Ireland’s most scenic bus service? Ennis to Galway via Cliffs of Moher | Holidays in Ireland
Jhe winding medieval streets and magnificent architecture of Ennis, County Clare’s principal market town, are the southern starting point for Route 350, a bus service that navigates sleepy villages, historic landmarks, epic landscapes and some of the finest coastal scenery in Ireland.
Ennis is just 30 minutes by bus from Shannon Airport and half way by train from Galway to Limerick City – yet despite all that connectivity there are no early departures here, and that includes the 350 The city stretches and yawns awakes sometime after 9am to the clink of empty kegs at the back of the pubs lining Abbey Street to Ennis Friary. It had a literary nod as a location in James Joyce’s Ulysses, which draws a flurry of visitors for its early spring book festival, but other than that Ennis moves at its own pace through late May. That’s when Fleadh Nua begins – an event of traditional Irish music, marked by the sound of uilleann pipes or a bodhrán filtering through every bar door and window.
The city is full of breakfast cafes, like the Market Bar and Restaurant on Merchant’s Square, which serves a full Irish for less than €10. It’s the best way to spend an hour waiting for the bus that will travel along the Clare coast to Galway city. Christy the driver today is kind of a friendly smile – he steers the bus from the station with the confidence of vast experience which is a relief as this is not a normal rural service – it moves at a clever pace along the cliffside – skirting narrow lanes and traversing sharp bends.
We drive for 30 minutes on narrow roads through thick green pastures before the bus stops at Ennistymon, outside the simple brightly colored Unglert Bakery, where owner Stephan sells fresh bread and apple strudel for 40 years. Then Christy is back on the road to take a 90 degree turn in the center of Ennistymon, which is a challenge even for a compact car – it brings village traffic to a halt, before crossing a stretch of bridge. To the right, cascading waterfalls pass by the Falls Hotel, a former home of Caitlin Macnamara, author and wife of Dylan Thomas.
Just as Ennistymon retreats, the Atlantic Ocean appears on the horizon above the surf town of Lahinch. The bus swerves to a rest area – near the old golf course which is rated the fourth best in Ireland. Lahinch is County Clare’s most popular seaside town, so the bus offers the chance to avoid parking fees and stroll along the promenade or sit for an hour on the golden sands, waiting that the next 350 are coming. Vaughan’s on The Prom (formerly O’Looney’s) is the perfect place to watch the surf from a safe distance – somewhere between the beach and the Cliffs of Moher is Aileen’s Wave, a serious surf spot with gargantuan breaks. I prefer the relative safety of the road – and at this point it’s worth mentioning that northbound passengers on the 350 should sit on the left side of the bus for the best views.
The route passes through Liscannor – the birthplace of John P Holland, an inventor who designed the US Navy’s first submarine – before climbing 200 meters above the ocean, a sign that the Cliffs of Moher are nearby. This is where most passengers disembark. The interpretive centre, with its grassy domed roof, looks eerily similar to Teletubbyland, but the operation operates on an exemplary sustainable model, while offering views for miles and miles of the County Clare coastline and on the Aran Islands. They are breathtaking on a clear day. If you stay on board, the bus will soon turn around a corner just beyond the Visitor Center and those same views will pan out to the small tourist village of Doolin. There’s a regular ferry service to the Aran Islands (and lively pubs) here – or a chance to cruise under the Cliffs of Moher from the same vantage point as Harry Potter in the Half-Blood Prince .
After a short detour to Lisdoonvarna, which hosts what is said to be Europe’s biggest matchmaking festival each September, the bus drives along the coast on one of Ireland’s most spectacular routes, along by Black Head. Burren Park’s silvery terrain is on either side – mountainous on the right, smooth and crevassed on the left – before plunging into the bluest water imaginable. The scenery softens on Fanore beach, before moving on to Ballyvaughan, which makes some passengers want to disembark. The village has a good range of rooms and restaurants overlooking Galway Bay – and O’Loclainn’s bar has an unrivaled selection of whiskey brands piled high in its cramped interior.
Before leaving County Clare and Burren Park, Christy takes an unexpected turn inland, passing landmarks such as the ruins of 13th century Corcomroe Abbey and Oughtama – a valley of churches crumbling medieval towns – then to New Quay. The Flaggy Shore, near New Quay, is a secluded limestone, white-sand beach where the poet Seamus Heaney spent time and described in his poem Postscript. To savor the sublime ocean views, stop by Linnane’s Lobster Bar for fresh fish and wine, or draft beer on tap.
Across the border in County Galway, the bus is creating a minor calamity with traffic by blocking the main street of Kinvara to give passengers a chance to disembark. White sails float in the harbor ahead – and perched on a cliff on the outskirts is Dunguaire Castle. It is a small tower house where some of the great names in Irish literature – Yeats, Synge and Shaw – have devised a roadmap to revive and nurture the arts. It’s also the last stop before the bus heads into a more urban setting towards Eyre Square in Galway city, with its Michelin-starred restaurants, upscale bars and bohemian lifestyle . But that’s an adventure for another day.
With a Leap Card, Bus Éireann tickets are 30% cheaper than one-way tickets. The first of five daily services of 350 departs from Ennis at 10.30am.
Doubles at The Old Ground, Ennis, from €107 (room only) or €125 B&B; double at Monks, Ballyvaughan Village from €150 B&B; double at the Galmont, Galway, €160 room only.