinerary, you’ll have the opportunity to relax into the laidback pace of Galway city, home to artists, musicians and storytellers aplenty. But you’ll also explore the surrounding countryside; the “savage beauty” of Connemara, the tranquil Great Western Greenway and the exhilarating Delphi Resort. That’s not all – you’ll head out on the high sea too! The Aran Islands are the jewel in Galway Bay’s crown, and during this tour you’ll set sail for the biggest of the three; Inis Mór.
Region: Bay Coast
Highlights: Galway, Aran Islands, Connemara, Delphi, Westport, Great Western Greenway
Duration: 5 days
Distance: 37.1km (Day 2), 178.5km (Day 3), 46.8km (Day 4), 42km (Day 5)
Total Drive Time: 50mins (Day 2), 2 hrs 53mins (Day 3), 1hr 6mins (Day 4), 3 hrs (Day 5 – cycle)
Starting point: Galway
Finishing point: Achill
Stage 1: Galway City
Spend day one of this exciting tour getting acquainted with the bohemian city of Galway. A walking tour will take you through its winding, cobbled streets – you’ll see iconic Eyre Square, pass through the city’s old medieval quarter and stop off at landmarks like the Gothic University Quadrangle. You’ll also visit Claddagh Village, once a distinct fishing community with its own king, now best known for the beautiful and unique Claddagh ring. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to lunch options afterwards; meander through the vibrant Latin Quarter, where one of its tasty artisan bistros will surely catch your eye.
Stage 2: Boat trip on Lough Corrib
That’s not all Galway has to offer. Next up, hop on board the Corrib Princess for an idyllic 90-minute cruise from Wood Quay in the heart of the city, along the majestic river and out onto Lough Corrib. At 56 kilometres long, it’s the second largest lake in Ireland, and is home to over 300 islands. Captain Rory Costello has been steering the Princess for an impressive 21 years now, and will happily talk you through the sights and sounds of this lovely part of Galway.
Colourful houses at the Claddagh, Galway City
Stage 3: Galway to Salthill (R336)
No trip to Galway city is complete without a stroll along the Salthill prom. Ireland’s longest seaside promenade overlooks magical Galway Bay, and a windswept walk to its end is a truly invigorating experience. Be sure to kick the wall opposite the Blackrock diving boards when you get there, it’s an old tradition that’s said to bring good luck! Back in the city, there’ll be plenty of live music and craic to be had in Galway’s many pubs. Finally, put your head down in a local hotel, B&B or guesthouse.
Stage 1: Galway City to Rossaveal Pier (37.1km via R336)
After a leisurely Galway breakfast, drive along the pretty coastal road through the Gaeltacht [Irish-speaking] village of Spiddal, and onto Rossaveal (50mins). This fishing port is the departure point for the three Aran Islands; Inis Mór (Inishmore), Inis Óirr (Inisheer) and Inis Meáin (Inishmaan). From Rossaveal you’ll have fantastic views of the islands, as they sit proudly in the twinkling Galway Bay. Catch the ferry from here to Inis Mór, the largest of the three. The journey of just under 20 nautical miles takes 35 – 40 minutes.
Stage 2: Inis Mór
An absolute haven of culture, language, music and heritage, Inis Mór offers a glimpse into an ancient Irish way of life, where islanders live and work the land in a close-knit community, quite separate from the mainland. Around 900 people live here today, and that sense of community and culture still thrives. A bus tour is one way to explore all this unique setting has to offer, and one of the highlights you’ll visit is the dramatic fort of Dún Aonghasa. Perched atop a 300ft-high cliff, this prehistoric World Heritage Site is thought to date back to the Bronze and Iron Ages. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, make your way to the island’s village, Kilronan, where you’ll find Tí Joe Watty’s. You’ll really experience the Wild Atlantic Way of life in this warm and welcoming bar, as it’s known for great food, chatty locals and traditional Irish music. Spend the night in one of the island’s B&Bs or guesthouses.
Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór
Stage 1: Rossaveal to Roundstone (74.5km via R340)
Once the ferry brings you back to Rossaveal, continue by car along the Wild Atlantic Way towards Roundstone (1hr 30mins). This is another gorgeous coastal drive; make sure to stop off at Glinsk pier’s secluded sandy beach for some unbelievable views of the rugged Connemara terrain. When you arrive at Roundstone, drop into Malachy Kearns’ workshop and retail centre. Malachy has been making bodhráns (Irish drums) for almost 35 years – including the ones used in the acclaimed Riverdance show. He’ll happily chat to guests about traditional Irish music, and explain how he crafts these unique instruments. They make great gifts for any budding percussionists too!
