The name Connemara (Conamara) translates as 'Inlets of the Sea' and the roads along the peninsula's filigreed coast bear this out as they wind around the small bays and coves of this breathtaking stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. From Galway city, a slow coastal route passes some stunning hidden beaches and seaside hamlets.
Easily visible from the coast of counties Galway and Clare along the Wild Atlantic Way, the rocky, wind-buffeted Aran Islands have a desolate beauty that draws countless day-trippers. Visitors who stay longer experience the sense that they're far further removed from the Irish mainland than the 45-minute ferry ride or 10-minute flight would suggest.
Most visitors who venture out to the Aran Islands don't make it beyond the largest and closest island to Galway, Inishmore (Inis Mór), and its most spectacular prehistoric stone fort, Dun Aengus, perched on the island's towering cliffs. Inishmore is 14.5km long and 4km at its widest stretch.
Lough Corrib separates eastern Galway from the dramatic landscape of the county's western coast, and the regions are markedly different. To Galway city's south, pretty Kinvara on Galway Bay is a stepping stone to County Clare, while inland there are some interesting sights around (albeit not in) the working town of Gort. Farming country unfolds east of Galway city.
Inisheer (Inis Oírr), the smallest of the Aran Islands at roughly 4km wide by 2km long, has a palpable sense of enchantment, enhanced by the island's windflower-strewn landscapes, deep-rooted mythology and enduring traditional culture. The wheels of change turn very slowly here. Electricity wasn't fully reliable until 1997.
The charmingly down-to-earth village of Oughterard (Uachtar Árd) sits on the shore of the Republic's biggest lake, Lough Corrib. Over 48km long and covering some 200 sq km, the lake virtually cuts off western Galway from the rest of the country and encompasses more than 360 islands.
The small stone harbour of Kinvara (sometimes spelt Kinvarra) sits at the southeastern corner of Galway Bay, which accounts for its Irish name, Cinn Mhara 'Head of the Sea'. Filled with vividly painted buildings, the charming village makes an excellent pit stop between Galway city and County Clare.
Dotted with mussel rafts, long, narrow Killary Harbour is often referred to as Ireland's only fjord. Slicing 16km inland and more than 45m deep in the centre, it certainly looks like a fjord, although some scientific studies suggest it may not actually have been glaciated.
Situated 9km from the mainland, the tranquil island of Inishbofin measures just 6km long by 3km wide, and its highest point is a mere 86m above sea level. You can walk or cycle its narrow, deserted lanes, green pastures and sandy beaches, with farm animals and seals for company.
Letterfrack & Around
Founded by Quakers in the mid-19th century, Letterfrack (Leitir Fraic) is a crossroads with a few pubs and B&Bs. But the forested setting and nearby coast are a magnet for outdoors adventure seekers. A 4km walk to the peak of Tully Mountain (356m) takes 40 minutes and offers uplifting ocean views.
Clustered around a boat-filled harbour, picture-perfect Roundstone (Cloch na Rón) is the kind of Irish village you hoped to find. Colourful terrace houses and inviting pubs overlook the shimmering recess of Bertraghboy Bay, which is home to dramatic tidal flows, lobster trawlers and traditional currach boats with tarred canvas bottoms stretched over wicker frames.
Athenry (Áth an Rí; pronounced 'Athen-rye'; ) constitutes one of Ireland's most intact collections of medieval architecture, with a magnificent castle, the medieval parish Church of St Mary's, a Dominican priory, an original market cross and the North Gate, which you can drive through. An impressive 75% of the lengthy town walls survives.