If you fancy heading off on a self-guided Aran Islands tour / road trip, you’ve landed in the right place!
There’s heaps of things to do on the Aran Islands, but it can be tricky to figure out how best to get around them on your own.
In the guide below, you’ll find a detailed self-guided Aran Islands tour itinerary that contains everything from how to get between each island to what to do when you’re there.
There’s also info on where to eat, where to stay and where to kick-back with a post-adventure pint.
At the end of the guide, we’ve also popped in some recommendations on Aran Islands tour from Galway, if you’d rather someone else do the work for you!
Our self-guided Aran Islands tour: Some quick need-to-knows
As this Aran Islands tour is self-guided, you’ll need to plan out your trip carefully, as you’ll be using ferries to get between each of the islands.
Now, a trip to the Aran Islands is fairly straightforward, but these 4 ‘need-to-knows’ are worth understanding in advance of your visit.
1. The different islands
2. Where to find them
You’ll find the Aran Islands at the mouth of Galway Bay, off Ireland’s west coast. They’re part of Galway and the beautiful Burren region thats spans both Clare and Galway.
3. Getting to the islands
You can reach the Aran Islands via ferry or by plane. Ferries leave from Doolin, in Clare, or from Rossaveal, in Galway. The flights leave from Inverin.
4. Ferry times
So, the ferry times listed below are accurate at the time of writing, but they may change after the pain in the arse of a year that we had in 2020. Make sure to CHECK THE FERRY TIMES IN ADVANCE for the most up-to-date info.
An overview of our Aran Islands tour
Here’s a quick breakdown of our Aran Islands tour. Unlike our Galway road trip guide – this itinerary stays on the islands for the entire 3 days.
Day 1 (Inis Mor)
- Ferry from Doolin to the island
- Rent a bike for transport
- Head off in search of seals
- Kilmurvey Beach
- Soup, Ice Cream, Fudge and the Man of Aran Cottage
- Dún Aonghasa
- The Wormhole
- The Black Fort
- Post-adventure pints (or a tea/coffee)
- A bed for the night
Day 2 (Inis Meain + Inis Oirr)
- Ferry from Inis Mor to Inis Meain
- Rent a bike at the pier if you fancy
- The Lúb Dún Fearbhaí Looped Walk
- Cathaoir Synge and the cliffs
- Dún Fearbhaí
- Leaba Dhiarmada agus Ghrainne/The Bed of Diarmuid and Grainne
- Teach Synge
- Conor’s Fort (Dun Chonchuir)
- Synge’s Chair
- Back to the pier for the ferry to Inis Oírr
- Inis Oirr for the night
Day 3 (Inis Oirr)
- Deciding how you’ll get around
- An Tra
- Another stop that isn’t reallly a stop
- Cnoc Raithní
- Teampall Caomhán
- O’Brien’s Castle (Caislean Ui Bhriain)
- MV Plassey Shipwreck
- Inis Oírr Lighthouse
- On the look-out for a dolphin
- Back to the mainland or spend a night on the island
Aran Islands tour day 1: Saying ‘Howaya’ to Inis Mór
The first day of our Aran Islands tour takes us onto Inis Mor. Now, you need to decide 1, how you’re going to get there and 2, what time you’re going to arrive.
For the ‘getting there’ bit, you can either take a ferry from Doolin Pier in Clare or a ferry from Rossaveal in Galway (or you can fly from Inverin).
In terms of when you’ll arrive, the earlier the better. However, arrive whenever you can and then, when you do, start on day on of our Aran Islands tour itinerary below.
Stop 1: Grab a bike
The best way to explore any of the Aran Islands, in my opinion, is by bike. You can rent a bike from the pier on Inis Mór, which is grand and handy.
Price wise (again – double check this in advance), you can rent a mountain bike for a day for €10, a kids bike for €10 or an electric bike for €30.
It really is hard to bate spinning along the seemingly endless stone walls on Inis Mor with the wind whipping against your face as you explore the island.
