In a word, today was…OUTSTANDING! Why, you ask? We went on the BEST day trip today and we had phenomenal weather to boot. What could be better??
As with our Giant’s Causeway day trip from Belfast, we also booked this excursion through Viator (actual tour company was Galway Tour Company) and, as usual, they didn’t disappoint. Although we had of course looked at the details of the trip when we booked it, I don’t think either of us remembered all of them (we did book it at least a couple of months ago, after all) because we visited a LOT of locations, which we weren’t expecting. Some of them were just photo ops, but that’s not a problem for us, especially with weather as fabulous as what we experienced today. The list of sights we saw includes:
- Dunguaire Castle – a 16th-century castle (not a big one, but still a castle) near Kinvara (maybe a half-hour from Galway).
- Poulnabrone Dolmen – a portal tomb that’s over 5,000 years old. Older than Stonehenge!
- Kilfenora Cathedral – this part-active cathedral/part-ruin dates back to the late 1100s.
- Cliffs of Moher – the jewel in the crown of a pretty amazing day trip, this chain of sea cliffs is just over 700 feet high at its highest point and provides exceptional views of the surrounding area.
We weren’t sure what to expect with the weather initially, as the forecast called for some sun, some clouds, and some showers. So, anything really! While there were a few clouds here and there and some very brief sprinkles at one point (while we were on the bus, so it didn’t matter anyway), the rest of the day was sunny, breezy, and gorgeous. Basically, the perfect weather for a day out like this! It was honestly hard to capture all the beauty we saw today as photos don’t always accurately represent it, but hopefully what you see below will give you a glimpse into it.
We started with a photo stop at Dunguaire Castle, which isn’t particularly amazing (by castle standards), but seeing it in the sun was a great way to start the trip. It was built by one prominent family (the Hynes clan) in 1520 and they stayed in it until some time in the 1600s, when it passed to another prominent family (the Martyn clan). That family actually stayed there until 1924, which I find very interesting as it makes me wonder if they actually lived in it or if they simply owned it and it sat empty all (or most) of the time. My cursory research into it didn’t reveal the answers, but I did find that after 1924, it was restored and today, visitors can come and walk the grounds (which doesn’t seem to require any kind of entry fee), climb the tower (which costs €8/$9 USD – we didn’t do it), and even enjoy sumptuous, four-course banquets there during the summer months. It would be a neat experience to attend a banquet, but alas, we had but 20 minutes to explore and take photos. It was time well-spent though!
Check out this castle against blue skies below.
Not sure why I’m always including a bus photo in these posts, but it seems appropriate.
If you’ve ever been to one of these banquets, leave a comment below as I’d love to know more about them.
A parting shot of the whole castle.
Not leaving before we get a selfie though. 🙂
Not part of the castle, but I saw this as we were walking back to the bus and loved how the sun was triumphing over the clouds in it.
Next up was Poulnabrone Dolmen, a 5,000+ year-old portal tomb in the Burren (the cliffs are part of this larger area, which is a geopark, filled with lots of interesting rock formations, landscapes, etc.). If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what a portal tomb is, right? It’s a single-chamber tomb, with an entrance flanked by a few large stones standing vertically, with another large stone (the one on this top weighs something like five tons) laying across those horizontally, like a table. When it was explored by archaeologists in the late 1980s, this particular tomb was found to contain the remains of over 30 people, dating as far back as 3800 BC. That may sound a bit morbid, but it was fascinating to be standing in front of something so old.
Non-morbid pictures to follow. 🙂
Not part of the tomb, but just some amazing Irish landscape seen while we were stopped for a quick potty break.
Also not part of this tomb, but this is another, smaller portal tomb as seen from our bus.
It may look like only a pile of rocks, but that’s the tomb.
The stone laying flat on the ground would have been standing vertically when the tomb was built, but it collapsed at some point.
The area around the tomb (and the whole Burren, really) was very rocky and interesting to look at.
Up next was our stop at Kilfenora Cathedral (with our lunch stop following after that, though I didn’t call that out above). Now, this church is interesting, not only because of its age (but at 850+ years old, its age is pretty notable), but because it’s both actively used and in ruins. The nave of the church is still intact (though not as old – that part dates to around 1850) and is used for Church of Ireland services and the part that’s in ruins has a glass roof over it to protect the Irish crosses inside of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ruin like that before, but it’s a smart idea as the glass roof isn’t super obtrusive and it still allows light to come in, while providing protection from the majority of the elements. Again, this was largely a photo stop, so we weren’t here that long (and we didn’t even go inside the part that locals still use), but it was a good one.
