From feasting like a medieval king in Bunratty Castle to walking on soil that’s over 350 million years old at the Burren, a trip to County Clare invites you to experience an older Ireland. On the edge of the Irish coast, facing into the Atlantic, Clare’s waves, caves and cliffs make it a top destination for visitors to Ireland. Our whistle-stop tour covers every must-see spot on your adventure west in County Clare.
1. See Clare from horseback
You’ve visited tourist trails on foot, bus and even bike, perhaps. But there’s a unique way to be introduced to County Clare. The guided tours hosted by Mountain View horse riding center take in all of the county’s great beauties. With the wind in your hair and your horse tramping happily across the hills, this is a stunning way to first see the Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands and Galway Bay. Located near Doolin, a little seaside village in the north of the county, Mountain View welcomes visitors of all levels of experience, from beginners to advanced riders.
2. Don’t look down at the Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher claim the top spot as Ireland’s most visited natural attraction. And at 700 feet high, that’s quite a top. Attracting over a million visitors a year, the Cliffs of Moher take in 5 miles of the famous wild Atlantic coast.
Standing at the very edge of the country, it feels like you can see most of the western coast of Ireland from here. Not only the Aran islands and Galway Bay – on a clear day you can enjoy views as far south as the Blasket Islands and Dingle Penninsula in County Kerry. O’Brien’s tower at the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher has served as a viewing point for hundreds of years, as generations of visitors have looked into the distance of the Atlantic and thought – next stop USA!
3. Eat like a Medieval King at Bunratty Castle
The 15th-century Bunratty Castle is worth a visit anytime. Together, the Castle and the 30 buildings in its adjoining folk park provide a fully-fleshed sense of the lives of the many different kinds of people who inhabited them. And at night these old Bunratty inhabitants really come alive. For the last 50 years, the Castle has relived its medieval traditions, serving an authentic banquet menu that hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Today visitors are still invited to join the Earl of Thomond to enjoy traditional Irish harp and violin music performed by period costumed musicians as you sip a glass of mead.
Step across the drawbridge and taste the food and entertainment your medieval Irish ancestors may also have enjoyed. Sit beneath the 16th-century tapestries of the Great Hall, with your goblet of Mead before you, and enjoy madrigals sung by the Ladies of the Castle.
4. Lose a few million years at The Burren
A site as old as Burren National Park makes the medieval Bunratty Castle look completely modern. The name “Burren” comes from the Irish for rocky place. But these aren’t just any rocks, they belong to the oldest parts of Gaelic Ireland. For those of Irish heritage, the Burren is a reminder of where our oldest roots really begin. There are more than 90 megalithic tombs in the area, portal dolmens, a Celtic high cross, many ring forts – all among the most ancient structures in western Europe.
5. Eat the Wild Atlantic Way
The Burren is famous around the world for the thousands of species of plant and creature its unusual ecosystem plays host to. Wild Kitchen, located close to the Burren, in Lahinch, will teach you to see the tastiest of these in a new way – as dinner! Taking you on a guided wild food walk along the seashore of Clare’s Wild Atlantic Way, you will become really familiar with all kinds of life around you, learning how to identify its plants and combine them into recipes. You will leave with the wisdom of age old health benefits and magical qualities of plants like nettles, seaweed, elders and rose petals.
6. Catch a Ferry to the Aran Islands
Board the ferry for Aran at Doolin in Clare to experience Ireland’s traditional island life. Three islands off the west cost, named Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inishmor, Aran retained traditional Irish ways long after they had fallen out of use elsewhere in the country. Irish or Gaelic is still the native tongue, with English spoken as a second language by the islands’ 1,200 inhabitants.
Traces of that older life are everywhere. Among the most famous is the cliff fort Dun Aengus, built a few centuries B.C., and now some of the oldest archaeological remains in Ireland. You can also see clocháns, beehive huts that date from the early Christian period and look like stone igloos. There are also medieval churches from the islands’ later life. Standing for 600 years, the churches are still threatened by encroaching sand dunes every year. A striking web of stone walls runs across the stone islands, one of the most memorable images of the history of Aran.
7. Own your own Aran Sweater
The Aran sweater has made the islands it came from famous across the world. First worn to keep local fishermen warm, the Aran sweater is now the most instantly recognizable piece of Irish clothing. And it has travelled far from it humble roots – the traditional stitching of the Aran jumper and cardigan has stayed cool across the centuries. Worn by Bob Dylan and the folk musicians of New York in the 1960s, the best-selling Aran sweaters of the Irish Store are still knit from the softest Irish Merino wool and designed using the same traditional patterns.
8. Make a pitstop at the Roadside Tavern
All of this touring is thirsty (and hungry) work. Voted the best Gastro Pub in the province of Munster, enjoy a bite and a pint of Guinness in the old-school bar of the Roadside Tavern. Close to the traditional matchmaking village of Lisdoonvarna, this is a particularly good idea if you’re open to adding a dash of romance to your Clare adventure. Run by the Curtin family since the 19th century, it’s a great spot to experience the real soul of County Clare: its traditional Irish music.