The most famous attraction in The Burren, the Cliffs of Moher are a sight to behold. From the vantage point, you’ll observe the cliffs as they rise to more than 700 feet and spread over 5 miles of dramatic Atlantic coastline. On a clear day, you can see Aran Islands and Galway Bay from here. But if you think these views are the end of the cliffs experience, keep reading. Today, we will transverse a moderate 13 km trail from the picturesque village of Dooley, all the way to Ireland’s most famous natural wonder – the Cliffs of Moher – and beyond.
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The cliffs history begins 320 million years ago, during the Upper Carboniferous age. At the time, this area was warmer and situated at the mouth of a giant river. This river flowed for thousands of years, bringing with it debris like mud and sand. Eventually, the debris settled and turned into rock. The wind, waves and the salty air did the rest – transforming a rock pile into the soaring cliffs.
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The Cliffs of Moher hike begins in Doolin, next to the bridge. As you climb the road leading away from town, you’ll observe a pretty view of Doolin’s charming homes. Start early enough and you’ll find the street free of cars. Clear streets and striking skies make for a great picture.
The view of Doolin from the beginning of the Cliffs of Moher Walk.
After twenty minutes, you’ll reach the end of the paved country road. Here a sign greets you. If you take a look at it, you can see that the Cliffs of Moher hike extends far beyond the cliffs. In fact, you can continue on the path along the water all the way to the village of Liscannor.
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Continue past the sign. At the metal gate, to your right, you’ll see a short set of stairs. These are put into place to prevent bikers from accessing the trail. you’ll notice similar stairs all along the trail. Climb over these and begin on the Hike to the Cliffs of Moher.
These barriers are designed to stop animals, but not hikers.
The name “Cliffs of Moher” originates from a medieval waterfront fort. For hundreds of years, the ancient structure called “Mothar” stood at the cliff’s edge. However, in the early 19th century, Mothar was demolished to make way for a new signal tower. Erected in 1808, the Moher Watchtower stands in the most southerly point of the Cliffs of Moher called “Hag’s Head” to this day. You can approach the Moher Tower on this hike. However, it is protected by a fence and consequently, you can not go inside.
Keep your eyes peeled for other medieval structures in the fields.
After you pass a series of low barriers, continue beside the shore. Here, the narrow trail leads along the water, rising ever higher. The increase in elevation is gradual, and therefore easy.
Eventually, the trail leads to dramatic cliffs. You would be excused if you mistakenly thought you arrived at the famous Cliffs of Moher. However, the smaller precipice here is known as “Pat’s Viewpoint.” The only way to reach Pat’s Viewpoint is on foot. This means that few tourists make it out, and you can enjoy these stunning views undisturbed.
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Pat’s viewpoint is far less famous than the Cliffs of Moher but is dramatic nevertheless.
After Pat’s viewpoint, the trail gradually begins to lead away from the water. As you walk inland, you will encounter livestock. Cows grazing peacefully, horses resting on hills and the occasional sheep and goat. I even met three corgies roaming the trails on their own. The dogs were making their way to Pat’s viewpoint to bark at the birds below.
However, livestock are not the only animals who live on the Cliffs of Moher. A variety of wildlife lives here too. Perhaps the most famous is the puffins’ nest on Goat Island, near the cliffs. Early morning to midday is the best time to see them, as puffins go out fishing in the afternoon.
Other birds such as Guillemots and Razorbills call the cliffs their home. And a famous pair of Peregrine falcons, the fastest creature on the planet, nest below O’Brien’s Tower. And if you get really lucky, you may spot dolphins and seals playing in the waters below.
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Eventually, the trail winds back towards the water. After about a two hour hike, you finally arrive. The cliffs open up before you in their stunning glory.
If you are walking early, you may not have seen another person for hours. If so, you may now be in for a surprise. The cliffs themselves, while stunning, are crowded.
Here, an expansive visitor center greets you. Inside, you’ll find restaurants, shops, and a museum. Upfront, you’ll see two giant parking lots, partially occupied with double-decker tourist buses. If you were to drive directly to the cliffs you might be disappointed to see so many people. After all, in the pictures, the cliffs look wild and isolated.
However, this is why you will be glad you got here the hard way. You might find yourself remembering the walk to the cliffs as much (if not more) as the sight itself.
O’Brien’s Tower at the Cliffs of Moher.
For the best experience, head out early. Start out at sunrise if possible, and chances are for the first few hours you’ll be on the trail by yourself. As I walked, I found myself with only a few small dogs for companions. Additionally, the earlier you start, the earlier you will get to the cliffs. In the morning the cliffs are not as crowded as they will be around lunchtime.
These small dogs were my only companies in the early hours of the morning.
The cliffs experience can be pure magic. Alternatively, the experience can be very… foggy. Talk to anybody who went to the Cliffs of Moher on a foggy day and they’ll tell you they couldn’t see anything at all. Therefore, a great trick is to use Google’s hourly weather forecast to plan the best hours for your trek. Remember, it takes about two hours to get to the cliffs and two to get back. If you are continuing to Liscanor, the Cliffs of Moher hike will take the full day.
It is safe to say that Ireland is not always sunny. To guarantee you get the best views of the Cliffs of Moher, consider spending a few nights in Doolin. You’ll find plenty of things to do in the area (known as The Burren). Check out the Burren’s many other activities on days when the weather is not ideal, and reserve the few best hours for the Cliffs of Moher Walk.
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