Galway

Galway © Matthias Richter
Galway's stunning mix of ancient history and contemporary culture make it an essential stop for history buffs and nightlife enthusiasts alike. Its rich history as a medieval fishing village integrates seamlessly with its bustling bohemian atmosphere. There's plenty to see, and the Galway City Tour hop-on-hop-off bus provides an easy way for travellers to explore at their own pace. Old stone buildings and narrow alleyways bring the past to life, and it's also one of the last places where Gaelic is spoken in the streets.

The Galway City Museum offers an overview of the city's history, though the Galway Fisheries Watchtower Museum, the The Claddagh Ring Museum and Lynch's Castle cover the specifics. While the historical attractions in the city are extensive and impressive, Galway is also the beating heart of the West's arts scene. Students make up a quarter of the population, so it's unsurprising that Galway has become a multicultural haven for the arts.

The nightclubs in Eyre Square spill beats into the alleyways between the ancient remnants of medieval city walls. Quay Street is lined with brightly painted storefronts where visitors can kick back for some people-watching during the day. By night, it comes alive with music bars and restaurants. As dusk approaches, many enjoy strolling along the Salthill Promenade to watch the sunset over Galway Bay, with a Guinness and a platter of the bay's famous oysters. There's something going on year-round in Galway, but July visits during the famous International Arts Festival allow travellers to see the city in full swing.



Excursions

Aran Islands

The Aran Islands, with their magnificent wild terrain, show years of wind and water erosion. The islands - Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer - lie about 30 miles (48km) out across the mouth of Galway Bay and are criss-crossed by miles of stone walls. They're also dotted with some fine Iron Age archaeological sites. Ancient forts such as Dún Aengus on Inishmór Island, and Dún Chonchúir on Inishmaan Island, are some of the oldest archaeological remains in Ireland. The islands were home to a number of ancient monasteries, and some clocháns (dry-stone beehive huts from the early-Christian period) can still be found. The islands' isolation allowed Irish culture to survive when it had all but disappeared elsewhere. Irish is still the native tongue and, until recently, people still wore traditional Aran dress. The women still knit the famous Aran sweaters, which are now popular souvenirs for visitors. Historically, each family used a different pattern in order to recognize fishermen drowned at sea. The islands are a haven for botanists and nature lovers because of their abundance of flora, fauna and nesting birds. Many people recognise the islands from the popular television show Father Ted, which was filmed there.

Website: www.aranisland.info; Transport: Ferries are available from Doolin in County Clare (Seasonal) or Rossaveal in County Galway (All Year)


Cliffs of Moher

The steep and wondrous Cliffs of Moher overlook the Atlantic Ocean in County Clare, and are one of Ireland's top visitor sights. The majestic cliffs rise from the ocean to a height of 702ft (214m) and extend for a distance of five miles (8km). Formed by layers of sandstone, shale and siltstone, the cliffs have stood unchanged for millions of years. Visitors come to marvel at their splendour, and to enjoy views towards the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, as well as the valleys and hills of Connemara. If at all possible, travellers should visit the cliffs on a clear day to fully appreciate the views and natural beauty. On misty or rainy days, it's impossible see the ocean far below, and the wind on the cliff-tops can be terrifyingly strong. The award-winning visitor centre offers an ultra-modern interpretive centre, Atlantic Edge, which includes interactive exhibits and displays, images, an audio visual show, and a virtual reality cliff-face adventure. Travellers can quite easily approach the cliffs without visiting the centre, but learning a bit about the place enriches the experience.

E-mail: info@cliffsofmoher.ie; Website: www.cliffsofmoher.ie; Telephone: +353 65 708 6141; Transport: Direct buses are available from Galway Bus station to the Cliffs of Moher between three and five times a day. ; Opening time: Open 9am year-round. Closing times are as follows: November to February 5pm; March and October 6pm (6.30pm on weekends and bank holidays); April 6.30pm (7pm Weekends & Bank Holidays); May and September 7pm (7.30pm on weekends and bank holidays); June 7.30pm (8pm on weekends and bank holidays); July to August 9pm.; Admission: Off peak: €4 adults, €3.50 students/seniors/disabled. Peak: €8 adults, €5 students/seniors/disabled. Children under 16 free.


Connemara

Connemara is a wild and barren patchwork of bogs, green valleys, mountains and lakes. On the coast, visitors will find beautiful fishing villages and some superb white beaches washed by turquoise water. Mist and rain transform it into an eerie, magical place. The weather is very changeable and the light fluctuates almost constantly, bringing out the vivid colours of the various landscapes. The Connemara National Park encompasses the remarkable granite peaks of the Twelve Bens and is wonderful walking country. Travellers could easily spend a whole Irish holiday in this amazing park. Its attractions include hiking, fishing, cycling, painting courses, horse riding, rock climbing, sailing, shooting, and golf at Connemara, among other things. There are also many historical sites and more cultural forms of entertainment, with traditional singing, music and dancing almost nightly, and some superb restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes. There are some wonderful camping facilities but also many upmarket guest houses, so the whole range of accommodation is catered for. Connemara is a must for nature lovers exploring Ireland.

Website: www.connemara.ie; Telephone: +353 91 395500