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Aran Islands And The Cliffs of Moher: How To Easily Explore Both Of Them In A Day

The Cliffs of Moher at sunset

We explored by car, by ferry, by horse drawn carriage, and by foot. It was a breathtaking day.

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If you have read any of my previous blogs about our 10 day road trip in Ireland, you will already know that I packed a lot into our Ireland itinerary. I couldn’t help it. I was so curious to see as much as the country as I could. However, I am not one that enjoys blowing through beautiful sites or amazing experiences just to cross them off an invisible check list of “yes, saw that. Time to get going…!” I much prefer to savour the scenery or the experience and prioritize what is a “must see” or a “have to come back another time” moment. Accordingly, when we spent only one day exploring Inis Oirr, one of the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher, was this enough? Or rather, was I disappointed because I chose to rush us through this beautiful and unique part of the world?

It was definitely enough. Did we see everything? No. However, I feel like we did see a lot and more importantly, captured the essence of this area.

This was a fantastic day. We started in Galway and spent the morning and early afternoon on the Aran Islands. In the mid to late afternoon, we cruised below the Cliffs of Moher and then, explored further on foot from the pathways above. It was easy, relaxing and filled with amazing encounters with delightful Irishmen. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have changed a thing (well, except maybe the weather…). Here’s how we did it.

 

Inis Oirr
View of the shipwreck and the Atlantic Ocean On Inis Oirr, one of the Aran Islands.

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Galway To Aran Islands Ferry at Doolin

We stayed in Galway the night before, got up early and self drove 1 1/2 hours to Doolin to meet our Aran Islands ferry. We could have picked up a ferry to the Aran Islands from Galway. However, we did not want to return to Galway that night, but continue on our Ireland road trip. After exploring Doolin, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher, we finished our day by driving just over an hour to our hotel, No. 1 Pery Square in Limerick.

Doolin
Map from Galway to Doolin and Cliffs of Moher Visitor’s Centre.

 

Like most of our Ireland road trip, the drive to Doolin from Galway was effortless and mostly along pretty and narrow country roads. We purchased our ferry tickets online a couple months before arriving. Accordingly, upon arrival in Doolin, we headed to the large parking lot next to the harbour, checked in at the Doolin 2 Aran Ferries kiosk, and waited for our boat.

 

Doolin

However, if you have extra time, Doolin would be a lovely spot to spend time exploring. Doolin is a small village with a bustling but quaint harbour. It is known as a gateway to the Aran Islands, but the town itself offers lots to visitors. Doolin has shops selling Irish crafts, pubs featuring lots of traditional Irish music and a rugged and dramatic coast beckoning you to explore. The Cliffs of Moher lie southwest of Doolin, only a 10 minute drive away.

 

Aran Islands

The Aran Islands are comprised of 3 islands – Inis Oirr, Inis Meain, and Inis Mor. Depending on the speed of the boat and the weather, they are between 30 to 50 minutes from Doolin. All of the Aran Islands are strongly rooted in Irish history and culture. In fact, unlike most of Ireland, their first language is Irish, not English.

Doolin
The three Aran Islands

 

Inis Oirr – The smallest of the Aran Islands

Inis Oirr (Inisheer) is 3km by 3km wide and the smallest of the Aran islands. It resembles the Burren with its limestone rock and their striking mix of colour. In addition, you can easily see the Cliffs of Moher from its shores. The island is mostly small hills and little valleys that are easily covered by foot or by bike.

Inis Oirr feels like an isolated fishing village with pristine white sandy beaches, crystal waters and plenty of fishing boats. In addition, Inis Oirr offers ancient castles, a shipwreck, a lighthouse, and several pubs, cafes and shops, all within easy reach of the port and main village.

Inis OIrr
A beautiful sandy beach near the Inis Oirr harbour

 

Inis Meain – The least visited of the Aran Islands

Inis Meain is where you’ll find an authentic escape from the modern world and a close connection to Irish culture and tradition. With a population of 200 people, it is the least visited of the three islands. This island has a hilly landscape and features crystal clear views of the Cliffs of Moher.

 

Inis Mor – The most popular of the Aran Islands

Inis Mór (Inishmore) means “Big Island”, is the largest, the farthest and most visited of the Aran Islands. The population of Inis Mór is around 900 people and it is approximately 14 km by 3.8 km in size. There are over 50 different monuments of Christian, pre Christian and Celtic mythological heritage scattered all over, in addition to beautiful untouched beaches and a rugged landscape.

