These post lockdown, pandemic times are the perfect opportunity to explore this island and stay closer to home. I know I’ve said it before but Ireland has so much to offer. A few days discovering (or rediscovering) our Wild Atlantic Way, Ancient East, Hidden Heartlands or Northern Coast is never enough time. The Banner County certainly lived up to my expectations for beauty and incredible food. It packs so much into a short stay. From rolling, lush countryside to rocky Burren wilderness. Add in some craggy, coastal views, historic ruins and quaint, picturesque villages and you have the full package county. Clare has spectacular hikes, delicious seafood, scenic boat trips, kayaking, friendly locals and incredible views as well as more history than you can shake a stick at. This craggy coastline mesmerised me. Let it do the same for you.
Things to do
The county bounds divides Lough Derg and this gateway to Clare is a perfect introduction to the beauty in store. The lake has boat tours, kayak and canoe tours and access to hikes and loop walks to get your steps in. Click here to check out the tours offered including night kayaking and nature tours with My Next Adventure. A two hour kayak tour with a guide and salopettes is €50 pp, night kayaking is 60 pp including guide.
The lake and Shannon estuary is a perfect excuse to take a river cruise. You can even book a gin tasting cruise with Killaloe River Cruises which lasts 90 minutes and three gin tipples later. Check out the website to see if it is still running during COVID restrictions. An hour long cruise cost €14.
Killaloe is the gateway to the East Clare Walking Trails. Check out this map for a guide to some suggested strolls and hikes for a variety of fitness levels.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Lakeside Hotel and reception has plenty of information regarding activities and dining options if you choose not to eat in the bar or restaurant. I’d suggest booking ahead during COVID times as walk ins cannot always be accommodated. A double room with breakfast was €117 for one night. I did book last minute so keep an eye out for deals. There are plenty of B&Bs, private rentals and hotel accommodation available. You may want to look at an Airbnb option so you have the the entire place to yourself. If you use this link you get a €16 discount off your booking. Win.
On the way to Kilkee, our next stop, why not pause for a stroll around the ruins of Quin Abbey. In the small village of Quin the abbey is open to the public. It was built between 1402 and 1433 and is still used as a graveyard to this day.
In about 1640 the building became a college and is alleged to have had 800 students. Oliver Cromwell arrived only 10 years later, brutally murdering the friars and destroying the friary. In 1671 the building was once again restored, but never regained its former status.
I have HUGE regrets that I didn’t leave more time on my trip for Kilkee and the entire Loop Head Peninsula. Which incidentally was voted the best place to holiday in Ireland in 2013 by The Irish Times. Did you know that? I did not, but I can 100% see why. There is an entire audio guide for various locations on the peninsula with historical information and details about the geographical features. It’s almost like your own tour guide!
Things to do
This list is by no means exhaustive and includes only some of the things I managed to fit in during my visit to Clare. Take your time to give the peninsula the time it deserves.
The Kilkee cliffs genuinely rival the Cliffs of Moher with sea stacks, sheer drops, crashing waves and bird guano. Parking is free (there is a car park down by the Diamond Rocks Café). Take a solid hour to stroll up, snap photos, (pause to contemplate your insignificance in comparison to the size of the cliffs and immensity of the sea) and return to the café for tea is all that’s needed. The top of the cliff walk can get a little steep for those in wheelchairs and there is a hand rail to help those for whom walking is a challenge. The cliff edge is unprotected so take care when you are near the edge, obviously.
The tidal Duggerna reef in Kilkee is home to pollock for a few months of the year, hence the name. These rock pools are said to be 320 million years old (I read that when fact checking) and there are about four larger pools ranging from 1m to 2.5m deep. They are accessible during low tide and are popular with kids and adults as well as beginner snorkelers, apparently. The pools are home, naturally, to a smorgasbord of sea life during low tide which, if I am honest, kind of freaks me out considering the volume of people I saw jumping in there. Essentially they are like mini, natural swimming pools but at the beach.
Nevsail Watersports offer surf lessons (€35 pp for a 2 hours lesson) as well as SUP (stand up paddle boarding) lessons from Kilkee so have a look at their website for details on prices and booking.
