View MapView Map
HomeDestinationsGalwayExplore Inis Mór and the ...
How to explore Inis Mór and the Aran Islands without a car
Explore the coastal scenery on Inis Mór.
Fionn DavenportFionn Davenport is one of Ireland’s best-known travel writers. He has written multiple guides for Lonely Planet, including working on every edition of the Ireland and Dublin guides since the mid-1990s.
Inis Mór might be the most visited of the Aran Islands, but it still feels a world apart. Which of course is a big part of the allure: a visit here feels like a step back in time, albeit one with e-bikes and decent 4G connectivity. The main attraction is the magnificent prehistoric fort at Dún Aonghasa, but there’s something to uncover on every corner of the island. And the best part? You don’t need a car to do any of it.

Here's how to make the most of a day on Inis Mór, by boat, two feet and two wheels.

Photo credit: @itsthelifeofrobyn

Get your sea legs aboard the ferry

The main departure point for Aran Island Ferries is Rossaveal, 38km west of Galway city, from which it’s a 40-minute trip across Galway Bay. The company puts on a shuttle bus (one hour) from Queen Street timed to coincide with departures. Between April and September, there’s also a daily sailing from Galway City Docks, only a 10-minute walk from Eyre Square. The sailing goes at 9.30am and takes around 90 minutes.

Quick tip: the boat trip can get a little bumpy, but if you’re concerned about sea sickness eat something with ginger in it beforehand (even a glass of ginger ale will help) and sit at the back of boat, where the effects of the choppy seas aren’t as noticeable.

All boats to Inis Mór dock at the pier in Cill Rónáin (Kilronan) on the southeastern side of the island. Most of everything you’ll need is clustered around the village, including bike rentals, which you’ll need if you want to make the most of your stay before the boat departs at 3.30pm sharp.

Cycle into prehistory

Inis Mór’s blockbuster attraction is Dún Aonghasa, the Iron Age fort built on the edge of the cliffs. It’s 7km southwest of Kilronan, on the other side of the island. There’s a few ways to get there: you can walk, ride in a traditional pony and trap or you could cycle. You can pick up all kinds of bikes (including tandems and e-bikes) from Inis Mór Bike Hire or Aran Bike Hire, which are right by the pier: as soon as you’re fitted you can start pedalling west along the road that skirts along the northern shore, past a vast patchwork of stone wall fields and scattered cottages.

Two Pony and Trap beside the sea in Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Galway
Ride in a traditional pony and trap.

It should take you just under half an hour (faster if you’re on an e-bike) to get to Dún Aonghasa; along the way you’ll pass by crescent-shaped Kilmurvey Beach, whose pristine waters and nice white sand have earned it Blue Flag status.

Park your bike in the dedicated parking by the knot of shops, cafes and the small visitor centre that marks the main entrance to the ruins.

It’s a 1km walk up a rocky path (watch out as the rocks can get a little slippery) to reach the fort, the largest of the prehistoric remains on the Aran Islands and one of the most spectacular sites in Ireland. Three enormous concentric walls run right up to the cliff face that drops 87m into the churning Atlantic below.

Little is known about who built the inner enclosure, other than it was built around 1100BC. Legend has it that it was the mythological early settlers Fir Bolg (Men of Bags, named after their labour as enslaved people), who named it after Aengus, chieftain of the Clann Umoir. Two outer walls were added around AD 700, including the fearsome chevaux de frise, a portable defensive barrier made from densely packed limestone spikes. Stand by the cliffs and imagine what it must have been like for those who lived here all those thousands of years ago, right at the edge of the known world.

Aerial image of Dun Aengus in Inis Mór in County Galway.
Get a glimpse into Inis Mór's past at Dún Aonghasa.

When you’re done, the cycle back to Kilronan should only take about 25 minutes. Remember that the ferry back to the mainland leaves at 3.30pm, but if you have time, you have a couple of choices: you can get a bite to eat, explore some of the shops in the village or do some more sightseeing.

If Dún Aonghasa is Inis Mór’s most popular site, then its under-the-radar gem is Dún Dúchathair, or the Black Fort. It’s about 3km south of Kilronan; go past the church and skirt around the little bay before turning inland where it’s signposted. The Iron Age fort features huge terraced walls surrounding the remains of a clochán, a beehive hut from the early Christian period. Like Dún Aonghasa, this fort is also perched on the edge of the cliffs; clearly those who built them wanted maximum security and privacy.