Stop 2: Seal Colony Viewpoint
Our first stop on our Aran Islands tour takes us to ‘Seal Colony Viewpoint’, as it’s marked on Google Maps – this is a handy 13-minute cycle from the bike rental near the pier.
When you arrive here, you can find anything up to 20 fine looking seals chilling on the rocks, basking in the fresh ocean air (some of these lads weigh up to 230kg!).
Now, pleeeeeeease don’t be one of those tools that tries to get close to them – there’s no need. Admire them for afar and enjoy the experience.
Stop 3: One of the finest beaches in the land
Our second stop takes us on an 8-minute cycle out to Kilmurvey Beach. This gorgeous sandy beach has Blue Flag status, which means that it’s safe to swim on as there are no strong currents.
However, as should be the case any time you’re considering entering the water, proper care and common sense are needed.
The water here is beautiful and crystal clear – if you’d rather keep yer toes dry, saunter along the sand and gulp down a lungful of salty sea air.
Stop 4: Soup, Ice Cream, Fudge and the Man of Aran Cottage
Next up is your chance to fuel up with a hearty feed or some sweet stuff. There are several different spots for a bite to eat near stop 3, depending on what you fancy.
You can’t go wrong with Teach Nan Phaidi – this is a gorgeous thatched cafe (pictured above) that’ll make your belly very happy.
If you fancy something a sweet, you can nip into the Man of Aran Fudge, or, our personal favourite, ice cream from Paudy’s.
If you fancy having a nosey at another gorgeous old thatched cottage, take the 3-minute cycle to the Man of Aran Cottage.
This is an old thatched cottage that was build in 1930 for use in the movie ‘The Man of Aran’. It’s now a B&B, which should appeal to those of you looking for unique places to stay during your visit.
Stop 5: Dún Aonghasa
You can safely park your bike at a dedicated parking station just down the road from Paudy’s and the cafe and use it as your starting point for your walk to Dún Aonghasa.
If you’re not familiar with Dún Aonghasa, you’re in for a treat. Few place boast a location as dramatic as Dún Aonghasa.
This is the largest of a number of stone forts scattered across the Aran Islands. standing at Dún Aonghasa makes you feel like you’re perched at the point where Ireland ends.
Stop 6: Poll na bPeist
Poll na bPeist is one of the more unique places that we’ll be visiting on this Aran Islands tour. Also known as ‘the Wormhole‘, this is a naturally formed hole in the limestone that connects to the sea.
Yes, naturally formed! Mad stuff! To get here from Dun Aonghasa, follow the signs for Gort na gCapall (or just walk east along the cliffs from the fort).
Be careful and don’t get too near the cliff edge! The views you’ll be able to soak up from here are sensational.
Stop 7: The often-missed Black Fort
Our final stop of day 1 of our Aran Islands tour takes us out to the Black Fort – another cliffside ruin (and it’s one that some visitors tend to miss).
You’ll find it on the southern side of the island, not far from where you picked up your bike, near the pier.
Known as ‘Dún Dúchathair’ in Irish, the fort is now situated on a rocky promontory that juts out into the Atlantic (thanks to erosion over the years).
This is our last stop of the day before heading off for a bite to eat, a post-adventure pint and a kip before another day of adventure!
Stop 8: Chill time
We’re going to wrap up day 1 of our Aran Islands tour with a pint (or a tea/coffee) in one of the best pubs in Galway.
I’m talking, of course, about Joe Watty’s pub. You’ll find live music playing away here seven nights per week in normal times and at the weekends during the year.
Get in, grab some food and kick-back for the evening after your day of exploring. We’ve a great day ahead on day two.
Stop 9: A bed for the night
We’ve created an Inis Mor accommodation guide to help you decide where to kip on the first night of your Aran Islands tour.
The link above contains everything from traditional thatch cottages to Airbnbs and B&Bs, each of which boasts great reviews.
Aran Islands tour day 2: Having the buzz on Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr
On day 2 we’re going to take the 11:30 ferry with doolin2aranferries to Inis Meáin, float about for a bit, and then grab the 16:15 ferry across to Inis Oírr (note: these times can change, so double check their inter-island ferry timetable).
