72 Hours in Shannon and Beyond - United Hub

72 hours in Shannon and beyond

By Nick Harper

County Clare is the Ireland you've pictured in your imagination — a land of rolling countryside, craggy coastlines and towns and villages full of history. Once you arrive in Shannon, a large stretch of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way is ready to be explored from there. To help you see and experience as much as possible in 72 hours, here are the essentials to exploring Shannon and beyond.

Where to stay

If you fly into Shannon Airport, the town of Shannon can become your gateway to the region. The Clare capital is Ennis, a city centrally placed where you'll find lodging options for all budgets. However, we suggest you head to Ballyvaughan, an hour's drive north, and check in at Gregans Castle Hotel, an 18th century manor house with contemporary rooms. It sits in the heart of the beautiful Burren, boasts award-winning food and is well positioned for exploring the region.

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

What to see

If you only witness one of County Clare's many natural wonders, make it the Cliffs of Moher. The county's most visited tourist destination, the cliffs rise as high as 700 feet in places. Climb a little higher by visiting O'Brien's Tower and you're guaranteed sweeping views of the Atlantic. If you're feeling energetic, the coastal walk spans just over 11 miles from Liscannor to Doolin and will reward you with more breathtaking views along the way, but if you choose to drive instead, the views are still impressive.

In Doolin, you can take a Doolin Ferry to the Aran Islands, home to many historic sites, including the prehistoric fort of Dún Aonghasa and the medieval ruins of the Seven Churches. If you explore Doolin itself, you're close to the 16th Century Doonagore Castle and Doolin Cave — the latter being home to the Great Stalactite, which is as large and impressive as its name suggests.

County Clare's second most visited attraction is the ancient monument Poulnabrone Dolmen, the oldest dated megalithic monument in Ireland. For the uninitiated, expect a large tabular capstone perched atop stone uprights — and have your camera at the ready.

Burren National Park, Burren, Ireland.

From there, a short drive south brings you to the breathtaking, limestone covered Burren National Park. With more than 3,700 acres of walking, cycling and driving routes, this park can fill hours, an entire day or as long as you choose to set aside.

At some point during your stay, head south for Loop Head Peninsula, the slender finger of land that points out into the Atlantic, and County Clare's most westerly point. The drive itself is part of the attraction; a picturesque journey that can take you via Doonbeg and the seaside resort of Kilkee.

When you reach Loop Head, you'll learn why it was voted the best place to holiday in Ireland. Walking, cycling and pony trekking trails, snorkeling, windsurfing and seaweed baths merely scratch the surface of the attractions available, not to mention dolphin and whale watching. Indeed, there's so much to experience that you wouldn't regret spending one of your nights at Loop Head.

Where to eat

In a county perched on the Wild Atlantic Coast, it's hard not to find exceptional seafood with stunning views. Some of the best examples can be found at The Old Bake House Restaurant in Milltown Malbay, Barrtrá Seafood Restaurant overlooking Liscannor Bay, The Long Dock in Carrigaholt, Vasco at Fanore, and Lisdoonvarna's Wild Honey Inn. Whichever you choose, order the oysters which are exceptionally fresh.

But if seafood isn't to your taste, L'Arco in Ballyvaughan frequently wins awards for its Italian food, and the Burren Food Trail offers many great options, too. Held each Monday and ever changing, the trail celebrates the best local food experiences, taking you from smokehouses to cheese farms to cookery classes in local farm kitchens.

Guiness draft beer at a bar in Ireland.

Where to drink

There are hundreds of bars to choose from, but the most distinctive are those that add to the county's reputation as the home of Irish music. Combine a pint with a band of fiddlers, flutists, banjos and bodhrans and you'll have found the Ireland you were looking for. Some of the best examples include Joseph McHugh's Pub in the harbor village of Liscannor and Durty Nelly's in Bunratty, where the thirsts of weary travelers have been quenched since the 1700s. Keating's Bar is supposedly the closest bar in Ireland to New York City – courtesy of its position way out west on the Loop Head Peninsula.

But if you only seek out one pub during your visit, make it Gus O'Connor's Pub in Doolin, the epicenter of traditional Irish music. It opened its doors in 1832 and the music has barely stopped since. Alternatively, Doolin Music House offers a more intimate setting, where its owner Christy Barry invites you into his home to play local Irish music and tell tales around the fire.

Aerial Loop Head Peninsula in West Clare, Ireland. Kilkee Beach County Clare, Ireland.

When to visit

Ireland's weather is known to change often, particularly on the windswept west coast, but it's not an island of extremes and rarely gets too hot or cold. July and August are the height of summer, with the longest daylight hours and, theoretically, the best weather. They also bring the biggest crowds and higher hotel rates, but to pack as much in as possible, that's a price worth paying. Whatever month you visit, make sure to pack for rain.

Getting there

United Airlines flies seasonal, nonstop flights between Newark and Shannon, Ireland until October 30. For more information and to book your next adventure to Shannon and the cities beyond, visit united.com or download the United app and share your story using #UnitedJourney.

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