One of the most beautiful areas in Ireland, County Clare is a must see on your European itinerary. From the iconic Cliffs of Moher to the atmospheric Aran Islands and impressive Doolin Cave, there are many fun things to do in County Clare.
Things to do in County Clare
Easily accessible via Shannon Airport, this Irish county has an excellent road network. The county covers 1,332 square miles with lots of interesting sights such as Bunratty Castle and Lahinch Beach.
The area boasts some of the most scenic drives in Ireland, including The Burren Loop, Lough Dergh and Loop Head. There are some lovely Irish country house hotels that you can choose as a base. We recommend booking your accommodation with Ireland’s Blue Book, the luxury Irish hotel collection.
They’ll advise you on the best places to stay in County Clare depending on the size of your group and your preferred itinerary. Try to spend at least 3 nights in County Clare, although you wouldn’t be bored with a whole week here.
Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre
If you’re travelling with children, Aillwee Cave is one of the best County Clare attractions. One of the oldest caves in Ireland, they are 1.5 million years old.
Visitors to the cave can admire stalactites, stalagmites, an underground river and waterfall, as well as the bones of the now extinct brown bear. Next door, there’s a Birds of Prey Centre where you can observe the magnificent raptors and even hold them under supervision. Taste delicious Burren Gold Cheese at the Farm Shop.
Not to be confused with the Scottish Arran Islands, these 3 isles are situated in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way. They all have their own distinctive character but what they have in common is scenic landscapes and inhabitants who speak Irish as well as English.
Also known as Inishmore, this is the largest of the Aran Islands. With a population of around 900, this charming island has several interesting sights.
Head to Dun Eochla, the highest point on the island for a great vantage point and to see the stone ring fort. A seal colony can often be observed on the north side of the island at Portmurvy Beach.
Check out the knitted goods at the Aran Sweater Company, next to the port. For refreshments, one of the cutest cafes in Ireland is Teach Nan Phaidi.
Inis Meain Island
The other name for this middle sized island is Inishmaan. It’s worth visiting the oval stone Fort of Conchur here, as well as the Church of the Seven Sons.
The smallest of the Aran Islands, Inis Oirr or Inishere is easy to get around on a day trip. Hire a bicycle at the port as the roads are very quiet.
From the ruins of O’Briens Castle, the highest point of Inis Oirr, here’s a panoramic view of the island. Head next to Plassey Shipwreck, an imposing boat that drifted ashore in 1960.
From here it’s a short bike ride to Inis Oirr Lighthouse, which dates from 1857. Finish your Inis Oirr visit with a stroll along sandy Tra Inis Oirr Beach, also known as Inisheer Green Coast Beach next to the ferry.
We recommend lunch at Tigh Ned, a traditional Irish pub with a beer garden overlooking the harbour. You can reach the Aran Islands by ferry from Doolin or Rossaveal.
The picturesque coastal village of Ballyvaughan has lovely tea rooms and Monks restaurant, known for its seafood dishes. There are several houses with traditional thatched roofs and donkeys graze by the village green.
Bridges of Ross
Popular since Victorian times for their unique appearance, the Bridges of Ross should not be missed. Water has eroded the cliff over time and it has formed into natural arches.
You can actually pose for photos here with the sea as a magnificent backdrop.There were actually three natural stone arches but two collapsed.
The remaining arch is an amazing sight. Many seabirds come here during their annual migration. There are no toilets or refreshment facilities but there is a car park.
Head to Keatings Bar in Kilbaha for a bite to eat. They have a lovely harbour view from the terrace, and this is actually the last pub before New York!
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
This authentic Irish castle dates from the 15th century and has some fine examples of medieval furnishings. Bunratty Folk Park is a 26 acre site, with over 30 buildings recreating the atmosphere of a rural 19th century Irish village.
Bunratty Medieval Banquet in the Great Hall is a popular experience for visitors, with live medieval themed music and dancing.
The Burren Perfumery
A delight for all 5 senses, The Burren Perfumery is tucked away in a very picturesque area. Visitors can see how the perfume is made and buy beautifully packaged toiletries.
There’s a lovely cafe which serves tea made from the kitchen garden herbs and homemade lemonade and cakes. Take a wander through the pretty gardens and inhale the fragrant herbs.
Cliffs of Moher
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland is the Cliffs of Moher. Over 1.5 million visitors come to admire the cliffs each year. Part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, they stand 702 feet high in places and are 5 miles long.
The Cliffs of Moher have featured in several movies including The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For the latter, filming took place at a sea cave below the cliffs although the rock that Harry and Dumbledore are standing on is actually in County Kerry.
