Walking the Cliffs of Moher
What are the Cliffs of Moher?
Technically speaking, the Cliffs of Moher are nearly thirteen kilometers of incredible cliff formations along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. The cliffs, standing at 214 meters at their highest point (O'Brien's Tower), are not the highest cliffs in Ireland, but they are the steepest. They are roughly 320 million years old, and they are primarily formed of sandstone, silt-stone, and shale rocks. Finally, the Cliffs of Moher support an incredibly diverse wildlife population - these cliffs are overflowing with life, from the sea creatures in the waters at their base to the over 40,000 birds who make their homes high in the cliffs themselves (including puffins!).
Movie fans will be sure to recognize the Cliffs of Moher as the setting for the infamous Cliffs of Insanity in the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride. The Cliffs have also been used as a filming location for an exceptional number of other films, most recently in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
In recent years, the Cliffs of Moher have become one of Ireland's top tourist attractions, second only to the Guiness Storehouse in Dublin. It is not difficult to speculate the reasons why this stunning part of Ireland is so popular - it is truly an idyllic spot, a quintessential piece of Ireland that visitors and locals alike simply need to see in order to appreciate the true magnificence of this site - just be sure to remember your rain coat.
Why Walk the Cliffs?
There is a seemingly infinite number of professional tour companies from every corner of Ireland that offer daily tours to the Cliffs of Moher. These tours are certainly convenient, and if you are physically unable to walk the Cliffs yourself, the tours are an excellent way to see the Cliffs.The tours arrive at the visitor center, giving one ample time to walk around, take photos, and have a coffee and lunch in the visitor centre before heading back for the day.
However, walking the Cliffs of Moher is without a doubt the best way to get the full experience of this stunning location. As mentioned in the introduction - it is windy, rainy, and a bit foggy, but there is no better way to experience the surrounding scenery - and truly, the weather simply adds to this true Irish experience, and will make your hot cup of tea taste even better upon your return.
The walk from Doolin to the visitor centre is about 7km. The walking trail is easily identifiable, taking you safely along the cliffs and the gorgeous countryside, so it is next to impossible to get lost. At a relatively steady pace, the walk takes under three hours (allowing for plenty of time to stop and take photos!).
Getting to the Cliffs of Moher on one's own - that is, without the guidance of a professional tour company - is still quite straightforward, although if you are taking public transport, then it can make for a long day of sitting on uncomfortable buses. An excellent alternative would be to rent a vehicle, particularly if you are traveling with a larger party.
The most direct way to get see the Cliffs of Moher is by staying in Doolin, which is a small town roughly 7km north of the visitor's centre at the Cliffs of Moher. The town is overwhelmingly charming in itself, and is the perfect starting point to see the Cliffs (as well as the Aran Islands). Staying two full days in Doolin is highly recommended..
From Dublin, the most direct way to get to Doolin is via Galway. Take the bus in the morning (there are a few departure times) to Galway, and then change buses to get to Doolin. If you are so inclined, take the early bus from Dublin and stop for a few hours in Galway before taking the bus to Doolin, as Galway is also well-worth a visit.
Doolin is truly the gateway to the Cliffs of Moher - any hotel or hostel will be happy to direct you to the walking path, which is just on the outskirts of town. Walking round trip from Doolin to the visitor centre and back to Doolin is roughly a six hour walk (including a lunch break and many, many picture stops).
Even if walking the Cliffs of Moher does not yet sound appealing, taking few days to travel west from Dublin to Doolin is worthwhile in itself. It is the quintessential Irish country town in every way possible, from the lush green fields dotted with the remains of old stone towers and castles to cows and sheep corralled in moss-covered stone fences. The four pubs in town play lively music every night, the beer is cheap, and the food is hearty and delicious. Doolin is the town where it becomes impossible not to fall madly in love with Ireland. Curling up by the fire with a book and a cup of tea at your hotel is the perfect way to end your day of trekking the Cliffs of Moher.
View the Cliffs from the Water
After trekking the Cliffs of Moher, a wonderful way to finish your trip to the west coast of Ireland is to take a cruise along the cliffs. There are several options by which you can do this from the marina in Doolin - tour boats depart all day with options to fit every schedule. Seeing the Cliffs of Moher from another perspective adds to the majesty of the Cliffs themselves, and gives you a deeper appreciation for what you accomplished the previous day. Also, you might get the added bonus of seeing some permanent residents of the Wild Atlantic Way - including dolphins!
Tips to Keep in Mind
If you plan to walk the Cliffs of Moher, the most vital tip to keep in mind is to respect the Irish weather. Chances are that it will be rainy and windy and there will probably be fog, so visibility might not always be the greatest. Decide to be optimistic about it. Dress appropriately for the walk if you want to enjoy it - bring rain gear even if you think it likely won't rain! Irish weather is notoriously unpredictable. Although it may sound strange, this sort of weather is the absolute prime way to view the Cliffs of Moher. There is something incredibly majestic about watching the waves roll in against the the cliffs, crashing with an unbelievable force into the rocks, and seeing the spray splash high enough to nearly splash you as you watch.
An inordinately small number of people decide to walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher visitor centre, so the walk along the cliffs is overwhelmingly tranquil, and taking this walk is really the best way to view the cliffs and take pictures without other people in them.
Pack a lunch and take a picnic along the Cliffs if it is not raining too much - you really couldn't ask for a more picturesque location. The visitor centre is absolutely lovely as well, and serves hot food and coffee, but it is extremely busy, and during peak times, it is next to impossible to find a table.
Walking the Cliffs of Moher is entirely - and incredibly - free! It seems impossible that such a stunning site doesn't charge an entrance fee.
Respect the landscape. Although, if there is one thing that any person would take away from a day on the Cliffs of Moher, it is an increased admiration and respect for the natural environment.
Finally - enjoy yourself! The Cliffs of Moher are truly an incredible location, and one that should not be missed, no matter how you choose to see them.