LivingTravelHow to visit Connemara National Park

How to visit Connemara National Park

After exploring the best of Galway, head off the city’s medieval streets to escape the wild Connemara National Park. The Connemara Reserve, one of Ireland’s six national parks, has 7,000 acres of expansive marshes and heaths nestled between sharp, rocky peaks.

Whether you plan to meet the famous Connemara ponies or hike Diamond Hill, this is your complete guide on how to visit Connemara National Park:

What to do there

Connemara National Park was opened to the public in 1980 after previously privately owned land was donated to the Irish government. The park’s visitor center is housed within a building that dates back to 1890 and once belonged to the Letterfrack Industrial School. The visitor center has small displays about the landscape and provides maps with suggested trails and walks. The center, like the entire park, is completely free to visit. It is open from March to November, but the park remains open even in winter.

The most popular hike within Connemara National Park is the hike to the top of Diamond Hill. Starting from the visitor center, a well-maintained trail guides hikers to the top of the summit where they can take in views of the Kylemore Valley and the Twelve Bens, as well as catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. The round trip hike takes around three hours to complete.

Diamond Hill is the most famous ride in the park, but the largest mountains that dot the landscape are known as the Twelve Bens (or Na Beanna Beola in Irish). The twelve peaks of the small range have “ben” or “bin” incorporated into their names, but the range is also sometimes known as the Twelve Pines. Several of the peaks are within the boundaries of Connemara National Park and experienced hikers sometimes attempt to tackle each of the twelve peaks in a single day.

For those who don’t have the time, energy, or the right footwear for longer hikes, there are small trails that meander near the visitor center and offer a sampling of the plants and animals that can be found further inside the park.

Keep an eye out for a herd of Connemara ponies. Horses are the largest animals in the park and are a prized breed of ponies that hail from this corner of Ireland.

The national park also hosts special events for children, as well as occasional guided walks. Check the official page for more information on the upcoming events calendar.

How to get there

Driving to Connemara National Park is the best way to get an early start or maximize the amount of time to explore the trails without having to worry about bus schedules. The visitor center and the main entrance to the park are close to the town of Letterfrack, which is just off the N59.

That said, it is possible to take a public bus from New Coach Station in Galway to Letterfrack, which takes about two and a half hours. Buses to Letterfrack also depart from the towns of Clifden and Westport. The small town sits on the edge of the national park and it is possible to do the rest of the way on foot once you get off the bus.

Where to stay nearby

The entrance to the park is located in Letterfrack, Co Galway. The small town is the best place to stay to enjoy the national park for several days.

For more accommodation options, the town of Clifden is about a 20 minute drive and has several more hotel options. Favorites include the updated three-star Clifden Station House and the quaint Abbeyglen Castle Hotel, which greets guests with a champagne reception.

Facilities within Connemara National Park

Avid hikers can pack a picnic lunch to enjoy along the way, but there’s also the Connemara National Park Tea Room for typical Irish toast sandwiches and hearty vegetable soups. The tea room is open every day from 9:30 am to 5 pm during the months of March to November. In winter, the small restaurant is only open on weekends.

The park also has a free visitor center that hands out maps and offers some exhibits on the area’s natural history. The only restrooms in the park are located here.

To complete the park facilities, there is a small playground near the tearoom and visitor center that overlooks Diamond Hill. Otherwise, Connemara National Park is pure swamps, hills, and heaths with some prehistoric sites mixed in.

What else to do nearby

Part of the land that now makes up Connemara National Park once belonged to the Kylemore Abbey estate, a beautiful farmhouse turned abbey that is one of the best things to see in Ireland.

For a less visited castle experience, the Clifden Castle Ruins offer a look inside a manor house that has been abandoned to the elements after an ownership dispute.

Then travel along the so-called Sky Road for unparalleled views of Clifden Bay and a glimpse of the islands right off the coast. It is possible to drive on this road outside the town of Clifden, but many people choose to walk or bike. From the top of Monument Hill, you can look down on the beautiful town and the Twelve Bens in the background.

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