Visiting Arranmore Island, Donegal: Ultimate Guide (2020)
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Arranmore Island, or Árainn Mhór, is a tiny island located 5km off the coast of Donegal in Ireland. Still very much a hidden gem for visitors to Donegal, Arranmore is beautiful, wild and rugged. Having visited Arranmore many times, we’ve put together this guide for anyone planning a trip to this unique part of Ireland. We’ve included how to get there, where to eat and our favorite things to do in Arranmore Island.
History of Arranmore Island
Arranmore Island is the largest inhabited island of Donegal and is located 5km off its west coast. Arranmore is part of the stunning Wild Atlantic Way route, a 2,600km coastal driving route which stretches from Donegal to Cork. The picturesque island is one of the most remote places in the country and one of the most unique places to visit.
The island has been inhabited since pre-Celtic times although most of the population had to leave the island due to eviction and famine during the Great Famine of the mid-19th century. In the past, the island relied on fishing as its main industry but today tourism is one of the main pillars of the economy. During the summer months, the population more than doubles in size due to the number of holiday homes on the island.
Arranmore Island is part of the Donegal Gaeltacht and the majority of the island residents speak Irish.
Arranmore rose to internet fame in 2019 when a campaign to get people to relocate to the island, aptly called “The Island”, went viral around the world. With the population at an all time low of 469, an open letter was issued to the US and Australia to encourage relocation to Ireland’s first offshore digital hub!
How to get to Arranmore
The only way to access Arranmore is by ferry which leaves from the port town of Burtonport in Northwest Donegal. The ferry takes foot and car passengers the 5km across the Atlantic to the Arranfery ferry terminal.
Burtonport is around an hours drive from Letterkenny and only 25 minutes from the beautiful Carrickfinn Airport which operates flights from Dublin daily..
Ferry to Arranmore
The ferry journey from Burtonport to Arranmore Island takes around 15 minutes and there are 6 crossings from Burtonport per day. The ferry can take any type of car and holds up to 96-foot passengers. There is a 10% discount for booking in advance online but we usually just turn up on the day.
If you have a ticket for a crossing or plan to take the ferry it’s always worth checking the ferry is running on the day. The crossing is very well protected from the open sea so the ferry runs in all but the most severe seas.
When boarding the ferry, car passengers have to reverse their cars down the slipway at the port and onto the small ferry boat. There are ferry crew on hand to guide you onto the boat (they are absolute pros at helping people to park cars – trust us!) but once the crew have you in position it’s just a matter of turning off your engine and waiting to set sail!
The crossing is usually very smooth as the ferry route is protected by the many small islands between the mainland and Arranmore. The ferry takes a route between the larger islands of Inishcoo to the north and Rutland Island in the south. The crossing is incredibly scenic and the day we visited Arranmore the sea was so still it was like a sheet of glass.
Driving on Arranmore Island
As most people visiting Arranmore will be driving a car it’s probably worth mentioning what it’s like to drive on the island. As one would expect, most of the roads on the island are small single lane roads and some are through exposed bog areas.
As a result, care should be taken when driving on the road as you can come across unexpected dips and rises in the road.
Visiting Arranmore Island tip: As most of the roads are narrow and barely allow two-way traffic you will likely have to pull in at some stage, either to park or to allow traffic past. Be very careful pulling in on the edge of the roads. Many areas are peat/bogland so the roadside can be very soft. You could easily get stuck in the soft ground or on the sudden drop-offs. We had no issues as we are used to driving on Irish roads, however, it’s worth noting if you’re just visiting Ireland!
Things to do on Arranmore Island
Despite its relatively small size, there are lots of things to do on Arranmore Island that make it worth the trip on the ferry!
Map of Things to do on Arranmore
We’ve put together this map of everything to do in Arranmore Island
How to Use This Google Map: Click on the grey star at the top of the map and this map will be added to your Google Maps account. You can then view it on your phone or computer in Google Maps by clicking on the menu button, going to “Your Places” and selecting this map. We use these maps all the time as you can set out your itinerary in advance and quickly reference the saved maps
1 | Arranmore Lighthouse
One of the first stops when you get off the ferry should be the Arranmore Lighthouse located on the north-west of the island. It’s a scenic 15-minute drive from the Arranmore ferry terminal. While the grounds of the lighthouse are off-limits to the general public, the views are amazing from the surrounding area.
