How to Plan the Best Day Trip to the Aran Islands, Ireland

“A storm is coming; better go on Thursday; we may cancel the ferries on Friday.”

Wise advice from the woman working at Aran Islands Ferries in Galway as I booked my second Aran Islands day trip. Just three years earlier was my first day trip to the Aran Islands. On my 28th birthday, during my first trip to Ireland, I cycled around Inis Mór (Inishmore) Island, the largest of the three islands, in the rain. It’s one of my favorite birthdays to date. Now, I wanted to recreate the magic on a typical October day with a day trip to visit Inis Oírr (Inisheer), the smallest of the three islands. What is still left on my bucket list is to visit the third Island, Inis Meáin (Inishmaan).

After two day trips to the Aran Islands from Galway, I can confidently say the Aran Islands should be on everyone’s Ireland itinerary. You’ll be transported back in time when you step foot on the islands. You’ll likely hear the Irish language spoken by residents who welcome you with their famous Irish hospitality. Couple this with the stunning rugged scenery; the Aran Islands are the perfect place to connect deeper to traditional Irish culture. In this Ireland travel guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about booking your day trip to the Aran Islands from Galway, focusing on Inis Mór and Inis Oírr. 

Before we go any further, I need to let you know that there are a few affiliate links in this post. This means that, at no additional cost to you, should you decide to make a purchase, I’ll earn a little bit of money.


Ireland travel resources

Where are the Aran Islands

The Aran Islands are located on the West Coast of Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean and are part of the Wild Atlantic Way. The Aran Islands are comprised of three islands: Inis Mór (Inishmore), Inis Meáin (Inishmaan), and Inis Oírr (Inisiheer). Inishmore is the largest Island and most popular to visit. Inisheer is the smallest and second most popular tourist attraction. Inishmaan is the middle Island, both in how they’re laid out in the ocean and in size.

How to Get to the Aran Islands

There are two ways to get to the Aran Islands: by ferry or flight. The ferries depart from both Galway and Doolin. However, I recommend planning your day trip from Galway as the ferries from Doolin are more prone to cancel due to weather. This happened to my friend attempting to visit the Aran Islands from Doolin on the same day I was making my trip from Galway. Her trip was canceled due to weather while mine sailed on. Then, when I was staying in Doolin for a couple of days, I was trying to book a cruise under the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, and the ferry company advised that they’d been canceling all sails due to weather for the past few days before my arrival. Well, before I arrived in Doolin, I’d been in Galway, where I could visit my second Aran Island!

All that to say, if a visit to the Aran Islands is firmly on your Ireland itinerary (which it should be!), then plan to take the ferry from Galway. 

The Aran Islands Ferry from Galway

Each journey to the Aran Islands from Galway begins with a visit to the Aran Islands Ferries office located just across the street from the New Coach Station in Galway. The people who work here are incredibly helpful with not just purchasing your ticket but also providing their advice on which island to visit and why.

The ferry departs from Rossaveel, about one hour outside of Galway City. If you don’t have a car to get there, don’t worry; Aran Islands Ferries provides a bus to take you to the ferry terminal. 

The round-trip ferry journey with the shuttle bus transfer costs €39 (€30 for the ferry & €9 for the shuttle).

If you decide to drive, parking at the port costs €7 for 24 hours.

Travel time to each Island from Rossaveel (not including getting to the ferry port)

  • to Inishmore: 40 minutes
  • to Inishmaan: 45 minutes
  • to Inisheer: 55 minutes

If you are prone to motion sickness, please be prepared for a rocky ferry crossing from Rossaveel to the Aran Islands. On my first trip in May 2015, I remember having flashbacks to the opening scene of Gilligan’s Island and thinking we’d capsize. In October of 2018, when I went, it was still rocky, but not as bad as that rainy May day three years earlier.

