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10 Most Breathtaking Ireland Islands to Visit

While lots of people dream about visiting Ireland, few think about its numerous spectacular islands. With many offering a glimpse at Old World Ireland along with stunning scenery and much more, be sure to put at least one of these isles on your must-experience list.

Skellig Michael, County Kerry Skellig Michael
Credit: Skellig Michael by © MNStudio | Dreamstime.com

Skellig Michael, County Kerry

A bucket list destination in Ireland, Skellig Michael is the largest of the two Skellig Islands, located about eight miles off the Kerry coast from the village of Portmagee. It not only offers some of the most breathtaking views in all of Ireland, but it hosts the ruins of an ancient monastery built between the 6th and 8th centuries. Its rugged natural beauty also happened to be featured in the final scene of the latest “Star Wars” film, “The Force Awakens.” While you can’t spend the night, you can stay in Portmagee, and even enjoy a pint or two at the Bridge Bar, where cast and crew, including Mark Hamill, even pulled a few themselves. Boat excursions to the island are available between late spring and early fall, weather permitting.

Inisheer and the Aran Islands, County Galway The Aran Islands
Credit: The Aran Islands by bigstock.com

Inisheer and the Aran Islands, County Galway

The Aran Islands are one of Ireland’s most fascinating destinations, a place with an Old World feel where locals speak Irish Gaelic among themselves. The smallest of the three islands, Inisheer, is also the most tranquil. Fewer tourists make it here, and with a population of only around 250, it’s easy to get to known the locals. After disembarking from the ferry, you’ll be greeted with a white sandy beach that faces crystal clear azure waters, often dotted with fishing boats and the occasional playful dolphin. The two-square-mile island is easily covered on foot, though there are bicycles for hire and a number of pony and cart drivers willing to show you around for a small price. It’s worth spending at least a day or two here if not more, with a number of things to keep you busy, including walks to the shipwreck of the Plassy, traditional music pubs and even an art center. South Aran House, just a short walk from the main village, offers an especially warm welcome, fabulous accommodation and delicious meals too.

Valentia Island, County Kerry Cromwell lighthouse in Valentia Island
Credit: Cromwell lighthouse in Valentia Island by © Daniel M. Cisilino | Dreamstime.com

Valentia Island, County Kerry

Linked to the village of Portmagee via a bridge, this island is packed with stunning natural beauty. Its western region is dominated by the barren, dramatic cliffs of Bray Head, providing jaw-dropping views of the coastline as well as lush and colorful vegetation. From the Geokaun Mountain and Fogher Cliffs, you can take in awe-inspiring 360-degree views, that include Dingle, The Blaskets, the mountains of Kerry and the Atlantic, extending as far west as the eye can see. The surrounding waters are also renowned for diving, with multiple dive sites across the island, including Bray Head, Valentia Harbour, Knightstown Pier and Doulos Head. The center of the action is Knightstown, and while there isn’t much going on, especially during the off-season, it does host an outstanding pub, Boston’s Bar & Restaurant, an ideal spot to warm up on a chilly day with an Irish coffee.

Arranmore, County Donegal Arranmore, County Donegal
Credit: Arranmore, County Donegal by © Ciolca | Dreamstime.com

Arranmore, County Donegal

One of Ireland’s most vibrant offshore communities is home to a population of a little less than 500, and six pubs. Located on the Donegal Wild Atlantic Way, it has a rich history and culture with Irish Gaelic traditions still very alive, along with plenty of great local music and entertainment. Its big draws are the welcoming people, birdlife and spectacular views of Glen Head and Gweedore, and it also offers the chance to enjoy outdoor adventures like diving, sailing and kayaking in the surrounding waters.

Inishbofin, County Galway Inishbofin Island
Credit: Inishbofin Island by © Emile Van Baardwijk | Dreamstime.com

Inishbofin, County Galway

This two-mile-wide island may be tiny and have a population of just 200, but it packs a big punch when it comes to what it has to offer. An interesting history can be glimpsed through Oliver Cromwell’s 17th-century star-shaped fort, ancient monastic sites, 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 sorts of water-based sports, including snorkeling and diving. Ideal for walking, its three treks, the Middlequarter Loop, Westquarter Loop and Cloonamore Loop bring panoramic views of the Connemara mountains and the island’s cliffs, sea stacks and seal colonies.

