Amanda adjusted the bike seat and explained the gears on the electric bike. As I got ready to peddle off out of Clifden in Connemara, she looked ahead at the dark clouds and asked, “Do you have rain paints?”
“No…not really,” I replied looking at my water-resistant pants knowing darn well that resistant and waterproof were two very different things. I envisioned me biking out on skyline drive soaking wet and cold.
Without saying a word she quickly ran off and came back with a pair of hers. “You’ll need these,” she said as she handed them over to me. Once again, I was surprised and delighted by the kindness of strangers in Ireland during my entire Wild Atlantic Way roadtrip.
I put on her rain pants, my helmet, and took off as Amanda waved goodbye. I was ready once again to take on the Wild Atlantic Way Weather.
I learned pretty quickly that rain pants are a must for anything you do in Ireland – more important than underwear in my opinion. But I also learned that the Irish do not let weather slow them down. I saw them out running, biking, hiking, and surfing in horrible weather during my 3 weeks on the Wild Atlantic Way – nothing stopped them – so why would I let it stop me?
Clifden Connemara – A Great Place To Start
I had arrived in the little picturesque town of Clifden which I was excited to call my ‘home’ for a few days while I did some adventure activities around Connemara – despite the rainy weather. Clifden is biggest town in Connemara which sits in the northwest part of Galway County in Ireland.
I came to Clifden by way of Mongolia. I met Fearghus during the Mongol Rally in 2011 and after traveling in a caravan with him and drinking plenty of vodka together I found out his family ran a bed and breakfast in Connemara Ireland near Clifden. Upon letting him know I was coming to Ireland this last fall, he not only offered up staying in his family’s B&B, but he also introduced me to a few key Clifden locals so I could get the full Connemara experience. And that’s how I ended up riding off on an electric bike wearing Amanda’s rain pants.
The town is filled with fantastic cafés, hotels, as well as craft shops, and art galleries. In the evening you’ll find several pubs with traditional music in Clifden. In fact, it’s a great place to finish your day with a pint after you’ve played all day around Connemara.
8 Things To Do in Connemara Ireland
Drive Sky Road
The circular route is 16km long and takes you out of Clifden, onto the Kingstown peninsula, and back into Clifden via the N59. The peninsula is also a part of the Wild Atlantic Way driving route so you can simply follow the signposts for the WAW all the way around.
It’s a nail-biting drive. In fact in many places it’s a single lane road with little pull-outs. It’s actually easier to drive at night when you can see the approaching lights in the distance and knew you had to find a place to pull over. However, at night you can’t see the beautiful views, so I suggest you brave it during the day!
You’ll go past the Clifden Castle Ruins and the road will separate into the lower and upper roads. The lower road goes downhill towards the sea and will give you a very close up view of the landscape. This is where Dolphin Guest House can be found. However, the upper road offers incredible views over the entire area. You’ll be able to see the islands and the rugged coast. Continue out and around the peninsula and back to Clifden.
Electric Biking on Sky Road
Most people drive the Sky Road, however if you are looking for something more unique and active, then see the Connemara landscape at a slower pace with an electric bike. On a bike you can easily go all the way out to the end of the peninsula to see the Connemara beaches that I had heard so much about. This is so off the beaten track that grass grows on the road and the sheep scurried when I road by. When I got to the end of the peninsula and could go no further I looked out at the wondrous view of the Atlantic. The weather was starting to clear and it was just me and the crashing waves on this beautiful beach.
I love driving the Wild Atlantic Way, but biking it at a slightly slower pace is ever better! I found myself seeing things that I didn’t in the car; buildings, fences, castles, signs, sheep – they all looked new to me at this pace. I stopped constantly – not only to put on raingear, but also to take pictures of course. I rode in and out of pouring rain and tumultuous cloudy skies.
Here’s my favorite rain gear I always travel with:
Why Use an Electric Bike in Connemara?
Connemara isn’t exactly flat so the electric boost on the
bike was like cocaine…just a little bump to make life easier for a while going
uphill. I always loved it when I felt it kick in and my peddling got
More Info: Bike Electric Connemara
Visit the Connemara Smokehouse
Want to get a real feel of Irish tradition and pride, then visit the Connemara smokehouse. Graham has been smoking fish since he was a kid with his father and he knows the art and science of turning out a beautiful, velvety tasting organic smoked salmon.
“I want to make a living, not a killing,” he tells me. The Smokehouse has been a family-run since 1979.
Graham’s philosophy – pride, passion, perfection – are his guiding principles in everything he does. I was seriously impressed with this man – so go out and meet him! He offers smokehouse tours on Wednesday at 3PM in the summer months (June, July, August) that include demos of the smoking process. Else you can do tastings and walk-in any time to purchase some to take home. It’s the best smoked fish in Galway County and maybe Ireland!
More Info: Connemara Smokehouse
Connemara Ireland Cave Kayaking Adventure
Meet Clare – she is one bad ass chick with nerves of steel – and she is the owner of Real Adventures Connemara.
Instead of simply admiring the crashing waves on the Wild Atlantic Way – I in them with Clare – paddling like crazy! I never would have had the guts (or ability) to do this myself, but with the help of Clare it was possible.
This little, spunky woman who started her own adventure business in Connemara was just the type of woman you want with you in a crisis. In fact, I’d want her around in place of most men. We took a two-person kayak out to see the cliffs and caves of Connemara. She was an expert kayaker maneuvering us close to caves as the waves sucked us in and pushed us out. She would tell me when to backpaddle and we’d quickly reverse out narrowly escaping crashing into the cliffs.
