The Complete Guide to Exploring the Aran Islands

Aran Islands with Sundown

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Planning a day trip or a vacation to the Aran Islands? These ruggedly beautiful islands welcome around 200,000 visitors every year, all keen to catch a glimpse of real Ireland, escape from the busyness of the modern world, experience traditional culture, and of course, take in the desolate windswept beauty of this unique location.

About the Aran Islands

The Aran Islands are a group of three islands in Galway Bay, off the west coast of Ireland. Theyre home to some of the oldest archaeological sites in Ireland and have a fascinating history.

Isolated from the mainland until the 20th century, traditional island life continues in many ways as it has for hundreds of years, with most residents making a living through subsistence farming and fishing. The islands are also the home of the world-famous Aran knitwear.

Gaelic is the official language of the Aran Islands and is the first and preferred language of most of the residents. These days everyone speaks English too, but if you try out a couple of phrases youre sure to get a smile. If you stay overnight, its a must to hang out with the locals in one of the local pubs, where you can enjoy a pint or two and listen to traditional live music.

Inis Mor (Inishmore) Island

The cliffs of Mohar at sundown
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Inis Mr is the most westerly and the largest of the three islands. Its only around 9 miles long and less than 2.5 miles wide at its widest point, which makes it easy to travel around the whole island in a day. Its the most popular with visitors and offers the most amenities such as shops, cafes, and accommodation options.

The island is home to around 1,000 people and there are fewer than 100 vehicles. Most visitors rent bikes to get around, and you can also take a tour in a pony and trap, which is a popular activity with many tourists. There are minibus tours available, which can be handy if youre on a day trip and want to see as much as you can in a short time frame.

Where to Stay

Kilronan Hostel A cozy budget accommodation option with small shared dorm rooms.

Aonghasa's Walker's Lodge A comfortable mid-price option thats great for solo travelers and serves up a good breakfast.

Ard Einne House Good value for money guesthouse with amazing views.

Ard Mhuiris B&B A family-run B&B in an excellent location with free ferry transfers.

Pier House Guesthouse Great location close to the pier, and with a nice restaurant.

Aran Islands Hotel A traditional island hotel with an attached pub that offers regular live music.

Tigh Fitz A family-run guesthouse with clean rooms and friendly hosts.

What to See

Kilronan village This is the only village on all three of the islands and is also the only place on the island with a supermarket and ATM, so its essential to stop here for supplies. Its also a quaint little village thats fun to explore with several cafes, gift shops, and traditional Irish pubs where you can meet the locals.

Dn Aonghasa A 2,000-year-old Celtic fort on the edge of a massive limestone cliff. This is the most famous tourist attraction on the Aran Islands and is definitely a must-see.

Seven Churches Another archaeological site containing the ruins of several ancient chapels and monasteries.

Wormhole An impressive natural rectangular-shaped tidal pool accessed by a cliff-top walk south from Dn Aonghasa. Its part of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series

Seal Colony Theres a natural seal habitat that you can see off the coastal road on the way to Kilmurvey beach. Just next door is also a small lake where you can see wild ducks, swans, and other birds.

The Black Fort A ruin set atop the cliffs on the southern side of the island with impressive views. Its much less popular than Dn Aonghasa, which makes it ideal for a more peaceful excursion.

Dun Eoghanacht A ruined Iron Age fort surrounded by a double circular wall with the remains of several stone houses inside.

Inis Mein (Inishmaan) Island

aran island stone walls
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Inis Mein has a population of only 200 people and is the quietest of the three islands. Its a great place to take a deep dive into traditional Irish life and culture, with many residents still choosing to wear traditional Irish clothing, and various cultural courses on offer such as dance and poetry.

What to See

A sign to synges chair

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SyngesChair A viewpoint on the most western point of the island, where you can see the waves crashing in Gregorys Sound below. This is where the playwright Edward John Millington Synge would sit for inspiration while writing.

The Puffing Holes They're holes in the ground at the top of the cliffs that create a spray of seawater similar to a whale when the waves are high.

The Heritage House A traditional thatched cottage housing various historical artifacts relating to the island.

Inis Mein Knitting Co Traditional knitwear factory where you can purchase Aran Sweaters at discounted prices.

Where to Stay

An Dun B&B and Restaurant Located in the middle of the island, this B&B offers a steam room, sauna, and delicious home-cooked meals.