While both ferry crossings heading to the islands were rocky, each return journey was incredibly smooth. I even sat on top on the ride back from Inisheer, soaking up the Irish sun and sea breeze.

day trip to Inisheer Aran Island

The Aran Islands Ferry from Doolin

If you’re exploring the fun things to do in Doolin (another one of my favorite places in Ireland) and want to take the ferry to the Aran Islands from Doolin, there are some positives.

If you want to do more than a day trip to the Aran Islands to experience more than one Island, the Doolin Ferry Co. offers inter island transportation!

Additionally, the ferry crossing to the closest Aran Island (Inisheer) only takes 30 minutes! But if you want to get to Inishmore, it will take you approximately 90 minutes.

The Doolin pier is also right in town, so you can easily walk to the ferry from your accommodation. Once you arrive at the port, there are stands where you can purchase your ticket. 

I’ve already covered that the ferries from Doolin tend to cancel more frequently than from Galway due to weather and tides (tides that don’t affect the route from Galway). However, if you have a flexible schedule, you could go on a different day or be provided a full refund for your ticket. 

Travel time to each Island from Doolin:

  • to Inishmore: 90 minutes 
  • to Inishmaan: 60 minutes 
  • to Inisheer: 30 minutes 

The cost for the ferry from Doolin is €20-25, depending on the Island you choose to visit. 

The Aran Islands by Air

If you get really motion-sick and a ferry crossing is not in the cards for you, don’t worry! You can get to the Aran Islands by taking a quick 10-minute flight with Aer Arann Islands. All flights depart and arrive at Connemara Regional Airport, reachable by a scenic drive- and featuring free parking facilities. If you don’t have a car, there is a bus shuttle to and from the Victoria Hotel in Galway. 

They offer multiple daily departures to each Island all year long.

A return ticket costs approximately €65

Getting Around the Aran Islands

No matter which Island you choose to visit, there are a few transportation options to visit the historical sites.

On Inishmore: You’ll see horse-drawn carriages and vans awaiting to whisk tourists off on their Aran Island adventure. I recommend the horse carriage tour if you want to see as much as possible with little effort. Alternatively, you can rent a bike for a self-guided tour of the Island. This will allow you more freedom of how long you stay at each site and is simply a fun activity. There are bike rental companies on each Island. Rent your bike from Aran Islands Bike Hire. They have a variety of rental bikes, from mountain bikes to e-bikes, with rental prices ranging from €20-40. There are some hills to contend with on Inishmore, so an e-bike would make those climbs easier!

On Inisheer: Inisheer also offers pony and trap tours, open-air wagon tours around the ancient sites on the Island. You can book your wagon tour with Wanderly Wagons. I recommend renting a bike from the lovely lady at Rothaí Inis Oírr. They offer mountain bikes and e-bikes as well. 

Each place will get you set up with a bike, a map, and route tips!

bike riding the aran islands

Best Time of Year to Visit the Aran Islands

Choosing the right time to visit the Aran Islands is crucial for an unforgettable experience. The best time to explore these enchanting isles is from late spring to early fall, typically from May to September. During this period, the weather is generally mild, and you can enjoy extended daylight hours, enhancing your exploration of the islands.

Spring on the Aran Islands: In the spring, from May to June, the landscapes burst into life with vibrant colors, and the temperatures become pleasantly mild. This season offers a quieter atmosphere, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a more peaceful and intimate experience.

Summer on the Aran Islands: The summer months are peak tourist season, extending from July to August. The weather is at its warmest, and the days are the longest, providing ample time to explore the natural beauty and cultural treasures of the Aran Islands. Remember that bookings may not be available last minute as it’s peak season. I highly recommend ferry tickets and accommodations (if you want to spend more than the day) in advance.

Fall on the Aran Islands: As fall approaches, from September onwards, the crowds thin out, but the weather remains favorable. The cooler temperatures offer a refreshing experience, and you can still enjoy the stunning landscapes while immersing yourself in the islands’ rich history.

