Where to Weekend: Discover Ireland’s “Wildest” County

From the rocky reaches of The Burren region to the towering heights of the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare is home to some of Ireland’s most striking natural landscapes. And yet the ruggedness of the land is balanced beautifully by the welcoming comforts of the eateries, accommodations, and the locals, making Ireland’s west coast the perfect place to spend a long weekend.

DAY1

Marvel at the Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher (which you might recognize from their on-screen appearances in The Princess Bride or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) have become a headlining attraction for County Clare and, indeed, all of Ireland. In 2017 the Cliffs were visited by 1.7 million people—making them second only in popularity to the Guinness Brewery, that perennial icon of Irish tourism. Indeed, the Cliffs of Moher make for one of the most spectacular views in Ireland or anywhere else.

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There are multiple ways to take in the Cliffs. You can take the land-bound route via the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk, which connects the towns of Doolin and Liscannor. Or, to fully experience the dramatic scale of the Cliffs, you can go by sea via a cruise through a boat tour operator like Doolin 2 Aran Ferries. You might even see some puffins along the way!

If you decide to see the Cliffs of Moher via the water, take a Dramamine. Even if you don’t think you’ll get seasick the waves can be really choppy (they don’t call it the *Wild* Atlantic Way for nothing).

Dine at Wild Honey Inn

Do you like the coziness and familiarity of dining at a pub? Do you also like restaurants that have earned a Michelin star? At Wild Honey Inn you don’t need to choose between the two. The food is based on a classic French style of cooking but incorporates seasonal, local ingredients from the Burren region.

Have a Pint at Durty Nelly’s

For drinks, find your way to Durty Nelly’s in Bunratty. This quintessential pub (established in 1620) is sandwiched between Bunratty Castle and the Ratty River. It’s a popular place to grab a bite and a pint with visitors and locals alike. Durty Nelly’s also features live music most days of the week so you can settle in and enjoy your drink with some musical accompaniment.

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DAY2

Visit Caherconnel Stone Fort

The medieval era stone fort at Caherconnel is notable for how well-preserved it is. Indeed, it’s still the site of excavations where archaeologists work to understand who the residents of the fort were over a century ago. Caherconnel also puts on sheep herding demonstrations which make for a fascinating watch, especially if you’ve ever gotten choked up watching “Babe.”

Have Tea at the Burren Perfumery

You might not think of a perfumery as somewhere to stop for a bite, but the tea room at Burren Perfumery actually makes for a wonderful spot if you’re looking for a simple but delicious lunch in a gorgeous, storybook setting. (The herb garden is seriously like something out of a Beatrix Potter book). Once you’ve had some tea and smoked mackerel (and maybe a little sweet treat) the perfumery is worth browsing as its products (they offer various skincare and home good items in addition to perfume) are scented in order to evoke various Irish settings, making them the perfect, unique souvenir.

 

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 Chantel Delulio

 

Sample Local Beer at the Burren Brewery at The Roadside Tavern

Though The Roadside Tavern has been pouring pints since 1865, it only recently started putting out its own brews. Stop in to sample (or enjoy a full glass!) of the Burren Gold (lager), the Burren Red (a spicy, smoky red ale), or the Burren Black (a stout that holds its own against the iconic “black stuff”). The Roadside Tavern also hosts traditional music sessions so you can enjoy your microbrew alongside local musicians.

DAY3

Discover Secret Ireland

Now it’s time to dig a little deeper with the help of Secret Ireland. Secret Ireland offers bespoke tours that grant you exclusive access to works of architecture and cultural experiences that span from the Medieval era up to the present day. In between exploring the waterscapes of the River Shannon and Lough Derg you may stop off to view abstract paintings by contemporary Irish artists (and perhaps create a little art of your own) or to take in a performance by a sean-nós dancer. The one thing each stop has in common are the knowledgeable, gregarious hosts. Indeed, it’s quickly evident how the people of Ireland earned their friendly, hospitable reputations.

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Gregans Castle Hotel

For dinner, head up to Gregans Castle Hotel. The hotel’s restaurant has received a number awards for its menu of modern fine dining that incorporates local products (fish from the Burren Smokehouse, cheese from St. Tola Goat Cheese farm, etc).

 

 

WHERE TO STAY

 

For a stay that combines centuries’ old Irish history with luxurious contemporary accommodations, find your way to Dromoland Castle Hotel, just a 15-minute drive from Shannon Airport. The hotel recently underwent a massive renovation so rooms are luxuriously outfitted. In fact, between the sprawling grounds, the world-class golf course, the plethora of activities you can easily, and dining experiences Dromoland is something of a destination unto itself.

 

If you’re looking for more budget-friendly accommodations check out Aran View House, a traditional Georgian country house with gorgeous ocean views. It’s just a short drive or a moderate walk to Doolin (a noted center of traditional Irish music), making it a prime location for visiting the Cliffs of Moher.

WHEN TO GO

 

Even in winter, County Clare’s weather remains comparatively mild as winters go (temperatures tend not to drop further than 40 degrees Fahrenheit). That said, May through July is probably the most amenable time to go if you want to maximize the sunniness and the warmth of your days.

See more at Fodor's Travel