This natural wonder was formed around 320 million years ago when sand and mud formed into rock. We recommend visiting the Cliffs of Moher by boat if you have time, as you’ll see the whole of the rock face rather than just the top.
Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk
If visiting on foot, you can either book a driver to take you there and back or use a hire car. Alternatively, take a cab there and walk back to Doolin.
The main visitor car park is close to the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, where you’ll find restrooms, the Cliffs View Cafe, Puffins Nest Coffee Shop and the Cliffs Exhibition. The car parking fee is €8 per passenger, which includes entrance to the visitor centre, although not to O’Brien’s Tower.
There is also another car park tucked away at Guerin’s Farm, from which you can take Guerin’s Path until you reach the Cliff Walk itself. Bear in mind that there are no restrooms or refreshments at this particular car park, around a 15 minute walk from the visitor centre below.
You can get great views from one of the three main viewing platforms. Wear flat shoes with a thick sole as the path is rocky in parts. Dress warmly in layers with waterproof outerwear and hold on tight to your hats!
There is a barrier at the top of the cliff walk for visitor safety. You’ll see some people on the other side of this right next to the cliffs.
This is really dangerous and we definitely wouldn’t go underneath. It’s not worth risking your life for the sake of a photo and visitor footfall can also damage the cliff edge.
Cliffs of Moher Boat Tour
A great way to see the whole cliff face is by boat. Doolin Ferries pioneered the Cliffs of Moher cuise and run regular services from Doolin.
You can take a ferry ride to the Cliffs of Moher or combine it with a boat trip to Aran Island. There are also day trips with a bus pick up at Bunratty, Ennis and Shannon.
The ferries are comfortable and have toilets on board as well as indoor and outdoor seating. The top deck is good in warm weather and gives a great view of the cliffs. You’ll also hear the commentary better up there.
Pick the lower deck on a rainy day as there’s lots of indoor seating as well as a few outdoor seats for a quick photo. From the boat, you’ll get the perfect shot of Branaunmore, a sea stack that was once part of the cliffs themselves.
During your time in County Clare, don’t miss a trip to Doolin. It’s the point of departure for cruises to the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher, and a charming place in its own right.
This incredible geological wonder was discovered by two English divers in 1952. The caves contain the longest stalactite in Europe, a very impressive sight.
The Great Stalactite measures around 7.3 metres and was formed from a single drop of water around 70,000 years ago. Stalactites grow roughly 10 centimeters every 1,000 years.
You can see water dripping from the stalactite when the guide shines their torch. The tours are very informative and you’ll learn a lot about the history of the caves.
It’s surprisingly warm inside but we’d still suggest taking a jacket. Flat shoes are a must as you’ll be walking up and down many stairs. As the ceiling height is low in certain places, visitors are required to wear one of the hard hats provided.
Allow a couple of hours here if you can – the tour itself lasts 50 minutes. There’s a cafe selling homemade cakes and gift shop with pottery made from glacial clay found in the cave.
Outside, you’ll find some cute goats that graze on the visitor centre roof, and a scenic nature trail. In fact, Doolin Cave is one of the leading ecotourism attractions in Ireland.
Doolin itself is a picturesque village with several brightly colored houses. One of these, The Sweater Shop on Fisher Street sells some beautiful designs by local craftspeople. You can’t miss its bright pink facade!
There’s also a charming cafe next to the shop called The Ivy Cottage with a terrace at the front. They do good hot chocolates and homemade cake.
Doolin is known for its music and is considered to be the birthplace of traditional Irish music. Here are a few of the places where you can listen to live performances:
- Gus O’Connors
The little town of Ennistymon is an Irish hidden gem. There are several colorful shops and pubs, including Eugene’s where an episode of the TV series Father Ted was filmed. Cooleys House is another popular bar, with good live music.
Ennistymon Cascades gush over rocks in the Cullenagh River. You can get a good view from the bridge at the top or the riverside walk at the bottom of the falls.
Father Ted’s House
The house that features in the iconic TV series, Father Ted, is a real hidden gem. There is no signage outside as this is actually someone’s house. However, if you book in advance it is possible to have afternoon tea here from Wednesday to Sunday.
The Burren Centre
A good introduction to the distinctive landscape of The Burren National Park, this visitor centre has a large gift shop and cafe.
It’s a good pit stop if you’re doing a road trip around County Clare. There’s an interesting film about the region and a new exhibition showcasing the music of the Kilfenora Ceili Band.
