A must-see in Ireland: The Aran Islands
There are few places in the world that literally transport you back in time and we’re lucky to live in a country with multiple areas that do just that. The “simple life” can be so refreshing at times and helps ground us in our day-to-day life in busy Dublin. The Aran Islands were no exception to this rule and exploring Inis Mor for a day in September was just what the doctor ordered.
The Aran Islands are off the Western coast of Ireland near Galway. The largest, and most popular, of the three is Inis Mor and is where we visited. Inis Oiir and Inis Meain are also frequented by visitors who want to experience a bit more “off the tourist track”. All of the islands are still sparsely inhabited by locals, with Inis Mor having the largest population of 900 people.
Getting to the Aran Islands
There are a few different ferry options to the Aran Islands. Depending on where you are based, if you have your own car, and what you’re looking for you can do a few options. We were staying in an AirBnB in Connemara so chose to drive to Doolin to take the ferry with Doolin2AranFerries to Inis Mor. In retrospect, we should have taken the ferry from Ros a’ Mhíl with Aran Island Ferries. If you are staying in Galway, Aran Island Ferries has an option to take a shuttle bus from Galway which would be a nice option to avoid driving the narrow roads of Western Ireland.
Pro Tip: If you want to save some time and your insides (more on that later) fly to the islands! A little more expensive, but if I ever go back to the Aran Islands there is no doubt we’ll be doing this option.
How long should you stay?
We did a day drip and I can say with full certainty that will never happen again. If you take the ferry you’ll spend over 3 hours on the ferry round-trip and really only get about 5 hours on the island once it’s all said and done. There are some lovely Bed and Breakfasts (on Inis Mor) and now even a glamping option! If (and when) we go back we’ll be opting for the glamping option and maybe even some “island hopping” to the other Aran Islands during our stay. There is so much to do on the island that you’ll want at least two if not three days. Slow travel is the way to go in the Aran Islands.
The epic “ferry” ride
The word “ferry” sounds so pleasant. Prior to this experience, this word brought nice memories of ferry rides across lakes, rivers, and even bays in Texas. I will never look at this word the same. My idea of a good time is NOT death gripping my husband’s hand as I hurled (along with every other passenger on the boat) over the side rail while waves crashed on top of us. I’m not kidding when I say that the waves were literally on top of us and came crashing down on our open-top ferry. While I loved the island, I will never ever subject myself, or my poor husband and friends, to this again. The Irish are tough and this ferry ride proved every single bit of their grit.
Now, they say it was a tough day at sea. Fool me once, and NEVER again. I’ll be flying when I go back to the islands, that’s for sure.
Exploring Inis Mor
Transportation Options on the island
The ferries are not “car ferries” which means that for the most part there are no cars on Inis Mor. This is a pretty large island and would be difficult to walk the entire thing, particularly if you are only here for a day. We opted to hire a bike from Aran Islands BikeHire, but there are options to hire a tour van or a horse and carriage to take you around the island. The horse and carriage looked quite romantic, so if you’re looking for a romantic day this is a great option.
Eating and drinking on the island
After getting off of the boat there was no way any of us were hopping directly on to a bicycle. We opted to head for the first restaurant/pub we could find to hopefully settle our stomachs. There are quite a few eating/drinking options on Inis Mor so you won’t have to worry about finding a nice place to grab some grub. They are pretty much all located right on the main stretch after you get off of the boat. An hour after arriving we were finally in a good enough state to hop on our bicycles and begin our self-guided cycling tour.
The cycling tour
My absolute favorite part of this entire day was the 4ish hours we spent cycling around the island. Once on our bikes and equipped with a map of the island we headed out for the main attraction – Dun Aonghasa. I was excited for our destination, but the journey was worth the entire trip if you ask me.
As you cycle along you have the ocean on your right and rolling hills of farms and tiny cottages on your left. You’ll come across beautiful cliffs and rock structures, farmers living their day-to-day life herding sheep and training horses, and beautiful, pristine beaches. It’s good to know that people who live on the island still speak Gaelic (and English) so don’t be surprised when you hear a different language.
I felt like I had been transported to an entirely new world.
Fun fact: Did you know the walls are all hand-built? These stone walls were all over the island! How in the world did they find rocks to fit in each tiny crevice?!
The cycle over was absolute perfection. My sour tummy was finally feeling better and experiencing Ireland and in it’s most pure state was exhilarating. Even if I wouldn’t have made it all the way to Dun Aonghasa I would have been perfectly content.
Pro Tip: You can’t take your bike up here, but it’s only about a 15 minute stroll up the hill to reach the fort. It also costs 2 euro/person so be sure to bring a few coins to get you in.
The most popular spot on the island is an ancient fort literally hanging over a 300ft sheer cliff drop. People have been living on this hill as far back as 1500 B.C.! The patience that must have been required to build this fort is something I just don’t have. I can’t even imagine the amount of time it must have taken to build. I mean, just look at those tiny rocks in the crevices!
My favorite part of the fort was the sweeping cliff views. We saw some cows chilling on the cliff side, people getting a bit too close to the edge, and the neon blue color of the waves crashing into the cliffs below. I get chills thinking about it – hands down one of the coolest experiences I’ve had thus far in Ireland.
It was so fun exploring this fort and taking in the epic cliff views for a bit. I can’t even imagine what life must have been like in 1500 B.C., but to know that I stood in the same spot as someone over 2000 years ago did was a pretty surreal feeling. After a bit of a rushed visit we hopped back on our bikes to cycle back across the island to catch our boat back to Doolin.
Are you convinced yet that Inis Mor is a must-see on your visit to Ireland? This beautiful island is the perfect spot for people seeking an experience a bit more “off-the-beaten-track” and those looking for the true Irish experience.
– Boots Not Roots
**Note: Most of the pictures in this post were taken by the amazing Josh Moore (should be a famous photographer and happens to be one of our favorite friends).**