As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the place I associate most with Ireland is the Cliffs of Moher, located on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. This site of unparalleled natural wonder and mystique is the epitome of Ireland’s spirit that we hope to capture today. While currently closed due to the COVID pandemic regulations, it is a must-see site when planning a visit to the Emerald Isle with your family.
The Cliffs of Moher are near the western city of Galway and another uniquely Irish site, the Burren. It’s also a good stop on a trip from southwest Ireland (Dingle, Killarney, etc.) to Galway. No matter your destination, the Cliffs of Moher have to be seen to understand their jaw-dropping grandeur! You might even recognize it from The Princess Bride (the Cliffs of Insanity) or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The Cliffs of Moher are named after a fort (a Mothar or Moher) that was built on the promontory. The word ‘Mothar’ in old Gaelic means ‘the ruin of a fort.’ The current signalling tower, O’Brien’s Tower, was completed in 1835, using the raw materials from the fort.
The cliffs were my first stop in Ireland when I studied abroad in college. I still remember stepping off the bus, bleary-eyed after my first red-eye flight, and feeling like I was transported back in time to a fairy-tale land. The cliffs were majestic, with craggy drop-offs and crashing waves, and it was a wonderful first look at the Irish culture steeped in folklore and tradition.
When we planned a family trip to Ireland in 2019, I knew we had to include the Cliffs of Moher on our itinerary. It was the perfect stop between Dingle and Galway on our week-long trip. The site itself is easily accessible from the main road, which is a typical Irish road – narrow! There is plenty of parking at the site but you do have to cross the busy road to access it.
The site is very popular so it’s recommended to buy your date and time specific tickets ahead of time here (once it reopens). The new visitor’s center, built into the mountains, is quite spectacular itself, and you can spend over an hour here, exploring the cliffs’ unique geography, history, and animal exhibits with your children.
There are hands-on activities, exhibits, and movies at the visitor’s center for children and adults. We had a great time learning more about the Atlantic Puffin birds that call the cliffs home. Of course, we had to buy a stuffed puffin in the gift shop! There is a cafe and restrooms here as well.
Once you’ve spent some time at the visitor’s center, it’s time to see the cliffs! Be forewarned that the cliffs are very windy so bring a coat or jacket, even in the summer! There is a wall of slate slabs that protects you from the drop-offs so the paths maintained by the visitor’s center are safe.
The paths are stroller-friendly but there are many steps involved so be ready to lift the stroller!
The path to the right of the visitor’s center will take you up steps towards O’Brien’s tower, the tallest point of the cliffs. It has a spectacular view!
My children loved standing at the tallest part of the cliffs (700 feet above the ocean below!) and looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. We also enjoyed trying to spot the Aran Island, just northwest of here, and the ferries shuttling visitors back and forth from Doolin.
You can keep walking further south to another viewing platform. The views here are truly breathtaking. The puffins swoop in and out of the cliffs, and my kids loved trying to spot them on the craggy rock, Goat Island, they call home.
As you walk south, you’ll come to the end of the protected site. There is a way to continue walking a path along the cliffs but it is not maintained by the Cliffs of Moher. I don’t recommend doing this with children or even as an adult! We watched several people jump over the walls here and stand dangerously close to the rock cliff. It was heart-stopping!!
Head back to the visitor’s center for more shopping and a sweet treat. On your way to Galway, be sure to drive through The Burren, a 10-square mile limestone plateau. It is truly like something from another planet!
St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect day to dream about a trip to Ireland. Even though the Cliffs of Moher are currently closed due to the pandemic, you can take a virtual tour there today. It is truly one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever visited!
- Cost: 5EUR/adults and children 13+; free/children 12 and under; 10EUR/family ticket
- Tour: 1-2 hours
- Gift shops located in visitor’s center
- Transportation: The Cliffs of Moher is best seen by car. There are tour companies in Galway who provide direct shuttle service.
- Dining options: There is a full-service cafe, the Cliffs View Cafe, upstairs in the visitor’s center. There is also a small snack shop, Puffin’s Nest, on the main level in the visitor’s center. The nearby town of Lahinch has several restaurants and pubs.
- Lodging options: A main tourist destination, Galway, is a 1.5 hour drive north of the cliffs, and it has many lodging options. We stayed at the amazing Glenlo Abbey Hotel and Estate, just north of Galway.
- Nearby attractions: The Burren, Ennis (including King John’s Castle), Bunratty Castle, Craggaunowen, and the Aran Islands
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