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21 Of The Most Breath-Taking Irish Islands

21 Of The Most Breath-Taking Irish Islands

There are countless Irish islands worth exploring.

And, while the likes of the Aran Islands and Achill Island tend to get much of the attention both on and offline, there’s some glorious islands off of Ireland you may have never heard of.

In this guide, you’ll discover a mix of tourist favourites along with often-missed Irish islands that are well worth nipping over to.

Our favourite Irish islands

scenic drive Achill

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The first section of our guide is packed with our favourite islands off of Ireland.

These are places we’ve visited many times before and would happily visit many times again. Dive on in!

1. Valentia Island (Kerry)

what to do on valentia

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At the end of the scenic Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry you’ll find the magnificent Valentia Island. It can be reached via a bridge at Portmagee, or via a ferry that runs between Reenard Point and Knightstown.

The Island is packed with things to do, see, and experience; soak up glorious views from Geokaun Mountain, tackle the Bray Head Walk or try some Daly farmstead ice cream before visiting the Transatlantic Cable Station.

The island itself is a joy to drive/cycle around as you constantly stumble upon breath-taking views of the Kerry coastline from various vantage points. This is one of our favourite Irish islands for good reason.

2. Cape Clear Island (Cork)

Cape Clear Island

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Cape Clear Island a little bit of everything, and a whole lot of something special; from the ancient standing stones to the spectacular views around South Harbour, the stunning gardens at South Comolane to the Cape Clear Distillery, and with camping, hiking, watersports, sailing, and wildlife tours this tiny island packs a mighty punch.

To get here you’ll have to take the passenger ferry, from either Schull (25mins) or Baltimore (40mins) and you might even see a whale! Once on the island, you can either walk or get a taxi around the island (it’s only 5km long!).

3. Arranmore Island (Donegal)

Arranmore Island

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Far to the northwest of Ireland, Arranmore Island is arguably one of the most famous islands off of Ireland thanks to a campaign they ran several years back to try and get Americans to move there.

You can reach Arranmore in just 30 minutes via the ferry from Burtonport, and then explore the dramatic island at will.

In terms of what to see and do, you’ve the silent sentinel lighthouse on the northwest tip, the scenic viewing point of the Arranmore cliffs and the stark beauty as you climb Loch an tSeiscinn or Loch Lár.

There’s also the charming and secluded sandy beaches at Scoth na Loinga Clouhhcorr. Arranmore is just one of many mighty Irish islands that’ll take your breath away.

4. Sherkin Island (Cork)

sherkin island cork

Photo left: Johannes Rigg. Photo right: Alex Segre (Shutterstock)

You’ll reach Sherkin Island via the passenger ferry out of Baltimore. It’s a quick 15-20mins port to port, and then the wonders of Sherkin are all yours. There’s something for everyone here; history, romance, adventure, and lots of stunning scenery!

Check out clan O’Driscoll’s castle, the ruins of a Franciscan abbey, or you can wander along the island’s many lanes with their banks of rocky stonewalls and bright flowers.

There’s Silver Strand beach, or dramatic Cow Strand, a sea and island viewing point near Clomacow, and spectacular Horseshoe Harbour, all of which are a photographer’s dream.

5. The Skellig Islands (Kerry)

the skellig islands

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Dramatic and uninhabited, the Skelligs are the very last bit of land before you reach the Americas. The two tiny islands spike up from the North Atlantic Ocean about 13km offshore.

They’re well known for an early and well-preserved Christian monastery; with an approach up incredibly steep steps, and stone beehive-shaped huts, these Irish islands were made famous in the Star Wars film The Force Awakens.

These islands are popular with birdwatchers, especially for Puffins, Gannets, Arctic terns, Cormorants, Razorbills and Guillemots. It’s worth noting that only Skellig Michael is accessible, and can only be reached by passenger ferry from Portmagee.

6. The Aran Islands (Galway)

Inis Mor Island

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Made up of three separate islands, the Aran Islands (Inis Mor, Inis Oirr and Inis Meain) are accessed by ferry from Doolin, Rossaveel or Galway.

The cluster of rocky islands is home to the prehistoric fort of Dún Aonghasa, a naturally rectangular pool called the Worm Hole, and the ruins of the Seven Churches which date to the medieval period.

With breath-taking scenery over dramatic seascapes, rocky outcrops and secluded bays, Iron Age stone ring forts and sombre rusty 20th-century shipwrecks, there’s bound to be a sight that’ll take your breath away around every corner.

7. Achill Island (Mayo)

Ashleam Cliffs

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Crossover to Achill Island via the bridge at Achill Sound, and you’ll enter a landscape of spellbinding landscapes with a rich natural history.

Between the peat bogs in the north and south, the stunning Keel Beach and Keem Bay, the White Cliffs of Ashleam, there’s lots to explore.

