Although it's difficult to pick any one area of Ireland as the most picturesque, Connemara definitely is one of the top contenders. The mountains known as the Twelve Bens tower over a coast worn by the Atlantic into a maze of fingerlike headlands and inlets. Go inland, and you'll find more water—hundreds of lakes whose waters reflect the mountains and sky. If you're visiting Galway, we highly recommend a day of touring Connemara. It won't fail to impress you.

The best way to enjoy the Connemara region (the western half of County Galway and about 30 mi/50 km west of Galway town) is to park the car and walk—some of the best walks in all of Ireland are found there. For a good introduction, stop at the Connemara National Park visitors center (, near Letterfrack. If you have neither the time nor the inclination for a good walk, tour the country roads. Do be careful when driving—mountain sheep, the region's favorite livestock, can easily leap over fences and onto roads.

One of the most beautiful routes in the region is Highway R 344, which runs through a tranquil and largely empty valley alongside a stream and a lake. (Look for the mounds of drying peat bricks along the way.) At the northern end of the valley (on Highway N 59) is Kylemore Abbey (, which looks for all the world like a storybook castle. It's actually relatively new, having been built in the 1800s. It used to be a convent school, and it is now open for visitors year-round.

Clifden, the main town and capital of the region, is a great place to spend a night or so. It is primarily a tourist town, but a particularly charming one, with a main street lined with craft shops, pubs, hotels and fine restaurants.

The town of Roundstone, south of Clifden, is a pleasant seaside village. It's home to Roundstone Musical Instruments, a workshop operated by Malachy Kearns, better known as Malachy Bodhran, one of the finest makers of bodhrans (traditional Irish drums) in the country. The shop is located in a former monastery and includes a store and observation areas where you can watch the drum makers at work.

Some of the finest traditional houses in Ireland are found in Spiddal, just 10.5 mi/17 km west of Galway. Also recommended is a trip to Inishbofin Island, 5.5 mi/9 km out in the Atlantic, which is renowned for its birdlife. Ferries depart from Cleggan daily.

Linguists hold that the largest number of Irish speakers in the country is concentrated in Connemara. (Gaelic-speaking regions in Ireland are known as Gaeltacht areas, although the Irish themselves prefer the term Irish to Gaelic when they refer to their native language.)

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