The mighty Aran Islands provide the perfect dollop of adventure for those looking to venture a little off-the-beaten-track.
Emphasis on ‘a little‘- the Aran Islands are a fine and handy ferry journey from Galway and Clare (you can also fly if you fancy!).
In the guide below, I’m going to:
- Show you how easy it is to spin between the islands on a 3-day road trip
- Give you a clatter of brilliant things to do while you’re there
- Recommend some solid little pubs for post-adventure pints
About the Aran Islands
If you’ve never heard of the Aran Islands before, they’re three islands (no sh*t, I know) that guard the mouth of Galway Bay in the west of Ireland.
Inis Mór is the largest of the three islands and it’s home to the magnificent Dun Aonghasa – an ancient fort that sits on the edge of a 330-foot cliff.
Inis Oírr is the smallest of the islands. It’s home to mile after mile of gorgeous stone wall, a fort, a castle and the shipwreck (the Plassy) that you’ll recognise from the opening credits of Father Ted.
The third island is Inis Meáin and you’ll find it situated between Inis Oírr and Inis Mór. This island is often missed by those exploring the area – hopefully we’ll coax you to add to your to-visit-sharpish list in the guide below!
If you’re wondering how to get to the Aran Islands, how much it costs, where to leave the car and what’s the story with shuttle buses from Galway City, scroll down to the FAQ section at the end of this guide.
Day 1: Saying ‘Howaya’ to Inis Mór
Right, you’ve decided that you’re going to visit the Aran Islands and you fancy kicking things off with Inis Mór. Lovvvely!
First things first – decide how you’re going to get there (you’ll find heaps of info on this in the FAQ section at the end). You can either take a ferry from Galway or Doolin or you can fly from Connemara.
Regardless of which way you arrive, make sure to get there nice and early to make the most of the day. Below, you’ll find heaps of things to do and places to eat, sleep and drink on Inis Mór.
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 (nice and handy for those of you arriving by ferry) or you can have a bike delivered to your accommodation.
You can rent a mountain bike for a day for €10, a child’s bike for €10, an electric bike for €30 (steep) or a tandem for €30.
There’s something pretty damn special about spinning along mile after mile of stone wall with the wind whipping against your face as you explore Inis Mór. If you can, grab a bike and head off on your merry way!
Stop 2: Head off in search of seals
Our first stop of the day takes us out to ‘Seal Colony Viewpoint’, as it’s marked on Google Maps – this is a handy 13-minute cycle from the bike hire spot.
The mighty shores of Inis Mór are well known for their colony of seals. At times, you’ll find anywhere up to 20 seals chilling on the rocks, some of which weigh up to 230kg.
Please don’t be one of those tools that try to get up close for a selfie or, even worse, to try and pet the seals. Admire these lads from afar.
Stop 3: Kilmurvey Beach
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.
Translation: if you’re feeling hardy and you fancy braving the chilly Atlantic, pack your swimming shorts and dive on in.
The water here is nice and 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.
If you’re in search of a decent feed, get yourself to Teach Nan Phaidi (the soup here is mighty!) – this is a gorgeous little thatched cafe (above) that serves a fine bitta food.
If you fancy something a little sweeter, you can grab some fudge from the Man of Aran Fudge, or you can score some 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. This is the perfect starting point for your ramble to Dún Aonghasa.
If you’re not familiar with Dún Aonghasa, it’s arguably the most popular place to visit on the Aran Islands. Few forts boast a location as dramatic as Dún Aonghasa (Doon Fort in Donegal is up there, though!).
Dún Aonghasa is the largest of a number of prehistoric stone forts that can be found scattered across the Aran Islands. According to Heritage Ireland, the fort was originally constructed c.1100BC to impede attackers and was later re-fortified around 700-800 AD.
Standing out at Dún Aonghasa makes you feel like you’re perched at the point where Ireland ends. The rugged cliffs, the power of the wind and the crash of the waves below send shockwaves through your senses.
