Imagine what it’s like to sit on the edge of the world. Where the wind howls and waves thunder as they crash onto rocks far below. This vertical precipice stretches for miles in either direction, and ahead the Atlantic reaches out to new horizons. This is natural beauty in its most wild and rugged form. This is the Cliffs of Moher.
The Cliffs of Moher span 5 miles (8 km) and at their highest point stand 702 feet (214 m) tall, harrowingly beautiful in their height. On the clearest of days, one can look out at the Atlantic from the cliffs and see sweeping panoramic views of the Aran Islands on Galway Bay down to the Blasket Islands off Dingle Peninsula. With views like these, it’s easy to see why the cliffs attract more than a million visitors every year.
On the western seaboard of County Clare, the cliffs sit on the Wild Atlantic Way – one of the most stunning driving routes in the world. The nearest villages are Liscannor and Doolin, both quaint Irish towns great for a stop before continuing up to Galway or down to Kerry. Ferries departing from Doolin offer visitors the chance to view the cliffs from the sea as well as from the trails above. If driving through the region, be sure to check out the Burren – a rocky landscape where you’ll find ancient portal tombs and more geological wonders. Together the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren make up a UNESCO world heritage site worth an afternoon of exploring.
It may be cliché to call the cliffs breathtaking, and perhaps it’s my slight fear of heights talking but there are hardly words to capture what it’s like to stand as close as you can to the 700 foot drop down to the sea. The earth is a museum, and this a masterpiece that has taken millions of years to carve. The layers of the rocks, with birds nestled in the gaps. The natural arches and the sea stacks and the caves.
About the Cliffs
One of the world’s geographical wonders, the Cliffs of Moher were formed some 300 million years ago. Erosion has shaped them into what they are today, and still waves can cause sections of the cliffs to collapse – so be sure to exercise extreme caution when walking on the cliff edge or trying to capture the perfect picture! Just look at the great sea stack that stands out near the cliff’s highest point – known as Branaunmore, it was once connected to the cliffs but was separated by erosion over time.
The highest point of the cliffs is known as Knockardakin – here you can climb O’Brien’s watchtower for elevated panoramic views. The cliffs have a long history of attracting visitors, and in the 19th century a local landowner named Cornelius O’Brien capitalized on that by building the tower as a viewing point for visitors. Further down the cliffs stand another tower – the ruins of an old signal tower at Hag’s Head. It’s from this area that the cliffs draw their name. ‘Mothar’ in Gaelic means ‘the ruin of a fort,’ indicating an old fort destroyed during the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century that once stood where the signal tower now stands.
The cliffs also serve as a wildlife sanctuary and play home to an array of flora and fauna, including the largest seabird colony in Ireland. Here nearly twenty different species nest on the cliff sides, including the famous puffin. As the puffins tend to winter at sea and return for nesting season, the best time to view them is between May and early July.
Alternative Entrances, Parking, and Trails
During the summer, a large number of visitors can overcrowd the experience. It can be best to come later in the afternoon and evening. As the cliffs look out to the west, it can be a spectacular place to watch the sunset on a clear day.
However, there are other ways to avoid the crowds at the cliffs. Avoid the visitor center altogether – it isn’t the only way to get to the cliffs. There are a few car parks along the coast that will allow you to park for only €2 per car (rather than paying €6 per person at the official Cliffs entrance). Just head south past the visitor center and turn off to follow signs for ‘Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk Car Park’.
From there, trails lead up to the cliffs for equally spectacular views. This was the path we took on my second visit to the cliffs, and I loved having a new angle to view them at. There was hardly any one else out on the trail that day. The trails continue all the way along the coast so you can even hike the 3 miles back to where O’Brien’s Tower and official Visitor Center are.
Warm Up at Moher Cottage
Since the cliffs will likely be windy and even a bit wet, be sure to warm up after your visit. Skip the visitor center and head down the road to Moher Cottage for a coffee and some delicious home-made fudge! It’s such a cozy family-owned cafe and shop that knows a thing or two about Irish hospitality.
What was the highlight of your visit to Moher?