On the west side of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher are immediately recognizable. The spectacular formations jut right out of the Atlantic ocean hundreds of feet into the air. If you’re in Ireland then seeing the cliffs is a must do. There are several daily bus tours to the cliffs leaving from Dublin city center that will tae you there for about €40. The busses leave pretty early in the morning, just make sure you limit your Guinness intake, just a little bit the night before the tour.
We met our tour bus early Sunday morning at a local hotel near the city center. It was raining again, and we again opted to take a cab to the bus stop instead of getting drenched before a full day tour. We pulled up to the hotel where our tour bus was scheduled to meet us and quickly noticed that it was a hub for all kinds of tour companies. At first I was a little concerned that we wouldn’t know what bus to get on, there were so many of them, but luckily our bus was clearly marked with the tour company’s logo, and had a digital banner on the front reading Cliffs of Moher.
The Mercedes tour bus was seemingly new and very comfortable with reclining leather seats, coffee/tea station, and a restroom. If you’re going on a 7 hour bus ride, this was the way to do it. Our tour guide was a local Dubliner in his mid 20s and he started to give us some information about the city and the upcoming tour. We had a few more stops to make at other hotels to pick up other tourists and we would be on our way. After making the last stop we headed to a park and ride to pick up our driver for the day. Due to Irish commercial driving restrictions there was an in city driver for the bus and a long haul driver that would take us for the long ride to the cliffs. Our guide explained that drivers were only able to drive so many hours in the day, similar to truck driver restrictions in the US, not a bad idea.
After picking up our driver we were on our way. Just about 3 hours and we would be at the Cliffs of Moher. As we were on the way our guide shared a lot of information about Ireland. He went through a brief history of the country, some of the ancient clans of the country, early governments, relations with the Scandinavians who invaded, and finally the English influence in Ireland. The country remained a part of England until the mid 1900s when it was given status as its own nation. Our guide also told us a bit about the local economy, livestock, and sporting events, of which soccer is definitely the most popular. I found it interesting that hurling, not soccer is the national sport though, kind of a cross between hockey and lacrosse. I was also surprised to hear that American football is gaining in popularity there, and even hosted an NCAA game a couple of years ago.
Regardless of the story that was being told from the front of the bus, our guide seemed to finish most statements with “really really cool” which was pretty funny. As we rolled through the countryside we saw a lot of the same things. Ireland is full of rolling green fields. There are a few rivers running through the country and some forested areas. Mostly it is very green due to all of the rain that the country receives. Every now and then our guide would chime in with and anecdote about the area we were in, talk about a local ruin we were passing or share an Irish fable. It was a pleasant and comfortable journey. Most of our ride was on a highway, and I knew we were getting closer to our destination when we turned off and started driving on some side roads.
About three hours into our drive our guide let us know that we were getting close. We wound through a couple of very small villages on our way. Most of them with roads that seemed far too narrow for our large tour bus, there was one turn in particular that was particularly challenging for the driver, but we made it, not without commentary from the guide.
Shortly after the treacherous turn we came over a hill and caught an eyeful of what our guide called “proper Irish countryside” His description fit, It was exactly the image that comes to my mind when I hear the word Ireland. Simply beautiful. Lush green land and rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Old rock walls segregated the fields and most of the structures appeared to be at least a hundred years old. Many of them still with thatched sticks as roofing. There were very few large buildings in the countryside, and there was an abundance of small Bed and Breakfasts. There was also a great view of the coast due to the lack of trees. The entire area was gorgeous, and could be a great place to spend some time exploring.
As we got closer to the ocean, our guide made a comment about surfing in the area, and I thought he was joking; but apparently there are quite a few people who come to surf in the North Atlantic. According to the guide the waves get to be very large, I’m sure a dry suit would be necessary.
We pulled up to the cliffs at around 11am. The cliffs stretch out of the Atlantic, several hundred feet into the air, the icy cold waves of the Atlantic violently crashing on the rocks below. The cliffs had been featured in countless movies; most namely they were the “cliffs of insanity” in The Princess Bride. As far as natural features go this is one of the most incredible sights I had ever seen.
There is a small parking lot at the cliffs, mostly full of tour busses and a welcome center with a gift shop and a small café and restaurant built into the side of the hill going up to the cliffs. The restaurant has floor to ceiling windows looking over the cliffs and it is a great view.
After our tour of the cliffs we were scheduled to go into Doolin, a small town near the cliffs, for lunch, so our guide recommended that we hold off on eating until after. When we got off of the bus the tour of the cliffs was self-guided. There is a path that runs along the side of the cliffs both ways from the visitor center. Due to the wind and wet conditions it can be very dangerous up on the edges, and we were warned by our guide to stay away from the edges, apparently someone goes over at least once a year. My girlfriend had also read about the dangerous conditions and warned me continuously, knowing that I have a slight affinity for pushing the limits. Thankfully the views were very impressive regardless of where we were standing.