The village of Kilfenora is the smallest parish in Ireland, and its cathedral is famous for its traditional Celtic crosses. In fact, it’s known as The City of The Crosses.
The crosses can be found in the cathedral grounds and are housed in a glass ceiling. Don’t miss the Doorty Cross which dates from the 12th century. For lunch, head to Vaughans pub, for a great Irish stew.
Lahinch Beach is a popular spot for surfing and sea kayaking. The Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club is one of the best links courses in Ireland.
Lahinch itself is an attractive town with many shops and restaurants. One of the best restaurants is Moy House, with unparalleled views of the coast.
Moy House is a luxurious country house hotel, that is a member of Ireland’s Blue Book. Executive chef Matthew Strefford and Moy House gardeners Claire and Sarah grow many of their own fruit and vegetables in the hotel’s kitchen garden.
The Burren Smokehouse
In this Irish spa town you’ll find the Burren Smokehouse on Kincora Road. This is a great place to buy organic Irish smoked salmon from the Burren. There are regular guided factory tours where you can see the smoking process.
The town is famous for its annual matchmaking festival, spread over 6 weekends in August and September. The biggest singles event in Europe attracts over 40,000 participants. People from all over the world come to Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival to enjoy the music and dancing.
Loop Head Lighthouse
Situated at the furthest point west on the Clare coast, Loop Head Lighthouse is an imposing sight. Still a working lighthouse, it is now controlled electronically.
One of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland, it was built in 1854. There has actually been a lighthouse on the site since 1670. Guided tours take place every day from mid March to beginning of November. You can see inside and admire the panoramic views of Loop Head Peninsula.
This extraordinary portal tomb dates back to Neolithic times. Built in around 3200 BC, the dolmen is one of the most photographed Irish landmarks. Two portal stones support a horizontal capstone. Come here for sunset if you possibly can.
Tolkien’s Favourite Hotel
The author J. R. R. Tolkien loved staying at Gregans Castle Hotel and we can certainly see why! This stylish boutique hotel has an incredible location in the heart of the Burren.
Admire the unique landscape from the hotel’s garden, which inspired Tolkien to create Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. There’s a lovely bar and restaurant in the hotel, open to non residents and serving tasty Irish dishes.
Getting to County Clare
It’s easy to reach County Clare by car, plane or by sea:
Among the most popular driving routes through County Clare are:
- The Burren Beauty Drive – 42 miles starting in Kilfenora and finishing at Black Head.
- Ennis to Doonbeg – 28 miles along part of the Wild Atlantic Way
- Loop Head Peninsula Drive – 90 mile round trip taking in the Bridges of Ross, Loop Head Lighthouse and the Long Dock pub in Carrigaholt.
- Shannon Estuary Drive – 135 mile loop including Limerick City, Kilcornan, Askeaton, Foynes,Tarbert, Killimer, Labasheeda, Killadysert,Ballynacally, Clarecastle, Ennis and Bunratty.
There are regular flights to Shannon Airport from many international destinations. This is the closest airport as it is in County Clare. Alternatively, you can fly to Kerry Airport, 1 hour and 40 minutes drive away, or Cork, Dublin or Knock airport.
Daily train services to Ennis town from Cork, Dublin, Galway and Limerick. The Western Rail Corridor train service connects Ennis and Sixmilebridge in County Clare with towns in nearby Galway.
There are ferry ports in Cork (less than 2 hours drive), Dublin (3 hours drive), Dun Laoghaire and Rosslare (4 hours).
Where to Stay in County Clare
We recommend staying at an Irish country house hotel for a true taste of local hospitality. We arranged our accommodation with Ireland’s Blue Book. They have a great selection of luxury Irish hotels and restaurants. Here are two of our favourites:
- Gregans Castle Hotel – an 18th century manor house in the Burren, with an award winning restaurant. This charming hotel has been a favourite with celebrities such as Ewan McGregor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kathleen Turner and Sharon Stone. It was awarded Best Hotel in Ireland 2019 by The Good Hotel Guide. Enjoy the fabulous views over the Burren landscape from the cosy lounges and bar or the landscaped gardens.
- Moy House – a Georgian country house overlooking Lahinch Bay, with a farm to fork philosophy. Much of the food served in the stylish restaurant comes from the hotel’s own farm and kitchen gardens. The Times has named Moy House’s Orangerie Restaurant as one of the 100 Best Irish Restaurants. You’ll feel right at home in the comfy lounge with its honesty bar, admiring the spectacular coastal views.
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In association with Ireland’s Blue Book, Gregans Castle Hotel, Moy House, Heritage Island and Visit Ireland