Encompassing a scenic stretch of Ireland's west coast, County Clare holds several of western Ireland's foremost natural attractions. Beginning at the northern edge of the county (near Galway) is the Burren, a vast expanse of limestone that has an almost lunar look. It's dotted with dolmens (ancient rock tombs), ring forts, cairns and early Christian ruins. Soil collects in long cracks in the limestone and supports plants from an incredible diversity of regions—Mediterranean to arctic.
Many visitors first set foot in County Clare when they arrive at Shannon Airport. Nearby Shannon Town was built in the 1960s to house workers for the airport and surrounding industries. It has little to offer visitors, who generally head for Limerick, Galway and beyond.
A better base for a visit to Clare is the county town of Ennis, a vibrant place with good restaurants, shops and lively music pubs. Traditional music has become popular all over the country, but Clare has long been one of Ireland's hotspots, thanks to small but famous music villages such as Doolin and Miltown Malbay. The instruments include the bodhran, the fiddle, the uilleann pipes and the tin whistle. It's worth seeking out this sort of authentic music, which is wild and fierce stuff that captures something essential about the Irish character.
A short drive south along the coast brings you to the Cliffs of Moher, the high seaside bluffs that turn up in every promotional brochure and travel video about Ireland.
You can also explore the smaller towns of Cratloe, a short distance east of Bunratty and surrounded by oak forests, or Killaloe, with its sixth-century cathedral.
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