24 Hours On Wild & Beautiful Inis Mor, In Ireland’s Aran Islands
The tiny, historic island of Inis Mor is a place of rugged beauty and stark simplicity, and often a study in contrasts.
Home to a magnificent Iron Age fort perched on the edge of jagged sea cliffs, it boasts turquoise waters and golden beaches that wouldn’t be out of place in the Caribbean. Yet its flatter stony landscape (which looks like alligator hide from the air) and weather seem the opposite of mainland Ireland’s lush, rolling green hills.
When you’re standing on those cliffs, with the waves beating relentlessly against the limestone walls, the romantic among us may feel like we’re at the edge of the known world. Added to that is feeling like a place out of time, as the island is part of the Gaeltacht, where locals still speak the traditional Irish Gaelic (though have no issues speaking English to visitors).
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Inis Mór (also called Inishmore) is the largest of Ireland’s three Aran Islands. Buffeted by waves and wind on a constant basis, this tiny group of islands off the coast of Galway are a stark, remote corner of the Emerald Isle that the majority of tourists miss. And that’s understandable given how much there is to see and do on the mainland, but is also really a shame.
While Inis Mor is the largest, it’s still only about 8 miles long by 2 miles wide with a population of around 800. Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) and Inisheer (Inis Oírr) are the other two islands, for reference, and both are even smaller and less populated. This means that while they require a bit of planning to get to, they’re fairly easy to explore in a short time.
How this Inis Mor travel guide post is structured:
- When to go to the Aran Islands & Inishmore
- What to pack
- Where to stay in Inis Mor
- How to get to the Aran Islands
- How to get around the island
- What to do in Inishmore (including where to eat & drink)
When to go to the Aran Islands
The best time to get good weather and avoid the crowds is the “shoulder season” of May-June and September-October. You’ll find generally lower prices and usually good weather.
Peak season is July and August, and you definitely should book both ferries and accommodation ahead of time in those months as space in both can be limited. Between November and April is not recommended, as the gales and squalls are fierce, ferries can’t always run, and days are very short.
I visited in mid-May and the island seemed to be just kind of getting open and running. The ferry and accommodation were easy enough, but most shops closed at 5pm (including the grocery store) and didn’t open til 9am. My first day there was insanely windy and chilly, but my second day was gorgeous.
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What to pack for the Aran Islands
Obviously this will somewhat depend on when you’re going, but one thing that you can count on is…that you can’t count on anything weather-wise. The weather in the Aran Islands is incredibly variable, shifting in an instant from sun to rain to crazy wind.
Because of that, layers are key, as is having a rain jacket with you pretty much all the time. My cute rain jacket was clutch when a rainstorm blew up while out at Dun Aengus, and I wore it basically the entire time I was on Inis Mor. I paired it with this cute scarf and it made for great pics. I had a lightweight sweater and a light knit shirt as well. It’s so windy I wouldn’t bother with dresses or skirts.
Comfortable shoes are absolutely critical as well. The most common ways of getting around Inishmore are walking, biking, and hiking, and the terrain around the island (outside of the roads) is very rugged.
You want sturdy shoes with a good grip, since the rocks can be slick when wet. I wore my lightweight TOMS sneakers (which are sadly discontinued) on the cuter end, and had my Nike Zoom sneakers with me as well. On my first day there I wished I’d had my hat (or headband) and gloves, as the intensive wind out on the cliffs made it quite chilly. Ideally I’d have had two jackets, one rain-proof and one maybe a little warmer, like a thin puffer.
Ideally two jackets, one rain proof and maybe one a little warmer, like a thin puffer. I almost packed one, but since most of my trip was in the south of Ireland, it didn’t make the cut.
You can definitely go the jeans route, but if it rains they’ll be heavy and uncomfortable. My go-to travel pants are from Athleta, and I love their Brooklyn Ankle Pant, specifically these ones…I have multiple pairs in black, navy, and rust red. They’re lightweight and breathable, dry very quickly, and are stretchy so can do active things while still looking super cute. Athleta’s city pants or joggers are also a good choice that’s more athleisure-looking…I recently got these ones.
Another great option for pants (particularly outside of July/August) would be fleece-lined leggings, which can look cute but are super functional, lightweight, comfy, and warm. This post talks about why they’re great and my three favorite pairs/brands.
