Earth : Europe : Britain and Ireland : Ireland : West Ireland : County Galway : Aran Islands
The Aran Islands,  in County Galway, Ireland, are an archipelago of three small islands, the largest of which - Inis Mór - is only 12km by 3km in size. All are barren, rocky islands with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
The inhabitants of these three rocky islands not only built incredible stone forts that have stood for thousands of years, built walls that crisscross every last inch of the islands, but also brought greenery to lifeless rock through centuries of digging dirt from cracks and composting seaweed from the oceans.
Though by no means the most popular tourist destination in Ireland, due to the small size and permanent population - only about 900 people on the largest island - it can seem like there are tourists everywhere. Surprisingly, this doesn't seem to spoil the place the way it does in other parts of the country, and the place is surprisingly relaxed and retains a very rural and isolated feel to it.
All three islands are Gaeltachtaí, areas of Ireland where Irish is still the primary language. English speakers will have no problem, as almost all islanders are fluent in English. However, surprisingly few signs are in English, so it's best to know the Irish name of your destination. The islanders are a friendly if insular group of people if you need to ask for directions.
Ferries are available from Rossaveal in Co.Galway and Doolin in Co. Clare. The Rossaveal ferries are larger and more comfortable but the Doolin Ferries are closer. Good competition in Doolin keeps prices competitive.
Cliffs and Aran Cruises  and Doolin 2 Aran Ferries operate a modern fleet of vessels from Doolin, Co. Clare (the shortest journey to the Aran Islands). They have ferry trips to Inis Oirr, Inis Mor, and sightseeing trips to the Cliffs of Moher.
For those short on time but not on money, Aer Árann Islands  operate flights from Indreabhán Airport in Connemara, as well as offering scenic flights that provide spectacular views of the Aran Islands, Clare coast, Dun Aengus and Cliffs of Moher.
For a small fee, you can leave luggage at the first tourist shop you pass walking out from the port.
Some ferry operators offer an inter-island service.
There are 4 Ferry companies based in Doolin in Co.Clare servicing all 3 Aran Islands. Information is available on the Aran Islands Information website.
By sightseeing tour from Dublin
Several Dublin based tour operators such as Kennedy & Carr Travel  offer tours from Dublin city to Inis Mór, often including other areas of interest along the way such as Galway City. Typically tours depart around 07:00 in the morning and return at approximately 21:00. Tickets generally cost in the region of €90 (including the fast ferry & tour guides on island itself). For many travellers such tours can provide the independence they want with the structure and local insight that makes for a relaxing tour. Such operators also offer private hire services upon request.
There are mini-bus tours and taxis available on the islands. These are reasonably priced and usually come with a local guide with roots on the island going back generations. Tourism is the main "industry" on the island (Inis Mor), and in exchange for supporting the locals, you not only get a dry tour of all the significant sites on the island, but also an entertaining and informative history lesson. Two drivers who are particularly recommended are Martin Mullen and Oliver Faherty. Both families have lived there for generations and will share their stories openly. You might even offer to buy them a pint at Joe Mac's, next to the hostel, as a tip for the ride. Arrange a tour with either of them with the ferry company when you buy tickets for the trip over to the island. Another way to see the islands is on foot or by bike. Wear good hiking boots, though, as once you leave the paved roads, you are on very rough rocks. If you cycle, wear a helmet, for the same reason. While you may balk at the seemingly 'touristy' nature of the pony carts which will be waiting for you in Cill Rónáin, paying the little bit extra for one of these is often worth it -- striking up conversation with your driver may get you invited to dinner or a party.
If you have time, consider walking the islands to see the sights. It is easy to walk on the roads between sights and you are more likely to really begin to understand the scale of the islands and the feel of the place. But, keep in mind, it is best to plan to be back to your lodging before dark as the roads are not lit.
Aran Direct  runs inter-island ferries during the peak season, but for most of the year the only way to get between islands is to return to Ros an Mhíl and take a different boat out. Most Doolin based ferries  now travel between all Islands during the summer season. Aer Árann  flights do operate between the islands, though they run a circular route and may not go directly where you want to.
Dun Aengus is a fort situated on the edge of a cliff at a height of 100 meters overlooking the Atlantic on the Aran Islands, Inishmore. It consists of a series of concentric circular walls, the innermost; the citadel encloses an area approximately 50 meters in diameter with 4m thick walls of stone. These walls have been rebuilt to a height of 6m and have wall walks, chambers, and flights of stairs as well. Many people will be surprised at the lack of safety fencing around the site; there is nothing to prevent one from falling off the shear cliffs around the fort.
O'Brien's Castle on Inis Oírr in the Aran Islands was built in the 14th century. The castle was taken from the O'Briens by the O'Flaherty clan of Connemara in 1582.
Dun Eochla and Dun Eoghanachta are ringforts located inland of the island and can be seen from the main road.
Dún Dúchathair (frequently called the Black Fort) is similar in size and appearance to the more well-known Dun Aengus. The Black Fort is actually closer to Kilronan (the main town) but is much less accessable. It is located on the opposite coast of the island from Kilronan and you can get 75 percent of the way there by bicycle via dirt roads. At a certain point you have to leave the bike behind and set out on foot, frquently crossing the low-lying stone walls which criss-cross the entire island. The fort itself is surrounded by cliffs and there is nothing to prevent one from entering the fort and exploring the walls. A much different experience than Dun Aengus - which is a somewhat frequent tourist destination.
Clochan na Carraige is a beehive hut. The structure is unusual because the outside is circular but the inside is rectangular.
Though you can change money on all three islands, be aware that only Inis Mór has an ATM (Bank of Ireland) which is inside the island's only supermarket that closes in the evening, so be sure to plan accordingly.
There is well stocked Spar grocery store on Inis Mór, about a 5 minute walk from the main port.
Accommodation is easy to come by on Inis Mór, the most touristy of the islands. Inis Oírr offers a quieter stay. Tígh Ruarí (no website, but locatable on several 'visit Arann' sites) is a wonderful bed and breakfast on the island, with a grocery store and pub attached.
Co na Gaillimhe, Phone: 099 61301 (Fax: 099 61324 Email: [email protected]). Open all year round.