One of the great attractions of Inishmore (Inis Mór, “Big Island”, but often referred to simply as Árainn) is its topography, stark, simple and easily appreciated. Sheer cliffs run the fourteen-kilometre length of its south coast, lashed at their base by the relentless Atlantic, while their tops offer an ethereal panorama, the echoing wall of the Cliffs of Moher to the southeast, and to the north across Galway Bay, the Connemara Mountains, tinged with green, purple and gold. The land declines northwards in a geometric pattern of grey stone, the parallel grooves of its limestone pavement overlaid by ten thousand kilometres of dry-stone walls, which parcel up man-made fields, painstakingly nurtured out of sand, seaweed and what handfuls of soil there are. There’s more greenery and a smattering of villages towards the sheltered north coast, which is lined with rock pools and several sandy beaches.

This landscape is strewn with a wealth of spectacular dry-stone ring forts, notably Dun Aengus, and fascinating early churches. Consequently, and with frequent bus and boat links to Galway city, Inishmore receives crowds of day-trippers in the summer and is the most tourist-oriented of the Arans, now even boasting a branch of Supermac’s, Ireland’s very own burger chain. However, you really need two full days to visit the historic sites, which will also allow you time to soak up the scenery, enjoy the relative quiet of the evenings here and even have a swim at beautiful Kilmurvey beach.

Signposted to the south of Kilmurvey, Dun Aengus is by far the Aran Islands’ most compelling ancient site, a semicircular fort of three concentric enclosures, hard up against the edge of sheer, ninety-metre sea cliffs. From here, you can see Kerry Head, northwest of Tralee, on a clear day and occasionally Mount Brandon on the Dingle Peninsula – and if you’re truly blessed the island of Hy Brasil to the west. The fort is named after Aengus of the Fir Bolg, a legendary ancient race, who were said to have been of Greek origin and to have ruled Ireland for 37 years, before being conquered by the equally mythical Tuatha Dé Danann.

From Dun Aengus, you might be lucky enough to see the famous mirage known as Hy Brasil (after which the South American country was supposedly named), which appears in the sea to the west as a mountainous island. Local folklore represents this mythical land variously as the island of the blessed, the Garden of Eden, Tír na nÓg (the land of eternal youth), the Isle of Truth, of Joy, of Fair Women and of Apples. In the early twentieth century, islanders believed it appeared once every seven years, but up until the mid-nineteenth century it was actually shown on some sea charts of the Atlantic. On the unforgiving, sea-battered Arans, it’s easy to understand how this fantasy of a prosperous paradise grew up.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Ireland features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

There's nothing like an amazing view to inspire you to book your next trip, whether you're drawn by rolling countryside, isolated islands or soaring mountain …

30 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
Spring equinox at Loughcrew: waking up to Ireland’s secret rock art

Spring equinox at Loughcrew: waking up to Ireland’s secret rock art

The Loughcrew hills near the centre of Ireland are little-known – but at the spring equinox they take on a special magic. On this spring bank holiday, Paul C…

01 May 2017 • Paul Clements local_activity Special feature
6 of the best road trips in the UK

6 of the best road trips in the UK

There is something about a road trip that creates an endless state of heightened excitement. It comes with a heart-in-mouth, funfair-like thrill. And no matter …

11 Apr 2017 • Mike MacEacheran insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook