With hundreds of islands dotted around the coast of Ireland, you’re never too far from doing a spot of island hopping as you travel the country. While the west coast of Ireland and the popular Wild Atlantic Way are home to the biggest collection of islands in the country, there is plenty to choose from when it comes to exploring Ireland’s islands. We take a look at some of the most popular islands in Ireland to visit over the coming months.
Irish Islands You Need to Explore
Aran Islands, Galway
Recognised by National Geographic as one of the world’s top island destinations, when it comes to island hopping in Ireland, few areas can match what Aran Islands has to offer. This trio of islands is made up from Inis Mór, Inishmaan and Inisheer Island. Situated in Galway Bay, Aran Islands can be accessed from Galway or Clare, with ferries departing from both Rossaveal (Galway) and Doolin (Clare). Departing from Doolin will give you great views of the famous Cliffs of Moher, although Aran Island’s largest island Inishmore has an impressive stretch of cliffs to the west of the island.
Inishmore is also home to many ancient sites including the prehistoric stone fort of Dun Aonghasa, and the circular fort of Dun Eoghanacht. Kilronan Village is perhaps the most lively on the island, with traditional pubs providing plenty of opportunities to soak up the local hospitality. In recent years, The Worm Hole has helped to put Inishmore on the map for adrenaline junkies from all over as they race to do the popular cliff dive, a dive that has been made even more popular thanks to energy drinks giant Red Bull.
With great views of the famous Cliffs of Moher, Inishmaan is the second-largest island and the least visited of the three. This island takes you back to more traditional times, allowing you to escape from it all. Like Inishmore, Inishmaan has become a popular destination for divers in recent years, and the island is also home to an impressive range of historic forts. A trip to Inishmaan will certainly bring you back to a more traditional Ireland.
The smallest of the Aran Islands, Inisheer has the charm of a typical Irish village, and with ancient ruins and prehistoric sites to explore, Inisheer really takes you back to simpler times. Famous for its stone walls, Inisheer is easy to navigate on foot or bike, and at 9km sq, you’ll not take long exploring this island in all its glory.
Achill Island, Mayo
Located 100km from Aran Islands as the crow flies is Achill Island, Ireland’s largest island. Achill attracts visitors across the year, and come the months of spring and summertime, the island is particularly busy with visitors flocking to many of the stunning Blue Flag beaches on Achill. The most famous of all Achill’s stunning beaches is Keem Bay, which is one of 15 signature discovery points along the Wild Atlantic Way. The cliffs that surround Keem Bay just add to the sheer grandeur of this stretch of land, providing spectacular views out to towards the Atlantic Ocean.
Achill Island is accessed via The Michael Davitt Bridge from the Corraun Peninsula and is a hub of activities, often resulting in the island being termed Ireland’s adventure island. With a range of land and water-based activities including surfing, kayaking, coasteering, cycling and guided tour of the island, there is lots to see and do on Achill. The 9-hole Achill Island Golf Course will certainly test your links golfing ability, while there is no shortage of pubs and cafes to relax in after a long day. Find out more about things to do on Achill Island and view the latest Achill Island hotel deals.
Away from Achill’s beaches, cliffs and activities, the island is steeped in history, with The Deserted Village at Slievemore one of its most famous sites. The village was home to many families during the 1800s, before the Great Famine struck in 1845, resulting in everyone fleeing the village to move closer to the coast at Dooagh, or in many cases, further afield. Today, the Deserted Village is one of the most popular visitor destinations on the island.
Valentia Island, Kerry
Accessible by car or ferry (the ferry runs from April to October), Valentia Island is one of the most popular islands of the coast of Kerry, and one of the most western points of Ireland. Valentia Island is home to one of Ireland’s most popular lighthouses, with the stunning Valentia Lighthouse at Cromwell Point attracting visitors across the year. The island has a deep history and on a clear day provides great views of the world-famous UNESCO site of Skellig Michael. Indeed, you can learn more about this ancient site at the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre.
Valentia Island is also home to one of Ireland’s quirkiest festivals, with the three-day Valentia Island Festival attracting visitors from near and far. The island is great for outdoor activities, attracting visitors across the year for a range of activities including cycling, walking, kayaking and sailing. Find out more about Valentia Island and check out the latest Valentia Island accommodation offers.
Arranmore Island, Donegal
The largest inhabited island in Donegal, Arranmore is set in the Gaeltacht area of Donegal and provides a great opportunity to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With Donegal Mountains as a backdrop and great views of the Rosses region, Arranmore is great for a hiking trip, with the vast, rugged landscape just waiting to be explored. Arranmore is popular for water-based activities like kayaking, sailing and canoeing, while its rugged coastline attracts daring rock climbers during the summer months. For many visitors to the island, the real draw of Arranmore is its sheer tranquillity, while the friendly locals and great hospitality ensure you will have a great time on Arranmore.
Rathlin Island, Antrim
April to August is the busiest period for visitors to Rathlin Island, and it’s not just humans who pay a visit to the island, with many puffins descending on the island during this period of time. The growth in the puffin population and other birdlife makes Rathlin a popular destination for keen birdwatchers during the spring/summer months.
At seven miles long, the best way to explore Rathlin in all its glory is on foot along Rathlin Trail. This 6.5km walk starts at the harbour and takes in popular sites like Rescue Station, Kinramer Wood and Kebble Nature Reserve, where on a good day you’ll see the stunning Causeway Coast. There are numerous tours, with a range of popular attractions like the West Lighthouse and Manor House just waiting to be explored. Rathlin was once at the centre of a battle between Ireland and Scotland but has belonged to Ireland since 1617. On a clear day, you can also see the Mull of Kintyre in the distance.
A densely populated island, a short break to Rathlin Island is sure to help you relax and unwind, and there’s no doubt you’ll fall in love with the rugged landscape of Rathlin. Be sure to call by McCuaig’s Bar for a beer and enjoy the craic with the locals.
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Images courtesy of Fáilte Ireland