Set off Ireland’s craggy, wind-battered Atlantic coast on the western edge of Europe, this trio of sparsely populated and starkly beautiful islands is a stronghold of traditional Irish culture. The Aran Islands’ jagged coastal cliffs enclose a patchwork of green fields, where the remnants of ancient stone forts and medieval churches can be seen, while in their one- and two-pub towns, locals trade gossip in Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) and traditional music sessions last well into the night.
The Aran archipelago comprises three separate islands: Inishmore (Inis Mor, meaning Big Island in Irish), Inishmaan (Inis Meain, meaning Middle Island), and Inisheer (Inis Oirr, meaning East Island). Though many travelers only see the islands from afar, it is possible to visit all three, either by ferry or plane. For flexibility, book a round-trip ferry ticket in advance and explore independently on foot, by bike, bus, or pony trap from Inishmore’s main town, Kilronan. Guided day tours from Galway often combine a trip to the Aran Islands with a visit to the Cliffs of Moher on mainland Ireland and include round-trip transport from the city. Visitors can also take a guided day tour from Dublin, traveling to Galway by train before flying across to the islands.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Aran Islands are primarily an Irish-speaking region known as a Gaeltacht, although English is widely spoken.
- Ferries can accommodate passengers with wheelchairs with advance notice.
- Ferry sailings are weather dependent and may be canceled if conditions are poor.
- Wear warm clothes and bring a waterproof layer.
How to Get There
Take the ferry to any of the three islands from Rossaveal in County Galway or from Doolin in County Clare. Departures from Doolin are seasonal (generally from March to October), while ferries depart from Rossaveal year-round. Ferries usually take between 40 and 90 minutes, while the journey is just 10 minutes by plane.
When to Get There
The best time to visit the Aran Islands is between April and September. During summer, calm conditions and clear skies are more common, though not guaranteed.
Dive into Aran Islands History
The Aran Islands are littered with the ruins of historical structures. Inishmore is home to the Iron Age fortresses of Dun Aengus (Dun Aonghasa) and the Seven Churches, an assortment of crumbling chapels, crosses, and religious buildings dating from the eighth to 11th centuries. The less-visited Inis Meain and the smallest island, Inis Oirr, also have impressive ruins—the former in the form of a fourth-century fort, and the latter, a three-story 16th-century castle.