Visiting Lahinch | A Bustling Surf Town on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
Cradled in Liscannor Bay, yet exposed to the full force of the Atlantic, Lahinch is a mandatory stop for those travelling the Wild Atlantic Way in search of unforgettable outdoor experiences. Once a fishing village, Lahinch has indeed turned itself into one of the most popular surfing destinations on the west coast of Ireland.
With the summer holiday in full swing, surfers take over the long golden beach and ride the ocean until the sun disappears behind the horizon. Onlookers wander along the seafront Promenade, faces disheveled by the strong wind sweeping the bay. When dinner time comes, pubs and restaurants lining Lahinch’s colourful main street are full to the brim of hungry surfers and families on staycation.
While Bundoran further north was stuck under a timeless and uneasy grey sky during my last visit, Lahinch was just the opposite. The sun had decided to make a sustained appearance, breaking through the clouds and attracting crowds to the town like a magnet. Lahinch Beach was in a frenzy. The Irish summer was short and the locals were making the best of it.
In 2011 a controversy created unwelcomed waves (pun intended) in the community. Without local consultation, the National Roads Authority took upon itself to correct spelling on road signs based on old but official documentation.
That’s when signs with “Lehinch” started to pop up along local roads creating confusion and uproar in the community. Despite what official documentation says, “Lahinch” has been the name in use for the last 150 years and there was no going back! Stickers were astutely applied to road signs to replace the unwanted “e” with the beloved “a”.
Recently a vote was cast to change the name back to Lahinch. Still, road signs have to be replaced with the correct spelling. So when visiting the area, follow directions to “Lehinch” knowing that you are heading in truth to “Lahinch”, as decided by the Lahinchites.
Perhaps not the most eye-pleasing but yet necessary to protect a town battered by the fierce Atlantic, huge heavy rocks are placed between the sea wall and the beach. At high tide, the waves come crashing against the rocky armour, turning the waters into an ever-expanding sea of foam. Sets of stairs built among the gigantic cubes allow beach-goers to safely access the mile long stretch of golden sand that emerges as the tide comes out.
Lahinch Beach is the proud recipient of the Blue Flag, in recognition of its water quality. It is also lifeguarded during the summer season. How cold is the water you may wonder? During sunny summer afternoons, most locals don’t wear wetsuits as the water temperature reaches a refreshing but pleasant 15 to 20 degrees on average.
A convenient, large car park is located right above the beach. However parking there is not free and regularly patrolled. So pay your due if you don’t want to end up with a costly ticket. Bring change with you to pay at the automat. Otherwise download the free ParkMagic app to use a payment card. It’s handy and cheaper (as I discovered) than paying at the machine. On a busy summer day, arrive before 12pm to make sure to find a parking spot. Public toilets are also available nearby.
Surfing in Lahinch
Lahinch is one of Ireland’s favourite hotspots that attracts surfers from all levels of ability.
Surf Hotspot for Experienced Surfers and Beginners Alike
Fully exposed to the swell of the Atlantic, Lahinch is constantly battered by the sea crashing against its heavy rock armour. For kite and experienced surfers, this is a fantastic spot to enjoy Atlantic breakers. You can check for the surf conditions and tide times here.
At low tide, Lahinch turns into a gentle beach break great for beginners of all ages. With water waist-high and several surf schools offering supervised surf lessons, Lahinch Beach is the perfect setting to introduce yourself to surfing.
Surf Lessons in Lahinch
Several surf schools are conveniently located along the seafront. Some have positioned their vans right on the car park above the beach and welcome inquiries. Prices for a lesson are usually the same everywhere, starting at 35€ per person. Private lessons are also available if you don’t want to join a group but it will cost you way more. Wetsuit and board are always included in the price for a lesson of roughly 2 hours taught by qualified instructors.
At the peak of the season, it might not always be possible to book a lesson the very same day. Think ahead and inquire at least a day in advance to avoid disappointment. I booked a lesson for the next day with Lahinch Surf Experience located in the car park and was very happy with the equipment and advice provided during the session.
How to Get There
Driving to Lahinch
Driving is the best way to get to Lahinch. It’s a long (at least 3 ½ hours ) but easy drive from Dublin thanks to well maintained motorways. You’ll find a few tolls along the way so have some change ready as payment cards are not always accepted (yes, it did happen to me).
The journey time from Galway is around 1 ½ hours with the motorway (M18) to Ennis. Count 2 hours at least if you decide to take the picturesque and breathtaking coastal road all the way to Doolin. But you’ll certainly want to stop on the way at the world famous Cliffs of Moher so be ready for a long trip.
If you are landing at Shannon airport and renting a car there, Lahinch is only an hour drive. From Killarney, another stunning stop of the Wild Atlantic Way further south, the journey to Lahinch will take you up to 3 hours.