Winter on the Aran Islands: Avoiding the winter months is recommended as the weather can be harsh, with rough seas and limited amenities. Overall, planning your visit during the late spring to early autumn ensures a delightful balance of pleasant weather and a more serene environment, allowing you to fully appreciate the magic of the Aran Islands.

Riding a bike down a remote path on the Aran Islands.
Sitting on the limestone cliffs with the lighthouse in the distance on Inisheer Island of the Aran Islands.

What to Wear to the Aran Islands

Think of layers anytime you’re packing for Ireland, including when you’re planning what to wear to the Aran Islands. 

Clothing: On top, I recommend wearing a moisture-wicking shirt, a fleece jacket or sweater, and a waterproof rain jacket. On the bottom, I think these fleece-lined leggings would be perfect, and then packing a pair of waterproof pants in case it’s a particularly rainy day. You could also wear jeans, which I did on my first trip, but they can be uncomfortable when wet.

Footwear: Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots or shoes with good tread are essential for a fun and safe day trip to the Aran Islands. Blundstones would be perfect for this kind of environment. Also, make sure to wear good socks like Darn Tough socks to prevent blisters!

Accessories: Wear a hat, whether it’s a beanie, baseball cap, or wide-brimmed hat. A hat will protect you from the sun as well as the rain. You may want to bring a scarf and gloves to keep your hands warm while cycling around the Island.

Backpack: Bring a backpack that will fit extra layers, your camera, and a water bottle. Bonus points if it’s waterproof, like this one!

Camera & Electronics: Pack your fully charged camera with plenty of space for photos of these beautiful islands! Also, bring your fully charged portable charger, as you’ll be out exploring all day! I use this portable charger and love it!

Shop all my favorite gear for Ireland here!

Biking on Inisheer Island.

Things to Do on Inisheer Island

Inisheer is the smallest of the three Aran Islands, which means you can see so much of it with little time. There are only about 250 year-round residents, with this number swelling to close to 600 during tourist season. I will say that out of the two Aran Islands I’ve been to, Inisheer is my favorite, so I will dive into the best places to visit on this Island first! 

Visit Trá Inis Oirr Beach

The first thing you’ll notice when you step off of the ferry on Inisheer is the white sandy beach next to the pier. This beach made me feel like I’d landed on a tropical island until the strong wind knocked my camera over into that pristine sand. 

Turn around from the sandy beach, and you’ll see rolling green hills, squared off by stone walls, that seem to lead straight into the Atlantic.

Now hop on your bike and head to the first stop on Inisheer, the Plassey Shipwreck.

Explore the Plassey Shipwreck

The Plassey crashed off the coast of Inisheer in 1960. Thanks to the help of the islanders, everyone on board survived the crash. The waves eventually lifted the ship to its current location on the limestone rocks.

I spent over an hour exploring the Shipwreck and taking photos. I discovered various parts of the ship lying around the rocks. Closer to the ship, tiny rusted fragments look like pebbles. They’ve undoubtedly fallen from the rusted wreck over the last 60 years. As I moved to the side facing the ocean, I saw the massive hole in the ship’s middle. I imagine this is where the ship hit the rocks that fateful night.

Me standing next to the Plassey Shipwreck on Inisheer Island.
Me sitting in front of the Plassey Shipwreck on the Aran Islands.

Cycle to the Lighthouse

From the Shipwreck, off in the distance, you’ll see a lighthouse standing tall. You can’t actually go into the lighthouse, but it does make for a beautiful ride through the island countryside among camera-shy horses. 

On your way back down the hill from the lighthouse, you’ll turn left on a dirt path to head towards O’Brien’s castle. It’s very easy to miss, which I did multiple times. I’m sure if anyone watched me from their homes, they got a good chuckle as I rode back and forth before realizing I was supposed to turn onto the dirt path I’d been riding by. Hey, I was distracted by the breathtaking rainbow over the ocean that made its way into the green Irish pastures. 

