County Clare in midwestern Ireland offers so much for travelers to enjoy. After all, it’s home to the stunning Cliffs of Moher, the geological gem that is the Burren, the laid-back surfer’s paradise of Lahinch, and so much more.
Clare contains a mix of well-known tourist destinations and off-the-beaten-path attractions. On a trip to the area, you’ll find stunning natural spots, great eating and drinking, and exciting shopping opportunities. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to small and charming towns, County Clare has it all.
I recently enjoyed a trip to the region with the woman-owned tour company Traverse Journeys on their Wild Atlantic Way itinerary. The guides expertly planned our time in County Clare, and I’m excited to be able to share the things I learned. Traverse focuses on socially minded, eco-friendly travel, and that responsible tourism lens provided the ideal way to experience the best of County Clare and beyond.
Are you ready for the ultimate Irish journey? Read on for the best things to do in Ireland’s idyllic County Clare.
Marvel At The Cliffs Of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are an absolute must-see on any trip to County Clare. Jutting out above the Atlantic Ocean and reaching an impressive 702 feet at their highest point, they form the western border of County Clare and feature 5 miles of craggy, windy, gorgeous coastline. The Cliffs of Moher are a designated UNESCO Global Geopark for their unique geology. Additionally, they are the most-visited natural attraction in all of Ireland and the second-most-visited attraction in general (after the Guinness Storehouse, of course!).
Visitors can either walk along the cliffs or see them from below on the Doolin Ferry to the Aran Islands. The last ferry of the day every day includes a short boat excursion to a spot below the jaw-dropping cliffs. Visitors can consider other boat tours for more extensive views.
Those seeking more outdoor time during their visit should take the guided and mostly flat Doolin Cliff Walk, which starts in the nearby town of Doolin and ends at the visitor center. The walk generally lasts 3 hours, and participants can continue on even farther to the village of Liscannor.
Visitors can also drive to one of the nearby parking areas and walk to the cliffs -- just be aware that they close at 7 p.m., so it can be hard to be there for a sunset experience.
Pro tip: For a less crowded encounter, avoid visiting during Ireland’s peak tourist season of May through September. For even more solitude, consider a visit before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m., when the area is more serene.
No matter where you view the cliffs, remember to always stay on the pathway. The cliffs are unstable and can shift without warning, so caution is of the utmost importance.
Explore The Burren
The other part of the UNESCO Global Geopark is County Clare’s the Burren. According to the UNESCO site, geoparks are “single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.” Together, the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher form one of Ireland’s three designated global geopark areas. Part of the landscape is also a national park.
Named for an Irish word meaning “a rocky place,” the Burren is almost otherworldly. Some have likened it to the surface of the moon. The area is noteworthy because both alpine plants and Mediterranean flora can thrive there. Additionally, the region is home to the oldest megalithic monument in Ireland, the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This dolmen, an iconic tomb, is actually the second-most-visited site in the area after the Cliffs of Moher.
Those visiting during the warmer months or craving some beach time should consider a trip to the Burren’s Fanore Beach. Located in the northwestern part of the area, this beach contains objects of archaeological interest as well as sand dunes, and is situated where the Caher River flows into the sea. Its sandy beaches welcome swimmers, surfers, and beach walkers. Fanore can also be accessed via a popular hike from Ballyvaughan.
Visitors can either drive through the stunning scenery along the coast or inland on their way to other destinations; they could also visit the aforementioned national park. Again, visiting before or after the peak tourist season is the key to encountering fewer people along the way.
Hit The Beach In Lahinch
Lahinch is one of the closest towns to the Cliffs of Moher, but it is often overlooked in favor of nearby Doolin. The lovely village is a surfing and water sports haven and boasts a long, sandy beach. Lahinch is also home to the famous Lahinch Golf Club, which has been delighting golfers of all skill levels since 1892. Please note when booking that the Old Course is more expensive than the Castle Course. Since it’s a resort town, Lahinch is more fun to visit in the summer, when there are festivals and more people around. It becomes much sleepier in other seasons.
