Welcome to real Ireland.
Galway is on the western coast of Ireland, is a 3-hour train ride from Dublin. To put it simply: There are 21 pubs and six parallel pedestrian-only streets in Galway. It’s small and the most quintessential Irish city we’ve been to in Ireland.
As a must-see attraction in Ireland – the amazing Cliffs of Moher – make a perfect day tour from Galway.
Our tour met at the bus station near the train station. We hopped on early and sat in the best seats in the bus – the front seats. Similarly to the tour we took in Northern Ireland, this tour traveled opposite of the jumbo tour operators with the majority of the tourists. This time, we were racing to get to the cliffs before rain fell.
The reason why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle? Yes, because it rains so much, especially in Galway. The landscape are 50-shades of green. The roads in western Ireland are tiny, our tour guide mentioned. They fit two golf carts passing each other. So, yes, it was a tight squeeze passing other cars, trying to not hit the rock walls and zooming around tight corners.
Our quirky – very very Irish – tour guide John Paul, who spoke only Gaelic, the native Irish language, growing up – took us inland first, explaining the Burren landscape, one of the largest areas of limestone rock in Western Europe and home to the majority of Ireland’s flora and fauna. He also taught us a few words and sayings in Gaelic which made it possible for us to read the roads signs on our own – fail.
We arrived at our first stop, the 13th-century Mainistir Chorca Mrua, or St. Mary of the Fertile Rock, an abbey sited among the Burren landscape. Its very well preserved. The gravestone garden is fun to walk around – not on. We don’t need any bad juju headed our way.
We drove the Aillwee Caves next. The cave was discovered by a local farmer whose dog chased a rabbit into the cave system, where he found himself at the mouth of a cave.
The remains of bear dens can be seen inside the caves, which our guide hinted were the oldest known dens in Ireland. Our guide turned off every light in the cave to show us what 100% darkness felt like. Obviously, when she asked if we could see our hands, we couldn’t.
As rain began to fell, our guide, who’s name was now Johnny boy after a hilarious Australian nicknamed him that, dropped us off at the Poulnabrone Dolmen – a megalithic tomb dating from 2500BC. This sight was older than the pyramids of Egypt. Not minding the rain – we couldn’t believe we were standing in front of a grave site, older than the pyramids. There are more than 90 megalithic tombs in the area, crazy!
Right around the corner, we arrived at the unassuming Cliffs of Moher. You do not realize where you are until you walk a little past the parking lot and wham! The viewpoint you’ve seen in photos.
It was windy and stormy when we arrived and our free hotel umbrellas weren’t stopping the sideways rain. Making the best out of our stormy situation, we headed for one of the cliff-side trails. The trail was muddy and a waste high rock wall separating tourists from the literal edge of the cliff and eminent death, was our only hope to stand up straight. A puddle the size of a car, forced our little group (which now included the funny Australian, her friend from New Zealand and a middle-aged Boston couple) over the rock wall and onto the edge. It is very easy to tell why there is one death a month along these cliffs.
Passing the visitor center, which is built inside the hillside, you can head left and up the cliff-side trail or right, up a cement path to the lighthouse/castle/homestead viewpoint.
After snapping a few shots, the rain ceased and sun began to shine – why we hadn’t arrived 20 minutes later and enjoyed unseasonably bight, sunny weather – I have no idea. Maybe someone up above was testing us?
It was so bright and hot, tourists ripped raincoats off and slipped sun glasses on. You could easily spend your whole day here at the cliffs. Especially on a sunny day – they are breathtaking.
Bundled up and mostly dry from the sun, our group joined Johnny Boy and headed for Doolin for lunch. Irish music began in Doolin, or so our guide told us. We enjoyed Irish music, traditional soup and of course, beer before continuing our journey.
We drove along the Atlantic coast, driving through traditional Gaelic towns. We stopped off at a scenic vista and enjoyed the most beautiful Irish sunset. We stood of the edge of Ireland looking toward the Atlantic Ocean and home. It was one of those moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
The last stop on the tour, as night fell, was the Dunguaire Castle. Dunguaire Castle was built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan on the shores of Galway Bay, along the Atlantic coast line.
We arrived back in Galway with full tummies from the best soup ever, amazing photos from a day of sightseeing and new friends ready to hit the town.