You'll find the Aran Islands 9 miles off the coast of Galway in western Ireland.
Inishmore is the largest of the three islands (9 miles long X 2 miles wide) and a very popular tourist destination. If you have a few days then take the time to visit this utterly desolate but romantic island.
There are two ferries that will deposit you in Kilronan - the biggest town on the island. If you've got an iron clad stomach and don't mind a little wave action then try the wild ride on the Doolin Ferry. It leaves from the town of Doolin in County Clare (near the Cliffs of Moher). The ferry is a small boat that probably doesn't take more than 25 people at a time. The crossing can be a very rough 1 1/2 hours. Last year the one way charge was 20 Euros. You can bring a bike which they'll latch to the outside. Don't be tempted to nab an inside seat. Instead grab a covered outside seat and you won't feel quite so seasick - and eat lightly before you go.
The other ferry leaves from Rossaveal. It is a bigger boat with a much a smoother ride. It only takes 40 minutes. Make reservations and let them know if you are bringing a bike. You get a 10% discount if you book online. The one way charge is about 13 Euros.
Once you get to the Aran Islands there is enough to keep you busy for a few days. Drop your bags at The Pier House which you'll find at the end of the ferry dock. It's not in any way luxurious but it's convenient and the food in the dining room is excellent.
You can rent bikes in Kilronan and explore the island. Pick up a map and take some of the roads which are little more than dirt tracks. Try following the spine of the island in one direction and return via the coastal route. Dun Aengus is an obvious destination. It's a famous prehistoric fort built around 2000BC and listed as one of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die. The location is at the edge of a precipitous 100 metre high cliff. It consists of four concentric stone walls with the outermost wall enclosing about 14 acres. We visited late in the day and ended up having the entire fort to ourselves. The entrance closes at 6pm but you can let yourself out at your convenience. Pay three Euros at the visitor centre and read more about the history before heading uphill to explore the actual fort.
Check out the Church of St. Benan to the southeast of Kilronan. It's reputed to be the smallest church in the world at 3.7 meters by 1.8 meters. There is another cliffside ruin called The Black Fort only a few miles from Kilronan too.
A visit to the Aran islands wouldn't be complete if you didn't check out the sweater market. Here you'll find the complete background and examples of all the clan's sweater patterns. Each family historically had its own carefully guarded pattern with a unique combination of stitches. The sweaters were one of the ways of identifying fisherman who drowned and washed up on shore.
Watch local fisherman fish from their tar and canvas covered boats called currachs. Enjoy traditional Irish music in a pub and the fresh ocean air. Your visit to the Aran Islands, in rain or shine, will stay with you for years to come.
In my opinion it's a must do trip if you're in western Ireland.
Written and contributed by Leigh McAdam