Relax In The Spa Town Of Lisdoonvarna
In North Clare, Lisdoonvarna provides a respite for tired travelers and has been known for its healing waters since the 1800s. This off-the-beaten-path getaway is known as Ireland’s premier spa town. Natural springs form in the Clare Shales of this area, which is also part of the aforementioned UNESCO Global Geopark. There’s a heritage center for those who want to learn more about the history of this Victorian spa town, and lodging and/or spa options in the area include the Royal Spa Hotel and The Falls Hotel & River Spa.
Tour The Irish Seed Savers Property
In the rolling hills of East Clare lies the country’s first conservation organization, Irish Seed Savers. Their more than 20-acre holdings include a heritage orchard, a shop, a plant-based cafe, huge gardens, multiple greenhouses, a seed bank, and so much more. Guided tours are available for groups; simply call or email ahead.
During my visit, I got to taste delicious local apples, homemade preserves, and freshly pressed apple juice. It was a cool and unique experience not at all known to tourists.
Pro tip: I’d recommend wearing rain boots or tennis shoes for your trip to Irish Seed Savers. My rain boots were perfect for tromping around the gardens while exploring the property.
Visit Clare’s Largest City
Ennis is County Clare’s largest town and capital, with an estimated population of 25,000 residents. It’s known as a hub for traditional Irish music, which is a favorite County Clare pastime and a total must for any traveler! Often called “trad music,” this vibrant celebration of Irish heritage is a beautiful way to experience the country. Ennis even has a Trad Trail of pubs including The Poets Corner, Preachers Pub, Knox’s Pub, Brogan’s Bar, and more. Please note that when any trad singer starts to solo or sing alone, everyone in the pub should quiet down to listen.
See An Irish Castle
Less than 10 minutes from Clare’s gateway city of Shannon is Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. This is a National Landmark of Ireland and bills itself as “the most complete and authentic castle in Ireland.” Bunratty was the site of a Viking trading post back in the year 970, and the castle that currently stands there is the fourth that's been built on the site. Visitors can enjoy the majesty of the castle as well as the open-air museum during a trip there.
Eating In County Clare
There are a number of noteworthy restaurants and food experiences in County Clare.
Wild Kitchen Foraging Walk
One of the highlights of my Clare experience was the Wild Kitchen Foraging Walk in Lahinch. Led by the dynamic Oonaugh, the 2-hour walk explored the bountiful offerings of the Atlantic Coast. We sampled tons of different seaweeds, including a delectable seaweed pesto. We also ate haw jelly (from the hawthorn tree or fairy tree) and fresh watercress. Oonaugh even brought along an elderflower champagne beverage for guests to try. Anyone with the time to enjoy this experience should be sure to add it to their itinerary. It was a very unique way to get to know the region.
The Burren Food Trail
Despite its extraterrestrial landscape, County Clare’s the Burren has a local food trail that connects farmers, markets, restaurants, and more, each with a signature dish for visitors to enjoy. The trail focuses on sustainability for the region, so it’s a great responsible tourism vehicle. There’s also a Slow Food Festival in the Burren every May, so consider timing your trip to coincide with that event.
Clare’s Michelin-Starred Establishments
The Burren is home to one of Ireland’s Michelin-recognized eateries, the Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna. With a focus on “wild food from land and sea,” this spot features French cuisine and two fixed-price menus. Based on what’s available from the aforementioned land and sea, the menus change weekly.
Michelin also highlights affordable restaurants offering “simple yet skillful cooking.” Two of these Bib Gourmand establishments are located in County Clare: McGann’s Pub & Restaurant in Doolin and Morrissey’s Bar & Restaurant in Doonbeg.
Near Bunratty is one of the most famous pubs in Ireland, Durty Nelly’s. Tourists should consider pairing a visit to this pub with their Bunratty Castle trip. Stop in for traditional pub food in a former cottage dating to the 1600s. Durty Nelly’s offers traditional Irish music on the weekends, so consider a trip during that time.
It’s clear that there is a ton to experience in Ireland’s magical County Clare, from unique food to the world-famous Cliffs of Moher to the Burren. This western stretch of Ireland does not disappoint!