This article is part of our Trip Report, A Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland.
The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s iconic attractions, and they were an absolute “must-do” on our Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland. The Cliffs rise vertically and majestically from the Atlantic Ocean, more than 700 feet at their highest point. Views of the Cliffs and views from the Cliffs are stunning.
We were so excited about visiting the Cliffs of Moher that we decided to see them twice – once by sea, on a boat tour from Doolin Pier; and once by land, entering at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience center and hiking many kilometers along the edge of the Cliffs. Between the boat tour and our hikes, we spent several hours at the Cliffs, and we couldn’t have enjoyed it more. The Cliffs are a bit out of the way, but they should not be missed by anyone visiting Ireland.
Where Are the Cliffs of Moher?
The Cliffs of Moher are located on the west-central coast of Ireland. They are about 260 km west (and slightly south) of Dublin, with a driving time of a little over 3 hours not counting slow traffic or stops along the way. The nearest larger cities are Galway, north of the Cliffs and about an hour and a half drive away, and Limerick, about an hour and 10 minutes southeast of the Cliffs.
Here is the location of the Cliffs of Moher on the Irish island:
The Cliffs of Moher in Movies and on TV
We were excited to learn that the Cliffs of Moher had served as an important location in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The Cliffs held the sea cave where Lord Voldemort had hidden one of his horcruxes, the locket of Salazar Slytherin. Harry Potter and Dumbledore traveled dramatically there, at great personal peril, intending to destroy the horcrux – only to find out that it was missing, and in its place was a fake locket with a cryptic note inside from “R.A.B.”
The Cliffs of Moher also made a dramatic appearance in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Princess Bride. There, they served as the “Cliffs of Insanity,” scaled by the giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant, carrying the three other members of his traveling party up the cliff) and the mysterious masked man in black.
And more recently, just a few months before our trip, the Cliffs of Moher had served as the backdrop for one of the most dramatic moments ever on The Bachelorette. Season 11 bachelorette Kaitlyn took fan-favorite “Cupcake” Chris on a date to the Cliffs, where she kissed him:
… and then broke up with him, leading to one of the most dramatic man-crying episodes in the history of The Bachelorette:
… followed by one of the most dramatic moments in the history of The Bachelorette when millions of American reality tv fans simultaneously screamed at their TV sets, “Don’t jump, Cupcake!!!”:
Needless to say, we were very excited to visit the Cliffs of Moher 🙂
The Cliffs of Moher – By Sea
Boat tours of the Cliffs of Moher depart from Doolin Pier. We drove to Doolin Pier after finishing our beautiful R477 coast road drive from Ballyvaughan past Black Head and southward toward Doolin.
PRO TIP: At the time I’m writing this article, Google Maps does not recognize and does not auto-populate “Doolin Pier.” If you are using Google Maps to navigate, you need to enter “Doolin Ferry” in order to get to Doolin Pier. Alternatively, “Doolin2Aran Ferries” will work.
We chose Doolin2Aran Ferries for our Cliffs of Moher boat tour. The details were:
- Location: Doolin Pier (small ticket booth at the far end of the parking lot)
- Cost: 15 Euros per person
- Duration: 1 hour
PRO TIP (Important Parking Note): There is a large parking lot at the end of the narrow road to the Pier. Be sure to drive all the way up to the parking lot rather than trying to park on the side of the road leading to the Pier.
As I write this in May 2018, the standard schedule for Doolin2Aran Ferries’ Cliffs of Moher tour seems to show departures at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm (noon), 3:00 pm, and 5:15 pm each day. There may be additional trips on certain days; check the Doolin2Aran website for details. Tickets may be purchased in advance on the website. We did not purchase our tickets in advance and had no problems buying tickets on walk-up; however, I would want to have advance tickets if planning to do the tour during a heavier season, such as later in June, or in July or August.
There were other boat tour operators with booths nearby. We chose Doolin2Aran because I remembered having seen their website in my pre-trip research. In addition, it’s worth noting that Doolin2Aran has other boat tours such as trips to the Aran Islands and a combo Aran Islands/Cliffs tour, so be sure you’re getting the tour you actually want.
PRO TIP: There are also some snack stands with hot dogs and such at the far end of the parking lot, so you can grab a bite to eat there while you wait for your boat departure time. There are also some restaurants at the corner where the R459 highway makes a right turn on the road to Doolin Pier. These restaurants are not walkable from the Pier, but you can get more substantial food down there. I’m sure there are also restaurants further back in the village of Doolin proper.
We had some fun in the Doolin Pier parking lot while we waited for our boat departure. You’ll see these “Paddywagon” tour buses from time to time in Ireland, and they never fail to crack me up:
I have not yet convinced Philly to get onto a Paddywagon bus – and I don’t think I’m going to!
Also, Doolin Pier has a famous dolphin named Dusty that frequents the Pier and swims with the locals. (Dusty has its own Facebook page, here) Dusty has been known to be aggressive at times, though, so be careful. Still, this unique warning sign made us laugh and we had to get a picture:
ONE LAST PRO TIP FOR DOOLIN PIER: There are restrooms down at the campground below the Doolin Pier parking lot. They weren’t anything to write home about, but I believe they were the only facilities available at the Pier.
