Your trip to Ireland won’t be complete without paying a visit to the Aran Islands.
The Aran Islands are just off the coast of Galway and Doolin, perfect for an unforgettable day trip, but many don’t even realise that they’re one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets.
They’re are a lot less touristy and just as beautiful (if not more) than the Cliffs of Moher.
When to Visit
The best time to visit the Aran Islands is between April and September. The summer months (late June – late September) prove most ideal, although sunny skies can’t be guaranteed.
I went during off-peak season (winter) in February and was fortunate that we didn’t get rained out. Since the weather can be unpredictable, try to keep tabs on weather conditions before you arrive in Ireland.
I’d definitely recommend doing the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher on the best weather days of your trip. If you’re on a tight schedule with your itinerary, you can even group the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher in ONE day with a tour like this.
Getting to the Aran Islands
It’s pretty simple to get to the Aran Islands from Galway. Many, like myself, stay in Galway for 1-2 nights in order to do a day trip to Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands.
Take bus 424 to Rossaveel and then catch the ferry at the terminal. Book your ferry tickets online and save 10% versus showing up to Galway and booking in person. As of 2020, it’s €30 round-trip for a ticket, which is an impressive deal for the breathtaking beauty of the islands. Be sure to check the timetable before you go, since they run very infrequently (especially in off-peak seasons).
The bus ride from Galway to Rossaveel is about 45 min. and the ferry ride is about 45-50 min., so be sure to catch the earliest ferry to allow for maximum exploring time on Inis Mór.
Most tours will also drive through Ceardlaan, an arts and crafts village.
Keep in mind that departures from Doolin are seasonal (generally from March to October), while ferries depart from Rossaveel (in Galway) year-round. Ferries usually take between 40 and 90 minutes, while the journey is just 10 minutes by plane (but far costlier).
Aran Islands History
The Aran Islands are home to countless ruins of historical structures. Inis Mór features Iron Age fortresses of Dun Aengus (Dun Aonghasa) and the Seven Churches, the remains of many chapels, crosses, and religious buildings dating from the 8th – 11th centuries.
The less-visited Inis Meáin and the smallest island, Inis Oírr, also have impressive ruins, such as a 4th-century fort and a 16th-century castle.
Know Before You Go
Before you travel to the Aran Islands, keep these things in mind:
- Ferries are weather-dependent and may be canceled due to unfavourable conditions
- Bring a waterproof jacket just in case, especially since you may get some mist on the ferry
- Bring food and snacks if you’re on a tight budget. There are limited options for food on the island of Inis Mór, but they’re a bit pricier (understandably)
Inis Mór: The Main Island
Inis Mór (or Inishmore) is the main island of the Aran Islands. It is home to approximately 850 residents. In off-peak season (like when I went), only 50 passengers were on the ferry. In more prime times, there can be up to 2,000 visitors a day.
The island itself is surprisingly large based off the one small road you see twisting around every corner and bordered by dry stone walls. It’s about 13 miles long from end to end, so it’s easy to see the entire island in a day.
It’s useful to either rent bikes for the day (€10/day) or hop on a private bus tour (also €10 for a few hours). I ended up doing the latter, and our bus driver was a lovely local who showed us around the historic churches, coastline, and his own farm where he makes goat cheese.
Dun Aonghasa (Dun Aengus)
One of the main draws of Inis Mór is Dún Aonghasa (Dun Aengus), a series of towering cliffs that can be described as a smaller-scale Cliffs of Moher.
For incredible drone footage of Dún Aonghasa, see the 4K video below:
Dún Aonghasa dates back to 1100 B.C. and is perched alongside the most stunning sea cliffs ever.
I absolutely loved how you just rock up to the cliffs at your own discretion. There are no guardrails, signs, or anything preventing you from falling or jumping off – it’s just up to you to use your own caution.
I was the only one up there when I climbed up, soon followed by another couple, and we luckily took some photos of each other doing this:
For the record, I don’t recommend this, especially since it’s extremely windy at the top – and Lord knows that I’ve risked my life hundreds of times already by running up to the edges of cliffs.
However, yes, it’s so exhilarating to look over the edge of cliffs that drop down hundreds of feet below you into turquoise waters.
Life on Inis Mór
Our bus driver drove us to the farm he owned, which housed 80 (YES, 80!) goats that he raised primarily for their milk and goat cheese.
The baby goats (kids, doelings, bucklings) were absolutely adorable. We all had the chance to hold one, and I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so huge in my life:
My goat was extremely calm and probably weighed less than 4 kilos. So, naturally, because I loved cuddling him, I had to do a photoshoot with him.
Life on Inis Mór seems very quaint and beautifully Irish, much different than the mainland. Galway is already small enough, and Inis Mór is about 1/4 the size of Galway.
The primary and secondary schools on Inis Mór only have 50 students, and our bus driver’s mum was one of the teachers. It’s definitely one of those living situations where every single person on the island knows who you are and is related to you somehow.
The island only had one small supermarket, one bank (only open on Wednesdays and Tuesdays/Wednesdays in the summer), and a few restaurants that most likely only thrived off tourism.
If you’re looking to explore more beyond the stretches of Ireland’s mainland, definitely take the ferry to Inis Mór. The views on Dún Aonghasa are once-in-a-lifetime gems that you’ll never erase from your memory, and you might even get to cuddle a baby goat on one of the local farms!
Definitely add the Aran Islands to your Ireland itinerary to make the most of out of your time in this gorgeous country.
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