Visiting the Skellig Islands: All aboard for Skellig Michael!

by | Aug 14, 2014 | Ireland, Latest Posts, UNESCO Sites

‘Have you had the chance to visit the Skelligs?’ With that, the idea was born for a weekend road trip to Co Kerry and a day at the Skellig Islands. Or as they say in Ireland, we took a notion!

We decided this was a worthy adventure for the husband’s birthday weekend and so the plans were set in motion! To add to the fun, we soon found out that the new Star Wars movie was due to shoot there around the time of our visit. Skellig Michael here we come!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael

Where to Stay When Visiting Skellig Michael

Visitor boats to Skellig Michael depart from the quaint fishing village of Portmagee in Kerry. As the boats leave for the Skelligs early in the morning we recommend staying in Portmagee the night before so the boats are only a short stroll away the next morning. Portmagee is a beautiful little Irish fishing village, with some really awesome Irish B&B’s. Our favourites are:

  • The Moorings Guesthouse & Seafood Restaurant: This luxury guesthouse is located opposite the actual Skellig boat mooring so you can’t get any closer for your trip. The food is phenomenal, the atmosphere is always relaxed and the Guinness is pretty great too! – Click here for best prices!
  • The Waterfront B&B: This relaxed, family run B&B has beautiful views across the harbour and onto Valentia Island and is a short walk from the harbourClick here for best prices!
  • Shealane Country House Bed and Breakfast: If you don’t fancy staying in Portmagee this lovely Irish B&B is located a short walk across the bridge on Valentia IslandClick here for best prices!

 

All aboard! Portmagee

We arrived at the tiny, picturesque village of Portmagee bright and early ready to catch the boat for our trip to the Skelligs. There were 10 of us on the boat and we were seated out the back on the deck ready to brave the elements! Luckily, it was a gorgeous day and no rain jackets were required!

The Islands, made up of Little Skellig and Skellig Michael, are 8 miles off the coast of Portmagee and the boat ride over took around 45 minutes. The journey passed quickly with some scenery watching and seal spotting as we cruised along! The sea was relatively calm as a result of the lovely weather and it was a relaxing trip out.

Our ride for the day!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-2

Portmagee:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-3

Little Skellig

Our first stop was at Little Skellig, the smaller of the two Skellig Islands, where we did a loop of the island. Bird watching is most definitely not my thing but it’s hard not to be impressed by the thousands of gannets hovering around the island. Little Skellig is home to over 20,000 gannets and it looks like it’s been snowing on the island. One of them even sent me a present and delivered it straight to my shoulder!! I’ll take that as a sign of good luck! 

It’s not just the gannets hanging out on Little Skellig, we caught sight of lots of seals playing in the water. The cuteness was too much!

Little Skellig:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-4

Those are all birds, really! The gannets:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-5

Little Skellig from Skellig Michael:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-17

Skellig Michael

Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-7

Landing at Skellig Michael

The boat continued over to Skellig Michael where we disembarked for some exploring time! We had two hours on the island and, after a brief safety talk, we were free to wander around as we pleased. When I caught sight of the rugged terrain I was glad I’d worn my walking boots!

Skellig Michael:

What are all those steps for? Arriving at Skellig Michael!

Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-8

The climb

There are 618 steps in the climb to the monastery and an ascent of over 180 metres. Added to this, there are very few handrails so it was definitely a case of putting our heads down and minding our steps!

The ascent:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-9
Mind your step:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-11

The views on the way:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-10

It’s all about the puffins! The wildlife:

It was love at first sight the moment we saw our first puffin! The adorable little puffins breed on the island between March and early August and we spent most of our time ooohing and aaahing at their cute little faces! The bird watcher in me was hard at work again!

Love! A puffin:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-12

And another!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-13

One of the island’s seagulls:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-14

At the top! The Monastery

618 steps and numerous puffins later we made it to the top of Skellig Michael! The monastic buildings perch on the edge of the rock and are made up of beehive huts, oratories and a cemetery where the monks who settled here lived and prayed. Alongside these are holy wells, stone crosses and the Church of St Michael.

There are guides at the top who deliver talks on the Skelligs and we learned some history as we wandered around. The guides live on the Island for weeks at a time and give talks to visitors during the day. 

