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Cliffs of Moher from O'Brien Tower

Cliffs of Moher from O’Brien Tower

On Ireland’s southwest coast, layers of ancient stone plummet into the sea in two of the most spectacular geological formations in the world: The staggering Cliffs of Moher and the Burren Geopark. These stunning natural attractions draw nearly a million visitors every year, and for good reason. The Cliffs’ rocky drop-offs reach heights of over 700 feet, their shear size guaranteed to stir up feelings of astonishment, wonder and fear in those who venture near to their edges. The Burren is no less impressive as its deep limestone landscape stretches 250 square kilometers over Ireland’s longest cave system, including Europe’s largest stalactite.

As the first and longest leg of our European honeymoon was spent in Dublin, we couldn’t resist a chance to see these parks firsthand. Thankfully, Ireland is a relatively small and drivable country, so we booked a day bus trip with Irish Day Tours and departed from Dublin at 6:30 am. As we made our way toward our first stop in Limerick, our guide, Shane, shared his tremendous insight and knowledge of local culture, fauna and history of Ireland in an ever-humorous manner. A few hours into the drive, our bus came to a stop in Limerick for a quick stretch break along the scenic River Shannon across from King John’s Castle, which dates back more than 800 years.

Back on the bus, we rolled on toward the Cliffs, passing through the greenest of stone-walled fields dotted with sheep, modest farm cottages and castle ruins. As the landscape flattened, the farms gave way to golf courses and coastal towns until the sea revealed itself in the distance to our excitement. When we rounded a corner into the park, the first thing visitors notice is the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center built into the hillside. Built in 2007, the center blends perfectly to its surroundings in more ways than one. Not only was it constructed underground to avoid interfering with the natural landscape, it uses renewable energy systems like geothermal heating and cooling and solar power. And it’s more than just a gift shop. It also houses a cafe and educational center.

Brenan

Brenan

But when the bus finally parked at the visitor center, we jumped out and hastily made our way past the center up the wide paved paths to the cliffs. We opted to go head northward along an impressive stretch of flagstone wall to the O’Brien Tower observational point for the first of many stunning views. The weather was a perfect near 70º under a clear blue sky, providing prime visibility and making the greens and blues surrounding us that much more awe inspiring. From our vantage point, we could see the seaside face of the cliffs meandering into the distance and the massive sea stack otherwise known as the Branaunmore. From the clifftops it may seem small, but it’s actually 70 meters (or 230 feet) tall, 10 feet higher than Six Flags’ Bizarro Roller Coaster.

As we made our way further north, we came upon a fence across the walking path with a sign warning visitors that beyond that point you are on a farm and the owner of this farm does not take responsibility for loss, damage or injury. Although the path is a part of the Burren Way walking trail, the flagstone wall separating you from the edge ended. We, of course, climbed over the fence and continued along the cliffs, taking extra care to stay a safe distance from the drop off just feet to our left.

It’s important for us to note here, however, that we were extremely fortunate to go on such a sunny and calm day. If you visit the cliffs on a windy and rainy day, which are far more common, we recommend staying within the park and behind the rock wall. On the farm side of the fence, there is a very narrow walking path just a foot away at times from a steep grassy drop off over the edge. Had we been there on a rainy day, the little dirt path would have been slick mud, and strong winds could give you that little push in the wrong direction. Although we kept our distance from the edge, we still felt a little shaky-kneed at times and wouldn’t risk a picture with our feet hanging over the edge, like many other visitors did.

Burren Way Walking Trail

Burren Way Walking Trail

Despite the inherent danger, the view is incredible. All along the face of the cliffs and sea stacks are colonies of hundreds of seagulls, razorbills, and puffins, among many others that have made the cliffs and its rocky beaches below their homes. Across the bay you can see the Aran Islands, one of the few remaining gaeltachts, or areas that still speak Irish gaelic as the primary language, and home to several historic bronze age stone forts–a must-see on Travel Well’s “next time” list. In one area, you can climb down to a rocky landing under the top of the cliffs for a close-up view of the cliff face and the drop hundreds of feet straight down to the rocks below.

While we could have wandered these paths for days, our stop here was a relatively quick part of our tour with only an hour and a half there. We begrudgingly returned to the bus to make our way to the sea edge of the Burren. The 250 km² expanse of limestone formed and worn away over millions of years left an endless and quiet landscape of soft gray rock full of clints and grykes, or holes and cracks, out of which few plants can grow, earning it the Irish name Boireann, or great rock. Here, too, we could have wandered for hours.

 

burren geopark

The Burren Geopark

After a peaceful visit exploring the rocks or listening to Shane’s cricket lesson as he hit rocks into the sea, we drove to the small village of Doolin for lunch at a traditional Irish pub. We filled up on beef stew, then made our way around Galway Bay and stopped at Corcomroe Abbey, a 13th century monastery. We had one last stop in Kinvara, a small fishing village in south county Galway, for drinks and snacks. Alexa and I walked around enjoying cold lemonades and the beautiful weather for a while, and then we were back on our way back to Dublin.

We would highly recommend taking the day tour if you have a limited amount of time in Ireland and want to see some of the countryside and coast. Without the bus tour, wouldn’t have been able to see nearly as much as we did in a single day. But if you are lucky enough to have more time, we would highly suggest spending a few days outside of the major cities as the remote countryside and quiet towns are amazingly beautiful and full of extremely friendly people. We would dedicate an entire day just to the Cliffs of Moher if we could, and another hiking the Burren Way trail network. Pictures will never do it justice, but a visit to the edge of Ireland is unforgettable.

 

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