The Aran Islands: What to See on The 3 Irish Iron Islands

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Last Updated on 27 June 2024 by Cycloscope

aran islands ireland what to see
Walking Inisheer

Aran Islands: What to See and How to Reach These Three Islands Where Irish Culture, Traditions, and Language Are Still Alive

The Aran Islands are three islands located at the entrance of Galway Bay, along the western coast of Ireland. They are home to about 1,200 people who live off fishing and tourism. The inhabitants are fluent in Irish and deeply connected to their culture and traditions.

Walking among the endless stone walls and enclosures will give you the distinct feeling of being inside the script of the next fantasy film adapted from a Tolkien novel. We visited the Aran Islands during our cycling trip to Ireland and were pleasantly surprised.

The Aran Islands are three:

  • Inishmore: The largest and furthest from the coast, home to about 800 people.
  • Inishmaan: The middle island, both in size and geographical position.
  • Inisheer: The smallest and closest to the Irish coast.

How to Reach the Aran Islands


The Aran Islands are accessible by sea from the port of Doolin, only during the summer season. The port of Doolin is near the legendary Cliffs of Moher, and the boats that take you to the islands stop to let you admire them from the sea on the way back – a sight not to be missed.

Ferries run year-round from Rossaveal port in County Galway.

To see the Aran Islands from above, small planes from Aer Arann depart from Connemara airport, offering a breathtaking view in a 10-minute flight for about 40 euros.


Prices, Schedules, and Reservations Available Here


How to Explore the Aran Islands


The ferries departing from Doolin are small boats that only carry passengers and, if there’s space, bicycles. You can’t know in advance, so be prepared to leave bikes and luggage at the port parking.

Since we didn’t plan to stay overnight on the islands, we left our bikes at the port ticket office.

Bicycles remain the best way to explore these flat rocks in the sea, so consider renting one upon arrival on the Aran Islands (available only on Inisheer and Inishmore).


The Most Beautiful Aran Island: Inisheer


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aran islands ireland what to see
Our drone flying on Inisheer

During our cycling trip in Ireland, we visited Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. It is the second most populated, with about 260 residents living there year-round. Its Irish name is Inis Oirr, previously known as Inis Oirthir. The main village is Fromna, where you can admire typical thatched-roof houses.

Upon arriving at the port, at least during the summer months, you will be offered various activities: bike rentals, guided tours, and a charming island tour on a tractor-pulled cart driven by a friendly local who always wears a woolen cap. Tourism is slowly growing, but the Aran Islands are still far from mass tourism, remaining very authentic, especially in the off-season.

The island is indeed small, so you can easily explore it on foot, though a bicycle is always the best means of transport, despite the rental prices not being very economical.

Walking east from the port, you’ll find a beautiful beach where weather permitting and if you don’t mind the cold water, you can take a swim. It seems there was once a campsite, now closed. A sign indicates camping is prohibited, but we counted at least 5 or 6 tents on the beach. Ask a local for safety, but free camping doesn’t seem to be an issue.


What to See and Do on Inisheer


  • O’Brien’s Castle (Caislean Ui Bhriain)
  • The Plassy Shipwreck
  • Aras Eanna, where you can learn about Aran traditions
  • Walk among the stone walls, feeling like you’re in a fantasy movie scene
  • Spend a few hours on the beach, swimming in the clear waters if you can brave the cold
  • Visit the church in the land of St. Caomhán
  • Enjoy the view from Inisheer lighthouse
  • Explore the ancient burial mound of Cnoc Raithní

Where to Stay on Inisheer, Aran Islands

The island has several characteristic guest houses. Although you can visit it in a day, spending a night here is a good opportunity to savor local life, drink good beer, and chat with the islanders.

The mound of Cnoc Raithní

This Bronze Age mound dates back to 1500 BC, making it the earliest evidence of settlement on the island.

The lighthouse of Inisheer

Visible from a great distance on a clear day, the lighthouse of Inisheer was completed in 1857 and is still in use today.

O’Brien Castle (Caislean Ui Bhriain)

Just above the beach we mentioned earlier, you can walk towards O’Brien’s Castle, built in the late 16th century on what was an Iron Age fort. From the castle, you will have a beautiful panoramic view of the island of Inisheer.

Plassy Shipwreck

This is the remains of a cargo ship that has been here since the 1960s when the island’s inhabitants rescued the crew in distress.

Aras Eanna

It is the center of art and culture, with a constantly changing program that includes exhibitions by local and non-local artists and offers various workshops. If you have always wanted to learn basket weaving, this could be your opportunity. You can check the official website to see if there is something for you.

Walking among the stone walls

The dry stone walls of the Aran Islands are the true symbol of these lands and, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful sights to behold. They stretch for kilometers and kilometers, and it seems they are never-ending. All three Aran Islands are rocky, and stone is the primary material used by the inhabitants over centuries to build animal enclosures, protect crops from the wind, and create beautiful walls simply for the sake of it.