Where to eat on Inis Mór

By the visitor entrance to Dún Aonghasa is the simply gorgeous Teach Nan Phaidi, a whitewashed thatched cottage that just might be Ireland’s cutest restaurant. You can tuck into hearty meals including a beef and Guinness stew, but highly recommended are the cakes, made on site by the owner Catherine Concannon. If you can manage two desserts, keep some room for some ice cream from Paudy’s next door – it’s award-winning, as is proudly proclaimed on the wall outside.

Three people sitting on a picnic table outside of Teach nan Phaidí in County Galway.
Enjoy a lovely cup of coffee in the sun at Teach Nan Phaidi.

Tí Joe Watty’s Bar might be better known for its nightly trad sessions in summer, but it also does a fabulous menu of seafood, including oysters, mussels and a divine lobster pasta salad. If you prefer your dinner to be harvested on the land, they also do a nice steak – but only at dinner.

Back to Galway – via the Cliffs of Moher

While the trip to and from Rossaveal is direct all year round, the return trip to Galway city (running in the spring and summer months) takes around two-and-a-half hours because the boat takes a detour southeast toward County Clare and another megawattage attraction, the Cliffs of Moher. From the sea, Ireland’s most famous cliffs look even more imposing than they do from on high: the full 8km length of them is on full display, from Hag’s Head to the south up to O’Brien’s Tower (their tallest point) to the north. Grab a seat on the right-hand side of the boat for an unencumbered view – but you can also go out on deck to get that perfect shot.

An evening in Galway city

The boat arrives at Galway City Docks around 6pm – and if the day’s exertions haven’t completely worn you out then you’ve still got plenty of time for an evening out in town.

Food options are plentiful and invariably good. For high-end tapas at reasonable prices, there’s Cava Bodega on Middle Street, whose chef patron JP McMahon is also the owner of Michelin-starred Aniar.  

A dish from Cava Galway in County Galway.

Photo credit: @cavagalway

Savour the tapas on offer at Cava Bodega.

Best pizza in town? Locals have their favourites, but Dough Bros on Middle St in the Latin Quarter and Monroe’s Tavern on Upper Dominick Street are always part of the conversation. They’re only three minutes apart on foot, so if you’re really keen you can try them both. Literally 100m from Monroe’s is Handsome Burger, which turns the humble hamburger into something approaching high art – and don’t forget their fully loaded fries.

And when you’re done, there’s always a pint and some music. You can take your pick from a bunch of superb pubs, but for proper atmosphere and some terrific trad sessions the Crane Bar in the West End is hard to beat.

People standing outside of the Crane Bar in County Galway.
Listen to a bit of trad music at the Crane Bar.
Go car-free all over the country

Get ready to plan your car-free day-trip to amazing locations like Kerry, Donegal and more. 

More to discover
Coastal escapesTake off to Galway city car-free

Everything you’ve heard about Galway is true. The capital of the West is colourful, musical and forever creative, and that spirit of invention is applied with equal vigour on the stage, the canvas and in the kitchen. Galway’s bohemian essence is in evidence throughout the city, but you’ll get a pretty strong sense of it by exploring the West End and sampling some of its extraordinary cuisine.

Coastal escapesVenture out to Connemara and Kylemore Abbey car-free

Isolated, wild and stunningly beautiful, Connemara looks like it belongs on another planet. There’s no doubt it’s untamed, but this extraordinary landscape of lonely valleys, inky lakes and silver-flecked mountains feels a lot more remote than it really is, given that it’s on Galway city’s doorstep. There are several popular routes through Connemara, including one that brings you around the north of the peninsula to Killary Fjord and the beautiful Kylemore Abbey. A handy way to do it is by coach tour, which is like having your own chauffeur dispensing stories and tickets to various attractions.

Houses and gardens14 sustainable activities in Ireland

A growing number of us are taking steps towards a more sustainable future, and activity options count when it comes to preserving our natural world. By prioritising greener choices you’re helping biodiversity, ecosystems and local communities to remain protected and unspoiled. From exploring the great outdoors to indoor experiences in smokehouses and stadiums, lots of Irish activity providers have heard the sustainability call, making it easier than ever to find bucket list-worthy eco-friendly things to do. 

Mail Icon SVG

Subscribe now to receive destination inspiration, travel tips, upcoming events and all the best things to do around Ireland.