Also, Inis Mor is entirely exposed with no tree cover, so make sure to wear some sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy (here are some of my faves).
Here are other Ireland adventures to plan your trip!
The Perfect 7-Day Ireland Roadtrip Itinerary: Hidden Gems
Tips For Renting A Car & Driving In Ireland
A Road Trip Along Ireland’s Southern Coast: Things To Do In County Cork & Waterford
The Medieval Charms of Kilkenny
Driving Ireland’s Beara Peninsula
Why The Ardmore Cliff Walk Should Be On Your Southern Ireland Itinerary
Exploring Ireland’s Breathtaking Dingle Peninsula (& 10+ Hidden Gems)
What to Expect at the Cliffs of Moher (& Where To Go Instead)
Duchess For A Day: A Luxury Stay At Dromoland Castle (Co. Clare)
Why You Should Consider Loop Head Instead of Cliffs of Moher
What to Do With 2 Days in Dublin
What to Do in Ireland’s Boyne Valley Region & Slane Village
Clonmacnoise Monastery, Ireland: A Road Trip Must-See
Where to stay on Inishmore (Inis Mor)
Inishmore is tiny and remote, with limited accommodation options, so I recommend booking early. I booked my trip with less than a month’s notice, so didn’t have many options. I ended up staying in the unique glamping pods near the beach (see TripAdvisor reviews & their website), which was a cool experience. I’ll talk about those more in a few minutes.
If I’d had my choice, I probably would have booked Kilmurvey House (more remote but looks really cool) or Seacrest B&B. Pier House B&B and Aran Islands Hotel are also super close to the ferry and main town.
Aran Thatch Cottage is a fascinating little sliver of history, located in the middle of the island (so you’ll need a taxi, bike, or other transportation there).
Two other great B&B options that are a little more remote but a very easy bike ride (or about a mile walk) from the main town are Ard Einne and Tigh Fitz Bed & Breakfast. Neither are particularly walkable from the ferry with luggage (I mean, you *could* but I wouldn’t bother), but are on a part of the island I loved.
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How to get to Inis Mor & the Aran Islands
You’ll get to Inis Mor by taking a ferry from either Doolin (in Clare) or Rossaveal (near Galway). You *technically* can fly to Inishmore from the tiny Inverin airfield in Connemara, just outside Galway. But really, ferry is what you’ve got.
Doolin was closer for me, so that’s what I went with, though it’s then a longer ferry ride to Inishmore (which is closer to Rossaveal). I had flown into Shannon in the morning, and that airport is nice and small, with the rental cars right in the terminal.
So I was quickly on my way toward the coast to catch the ferry. I did stop at the charming coffeehouse/eatery The Castle in Clarecastle for a scone and coffee, as well as at the adorable Moher Cottage for…another scone and coffee 🙂
One quick note…as you get fairly close to Doolin (like 15 minutes?), the directions and sign will have you hang a left toward the coast, and I stumbled upon this gorgeous and unexpected scene. Keep an eye out for it!
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If you’re like me and needing a hot meal—or just need to kill time waiting for your ferry—try Gus O’Connor’s in Doolin. It’s only a 2-minute drive from the ferry pier and I was able to enjoy a local Island’s Edge Stout and delicious fish and chips (my first of many this trip!).
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I pulled up and found a parking spot at the pier, then was able to pay for parking contactless with my credit card (they also take coins). I paid €5 because I was only staying about 24 hours (that’s the cost for up to 30 hours I think, and €15 to park for up to a week).
I had pre-booked my ferry ticket through Doolin2Aran ferries, and checked in at the little building, then grabbed my suitcase and went down to queue for the boat. It was a chilly, overcast, and super windy day.
When the ferry arrived, I didn’t realize that I could/should put my suitcase kind of over to the side for the ferry crew to load easily onto the boat (kind of where the man in the red coat is below). Instead I dragged my carry-on with me, and immediately found a seat below.
It’s important to know that the ferry can be (and often is) a rough crossing, so if you get seasick, you should be aware of that. The boat before us had someone who either was really seasick or was like in shock from getting hit by cold water (if the ferry is full, some people will have to sit outside). Mine was not crowded both ways, so took a couple pics up above but sat in the enclosed area belowdecks.
