Visiting the Skellig Islands: All aboard for Skellig Michael!
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‘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!
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 harbour – Click 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 Island – Click 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 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!
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!
What are all those steps for? Arriving at Skellig Michael!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?!!
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.
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.
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