top of page

72 Hours: The Aran Islands

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

I hate to use the “C word” right off the bat - but if Covid taught us anything, it’s that we have some of the best vacation experiences right here on our own doorstep. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Ireland in the sun cannot be beaten. Its magical.


I recently took a jaunt to the Aran Islands for some well needed R&R and it was everything I thought it would be - and more.


The rusted body of a cargo ship lays strewn across coastal rocks.

The Aran Islands is made up of three islands; Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer which sit approximately 35 minutes sailing time off the coast of Co. Galway on the west coast of Ireland and are an immensely popular location for visitors.

From spectacular cliff paths, to medieval forts and Celtic churches, the Aran Islands are a step back in time and provide a glimpse of traditional Ireland.


Day One:

It’s 10:00 and a grey Monday morning and I'm driving through the wonderful Connemara National Park. Open all year round, the Visitors Centre includes a Café, Playground, Picnic Area, Education Centre and opens daily between 09:30 - 17:30. Admission is free.


The park itself covers over 2,000 hectares of woodland, expanses of bogs, heaths, grasslands and scenic mountains including Benbaun - the highest peak in Co. Galway at 725m.


As beautiful as this park is, I’ve a date with the Aran Islands and so swapping out of my boots, it’s back in the car and making the short trip down the road to Connemara Airport.



 

Getting to the Aran Islands

There are two Ferry companies in the region offering Island Transfers; Doolin Ferry and Aran Island Ferry.

As the name suggests, Doolin Ferry provide multiple sailing between the Islands and their base in Doolin, Co. Clare. The sailings take approximately 40 minutes and a return ticket will cost you €44.

Aran Islands Ferries operate between the islands and their base in Rosaveel Co. Galway. With multiple sailings on a daily basis, a return ticket will cost you €30.


For me however, I’ve decided to travel a little differently. I will be making the 7 minute flight from Connemara Airport to Inis Mór.
Yes, you read that correctly, 7 minutes!

I’m driving down the entrance track to Connemara Airport. There’s a line of grass in the middle of the road and I couldn’t be happier. Parking is free and it feels more like a Visitors Centre than an Airport with a handful of tables on one side and a vending machine in the corner.

Check In takes no more than 30 seconds at which point I’m asked to stand on a weighing machine with my bag. I’m suddenly regretting the second helping of bacon I had for breakfast.

The plane is the smallest, most charming thing I’ve ever seen. With only eight seats, it feels like a private charter. We ticket down the short runway and before I know it we’re cruising at an altitude of 500 feet.

Six minutes later, it's touchdown on Inis Mór!

The best €35 you will ever spend. Period.




Home Away from Home

Once you’re back down on solid ground, it’s €7 for a return transfer from the airport to my hotel. That’s just €3.50 each way. A bargain.

Peadar the bus driver says he will collect me 30 minutes before my return flight.


“Sure if we’re late,
the plane will wait for us”.

You’ve got to love island life!


I chose to stay at the only hotel on the Island, aptly named the Aran Islands Hotel. The hotel consists of a handful of en-suit rooms but I’m staying in one of their Chalets. A beautiful, cabin-style deckhouse with a private terrace and stunning sea views out across the bay. In peak season it’s €170 per night including breakfast and more details can be found here.


With bags dropped and my walking shoes on, I make the short 5 minute walk to Kilronan. The village is the heartbeat of Inis Mór and the epicentre of everything that goes on. You can rent a bike, enjoy a pint, buy a jumper or catch a pony and trap for an excursion you’ll never forget.

For me though, I had my priorities right and so I was straight into the local bar, fittingly named “The Bar” (I’m getting the sense they don’t like to over-complicate things out here!) for a pint of the black stuff.

It’s early evening, the sun is shining and I’m sitting with a pint of Guinness watching a passenger ferry moor in the distance. Bliss.


Food & Drink

Dining option on the island are few but adequate - this is an island after all.


