From unique limestone landscapes to Ireland's most spectacular cliffs, County Clare is full of natural beauty. But it is also a great place to explore Irish history and culture. Craggaunowen Living Past Experience and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park are great places to relive Irish life in days gone by. Traditional Irish culture can be experienced in almost every small village and town in this west coast county.
Cliffs of Moher
Ireland's most visited natural attraction
The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland's most visited natural attraction. Located along the Wild Atlantic Way close to the village of Liscannor, the cliffs are visited by up to a million people each year. Stretching for 8 kilometres along the Atlantic Coast, and rising to 214 metres at their highest points, these probably the best place in Ireland from which to watch the sun setting. A number of Ireland's other famous landmarks can also be seen from here on a clear day, including the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, Maum Turk and Twelve Pins mountains in Connemara, Loop Head to the south and the Blasket Islands and Dingle Peninsula in Kerry.
The cliffs were formed approximately 300 million years ago. Layers of Namurian sandstone, shale and siltstone form a sedimentary basin, normally only visible under the sea. Details of their formation and history are depicted in the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience adjacent to the cliffs.
The cliffs are also home to one Ireland's most significant colonies of cliff nesting seabirds. Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Choughs and Peregrine Falcons are among the birds that can be spotted here between April and July.
Clare's spectacular limestone landscape
Burren, meaning rocky place or great rock, is a particularly spectacular limestone landscape and one of the finest glacio-karst landscapes in the world. The area extends over approximately 250 square kilometres between the villages of Ballyvaughan, Lisdoonvarna, Kilfenora, Corofin, Tubber and Kilvara. The Burren National Park, a conservation area within the park, covers 15 square kilometres, and the Burren National Park Visitor Centre in Corofin.
Despite the barren look, the soil between the cracks in the limestone pavement is particularly fertile. The soil and the unique climate provide a perfect environment for plants native to alpine, Mediterranean and Artic regions to flourish side-by-side. The Burren is home to a number of insects and plants not seen anywhere else in Ireland.
In addition to its geological and biological significance, the Burren is rich with archaeological and historical sites. The area contains more than 90 megalithic tombs, portal dolmens, a number of ring forths, including a the well preserved Caherconnell Stone Fort and a triple ring fort on the edge of an inland cliff at Cahercommaun, and a Celtic high cross.
Spectacular stalactites and stalagmites
Because of the properties of limestone, caves are plentiful under the Burren landscape. The Aillwee Caves are the finest example, and a 300 metres section of the kilometre-long passageway is open to the public. Features include an underground river, a weterfall, and fine examples of stalactites and stalagmites. Bear remains can also be seen here, leading some to believe that this may have been Ireland's last bear den. The caves were first discovered by local farmer Jack McGann in 1944 when he followed his dog who was chasing a rabbit. MCGann, however, only told others of his discovery in 1973.
The living past experience
Craggaunowen is very similar to the Irish National Heritage Park in Co Wexford. This open air museum, located 10 kilometres east of Quin, is centred around a 16th century castle and contains reconstructions of Irish homes, buildings and burial chambers from prehistoric times. Among the attractions are a crannog, a dolen, a ringfort, a fulachta fia and an ogham stone. The currach boat used by Tim Severins in his recreation of The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot is also on display. Wild boar, soay sheep and goats can be spotted on the pleasant walk through the woods, and homemade treats are available in the charming farmhouse tearoom. The attraction, operated by Shannon Heritage, is open between Easter Sunday and the end of August.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park
A window on Ireland's past
Bunratty Castle is an authentic medieval fortress, built in the 1400s, and containing 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries and works of art that capture the mood of that era. The 19th century Bunratty Folk Park surrounds the castle and includes a 19th century street complete with a post office, school, doctor's house, hardware shop, printers and pub. The park allows visitors to experience the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of Irish village life in days gone by. The 30-plus buildings range from a basic one room home of a poor family to a fine Georgian residence for the gentry. Bunratty walled garden is a surviving feature from the original demesne that built up around the castle.
Other sites, attractions and activities
Clare is one of Ireland's most unspoilt counties. A simple drive along the coast from Black Head in the north via Spanish Point to Kilkee and Loop Head in the south will pass through a number of beautiful and noteworthy spots.
Sitting between the Atlantic Sea and the Shannon Estuary, Loop Head was awarded the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland in 2013. The West Clare Currach Club revives the art of building and racing currachs, Ireland's traditional fishing boats. Boat trips up the Shannon provide the opportunity to spot bottlenose dolphins. The beach in Kilkee is suitable for a range of water sports, including swimming, diving, wind surfing, surfing, Kayaking and yachting.
Rock climbing and potholing are popular activities in and around the Burren region, while the waves off Lahinch are perfect for surfing. There are also a number of spectacular golf courses and resorts along the coast.
Lough Derg, sitting on the border between Clare and Tipperary, is the largest and one of the most beautiful lakes on the River Shannon. There is a particularly scenic driving route around the lake.
The village of Lisdoonvarna hosts an annual matchmaking festival and traditional Irish music festivals and events happen year round, particularly in Ennis, county town of Clare.