Today, the Island of Inisheer, along with its sisters, is a true labyrinth of rock. It is said that all three islands together contain almost 2800 kilometers of walls. During our bicycle trip in Ireland, we still had our drone with us, and we managed to capture some aerial footage of the walls of Inisheer before it was attacked by three crows, prompting us to swiftly land it.


Where to Stay in Inisheer, Aran Islands


aran islands ireland what to see
Inisheer + O’Brien Castle

On the island, there are several characteristic guest houses where you can stay. Even though the island can be visited in a day, spending a night here is a good opportunity to experience local life, enjoy good beer, and have a chat with the islanders.

Ireland is not famous for having the most pleasant weather in the world, but with a bit of luck, you might enjoy some sunny days, camp on the beach, and even take a swim. It happened to us, so it’s not impossible, perhaps “thanks” to global warming.


Inishmaan


With its 160 inhabitants, Inishmaan is the smallest and least visited of the three Aran Islands, which makes it special. Like Inisheer, one of the main attractions is the stone walls that create a strange and suggestive landscape. But on Inishmaan, the stone also forms two imposing forts dating back to the 4th century AD, one oval and one rectangular.

The port of Inishmaan is in the northern part of the island, at Rathreagh, near the airport. From here, the only road leads you around the island. As far as we know, there are no bike rentals on the island but feel free to contribute information in the comments. Inishmaan is small and can be easily explored on foot.


What to See and Do on Inishmaan


  • Visit the Dún Chonchúir fortress
  • Explore the Dún Fearbhaí fort
  • Watch the Céad game
  • Visit Synge’s Cottage

Dún Chonchúir

This impressive pre-Christian stone fortress, oval in shape, offers a fantastic panoramic view of the island of Inishmaan and the sea. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information available about the history of this structure. Perhaps a visit to the local library could help satisfy the curiosity of those interested.

Dún Fearbhaí

Dún Fearbhaí is the second stone fort on Inishmaan, rectangular in shape and dating back to the 4th century AD. Not much is known about its history; it consists of two walls and a terrace built on a steep slope overlooking Galway Bay.

Céad Game

If you happen to be in Inishmaan on St. Patrick’s Day, you must see the Céad, a traditional island game played exclusively by men and only once a year.

Synge’s Cottage 

On the island of Inishmaan, there is the cottage of the famous playwright John Millington Synge, who apparently found inspiration for several of his works here. The house has recently been restored and is open for visits.


Where to Stay on Inishmaan, Aran Islands


aran islands ireland what to see
The oval fortress of Dún Chonchúir, dating back to the Iron Age

Currently, there are no official campsites on the island, but you can ask locals to pitch a tent in their garden for a small fee. There are 4 guest houses in the island’s center, one of which is also a restaurant.


Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands


With its 850 inhabitants, Inishmore is the metropolis of the Aran Islands. Over the years, it has become a favorite destination for Irish and international tourists. You can rent a bike to explore the island or join organized tours, usually horse-drawn carriages.

It is also a destination for climbing enthusiasts, hosting an annual event as part of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, with dives from heights of 26 to 28 meters.

The main village is Cill Rónáin (Kilronan), where you can find grocery stores, an ATM, and various accommodations.


What to See on Inishmore


  • Dún Aonghasa
  • Dún Dúchathair
  • The cliffs of Inishmore

Dún Aonghasa

Located in the western part of the island, Dún Aonghasa is certainly the main attraction of Inishmore, besides being a site of significant archaeological importance.

The exact construction date of this stone fort is uncertain, but some excavations have suggested it is approximately 3000 years old. It features thick concentric stone walls built in dry stone technique. The fort also offers a stunning view of the cliff.

Dún Dúchathair

Another stone fort, known as the Black Fort, might have been used both as a defensive and ceremonial structure. Also dating back to the Iron Age, Dún Dúchathair is located in the southern part of Inishmore.

The cliffs of Inishmore

There are several panoramic points of epic scale along the cliffs of Inishmore, one of which is Na Poill Seideáin, large holes in the cliffs that create a spectacle when waves crash into the underlying cave. The southernmost tip of the island is also the wildest and most fascinating.


Where to Stay on Inishmore

Inishmore offers the most accommodation options among the Aran Islands, including B&Bs, vacation rentals, and hostels.


Which Aran Island to Visit


If you have little time and can’t tour all three islands, we recommend Inisheer. It’s the smallest, can be explored in a day without rushing, and has everything the Aran Islands are known for. On the way back, the boat stops in front of the epic Cliffs of Moher.


Are you interested in a bicycle trip along the Wild Atlantic Way? Here’s our itinerary.

Looking for a Northern Europe tour? You might also want to read:


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