Now, this isn’t a huge amount of time to explore Inis Meáin – ideally, you’d need 1 – 2 days, but we’re working with the time that we have on this road trip.
If you had a late night in Joe Watty’s, you can enjoy a lie-in or head for an early morning swim to banish any lingering cobwebs.
The ferry from Inis Mór to Inis Meáin takes around 15 minutes or so, which means you should arrive for around 12:15. You have just over 4 hours to head off for a ramble.
Stop 1: Deciding how you’ll get around
When you arrive on Inis Meain, it’s time to decide how you’re going to explore the island. If, as was the case with Inis Oirr, you fancy exploring by bike, you’re in luck.
There’s a couple of places to rent bikes on the island. Now, I’ve had some trouble finding websites for the bike rental places, so you’re best bet is to ask on the ferry.
If you’d rather explore by foot, head off on your merry way. We’ve two options for you to choose from when you get to Inis Meain.
Option 1: Do the Lúb Dún Fearbhaí Looped Walk
If you’re after a decent walked, the Lúb Dún Fearbhaí Walk is a 4 to 5 hour looped walk that takes in plenty of sights on Inis Meáin.
There are two different routes you can follow: the longest route is the purple route and the shorter routes are the blue and green routes.
Each route is marked by arrows (you’ll see them from the pier) and, over the course of your stroll, you’ll see everything from Dun Fearbhal Fort to Synge’s Chair.
Option 2: Walk to Cathaoir Synge and the cliffs
If you’d rather try a different route, you can always just walk to the islands main attractions, and explore them at your leisure.
I’ll go into each of the main attractions in detail. If you don’t have a map, pop them into Google Maps and use it to direct you.
Keep an eye out for the Church and the Holy well as you saunter along. There are also a couple of spots to grab a bite to eat (more on this below).
Stop 1: Dún Fearbhaí
Stop one, Dún Fearbhaí, is a short distance from the pier (the photo above isn’t Dún Fearbhaí – I couldn’t for the life of me find a picture for it).
Dún Fearbhaí fort is finely plonked on a steep incline overlooking the breath-taking Galway Bay. It’s believed that the fort was constructed sometime during the first millennium.
If you arrive at Dún Fearbhaí on a clear day you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of the ocean, the surrounding island and the faraway coast.
Stop 2: Leaba Dhiarmada agus Ghrainne/The Bed of Diarmuid and Grainne
Our next stop is a 10-15 minute walk from Dún Fearbhaí and it’s steeped in a fine bit of legend and folklore.
Leaba Dhiarmada agus Ghrainne/The Bed of Diarmuid and Grainne is a wedge tomb that’s linked to the legend of Diarmuid and Grainne.
This is an ancient burial place that was originally covered by a mound of soil. According to legend, Diarmuid and Grainne slept at this site while they travelled around Ireland on their quest to escape Fionn mac Cumhaill` and the Fianna.
Stop 3: John Millington Synge’s Cottage and Museum
The next stop on our Aran Islands tour is John Millington Synge’s Cottage and Museum, and it’s only 3 minutes away from The Bed of Diarmuid and Grainne.
Teach Synge is a 300-year-old cottage that was carefully restored and is now home to a museum showcasing the works of John Millington Synge.
Synge first visited the island (and the house) in 1898 and he returned many times over the years. The house is open during the summer months and boasts photos, drawings and letters along with publications about and by Synge.
Stop 4: Conor’s Fort (Dun Chonchuir)
Next up is Dún Chonchúir (AKA Conor’s Fort). You’ll find it 3 minutes from our last stop. This is the largest stone fort on the Aran Islands.
It measures a whopping 70 by 35 metres and it’s just under 7 metres in height. You’ll find it at the islands point where it’s been since it’s construction during the first or second millennium.
If you look at the top-left section of the photo above you’ll be able to see the fort. You’ll get a nice view of the island and beyond from here!
