Ireland’s 10 Most Exciting Islands to Visit
While many people dream of visiting the Emerald Isle, few think about its many spectacular islands. Because of the many that offer a glimpse into the Old World of Ireland, as well as stunning scenery and more, be sure to put at least one of these islands on your list of experiences.
Skellig Michael Skellig Michael
1. Skellig Michael, County Kerry (hotel prices and photos)
Skellig Michael is the largest of the two Skellig islands, located about eight miles off the Kerry coast from the village of Portmagee. Not only does it offer some of the most spectacular views in all of Ireland, but it also contains the ruins of an ancient monastery built between the 6th and 8th centuries. Its rugged natural beauty also appeared in the last scene of the last Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. Although you can’t spend the night, you can stay in Portmagea and even enjoy a pint or two at the Bridge Bar, where the cast and crew, including Mark Hamill, even pulled their own weight. Boat tours to the island are possible between late spring and early fall, weather permitting.
Inishire Island Inishire Island
2. Inishire and the Aran Islands, County Galway (hotel prices and photos)
The Aran Islands are one of the most interesting places in Ireland, a place with an Old World feel where the locals speak Irish Gaelic among themselves. The smallest of the three islands, Inishire is also the quietest. There are fewer tourists here, and with a population of only about 250, it’s easy to get to know the locals. After stepping off the ferry, you’ll be greeted by a white sandy beach with crystal-clear azure water, often dotted with fishing boats and the occasional frisky dolphin. The two-square-mile island is easy to walk, though you can rent bicycles and a few pony and wagon drivers willing to show you a small price. It’s worth spending at least a day or two here, if not more, with plenty of things to keep you occupied, including walks to Plassy’s shipwreck, traditional music pubs, and even an art center. The South Aran House Hotel, a short walk from the main village, offers a particularly warm welcome, great rooms and delicious food.
Valentia Island Valentia Island
3. valentia island, Kerry county (hotel prices and photos)
This island, connected by a bridge to the village of Portmage, is filled with stunning natural beauty. Its western region is dominated by the barren, dramatic cliffs of Bray Head, with stunning coastal views and lush and variegated vegetation. From Mt. Jackdown and the Foger Cliffs, you can take in spectacular 360-degree views, including Dingle, Blastkets, the Kerry Mountains, and the Atlantic, stretching as far west as the eye can see. The surrounding waters are also famous for diving, with many dive sites throughout the island, including Bray Head, Valentia Harbor, Pierce Knightstown and Duluth Head. Knightstown is the center of the action, and while it doesn’t have much going on, especially in the off-season, it has an outstanding pub, Boston’s Bar & Restaurant, the perfect place to warm up on a cold day with Irish coffee.
Aranmore Island Signs Signs of Aranmore Island
4. Arranmore, County Donegal (Hotel prices and photos)
One of Ireland’s most vibrant offshore communities is home to just under 500 people and six pubs. Located on the Donegal Wild Atlantic Way, it has a rich history and culture with Irish Gaelic traditions still alive, along with plenty of great local music and entertainment. Its great attraction is its welcoming people, bird life and spectacular views of Glen Head and Gwydor, and it also offers opportunities to enjoy outdoor adventures such as diving, sailing and kayaking in the surrounding waters.
5. Inishbofin, County Galway (Hotel prices and photos)
This two-mile-wide island may be tiny, with a population of only 200, but it gets a big kick when it comes to what it has to offer. Interesting history can be seen through Oliver Cromwell’s 17th-century star fort, ancient monastic buildings, 13th-century church ruins and holy wells. It also offers beautiful coastal scenery, award-winning beaches and crystal clear waters that are popular for all water sports, including snorkeling and diving. Ideal for hiking, its three hikes, the Middle Quarter Loop, the Westquarter Loop and the Cloonamore Loop offer panoramic views of the Connemara Mountains and island cliffs, sea stacks and seal colonies.
Sherkin Island Sherkin Island
6. Sherkin Island, County Cork (hotel prices and photos)
Just a 10-minute ferry ride and you’re in a completely different world. The three-mile-long island has only 100 residents and is mostly a summer community where visitors can enjoy a peaceful atmosphere as they stroll along the peaceful beaches. Its striking natural beauty has attracted many artists over the years, and its lighthouse, 15th-century abbey and castle are all attractions worth seeing. Sherkin is best known for its popular summer sailing regatta and the chance to see rare migratory birds during the spring and fall months. Harbor porpoises, dolphins, otters, seals and even whales can also sometimes be considered.
Rathlin Island Rathlin Island
7. Rathlin Island, County Antrim (hotel prices and photos)
Rathlin Island off the northeast coast in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, was one of the country’s first inhabited islands. Today, only about 140 people live on the wild, rough island from April through July, and it is also home to seals and puffins. Visitors can learn about the island’s interesting history at the Boathouse Visitor Center and see artifacts from shipwrecks that occurred off its coast. The Seabird Center opens each April and provides an opportunity to explore a working lighthouse. Other attractions include the Iron Age Fort, Robert the Bruce Castle, Standing Stones, and the Breakwater Studio, which features work by local artist Yvonne Braithwaite. If you want to stay for a while, there are several lodging options, as well as a restaurant, pub and store.
Blasket Islands Blasket Islands.
8. Great Blasket, County Kerry (Hotel prices and photos)
Although the islanders are long gone, take a ferry to the Blasket Islands, a group of islands off the coast of Kerry, for a glimpse into the past and a beautiful, though brief, view of its gorgeous beaches like Tra Bhan and deserted villages. Great Blasket covers 1,100 acres with nearly untouched mountainous terrain and an abundance of wildlife and fauna. The authors wrote books here back in the 1920s and ’30s that are considered classics in the world of literature, writing about islanders living on the edge of Europe and bringing the topography to life. Eventually abandoned in 1953 with only 22 residents left, today visitors can learn more about the history of the Blasket Islanders and their unique literary achievements at the Blasket Center.
Achill Island Achill Island
9. Achill Island, County Mayo (Hotel prices and photos)
The largest and one of the most popular coastal islands in Ireland, Achill is home to five Blue Flag beaches, gorgeous surf and beautiful mountains. Here, impressive rocky faces rise majestically from the Atlantic, softened by patches of covered marsh, while whitewashed stone cottages dot the foothills and spectacular coastline, adding to its stunning charm. The island has become especially popular for hiking and biking, thanks to the opening of the Great Western Greenway, a 26-mile trail running along the old Westport-Ahill rail line, with hundreds of miles of swamp roads that connect across the landscape. After a trip or an exciting hike, refresh yourself at sea at one of the great beaches, such as Silver Beach, near the village of Dugort.
Spike Island Spike Island
10. Spike Island, County Cork (hotel prices and photos)
Spike Island can be reached by ferry from Coba, east of the city of Cork. The island was settled shortly after Christianity was introduced to Ireland when St. Mochouda established a 104-acre church on the island, leaving 30 clergy here, continuing his mission across the country. Since the 7th century it has been home to a monastery, a fortress, and a prison that was once the largest in the British Isles and a favorite hideout for smugglers. Today, Cork County Council runs it as a tourist attraction. The attraction. The path around the perimeter of the fort offers stunning views of the harbor and fort, as well as historic exhibits, prisoner’s cells and tea rooms. Both guided and self-guided tours of the island are available. Tours depart directly from Cobh in the summer.