The beehive huts:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-15

The view from the top:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-16

The Oratory:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-19

Inside the beehives:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-20

 The descent!

Our time on Skellig Michael was coming to an end and we had to head back down to catch our boat back to the mainland (we weren’t taking any chances on missing it!). We made sure to save some time for a quick picnic perched on the top of the hill surrounded by stunning views of the Island and the surrounding area. What a treat!

What goes up must come down!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-21

Lunch time views!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-25

Our carriage awaits!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-26

Homeward bound!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-27

UNESCO World Heritage Site

I have to admit, I’m partial to a World Heritage Site (check out some of the other UNESCO sites we’ve visited on our travels!) and Skellig Michael was awarded World Heritage status in 1996. It’s one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ireland, the other being  Brú na Bóinne in Co Meath. Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-28

Star Wars!

The very next week after our visit JJ Abrams and the Star Wars: Episode VII cast and crew descended on Skellig Michael to film footage for the latest installment of the Star Wars films. It’s not surprising that Skellig Michael is a chosen backdrop for the movie, it’s one of the most naturally beautiful, rugged, spectacular sites I’ve ever visited. I just hope they minded the puffins and the ruins on their visit!

A scene from Star Wars?!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-29

Overall

The Skelligs are amazing and we were totally blown away by the tiny islands in the sea! In my opinion, Skellig Michael is one of the most incredible places to visit in Ireland and it is as impressive as many other headline sights we’ve visited across the world, albeit on a smaller scale! It’s fascinating to think of the monks seeking solitude in such a remote place and it was amazing to see the monastic site remain so well preserved hundreds of years after being built. As for the wildlife, I can’t even convey the adorableness of the puffins!

We had an incredible day at the Skelligs and it certainly got the seal of approval from the birthday boy who declared it ‘one of his favourite birthdays ever’! I can testify he’s had some crackers, what more can I say?!!Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-30

How to get to the Skelligs

The Wild Atlantic Way, a world famous coastal drive that spans through 7 Irish counties, passes by Portmagee where cruises depart for the Skelligs.

Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-32

We cruised to the Skelligs from Portmagee with Brendan Casey. The boat departs daily from Portmagee marina around 10am and we arrived back on dry land at 3pm. Trips are weather permitting and we received update emails prior to our departure. Our trip cost EUR 50 per person. 

Boat trips also operate from Valentia, Renard Point, Ballinskelligs and Derryane. 

If you prefer to check out the Skelligs from dry land, there are numerous viewing points along the coast.

The Skelligs from Valentia:Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-33

Tips for visiting Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael is outstanding but there are two things to remember: the infamous Irish weather and the rugged terrain! Here’s our tips for surviving a day at the Skelligs:

  • Choose the right trip. Some boats circle the Islands and a few stop at Skellig Michael. Make sure you find the one you want to do.
  • Book in advance. A limited number of boats depart for the Skelligs and they do book up especially at popular times.
  • Bring warm clothes and wet gear. The weather can change quickly and, even on a nice day, a 45 minute journey at sea can be quite chilly. Most of the boats keep wax jackets for when the rain or waves come knocking!
  • Wear walking boots. The pictures say it all! The terrain is rugged and steep.
  • Mind your step! Due to preservation issues there are very view handrails on Skellig Michael and the steps are exposed to sheer drops. Bring a stick if it helps and pay attention to the path.
  • Pack a picnic and water. Trips that stop at Skellig Michael last for at least 5 hours and there’s no doubt the climb works up an appetite and a thirst!
  • Have your camera at the ready. Skellig Michael is one of the most stunning places we’ve visited!
  • Go the bathroom in Portmagee. There are no bathrooms on Skellig Michael. You have been warned! 
  • Have fun!

These boots were made for walking!

About the Skellig Islands

Skellig Michael is one of the best preserved monastic sites dating back as far as the 6th Century. Early Christian monks located on Skellig Michael in their quest for solitude and survived on the Island from the 6th to the 12th Century.

There are records of Viking raids dating back to the 9th Century and, at the time, monks were kidnapped and killed. They abandoned the settlement in the 12th Century.Ireland Visiting Skellig Michael-34


25 Comments

  1. You’re so lucky to see this! Looks really amazing!

    Reply
    • Thanks Axelle! It was amazing, there are some fab sights in Ireland.