There is a bathroom on board, but there was no toilet paper when I tried to use it. Overall the ferries are pretty barebones, but thankfully it’s not a long crossing (about 35 minutes from Doolin to Inis Mor).
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As we left the pier, I captured this dramatic little rock outcropping…with the choppy white-capped waves and rolling clouds, it reminded me a bit of the famous cave scene in Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (which actually was partially filmed at the nearby Cliffs of Moher).
Here’s the original, and two different super dramatic edits I played with too!
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As I mentioned above, the ferry crossing from Doolin to Inishmore is 35 minutes each way, and is direct except ours did stop very briefly at one of the other islands. I think this was Inis Oirr (Inisheer), but can’t remember for certain.
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Arriving on Inishmore
When we docked on Inishmore, it was intensely windy, overcast, and chilly, and I wasn’t positive how far the walk was to the glamping pods I was staying at, so ended up grabbing a taxi. More on that in a minute.
Here’s what the glamping pods look like. It’s definitely a unique housing option, which can be a fun story to tell. The pods are cute but sparse, kind of like if Ikea built a “tiny house”. I accidentally booked the one that sleeps six, which has tiny beds vs. a larger bed, which was a mistake on my part.
The main office and common room is open 9a to 9p, and is very welcoming (as was the girl working there). The one real bummer is that there is no wifi except in the office, and I’d needed to get a couple work things done before signing off for the rest of my trip. The office also has the biggest, most complex Nespresso machine tower that I’ve ever seen!
The pods are right across from the beach, and only a 5-10 minute walk from the main town (Kilronan). I did easily walk back with my luggage the next day.
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How to get around Inishmore
As I mention above, the most common ways of getting around are by bicycle or on foot. The island’s small size (about 8 miles long by 2 miles wide) make it easy to explore it by bike. Y’all I HATE biking, so much. But let me tell you about e-bikes!!! This was a revelation for me.
I arrived in Inis Mor around 3:45, and at the time everything closed down at 5:00 (including the bike hires, shops, grocery stores, etc). So the next morning I went back to Aran Islands Bike Hire, which is right by the pier, as soon as they opened.
Jamie and Rob got me sorted with an electric bike (e-bike) and I was on my way. I only had a couple hours, as I was on the 12:15 ferry. One note, I believe they may not accept credit cards, so be prepared with cash. That’s good advice on the island across the board, just in case.
For touring the further-out parts of the island if you don’t want to use a bike or don’t have time, then you can either book (or get in the town) a taxi/tour driver to take you around (usually in a van, but could be a minibus if you have a bigger group), or book a unique pony trap ride.
This page gives a good overview of the options and who to contact. Also the glamping pods gave me this list of taxi and tour operators. I didn’t book anything ahead but ended up with a taxi driver named Joe, more on that in a minute.
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What to do on Inishmore (Inis Mor)
Most of the rest of this post dives into various things to do on Inishmore or places to see. If you’re short on time (and also if the weather isn’t great), you should consider a taxi tour of the island. You’ll have a say in where you go, and can efficiently see or stop at major areas of the island, such as Dun Aegnus (which we’ll cover next),
Joe was the taxi driver I snagged coming off the ferry, to get to the glamping pods (which, again, I could have walked). As he dropped me off, he asked if I’d like to do a tour of the island as well, and based on the weather and short time I had (and that the bike hires were closing for the day), I said yes and we agreed on a price.
I’ll talk about where I biked in a few minutes, but this blog post has great detailed biking instructions for reaching different parts of the island, including routes and times.
Also, one thing to note…I decided to go kind of chronologically through this post on things I did/saw, rather than by importance or preference. It just made more sense with how my visit went, but that means that my absolute favorite (or maybe tied for favorite) thing will be at the very end—so don’t miss out!
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Because I had less than 24 hours on Inis Mor (from late afternoon to midday), there was a lot I didn’t get to. Here are some additional spots you should look into, but I won’t cover below:
- Seven Churches – cool looking, though if you’re short on time you should definitely do Dun Aengus instead
- Gort na gCapall – can bike through (just a few houses) but supposedly has great views over the island
- The northern coast has seal colonies, with an official viewpoint near the beach of Portmurvy…was so sad to miss this! I think mid-morning is best?
