This article is part of our Trip Report, A Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland.
On the first two days of A Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland, we visited The Burren area, including a stay at Gregans Castle hotel near Ballyvaughan and a morning drive down the R477 coast road to Black Head and continuing south to the village of Doolin (and beyond).
We enjoyed our time in The Burren, and it would be interesting to spend a couple of relaxing days there, doing some hiking and visiting some of the natural and ancient man-made attractions there. The drive down the R477 coast road to Black Head and southward was spectacular. I’m very glad we did it, and I’d recommend the drive to anyone visiting Ireland It’s definitely worth the time, plus it takes you toward the Cliffs of Moher, which many people will be visiting on their trips to Ireland.
What Is The Burren?
The Burren refers to an area in west-central Ireland exemplified by its unique layered-rock landscape. Wikipedia describes the landscape of The Burren as “glaciated karst,” and it describes “karst” as “a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves.” For me, a picture of the landscape of The Burren is worth more than a thousand words in understanding what it’s like:
Where Is The Burren?
The area of The Burren lies south of Galway and north of the Cliffs of Moher, and extends several miles inland. I’ve included two maps of The Burren here, the first to show the location of The Burren in relation to the whole of Ireland, and the second to show the approximate geographic area of The Burren more specifically.
What Did We See in The Burren?
Our time in The Burren lasted for parts of two days. On the day when we arrived from the US into Dublin, we drove from DUB airport to Gregans Castle hotel near Ballyvaughan, and the last part of that drive was in The Burren. On that drive, we stopped to stretch our legs at Dunguaire Castle. Dunguaire Castle is a 16th-century medieval tower house dramatically perched on a small peninsula overlooking Galway Bay, near Kinvarra. Even though we were not able to actually go inside the castle because they were getting ready to host a private reception, we enjoyed walking around and seeing the castle and the surrounding area.
The village of Kinvarra was also close by Dunguaire Castle, and if we hadn’t been so tired from our overnight flight and long drive, we would have liked to walk around the town. We also enjoyed passing through the village of Ballyvaughan as we neared Gregans Castle. Ballyvaughan was small with the center of town comprising only a few blocks, but it appeared to be very lively and have some popular restaurants and pubs where people were gathered on a nice Sunday afternoon.
After overnighting at Gregans Castle hotel, the next morning we drove back to the north through Ballyvaughan and turned left on the R477 highway for the coast road drive to Black Head and then south down the coast toward Doolin. This was a spectacular drive, and I’ll give it its own dedicated section, below.
Here was our driving route through The Burren, including the R477 coast road:
What Else Is in The Burren?
After getting a taste of the otherworldly landscape of The Burren, we would have loved to stay longer and see more of the natural and man-made attractions there. I had hoped that we might have time to visit Ailwee Cave, which was fairly close to Gregans Castle, but we were too tired to make it. We also would have enjoyed going on a nice hike in The Burren, perhaps in The Burren National Park. There seemed to be interesting sites in Poulnabrone Dolmen, a megolithic monument and portal tomb more than 5,000 years old, and the Caherconnell Stone Fort, a medieval fort in the shape of a ring. And not surprisingly, given the landscape, there was yet another place in The Burren to visit a cave, at Doolin Cave.
The R477 Coast Road Drive – Ballyvaughan to Black Head, and South toward Doolin
The highlight of our time in The Burren was our drive along the R477 Coast Road from Ballyvaughan to Black Head, and south toward Doolin. This drive is part of Ireland’s “Wild Atlantic Way,” which runs all the way down the west coast of Ireland.
The drive is short. Google Maps pegs it at only about 29 km / 36 minutes from Ballyvaughan to Doolin. We took closer to 2 hours, as we stopped several times along the way to admire the scenery and hike on the rocks and the beach. (Plus, we had a few extra miles on our drive as we started at Gregans Castle, plus we had a bit further to go at the end to get past the village of Doolin out to the Doolin Pier.)
Our drive allowed us to see a lot of the landscape of The Burren, in addition to interesting rock formations, limestone cliffs that were a prelude to the Cliffs of Moher, and great ocean views. We even stopped as we were leaving Ballyvaughan to visit a friendly donkey at a farm along the road.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story from here (the pictures in the “What Is The Burren?” section above were also taken on this drive):
We finished our coast road drive at the Doolin Pier, and I’ll pick up our Trip Report there in our article on visiting the Cliffs of Moher, The Magnificent Cliffs of Moher – By Sea and By Land.