 

Doolin to Inis Oirr and Cliffs of Moher

We booked a combo tour through Doolin 2 Aran Ferries to go to Inis Oirr and then, on the return, cruise under the Cliffs of Moher. We loved the idea of being able to explore one of the Aran Islands and then, get a unique perspective of the Cliffs of Moher before walking along them.

The tour options offered by Doolin 2 Aran Ferries were excellent. We could leave Doolin at 10:00 am, 11:00 am or 1:00 pm, and depart Inis Oirr at 1:45pm or 3:45 pm. Accordingly, we had the choice of spending anywhere from a little over 5 hours exploring Inis Oirr or as little as 2 hours. We chose the latter. We left Doolin at 11:00 am and Inis Oirr at 1:45 pm.

Doolin
Our ferry from Doolin to Inis Oirr and to the Cliffs of Moher.

 

Was This Enough Time to Explore Inis Oirr?

Yes, it was the perfect amount of time.

We arrived on Inis Oirr without a plan. I knew that upon arrival, we could rent bikes or explore on foot on our own. I also knew that we could take a guided tour by van or by horse and carriage. However, I really didn’t know what to expect and what we would feel like doing once we arrived. Of course, the weather was going to be a huge factor in our decision. As always, we had no idea what the weather was going to be even as we spent 30 minutes on the ship from Doolin to Inis Oirr!

 

How We Explored Inis Oirr

Waiting at the dock of Inis Oirr is everything that you need to figure out how you want to spend your time. We saw dozens and dozens of bikes to rent, a dozen or so horse and carriages, and a couple of vans. We were greeted by dozens of locals politely offering their services, or offering directions. Within a few feet of the port, we saw lots of pubs, food and craft stands, and little shops. Next to the port, we could see a beautiful beach and a large campground. Beyond the port, we could see lots of cute homes, a castle and fort high atop a hill, a huge modern playground, and a few more shops and pubs.

Aran Islands
Key sights to see on Inis Oirr. We managed to see everything except a couple farthest from the port.

 

I couldn’t persuade my 3 kids (22, 16 and 14 years old) to ride bikes even though Inis Oirr was largely flat with small and gentle undulating hills. After looking around for 10 minutes, we ultimately decided to take a guided tour by a horse and carriage.

 

Guided Tour of Inis Oirr

This was a great decision. We hired our horse and carriage at the port. It cost 10 euros per person for an hour. We had a lovely older gentleman, born and raised on Inis Oirr, as our guide with a thick Irish brogue to boot. The scenery was rugged and dramatic. Except for homes scattered about, a couple of cars here and there, and a building or two, I felt like time had stopped around 200 years ago. Our guide told us that properties are never listed on the open market. Rather, they are either sub-divided within the family or are purchased by locals who wish to settle down in their own place.

Aran Islands
Our horse drawn carriage ride.

 

We did a large circle and saw a lot of Inis Oirr. We all loved this tour. I think it showed us the beauty and the essence of the Aran Islands very well.  For example, I was struck by how harsh the Atlantic Ocean pounded the rocky shores . Yet, it seemed like every day island life was oblivious to it, living and working mere steps away. The shores were harsh and dramatic, and yet within feet of the beach, beautiful green fields were everywhere. Overall, in the unlikeliest of circumstances, it seemed like the people of Inis Oirr and nature had found a balance with each other and it was amazing to see.

Inis Oirr
A 1940s shipwreck washed ashore on Inis Oirr.

 

At the end, our guide dropped us off near the port and we climbed up to explore the fort. I loved the views from there. We were able to see the whole island.

Aran Islands
The fort on Inis Oirr

 

Aran Islands
The view from the fort.

 

Lunch on Inis Oirr

After the fort, we walked back into town and had a wonderful relaxing lunch at the port. We browsed through some of the craft shops and stands, and waited for our 1:45 pm ferry to the Cliffs of Moher. By the time we left, we felt like we saw Inis Oirr and experienced a lot of what it had to offer.

 

Aran Islands To The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher provide a stunning view across the Atlantic Ocean. They form a continuous rocky wall for 8km, varying in height from 407 to 700 feet (124m to 214m), broken into fantastic forms. At the waters edge, they tunnel into countless caves, carved over millions of years by the harsh pounding of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Cliffs of Moher are a protected area for seabirds with over 20 species represented. It welcomes over 30,000 breeding pairs annually and includes guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, peregrine falcons and the ever popular cute puffins.