Stop 5: Synge’s Chair
Our final stop on Inis Meain is Synge’s Chair, located at the western end of the island, 15 minutes from Dún Chonchúir.
This is a little lookout point situated right on the edge of a cliff that’s often nicely sheltered from the wind.
Like Teach Synge, Synge’s Chair takes its name from the Irish poet who spent several summers on the Aran Islands.
Stop 6: The ferry to Inis Oirr
Now, you can absolutely spend the night on Inis Meain if you fancy it – we’ve even created an Inis Meain accommodation guide for you to find a great place to stay.
However, in this Aran Islands tour itinerary, we’re going to mooch along to Inis Oirr. You’ll need to make your way back the way you came to catch the ferry to Inis Oírr at 16:15.
Again, check the times in advance, as they may change. 1If you’ve some time to spare, there’s plenty of places to grab a feed on Inis Meáin.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about the food from An Dun Guest House and Restaurant and Teach Osta, also! Get in, get fed and get down to the pier to grab the ferry.
Stop 7: A post-adventure pint (or tea/coffee) on Inis Oírr
I’ve loved Inis Oirr since the moment I first set foot on it many years ago. We spent the day cycling around and then, somehow, had two hours to kill before the ferry left.
We strolled up to the hotel and had a pint while sat outside. It’s 5 or 6 years later, and I can safely say that this was the finest pint I’ve ever supped.
If pints and the likes aren’t your thing, I’ve heard a lot of positive chatter about Teach an Tae (apparently the rhubarb crumble is only gooooorgeous!)
If you fancy staying on the island, we’ve rounded up some solid places to stay in our Inis Oirr accommodation guide.
Aran Islands tour day 3: Floating around Inis Oírr
Inis Oírr is one of my favourite places in Ireland. When you visit just before or just after peak season, you’ll often find the place nice and quiet.
There’s a load of things to do on Inis Oírr, so try and get up early enough so that you’ve got a decent bit of time to explore.
Stop 1: Foot, jaunty or bike
OK, so this isn’t really a stop, but the first thing that you need to do when you arrive on Inis Oírr is to decide how you’ll get around the island. I’ve been here twice over the years. On our first visit, we rented a bike near the pier and spun around the island.
The wind was insane and it probably took us twice as long to get around the island as it would if we would have visited on a less stormy day. Regardless of the wind, it was a good buzz floating around the island by bike and stopping off whenever we fancied.
On the second occasion, we’d been out in Doolin the night before and we were feeling a little worse for wear, so we decided to use one of the horse and cart/jauntys. This was brilliant.
The chap that was guiding us around had a million different tales to tell, we were going at a nice relaxed place and we got a good insight into the islands past, its many colourful stories and its present struggles.
The final way to get around is on foot. If you fancy a stroll or if you’re on a tight budget, go with this one. There are some steep-ish inclines at times but it shouldn’t prove to be much of a struggle if you’ve a half-decent level of fitness.
Stop 2: An Tra
The first stop on day 3 of your Aran Islands tour is An Tra (the beach, in Irish). This is, in my opinion, one of the best beaches in Galway.best beaches in Galway
You’ll reach it not long after leaving the pier and, if you arrive when the sun is shining, especially during the warmer summer months, you should see people swimming.
Stop 3: Island views
One of the best parts of exploring Inis Oírr (regardless of whether your on the back of a horse or just strolling along) is the mile after mile of hand-built stone walls that you encounter.
They stretch as far as the eye can see and there’s just something wonderfully impressive about the craftsmanship and perseverance that went into building them.
When you reach a point of elevation (there’s a good spot up near the castle) you’ll start to appreciate the scale of the walls that wind around the island.
Stop 4: Cnoc Raithní
The next stop on our Aran Islands tour is Cnoc Raithní. This is a Bronze Age burial ground that, over many years, was covered with sand.
It was only many years later, during a storm in 1885, that Cnoc Raithní was uncovered, after laying hidden in plain sight for so long.
