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like a pro

How to do Clifden like a pro: Free parking, glass-bottomed boats and the locals' favourite pub

Plus a hidden gem of a bog walk.

TUCKED IN BETWEEN Galway’s Twelve Bens mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, Clifden is famous for its picturesque town, stunning scenery, and as the end point for the world’s first transatlantic flight.

But what are the must-do things in the capital of Connemara? We asked local historian Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill, who takes visitors on tours around the town.

When’s the best time to go?

Just a short drive west of Galway city, Clifden attracts large numbers of tourists over the summer, but Villiers-Tuthill recommends visiting either before or after the high season.

“I always think May and June are the best months because you have the long days, you can be very lucky with the weather, and it’s a bit quieter than July and August,” she says.

Pro tip: Check out the Clifden Arts Festival, which takes place over 10 days at the end of September every year. “It’s a huge event, but it’s still calm enough for both locals and tourists to enjoy. There’s always a good buzz around town because there’s lots happening on the streets, and you get terrific names right on your doorstep, from poets and writers to artists and musicians,” Villiers-Tuthill adds.

Where can I park?

There’s plenty of spots to leave your car while you’re exploring Clifden, with pay-and-display parking on the main streets and a car park at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, which charges a small hourly fee.

“There are a few options around town. The only time you might have a problem is the first two weeks in August, when it can be busy, but the rest of the time you’ll always find a space,” Villiers-Tuthill says.

Pro tip: There’s a free public car park behind the tourist office in the centre of town, however spaces here are limited.

Kylemore Abbey Shutterstock / Rita Miranda Shutterstock / Rita Miranda / Rita Miranda

What are the top things to do in Clifden?

Clifden is a compact town, so you can easily walk around its shops, restaurants and pubs, or drop into the Station House museum to find out more about the history of the area.

A short drive away is the famous Kylemore Abbey, which was built as a castle in 1868, before being taken over by Benedictine nuns. It now costs €14 for visitors to tour the abbey and its Victorian gardens, and explore the woodland and lake-side walks .

“Kylemore Abbey is a big draw and just this month they opened a new, modern display. It’s more interactive now, telling you the history of the man who built the house and the nuns who have been there for the past 100 years,” Villiers-Tuthill says.

“The gardens are terrific, particularly at this time of year. Then in the other direction you can walk over to the gothic church, which is always worth a look, and sometimes you can be lucky and there’ll be a choir. There’s a craft shop and a restaurant too, so you can spend the day at Kylemore.”

Pro tip: Head down to Clifden quay to experience some of the local coastal scenery. “It’s a nice long walk and there’s a very good cafe in the boat club at the end called the Boardwalk Cafe, where you can get a meal or a cup of coffee while looking out over Clifden bay. That’s a hidden gem,” Villiers-Tuthill adds.

Shutterstock / mathildeb52 Shutterstock / mathildeb52 / mathildeb52

Where are the best places to stop for food and drink?

If you’ve worked up an appetite there’s also plenty of options around Clifden town, especially if you’re in the mood for seafood.

“The most popular place with the locals would be Marconi Restaurant, that’s right on the main street. Then Mitchell’s is a nice place for lunch, and Darcy Twelve, named after the founder of the town, has become very popular as well,” Villiers-Tuthill says.

There’s also “very good food to be found in some of the pubs,” including Guy’s, Lowry’s and Mannion’s.

Pro tip: Look out for any pubs that have live music in the evenings. “For traditional Irish music, I would go to Lowry’s. But there’s always something on every night in one of the pubs,” Villiers-Tuthill adds.

Inishbofin Shutterstock Shutterstock

How can I escape the crowds?

Clifden is a great base if you want to get out and explore Connemara, with plenty of nearby options for driving, cycling, sailing, walking or hiking trips.

“Clifden is a good spot because it’s on the coast but it’s in the heart of Connemara as well. You can easily head up the north coast to Killary and go south down to Cashel and Carna,” Villiers-Tuthill says.

“From Cleggan you can get a boat out to Inishbofin, which is a lovely day trip. You can go on a glass-bottom boat, go pony trekking, or get a guided walk into the mountains. Everyone is catered for in Connemara.”

There are also plenty of good swimming beaches near Clifden, such as Glassilaun, Dog’s Bay or Omey Island at Claddaghduff, which can only be accessed at low tide. “Omey Island is wonderful. It’s a tidal island so you can walk out but you have to be careful that you don’t get stuck out there when the tide changes,” Villiers-Tuthill adds.

Pro tip: Drive or cycle the Sky Road – a picturesque route that goes from Clifden into the hills. At the highest point there’s a car park and a viewing spot where you can look out over the bay. “Sky Road is a great route. On the way you’ll pass Clifden Castle, and there’s a lovely view out to the islands from the top.”

Views from the Sky Road Shutterstock / David Steele Shutterstock / David Steele / David Steele

Are there any hidden gems in the area?

Just south of Clifden, in the Derrygimla Bog, is the site of the old Marconi wireless station, which is also where Alcock and Brown crash landed after completing the first transatlantic flight in 1919. Now the area includes a memorial, a 5km walking route and a car park, so that visitors can easily explore the site.

“Before when you went up there it was just a blank bog, but a few years ago they opened up a track that goes right around it and it’s not difficult to walk,” Villiers-Tuthill says.

“There’s a scattering of buildings and they’ve put up interpretive panels all along that tell you the story of each one, so you’re learning about Marconi and Alcock and Brown at the same time. You get some history told in a nice manner and you get a beautiful walk as well.”

Pro tip: Give yourself an hour or two to stroll around the site while experiencing the classic Connemara scenery. “You’re out in the bog, away from traffic, and it’s so quiet and beautiful. You usually get some sheep and birds, and on a clear day you’ll get a good view of the mountains,” Villiers-Tuthill adds.

More: How to do Westport like a pro: Shark views, parking tips and the pub from the classic Guinness ad>

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