Achill Island is dotted with a litany of adventurous activities, with sea kayaking in sheltered bays, rock pooling and coastal foraging, cycling and hiking through windswept and tussock landscapes are all here to make your trip unforgettable.

This is one of the most popular Irish islands amongst visiting tourists for good reason.

Other very popular islands off of Ireland

spike island prison

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Now that we have our favourite Irish islands out of the way, it’s time to see what else is on offer.

Below, you’ll find everywhere from Innisfree Island and Garnish Island to some often-missed Islands off of Ireland.

1. Lake Isle of Innisfree (Sligo)

Lake Isle of Innisfree

Photo left: Shutterstock. Right: Google Maps

Made famous when W. B. Yeats immortalised it in a poem of the same name, the Lake Isle of Innisfree is set in the waters of Lough Gill. If it isn’t already and you’re a bit of a culture vulture, it should be on your ‘must-see’ list, if only for the setting.

Whether you’re a dreamer or a poet, seeking solace or just enjoying Ireland’s natural beauty, this tree-covered rocky outcrop spot tranquil spot will not disappoint.

Barely 225 meters from the shoreline at Innisfree, you can see it on a number of boat tours. There’s also a car park nearby with a jetty.

2. Garnish Island (Cork)

garnish island

Photos via Juan Daniel Serrano (Shutterstock)

Garnish Island is beloved for its magnificent gardens and it’s a quick passenger ferry ride away from Glengarriff village.

Tickets for entry to the island are best organised in advance, especially in peak seasons, as it is very popular as the ferry passes a superb seal colony en route.

Garnish also boasts superb views from the disused military ‘Martello’ Tower. The island, also known as Ilnacullin (Island of Holly), is a 37-acre nature lover’s paradise, with a rich variety of plants and wildlife.

3. Inishbofin Island (Galway)

inishbofin island guide

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Head to the Island of the White Cow, or Inishbofin if you prefer, via Cleggan. The ferry takes just 30 minutes and you’ll shortly find yourself in an Irish island wonderland.

Surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean, this island is known for its scenic coastal walks through immaculate grassy dunes while crystal clear water laps along white-sand shores.

There are a number of secluded beaches where you can while away the hours and there’s also the ruins of Cromwell’s Barracks and the Heritage Museum where you can discover the island’s rich cultural history.

4. The Great Blasket Island (Kerry)

blasket islands in kerry

Photo by Madlenschaefer (Shutterstock)

The Great Blasket Island is one of the better-known Irish islands, and for good reason. You can reach it via a ferry from Dun Chaoin Pier or on a tour from Dingle.

It’s a great little detour from the Slea Head drive and a day spent here really is an experience that you won’t forget (especially if you arrive over when it’s pouring down!).

The Great Blasket Island is known for its stunning rugged scenery, secluded sandy beaches, sea bird and dolphin watching, abandoned ruins and absolute isolation from the 21st century.

If you’re looking for islands off of Ireland where you can escape the hustle and bustle for a while, this place won’t disappoint.

5. Rathlin Island (Antrim)

rathlin island guide

Photos by Andrea Srotova (Shutterstock)

The northernmost island off the coast of Northern Ireland, the six-mile-long Rathlin Island is filled with interesting hikes, shipwrecks, birdlife, local artisans and craftspeople, and lighthouses at Rue Point and Rathlin West to explore.

The island has a range of accommodation, which means you’ll have plenty of time to explore the mysteriously named Kelp House, Writers Chair, Bruce’s Cave, or the Bronze Age Cist Burial.

There are two ferries you can take to get to Rathlin Island; either the passenger ferry which takes 20-minutes or the car ferry at 45-minutes, both depart from Ballycastle.

6. Bere Island (Cork)

bere island in cork

Photos by Timaldo (Shutterstock)

Another of the more famous islands in Ireland is Bere Island. You can grab a ferry from Castletownbere or from the Pontoon, around 3 miles from Castletownbere.

There’s plenty to see and do on the island; you can tackle on of the islands many trails, hit the water with Bere Island Sea Safari, paddle at Scairt Beach or Cloughland Strand and visit the heritage centre.

There’s also Ardnakinna Lighthouse , ship wrecks, the very old signal tower, Holy Year Cross and plenty more.

7. Dursey Island (Cork)

dursey island cable car

Photo left: rui vale sousa. Photo right: Corey Macri (Shutterstock)

You’ll find the departure point for Dursey Island the very tip of the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. This is arguably one of the more unique Irish islands and that’s thanks to the manner in which you reach it.

Yes, it’s here that you’ll find Ireland’s only cable car. It takes around 10 minutes to get from the mainland to the island and there’s some gorgeous trails to tackle when you arrive.

The island is noted for its scenery, rugged landscape, and the never-ending sea view from Dursey Point towards An Tarbh rock formation.

