Discover Ireland’s traditional languages, culture, and way of life by visiting her islands. A thoroughly unique experience, you can travel to Sherkin Island in County Cork, the beloved Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, and all places in-between. From ancient ruins and unrivaled bird watching to sandy beaches and spectacular sea views, these island escapes are waiting to be explored.
Called ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’, Cork’s Spike Island has often been named “Europe’s Best Tourist Attraction,” beating both the Eiffel Tower and The Colosseum. The island was closed for many years. After undergoing major redevelopment, it opened to the public in 2016. Ireland’s most notorious offshore island, Spike has a star-shaped fort, which held more than 2,000 prisoners. Wander the rooms and imagine the stories of those who were here. Many visitors enjoy the spooky ‘After Dark’ tour! Spike Island is reached via ferry from Cobh, the ill-fated Titanic’s last port of call.
Just a short ferry trip from Baltimore in County Cork, Sherkin Island is a wildlife heaven, known for whale and bird watching. Like many of Ireland’s wild islands, the population is small; just 100 people live here year-around. During the summer, visitors arrive to enjoy an exceptional art festival (June) and a sailing regatta (July). One of Sherkin Island’s most beautiful spots is Silver Strand, a pristine beach with ocean views that stretch for miles. Stroll along Sherkin’s winding wildflower-scented roads, where all paths lead to beauty.
This Gaeltacht island embraces Irish tradition. Cape Clear is Ireland’s southernmost inhabited island, and it has wild, rugged beauty. Lying eight miles off the coast of West Cork, this island is packed with history and offers views as far away as Mizen Head—Ireland’s most southern point. The islanders greet visitors with a warm welcome—they are fiercely proud of their heritage and happy to share it. Many Cape Clear locals speak their ancient native language, and traditional Irish storytelling is part of their daily lives. An International Storytelling Festival has been held here every year since 1994.
Bere Island, in West Cork, is an unspoiled beauty. This island has a unique history, and it’s here you can enter an ancient world of standing stones and ring forts. Many of the attractions on Bere Island are centered around the ocean, and they range from dolphin watching to diving. The Sea Safari offers spectacular views of the Beara coastline, giving you a glimpse of secret beaches, coves, and hidden caves.
The Skellig Islands
Before Skellig Island became a movie star after appearing in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Islands of Great Skellig (Skellig Michael) and Little Skellig, were better known as UNESCO World Heritage sites of outstanding universal value. Skellig Michael is home to a monastic site, including beehive huts set 600 feet above the sea. You can reach them with a 500-stone-step climb… If you don’t feel like climbing, visit the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre on nearby Valencia Island. You can learn about the history of the Skellig monks in immersive experiences and films.
The Blasket Islands
A group of six islands off the coast of Kerry, the Blasket Islands are as well-known for their literary heritage as they are for their wild, untamed beauty. The most beautiful of the islands, the Great Blasket Island, was inhabited until 1953. Its population had decreased over time. With just 22 people living on the island, it was decided that the citizens of Great Blasket should move to the mainland. Though the island remains uninhabited today, it retains a literary legacy found in the works of writers such as Peig Sayers, who documented the often harsh and unrelenting ways of island life. If you want to get back to nature, a visit to the Blasket Islands is a must.
The Aran Islands
Located off Galway Bay are the islands of Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, known as The Aran Islands. People from various corners of the world go to the Aran Islands to step back in time. The Irish language is spoken here, and this is where you want to buy an authentic Aran cable-knit sweater—it will last a lifetime. With a population of 90o people, Inishmore, the largest of the islands, has several must-see sights. These include the ruins of the Seven Churches and Dun Aonghasa, an early medieval hill fort perched on the edge of a cliff. For an Inishmore night on the town, head to Joe Watty’s Bar. Named one of the ten best pubs in Ireland, Joe Watty’s has a menu of fresh seafood, craft beers, and traditional music all year around.