This past summer, we spent four days of our British family vacation in Ireland. Because our trip was centered around a trip to London, we still wanted to experience all the green beauty and nature of Ireland that we could in a few days.
So instead of heading to Dublin, we decided to head to the the west coast, which also happens to be part of the Wild Atlantic Way. After some research, we chose Cleggan, a small fishing village about 15-minutes outside of the larger (but still quaint) Clifden, and about an hour north of Galway.
From beautiful beaches to lush green landscape, we now understand why everyone raves about this lovely country. If you’re thinking about a trip to Ireland, and want to explore the Wild Atlantic Way, here’s a sample itinerary based on what we did during our time there, with a few tips I can offer if you’re planning a trip with kids as well.
First, a few considerations:
How to get around
Since we knew we’d be traveling around quite a bit, we found an excellent price on a van for our family of 6 that we rented through AutoSlash.com, a site recommended by travel expert Shellie Bailey-Shah of KidTripster.com. However, be aware that the van, as with most cars in Ireland, had manual transmission. Given that we would be driving a large vehicle on the left side of the road, we opted for automatic instead, which bumped the price up greatly.
I highly recommend you get car renter’s insurance in Ireland because oof, the windy roads with no shoulders are no joke. All in all, the car rental cost us a pretty penny so thankfully everything else was fairly affordable during our stay.
About the weather:
Check the temperatures before you pack! Even in August, August is chilly. The temps stayed pretty much around 55-60 Fahrenheit the entire time. And the rain can come out of nowhere, so be sure you’ve got layers and good rain gear packed.
Day 1: Cliffs of Moher and Galway
We flew into Shannon from Gatwick London, and since we arrived late in the evening, we booked rooms at a small hotel near the airport. We were quite pleased with the Shannon Springs Hotel, which was just 10 minutes from the airport. The little pub was bumping on a Saturday night, so we enjoyed a hard cider before hitting the sack. And the free breakfast, which was quite extensive, was quite welcome considering we didn’t really want to head into Limerick, the closest town.
For our first full day, we packed up our van and made the drive over to the Cliffs of Moher In County Clare, a stop on the way to Galway, as well as our final stop in Cleggan.
You Princess Bride fans may recognize the locale as the Cliffs of Insanity!
It gets quite crowded here, so it’s smart to leave early. There’s a lovely coffee shop just a half mile or so before you hit the Cliffs, which is worth a stop for some hot chocolate and coffee, and if the kids are behaving (ha), delicious homemade fudge.
You can spend a fair amount of time hiking around the Cliffs. We opted for some quick photo opps so we could get to Galway sooner. Just know if you’re traveling with small children that there are many spots at the Cliffs that do not have fences, so keep an eye on the kids.
From there, it’s an hour’s drive to Galway, which we timed perfectly for lunch. Galway is a perfectly quaint town, and on Sunday when we arrived, it was packed. The beautiful weather didn’t hurt.
We grabbed lunch at The Quays and had our first Irish Stew, which did not disappoint. We wandered the streets which are full of small shops and eateries — though a little touristy, to be honest. We also grabbed ice cream at Murphy’s before heading out.
You could easily spend an entire day in Galway, but since we had already done so much shopping and eating in London, we decided to keep going.
We arrived at our Homeaway rental aka The White House in Cleggan (above) in the early evening, where my husband dropped us before hitting the local Aldi for some groceries in nearby Clifden.
Our townhome was a short walk to the local convenience stores and a few restaurants and pubs, and it was the perfect size for our crew of six; it offered a kid’s room with two bunk beds, plus a master bed with a queen for us. One full bath for all of us was fine (Europe is different from the U.S. that way), and there was a lovely kitchen for cooking meals in, and a backyard for chill time at the end of each day. When I choose a vacation rental, I’m always sure that there’s a washing machine, which isn’t just convenient, it means that we all can pack lighter.
Day 2: Ashford Castle
After doing some digging, I decided that we would spend the day at Ashford Castle, which is a bit of a hike from where we were staying — about 1.5 hours — but it definitely worth it. There’s just so much to do there. The grounds are simply majestic, and you’ll feel a bit like royalty if only for a few hours.
Just know that the castle was by far the most expensive thing we did in Ireland.
While my son went on a Hawk Walk at Ireland’s first school of Falconry (which was simply unbelievable, just ask my son!), my two girls went on a trail horsehide. My oldest daughter and I enjoyed the fire at the main house, and then we all reunited to battle it out with an archery competition. And of course, we had to end our visit with high tea.
Pro tip: Even if your kids want to order from the adult menu, make them get something from the kids’ menu, and save more than 50% off their meals. The portions are so ample that it’s impossible to eat everything so you’ll all be plenty full at the end of the tea.
Day 3: Cleggan Hike and Clifden
Unlike our travel contributor Linda Kerr, I’ve never been much for guided walks or hikes. But after being overwhelmed by all there is to see and do in this area, I sought help I’m grateful to have found native tour guide Sean O’ Farrell with a quick Google search!
He grew up in the region and has intimate knowledge of everything in the are, so he was able to show us a side of Ireland we would never have been able to see on our own.
(He’s a quiet fellow though, so if you book him. don’t expect that you’ll be chatting through your entire hike.)
He took us on a four-hour hike up to some Napoleon era ruins that I wouldn’t have known. about, then down to the headlands to look at different edible seaweeds. He also pointed out different plants and wildlife that could — and could not, yikes — be eaten, We saw lots of sheep and horses, and spectacular views I wish we could have taken home with us.
Given Sean’s affordable rate (only 150 Euros for our whole family), I was quite pleased with my investment.
Just don’t be fooled by the word “walk”; this tour is most definitely a hike that was difficult for me at times, and I’m fairly fit.
My kids were exhausted after the day, so while they rested up in our townhome, my husband and I did a little exploring, driving past the picturesque Kylemore Abbey and out to Misunderstood Heron food truck. It’s a ridiculously delicious stop, with fresh food and desserts offered daily. It’s completely worth the drive if you’re willing to make it.
We opted to skip going back to the Abbey with the kids, but it is a great Instagram shot if only from the road.
Our evening was spent in Clifden, walking around the shops and eating at Guy’s Bar and Snug. As we had heard from the locals, indeed their seafood chowder was the best we’d ever had. And the fresh local oysters were delightful. It’s a fun, family friendly spot, and a gem amongst the number of pubs you’ll find around town.
Day 4: Omey Island and Sky Road
On our last full day, we started off with some pastries and coffee from Walsh’s Bakery. Everything is made fresh on site! Then, we drove out to Omey Island, which is only about 15 minutes from Cleggan and Clifden.
The island only accessible during low tide, so be sure to check the tides times before going. When the tide is low, you can actually drive over to the other side, and bike or walk around.
My kids and I didn’t make it all the way because we decided to go clamming instead. You don’t even really need any tools if that sounds good to you; just bring a bucket or bag to collect the spoils.
We followed that visit with a quick trip to a local spot for fresh mussels. My kids had a blast picking them off the wall, all of which we cooked up for lunch.
We happened upon the Sky Road on our way home, and we’re so glad we did. With four kids in the car (who often get car sick), we often skip “scenic drives,” but this one is definitely worth getting out the Sea Bands and potatoes. The views are that incredible.
Our final night was spent at Oliver’s, the local pub in Cleggan, listening to live traditional Irish music and throwing back our last hard cider and Guinness.
While we didn’t get to see all of the Wild Atlantic Way, we certainly tackled a lot during four full days in Ireland. If you’re thinking about Ireland for your family, I highly recommend a break from the bigger cities, to see the beauty and splendor of this region.