8. Whiddy Island (Cork)

Whiddy island in cork

Photo left: Corey Macri. Photo right: rui vale sousa (Shutterstock)

You’ll find Whiddy Island just off the head of Bantry Bay in West Cork. You reach it via the Whiddy Island Ferry which leaves from Bantry and takes just 10-15 minutes to arrive.

Whiddy is around 5.6 km long and 2.4 km wide and, although it’s near the busy town of Bantry, it’s one of the quieter islands in Ireland.

The island is a little slice of paradise; you can tackle the 7.7km Whiddy Island Loop, hire a bike and zip around or just kick-back and soak up views of the Cork coastline as you saunter along.

Some often overlooked islands off Ireland

Saltee islands

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The final section of our Irish islands guide looks at the places that many people tend to overlook.

Below, you’ll find everywhere from the Saltee Islands and Coney Island to some of the more off-the-beaten-path islands off of Ireland.

1. Coney Island (Sligo)

Coney Island

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Coney Island is one of several islands off of Ireland that comes with a very big warning. The island is accessible ONLY at certain times of the day and access is completely tide dependant.

Once on the island, you’re free to explore this ancient isle to your heart’s content. Coney Island boasts several ‘fairy forts’, stone circles and hill forts, and a holy well named after Saint Patrick.

If you’re wondering about the name, Coney is an old term for a rabbit, and there are plenty of them here to keep you company!

2. Inishturk Island (Mayo)

Inishturk Island mayo

Photos by Maria_Janus (Shutterstock)

Laying 14.5kms off the Irish coast, Inishturk is an incredible 1-hour and 15-minute ferry ride away and it’s arguably one of the most scenic and remote of the Irish islands.

Still inhabited by around 50 residents, this tiny island has a thriving community and a popular festival known as ‘Turkfest’.

When you arrive, you’ll find some of Mayo’s finest beaches, several looped trails, stunning sea cliffs, the unique ‘Tale of the Tongs’ installation and much more to explore.

3. Tory Island (Donegal)

Tory Island ferry

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Approximately 12km off the Donegal coastline, Tory Island is one of Ireland’s most rugged and isolated islands with towering cliffs, breath-taking scenery, the sombre Grave of the Seven, and the Bell Tower.

Catch the ferry from Magheroarty, and get ready to hike your way around the island, as it’s well worth stretching your legs.

Take in the stunning Balor’s Fort in the northeast, along with the white sandy beach at Port Doon, and then walk 4.5kms to the south-western end of the island for the Tory Island Lighthouse.

4. Saltee Islands (Wexford)

Saltee islands

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Privately owned since the mid-20th-century, the Saltee Islands lay 5km off the Wexford coast.

A nature lover’s paradise, with a huge range of indigenous plants and insect life, along with Grey Seals, it’s also one of the world’s major bird sanctuaries, and with Precambrian bedrock, they’re also believed to be some of the oldest islands in Europe.

There’s no overnight accommodation, with only day trips are permitted to the Saltee Islands between 11am and 4:30pm, and these can be arranged at Kilmore Quay.

5. The Dublin Islands

getting to dalkey island

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There are several islands off of Ireland near Dublin, and each is accessible via local ferries. Each island has a personality of its own, Lambay is the biggest, and the site of a medieval castle, it also has a garden designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Ireland’s Eye is breathtaking with its 6th-century monastery and ruined church; it also has an impressive Martello tower.

Meanwhile, Dalkey Island is best known for its relics from the Middle Stone Age, the Iron Age along with the Early Christian era, it’s a pretty little island with a lot of history.

6. Spike Island (Cork)

Spike Island Cork

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Once upon a time, the tiny Spike Island was set upon the tumultuous Celtic Sea. A remote monastery was built, and then an 18th-century bastion fort, Fort Mitchel, was built to defend the Irish nation, and now lies ruined.

Since then, the island has been used as a prison and is now a sanctuary for wildlife, and a playground for day-trippers from Kennedy Pier in Cobh.

There’s plenty on the island to keep you busy, between the island museum, the former children’s prison and Little Nellie’s House, along with scenic seaside walks around this stunning and historic island.

FAQs about islands in Ireland

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What Irish islands are the most beautiful?’ to ‘Which ones can you drive onto?’.

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.

Are there islands off the coast of Ireland?

Yes. There are many islands dotted around Ireland’s coastline. Some are accessible via bridges while others can be reached by passenger and/or car ferry.

What are the best Irish islands?

In our opinion, the best islands off of Ireland are Achill (Mayo), the Aran Islands (Galway) and Valentia Island (Kerry).

What are the Irish islands called?

We get this question regularly – there are many islands off Ireland’s coast and they go by various names. If you’re talking about the Aran Islands, there’s Inis Mor, Inis Oirr and Inis Meain.

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S. Gonzales

Friday 23rd of September 2022

Thank you for your knowledge. I can now explore different areas.

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