When we decided to visit Ireland, we knew a daytrip or two would be part of our itinerary. Initially, we looked to the north (to Giant’s Causeway) and to the south (to Cork and Blarney Castle). A few weeks before we left, we decided to look west as well—to the Cliffs of Moher. Ultimately, we replaced a trip to Cork with a trip to the other side of the island. We just couldn’t pass up a chance to drive through the lush countryside on the way to see an incredibly old and very beautiful geological site.
With high hopes for a sunny day, we booked a tour with Paddywagon Tours. We’ve written a bit about our general distaste for tour groups—especially big bus tours—but Paddywagon provided us with a fairly economical option to visit some sites without having to rent a car and drive. Adventurous as we are, driving outside of the USA and Canada isn’t something we do. Between not knowing local customs to not knowing the roads themselves, we look to tours when we can’t get somewhere via plane, train, or public transportation.
We arranged to be picked up at one of Paddywagon’s three advertised stops on O’Connell Street. The pickup was a bit disorganized; two buses arrived, with the first one being almost full, but everyone was told to queue up for the full bus anyway. As the crowds got anxious and started pushing closer and closer to the door, Adam and I slipped toward the back of the crowd so we could be first in line for the empty bus. We ended up sitting in the second row; after just a few minutes the bus was full, and we were off to County Clare.
The Cliffs of Moher are more than three hours away from Dublin, and we were incredibly grateful that all of that time was spent with our awesome driver Paul. Paul filled the hours with history lessons, hilarious stories, and even a few songs—as we made our way from O’Connell Street and out of the city, he sang Molly Malone before switching over to “classic” Irish music like The Corrs. We were incredibly entertained by the insights into Irish life to the point we looked forward to the time we spent on the bus. That’s a high compliment from us!
KINVARA + GALWAY BAY
Our first stop was the fishing village of Kinvara, tucked away in a southern inlet of Galway Bay.
Our stop in Kinvara was brief, but it was long enough to admire Dunguaire Castle, which dates back to the 16th century. The scenery in Kinvara is gorgeous, and even the locals would agree; we saw colorful houses and several artists setting up easels and canvases to paint the scenery as we made our way back to the bus.
Kinvara is also a great place to see “Galway Hookers,” which elicited a few giggles from several travelers until Paul reminded us a hooker is a boat in Ireland, very different from that other definition that’s a bit more common around the world. Galway Hookers are heavy duty boats designed for the rough seas in and around Galway Bay; each August Kinvara celebrates their history during the Cruinniú na mBád festival.
THE BURREN “MINI CLIFFS”
Our journey then took us along Galway Bay and the Wild Atlantic Way, which is famous for being home to some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world.
We stopped for a bit at the Burren, which is famous for its limestone rock and the “mini cliffs” that overlook the ocean. It’s no surprise that people get injured- or even killed-walking along these mini cliffs each year; uneven surfaces and cracks between the rocks have led to many people getting their feet stuck and tripping if they weren’t cautious. We had about twenty minutes to wander around and take photos before it was time to move on to the town of Doolin for lunch.
Doolin is a cute coastal town famed for its nightlife and the local music played at pubs. While we weren’t there for the evening, we were there for lunch, and Adam and I picked a pub called Fitzpatrick’s close to where our bus dropped us off. I had seafood stew with fresh bread; the stew was hearty and thick with tons of fish and plenty of root vegetables. We had our meal outside at a picnic table, and the cool air made it feel like fall—it was perfect stew weather. Adam passed up on the seafood and ordered polenta cakes, which were also very good (perhaps not the most traditional choice, but tasty nonetheless!).
We didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore Doolin, which is the downside to taking bus tours, but we loved what we saw of the town.
THE CLIFFS OF MOHER
Full of stew and polenta, it was finally time to see the reason we ventured all the way to Ireland’s western shores: the Cliffs of Moher. Just more than 700 feet high, the cliffs are close to 320 million years old.
We walked up the path from where the bus dropped us off and headed to the right, away from the cliffs, to get a better perspective on just how tall and steep they are. Somehow, our visit fell on a rare rainless day in western Ireland. We spent 15 minutes gazing out at one of nature’s incredible masterpieces framed by brilliant blue skies and fluffy white clouds.
After taking plenty of pictures we hiked up toward the cliffs themselves. Hiking along the Cliffs of Moher is not for the faint of heart; to say they are steep and treacherous is no lie. There are two pathways that follow the same route along the cliffs; one of them is behind a fence, away from the edge of the cliffs, and the other is accessed by climbing over the fence and walking right along the edge. While it is in no way advised that visitors walk so close to the edge, just about everyone we saw was eager to scale the barriers for a walk on the more dangerous side. Since my health insurance doesn’t cover my international travels (and because I have a slight fear of heights) I spent more time away from the edge than right on it, but to say the views were breathtaking would be a major understatement.
Looking out over the cliffs to O’Brien’s Tower in the distance was an amazing moment during the trip, particularly as we enjoyed a completely dry day under blue skies. The Cliffs may be the main attraction, but they aren’t the only part of the landscape we noticed. The Irish countryside stretched as far as we could see, with rolling green hills dotted with houses and farms in every direction.
We had about two hours at the Cliffs before our journey back to Dublin began. Two hours is a decent amount of time there; if your primary objective is to see the Cliffs, hike around a bit, and take some photos you can accomplish all of this in a short visit. We also spent a bit of time in the Visitor’s Center, which has a nice exhibit as well as a gift shop and a small restaurant (I don’t think I saw a single person who didn’t stop for water and an ice cream cone!). If you’re hoping to hike the entire stretch of the Cliffs all the way to Hag’s Head and back, you’ll need about three hours round trip from the Visitor’s Center. On a beautiful day like we had it would be a great walk, but it’s unlikely that you’ll find a tour from Dublin that provides enough time at the Cliffs to accomplish that long a walk.
We made one final stop in County Clare at Bunratty Castle, yet another majestic 15th-century castle.
Bunratty Castle is actually the fourth structure to be erected in that spot, and it has some interesting ties to American history. Rear Admiral Penn was in charge of its defense in the mid-1600s, and it is widely believed this his son William—who later grew up to become the founder of Pennsylvania—spent time there as a baby.
Right next to the castle was a spot that was a bit more popular with our tour group: Durty Nelly’s. The pub has been in business for 400 years and is widely known for the large number of badges it displays from police and fire departments around the world.
Visiting the western coast of Ireland from Dublin makes for a long day with a lot of time spent traveling from point to point, and we were pretty tired when we began our final leg of the journey back to the banks of the River Liffey.
Visiting the Cliffs of Moher was easily the highlight of our trip to Ireland made even better by great weather, a terrific tour guide, and some picturesque stops along the way. As our bus reached Dublin’s city limits, Paul encouraged us to join him for one last round of Molly Malone, and as our sing-along came to an end our tour did as well.
If you have the chance to make it to Ireland, don’t miss this daytrip—in fact, spend some extra time in Doolin and County Clare if you can. Nature and geology have produced some incredible sights for us around the world, and the Cliffs of Moher are too spectacular to miss.
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we booked a day tour with Paddywagon Tours, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Paddywagon Tours based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review.