There is a nice hike along the headland if you follow the wall north of the lighthouse. The hike is unmarked so you’ll need to be careful as there are sheer drops off the edge of the high cliffs.
Due to its strategic location the lighthouse was used as a World War II outpost and as a lookout point for U-boats. For anyone who wants to spend some time on Arranmore visitors can book at a stay at the lighthouse on AirBnB here. With 3 bedrooms the lighthouse can accommodate up to 6 guests and it’s one of the most unique places to stay in Ireland.
2 | Old Lighthouse Steps
The unique Old Lighthouse steps are an Arranmore icon. The steps led from the headland beside the lighthouse down to the water. These amazing steps are carved into the rock and allowed the lighthouse crew to access rescue boats in the waters below.
Although they are not used today, visitors to Aranmore can still check out the steps. If you are brave enough you can even walk down them!
Visiting Arranmore Island tip: walking down the old Lighthouse Steps is quite dangerous so please take care when visiting. Don’t attempt the walk down them if you have a fear of heights as there are sudden drops and open cliff edges. Parts of the steps are steep and the old hand railings are now gone so you’ll need to take care.
How to get to the Old Lighthouse Steps in Arranmore
To find the top of the steps, follow the wall adjacent to the lighthouse that leads down the hill towards the sea cliffs. Once you get to the end of the wall you’ll see the narrow concrete walkway across the top of the cliff rocks. Make sure to walk on this as it’s the path that leads down to the steps to the water. It can be tricky and dangerous to find the steps if you don’t follow the path from the top.
While it’s an adventure climbing down the steps the best view of them is actually from the cliffs just to the south of the steps.
2 | Arranmore Cliffs
The Arranmore Cliffs are visible from the narrow road that leads to the Arranmore Lighthouse. There are lots of opportunities to pull in off the road to look at the cliffs and there’s also a few benches to sit and relax and drink in the epic views.
Visiting Arranmore Island tips: the area along the road here is open to the sea and the fields have no protection to the cliffs that overhang the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors should be careful and not get too close to the cliff edge especially if you have younger kids. You don’t need to get close to the edge to experience the views anyway!
3 | Beaver Island Monument / Marian Shrine
The people who lived on Arranmore Island were very badly affected by the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-1800s and the population of the island was decimated as a result. Many fled during the famine and a large number of those who moved across the Atlantic settled on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. The Beaver Island monument commemorates those who were forced to flee the island and the ties between the two islands which continue to this day.
You can’t miss the Beaver Island monument in the small lake on the side of the narrow road to the Arranomre Lighthouse.
4 | Enjoy Old Ireland
There are very few places that are as untouched as Arranmore Island. Simply driving around the island and taking in the incredible views is worth the trip. While life on Arranmore has moved with the times, there are many parts of the island where it feels like a step back in time. Take your time, explore the random stops and beautiful views the island has to offer.
5 | Take a Hike
If you have the time, the best way to explore Arranmore is by hiking around the island. The Arranmore Island Loop is a national way marked trail. At around 14 km it would take most visitors around a full day to hike.
6 | Enjoy food and a pint in Early’s Bar
A trip to Arranmore is not complete without a stop for some food and a drink in Early’s Bar. After a busy day exploring everything the island has to offer its hard to beat an very Irish snack involving a pint Guinness and a cheese toasty! There’s also great traditional music here most weekend evenings. If it’s a nice day when you visit you can enjoy your meal on the outdoor terrace.
Early’s is situated right beside the Arranmore ferry so you won’t have far to go to catch the boat back to the mainland.
8| Check out some of the best dive spots in Ireland
Arranmore is home to some of the best diving spots in Ireland and there are sea safaris around the island. Trips leave from Burtonport
9 | Consider moving to Arranmore Island
Arranmore Island went viral in the USA in 2019 when the island put out a public appeal seeking people to move to the island. This followed the installation of a new broadband line directly to the island. The campaign brought in enquiries from all over the world with people looking to move to the Island.
The island is seeking residents from the USA and Australia who is willing to work remotely from this incredible location!
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