On to the boat tour: It was a cool but pleasant day for a boat ride, and the sea was relatively calm. The boat held several dozen people; we seemed to be mostly full but not at capacity. Philly is sensitive to the movement while being on a boat, but she didn’t seem to have any particular trouble on this trip.
The boat stays near the coast and travels a few miles to the south, as far as O’Brien’s Tower at the highest point on the Cliffs, then turns around and returns to Doolin Pier. A tour guide provides commentary and interesting information along the way. The tour takes you to see the large rock formation off the coast (a “sea stack” more than 230 feet tall) known as An Bhreannan Mor, where many puffins and other sea birds nest, and the “Harry Potter” sea cave. And of course, you get to admire the magnificence of the Cliffs of Moher from the sea side for most of the tour. The view never gets old.
Here are a few photos from our boat tour:
The Cliffs of Moher boat tour is certainly worth doing if you have the time. Most visitors only see the Cliffs from the top, and seeing them from the sea as well was a nice treat.
The Cliffs of Moher – By Land
Most visitors experience the Cliffs of Moher by going to the visitor’s center, walking up to O’Brien’s Tower and admiring the view for a few minutes, maybe walking around a little more in that area, and leaving. We decided to have a more immersive experience, to let the magnificence of the Cliffs sink in a little more, by taking the boat tour … and by going on a long hike down most of the length of the Cliffs.
Some details of visiting the Cliffs by land are:
- Location of the Visitor’s Experience center: Along highway R478, on the west side
- Location of Parking: Along highway R478, on the east side
- Admission cost: 8 Euros per person (note that discounted tickets may be available for less if booked in advance on the Cliffs of Moher website; this is new and wasn’t available when we visited)
- Cliffs of Moher official website (which is excellent): www.cliffsofmoher.ie
- Hours (May through August): 8:00 am until 9:00 pm
- Check the website for hours during other months
The Cliffs are a very popular destination, with more than 1.4 million visitors in 2017 according to the Cliffs of Moher Twitter feed. The Cliffs of Moher official website warns: “Are you visiting the Cliffs of Moher this summer? Please visit us after 4pm to be sure of entry, there are times when the Cliffs of Moher Visitor centre needs to close due to overcrowding.”
PRO TIP: When navigating on Google Maps, note that it will show the Cliffs of Moher and the Cliffs of Moher Visitor’s Experience center on the west side of the R478 highway. However, you will need to park your car first, and the parking lot is across the street on the east side of the highway. It’s easy to miss the turn into the parking lot if you’re looking for the turnoff on the wrong side of the road, so pay close attention.
We drove to the Cliffs of Moher from Doolin Pier, where we had just finished our boat tour. Google Maps pegs the drive at 15 minutes, but I recall it taking us a little longer.
Once you park, you’ll have to walk across the highway to the ticketing and entrance facility, and then on to the Visitor’s Experience center, which will be on your right.
At the Visitor’s Experience center, there are snacks and a gift shop. Note that there are no other restaurants in the area. Also, don’t plan on finding any snacks or drinks for purchase if you go on a longer hike away from the visitor’s center area. You need to pack and take your own. [We were fortunate to find a drink cart that was open on our long hike to the southern end of the Cliffs, but it was no longer open (or even there) on our return.]
When you leave the visitor’s center, turn right and continue up the path until you come to a large set of stairs. Turn right to go up the stairs, then continue along the path (uphill!) until you reach O’Brien’s Tower. As I’ve mentioned, O’Brien’s Tower is at the highest point of the Cliffs, more than 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean down below. It was built in 1835 as an observation point, and it still serves that purpose today. You can also climb to the top of O’Brien’s Tower (at least generally, the official website notes that “O’Brien’s Tower is open daily but hours will vary according to the time of year. Please check with staff onsite for the opening hours on the day of your visit as the tower may be closed due to weather or operational reasons.”).
We enjoyed our short walk to O’Brien’s Tower and the great views we’d seen to that point, but we hadn’t yet had our fill of enjoying the Cliffs and the magnificent views. We spotted another tower off in the distance to the south, and after asking around, we learned that we could hike on the path along the edge of the Cliffs to get there. Our group is always up for a hiking adventure, so we decided (without knowing quite how far it was) to hike to the other tower and back. It turned out that the tower we could see was Moher Tower at Hag’s Head, located at the southernmost part of the Cliffs. Moher Tower was built in the early 1800’s as a lookout/signaling tower, Now you can go inside but you can’t climb to the top.
Well, the hike was almost 5 km one-way, and it took about an hour and a half in each direction! It took forever to get there and back – but the payoff was that we had a fun adventure, saw some marvelous views, and got some good photos of the Cliffs and Moher Tower. It was very cool, and we’re glad we did it.
PRO TIP: If you do the long hike like we did (and not many people do!), wear shoes that you don’t mind getting really dusty and/or are not too hard to clean. We picked up a lot of dirt on our shoes, and some of them never recovered. Also, as I noted above, take snacks and plenty to drink with you if you go on the long hike as you can’t count on picking up anything along the way.
Here are some of our pictures of the Cliffs and Moher Tower:
In all, we spent about 4½ hours at the Cliffs of Moher, maybe closer to 7 hours total if you include our boat tour (including waiting for departure) and driving time between Doolin Pier and the Cliffs. We had a day we’ll never forget, and I hope all of our readers are inspired to take a trip to the Cliffs of Moher too!