Clifden is one of the most picturesque towns in Ireland with a stunning location at the foot of the Twelve Pins Mountains, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the heart of the beautiful Connemara region. It is the largest town in Connemara, and one of the most precious jewels in Ireland’s scenic crown. Clifden is a vibrant thriving cosmopolitan town, and is undoubtedly the key to exploring the stunningly wonderful terrain of Connemara.
Clifden can be found about 50 miles north west of Galway city. Long gone are the days when visitors would get a glimpse of the town as they drove by on the Connemara Loop. Clifden is now a top destination in its own right and a popular base for exploring Connemara. This diamond shaped town is the largest town west of Galway, making it the capital of the Connemara region. Set against a backdrop of mountains and ocean, this colourful and lively town is brimming with boutiques, gift and souvenir shops, cafes, fine restaurants and lots of quaint Irish pubs.
The town of Clifden was established by a landlord called John D’Arcy at the start of the 19th century so on relative terms, it’s not as old as other Irish towns. He lived in the nearby Clifden Castle, which is now a ruin and can be seen about 2km from Clifden on the Sky Road.
Clifden’s great claim to fame is, of course, that it was the site of Alcock & Brown’s landing that fateful day in 1919 when history was so decisively made. That was the day the Atlantic Ocean was finally tamed, when the very first heavier-than-air flight across the Atlantic Ocean reached Ireland’s unsuspecting shores. Alcock & Brown’s precarious 1800 mile non-stop voyage from Newfoundland to Clifden made history at the time, and indeed seems remarkable even today. Landing in Roundstone bog at dawn on 15 June 1919 after a flight of sixteen hours, the two pioneers became instant icons, and the town of Clifden was immediately written into the history books. In the course of their flight Alcock and Brown experienced extreme flying conditions, including fog, drizzle, cold, headwinds, and a broken radio. They navigated using only basic optical instruments and often became disorientated, once almost finding themselves flying upside down. Disaster nearly struck on several occasions, before they finally crossed the Irish coast and crash-landed near Clifden. The crossing secured the longstanding £10,000 Daily Mail prize and, of course, the crew’s place in history. Indeed you might say that Alcock and Brown were the Armstrong and Aldwin of their era. The Vickers ‘Vimy’ , originally a British-built first world war bomber, went on to complete several other aircraft distance records, and it too is very fondly remembered in the overall story of flight. But Alcock & Browns pioneering transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland paved the way for many subsequent ‘firsts’, and ultimately for the development of transatlantic passenger flights.
A visit to Kylemore Abbey is also a must – see the impressive walled Victorian gardens and take a tour of the abbey.
Activities to be enjoyed locally include golfing, pitch n’ putt, scuba diving, sailing, fishing, pony trekking on the beach, walking and mountain climbing or just strolling or sunbathing on the beach.
Clifden is a great base for exploring the Connemara region as it’s got plenty of accommodation whether you would prefer to stay in a Clifden holiday home, a Clifden bed and breakfast or a Clifden hotel. Clifden is easily reached from Galway city by taking the N59 from the city to Oughterard, then onto Maam Cross, Recess and finally Clifden.
Yes, Clifden somehow manages to thread that perfect line between traditional bohemian and contemporary cosmopolitan, and it does do with great charm and confidence.
Getting to Clifden
By bus, car, bicycle, or foot. Citylink provides regular bus services from Galway to Clifden. Alternatively follow the N59 directly from Galway to Clifden.
Follow The coast
Clifden is surrounded by beautiful coastal towns. Don't miss Cleggan and Inishbofin if you are travelling north, and Roundstone, and Kilkieran-Carna, if you are travelling south.
Where to stay
Clifden offers a wide range of great accommodation options from luxury hotels, guesthouses, B&B's and campsites
Spend a morning horseriding at Errislannan Manor, Clifden. Wonderful horseriding treks along the beach and up into the hills on iconic Galway ponies. Rates start at €35 per hour.
Spend an evening in Lowry’s Bar. A time-worn local, Lowry’s has traditional pleasures, ranging from the age-old, unadorned look of the place to its céilidh sessions, which take place several nights a week. The food is ‘unpretentious Irish’ (eg bangers and mash).
Drive the Clifden “Sky Road” and enjoy stunning views of Clifden Bay and Streamstown Bay, as well as panoramas of the Atlantic, Clifden Castle, the old Coast-guard station, and the islands of Inishturk and Turbot.