The Aran Islands are a set of three, sparsely populated but beautiful islands just off the coast of Galway county. Joe’s grandfather was born and raised on Inish Mor, the biggest of the three islands which is why we planned our itinerary to include a full day there, despite it being off season.
Most people do a day trip to the Aran Islands from Galway, which can be booked in any of the travel agencies in Galway center. These trips are fairly independent, including only a shuttle to/from the pier in nearby port town, Rossaveal, and your return ferry ticket. The ferry gets you to the island at around 11:30 and the last ferry off the island is 5pm— so you need to make the most of your time.
Most day trippers plan to visit Inish Mor, the biggest and most populated island. Inish Mor has a population of about 800 who live on the island year round and thousands of tourists who visit each year. The island is covered in the greenest grass you can imagine and has hand-built stone walls dividing property for as far as the eye can see.
The ferry docks in Kilronan, which is the biggest village on the island. We were lucky enough to have Joe’s family show us around the island, but if you aren’t so fortunate there are tons of tour operators waiting for you to arrive at the pier. If you would rather DIY it, there are bike rentals available just a few buildings up from the pier. Prices are around €10 for the day.
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What to do-
The main thing to do on the island if you only have one day is Dun Aengus, the island’s impressive fort. It takes about 40 minutes to cycle there on the Low Road, which has beautiful scenic ocean views and a place to stop and watch the seals during the right season. Take your time and enjoy the slow pace of life, those on the Aran Islands have managed to maintain.
Dún Aonghasa or Dun Aengus is located on other side of the Island in Kilmurvey. It is the highest point of the Island. Admission is 4 Euro (if you go on the first Wednesday of the month it’s free!) and you get access to the fort and the visitors center to learn a bit of the history. From the top there are breathaking views of the cliffs and the waves crashing into the rocks below. Unlike the Cliffs of Moher, Dun Aengus doesn’t have any protective barriers over the cliffs so if you are daring enough you can sit right on the edge and take some great pictures. A word of caution- these cliffs may be a bit unstable as they are eroding from the bottom-up, so keep that in mind when deciding how close to the edge you want to go.
After the fort head to the nearby Seven Churches, which are located on the west side of the island near the village of Eoghanacht. The site is now overgrown and it is fun to poke around and try and find all seven of the churches. In reality, the site only had two churches and a few houses but it is still fun to see how many buildings you can count 🙂
Not too far from there is the Worm Hole, a natural rock formation in the lower cliffs makes a square shaped pool that the sea flows into. Redbull even used this for their famous diving competition in 2012. After this you can take the High Road back to town to explore a bit before the ferry leaves.
After you wear yourself out walking/biking the island, there is no better reward than a pint at Joe Wattys back in Kilronan. One of the few pubs still in business on the Island, Joe Wattys has the best pints, pub grub and Craic on Inish Mor.
When you finish your pint(s) and still have a bit of time to kill, be sure to stop by the Aran Sweater Shop just down the road. These handmade knits, while expensive, are some of the best that money can buy. They have several unique patterns to choose from and are sure to keep you warm on the chilly Galway nights.
There is much more to do on the island, so if you want more time there are several B&Bs and hostels that are open during the summer months and occasionally in the shoulder season depending on weather. It’s definitely worth looking into!
The Aran Islands can sometimes be overlooked because of Galway city’s charm and the Cliffs of Moher, but in our opinion there is no better way to experience true Irish culture.