Stop 6: The Wormhole
We’re off to Poll na bPeist next. Also known as ‘the Wormhole’ and ‘The Serpent’s Lair’, Poll na bPeist is a naturally formed and other-worldly looking hole in the limestone that connects to the sea.
To get here, follow the signs for Gort na gCapall (or just ramble east along the cliffs from Dun Aonghasa). You might remember this place from the Red Bull Cliff Diving event back in 2004.
Divers jumped from a diving board on the cliffs above down into the chilly waters below. The hole in the rock here looks like it was carved by some enormous machine. It’s surreal to think that it formed naturally.
Stop 7: The Black Fort
Our final stop of day 1 of our Aran Islands road trip takes us out to the Black Fort – another cliffside ruin. You’ll find the Black Fort on the southern side of Inis Mór, a stone’s throw from where you picked up your bike.
Dún Dúchathair (the Black Fort) is a big aul stone fort that, due to the effects of errosion, is now situated on a rocky promontory that juts out into the Atlantic.
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: Post-adventure pints (or a tea/coffee)
We published a guide to the best pubs in Ireland a few months back. In the days that followed, many people replied to say that Joe Watty’s needed to be added sharpish.
Joe Watty’s pub on Inis Mór is the perfect place for a few post-adventure pints. You’ll find live music playing away here seven nights per week during the summer and at weekends throughout the year.
Get in, get fed and then head back to the nest for a sleep. If you’re looking for places to stay on the island that have top-notch reviews, try:
Fancy staying somewhere quirky on Inis Mór?
If you fancy spending the night by the sea (literally) give glamping on Inis Mór a bash. The lads at Aran Glamping boast some very unique glamping pods a stone’s throw from the sea.
The glampsite is a handy ramble from Kilronan Town and there’s mighty views over Frenchman’s Beach and the ocean.
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 45 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
So, you’ve arrived on Inis Meáin – now it’s time to decide how exactly you’ll make your way around the island. If you fancy exploring by foot, head off on your merry way.
If you’d prefer to peddle, it’s on a couple of websites that you can rent bikes not far from the pier.
However, many of these sites are outdated and I can’t find an official website or Facebook page that confirms that bike rental on the island is still available.
Option 1: Head off on 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 a couple of different routes that you can follow: the purple route (the longest) or the blue and green routes (shorter).
You can follow the arrows from the pier. Over the course of the walk, you’ll visit Synge’s Chair (info below), Teampaill na Seacht Mac Ri, the ruins of Cill Cheannannach Church and Dun Fearbhai Fort, and Tra Leitreach.
Option 2: Walk from the pier over to Cathaoir Synge and the cliffs
Don’t fancy the looped walk?! No hassle! You can take a different route that takes in a number of the island’s attractions.
This route kicks off from where the ferry dropped you off and can be done easily by foot. I’ve popped in several of the main attractions below, but there’s plenty more to discover on the way.
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
The first stop, Dún Fearbhaí, is a handy ramble from the pier. I couldn’t for the life of me find a photo of the fort that I have permission to use, so I’ve popped in a snap taken on the island.
Dún Fearbhaí fort is situated on a steep incline that overlooks the magnificent Galway Bay and it’s thought that it was constructed sometime during the first millennium.
Take a little breather here. Hopefully you’ll arrive to the island on a clear day and you’ll be able to soak up some of the gorgeous views that surround you.
Stop 2: Leaba Dhiarmada agus Ghrainne/The Bed of Diarmuid and Grainne
Our next stop is a handy 10-15 minute walk from stop 1 and it’s steeped in a fine bit of legend and folklore. This is another one that I couldn’t find a photo for, so forgive me!
This is a wedge tomb that’s linked to the legend of Diarmuid and Grainne. If you’re not familiar with the pair, Diarmuid was a soldier in the Fianna army and Grainne was the daughter of Cormac Mac Airt, the High King of Tara.
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: Teach Synge (John Millington Synge’s Cottage and Museum)
We’re a grand and handy 3-minute stroll from our next stop. If you arrive on a rainy day, this’ll give you a nice bit of respite from the manky (Irish slang for bad) weather.
