Connemaras Savage Beauty
On a drive through Connemara, youll discover its wild, barren and treeless landscapes and see how bogland, dramatic mountain ranges, lakes and endless stone walls give the area its savage beauty. Youll marvel at lakes and stunning mountain passes, or coastal highlights like the rocky beaches and coves around Roundstone and compact seaside towns like Clifden.
A drive through Connemara National park will bring you to Kylemore Abbey which has a stunning setting on the shores of a lake making it one of the areas most photographed spots. The abbey, originally built as a Gothic Revival-style castle in the 19th century, later became the home of the Benedictine nuns who ran a girls boarding school here. Nowadays you can visit a few of the abbeys rooms and the walled garden, but the best bit is tucking into tea and scones with jams made by the nuns at the caf afterwards.
Hike a Natural Fjord
Killary Harbour is a beautiful glacial fjord, stretching 16km in from the Atlantic and forming the natural border between counties Galway and Mayo. You can explore it by boat or kayak, on a driving tour or by diving into the fjords 45m depths, but for elevated vistas of the Twelve Bens and the Maamturk Mountains, hike one of the mountain trails around the fjord such as on Mweelrea, to the north side, which reaches a height of 814m.
At the head of the fjord is the tiny village of Leenane, where The Field (1990) was filmed and a good spot for post-hiking refreshments drop into Gaynors pub in the village for a fire-side pint of Guinness and to see where many of the scenes of The Field were filmed.
Explore Clew Bay
Hundreds of little islands make this County Mayo bay of Irelands most scenic bays. It is dominated by Croagh Patrick, Irelands holiest mountain to the south, and a climb to the summit at 764m or even part of the way up will give you panoramic views of the bay, the surrounding mountains and over to Achill Island in the north. There is an annual pilgrimage on the mountain each July, where thousands climb it, some barefoot.
Near the head of the bay is Westport town, where you can visit the stately home of Westport House or walk on the shores of the bay. The town is also for its many lively pubs drop into Matt Molloys for a traditional music session any night of the week.
Test Your Bravery at Slieve League
With its sheer, silvery grey drop of rock which plunges from a height of more than 600m straight down into the Atlantic Ocean, Slieve League in south Donegal is where youll find some of Europes highest sea cliffs. These cliffs are actually three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher and youll need a good head for heights to brave some of the cliffs walks or you might even find just driving up to the car park enough of a challenge.
Explore Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park is one of Donegals best kept secrets with more than 16,000 hectares, it has a castle, lake, mountains and woods and even its own herd of red deer. The castle itself was built around 1870 and is open for tours, a tearoom and garden visits, but the best way to experience the park is to set out walking its trails, from short nature trails and lake-side walks to longer trails with elevated views. A trail bus will drop you to starting points for walks.
Drive the Inishowen Peninsula
Inishowen in County Donegal is Irelands most northerly peninsula and the largest of the Donegal peninsulas. The area is full of history, with ruins of castles and forts, and visitors will also be rewarded with stunning views of the natural landscape as well as rugged coastal scenery and pristine beaches.
Start or finish your drive at Grianán of Aileach, an impressive circular stone fort which is believed to date back to around the 5th century BC, built as a pagan temple and later adopted by the Christians. Set at the start of the Inishowen Peninsula, one of the best things about the fort is its views in all directions.
Explore a Poetic Landscape
County Sligo was the beloved childhood holiday haunt of poet WB Yeats and by exploring Yeats Country, you can visit scenery which inspired much of the poets work. Lough Gill is at the heart of the route, surrounded by woods and walking trails, while another favourite is the tiny island of Innisfree which can be reached on a summer boat trip. Even if youre not familiar with Yeats poetry, dont miss Glencar Lough and Glencar waterfall further north and Lissadell House, where the poet often stayed.
Yeats died in 1939 and is buried in Drumcliff churchyard, with the epitaph on his gravestone: Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman pass by.
Go to one of Irelands offshore islands such as Inishmore, Inishmaan or Inisheer on the Aran Islands, which can be reached by ferry or by air. Inishmore is the largest island, and you can even set off from one county, taking the ferry from Doolin in Co Clare and arrive back in another county by taking the ferry back to Rossaveal in County Galway, while taking in the surrounds of Galway Bay on the journey. Exploring Inishmore, dont miss Dn Aonghasa, a large prehistoric hill fort set on a 100m-high cliff.
Visit Queen Maeves Resting Place
Overlooking the tiny surf spot of Strandhill in County Sligo, the flat-topped Knocknarea is a short but steep climb with rewarding views over the county and out to the Atlantic from its 327m summit. A cairn on the top of the mountain is said to be the tomb of legendary warrior Queen Maeve and is thought to contain a Neolithic passage tomb.