Doolin
Dark and stormy skies waited for us when we cruised under the Cliffs of Moher.

 

The Cruise Under the Cliffs of Moher

We loaded our ferry and headed back to the mainland towards the Cliffs of Moher, a 20 minute ride. After that, we cruised for around 30 minutes underneath the Cliffs while the captain and crew explained the sights. Unfortunately, the weather turned quite nasty. We found ourselves in a torrential downpour for the whole cruise. The Cliffs of Moher were certainly beautiful, and I loved seeing them from below. However, the weather prevented us from spotting any puffins or being able to see some of the dramatic rock formations.

Doolin
Our ferry heading to the Cliffs of Moher
Doolin
The Cliffs of Moher

 

Exploring The Cliffs of Moher On Foot

After the cruise, we drove 10 minutes to the Cliffs of Moher. We had hoped to spend a couple of hours walking along the Cliffs and spending time in the Visitors Centre. However, the weather was particularly horrible. We spent a little bit of time there, but ultimately chose to head to our hotel in Limerick for our night’s stay a lot sooner than we had planned. Hopefully, you will have better weather and will be able to enjoy what looked like spectacularly beautiful views.

 

Accommodation in Limerick 

No. 1 Pery Square hotel was a lovely hotel in the centre of Limerick. It had the feel of a bed and breakfast but with the advantages of a hotel a few stories tall.  It had large cosy rooms, a beautiful bar and a pretty breakfast room. Like most of Ireland, breakfast was included in our stay and it was the best breakfast that we had during our whole 10 stay in Ireland. Everything was homemade, from jams to honey, baked goods and sausage. It was mouthwatering and to die for! I’d stay again and recommend it to anyone looking for an upscale accommodation a reasonable drive from the Cliffs of Moher.

Aran Islands
Breakfast at the No.1 Pery Square Hotel.

 

If you are interested in spending a night or two in Limerick at the No. 1 Pery Square or another lodging, I’d recommend exploring Booking.com and the interactive map below to find the best accommodation for the best prices.

 



Booking.com

 

Tips Before Cruise From Doolin Ferries To Inis Oirr

  • Purchase your tickets for the Doolin Ferries before arriving in Ireland. There are limited ferries and crossings. It would be unfortunate for you to miss this beautiful part of the world because tickets have sold out.
  • There is lots of parking at the harbour.
  • Wear layers and bring rain gear. We experienced every kind of weather during our Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher tours and nothing was predictable.

 

Tips for The Cruise To Inis Oirr

  • The boats are pretty large and spacious but they fill them to capacity.
  • The upper part of the boat is uncovered. It is a beautiful way to cross the Atlantic to Inis Oirr and see the Cliffs of Moher. The lower part of the boat is largely covered with bench seating and large windows. There is a small space at the rear of the boat to stand outside, but with hardly any seats.
  • The boat does not work well with extreme weather. On our way to Inis Oirr from Doolin, it was beautifully sunny. Luckily, we were one of the first ones on the boat and managed to snag seats on top out in the open. However, most people were not as lucky and ended up having to sit inside and down below. On the flip side, on the way from Inis Oirr to cruise under the Cliffs of Moher, the weather turned ugly. It began to rain hard and everyone flocked to the lower cabin. However, there wasn’t enough seats and the windows fogged up. It wasn’t the best way to see the Cliffs of Moher.
  • Lining up and loading onto the ferries was chaotic. There wasn’t a clear place to line up in Doolin or Inis Oirr. When the ferry from Doolin arrived in Inis Oirr, a huge crowd surged towards the gangplank to be first and secure the seats they wanted. It was disorganized and frustrating.
Aran Islands
The beautiful view of the port and the main village from the Fort.

 

Tips for Inis Oirr

  • Inis Oirr is tiny. You do not need a lot of time to explore and also, have a lovely meal there.
  • Do not feel rushed to make a decision about how you wish to explore the island. We did not have a plan before we arrived and took our time deciding what we should do even after arriving.
  • Bring cash for the horse and carriage tour. We used a credit card for lunch, but only cash was accepted for the tour.
Inis Oirr
A typical view of Inis Oirr from our horse and carriage tour.

 

Aran Islands
Our horse and carriage from our tour.

 

Conclusion

On our Ireland road trip, I wanted to see the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher. I was thrilled to find a way to see both of them in one day in a way that didn’t feel rushed or incomplete. We accomplished that with our time spent in Inis Oirr, the cruise under the Cliffs of Moher, and finally, walking along the Cliffs. If you want to see it all in a relaxing and authentic way, I’d highly recommend duplicating our day.