We did a quick stop for lunch in Doolin after the cathedral, so you’ll see a couple of pictures from that below as well (in addition to a couple of interesting photos taken from the bus).
The remains of a church as seen from our bus.
More bus-viewed remains, this time of a small castle.
Walking up to the cathedral. If you look closely to the right of the open-roofed ruin, you’ll see the glass roof.
You’ll also see the glass roof here.
There’s something so interesting about ruins – thinking about what this would have looked like hundreds of years ago fascinates me.
The graveyard around the church could easily look gloomy, but not in this brilliant sunshine.
O’Connor’s pub was our lunch stop, where I opted for bangers and mash and Scott got fish and chips. Both were served quickly and had good flavor (I could have used a bit more gravy for my mash though).
Just another amazing landscape photo taken just across the street from the pub.
After that tasty meal, we moved on to the big one, the pièce de résistance – the Cliffs of Moher. To be honest, despite the sunny weather we had all day, I was a little bit nervous in the back of my mind about whether it would hold out the entire day, but I’m SO thankful it did. The views from the cliffs (remember, 700 feet up at their highest point) were absolutely breathtaking and, thanks to the clear weather, we could see for miles and miles around us. Now, there are a LOT of cliffs to see (they’re over nine miles long), so we clearly couldn’t get to every vantage point in the 90 minutes we had to explore the area, but I think we made some awesome memories from what we did see. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, but given the fact that these are cliffs, you can expect to do a fair amount of walking up to get to the top(s), so build that in to your visit, especially if you’re there for a limited time on a day trip like we were. Also, be prepared for WIND, even on a clear day. Because they’re so high, I have to assume there’s always some wind on the cliffs, so don’t let your phone, your umbrella, or yourself get blown away! Although we didn’t spend much time in it, there’s also a nice visitor center where you can learn more about the cliffs and visit one of two eating establishments. Also, just around the corner, you’ll find several small shops for souvenirs and the like. So even when you’re done exploring the cliffs, you can still walk around and see what else the area has to offer.
There’s honestly not a lot more that words can say about the cliffs, so check out the photos and see the beauty we experienced.
Because of the way the sun was shining, the views weren’t quite as good looking this direction, but this is THE iconic shot of the cliffs, so I had to see it.
Hopefully this panorama helps to show the natural beauty of the whole area.
That’s O’Brien’s Tower, which marks the highest point of the cliffs. It was built in 1835 as an observation tower, but we didn’t use it because the weather was so great (there is a separate entrance fee if you want to go inside).
Views were much better from this angle!
I mean, look how gorgeous this is. Breathtaking!
At a certain point when walking up, you see a big sign that tells you you’re now leaving the official grounds of the cliffs (meaning, the actual tourist area), but you can continue walking up. You an also easily step over the stone wall, putting you just a short distance from the cliff’s edge, with nothing to protect you. Of course, I had to do that! The stone wall I stepped over is what I’m leaning on here.
Nice to get totally unobstructed views.
Of course, I couldn’t get enough of looking out at the water.
A final photo, showing the walk up to the first peak, where the tower is. It’s not terrible, but be prepared to brace yourself against the wind.
We actually did have time to wander around the shops a bit and maybe pick up an ice cream cone in one of the restaurants before we got back on the bus, so that was nice. Honestly, after the amazingness of the cliffs, we assumed we were heading straight back to Galway, but our driver had one more quick photo stop for us. This one was just of the rocky landscape just a little above sea level (instead of 700 feet up) and I’m really glad we snuck it in.
Final photos below!
Can you spot the rock climbers on the right?
This starts as a crevice in the rocks and leads into this chasm down below. Looked really cool!
Not part of our final photo stop, but I took a picture of this boulder from the bus as it’s part of the Erratics, which are boulders and other debris deposited in the Burren during the last ice age.
And with that, we finished the drive back into Galway and spent the rest of the evening relaxing (as usual). This truly was an awesome day trip – the locations, the views, the weather, were all perfect. Like our Giant’s Causeway trip, I’m certain I would have had the opposite reaction if the weather had been bad/foggy/rainy, but of course, we can’t control the weather. And since we book these trips in advance, there’s no way to know what the weather will be doing when the day of the excursion arrives (a friend of mine did a similar day trip and the weather that day was terrible – the only bad weather day of his trip!), so you just have to go with the flow. Kind of like what we had to do when we saw Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany several years ago – there was lots of fog, so we didn’t get the views we wanted, but we still enjoyed that experience overall.
It’s now Tuesday morning, which means we’ll be heading to the bus station in about an hour for our journey to Dublin, our final stop on this two-week trip. Our first (partial) day there was a quiet one, but I still blogged about it. Read about it here!