Sherkin Island, County Cork Sherkin Island
Credit: Sherkin Island by © Matthias Görlich | Dreamstime.com

Sherkin Island, County Cork

Just a 10-minute ferry ride and you can be in a place that feels like a whole different world. The three-mile-long island has just 100 inhabitants, and is mainly a summer community, where visitors can enjoy the tranquil atmosphere, strolling on peaceful beaches. Its striking natural beauty has attracted many artists over the years, and its lighthouse, 15th-century abbey and castle are all sights worth seeing. Sherkin is best known for its popular summer sailing regatta and the chance to spot rare migrant birds pass through in the spring and autumn months. Porpoises, dolphins, otters, seals and even whales can sometimes to viewed as well.

Rathlin Island, County Antrim Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland
Credit: Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland by Bigstock.com

Rathlin Island, County Antrim

Rathlin Island, off the north-east coast in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, was one of the country’s first inhabited islands. Today the wild, rugged island houses a population of only around 140, along with some resident seals and puffins, from April through July. Visitors can learn about the island’s interesting history at the Boathouse Visitor Centre as well as view artifacts from shipwrecks that occurred off its coast. The seabird center opens in April each year and includes the chance to explore a working lighthouse. Other highlights include an Iron Age fort, Robert the Bruce’s castle, standing stones and the Breakwater Studio, which features the work of local artist Yvonne Braithwaite. If you’d like to stay awhile there are a number of accommodation options as well as a restaurant, pub and community shop.

Great Blasket, County Kerry Blasket Islands
Credit: Blasket Islands by bigstock.com

Great Blasket, County Kerry

While the islanders have long since gone, by taking the ferry to the Blasket Islands, a group of islands off the Kerry coast, you can enjoy a glimpse back in time, and a wonderful, albeit brief, look at its gorgeous beaches like Tra Bhan, and deserted villages. Great Blasket covers 1,100 acres with largely unspoiled mountainous terrain, an abundance of wildlife and fauna. Authors wrote books here back in the 1920s and ’30s that are considered classics in the world of literature, writing about the islanders living on the edge of Europe, and bringing the topography to life. Eventually abandoned in 1953 when just 22 inhabitants remained, today, visitors can learn more about the story of the Blasket Islanders and their unique literary achievements at the Blasket Centre.

Achill Island, County Mayo Achill Island
Credit: Achill Island by Bigstock.com

Achill Island, County Mayo

The largest and one of the prettiest offshore islands in Ireland (and a popular day trip from Galway), Achill is home to five Blue Flag beaches, outstanding surf and beautiful mountains. Here, dramatic cliff faces majestically rise out of the Atlantic, softened by tracts of blanket bog, while white-washed stone cottages dot the foothills and the spectacular coastline, adding to its stunning charms. The island has become especially popular for hiking and biking, thanks to the opening of the Great Western Greenway, a 26-mile route following the old Westport-to-Achill railway line, with hundreds of miles of bog roads that interconnect throughout the landscape. After a ride or a challenging hike, take a refreshing dip in the sea at one of the magnificent beaches like the Silver Strand near Dugort village.

Spike Island, County Cork Entry of Fort Mitchel on Spike Island
Credit: Entry of Fort Mitchel on Spike Island by wikimedia.org

Spike Island, County Cork

Spike Island can be reached by ferry from Cobh, just east of Cork City. The island was inhabited shortly after Christianity was introduced to Ireland, when Saint Mochuda started a church on the 104-acre isle, leaving 30 clerics here as he continued his mission around the country. Since the 7th century, it’s been home to a monastery, a fortress, and a prison that at one time was the largest in the British Isles as well as a favorite hiding place for smugglers. Today, the Cork County Council runs it as a tourist attraction. A walkway around the perimeter of the fort offers fabulous views of the harbor and the fort as well as historical exhibits, convict cells and tea rooms. Both guided and self-guided tours for exploring the island at your own pace are available. Tours depart directly from Cobh during the summer.

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