In Kilronan you can eat at The Bar or the Bay View Restaurant which, you guessed it, is a restraurant with a view of the bay! A friendly tip here; The Bay View Restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol so if you’re expecting a cocktail or a glass of wine with your Ravioli, you might be little disappointed. They do however allow you to bring your own alcohol for which they will apple a small corkage fee.


Alternatively you can take a short ramble up the hill to The Galley Fish & Chip Shop or Joe Watty’s Bar. Our hotel also serves breakfast lunch and dinner in Madigan’s at the Aran Island Hotel. .


 

Day Two:

You’ll quickly learn that there are three main modes of travel on the islands.

  1. Bicycle

  2. Horse & Cart

  3. Your feet.

Although I have it on good authority that if you make friends with the right people, there is always a car to borrow, if you have the nerves to navigate the narrow winding roads.

There is also a small number of minibus’s on the island only too willing to bring you on a tour of the island.


For me though, the sun was shining and so I was prepared to explore the island by bike. Aran Bike Hire offer bicycles for all ages from €10 per day but I elected for an electric bike for €40. My top tip here is if your budget allows, splurge on the electric bicycles, your bum and thighs will thank you for it later.

The islands are full of hills and inclines and so the extra push off an electric bike is a must have in my view. You’ll also make great time and feel a certain air of smugness as you effortless pedal past people much fitter that you, struggling on their standard bicycles!

Thanks to Eoin at Aran Island Bike Hire for hooking me up.


If a more relaxed offering is what you require, there are Horse & Carts available at all majors landmarks, ports and villages ranging in price depending on the distance you’re going.


On the Road

Three great seals perch themselves on some rocks during low tide.

Leaving Kilronan village, I cycled up the hill and made a quick pitstop at Spar for water and snacks and with my backpack full of supplies I hit the open road. I travelled north and after a short 10 minute cycle along the winding roads of Inis Mór I arrived at a Viewpoint for a Seal Colony. It was low tide and dozens of seals were congregating on the beach and rock formations with the Connemara mountains in the background.

The Grey seal is one of Ireland’s two native species and are also known as Atlantic Seals - now a protected species.


I continued along the norther tip of the Island and after another 10 minute cycle, stumbled upon Kilmurvey Beach. Its turquoise waters made me feel like I was standing in Mauritius or the Maldives and the sun. It’s a swimmers paradise but more on this later.


From here it’s a short 8 minute cycle south to the Visitors Centre at Dún Aonghasa. There are public toilets in the visitors centre, use them. You'll thank me later.


Probably the most notable attraction on the islands, Dún Aonghasa is a prehistoric stone fort originally constructed around 1100 B.C and sand now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Admission is €5 and it’s a 1km trek along stony, uneven ground until you reach the fort which is perilously perched on a sheer sea-cliff, 300ft above the Atlantic Ocean. Proper footwear is essential here, leave your Converse at home.

The view from here is simply breathtaking. If you were to travel due west from Dún Aonghasa, you wouldn’t hit land until you reach Newfoundland, Canada.



After a picnic lunch on top of the world, I made my way back along the track and was back on my bicycle. From here, the Worm Hole is a 10 minute cycle, until you run out of road and must continue on foot.

The Worm Hole or The Serpents Lair, known in Irish as Poll na bPéist, is a naturally formed rock formation who’s finely-cut edges would lead you to believe that it’s a man-made swimming pool.


A word or warning though, the trek is not for the faint hearted and solid footwear is essential. Despite its popularity in recent years as a swimming hole for adrenaline junkies, it is advised that visitors avoid bathing as unusual tidal patterns and unpredictable currents could easily result in treacherous conditions.


A perfect rectangle cut from megalithic rock.

It’s late afternoon now and so after half a banana and some water, I’m back on my bike and free-wheeling my way down the hill to Kilmurvey Beach where I visited earlier.

It’s time for a dip.

The late morning and afternoon sun has the water at a gorgeous temperature and with a few quick breaths I’m dunking myself in. Its bliss. The water is shallow and crystal clear and a lifeguard is always on duty during the summer months.


The cycle back to base is 20 minutes but I stop half way at a cute little coffee truck perched on the side of a cliff. I warm myself with a cup of tea and sit on a bench soaking in the sun. Ireland in the sun just can’t be beaten.


