There’s no denying that the Aran Islands off the County Galway coast are a top attraction for many visitors to Ireland who are eager to experience the islands’ unique landscape of drystone walls, pristine sandy beaches, and craggy sea cliffs, not to mention the chance to escape from modern life.
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While pubs, shops, restaurants, and accommodation are all available on the islands, it’s their lack of commerce that is attractive to so many.
Seeing all the islands at one time is probably not very practical in one day since they are quite spread out. However, you could visit all three over a long weekend, and that is possible with Doolin Ferries from Doolin.
If this is your first time in Ireland, I suggest that you visit Inishmore (Inis Mór), the largest island first and on subsequent trips, you could visit the other two, which include Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) and Inisheer (Inis Oírr).
Getting to the Aran Islands
There are several ways to get to the Aran Islands. and enjoy an Aran Islands escape.
On the return trip, you’ll sail close to the Cliffs of Moher, which is a unique way of seeing the famous attraction.
For the remainder of the year, you will need to get a shuttle bus from the city to Rossaveal, about a 35-minute drive.
The shuttle bus connection must be booked a minimum of 12 hours in advance. Roundtrip tickets are €9 for adults, €8 for students and seniors, and €6 for children.The bus from Galway and the ferry departure from Rossaveal are coordinated so you won’t have to worry about missing the boat to the island.
You can also get the Aran Island Ferries boat from Rossaveal to Inishmaan and Inisheer. A shuttle bus is available from the Galway city center. The distance from Galway is 37 kilometers (22 miles).
Return fares to the Aran Islands on Aran Islands Ferries average around €30 for adults, €25 for students and seniors, and €15 for children. Irish residents over 66 can travel for free if they have the state’s travel pass.
The average cost of return tickets to the islands with Doolin Ferries is as follows: between €22 and €28 to Inishmore and Inishmaan, and between €18 and €25 to Inisheer.
Cruises to the Aran Islands via the Cliffs of Moher will cost more.
If you want to experience the thrill of seeing the Aran Islands from the air, you can take an Aer Arann flight from Connemara Airport located in Inverin, about a 40-minute drive (19 miles/30 km) from Galway City.
You can also get a bus from the Victoria Hotel in the city to the airport.
Return fares on Aer Arann are as follows: €55 for adults, €15 for seniors (Irish nationals only), €45 for students, and €27 for children ages 2-12. Children under 2 are free.
What to Do on Inishmore
There are many things you could do while on Inishmore. Cycling and walking are two popular activities.
You can easily cycle around Inishmore in a couple of hours if you don’t stop along the way. The island is about 8.7 miles/14 km long by 2 miles/3.2 km wide.
If you do stop, there’s plenty to see, including the island’s most famous tourist attraction, the 3,000-year-old Dún Aonghusa, an ancient stone fort that sits on a hill with commanding views of the surrounding area.
There are no ropes or railings near the cliff’s edge, so it's best to use caution.
Admission to the site and visitor center, about a kilometer away, is €5 for adults, €4 for groups and seniors, €3 for children and students, and €13 for a family.
The island also has several old stone churches, the most notable of which is the Seven Churches (na Seacht DTeampaill).
Additional attractions include the Worm Hole (Poll na bPeist), a popular place for divers that is also known as The Serpent's Lair.
If you’re an avid walker, the 10-km/6.7-mile looped walk known as Lúb Dún Eochla that starts at Kilronan Pier is a good introduction to the island.
You might spot the island’s seal colony, which is home to the Grey Seal, one of the rarest seals in the world.
In fact, half of Europe’s seal population can be found in the pristine waters off the Irish coast.
Water lovers will enjoy activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking, all offered by the local Dive Academy.
If walking or biking is not on your itinerary, perhaps a pony and trap tour will fit the bill.
Along the way, you’ll see all the sites mentioned above. If stopping for lunch, be sure to visit the Kilmurvey Craft Village where’ll you find Aran sweaters and an assortment of Celtic-inspired crafts.
The Aran Off-Road Experience in a Land Rover Defender jeep is yet another way to see the island.
If you decide to make a weekend out of your Aran Islands escape, here’s what you can expect on the other two islands.
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The great Irish playwright John Millington Synge, the author of The Playboy of the Western World and The Aran Islands, among other works, spent many summers in Inishmaan, the least visited of the Aran Islands.