 

For other articles about our time in Ireland, please see:

 

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We spent one day exploring the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher. We travelled by car, boat, horse drawn carriage and foot and had a beautiful relaxing day seeing spectacular beautiful part of Ireland. #travel #familytravel #Ireland | traveltips, travelguide, Doolin, Doolin ferries, Galway, Limerick, Inis Meain, Inis Mor, Celtic, Europe, destinations in Europe, Europe travel destinations, European travel, Europe travel guide

16 Comments

  • This looks like a perfect day trip to the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher. I would love to do both the horse carriage tour and the cruise! We are hoping to get to Ireland sometime in the next few years so this post is super helpful for planning!

  • Oh how I wish I’d had more time in Ireland on our recent trip there! This is a day I’d love to replicate! Your views of the island from the fort are just breathtaking, like a huge, perfectly pieced green quilt! I also like your observance of the contrast between rugged coastline and tamed farmland. So sorry you didn’t get better weather for your Cliffs of Mother cruise. That’s the one thing about Ireland is that you can’t depend on good weather. But you can expect the people there to be warm and welcoming!

    • I love your analogy! The idea that the view of the island is like a perfectly pieced green quilt. It did have that feel! I totally agree about the weather and the people as well. Lovely lovely people. The weather… oh well!

  • Awesome! Those cliffs are really very tempting to climb; do they have a rock climbing community there? We would definitely love to hook up with them. I think this island hopping adventure would feel at home for us, considering that here in the Philippines, island hopping is one of our favorite activities.

    • That is a great question. I didn’t hear anything about rock climbing there, but they do around Slieve League, about 3 hours north. The cliffs are almost 3 times the size of the Cliffs of Moher. If you have time, you should read another article as I do talk about hikes and rock climbing -https://gofargrowclose.com/slieve-league-malin-beg-donegal-ireland/

  • This is such a beautiful part of Ireland and one I sadly missed seeing when I was there. You’ve given some excellent tips on seeing the cliffs and the islands in one day. I’ll bookmark this for when I return.

  • So I have always wanted to explore the Cliffs of Moher on the bucket list project but exploring the Aran Islands sounds amazing too. To be honest, I have to admit that I had never even heard of the Aran Islands so this is a great discover to learn more about the rich Irish Port or island life. I am sure Darcee would love to take a horse carriage ride around Inis Oirr but I bet riding bikes would be really cool. Are all those mini-walls a barrier construct to protect the islanders from the harsh atlantic?

    • Funny you should ask that because I thought that too. Apparently all those rocks are just from cleaning up the beaches. I think that they are too low to really have any effect on those harsh winds.

  • When I was a teenager visiting the cliffs of Moher was my big dream. I saw a picture on the internet and I really wanted to go there. Later I forgot about it, but after reading your post I have plans to visit this area again. I really like to explore small islands and to be honest I had no idea that Aran Islands exist at all. I’d love to see this archipelago. The landscapes are wonderful.

    • I really didn’t know much about the Aran Islands before I went either. It really isn’t too surprising given the size of the population there. Super tiny! But, if you like visiting islands, then you will really enjoy this experience.

  • Even my travel plans are usually packed, hence this is actually useful for me to learn that I can visit Cliffs of Moher along with the Aran Islands. Otherwise, I assumed that Cliffs of Moher will take the whole day to visit from Galway. You shared some really good tips about the cruise and taking the guided tour.

  • Hi Nicole,
    Thanks so much for choosing to sail with us when you went to the Aran Islands and for the Cliffs of Moher Cruise. You described the day beautifully and Im so glad you enjoyed the trip The combination tour to Inis Oirr and the Cliffs of Moher is one of our most popular ones, it ticks a lot of boxes for visitors, especially with limited time.
    It is a shame the weather turned against you towards the end, but with Ireland, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes 😉 BEST advice to anyone coming here – bring lots of layers!
    Just a little point on the parking – it is now possible to pay online to the council when you book your ticket and we send through a link with your confirmation for this. On the island, cash is king for the most part, but you can pay with card for food and drinks.
    We would love to see visitors to Doolin so if anyone has any questions on arranging a trip, please do let me know.
    All the best Joan
    Doolin2Aran Ferries
    PS we are quite active on Instagram and Facebook, so join the chat 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind comment. It was truly a lovely day and would hope that more visitors take advantage of seeing one the Aran Islands as well as the Cliffs of Moher when they visit.

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