Things to do
Loop Head Lighthouse
Perched on the tip of the Loop Head Peninsula in West Clare is the Loop Head Lighthouse. While it is now automated it used to be a coal burning brazier. The lighthouse was closed when I visited this year but keep an eye on their website for opening times. The views nonetheless are beautiful and the cliffs close by are often visited by pods of dolphins, whales and seals. It’s the perfect viewing platform for a free wildlife show!
If you want to stick around and enjoy the view for longer there is a great company called Grá Picnics and they will package up a boujee, lavish picnic for you to enjoy complete with tableware at the cliffs. Prices start from €55 per person. Have a look at their website if you are planning a weekend visit to the cliffs and want to up your picnic game.
Loop Head Walks
There is a 2km loop walk from the lighthouse carpark around the coast line that follows a worn path along the cliff edge. The ground is uneven and can be boggy so wear appropriate footwear ie not flip flops! You can also take a longer 15km hike along the Kilbaha Loop Walk and there are, of course, guided walks that will fill you in on the folklore and history of the area.
Bridges of Ross
The naturally formed sea arch 2.5km north of Kilbaha, Co Clare is all that is left of what were three large sea arches. Overlooking Ross Bay the sea arch is a short walk from the free car park and another stop along the spectacular Wild Atlantic Way.
Where to eat
Keatings (advertised as the last bar before New York) is a seafood restaurant with views over Kilbaha pier and bay. There’s outdoor and indoor seating and a giant spider crab on the wall. Don’t say you weren’t warned. The menu has a mix of surf and turf options with hearty sized portions. The tables outside give pier views but may be chilly in the colder months. There are covered seating and indoor table options as well. If you can’t get a table here why not try The Strand Bistro, and Diamond Rocks Cafe, in Kilkee for cakes, lunch and brunch options.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Kilkee Townhouse which is perfectly located about a 3 minute walk from the seafront. The staff are very friendly and have COVID regulations in place to help you feel at ease during your stay. There are plenty of accommodation options as Kilkee is such a family oriented, seaside town including hotels, B&Bs, glamping pods, private rentals and guest houses. Check out The Strand, Stella Maris Hotel, and the Bay View Hotel.
Lahinch and Doolin
No trip to Clare is complete without visiting Doolin and Lahinch. These seaside villages cram sports, food, views and tradition into a small area but are absolutely worth a stop over.
I made a pit stop in Dodi Café in Lahinch for a take away breakfast and took my treats to the beach to watch the brave surfers battle the waves as I sipped my hot tea. Dodi make incredible chocolate chip cookies that I am still thinking about so make sure to get one (a few) to savour with your beach side coffee. There was a patiently waiting queue of breakfasters outside Hugo’s Deli as well when I was in the village so I am assuming they do some great breakfast too. I didn’t feel the need for two breakfasts the day I visited so if one is busy pop on around to the other.
If you want to extend your holiday out to the Aran Islands, there is a ferry from Doolin and of course if you fancy seeing the Cliffs of Moher they are between Lahinch and Doolin. Cliffs of Moher tickets are €7 per adult, I think, and this includes parking, viewing areas, access to shops inside and the visitor centre. If you fancy an alternate view of the cliffs there are Cliffs of Moher cruises which take about an hour round trip from Doolin and cost about €20 per adult.
If you are looking for a charming little village with locals who care and seafood to fill your tummy as you watch the sun set then book a stay in Ballyvaughan and thank me later. Cosy thatched cottages, quaint pubs and colourful buildings make an evening stroll to dinner even more pleasant. Use Ballyvaughan as a base from which to explore The Burren as well as local remnants of Clare’s historical past at the Poulnabrone Dolmen (free entry and parking) and Caherconnell Stone Fort and Sheepdog Demonstrations (parking is free and ample but entry is €6 per adult for the fort and €6 for the sheepdog demo. There are joint ticket options). Ailwee Caves are a short drive away where there are also birds of prey demonstrations. Ballyvaughan’s location at the northern tip of Clare’s coastline leaves room for you to explore into Galway and beyond. But why would you want to leave Clare in the first place?!
Where to eat
While the prices at Monks Ballyvaughan are a little on the high side the location and incredible accommodating, friendly staff makes this ‘treat yoself ‘ dining experience worth it. They even have merch! They are in the process of adding adjacent accommodation to their seafood restaurant if you want to look into it as a possibility in the future.
