If you’re in search of the best things to do on the Aran Islands, you’ve landed in the right place.
Home to some of the most unique places to visit in Galway, the Aran Islands provide the perfect dollop of adventure for those looking to venture a little off-the-beaten-path.
- Key info on the islands
- How to get to the islands
- What to see and do on each one
Some quick need-to-knows about the Aran Islands
If you fancy tackling some of the many things to do on the Aran Islands, there’s a few ‘need-to-knows’ to be aware of first:
1. There’s 3 islands
There’s 3 islands to explore – Inis Mor (the largest island), Inis Oirr (the smallest) and Inis Meain (the middle Island). Inis Mor and Inis Oirr tend to be the most popular, but Inis meain is worth a visit, too!
The Aran Islands are located at the mouth of the mighty Galway Bay, off the west coast of Ireland. They’re part of Galway and the beautiful Burren region.
3. Getting there
You can get to the Aran Islands by ferry or by plane. If you’re departing from Galway, there’s a seasonal ferry from the city and regular ferries from Rossaveel in Connemara. You can fly with Aer Aran from Connemara Airport, also. Ferries also leave from Doolin Pier in Clare.
4. Which Aran Island to visit
We’re often asked which is the best Aran Island to visit. It’s a tough question to answer as ‘best’ is subjective. Personally, we find ourselves returning to Inis Mor the most. However, if you follow our 3-day Aran Islands tour guide you can visit the lot in one go!
5. Banshees of Inisherin
Several places on Inis Mor were used during the filming of the award-winning Banshees of Inisherin movie. It’s likely that this will bring a new wave of visitors to the island in 2023.
How to get to the Aran Islands
You can get to the Aran Islands by ferry (the most popular option) or by plane.
The islands lie a handy ferry journey from the mainland and can be accessed from Clare and Galway.
Option 1: The seasonal ferry from Galway City
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Galway, the seasonal ferry (April – September) from the city’s docks across to Inis Mor is well-worth considering and takes just 1.5 hours.
Option 2: The ferry from Rossaveel
You can also access the Aran Islands from Rossaveel in Connemara (there’s a year-round service offered by Aran Island Ferries).
If you’re not driving, there’s a shuttle service from Galway City to Rossaveel. Here’s three tours to check out (affiliate links):
- Inis Meain from Galway (50 minutes)
- Inis Mor from Galway (40 minutes)
- Inis Oirr from Galway (55 minutes)
Option 3: The 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.
It’ll take you 35 minutes to reach Inis Mor, 15 minutes to Inis Oirr and 30 to Inis Meain.
Option 4: Fly from Connemara
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 Aran.
The best things to do on the Aran Islands
If you’re wondering what to do on the Aran Islands, you’ll find plenty of ideas below, from historical sites and some of the best walks in Galway to pubs and much more.
I’m going to start off with Inis Mor and then tackle Inis Oirr, before finishing off with the often overlooked Inis Meain.
The best things to do on Inis Mor Island
Some of the more popular things to do on the Aran Islands can be found on Inis Mor.
Now, we have a guide on the various things to do on Inis Mor, but you’ll discover our favourites below.
1. Explore by bike
One of the best things to do on the Aran Islands, in my opinion, is to explore them bike. Unless it’s lashing down and windy, that is…
You can rent a bike from the pier on Inis Mór or you can have a bike delivered to your accommodation.
Prices range from €10 for a kids bike to €40 for an electric bike. 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.
2. Head off in search of seals
Seal watching is one of the more unique things to do on the Aran Islands. Inis Mor is home to a spot known as ‘Seal Colony Viewpoint’ (you’ll find it marked on Google Maps) – this is a handy 13-minute cycle from the bike hire spot.
The 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.
3. Kilmurvey Beach
Next up, we’re off to one of the best beaches in Galway – Kilmurvey Beach. An 8-minute cycle from the seals, this gorgeous sandy beach has Blue Flag status.
