Rugged and windswept, Connemara is the definition of Ireland's stark beauty. It sets itself apart from the rest of the nation, however, by being just off Killary Harbour (the country's only true fjord) and against the majestic Mweelrea Mountain. Despite its rural reputation, the district puts on a surprising number of events each year, from the Connemarathon race to the Connemara Mussel Festival. It's also a haven for adrenaline-spiking outdoor sports: think kayaking, bungee jumping and climbing.
While in Connemara, you can pull up a chair next to a warm stove in a hostel with a cosy lounge featuring views out over the crashing sea and green mountains. It's worth finding a Connemara hostel with a self-catering kitchen, so you can easily pack up picnics for all-day-long exploring. Hostels in Connemara range from farmhouse-style cottages with timber flooring and a bar styled to look like a ship's galley, to a sleek and modern spot set in 300 acres of grounds.
Clifden is the main town in Connemara, with a bit of a bustle about it in the busier summer months. It still hosts traditional Irish music events now and again. Leenane is at Killary Harbour's head, with easy access to Aasleagh Falls where you can see salmon leaping in season. Nearby, Letterfrack Bay and Ballinakill Harbour are peaceful and picturesque spots that you can explore on foot or on a boat trip.
Trekking's one of the top things to do in Connemara, as the Killary Harbour walk is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a popular coastal touring route. The paths of Connemara National Park, past bogs and through heathlands, are another highlight, as are the white-sand beaches of Glassilaun and Lettergesh. You can dawdle beside the banks of Lough Fee – a freshwater lake where Oscar Wilde spent childhood summers. If you're driving, take a tour around the N59 from Galway to Westport as well as Doolough Valley and the Renvyle Peninsula for picture-perfect panoramas.
The best way to travel around the region is by hiring a car from Dublin Airport or Galway city, signing up for an organised tour through your hostel or taking the hop-on, hop-off bus. You'll most likely fly into Dublin Airport if you're visiting Ireland from abroad, about a 4-hour drive from Connemara, while Galway can be anything between 40 minutes and 1 hour 15 minutes depending on your destination in the area.