Stage 2: Roundstone to Delphi (104km via Connemara Loop)
From Roundstone, travel towards Delphi (2hrs 23mins). Once again though, you’ll be enchanted by the route’s scenery and will find it hard to resist lots of stop-offs! Colourful Clifden meanwhile, is known as the ‘capital of Connemara’ and is a great spot for a lunch break. Some other recommended highlights are Derrigimlagh, a 6,000-year-old blanket bog, the dramatic, gothic lakeside castle at Kylemore Abbey, and the lovely fishing village of Cleggan. At its heart is a busy harbour that serves as the departure point for the islands of Inishturk and Inishbofin. The Aasleagh Falls waterfall is another must-see along the way, as is pretty Leenane; this sleepy village basks in the shade of the majestic Maumturk mountains, and was the setting for the 1989 film The Field.
Stage 3: Delphi
You’re in for a treat when you finally arrive at Delphi Resort. Set on a 300-acre site in the gorgeous Delphi Valley, it comprises a four-star hotel, spa and adventure centre. From zip-lining, biking and rock climbing to surfing, paddle-boarding and kayaking against the stunning setting of Killary Harbour, a day at Delphi is guaranteed to blow away the cobwebs! When you’ve had your fill of wild outdoor adventure, grab a bite to eat and settle down for the night at this magical getaway.
Stage 1: Delphi to Westport (46.8km via R378 and R335)
To balance out all that physical exertion, day four will be a more relaxed affair. The drive along the Wild Atlantic Way from Delphi to Westport (1hr 6mins) is another beauty. Travel at your leisure along the coast road, stopping off at Louisburgh and Murrisk. Both villages offer amazing views of Croagh Patrick, a soaring mountain that welcomes up to a million Catholic pilgrims each year. Charming Louisburgh sits on the banks of the Bonowen River, and its Irish name Cluain Cearbán translates as ‘meadow of buttercups’ – an indication of just how lovely this little town is! Murrisk meanwhile is steeped in ancient history; you’ll find an ancient circle of standing stones, aligned to the rising midwinter sun.
Stage 2: Westport
En route to this lively town, make a stop at Westport House. Built on the foundations of an ancient castle belonging to legendary Irish pirate queen Gráinne Mhaol, it’s fitting that you’ll learn about the area’s rich maritime history inside! Today, its opulent rooms reflect the lifestyles of its more recent owners, including Maud Burke (Gráinne’s great-great-granddaughter), and her husband Colonel John Browne; they built the house we see today in 1650. Carry on into the town when you’re done exploring, and immerse yourself in the buzz of Westport. Peruse its shops, go for dinner, get to know friendly locals over a lively trad music session, and maybe even catch a live show at the esteemed Town Hall Theatre, before settling down for the night.
Stage 1: Westport to Achill Island via the Great Western Greenway (42km)
A highly recommended activity on your final day in the Bay Coast is a cycle along the Great Western Greenway. It’s a tranquil and gentle route, developed on the remains of the old rail route that once wound its way from Westport to Achill. It’s Ireland’s first off-road cycling and walking route, and a long one at 42 kilometres. Even a cycle along part of it (bikes are available to rent in Westport, Newport, Mulranny and Achill Island) is therapeutic, and you can break up the journey with stop-offs in Newport’s inviting restaurants and cafés.
Stage 2: Achill
The Great Western Greenway ends at one of the coast’s most splendid locations; Achill Island. It’s Ireland’s largest island, and home to gorgeous Keem Bay. This secluded, sheltered stretch of golden sandy beach feels like it’s been lifted from the pages of a mythical book – nestled beneath soaring cliffs, it’s remote, unspoilt and otherworldly. Finish up your tour with a relaxed walk along this magical strand, before making your way back to Westport for a well-earned meal!
- Idyllic, horseshoe-shaped Glassilaun beach, near Leenane in Connemara is a firm favourite with families and watersport enthusiasts alike
- Covering just 300 acres, Inishbofin Island offers an invigorating getaway from the mainland
- On Achill Island, be sure to visit its haunting Deserted Village at Slievemore, abandoned during the Great Famine (1845 – 1849)
Bay Coast Signature Points
Stretching from the Atlantic shore towards the mighty Twelve Bens, Derrigimlagh is home to the remnants of Irish-Italian innovator Guglielmo Marconi’s transatlantic radio station. From here, he achieved the first successful commercial wireless transmission of Morse code across the Atlantic. It was also at this stark and otherworldly blanket bog 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.
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 is on Ireland’s largest island, Achill, 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. Also on the island, you can visit an eerie Deserted Village, abandoned in the early 20th century.
If you haven’t got five days to explore the Bay Coast, we’ve got plenty of other shorter options, as well as itineraries for the other five Wild Atlantic Way regions. Browse through them here, and put your own unique adventure together using our Trip Planner.