      Reply
  2. Very beautiful! I’m not used to seeing as much color on a bird that lives as far north as the puffin. I would really love to take the trip to experience these islands – amazing how much of them was built by hand and remains so striking.

    Reply
    • I’m not usually into birds but the puffins are so adorable I had to make an exception!! They seemed quite used to the people as well! It’s amazing how well preserved Skellig Michael is.

      Reply
  3. Aww I remember a trip here many years ago when I was a kid! I really didn’t appreciate it then and will have to go back sometime. Those photos are really good! And I didn’t know Star Wars was filming there? That is awesome! (Who else thinks the rock formation in that pic looks a bit like a rock dragon?)

    Reply
    • Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate things as a kid! Star Wars was a surprise, it seems they managed to keep it very quiet until everyone arrived. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it. And I can totally see the dragon now you mention it!!

      Reply
  4. So many birds! And I love those shots of the puffins, wow. I hope I’m lucky enough to be graced with their presence one day. Great shots!

    Reply
    • Thanks Alli! I’m totally smitten with the puffins, they were so cute and didn’t seem bothered by the people either which is good.

      Reply
  5. WOW. I have been to Ireland many times, but I had never heard of these islands before. Seems like a nice off the beaten track place. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Claudia! It is quite a long drive from Dublin to get to the Skelligs but totally worth it in my opinion!

      Reply
  6. What a gorgeous, amazing place! I would love to see it with my own eyes one of these days. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Lauren, hope you make it to the Skelligs soon!

      Reply
  7. Big WOW. I have been to Ireland once and I usually follow UNESCO’s sites. Despite knowing about these islands, I was a bit in a rush and I was not able to visit them. The steps and monastery are so special! Thank for sharing your impressions and wonderful pictures! I could visit it now with them 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Pedro, the Skelligs are a real gem! They are a little far from the main tourist sight but totally worth the trip if you have time!

      Reply
  8. I love this rugged scenery! It reminds me of Scotland, where I used to live for a few years. Instant home sickness! That place would be so cool to visit, although those steps..I can almost feel the burn already! Beautiful photography, I love the puffin pics especially 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Annika! The steps are pretty mild compared to your hikes ;)!!

      Reply
  9. How fun! It looks just absolutely beautiful and that puffin was adorable 🙂 Why are you partial to UNESCO sites, if you don’t mind me asking? Thanks for sharing your lovely photos!

    Reply
    • The puffins are the total star of the show although the Skelligs are pretty cool in their own right!

      I love the UNESCO list, there are so many incredible sights and I always check it for ideas before I travel. The list lover in me also loves ticking off some of the sights!!

      Reply
  10. I’ve already been wanting to visit for the scenery but the addition of getting close to puffins has bumped the Skelligs way up on the list.

    Reply
    • It’s worth the trip, even just for the puffins. They are seriously cute!! The Skelligs are pretty nice too 😉

      Reply
  11. Ouhhh puffins! They look gorgeous!
    This place is amazing! I’d love to go but I think going back down all those stairs would be super scary for me (got a bien of a problem with heights).
    Next time we get to Ireland it’s definitively on my to do list!

    Reply
    • Thanks Marie, definitely one for the to do list! I found staying on the inside of the path helps if you don’t like heights!

      Reply
  12. Would ove to see those beautiful islands

    Reply
  13. We are planning a trip here in May/June, we will have a 5 yr old girl. Is it really that rugged that she couldn’t do it? She is very well behaved and listens. She has hiked before and does fine. We really want to do this while we are over there but have no place for her to go, so we always take her with us. any input would be great.

    Reply
    • Hi Heather

      Megan asked a similar question up above that I just responded to. I know on the Skelligs website it states that they discourage younger children and I don’t remember seeing any on our trip. Given that it doesn’t say children are not allowed I would imagine you can bring a child if you wish but it’s probably best to ring the boat operator. I wouldn’t say that it’s a difficult climb, it’s more so that there are no railings and therefore the potential for a very serious fall if a child or adult were to slip off the path. It’s much easier to climb on a dry day so maybe that’s something to consider as well.

      Elaine

      Reply

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