27 Things To Do On The Aran Islands In 2021 (Cliffs, Forts, Views + Lively Pubs)

An Irish road trip with a difference

things to do on the aran islands
Left photo by LUKinMEDIA. Right photo by Timaldo (shutterstock.com)

If you’re in search of the best things to do on the Aran Islands, you’ve landed in the right place.

The mighty Aran Islands are one of my favourite places to visit in Galway, and they 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, you’ll discover the best things to do on the Aran Islands (Inis Mor, Inis Oirr and Inis Meain) to a fully itinerary, for those of you that want to explore all three.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Aran Islands

what to do on the aran islands
Photo by Andrea Sirri/shutterstock.com

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.

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!

2. Location

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. Ferries leave from Doolin Pier, in Clare, or from Rossaveal, in Galway. The flights, which are operated by Aer Aran, leave from Inverin.

4. Exploring the 3 on a road trip

you can tackle the various things to do on the Aran Islands on various day trips or, if you’ve some time to play with, you can try our self-guided 3-day Aran Islands tour guide (free).

About the Aran Islands

Inishmore glamping guide
Photo by Chris Hill via Failte Ireland

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.

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

Dun Aonghasa
Photo by Timaldo/shutterstock.com

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.

1. Explore by bike

inis mor bike hire
Photo by MNStudio/shutterstock.com

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 (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.

2. Head off in search of seals

seals on the aran islands
Photo by Sviluppo/shutterstock.com

Seal watching is one of the more unique things to do on the Aran Islands (you can also see a dolphin over on Inis Oirr, if you’re a fan of wildlife watching!).

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 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

3. Kilmurvey Beach

Kilmurvey beach
Photo by Maria_Janus/shutterstock.com

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.

Now, while this means that it’s safe to swim on, you should still use your wits and 1, never enter the water during bad weather and 2, never swim out too far.

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. A fine aul feed

Inis mor cafe
Photo used with the permission of the Gastro Gays

There are several different spots for a bite to eat near Kilmurvey Beach, depending on what you fancy (Teach Nan Phaidi and the Man of Aran Cottage).

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.

5. Dún Aonghasa (one of the most popular things to do on the Aran Islands)

Dun Aonghasa
Photo by Timaldo/shutterstock.com

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 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. 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.

6. The Wormhole

Poll na bPéist wormhole
photos by Stefano_Valeri + Timaldo (shutterstock.com)

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.

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.

7. The Black Fort

black fort aran islands
Photo by Timaldo/shutterstock.com

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 errosion, 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!

8. Post-adventure pints (or a tea/coffee)

Joe Watty’s Pub
Photo by Gareth McCormack via Tourism Ireland

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

inis oirr island
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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.

Now, if you still haven’t figured out how you’re going to get to the Aran Islands, you’ll find heaps of info on this in the FAQ section at the end. 

1. Deciding how you’ll get around

horse and cart inis oirr
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

There are several (3) 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.

It was a brilliant day and there’s a good buzz to be had cycling around the island. 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

inis oirr beach
Photo by Andrea Sirri/shutterstock.com

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. A stop that isn’t reallly a stop

inis oirr island
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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.

One of the best things to do on the Aran Islands really is to just stop and soak up the sights, sounds and smells that seem to hit you from every angle as you explore.

4. Cnoc Raithní

inis oirr things to do
Photo by Alasabyss/shutterstock.com

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!

5. Teampall Caomhán

St Caomhán's church
Photo by Andrea Sirri/shutterstock.com

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. 

7. O’Brien’s Castle (Caislean Ui Bhriain)

inis oirr island
Photo by Lisandro Luis Trarbach/shutterstock.com

There are few castles in Galway where you can soak up a view comparable to the one on Inis Oirr (nearby Doonagore Castle in Clare in a contender, though!).

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.

8. MV Plassey Shipwreck (one of the most popular things to do on the Aran Islands)

Plassy Shipwreck
Photo by Andrea Sirri/shutterstock.com

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.