Inis Mein Restaurant & Suites A boutique hotel experience on the islands with five modern apartment-style suites.

Tig Congaile B&B A simple B&B with sea views and organized activities.

 

Inis Orr (Inisheer) Island

The smallest of the islands, Inis Orr is a traditional Irish fishing island with stunning sandy beaches. Less than 2 miles long and wide, the island is easily walkable, and you can explore its valleys and sights by foot or by bicycle. The island may be small but it has a fascinating history and like the other islands is dotted with ancient ruins including a buried church that lies six feet below the surface.

 

What to See

ThePlassy A shipwreck that ran aground on the island after a storm in March 1960. A nearby pub, Tigh Ned, displays photographs and documents detailing the rescue of the people onboard, all of whom miraculously survived.

Obriens Castle A ruined castle dating back to 1585, that was built on the highest point on the island. After climbing the 100m to the top youll be rewarded with stunning views that are particularly spectacular at sunset.

St Kevins Church The ruins of the 10th century St. Kevins church are below the surface of the earth, as sand has blown over the site and covered it up over hundreds of hears. Hoever, its been uncovered so you can climb down and explore.

Where to Stay

An Creagn B&B Comfortable rooms with great views in this modern and clean B & B.

Inisheer Hotel Clean and friendly hotel on the beach with a popular bar.

Tigh Ruairi A friendly pub with a cozy B&B attached.

 

What to Do on the Aran Islands

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Apart from the main tourist attractions on each island, the Aran Islands offer a wide range of activities for solo travelers, couples, and families alike.

Surfing

The swells generated in Galway bay make the islands a popular spot for surfers

Hiking

The islands are relatively flat, making some walks accessible to all fitness levels, with stunning scenery. A popular walk is The Ring of Aran on Inis Mr starting at Kilronan village, visiting the standing stones, Kilmurvey beach, the seal colony, Dun Aonghasa, the Wormhole, and the lighthouse, the walk takes around 3-6 hours and youll be rewarded with panoramic views as well as seeing many sights on the island.

Weddings and honeymoons

The Aran Islands have become a popular place for romantic trips due to their secluded location and moving scenery. Some of the hotels offer wedding packages and you can even have a traditional Celtic wedding ceremony with hand fasting or blessing as the holy well.

Fishing and boating

Fishing is part of traditional life on the Aran Islands and is also a popular yachting locating, particularly in the summer months.

Cycling

Due to the small number of motorized vehicles on the island and the flat geography, cycling is the most popular method of transport for visitors. The 30-minute bike ride from the Pier on Inis Mr Island to Dun Aonghasa is regarded as one of the most popular cycling routes in Ireland.

Yoga and meditation

There are a few parts of the world where you can relax and focus in absolute silence, but the Aran Islands is one of them. There are regularly arranged meditation retreats and you can, of course, enjoy your own practice theres certainly plenty of space to find solitude. There is a natural spiritual energy on the islands that has to be experienced to be understood. The Aran Islands have been a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years, and you can visit these sacred pilgrimage locations all over the islands.

Beaches

All three of the islands boast white sandy beaches with turquoise water that rivals the Caribbean islands. They may be a little cooler, but if youre lucky you can get the whole beach to yourself.

Wildlife

The Aran Islands are home to a wide array of wildlife with habitats unspoiled by human habitation and modern progress. You can see many different types of seabirds, seals, lizards, over 400 species of wildflowers, and butterflies.

TedFest Are you a fan of the cult TV series Father Ted? The Aran islands are the original Craggy Island and Inis Orr is pictured in the opening sequence. The annual father ted festival Tedfest (not to be confused with a TEDx event of the same name) is held annually on Inis Mr.

 

How to Get There

how to get to the aran islands by plane

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Aran Island Ferries sail from Rossaveal Ferry Terminal to all the islands year-round several times a day, and the crossing takes around 40 minutes. You can reach the ferry terminal by shuttle bus from Galway. Ferry crossings may be canceled in rough weather.

Doolin Ferries and OBrien Line also run ferries in the busier season from March to November from Doolin, County Clare

If you prefer to arrive by air, Aer Arann Islands flies to all the islands from Connemara Regional Airport. The flights take only around 10 minutes and you get the bonus of seeing the spectacular scenery from above.