Ireland is a land where myth and reality combine, a seamless merging of tradition and current culture, woven to create a place that is unique to itself. On the western coast, the county of Galway seems to amplify the magic that emanates from the Irish land.
The city of Galway is the shining centerpiece of a deceptively large county which stretches from the country’s midlands before reaching far into the Atlantic Ocean. You may need four days just to take in all the activities you’ll want to undertake on your visit to County Galway with kids.
Activity 1: Explore Galway City
The now vibrant city of Galway formed from a small fishing village known as ‘The Claddagh’ (meaning stony beach in Irish). Cobbled streets and medieval lanes expanded from the natural harbor where the waters of Galway Bay and the River Corrib meet, creating a city filled with culture, history, and tradition. Begin your explorations in the oldest part of Galway- the Latin Quarter. The historic lanes lead you through time- along the city’s 13th century walls and through the 16th century Spanish Arch where you will find the Galway City Museum, a terrific place to learn the history of this incredible city. Medieval churches and castles can be found down small lanes, while small shops, theaters, and pubs gaily line the cobbled streets. Don’t miss Claddagh Jewelers, makers of the authentic Claddagh Ring. Step into their thatched cottage to hear the legend and watch their artisans at work.
Tip: The city center of Galway is easily walkable so stroll over to Eyre Square. A popular gathering spot for locals and tourists, you’ll find a lovely playground and, often, some sort of local gathering or event.
Activity 2: Day Trip Through Connemara
Often referred to as the “Wild West of Ireland,” the rugged beauty of Connemara has been drawing tourists for centuries. The towering Twelve Bens Mountains, where the distinctive green Connemara Marble is mined, greet you as you enter the area. The Connemara History and Heritage Centre is well worth a stop if only to hear the true story of Dan O’Hara who was evicted from his cottage here during the famine.
Stop to explore Clifden–and maybe grab a few items for a picnic at one of the shops–before driving along the cliff edge of the Atlantic Ocean on the Sky Road and continuing to Connemara National Park. This park is free to explore and a terrific spot for a picnic lunch. Be sure to have your walking shoes on; the paths around, and to the top, of Diamond Hill offer incredible views.
The ‘crown jewel’ of Connemara, Kylemore Abbey, is only a few more miles down the road. The castle of love and legend was purchased by Benedictine nuns during WWI and has operated as an Abbey, a boarding school, and one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions since that time. Take time to enjoy the walks along the lake and to the Victorian Walled Garden before refueling in the delicious tea room.
Activity 3: Take a Trip to the Aran Islands
Not far off the coast of Galway the Aran Islands offer the ‘authentic Ireland’ that so many visitors seek. The limestone landscape feels much like County Clare’s Burren but with the old-world charm of hearing the Irish language spoken, seeing horse-drawn jaunting carts instead of tour buses, and sharing the space with (many) fewer tourists.
Arrive to one of the three islands by boat or plane (the flight takes only a few minutes) and choose your mode of transportation – mini-bus, horse-drawn cart, bicycle, or on foot. As you weave your way through the miles upon miles of stone walls built by families across the centuries you’ll encounter stone forts dating back to the Bronze Age, towering cliffs with uninterrupted sea views, and plenty of photo-perfect animal encounters.
Want to feel like you have the island nearly to yourself? Stay after the boats leave for the day. Spend the night in one of the guesthouses and rise in the morning to explore in the quiet before the boats arrive.
Activity 4: Spend an Afternoon in Kinvarra
Around Galway Bay on the southern part of the county is the fishing village of Kinvarra. Most visitors pass through during their drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s 2500 km Atlantic Ocean coastal route. Dunguaire Castle, a restored sixteenth-century tower house, is open for tours and, situated on a small peninsula, is a stunning photo opp. In the evenings the castle hosts a Medieval Banquet, a lively, interactive dinner with traditional entertainments of music, dance, and song.
A bit off the tourist trail, but quite easy to find, is the Burren Nature Sanctuary. Kids love this natural wonderland! Nature walks take you through a fairy forest, around an ancient village, across meadows, and into wild grasslands where sightings of fox, deer and rabbit are quite common, before you arrive at the disappearing lake.
Friendly animals and fun play areas- both indoor and out- complete the family fun. Don’t leave without grabbing a light lunch or quick treat from the delicious Sanctuary Café.
1 Great Place to Stay: Ballynahinch Castle
Nestled in the Twelve Bens Mountains, Ballynahinch Castle is in the heart of Connemara, making it perfect for day trips in the area. Rooms are large and styled in classic comfort. The 450-acre estate stretches into the mountains and along the Owenmore River offering incredible hikes and sporting activities including fishing, clay shooting, and cycling.
The castle offers two restaurants, a traditional pub and a fine dining option for evening meals, as well as an extensive breakfast menu and luxurious afternoon tea.
1 Great Place to Eat: Walsh’s Bakery and Cafe
When a bakery has been operating for over 60 years you know it’s going to be good, and Walsh’s Bakery in Clifden doesn’t disappoint. Just walking in the door is a delight as the display of cakes and pastries will have you choosing your dessert before you even think about the meal you came in for.
While the menus are simple, the taste is anything but. Everything is incredibly fresh and sourced locally when possible. Don’t rush through your meal to get to dessert–and there’s no shame in coming back later for afternoon tea and a sweet.
Though she’s not been everywhere in Ireland (yet), her family travels annually to those verdant shores, always exploring new locations and making new friends along the way. When she’s not traveling, Jody is homeschooling her two daughters or attempting to find her long lost Irish ancestor deep in the pages of forgotten history. During her “down time,” Jody enjoys reading and spending time with her husband Doug, a software developer and IT specialist. Follow her on Twitter: @irelandfamtrvl and Facebook: Ireland Family Vacations, and visit Jody's website:
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