For anyone unfamiliar, Clifden is a small town in Connemara that packs a big punch regarding food, traditional music and jaw-dropping scenery. It could keep most visitors entertained for days but for those of us a little shorter on time, here’s what I suggest.
Check-in somewhere central
If you are time-poor, it is best not to waste precious minutes in taxis or cars commuting to and from the town centre. Clifden has several central hotels, but on this occasion, given that we were travelling with our four-legged friend, we opted for an Air Bnb. The studio hosted by Sinead was perfect. It was a small basement studio that had been tastefully renovated and well equipped. Sinead even provided bowls for the dog and some welcome treats for him and us after a long drive. I would definitely recommend this studio for both amenities and location, and, at least when we visited, it would have been hard to find a better value option.
Accommodation sorted, here is a quick guide to passing 24 hrs on the extreme West Coast of Ireland.
9am: Coffee and Croissants
Grab some coffees and pastries. Having paid too much for a very average breakfast in a local bakery, I recommend our second approach. This was to pick up some fresh pastries and more than good coffee in the local Super Value. Now, as supermarkets go, I have a soft spot for this chain, and the oven’s flaky croissants’ warmth was a perfect start to our day.
10am: Walk the Diamond Loop, Letterfrack
This was a definite highlight of the 24-hour staycation and an experience I would really recommend. This type of rugged terrain in the wilds of Connemara is best explored on foot, and even on a misty January morning, the stunningly remote landscape was breathtaking. The Loop has colour-coded walks to choose from, varying in distance and difficulty level, and we selected the blue walk. It took around 40 minutes. The climbs are manageable enough to get stunning views from a height without an accompanying coronary. And the expertly constructed boardwalks and stone steps mean you avoid dirty shoes and damp feet.
11am: Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey is iconic in appearance and location. The building is stunning, set almost into the mountain that highlights and dwarfs its stature. Yet, there was something eerily beautiful as the mist tumbled over the mountain towards the grey stone convent. You can see why the Benedictine Nuns have long chosen the site as their spiritual home. And if you are peckish, those domiciled in the convent make some excellent jam to serve atop a warm scone!!!!
12pm: The villages of Connemara
Pass the next few hours exploring the quaint little villages on and off the Connemara Loop. Any route will have highlights, and we meandered a little aimlessly through Leenane (where The Field was filmed), Maam Cross (where animals were being traded on the roadside), Cong (home to The Quiet Man) and the coastal villages of Roundstone and Ballyconneely. For sustenance, The Hungry Monk in Cong comes highly recommended. Still, as it was closed when we passed through, we opted instead for a nourishing soup and soda bread in the nearby Puddleducks Café. A little further afield, Dowds of Roundstone is rumoured to be another very worthy stop in which to refuel.
3pm: Shopping and chilling out in Clifden
Back at base, I would highly recommend browsing through the independent retail outlets plentiful in the town. The Clifden Bookshop was our definite winner, and we would love to live in a town where a treasure like this was on our doorstep. Lucky are the Clifden bibliophiles.
Conn O’Mara is also worth a look if you are in the market for artisan gifts, candles or skincare products, and I fell a little in love with the window display of Love Vintage.
Having acquired a little pile of fresh reading fodder, take a well-earned break by an open fire in one of the many local hostelries. We chose Griffins, where there was plenty of friendly banter to go with the little afternoon tipple. A new book with a glass of red wine, a pint of porter or a steaming mug of tea is the ideal way to chill out for an hour on a winter’s evening.
5pm: Drive the Sky Road
For a last bit of sightseeing, drive the short but stunning Sky Road outside Clifden. As you climb out of town you will quickly realise why the world has fallen in love with the Wild Atlantic Way. We also took a walk on the well-designed and very informative Marconi Walk. However, fading daylight meant we only did a fraction of the overall loop.
7pm: Dinner time
Guys Bar & Snug is somewhere that makes me want to break my own rules and eat in the same place on consecutive nights. It really is that good. It just seems to nail that trendy English gastropub vibe. It is slick without being pretentious, foodie but not fussy and great value for money. During our time in Clifden, we sampled burgers, Irish stew, chicken wings, prawn pil pil, ice cream sundaes and chocolate pudding… I don’t think a morsel of any dish went unsavoured. There is craft beer and wines by the glass to wash it down and we loved it so much that my husband shared a wistful thought, saying, “I wish our town had a Guys”. Definitely check it out!!!!!
9pm: Off for the day
As mentioned earlier, there are numerous licenced vintners in the town, but one to add to your list is the traditional and well-preserved Lowrys. It is a welcoming pub with a vintage Guinness tap and a packed calendar of live music. You can even get a quarter pound of Apple Drops with your G&T if you have any grá for a retro sweet. As it was only across the road from our place of rest, we called it a night after this and got some well-earned rest after a busy but fabulous day in Connemara.