I looked out on the horizon and saw the storms lined up in the distance like planes waiting to land at O’Hare. They were headed directly for us. She decided we should get across the bay now when we could and then we’d have the wind at our back when we decided to come in.
About half way through this big paddle across the bay to the other side the winds picked up and the rain pelted me like little stinging bullets. The front of the kayak would rise up with the oncoming wave and then crash down the other side. I won’t lie – I was a bit scared.
Bigger waves scare me, but couple that with wind and rain and the situation seemed even more ominous. But Clare had it all in control as we slowly worked our way across the bay. She would shriek in delight while big waves jostled us while I swallowed my fear and just kept paddling. My arms were burning from paddling so hard.
Eventually I was able to ride the wave of her enthusiasm realizing what an amazing opportunity this was to be out on the water with someone with her skills.
My favorite and most surprising part was when she served me tea while the waves jostled us up and down and around in the unsheltered and unpredictable Atlantic. This was real adventure travel.
More Info: Real Adventures Connemara – Clare not only takes you out kayaking – but she’ll also test your abilities and guts with other adventurous things to do in Connemara like hiking, surfing, rock climbing, and coasteering (jumping off cliffs)!
Explore the Clifden Castle Ruins
There are beautiful castles all over Connemara and Ireland, however I’m drawn to the more unique ones, and the Clifden Castle is definitely unique. This is an old castle where you’ll find sheep grazing in it, and maybe an occasional cow! It was built in 1818 for John D’Arcy, the local landowner (and founder of Clifden), in the Gothic Revival style. It fell into ruin and now only a few walls and doorways remain.
The castle can be seen from a distance along Sky Drive. Follow the winding and sometimes muddy trail by foot down to the castle and feel free to take pictures of this unique castle! You can also continue down the hill and walk back into town by the water.
Drive the Bog Road
The terrain was full of small mounds that appeared to be undulating in the wind. There were small lakes and big round boulders dotting this treeless landscape; it looked like a giant rock garden – or a rock garden for giants? The sky was gray, and the fields were brown, and I was feeling an overwhelming amount of ‘blah’ as I looked out my car window driving down the Bog Road. I’m not even sure if it has a road number – but you’ll find it off R341, near Ballinaboy.
Some even say this road is haunted. After all – you’ve heard of the bog bodies – right? I was happy I wasn’t driving it alone at night for sure! However, the landscape grew on me – it was stark, vast, and different than the rest of Ireland. It was miles and miles of bog. I like underdogs, and the less than perfect, the misunderstood; that meant I liked these blah bog lands. This area in Connemara was so different than the rest of the region – and that’s what makes it worth seeing.
Roundstone – Connemara’s most beautiful Town
I rounded the corner along the Wild Atlantic Way and drove into the village of Roundstone – all of a sudden my blah bog color palette came alive; pinks, blues, yellows, greens appeared as if my ‘movie’ had just been colorized. I immediately stopped as I felt as I was aching for a little color in my life after a few rainy days and a drive along the Bog Road.
The colorful buildings looked out onto the water and the harbor. This is a great place to stop for seafood and a walk around the town.
As I walked around Roundstone with my camera shooting the radiating colors of the town a guy stopped me and introduced himself on the street. He told me he retired in the Roundstone region because, “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” he said as he lovingly gazed out at the horizon.
Regardless of it’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen or not, Roundstone is definitely worth a stop. Grab a coffee or a pint and take a walk around this colorful town. It’s not super touristy, it feels more lived in and real. Stop at the harbor and see all of the fishing boats. And of course – don’t forget to talk to the locals
Stop at All Things Connemara
While in Clifden, be sure to stop at the shop – All Things Connemara – you can’t miss the bright yellow façade on Market Street. There you’ll find Jonathan and Amanda who seem to serve as Connemara ambassadors! Their shop is full of products made locally – music, tea, jewelry, souvenirs, and even postcards. They also serve as a makeshift tourist office; with stacks of brochures that will satisfy your every whim – including ebiking! But even better than the brochures – just ask them anything and they will keep you busy with so many things to do and see that you’ll never leave Connemara!
More Info: All Things Connemara
And while you are doing all these great things to do in Connemara, you’ll need a place to stay…
Where to Stay in Connemara Ireland
Dolphin Beach House is perched out on the Sky Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way. As I followed the signs to Dolphin Beach House on lower sky drive I realized why Fearghus and his Mongol Rally team didn’t seem phased by the driving – they grew up driving on harrowing, little roads. Let me just warn you, the road to Dolphin Beach house was one of the most exhilarating, fun drives I did on the Wild Atlantic Way. Grass grew between the tire tracks –indicating this road was the smallest of small – the kind that requires you to back up if you meet a car.
The guesthouse was cozy and comfortable – It felt like a home. You could tell it was a family run business through and through. My room was large, beautifully designed and had a lovely patio that had a path leading to the gardens and water. Clodagh set a little table for my morning breakfast that looked out over the cliffs. I loved my little table set for one; it sort of made me feel special – like when my mother used to buy cereal that was just for me and told me I didn’t have to share it with my brother or sister – going so far as to let me hide it in my closet so they couldn’t eat it.
Connemara is a must stop along the Galway County’s section of the Wild Atlantic Way. I had a hard time leaving the Connemara area as I had made a bunch of new friends and had some wonderful experiences.
Fearghus and his sister Clodagh were super ambassadors of their hometown, making sure I had plenty of things to do in Connemara Ireland – no matter what the weather dealt me.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
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