9. Inis Oírr Lighthouse

inis oirr lighthouse
Photo by Alasabyss/shutterstock.com

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.

10. On the look-out for a dolphin

We’re going to round things off with one of the more unique things to do on the Aran Islands – dolphin watching.

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.

11. A post-adventure pint (or tea/coffee) on Inis Oírr

pub on inis oirr
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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.

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.

The best things to do on Inis Meain Island

aerial shot of inis meain
Photo by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

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.

Now, if you still haven’t figured out how you’re going to get to the Aran Islands, you’ll find heaps of info on this in the FAQ section at the end. 

1. Deciding how you’ll get around

Inis Meain things to do
Photo by celticpostcards/shutterstock.com

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.

2. The Lúb Dún Fearbhaí Looped Walk

Inis meain walks
Photo by Niall Dunne/shutterstock.com

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.

3. Walk from the pier over to Cathaoir Synge and the cliffs

aerial shot of inis meain
Photo by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

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).

4. Dún Fearbhaí

Dún Fearbhaí inis meain
Photo by giuseppe.schiavone-h47d/shutterstock

Next up is Dún Fearbhaí – this 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.

5. 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 Irish 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.

6. Teach Synge (John Millington Synge’s Cottage and Museum)

synge house inis meain
Photo by celticpostcards/shutterstock.com

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.

7. Conor’s Fort (Dun Chonchuir)

aerial shot of inis meain
Photo by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

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!

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!

8. Synge’s Chair

Synge's Chair
Photo by celticpostcards/shutterstock.com

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.

9. A unique base on the island

So, there are several places to stay on the island, as you’ll discover if you drop into our Inis Meain accommodation guide.

However, one is a lot different than the rest. If you’re after unique things to do on the Aran Isalnds, it’s worth considering a night at the Inis Meáin Suites.

There are 5 private suites in total, each with a ludicrously comfy double bed, private bathroom, outdoor sitting area, and awesome living area. All are decorated with elements of the island, such as slate, limestone, wool, and wood. 

The 4 Burren suites are around 50sqm, while the ultra luxurious Connemara Suite covers 130sqm, and incorporates a large living area and mini library, with a 10 m wraparound window offering unrivaled views. 

What to do on the Aran Islands: Wrapping it up

things to do on inishmore
Photo left: MNStudio. Photo right: STLJB (Shutterstock)

Hopefully, the guide above will have given you a good sense of the many different things to do on the Aran Islands.

They’re well worth a visit, especially if you fancy a completely different experience on your Galway road trip.

If you fancy checking out how to explore the three islands over the course of a self-guided 3-day road trip, check out our Aran Islands tour guide.

How to get to the Aran Islands

black fort aran islands
Photo by Timaldo/shutterstock.com

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 Aran.

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.

FAQs about the different things 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?

  • Rent a bike and spin around
  • Visit Dun Aonghasa
  • Take a dip on Kilmurvey Beach
  • Visit the Plassey shipwreck
  • Soak up the views at the Wormhole

Which island is most worth visiting?

Personally, I’d say Inis Oirr, but this will depend on what you want to see/do. I know a lot of people that prefer Inis Mor.

It’s worth looking at the things to do on the Aran Islands listed above and then making your pick based on which island has the most places you want to visit.

What are the most unique things to do on the Aran Islands?

The Suites on Inis Meain offer a pretty unique experience, if you fancy a quirky place to stay and some great food (it’s pricey, though!).

Dun Aonghasa and the Wormhole on Inis Mor definitely offer a unique experience. But, to be honest, each island has a memorable experience to offer.

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

1 COMMENT

  1. This was a lovely, informative, & delightful bit of history & helpful recommendations! Your love & passion for the Aran Islands & Ireland are evident, & I am grateful for all you shared, on this page & others. I’ve spent at least an hour reading & following the links you provided. It was a wonderful journey, & I hope to come visit sometime soon!
    Many thanks to you!

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