While many natural wonders await you along the Wild Atlantic Way, the untamed beauty of the Aran Islands make it a must-see destination.
The trio of islands, set off the coast of Galway, are famed for their heritage, culture and rugged landscapes. And their distinctive knitted jumpers of course! There's something about the Aran Islands that will just lure you in and hold you captive.
I ventured out to the Aran Islands when I took the Ryan Tubridy Show on the road across the Wild Atlantic Way recently and was truly taken by the place. Here are my top to-dos when visiting the Aran Islands.
Stay the night
For the most authentic Aran Islands experience, one has to stay awhile and take it all in. The real magic happens after the last ferry departs in the evening. The place comes to life with music and banter over a warm meal or a pint in the local.
There is a host of options when it comes to accommodation on the islands from hotels and guesthouses to luxury chalets, glamping pods, and hostels.
Standing guard over Inis Mór, at the edge of a 100m cliff side, this prehistoric fort looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. The views from here are breathtaking, stretching the length of the island.
The impressive structure is surrounded by a network of frightful looking defensive spiked stones, known as Chevaux de Frise.
Dating back to 1100BC, this fort site is deemed to be one of the best examples of its kind in Europe, and it is right here in our backyard.
Most people cycle out to Dun Aengus with bike hire available from the pier as well as bus tours. Whatever way you decide to get here, be sure to pop into the Dun Aengus Visitor Center first, located on the edge of Kilmurvey Craft Village, to get acquainted with some fascinating facts about this homegrown medieval gem.
Dun Aengus is just one of many historic sites on the islands. Also on Inis Mór, in the west, is the village of Eoghanacht home to the 'Seven Churches'. Also known as Dísert Bhreacáin, this ancient ruin is one of the most important religious sites on the Irish west coast.
There is no shortage of pristine beaches on the Aran Islands but Kilmurvey Beach is certainly a standout.
This blue-flag, white sand beach is situated on Inis Mór in a secluded cove. Its protected location means it isn't prone to swirling, dramatic Atlantic tides and is suitable for swimming for those of all ages. Lifeguards are also on duty during the peak season.
On a clear day, Kilmurvey Beach offers stunning views of the mainland, all the way to Connemara the Twelve Pins.
When the fresh sea air awakens your appetite, pop into Teach nan Phaidi just up the road for some lunch or a warm cuppa and cake.
Get on your bike
There's no better way to explore the islands than by bike. The distances are very reasonable for people of all fitness levels and the roads are relatively flat.
The cycle from Inis Mór pier to Dun Aengus, for example, is a leisurely 30 minutes, taking you along the coastline of the island, passing by a seal colony on the way. Pretty special!
The best part of cycling around the islands is that you can go at your own pace, on your own schedule. You can stop off at the biggest sites like Dun Aengus or opt to explore hidden coves and beaches 'off the beaten track'.
Inis Meain and Inis Oirr
While Inis Mór is the largest of the Aran Islands, her sister isles each offer something a little different and are well worth exploring.
Inis Meain, considered the most untouched of the three Aran Islands, is a botanical treasure chest boasting some 300 flowering plant species from around the globe from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.
Inis Oírr, the smallest of the three Aran Islands, offers visitors a glimpse of the traditional way of life. Stories and songs, sang and spoken in Irish, can be heard all around the island. Pop into Una's Cafe just at the top of the pier for a warm welcome before hopping on your bike to the island's most famous icon, the Plassey Shipwreck.
Getting to the Aran Islands
The Aran Islands are accessible by sea or air.
Passenger ferry from Doolin in Co. Clare (seasonal) or Rossaveal in Co. Galway (all year) will take you to Inis Mór, Inis Oírr or Inis Meain. Travel time to Inishmore from Rossaveal is 40 minutes and from Doolin, it is about 90 minutes. Doolin to Inis Oírr is only about 25 minutes.
You can find information on getting to the Aran Islands on both Aran Ferries (sea) and Aer Arann (air).
I'm exploring the Wild Atlantic Way this summer with the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio 1 but where should we stop by next? Submit your suggestion on to Radio1 via their social channels (Twitter or Facebook) with the hashtag #sendmeonmywildatlanticway.
For more travel inspiration or tips to embrace the Wild Atlantic Way of life, go to www.wildatlanticway.com.