 

Day Three:

I'm using my final day to see a different Island.


Edel in Doolin Ferry has arranged for me to take short sailing over to Inis Óirr. It takes about 20 minutes and the sailing is very smooth. On route we pass by the Straw Island Lighthouse, constructed in 1878.


Landing on Inis Óirr, I stumbled into Café Una for a cup of tea before setting out for the world famous Plassey Shipwreck. It takes 30 minutes to take a leauserly walk to the wreck on the eastern tip of the island.

You can of course take a Horse & Cart which are lined up at the pier and ready to go but when the weather is as nice as this, the walk is beautiful.


On the way pass by the white sands of Trá Inis Oirr - the islands' Blue Flag Beach and down past the tiny runway at the islands' airport.


As you meander your way along the path suddenly the shipwreck comes into view.


The Plassey was a steam freighter, carrying stained glass & and whiskey when it succumbed to a storm in the 1960’s. The 600-tonne ship was caught in terrible Atlantic weather, when it collided with Finnis Rock and was eventually thrown onto rocks at the eastern edge of Inis Oírr by the strong winds. The eleven crew onboard survived, owing their lives to the brave islanders who saved them from certain death by rescuing everyone onboard and salvaging the cargo.


You might recognise it from the opening credits of the Channel 4 sitcom, Fr. Ted.


The remains of the Plassey cargo ship, rusted and lying beached on rocks.

As I left the ship wreck and rounded the path, I instantly remembered what I had planned next. My gem for Inis Óirr is just a 15 minute walk from here, back towards the pier.


Local woman, Annette Joyce runs Aran Seaweed Baths and Spa and had very kindly squeezed me in. Her beautiful seaweed baths & holistic treatment's are the perfect island escape!


Do. Not. Miss. It.


I wish I could have stayed with Annette for hours but alas my journey was coming to an end. It's just 20 minutes back to the pier, mostly downhill.


Along the way I stopped at Man of Aran Fudge to pick up some gifts. Tomás Póil grew up on Inis Oírr and is the Man of Aran. He makes and sells more than 20 flavours of fudge and almost all are Gluten Free - including Tiger Butter Fudge as made by his grandmother before him.


After a spot of lunch, I was on the ferry back to Inis Mór, passing the LÉ Samuel Beckett - an offshore patrol vessel of the Irish Naval Service which was anchored in the mouth of Killeany Bay. She was named after the Irish novelist, playwright and Nobel Laureate, Samuel Beckett.

An Irish naval ship at anchor in Galway.



 

Conclusion:

The Aran Islands are a scenic gem nestled off the rugged Irish coastline on the Western tip of Europe. Visiting this enchanting archipelago is like stepping into a time capsule that preserves the rich tapestry of Ireland's heritage. The islands' unique charm lies in their ability to seamlessly blend tradition with modernity, creating an experience that is both nostalgic and invigorating.


The Aran Islands aren't just a destination; they're an immersion into a world of storytelling. In the cozy pubs scattered across the islands, locals and visitors gather to share tales as old as time, accompanied by the lilting melodies of traditional Irish tunes. The islands' heritage centers provide a captivating insight into the history and struggles of the islanders, painting a vivid picture of their resilience and determination.


In a fast-paced world, the Aran Islands are a sanctuary of serenity where time seems to slow down. Whether you're savouring the locally caught seafood, cycling along the winding paths, or simply gazing at the endless expanse of ocean, the islands offer a sense of peace that relaxes the body and rejuvenates the soul.


In essence, the Aran Islands are a cultural treasure trove, a living testament to the spirit of Ireland. They celebrate tradition, embrace creativity, and welcome visitors into a world where past and present dance harmoniously. A visit to these islands is not just a journey, but an unforgettable odyssey into the heart of Irish culture.


Go!

41 views

Comments


soicla media 1.jpg

Hi, thanks for dropping by!

I hope you find this blog post useful.

If you'd like additional information about anything I've spoken about, please feel free to reach out.

I'm happy to help. 

bottom of page