By Scott Bateman
The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland are so wide, so tall and so utterly massive that no photograph can capture their overwhelming size.
The most visited natural attraction in the country stands 700 feet at its tallest point and runs five miles or eight kilometers along the Atlantic coast in County Clare.
Visitors who first arrive to take the tour will park in a treeless, wind-swept area across the road from the park entrance with little clue of what lies on the other side
What makes the landscape even more stark is the lack of any buildings, even for visitors. On this chilly morning, sheep seem to outnumber the people.
Once across the road, the wisdom of the planners becomes more obvious. The visitor center and a handful of shops sit snugly within the hillside with only their fronts visible. Nature is king here.
From the center, visitors must walk up one of several different paths to reach any viewing point.
It’s not until reaching those viewing points that the cliffs become visible. Most visitors stand in silence by the walk that protects them from accidentally falling as they absorb the massive natural wonder. Cameras snap everywhere.
Cliffs of Moher Castle: O’Brien’s Tower
Beyond the first viewing point, the Cliffs of Moher castle known as O’Brien’s Tower is the attraction that draws the most tour visitors.
Cornelius O’Brien built the structure in 1835. He was a descendant of Brian Boru, the High King Of Ireland. O’Brien wisely believed it would attract tourism to help the local economy.
The tower is a popular spot for taking photos and gaining the some of the best views of the trails that lead to the south and those that lead to the north. On a good day, tourists will see the three Aran islands to the west.
Visitors can enter the first floor to see a gallery of images. For a small fee, they also can use the top floor for panoramic views and photos.
Back outside of the tower, visitors must decide if they want to take the trails along the cliffs for more views and photos. The ones that do take the trail along the northern cliffs because they are less strenuous than the southern route.
Walking the Cliffs
But not everyone goes on the trails during a Cliffs of Moher tour. On this day, only a handful made the attempt, and even most of them went only part way.
The tremendous wind might have been one reason.
It is unnerving to walk along a goat trail only a few feet from the edge of a 700-foot cliff on a day when the wind was blowing with gusts reaching at least 50 miles per hour. The cliffs are known to have gusts even higher.
After the hike began, pounding rains arrived to make the journey even more cold and treacherous.
From O’Brien’s tower, it’s possible to walk nearly a mile before reaching a point where the cliffs begin a steady decline. Most visitors seem to go part of the way and only a few go the entire way.
Visitors who reach that point often take a safe and lonely seat on the rocks and contemplate the view — even in the rain.
Others who are either more brave or more foolish sit right at the edge with their feet dangling over it, despite signs warning of unstable cliff edges.
The views are austere, and the massive size of the cliffs add to a feeling of solitude.
Visitors who don’t take that hike are content to spend more time by O’Brien’s tower and in the visitors’ center.
The visitors center has a café, shop, restrooms, interactive exhibit and protection from the freezing blast of winds on a cold day.
The café offers a variety of both casual and more formal foods and beverages for reasonable prices.
The interactive exhibit is extensive and provides detailed information about the formation of the cliffs.
Visitors can pick up brochures in multiple languages providing information about the cliffs and facilities.
The visitors center is worth a visit before touring the cliffs to get useful information and for a restful break or meal after walking along the cliffs. Hungry tourists otherwise will have to drive about a half hour back to nearby towns with a handful of restaurants.
Entrance Fees and Tours
Tickets are $6 Euros for adults and $4 Euros for students, senior citizens or disabled visitors.
O’Brien’s Tower costs $2 Euros for adults and $1 Euro for children. The rooftop of the tower has the best viewing area of the cliffs for photographs.
A tour that combines a cliff top tour and cruise at the base of the cliffs with a local guide costs $30 Euros. The tour goes from noon to 6:30 p.m.
Best Times to Go
The cliffs are a favorite attraction for many people touring Ireland. The peak season for visiting the cliffs is July and August. The peak times are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to the official tourist Web site. It is best to visit before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
On our visit in May, the winds were strong and the wind chill factor made visiting quite cold, but the weather that day was cooler than usual. Crowds were not a factor.
The average high temperature in nearby Galway ranges in the mid 60s Fahrenheit from May through September; in the mid 50s in March, April, October and November; and in the 40s from December through February.
The wind chill factor on the cliffs make late spring to early fall the best time to visit the cliffs.
Energetic visitors who want to walk the cliffs, use the visitor center, maybe do a little shopping and take plenty of photographs should plan on being there at least two to three hours.
Dublin to Cliffs of Moher
Getting from Dublin to Cliffs of Moher is a three-hour and 15 minute drive. The first half is simple. The complex directions of the second half require a map or GPS.
Take M6 out of Dublin straight west to Galway for about an hour and a half. From the M6, take exit 17 to R348. At this point, visitors will make so many turns that they need a GPS or detailed map.
From the south, the Cliffs of Moher sit about 20 minutes west of the town of Ennistymon along Route 478.
Take N85 to Ennistymon, then go west and north on R478 for about nine to 10 miles. The parking lot appears rather abruptly on the right and the low-key entrance to the cliffs appears on the left.
From the north, take N67 west to Lisdoonvarna, then R476 south for just a short distance until reaching the northern branch of R478. Take it west and then south.
The vicinity of the Cliffs of Moher are blissfully natural. There are no hotels or bed and breakfasts right by the cliffs.
A bed and breakfast called Atlantic View is closest to them. Otherwise, visitors who want a place to stay will find options in the nearby villages and towns of Doolin, Lahinch, Ennistymon and Lisdoonvarna.
The Cliffs of Moher Hotel is located in Liscannor at the edge of Liscannor Bay. It lies within walking distance of docks for cruises to the cliffs and to the Aran islands.