Where to stay
Ballyvaughan Lodge‘s hosts are part of the reason I loved my visit to this little village in north Clare. The care taken by the hosts, Gerry and Patricia to make sure your stay in their home blew me away. From checking I had a dinner reservation to suggesting places to see and serving up the best B&B breakfast I have had in a while this is a must. The prices are reasonable. I paid €80 for a double room and this included breakfast. There is free parking on site but it is limited and it is within walking distance of the pier, village and eateries.
This stop off is for seafood fans and shellfish lovers in particular because although the Flaggy Shore is famed as part of the Barren Geo park it is also home to New Quay’s treats; Flaggy Shore Oysters and Linnane’s Lobster Bar. There is a walk along the shore from which you can see limestone pavement and fossils embedded in the rocks.
Let’s begin with the Flaggy Shore Oyster Experience. The knowledgable Gerry runs two workshops to teach you about oyster farming, sustainable oyster fishing and how to shuck oysters as well as imparting information about sealife in the area. One of the workshops, ‘Go Shuck Yourself’ is €25 per person (about 30 mins) and includes a really informative chat with Gerry about oysters and the chance to shuck and eat some on site before taking away your own box of fresh oysters complete with condiments. If you want to level up the other workshop is called ‘Shuck Off’ and includes wine pairing oyster eating plus the info and chats!
If for some reason oysters aren’t your jam then Linnane’s Lobster Bar is a restaurant with pier views just behind the Flaggy Shore Oyster site and make sure to book ahead because it gets busy here. The menu offers chowder and lobster as well as seafood options and drinks to enjoy as you watch the waves roll in.
While the Burren may look like fields of rocks it holds geological significance and has the status of UNESCO Site since 2015. It is a glaciated karst (area shaped by the erosion of limestone) landscape created around 2 million years ago.
Much later, only about 2 million years ago the ice age started in northern Europe. Huge masses of ice over 200m thick came from the north and north east and scoured the surface ripping up soil and rock and carving valleys and then depositing the rocks and clay as the ice melted. We can see these rocks scattered across the Burren as glacial erratics today. Along the coast there are many rocky beaches where it is possible to find rocks which are not originally from the Burren, these granites, red sandstones and others were carried by the ice from Connemara and east Clare and have been eroded by the sea from the glacial deposits left by the ice.
The last Ice age ended around 15,000 years ago. Since then the rain has been quietly dissolving the limestone and widening the fissures and also forming many of the caves we see all through the Burren. The rain continues to slowly dissolve the limestone today.
Within the Burren are historical remains of life long ago. There are also small businesses that have utilised this rocky environment and harvested its spoils.
The Burren Perfumery
Check out the perfumery whose products are inspired by the Clare landscape and the organic herb garden teaches about native herbs and their traditional uses. There is a charming tea room and delightfully serene garden to sit in and just be. I suggest going close to closing time to enjoy the garden at its quietest and if you are lucky enough to be the only one in there take a moment to rest with only the sounds of bees and the breeze to accompany you.
The Burren Smokehouse
This family run producer of award winning smoked fish houses a visitor centre that explains how the mackerel, trout, eel, cheese as well as their traditionally smoked salmon are organically produced in the Burren area. They are promotors of local, Irish produced quality produce and sell all over the world.
This little hamlet in West Clare has restored the former railway, a steam locomotive and station house for visitors. If you are into trains (or have small ones who are) this could be a fun stop on your trip.
While this prominently positioned castle is not open to the public it is still worth driving to. Pull into the little lay bys on the winding road that meanders towards the sea for snaps and views.
Coffee, fudge, Irish art and crafts and small business product samples as well as cosy views of Liscannor Bay puts Moher Cottage on the list. However, I have not yet mentioned the BEST bit about Moher Cottage, Julia’s Lobster Truck. Food trucks are taking off in Ireland in a big way and there are some incredible entrepreneurs running these mobile treat vans around the country. Julia parks up at Moher Cottage on Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays she is at Bellharbour, Co Clare. Check her Instagram account for details on opening times out of season, as well as menu options and info.
I have included a rough map that shows off a few of the big stops on this West Clare road trip that are unmissable, in my opinion. There are of course so many more places to visit, explore, stay and dine at but I hope this guide gives you a few ideas on your West Clare road trip.
If you are looking for more staycation inspiration check out Sligo Photo Diary – Wild Atlantic Way Adventures or any of the other links in the Ireland tab at the top of the page.