Today, you can see a reminder of his presence there in the form of Teach Synge, a 300-year-old cottage that is dedicated to his life and work.
Open only during the summer months, the cottage/museum features an assortment of memorabilia, including photographs, drawings, and letters that he wrote.
Synge’s Chair, the author’s favorite spot on the island, is another attraction that serves as a lookout on the edge of a sheer limestone cliff on the western part of Inishmaan.
Not as large as Dún Aonghasa, Inishmaan’s Dún Chonchúir is still formidable as stone forts go.
It is located at the highest point of the island, the ideal place to soak up the views of intricate stone walls and Inishmaan’s limestone valleys.
The fort was built between the 1st and 7th centuries.
If you feel like walking around the island, which measures 4 km/2.5 miles long by 2.5 km/1.55 miles wide, the 8-km/5-mile Lúb Dún Chonchúr looped walk will give you a feel for Inishmaan.
Some of its attractions include the Church of the Holy Mary of the Immaculate Conception (Séipéal Naomh Mhuire gan Smal), which was constructed using stones from the older, 15th-century church across the street.
Notable features of the newer church include its altar, which was made by James Pearse, father of Padraic Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising.
The stained-glass windows of the church were created by Harry Clarke, Ireland's most renowned stain-glass artist.
This is the smallest of the Aran Islands measuring 4 km/2.48 miles wide by 2 km/1.24 miles long.
As a result, it is the least commercialized.
Some of its notable attractions include the rusted Plassy Wreck, a trawler that ran ashore in 1960. Luckily, its crew survived.
If you stop by the Tigh Ned pub, you’ll find a collection of photographs and documents retelling the rescue.
The iconic — if unusual — attraction features in the opening credits of the popular Irish show, Father Ted, and a festival honoring that show takes place each July on Inishmore.
O’Brien’s Castle is another popular stop. You will have commanding views from this 16th-century tower house, which was built on the island’s highest point.
Other places of interest on Inisheer include St. Caomhan’s Church, named after the island’s patron saint Caomhan (often anglicized as Kevin), St. Gobnait’s Church, and the Church of the Seven Daughters.
Where to Eat on the Aran Islands
Inishmore – Joe Watty’s Pub and Seafood Bar, the Bayview Restaurant, the Aran Islands Café, The Aran Islands Hotel, The Bar Inis Mor, Tigh Joe Mac, The Pier House & Restaurant, Paudy’s Ice Cream, Man of Aran Coffee & Crafts, and Teach Nan Phaidi.
Frequently Asked Questions About Traveling to the Aran Islands
Is there parking available at Galway Harbor?
Yes, parking is available in the car park opposite The Harbour Hotel.
Be sure to book a space beforehand.
Other nearby public garages include the Jury’s Inn Galway parking lot on Quay Street (technically not part of the hotel); the Q-Park, Eyre Square; the Railway/Radisson Car Park, the Fairgreen Car Park, and the Hynes Yard Car Park, Merchants Road.
Can I take my car to the islands?
No, the ferries are for foot passengers only.
Is my booking confirmation the same as my ticket when traveling with Aran Island Ferries from Galway City?
No, you must still pick up your ticket in person at the Galway Docks Office before boarding the ferry. You can also pick up your tickets in advance of your trip at the Aran Islands Ferry offices located at 1 Victoria Place, Merchant’s Road, or its other office at 37-39 Forster Street.
What time should I be at the dock in Galway City before boarding?
You are advised to get there 30 minutes ahead of departure.
What time should I be at the Rossaveal pier before boarding?
If you are taking the shuttle bus from Galway City, you should be there 90 minutes before boarding. If you are driving yourself, be there 30 minutes before departure.
Is there access to the ferries for the wheelchair-bound?
While the ferry companies will do everything possible to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs, it really depends on the tides and if the sea is calm. It is best to contact the ferry company beforehand to see if they can accommodate such passengers. Motorized wheelchairs are not allowed on the ferries.
Is cash preferable when visiting the islands?
Yes, ATMs are hard to find on the islands and some businesses do not accommodate bank cards as payment, so be sure to bring cash.
How should I dress for my trip to the Aran Islands?
Dress in layers as you would while on the mainland as the weather can be changeable.
Will I need sunblock on cloudy days?
Yes, the sun can be even stronger on the islands, so it’s best to apply suitable sunscreen protection.
Is an Aran Islands escape on your itinerary? Let me know in the comments below.