Side note: there are also arrows directing you to this path that I missed the first few times. It’s amazing I haven’t gotten seriously lost in the past year of traveling! The path became a very steep hill, and I’m not ashamed to say I walked the bike up as an older Irish gentleman laughed at me, huffing and puffing!

day trip to aran islands

Visit O’Brien’s Castle

O’Brien’s castle is quite small compared to other Irish castles, and not too much is known about it other than that the O’Brien clan inhabited it. But its hilltop perch does have an excellent view of the ocean. And would you believe it, another rainbow appeared off in the distance as I sat there taking in the view! Talk about prime real estate.

o'brien's castle and a rainbow!

Ancient Sites on Inisheer

Tempall Chaomhain 

Down the hill from the castle lies the 10th-century graveyard Tempall Chaomhain, seemingly underground. It wasn’t always below ground, but sand blown in over the last thousands of years covered it. Each year, the islanders dig it out as St. Chaomhain is the patron saint of Inisheer. Above the stone altar, I discovered an ancient engraving of Christ on the Crucifix.

tempall Chaomhain
Tempall Chaomhain

Cnoc Raithni

There is also an ancient burial ground I’d accidentally biked right past just a few hours earlier. This burial ground dates back to 1500 BC! It was discovered in 1855 after a storm uncovered it from the sand. They discovered urns with cremated remains.

Anicent burial site, Cnoc Raithni
Anicent burial site, Cnoc Raithni

Cill Ghobnait

I accidentally whizzed by another ancient site, Cill Ghobnait, even though I was looking for it this time. It’s a small church ruin without a sign. There was a tiny open gate that I passed through, and I narrowly missed stepping into a very large cow pie. The field surrounding this church must be used as a cow pasture these days as the field was riddled with cow pies. I quickly explored the tiny remains of this church, completing the first leg of the bike ride!

ancient church, cill ghobnait
Ancient church, Cill Ghobnait

The lady who rented me this bike told me that the portion I’d just completed would only take 45 minutes. Well, 3.5 hours later, I finished and headed off for the 25-minute portion. I considered skipping it in favor of a few drinks at the local pub, but I figured, “When is the next time I’ll be on this island?”. I cycled off into the headwinds to find a drastically different island.

St. Enda’s Well

This side of the Island is much wilder. There are no houses, and the waves roll in strong and consistent, crashing against the very rocky shore. Along the shore, there is a memorial stone for those lives lost at sea. With the intense crash of waves behind the stone, I can easily imagine this fishing village has seen its fair share of loss. Just beyond this stone and up a hill against the wind is St. Enda’s well. This well was built in honor of St. Edna, the patron saint of Inis Mór. On my way out of the small stone “gate,” I noticed two clovers growing amongst the grass. This was the first time I’d seen a clover in Ireland. Quite pleased, I headed back to town just 25 minutes later.

st. enda's well
St. Enda’s well and a lucky find!

Two rainbows and two clovers. Sunny, blue skies. Enough time for two Jameson & Ginger Ales and a grilled sandwich at the local pub. And a smooth sail back to Galway.

Where to Eat on Inisheer

Tigh Ned: I visited Inisheer in October, just as the Island was preparing to close up its tourist season. As such, the only place open for lunch was the pub, Tigh Ned. And I use the word open loosely as the bartender told me it was the last day they’d be serving food, but he whipped me up a sandwich anyway and poured me a strong Jameson & Ginger Ale.

Óstá Inis Oirr: Located in Hotel Inis Oirr, the dining room overlooks O’Brien’s Castle with a menu offering fresh local seafood (among other delights) and live music in the evenings. 

Teach an Tae’ Cafe Aran & Tea Rooms: Enjoy a beautiful afternoon tea with home-baked treats at this beautiful cafe and tea room. They also offer lovely soups, salads, and sandwiches made from locally produced ingredients. 

