Ireland Travel Guide: The Best Things to Do in Clifden

Clifden Castle in Clifden Ireland

Situated on Ireland’s west coast, Clifden is a town that combines rugged landscapes with a lively cultural scene. Clifden is a small, picturesque town that offers a variety of adventures with its proximity to Connemara National Park and the Atlantic Ocean. From exploring the natural beauty of Connemara National Park to enjoying the local atmosphere at pubs, the town provides a mix of activities. In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about visiting this magical area, including the best things to do in Clifden, Ireland. 

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Ireland travel resources

Where is Clifden, Ireland?

Clifden is located on the west coast of Ireland in County Galway, nestled between the Twelve Bens mountain range and the Atlantic Ocean. Clifden is the largest town in the Connemara region, so it’s often called the “Capital of Connemara.” 

If you’re driving Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Clifden makes a great stop to explore, relax, and enjoy the local Irish culture.

How to Get to Clifden

If you’re doing an Irish road trip, the N59 leads from Galway to Clifden on its way to Westport in County Mayo. It takes approximately 1 hour from both Westport and Galway to reach Clifden. 

If you’re following my Ireland itinerary without a car, there are buses that connect Galway City and Westport to Clifden, CityLink, and Bus Éirrean. 

CityLink offers multiple daily departures from Galway Coach Station, making six stops along the way arriving in Clifden in approximately 1.5 hours. A return ticket costs €20.

Bus Eirrean offers three daily departures from Westport to Clifden. It stops along the way at Kylemore Abbey if you want to visit. The return ticket costs €22. 

There are no trains that serve Clifden. If you’d like, you can take the train to Galway or Westport and hop on a bus. 

Coast of Clifden, Ireland.

Best Time of Year to Visit Clifden

The best time of year to visit Clifden depends on what you like! The summer months (June to August) offer longer days and warmer temperatures to explore the breathtaking scenery of this region of Ireland. The summer is also the busiest time of the year, so expect popular spots to be busy and accommodations to be a bit pricier.

The winter months can be frigid, but it’s the least busy time of year. If you don’t mind the chilly weather, then it might be a good time of the year for a peaceful visit. However, remember that attractions and accommodations may close during the off-season. 

The shoulder seasons, fall and spring, are great times of year to visit Clifden. I visited in March and enjoyed warm weather, blue sky days, and fewer crowds. The shoulder seasons will allow you to explore the outdoor activities in this area, get a reasonable price on your accommodations, and beat the high tourist season in the warmer summer months. 

Walk to Clifden, Castle

Top 7 Things to Do in Clifden

Now that you know how to get to Clifden and when to visit, let’s dive into the top things to do in Clifden that must be on your Ireland itinerary. 

Explore the Town of Clifden

You will be taken with this picturesque market town when you arrive in Clifden. While the biggest town in Connemara, Clifden is a small town with so much to offer in the way of great food, cute shops, and welcoming hospitality.

Most of Clifden town’s pubs, restaurants, and shops are on Market Street and Main Street, which form a loop around the town center known as Millennium Square.

Statue in Market Square in Clifden, Ireland.

Where to Eat in Clifden

Here are a few of my favorite spots to eat in Clifden.

Guys Bar has fantastic seafood. Try the traditional Connemara seafood chowder. I also recall their burger being delicious. I liked it so much; I ate there twice on my visit!

EJ Kings Bar & Restaurant is an excellent spot for a pint and light lunch.

Upstairs Downstairs Cafe has an indulgent hot chocolate, pastries, and sandwiches for breakfast or lunch. They are closed on Sundays, though!

There are also cute souvenir shops like Lowry’s Sweater and Gift Shop, or if you’re a book lover, you should check out the Clifden Bookshop.

Most accommodations will also be in this loop!

Shops in Clifden, Ireland.

Listen to Live Music

Another must-do in Clifden is to head to the pub to listen to traditional music. Like any good Irish town, there are plenty of pubs in this small town. But you should make time for a night at Lowry’s.