- One popular hike is from Kilronan Village to the Black Fort, which is similar to Dún Aengus, but much less-visited. The hike is only about 30 minutes one-way, so you could easily tack this on to your visit if you have an extra couple of hours (or maybe a second day).
- Visiting Aran Goat Cheese for a tour and taste
Once I got checked in at the glamping pods, we were on our way. We made a quick stop at the grocery store for me to grab a few things, then headed out into the island.
He pointed out a few different spots as we drove, and we chatted a little bit but he definitely wasn’t a chatty Cathy…a bit more taciturn but I don’t mind that too much as I’m an introvert myself.
This traditional thatched cottage is I think the Aran Thatch Cottage rental I mentioned at the beginning, and you can rent. It dates back to 1844 and is a classic example of a traditional whitewashed Famine-era thatch cottage. There’s a ruined (not renovated) one just to the left of this as well.
He also took me past Kilmurvey Beach, and while you can kind of glimpse the turquoise waters, the weather and sky don’t show them at their best.
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Dun Aengus (Dún Aonghasa)
Our first stop was Dun Aengus, and I was able to just get in before they closed. It’s about a 15-30 minute walk up to the fort from the visitor center, and it really gives you an up-close-and-personal glimpse of Inis Mor’s fascinating topography, which is much more rocky and stark than the lush green Ireland you have in your mind.
Dún Aonghasa (also called Dun Aengus) is a magnificent prehistoric stone fort, believed by many to be the most impressive in Europe. It’s one of the biggest draws to the Aran Islands, and one of the most popular things to do in Inishmore. It’s not known for sure, but the fort is believed to be more than 3,000 years old, with portions dating to the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
Early morning and late afternoon will be the least crowded during peak season, as the day trippers will be tied to ferry schedules. Do be careful, as the path is uphill and parts are quite rocky. It is definitely not wheelchair-accessible (there are rock stairs in parts). I’ve done a deeper post on visiting Dun Aengus with more photos and tips for your visit.
Read more on my visit to Dun Aengus & its amazing sea cliff views!
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Estimates of the main structure date to around the 2nd century BCE, but the first construction that they’ve unearthed appear to be from around 1100 BCE. So…it’s old.
There aren’t really any signs around the fort that give you context on the history, but you can read up ahead of time or listen to this audioguide while you visit.
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What’s particularly amazing about Dun Aengus, though, is its location—it’s perched perilously on the edge of a 330-foot sheer vertical cliff overlooking the ocean. I was absolutely OBSESSED with the craggy rock faces, deep teal churning water and white-capped waves crashing against the rocks.
MOVE OVER CLIFFS OF MOHER! Seriously, Dun Aengus is one of the many spots all throughout Ireland that give you better views and a much more natural and visceral visceral sea cliff experience than the famous touristy Cliffs of Moher (which are, to be fair, twice as tall as this, but you don’t really *feel* that when you’re there). (As a side note, the gorgeous cliffs at Loop Head are another great alternative.)
Make sure you’re super careful getting close to the edge, as there’s no guardrail (love this!) and it’s super windy. It would only take one gust to take you over the edge. A good selfie stick or selfie stick/tripod combo can be your best friend for getting good pics safely, since the distance and height it creates lets you capture the full cliff view without getting *too* close to the edge.
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The Wormhole (Poll na bPéist)
The Wormhole had been on my wishlist for Inishmore, but I kind of figured I wouldn’t have the time needed to do it (particularly since the path is harder to find on your own). But when I mentioned it to Joe, he decided we were doing it, and acted as my guide.
And let me tell you, it is *quite* a hike! Not because of intensity or difficulty (it’s basically flat), but simply due to the potential for breaking an ankle or slipping and falling. You definitely need to wear good shoes for this, take your time and watch where you’re going, and think twice before bringing small children. And you can’t bring your bike.
So what IS the Wormhole?? Poll na bPéist, aka the Wormhole or the Serpent’s Lair is a naturally-formed almost perfectly rectangular hole cut in the rock. Basically, it looks like a man-made swimming pool perched on the edge of a cliff.