Where to Stay on Inisheer

While this post is about day trips to the Aran Islands, I can’t blame you for saying “screw it” to your return ferry ticket and staying on the Island for another day. A handful of B&Bs and a hostel are located on Inisheer if you’d like to extend your stay!

Lois Éinne B&B: This stunning bed and breakfast has simple and clean rooms, some with sea or castle views. It’s well-located near the pier and has free WiFi.

​Check rates and availability here.

Brú Radharc Na Mara Hostel: The hostel is just 100m from the pier with incredible ocean views. They offer 6-bed forms, as well as private en suite rooms. There is a self-catering kitchen and WiFi available. 

Check rates and availability here.

Cliff of Moher View: This beautiful B&B has modern rooms, each with a private bathroom and many with stunning views of the Island and western coast of Ireland. It’s a 20-minute walk from the pier and just up the road from the Aran Seaweed Baths and Spa. There is no WiFi on the property. 

​Check rates and availability here.

Stone Memorial on Inisheer Island

Things to Do on Inishmore

Inishmore is the largest of the three Aran Islands and the one that tourists typically choose to visit on their day trip from Galway. It was the first Aran Island I visited for my 28th birthday on my first solo trip to Ireland, and as such, it holds a very special place in my heart. I visited before my blogging days, and I couldn’t find any of the photos from that day, so I had to use some of the internet. I always recommend taking photos of your travels to remember special moments.

Explore Dún Aonghasa

Dún Aonghasa is the biggest tourist attraction in Inishmore. This is a large ring stone fort that sits on top of a 330ft cliff. It’s not quite as high as the Cliffs of Moher, but it’s close! The views from the cliff are breathtaking, but be sure not to get too close to the cliff edge. It gets quite windy up there!

When I rented my bike from Aran Islands Bike Hire, the kind gentleman told me it should take approximately 30 minutes to get to the fort. But it was an incredibly windy day, and with the headwinds, it took me almost an hour and a half of consistent effort and stopping for breaks (aka photo ops that I no longer can find). I now see on their website that they offer electric bikes; on a windy day, I’d recommend getting one!

Dún Aonghasa Fort on Inishmore

Check out the Worm Hole

Just south of Dún Aonghasa’s cliffs, you’ll find a Worm Hole, which is a small rectangular pool that is fed by the sea. Red Bull has had a diving competition here, but I don’t recommend swimming as it can be quite dangerous and you could get swept out to sea!

Worm Hole on Inishmore

Enjoy the Beaches & Keep your Eye out for Seals & Puffins

I know Inishmore is an island, but because the weather is quite cold, I never really thought of it having beaches. But Inishmore is home to some of Ireland’s most beautiful beaches. The sand is fine and white against the turquoise-blue water that meets it. 

There are a number of beautiful beaches that you’ll pass as you cycle Inishmore, but one of the more popular ones is near Kilmurvey Beach, where you can find a seal colony. There were no seals on the day I visited, but I saw some Puffins!

Have Lunch at Joe Watty’s Pub

What’s better than a cozy Irish pub after a hard day of biking in the wind and rain on your birthday? Nothing. And Joe Watty’s pub delivered. As usual, I sat at the bar and ordered my mussels and Guinness birthday lunch. I was joined shortly by an older local who spoke only Gaelic and listened in on his conversation with the bartender. I loved seeing this side of Ireland that still has a firm hold on its traditions.

horses of inisheer

Shop for a Sweater

In the main village on the Island, Kilronan, there is plenty of shopping. The Aran Islands are famous for their wool sweaters, which you can purchase for yourself or as a gift at the Aran Sweater Market located in Kilronan.

Where to Eat on Inishmore

Joe Watty’s Pub: A lovely pub that offers fresh seafood (get the mussels), a cozy atmosphere, and live music. Joe Watty’s is a must-visit while you’re on the Island. 