The walk along the path was muddy, but stunning. There is a small watchtower at the top of one of the cliffs, which forms the highest point of the area. For a couple of euros you can climb the spiral staircase to the top, the view is worth it. The enormity of the cliffs is hard to describe. They are hundreds of feet tall and run for miles along the coast. Truly an amazing sight.
Thankfully during our walk along the path the weather was sunny with broken clouds, the wind was not too strong and the rain had stopped. We had a great couple of hours walking along the edges of the cliffs. The cow pastures next to the cliffs lead right up to the path and every now and then the cows would get pretty close to us for a picture opportunity. Irish cow glamour shots on the cliffs.
After we had completed our walk we headed back to the bus and rode to Doolin, which is just a few minute drive down the way from the cliffs. You can actually walk the Cliffside path right into the town if you want. (and don’t have to catch a tour bus) Doolin is a small fishing and tourist town that appeared to be pretty quiet. We stopped at Fitzpatrick’s pub for some “lovely food” as our guide called it. I noticed on several of the brochures for tours that the busses would be stopping at the same spot for lunch, and I was concerned that the meal would be mass produced, and not very impressive. I had seen this done on other tours around the world where a restaurant will cater to just these tour groups and make tons of food and overcharge for it. There are only a few pubs in Doolin, and only about 45 minutes on our stop so even if we wanted to go find some decent food we would not have had enough time.
We got to Fitzpatrick’s, and my suspicions were confirmed. The food was served cafeteria style and was ready to go. I wasn’t impressed, but we opted to eat there because we were very hungry, and again didn’t have much time. Given another opportunity to visit the cliffs I would probably pack a lunch. Thankfully the place is also a pub, typical Irish décor, and served beer, so we were able to sample one of the local red ales. The beer was good, but not as good as a Guinness. For food we each had a bowl of seafood chowder, which was palatable, but fairly plain, and served with very heavy dark bread.
After lunch we had the option of either staying in Doolin to look around or go down to the pier for a Cliffs of Moher cruise. The cruise would take us down below the cliffs where we could look up the mammoth rocks and also get a look at some of the local birds who live in the cliffs like puffins, which I was excited to see. The weather was still decent at that time and we had seen the boat down below while we were on our cliff walk. The sea looked fairly calm and it seemed like it would be fun for us to take the cruise.
When we arrived at the pier the wind had started to pick up, and the clouds were starting to clump, we could tell that rain was on the way. We didn’t let that stop us, so we bought tickets for the cruise anyways. We had to wait for about 15 minutes for the previous cruise to come back before we could go out, and the weather continued to get worse.
The boat full of people from the previous cruise pulled up, many of them looking pretty green, and a few with seasickness bags in hand. The water was starting to get a little choppy at that time, but we opted to go out anyways. This was in hindsight not a great idea, but we though the views we would get would be worth it. Immediately when the boat pulled out of the pier the water was very choppy and the weather continued to get worse. The rain kept coming and the winds raged on. Just a few minutes into our cruise people were starting to grab seasickness bags, and I was just trying to stay focused on a fixed point to avoid getting sick. Just a few minutes in and I was ready to head back to land.
As we continued moving towards the cliffs the crew members on board reassured us that when we turned back for the pier we would be heading with the wind and therefore less choppy, so that would be a plus. About 20 minutes into the cruise the boat slowed to a stop and eventually stopped. We bobbed in the water for a few minutes before the boat engines kicked back on and we were heading back to shore. The weather conditions would not permit us to get anywhere close to the cliffs that day.
As promised the ride back to shore was less choppy, but the difference was not huge. The boat rocked its way slowly back to shore, full of seasick passengers. We finally got back, earlier than expected and we were fine with that. When we got back to the bus we were all a little weary and damp. Our tour guide apologized to everyone who took the ride, he had taken the cruise himself and was soaking wet. No one seemed too unhappy; the weather conditions were just poor for the cruise that day, we were all grateful to be back on land. The bus started back for Doolin to pick up the few smart passengers who opted to stay in in the town. I wish we had stayed and had a few pints, there would be plenty of time for that back in Dublin. At least we gave the cruise a shot.
Once everyone was collected it was time to head back to Dublin. We took a slightly different route back, and got to see more of the Irish countryside, which I could watch all day long. It would be a wonderful place to spend a few days. I slept most of the way back to Dublin in the comfy leather seat. I was happy to finally catch up on some Zs. Three and a half hours later we were back in Dublin. I didn’t notice if we stopped to pick up another driver, I was fast asleep. Luckily we did not have to make all of the stops in Dublin that we made on the way to the cliffs. Everyone was dropped at our point of origin right in the city center.
We debarked the bus and tipped our guide. Aside from the rocky boat excursion the tour was a wonderful experience. Our guide was very knowledgeable and always willing to answer any of our questions and concerns. The scenery that we saw was unbelievable, and the Cliffs of Moher were a magnificent sight. WhenI go back I hope to rent a car and spend a little more time in some of the villages across Ireland, and spend some more time enjoying the countryside. A one day bus tour is a whirlwind experience, but if you only have a couple of days it is a great way to see some great sights. “Really Really Cool!”