Travelling by Public Transport
Travelling to Lahinch by public transport is time consuming but not impossible. The easiest way from Dublin is to take the train at Heuston Station for Ennis (3 hours travel time), changing at Limerick Junction station. In Ennis, swap the train for the 350 bus to Lahinch for an additional 1 hour travel time.
From Galway, take the same 350 bus line from the bus station but going in the opposite direction. You’ll be in Lahinch in 2 ½ hours. The bus stops at the Cliffs of Moher if you fancy some spectacular views. This way you won’t have to pay for the (very!) expensive car park but you’ll have to wait another 2 hours for the next bus to Lahinch.
From Shannon airport, get on the Expressway 51 bus going to Galway. You’ll be in Ennis in roughly 1 ½ hours. Then get on the 350 bus to Lahinch.
Where to Eat in Lahinch
Restaurants and pubs are mainly located at the centre of town along Lahinch main street. Have some tasty fish and chips at the Atlantic Hotel or some hearty pub food at Danny Mac’s. Maybe you’d prefer fresh seafood at the upscale Aberdeen Restaurant. Be warned though! At the peak of the season it is highly recommended to book a table in advance at the place of your choice or you’ll be put on a waiting list.
Do you fancy having a delicious dinner inside an 18th century mansion at the top of a hill? The Falls Hotel can be found in Ennistymon, only a five minute drive from Lahinch. The luxurious hotel overlooks the Inagh River flowing through the town in successive cascades.
The river shrouded in mist can be admired from the hotel’s Dylan Thomas Bar. With its large windows and old wooden features reminding the visitor of the place’s former glory, the hotel is the perfect setting to unwind with a glass of wine! The Angus beef burger was absolutely delicious and I couldn’t resist the raspberry and dark chocolate tart served with ice cream. You can also book a table at the hotel’s second but more select restaurant, the Cascades Restaurant, for a tasty, evening meal.
Where to Stay in Lahinch
You may want to find a hotel right in Lahinch so you can enjoy the beach as much as possible and easily access the restaurants and pubs for lunch and dinner. However, Lahinch is a small coastal town and very popular in the summer months. Consequently, I found hotel rooms expensive, if not totally overpriced. And for those on a budget, Lahinch Hostel is the only hostel in town. Check the latest prices for Lahinch.
My recommendation: look further out to find better deals. I suggest staying in the lovely and colourful town of Ennistymon, a short drive from Lahinch. Here you’ll find more affordable accommodations like Station House B&B where I chose to stay 3 nights.
It would be great to see the bathroom slightly updated but the room had been redesigned with new carpet throughout. The bed was very comfortable and a full Irish breakfast was waiting for me in the morning. The B&B had a handy off-street car park and my friendly host couldn’t be faulted in any ways. Check the latest prices.
What Can You See Around Lahinch?
Lahinch makes a great base to explore the area. So what’s there to see around Lahinch?
Hag’s Head and the Cliffs of Moher
The iconic Cliffs of Moher are just a 15 minutes drive from Lahinch and it would be a shame not to swing by. The spectacular view will leave you speechless, unlike the excessive cost (in my opinion) to park your car for barely 15 minutes or so.
Hag’s Head offers an alternative. The southern end of the Cliffs of Moher is not as popular but the view won’t let you down. You can access Hag’s Head by driving through the village of Brigid’s Well then follow the sign to the car park located 1 km up the narrow road (yes, the road is narrow so be prepared). The car park is family run and parking will cost you only 3 euros. Places are limited so come early.
Take the path for another 800 meters heading towards the ruins of the Moher Tower, a 19th century watchtower so conspicuous against the sky. The stunning view lets you embrace the great length of the Cliffs of Moher, a dark wall unwinding like a grey ribbon towards the horizon. As you look up across the sea, the Aran Islands seem to emerge from the water like a mothership ready to welcome visitors approaching on ferry boats.
Doolin and the Aran Islands
With its colourful thatched cottages, Doolin is well known for being the departure point of ferries to the Aran Islands. With the first crossing departing in the morning, you can spend the day exploring the rough beauty of the islands. Be careful however not to miss the last ferry back to the mainland at the end of the afternoon or you’ll have to stay overnight.
Or you might want to embark on a cruise to admire the Cliffs of Moher from the sea. It is also an opportunity to discover the local wildlife with colonies of sea birds and the stunning coastline.
The Burren National Park is just a 30 minutes drive from Lahinch. The Burren are an astonishing place to see, rich in flora but almost lunar-like. If you like the outdoors, the National Park has several hiking trails available to help you discover this surreal rocky landscape unique in Ireland.
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