Madigans: Located in the Aran Islands Hotel, Madigans is a great place for dinner if you’re staying the night on the Island. Their menu is created from the freshest local produce and the variety of the area’s seafood.

Teach Nan Phaiadi: Located near Dun Aengus, Teach Nan Phaidi is a popular place for traditional Irish meals, such as beef Guinness stew, smoked salmon salad, or crab sandwiches. There are also vegan options and home-baked treats. 

Where to Stay on Inishmore

If you do plan to extend your day trip, there are a number of B&Bs and a Hostel on the Island. There are also glamping pods with sea views, which look awesome!

Aran Islands Glamping & Camping: Stay in one of these unique glamping pods right on Frenchman’s beach, just a short walk from the pier. The glamping pods are located near Kilronan Village for easy access to shops. There is a self-catering kitchen and hot showers available as well!

Check rates and availability here.

Seacrest B&B: Seacrest B&B offers seafront accommodation in Kilronan. This bed and breakfast offers a full Irish breakfast every morning, room service, and WiFi. In addition to beautiful rooms, there is a stunning terrace overlooking the bay! 

Check rates and availability here.

Kilmurvey House: Kilmurvey House is just 4 miles from Kilronan and a 5-minute drive from the blue flag Kilmurvey Beach. The stunning guest house offers a varied breakfast menu and rooms with either a sea or garden view, and it is a great base for exploring the rest of Inishmore. The Dun Aengus Fort is located within the grounds of Kilmurvey House, and guests can visit it free of charge! There’s also a 7th-century church 164 feet from the house!

Check rates and availability here.

white sand beach next to the pier on inisheer

So, which Island will you choose to visit on your Aran Islands day trip? I know, it’s a hard choice to make, but you really can’t go wrong with either of these two (once I visit Inishmaan, I’ll update this post).

But if you’re looking for my recommendation on which Aran Island to visit, I recommend Inisheer because of the shipwreck. It’s a pretty awesome sight and you don’t need to feel bad about taking photos of it because everyone survived! So go, explore the Aran Islands and enjoy seeing a different side of life in Ireland.

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Tips for visiting the Aran Islands
Day trip to the Aran Islands
a day trip to the aran islands

25 thoughts on “How to Plan the Best Day Trip to the Aran Islands, Ireland

  1. Savannah says:

    I’d never heard of the Aran Islands before reading this post and now I want to go so badly! I love to explore smaller islands by bike… and visit ruins, see the sea, check out a castle… Basically Inisheer ticks all the boxes. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Kayla says:

    What a great day of exploring! Would love to explore that ship wreck. Love the photo with the cute house and rainbow! Might be heading to Ireland in 2019.. will did this to my Ireland to do list!

  3. Lost With Liv says:

    ok that is SO cool that you saw a 4 leaf clover 🙂 looks like an amazing trip – a real mix of nature, history and beautiful architecture just to name a few. Thanks for posting!

  4. 2 Backpackers says:

    Aran Island simply looks like a fairytale land. The shipwreck looks so intriguing. It was great to know the story of Mike Tobin. With castles and the ancient burial grounds and churches, the place is simply mesmerising.

    • justchasingsunsets says:

      The islands have so much to offer and so much history. The people are incredibly friendly as well! Such a special place.

  5. TheRidgelineReport says:

    Yes!! I love this so much!!! Everything about it, really haha! Biking is one of my favourite ways to explore – especially solo. You feel invincible :). I’ve never been to Ireland or the Aran Islands, but they look so lovely and classically Irish. You really had the full experience with the rain, but I’m so glad it didn’t stop you from having an epic adventure

  6. Mayuri says:

    Ireland never ceases to fascinate me. I have created a list and it seems to be growing and growing with every post I read on Ireland. I will be using this quiz to decide on the first destination/spot

    Thanks for sharing

  7. Charlotte says:

    I’ve never heard of this place before, but it sounds like just my kind of place 😀 I love biking and exploring ruins. I’m definitely adding this to my bucket list.

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