Teach Synge is a gorgeous 300-year-old cottage that has been lovingly restored to its former glory and is now home to a museum that showcases the life and works of John Millington Synge.
Synge first visited the house in 1898 and he returned many times after. 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)
Dún Chonchúir (AKA Conor’s Fort) is a 3-minute stroll from our last stop. This is the largest stone fort on the Aran Islands measuring 70 metres by 35 metres and just under 7 metres in height.
The fort can be found at Inis Meáin’s highest point and it’s thought to have been constructed during in the first or second millennium – so, it’s pretty damn old, to say the least!
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
You’ll find Synge’s Chair at the western end of Inis Meáin, a 15-minute walk from Dún Chonchúir. This is a lovely little lookout point that’s finely plonked right on the edge of a limestone cliff.
The cliff ledge here is often nicely sheltered from the powerful wind, making the chair a nice spot to kick back for a bit and admire the view.
Like Teach Synge, Synge’s Chair takes its name from the Irish poet, writer and playwright John Millington Synge (he was also one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin).
Synge spent a number of summers on the Aran Islands and he is said to have collected an endless number of stories and folklore from his time spent on Inis Meáin.
Stop 6: Back to the pier for the ferry to Inis Oírr
You’ll need to make your way back the way you came to catch the ferry to Inis Oírr at 16:15. If 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 took the photo above about 5 years ago on a visit to Inis Oírr and I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the pub where it was poured.
I’ve scoured Google images and maps and I’m still struggling to determine which pub it was. There are two pubs on Inis Oírr – Tigh Ned (I think the pint above was from there) and Tigh Ruairi.
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!)
Here are a couple of options for places to stay on Inis Oírr (these are affiliate links – you won’t pay extra but we’ll get a small commission if you make a booking) that have solid review scores (there are also plenty of options on Airbnb):
- Inisheer Hotel (Óstán Inis Oírr)
- Téach na céibh
- Sailing’s Self Contained Rooms with Kitchen
- An Creagán Rooms
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: Deciding how you’ll get around
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
Shortly after you leave the pier you’ll arrive at a mighty little beach. If you rock up here on a fine day during the summer, you’re likely to see people in swimming. The water here is crystal clear and joy to saunter alongside.
If you fancy heading in for a dip, keep away from Dusty (the dolphin mentioned below). You may have seen stories in the news back in 2014 when a number of swimmers were injured while trying to interact with him.
Stop 3: Another stop that isn’t reallly a stop
Regardless of whether or not you rent a bike, walk or climb aboard a horse and cart, one of the biggest joys of exploring Inis Oírr is the mile after mile of hand-built stone wall that you cycle alongside.
There’s something insanely impressive about the craftsmanship and perseverance that went into building these walls.
When you reach a point of elevation (similar to the one in the photo above) you’ll start to appreciate the scale of the walls that wind around the island.
Stop 4: Cnoc Raithní
Next up is Cnoc Raithní – a burial ground from the Bronze Age that was covered with sand and that was uncovered by a storm in 1885.
Although this isn’t the most impressive looking of the historic sites on the islands, it’s one of the most historically significant and it’s thought that it dates back to before Dún Aoghasa was constructed.
The area was excavated in 1886 and artefacts dating back to 1500BC were discovered. I couldn’t find a photo of Cnoc Raithní that we could use, so I’ve whacked in one from the island!
Stop 5: Teampall Caomhán
You’ll find St Caomhán’s church in the island’s graveyard, where it has been since sometime between the 10th and 14th century.
The church is named after the island’s Patron Saint – St. Caomhán, the brother of St. Kevin of Glendalough (you may have seen his ‘seat’ if you walked around Glendalough’s Upper Lake.
The sunken ruins here look a little surreal and they’re well worth a visit.