Although this isn’t the most impressive of the historic sites on Aran Islands, it’s one of the most historically significant.
It’s believed that it dates back to before Dún Aoghasa was constructed, which is incredible when you think about it.
The area around Cnoc Raithní was excavated in 1886 and artefacts dating back to 1500BC were discovered.
Stop 5: Teampall Caomhán
Churches don’t get much more unique than St Caomhán’s church, as you’ll see from the photo above! You’ll find it in the island’s graveyard, where it’s been since the 10th century.
The church is named after the island’s Patron Saint – St. Caomhán, the brother of St. Kevin of Glendalough.
The sunken ruins of St Caomhán’s church look a little surreal and they’re well worth a visit while you explore the island.
Stop 7: O’Brien’s Castle
O’Brien’s Castle is one of the more popular castles in Galway. It was built in the 14th century within a Ringfort called Dun Formna, that dates back to 400BC.
O’Brien’s Castle was once an impressive 3-story castle that was constructed by the O’Brien clan who ruled the Aran Islands up until the late 1500s.
One of the biggest draws of O’Brien’s Castle is the views – you’ll be able to see everything from the Cliffs of Moher to the Burren from here on a clear day.
Stop 8: MV Plassey Shipwreck
Fans of the now iconic Father Ted series will recognise the weathered ship above – the MV Plassey Shipwreck.
During its heyday (the mid-1900s), the Plassey was a cargo vessel that operated in the Irish Merchant Service.
The ship washed ashore during a stormy night in 1960, and it has sat on the island ever since. All of those onboard were rescued by the islanders, thankfully.
Stop 9: Inis Oírr Lighthouse
We’re off to the Inis Oirr Lighthouse, next! You’ll find it at the southernmost extremity of the island, so get ready to peddle!
The first light on Inis Oirr was ignited in 1818. It operated successfully until 1857, when the current structure was opened.
Peddle over to the lighthouse and have a little nosey around from the outside. When you finish up, head back around to the pier.
Stop 10: In search of Dusty
We’re going to attempt to round off our Aran Islands tour with a bit of dolphin watching, but a sighting is impossible to time.
If you arrive back to the pier and see a ferry arriving, head on over to it, as it tends to attract Dusty, Inis Oirr’s dolphin.
The last time we were here he was nipping up out of the water near the end of the boat, near the stone steps that lead from the water.
Update: Apparently Dusty can no longer be seen in the waters around Inis Oirr.
Stop 11: Back to the mainland or spend a night on the island
How you round off the third day of your Aran Islands road trip is entirely up to you. If you need to get home/somewhere on the mainland, take a ferry back to Doolin or Galway.
If you’ve time to spare, you could always spend another night kicking-back on Inis Oírr and soaking up the buzz.
Aran Island tours from Galway
If you’d rather just do a day trip to one of the islands, there’ are several reputable Aran Island tours from Galway that you can join.
The three most popular Aran Island tours from Galway on GetYourGuide are (note: if you book via a link below we’ll make a tiny commission which we greatly appreciate):
- From Galway: Aran Islands & Cliffs of Moher Tour with Cruise
- Cliffs of Moher & Aran Islands Day Tour from Galway
- The Aran Islands & The Cliffs Cruise
If you know of another Aran Island tours from Galway that you’d like to recommend, please shout away in the comments below.
FAQs about our Aran Islands road trip
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the best Aran Islands tour for first timers to which islands is most worth visiting.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What is the best way to explore the 3 Aran Islands over 3 days?
The itinerary above was carefully put together to ensure that you see the best the the islands has to offer on a 3-day road trip. If you follow the itinerary as it’s laid out, you’ll get to see and do a lot in a short space of time.
If you had to just see one of the islands, which would it be?
I’m biased towards Inis Oirr, as I’ve visited the island often and have loved it each and every time. However, a lot of people love Inis Mor, as there’s so much to see and do on it.
What is the best Aran Islands tour from Galway?
There are many different providers offering Aran Islands tours from Galway. I’ve mentioned three above from GetYourGuide that have great review scores.