Lowry’s Bar is known as the home of Irish music in Clifden, and they have live music seven nights per week. It’s good craic!

I also stopped into Ravi’s bar for dinner one night and was pleasantly surprised to have live music while I enjoyed my meal!

Lowry's Bar in Clifden, Ireland.

Cycle the Sky Road

One of my favorite things I did in Clifden was cycle the Sky Road. There are multiple cycle route options with varying distances. I highly recommend upgrading to an electric bike to keep this adventure fun and not overly strenuous!

Sky Road in Clifden, Ireland.

I recommend doing Loop 1, which starts on Beach Road heading out of Clifden town and passes by the James D’Arcy monument and the ruins of Clifden Castle while showing off the beautiful views of Clifden Bay and the coastline. On a clear day, you’ll see the islands of Inishturk, Turbot, and Ardmore. At the far end of the loop is a stunning white sand beach called Eyrephort. Pause here for a snack break before heading back to town.

White sand beach near Clifden, Ireland.

Driving the Sky Road is also an incredibly popular bucket list item for tourists. Additionally, many locals live in homes on the coast. The road is narrow, but locals are used to cyclists on the road. Keep a look out for cars and enjoy the views. You may even see a white Connemara pony! 

I rented my bike from the Clifden Bike Shop, and they were super helpful in planning my routes.

Check Out the Ruins of Clifden Castle

One item that should definitely be on your Clifden itinerary is a visit to Clifden Castle. Originally built as the mansion home for Clifden town founder John D’Arcy, Clifden Castle has also been a monastery and hospital. 

Today, it stands in beautiful ruin. The arched entrance to the rear of the castle shows off beautiful ivy growing on the castle remnants. Around the front of the castle, you can peer into the main entrance. As you turn around from the main castle entrance, you’re greeted by sweeping views of the mouth of Clifden Bay. It’s fun to imagine what it would’ve been like to wake up to that view in that beautiful castle every day. Although, it was probably a bit chilly!

Clifden Castle is located 2.5km outside of town on the Sky Road. If you’re driving, park your vehicle at the original stone archway. From there, you’ll walk down a windy road with stunning views until you reach the castle (about 15 minutes). 

I walked to the castle from town. You could also add it as a stop on your cycle.

Clifden Castle in Clifden Ireland.
Clifden Castle in Clifden Ireland.

Visit the Alock and Brown Memorial & Derrigimlagh Bog

A unique thing to do in Clifden is visit the Alcock and Brown Memorial in Derrigimlagh Bog. This site commemorates the first non-stop transatlantic flight completed by John Alcock and Arthur Brown. 

Follow the designated trails throughout the unique Connemara Landscape, where you can also see the Marconi Station, which was a wireless station that provided navigation for the flight. Beyond the historical and educational experience of this unique piece of Irish history, the landscape is simply stunning.

Off the trail, it is very boggy, with marbled rocks dotting the landscape. You’ll also be sharing this unique space with lots of sheep!

the landscape of Connemara.
A sheep standing on the path in Connemara.

​Hike in Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park is a haven for nature lovers. The park includes part of the Twelve Bens Mountains, bogs, and woodlands. There are four marked hikes in Connemara National Park: The Ellis Wood Nature Trail (accessible), the Struffaunboy Trail (easy), Lower Diamond Hill (moderate), and Upper Diamond Hill (hard!).

Diamond Hill is one of the most popular hikes in Connemara. If you’re up for it, the climb rewards you with stunning views from the summit.

Each hike begins from the Visitor Center near the village of Letterfrack along the N59. It takes 20 minutes to get to the visitor center, accessible via car and public transportation. If you’re driving, parking is available at the visitor center. 

If you’re taking the bus, it’s a 15-minute walk to the visitor center from the bus stop. You can take the CityLink route No.923 from Clifden or Bus Eireann route No.419

Visit Kylemore Abbey

Also located in Connemara National Park is the famous landmark, Kylemore Abbey. I’ve visited Kylemore Abbey as a day trip from Galway, but it’s an easy 20-minute drive from Clifden.