The walk takes about 25 minutes each way at a brisk stroll. There are red (and occasionally white) markings on the rocks every so often to help you find the path, but trust me it is NOT easy (don’t be fooled by that second pic below). I was very thankful for my local guide. This post has detailed instructions on finding it.
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And I honestly wish I could have gotten better photos, but the angles are just really hard (especially this time of day). A drone would have been awesome here. But as you can see, it’s an almost perfect rectangle “swimming pool” that nature decided to create.
You *can* go for a swim but should be careful as it can be quite dangerous (particularly depending on where the tide is). The ocean can be unforgiving.
The hole has a number of underground channels and a cave, which connect to the ocean. When the tide is in, water rushes into the hole from these and forces the water over the edges, filling the hole from above. It is fascinating and unique.
I also LOVED the last bit of the hike on the way there, which is this bizarre cratered moonscape full of tiny tidal pools, neon green algae, and part of the sheer cliffs right beside you. Made for great pics.
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Visit local Inis Mor food & drink “hotspots”
LOL okay “hotspot” may be overselling it, but there are some places you should check out, and then a handful of other food and drink options that I’ll mention.
Everyone says you have to check out Joe Watty’s Pub (or “Ti Joe Watty” in the local dialect), so that’s where I headed for dinner. It was great because the sun finally peeked out right as I was walking there, a nice break from the stony gray skies and wind of the day.
Joe Watty’s is widely considered one of the best pubs in Ireland and definitely has a cool ambiance and welcoming atmosphere. I was really bummed I couldn’t sit at the bar (they’d just had it revarnished and it was still drying). The food was fine, I got the fish & chips and a pint of Guinness.
They feature trad sessions (traditional music) during the summer 7 days a week (and at weekends throughout the year). This is an amazing experience, I can’t recommend enough! They didn’t have it when I visited as it wasn’t summer yet, but you can see what that’s like in this video I made from other spots in Ireland.
For meal options, here are a few others that had been on my list:
- Man of Aran Cottage, a restaurant in a B&B, supposed to have great food
- Teach Nan Phaidi – a little thatched cottage in the middle of the island that looks adorable, with delicious homemade meals
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I decided not to linger because I wanted to check out The Bar, which is also known for its warm Irish welcome. It dates to around 1920, so is one of the oldest pubs on the Aran Islands (the building goes much further back than that).
Unfortunately it was dead when I visited, I’m assuming because peak tourist season hadn’t started yet and it was only a Thursday night so might not be big for locals yet. And, to be fair, a little early in the evening…I’d just arrived on an overnight flight that day so knew it wouldn’t be a late night for me.
I did have a gin & tonic with the local Tribe Irish gin (made near Galway, could be worth a visit if you’re in the area). It had more spices that came through in the botanicals (with a bit of seaweed and citrus as well) and made for a good gin & tonic.
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Enjoy a coffee & scone before heading out for the morning
This is what I woke up to the next morning—what a difference a day and change of weather makes!! If I’d already had my bike rental with me, I would have 100% gone out early to try and catch a sunrise (if it had been clear enough). And if you rent a regular bike, you can keep them overnight. But the e-bikes you have to return every evening.
I realllllly hate bikes, so a regular bike was out for me. Plus I’d just arrived in Ireland the day before, so slept in a tad and grabbed a Nespresso at the glamping main office, sipping it as I walked to Aran Islands Bike Hire.
I ended up having to wait a bit because Rob had gone for coffee, but soon enough they had me on an e-bike and on my way! Remember, “island time” is a real thing…just relax and enjoy 🙂
BUT, before I truly got going, I wanted to try out Aran Island Cafe, right there in the heart of Kilronan. I can’t find a website for it, but it’s impossible to miss. It’s a cute little stand with coffee and a few baked goods, possibly other snacks as well. (Also, I didn’t get there, but a couple other local snack spots are Man of Aran Fudge and ice cream from Paudy’s.)
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Definitely take a few minutes to walk around Kilronan and soak it in, it’s quite charming. It’s also the best place to find any souvenirs you’re looking for.
One to definitely consider is something made from the famous Aran Islands wool. You can find everything from sweaters to scarves to blankets…I was SO tempted, but 1) have a slight wool allergy and 2) didn’t have room in my suitcase.