Translation: if you’re feeling hardy and you fancy braving the chilly Atlantic, pack your swimming shorts and dive on in if it’s safe to do so.
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.
4. Dún Aonghasa
If you’re wondering what to do on the Aran Islands that’ll blow you away (literally, at times) then take a spin out to Dún Aonghasa.
You can park your bike at a dedicated parking station just down the road from Paudy’s Ice Cream If you’re not familiar with Dún Aonghasa, it’s arguably the most popular place to visit on the Aran Islands.
Dún Aonghasa is the largest of a number of prehistoric stone forts that can be found scattered across the Aran Islands. The fort was originally constructed c.1100BC to impede attackers and was later re-fortified around 700-800 AD.
It’s a 15-25-minute walk from the visitor centre and it costs €5. Good walking shoes are recommended!
5. The Wormhole
We’re off to Poll na bPeist next, and a visit here is arguably one of the most unique things to do on the Aran Islands.
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.
Arguably the best way to reach it is via the lower road from the pier (aim for Gort na gCapall). We’ve outlined the different routes on a map here.
6. The Black Fort
We’re off to the Black Fort, next – 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 erosion, is now situated on a rocky promontory that juts out into the Atlantic.
This is our last stop on Inis Mor before heading off for a bite to eat, a post-adventure pint and a kip before another day of adventure!
7. 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, drop into our Inis Mor accommodation guide.
The best things to do on Inis Oirr Island
Hopefully, you’ll have a better idea of what to do on the Aran Islands after flicking through the first section. If you’re still a bit unsure, keep reading – there’s plenty more to come.
The next section of the guide looks at the various things to do on Inis Oirr – the smallest of the three.
1. Explore by bike or horse and cart
There are several different ways to get around Inis Oirr – you can walk, rent a bike and cycle or you can take one of the jaunty’s (above).
When I visited Inis Oirr first, many years ago, we rented bikes near the pier and headed off on our merry way. This was during summer and the weather was fine.
The second time I visited, we climbed aboard a jaunty (also from the pier). I was a bit wary of this, but it was excellent.
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.
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.
3. 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!
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. MV Plassey Shipwreck (one of the most popular things to do on the Aran Islands)
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.
7. Inis Oírr Lighthouse
Our 2nd last stop on Inis Oirr takes us out to the southernmost extremity of the island to have a nosey at the 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.
8. A post-adventure pint (or tea/coffee) on Inis Oírr
Few pubs offer views like Tigh Ned on Inis Oirr. If you land here on a fine summers day, try and nab a seat in the beer garden – there are few like it!
If you fancy staying on the island, we’ve rounded up some solid places to stay in our Inis Oirr accommodation guide.
The best things to do on Inis Meain Island
Hopefully, you’ll have a better idea of what to do on the Aran Islands after flicking through the first two sections.
The final part of our guide looks at the various things to do on Inis Meain – the ‘middle’ island.
1. The Lúb Dún Fearbhaí Looped Walk
The Lúb Dún Fearbhaí Walk is one of my favourite walks in Galway. This 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.
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.
3. Dún Fearbhaí
Next up is Dún Fearbhaí – this is a handy ramble from the pier.
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.
4. Teach Synge
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.
5. Conor’s Fort (Dun Chonchuir)
One of our final stops on Inis Meain is one of the most overlooked things to do on the Aran Islands, in my opinion.
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!
6. 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.
Still can’t decide which Aran Island to visit?
Deciding which Aran Island to visit if it’s your first time exploring this corner of Ireland can be tricky.
Although we stand by the statement that there is no best Aran Island to visit, we’d recommend Inis Mor to first timers followed by Inis Oirr and then Inis Meain.
Each offers something unique, but if you’re struggling to decide which Aran Island to visit, tackling them in this order is worth considering.
FAQs about what to do on the Aran Islands
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what to do on the Aran Islands to the best island to visit.
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 are the best things to do on the Aran Islands?
What is the best Aran Island to visit?
Are the Aran Islands worth visiting?
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.