Kylemore Abbey was originally built as a castle for Margaret Henry by her husband Mitchell. Since then, Kylemore Abbey has transformed into a stunning Benedictine monastery. As you explore the abbey, you’ll be greeted by the breathtaking Victorian Walled Garden and the serene Kylemore Lake. 

Inside the abbey, you can learn about the romantic and somewhat tragic history of Kylemore Abbey and how it became home to the Benedictine nuns. 

Take a walk to the Gothic Church, where Mitchell and Margaret are actually buried side by side in the Mausoleum. 

Whether you want to learn more about this region’s history or simply enjoy the peaceful beauty of this place, a visit to Kylemore Abbey in Connemara will be a memorable experience. 

Gothic Church at Kylemore Abbey
Gothic Church at Kylemore Abbey

What to Wear in Clifden

When packing for your visit to Clifden, it’s essential to consider the unpredictable Irish weather. Layering is key, as temperatures can vary throughout the day. Comfortable, casual clothing is suitable for exploring the town and enjoying its laid-back atmosphere.

A few Ireland packing list essentials for your visit to Clifden:

  • A waterproof jacket to stay dry during occasional rain showers
  • A sturdy pair of waterproof walking shoes if you plan to explore the scenic landscapes. I love Blundstones or these Sorel Chelsea Boots for exploring Clifden. Bring a good pair of hiking boots if you plan on hiking in Connemara.
  • Whether a warm beanie or a baseball hat, a hat is essential for staying warm and protecting your face from the sun.
  • Sunglasses are essential, especially if you’re planning on cycling! It’ll keep the wind out of your eyes!
  • A warm jacket, like a down puffer jacket, will keep you warm at night. A cozy sweater is also lovely to wear to the pubs, even during the warmer months, as this coastal town still gets chilly at night. 
  • Every time you pack for Ireland, always include a small travel umbrella like this one!
walking on white sand beach in Clifden, Ireland.
Overlooking the coast of Sky Road in Clifden, Ireland.

Where to Stay in Clifden

There are multiple accommodation options for your visit to Clifden that will suit any budget. There are traditional hotels, hostels, and B&Bs. You’ll also find luxurious castle hotels. Unfortunately, I can’t include where I stayed, because it closed after my stay!

Clifden Station House Hotel

Clifden Station House Hotel is a budget-friendly option for your stay. The Clifden Station House is located next to the former train station and offers well-appointed traditional hotel rooms and self-catering apartments. The hotel also offers an indoor pool and gym. The Signal bar and restaurant are on-site as well. 

Check price and availability here.

Foyle’s Hotel

Foyle’s Hotel is located in the heart of Clifden. Its classic and Victorian-style rooms are just steps away from Clifden’s best things to do. The high-end Marconi Seafood restaurant and Mullarkey’s Bar are on-site, often welcoming local musicians for live music.

Check price and availability here.

Abbeyglen Castle Hotel

If you want to stay in a castle, Clifden may be the perfect place to do it! The Abbeyglen Castle Hotel is a historic castle turned luxury accommodation. In addition to its luxurious rooms, there is an on-site spa to help you relax after your adventures. 

Check price and availability here.

Ardagh Hotel & Restaurant

If you’re driving and don’t mind staying a bit outside of town, check out Ardagh Hotel & Restaurant. It’s on the pricier end of the spectrum, but the views over Ardbear Bay. It’s the perfect spot to catch a sunset! Plus, your stay comes with breakfast!

There is also a stunning three-bed lodge with a stocked kitchen, cozy fireplace, and gorgeous rooms.

Check price and availability here.

I hope that this travel guide to Clifden, Ireland helps you plan the trip of your dreams in Ireland. If there is anything I should add to this list, leave a comment below!

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Fun things to do in Clifden, Ireland
The best things to do in Clifden, Ireland
The best things to do in Clifden, Ireland

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