Aran Islands & Cliffs of Moher thru Galway
After my mix up in Limerick I was happy to settle in at Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel in Galway. That night I booked a day trip for the next morning to Aran Islands and Cliffs at Moher for €40. Initially, tours were cancelled due to the impending rainstorm but I didn't take no for an answer and was able to track down a tour company with plans to go ahead (and thank goodness I did - the weather was gorgeous).
It would have been much better to have the flexibility to stop and explore at my leisure but when I looked into renting a car they only offered sticks - something I never quite mastered (other than on a tractor) and especially not on the opposite side of the road. I was so bummed out. Make sure to plan ahead and keep in mind transportation in Ireland is pretty tricky. Everything is really spread out and far from public transit.
Day 1: Morning | Explore Aran Islands by Horse & Carriage
After a full nights rest I was ready for an adventure. We met early in the morning near my hostel and boarded a large bus full of people (not usually my style but this was the most bang for my buck). The bus drove about two hours toward the sea through Kinvara, Corcomroe Abbey, Corkscrew Hill, Lisdoonvarna and Doolin. The scenery was incredible along the way but I got a little nauseous weaving in and out of the hills.
Our group reached Doolin where we would board a boat over to the Inisheer Island. I assumed the top would be the best view but wow, the water rough. It swelled in and out as the boat swayed from side to side. I thought I was going to fly right off into the water. The ride took 45 minutes and I was so happy to reach the shore.
Once we landed I paid €10 for a horse and carriage ride around the island. The tour lasted an hour and I was able to see much more of the island with a horse rather than by foot. It was definitely the right decision.
A group of four older folks from Boston jumped in the carriage with me and we were off. McGregor, our horse, was quite the guide (a bit grumpy).
The horse took us across the island and over to a shipwreck where we looked around and took a few photos. The ship had hit the rocky shore in the 80's while carrying liquor and never quite made it to the island in one piece.
The landscape was incredible along the way. Limestone walls cover the island and are hundreds of years old. They're made by hand without any mortar and traditionally used to divide land and keep ones sheep accounted for.
We really lucked out and had a beautiful day on the island. I hadn't seen this much sun during my entire trip in Ireland, especially in Galway.
After a tour around the island we made our way back to the docking area to grab a bite to eat. I let it slip that it was my birthday and the group from Boston treated me to a cider in the pub. They were so kind and I do love cider from Ireland. Try Cooney's Cider if you get the chance.
Keep in mind, there are three Aran Islands so choose carefully. Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands, is known for its charm and sure didn't disappoint. Our guide mentioned that most tours visit the largest island of Inis Mor but that it's not the best option. Inisheer seems to be a hidden gem.
Day 1: Afternoon | Marvel at the Cliffs of Moher
On the way back from Inisheer, I thought the lower deck of the boat would be much more enjoyable - and it was. We rode to the bottom of the cliffs to get a look from below, something not all tours offer but I was advised to do. It was pretty amazing.
After landing back on shore, the group had a quick drink at a local bar and then made our way to the tops of the Cliffs at Moher. We had an hour to wander. There are two paths to choose from - the one on the right has better views of the cliffs while the path to the left overlooks a small castle atop the hill. I took off in a hurry in order to see both sides.
It was gorgeous in every direction but super windy. I'd recommend bringing a light coat and sunglasses up to the cliffs - you'll need them for sure. A raincoat and umbrella might even be needed on cloudy days.
On the path to the left it gets pretty hairy and a bunch of people were crossing over the barriers to take photos. Our guide had warned us that the cliffs aren't completely stable and to never cross the markers. So far this year there had been five people who plummeted to the ocean below. Talk about scary.
Too bad we didn't have all day to stay and relax. Taking in my last views of the cliffs, I made my way back toward our bus. If only we could stay for sunset.
The bus started back to Galway while we enjoyed the sunset from our seats. The ride took about two hours, driving along the coast passing castles and abandoned homes through Fanore Strand and Black Head.
We learned that during the Great Famine in the 1840's Ireland suffered from mass starvation, disease and emigration. The abandoned homes were from that time.
Ireland lost nearly twenty-five percent of it's population when two million Irish either starved to death or moved away. To this day, Ireland honors those who lost their lives by keeping their vacant homes erect and punishing anyone who damages the remnants. It's kind of a beautiful thing honoring them in that way.
Our bus driver and tour guide offered a few recommendations for dinner back in Galway and a number of us ended up at Martine's for seafood. It was good and the bartender, Joe, was really great but they were super busy and the owner was extremely flustered. I took a seat at the bar and drank a few ciders. Joe made me an Irish coffee for my birthday and I had a whiskey tasting with girls from the tour. On the menu - oysters, shells and pork BBQ ribs. Very tasty.
The staff, cleanliness and location are great at Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel. Those at the front desk were super helpful organizing tours and finding dining spots. I loved the Aran Islands & Cliffs tour - the one where you see the cliffs from below. If you can rent a car to get around you'll have even more flexibility.
Unfortunately, the hostel seemed more like a hotel turned high school. It's HUGE and overrun with teenagers shouting and running around on the main level. The kitchen is impossible to use. Showers are located in each room but I preferred ones at the end of the hall for privacy (hot water a plus). Cages for security are under each bed.