Stop 7: O’Brien’s Castle (Caislean Ui Bhriain)
O’Brien’s Castle on Inis Oírr was constructed in the 14th century within a Ringfort called Dun Formna (it’s believed that the Ringfort dates back to 400BC).
This was once an impressive 3-story castle that was built by the O’Brien family who ruled the islands up until the late 1500s.
You’ll be able to soak up some brilliant views from the ruins of the castle. On a clear day, you’ll see the Cliffs of Moher off in the distance along with the Burren and Galway Bay.
Stop 8: MV Plassey Shipwreck
Next up is the MV Plassey Shipwreck. Those of you familiar with the opening credits of Father Ted should be familiar with this old wreck.
The Plassey was a cargo vessel that operated in the Irish Merchant Service during the mid-1900s. It was during a particularly stormy night in 1960 when the ship washed ashore.
Those living on the island ran to the rescue of those on board. The entire crew of the Plassey survived and the now-iconic ship sits proudly on a bed of jagged rocks not far from the sea.
Stop 9: Inis Oírr Lighthouse
Our final stop of the day takes us out to the southernmost extremity of Inis Oírr to have a nosey at the island’s lighthouse.
The first light here was first ignited way back in 1818. The current structure dates back to 1857 after it was decided that the original lighthouse was too high and that it didn’t sufficiently cover the Northern and Southern entrances to the islands.
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: On the look-out for a dolphin
If you arrive back to the pier and cop a ferry arriving, head on over to it. At times, you’ll find a dolphin (Dusty) in the water surrounding the boat.
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.
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.
Frequently asked questions about exploring the Aran Islands
We’ve had a lot of questions about exploring the Aran Islands over the years. Why it’s taken me until now to create a guide, I don’t know…
Below, you’ll find a heap of info on the Aran Islands along with the most frequently asked questions that we’ve received about them.
How to get to the Aran Islands
You can get to the Aran Islands by ferry (the most popular option) or by plane… yes, you can fly from Connemara to the islands – imagine the views!
The islands lie a handy ferry journey from the mainland and can be accessed from Clare and Galway (you can also fly to the islands).
A ferry from Doolin (Clare)
There’s a departure point for the Aran Islands from the village of Doolin in Clare and there are a couple of ferry providers (Bill O’Brien’s Doolin Ferry Co. and Doolin2Aran Ferries) that run the route daily.
Currently, the journey from Doolin to Inis Mór takes 80 minutes, however, Doolin2Aran Ferries are launching a new 220 seater ship this April, which will cut the journey time to 40 minutes.
Note: The ferries run from March to October. If you’re visiting during November and March, you’ll need to take the ferry from Galway.
A ferry from Rossaveel (Galway)
You can also access the Aran Islands from Galway (there’s a year-round service offered by Aran Island Ferries). If you’re bringing the car, you can avail of parking at Rossaveel (€7.00 for 24hrs).
If you’re not driving, there’s a shuttle service from Galway City to Rossaveel. If you fancy taking the shuttle, it’s €9 for an adult, €8 for a student and senior and €6 for a child (return rates).
A flight from Connemara (Galway)
If you’d prefer to dodge the sea and travel by air, there’s a flight from Connemara Airport at Inverin (45 minutes from the city) that’s operated by Aer Arann.
What is the best Aran Island to visit?
This is going to be completely subjective, depending on who you ask and what kind of places they enjoy exploring. I know a lot of people that lean towards Inis Meáin, claiming that it’s the best-preserved of the three islands.
I know plenty more that favour Inis Mór, as it’s home to heaps of things to do, loads of places to stay and the mighty Joe Watty’s.
Personally, I’m a fan of Inis Oírr. I’ve been here twice over the years and I’d visit again in a heartbeat.
What’s the weather like on the Aran Islands?
I always find this question a bit mad, as there are a hundred and one websites out there that specialising in telling the weather…
However, if you’re one of the people wondering this, the weather on the Aran Islands is a lot like the rest of Ireland – unpredictable.
There’s the added factor that it’s an island in the middle of the Atlantic, so it can get very wild at times.