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Explore the island by (e-)bike
I realize it’s weird I haven’t really gotten much to the “where to go in Inis Mor” stuff as much til now, beyond Dun Aengus and the Wormhole. So let’s start with a very high level map view of how the island is laid out.
You can see where the ferry comes in, in Kilronan. The icon is a bit misleading, the village is really that jaggedy tip pointing downward, where the bow of the ferry kind of meets land on the map. You see how far out Dun Aengus is, with the Seven Churches even more remote. So there’s a lot along the kind of southern/western coast.
Then on the north you’ve got the seal viewpoints and a slightly different topography (I’ll show that in a bit). But where I went with such a short amount of time initially was to bike along the coast in that “C”-shaped bay where the ferry is, then to hike up to Teampall Bheanáin—which is pictured on the map but not identified. It’s that house without a roof.
So lets go, shall we?? I got comfortable (enough) with the bike pretty quickly, and BOY does it help you go faster with less effort! I was basking in the sun as I glided along the beach and around the coast to the left.
The views of the aqua water and blue sky were awesome, and I enjoyed finding little historical touches along the way. Also I stopped like…a billion times for photos, which you definitely have to take into account in any biking travel time estimates.
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Hike up to Teampall Bheanáin
The woman manning the main office at the glamping pods had recommended this as my destination, giving the most “bang for my buck” with only a couple hours available before needing to catch my ferry. And she was not wrong, it was amazing!
I’m going to do a deeper post on Teampall Bheanáin, because I took SO many awesome pics that it was really hard to narrow it down for this post. Finding the start of the hike isn’t difficult, so I left my bike there and began walking along the path. There’s a little bit of flat with a slight slope, then you go uphill pretty quickly.
It’s not a long or difficult hike, but it is quite steep, and the ground is uneven. I recommend shoes that support your ankles, with good traction (I was wearing my TOMS sneakers). The hike takes you through a beautiful pasture (complete with very chill cows hanging out…PLEASE don’t bother them).
And the views are amazing—don’t forget to stop and look back every so often!
At the top you’ll find the ruins of Teampall Bheanáin, a thousand-year-old church believed to be the smallest in Ireland. Dating to the 11th century, it’s a tiny oratory about the size of a parking space, and remarkably well-preserved besides the roof. You can read more about it here.
And somehow it really flies under the radar as far as things to see in Inis Mor. I think people are so focused on getting out to see Dun Aengus and other places in the opposite direction, that this just gets missed. It didn’t come up once in my pre-trip research, but I’m SO glad that it was recommended!
This spot would be absolutely amazing at sunrise or sunset on a clear day. Very sad I didn’t get to experience that.
Bike along the northern coast toward the seals
Because of my timing and time constraints, I didn’t get to see the seal colony (but have seen them in Scotland). I did, however, bike back along the northern coast with my last half hour, just to get a feel for it.
I loved seeing all the dividing stone walls, and the view out toward the sea. Those rock walls are built using rocks that the locals have cleared from the land over the centuries, to try and farm it and feed animals.
I kept asking myself how far I was willing to “push it” on leaving enough time to make my ferry…I was just loving this experience so much that I didn’t want it to end!
But alas, I had to head back to the mainland (to stay at a castle, so…still living my best life). The ferry pulled up and I easily got settled, this time knowing to leave my bag for them to load.
I was the only person besides a giant group of teenagers on some kind of school trip so it was…entertaining. But wow, you can really see the difference the weather makes!
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I’ll leave you with the gorgeous turquoise waters and beautiful little village of Kilronan in Inishmore! Even though I only had a short time, I was able to experience so much of the island, and highly recommend carving out at least a day in Inis Mor (if you have the time, 2-3 days is perfect).
Other unique remote experiences you’ll love:
- Soaking in the Serenity of Scotland’s Tiny Isle of Iona
- A Day on Scotland’s Mystical Isle of Lewis & Harris
- Exploring England’s Jurassic Coast
- Exploring the Hill Towns of Northern Croatia
- Abbeys, Castles, & Coast: A Day Trip To South Wales
Pin for later!
April 1, 2023 at 10:36 am
I’m headed here late summer this year! this was super helpful with my planning THANK YOU x