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Exploring Skellig Michael Island Ireland

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Skellig Michael Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site located off the western coast of Ireland. This remote, rocky island has captured the hearts of travelers and Star Wars fans alike, thanks to its dramatic landscape and ancient settlements.

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or simply seeking an unforgettable experience, a visit to Skellig Michael Island promises to leave you in awe of its rugged beauty and unique charm.

But reaching this remote island is no easy task and will require a bit of careful planning to ensure you reach the top. During my visit our boat’s captain said nearly 40% of boats scheduled to visit the island are forced to cancel due to Ireland’s notoriously unpredictable weather.

Skellig Michael Island which sits off the coast of Ireland
Views of Skellig Michael as we approached by boat

In this post, I’ll delve into the island’s rich history, share my experiences of the challenging journey to reach the top, and provide tips for those planning their own adventure to this enchanting island destination!

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Where is Skellig Michael Island located?

Skellig Michael Island is located approximately 7.2 miles (11.6 km) west of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. It is one of two islands in the Skellig Rocks archipelago, with the other being Little Skellig.

Small boat approaches Skellig Michael Island
Skellig Michael is one of the most prominent and rugged islands in Ireland

Both islands are situated in the Atlantic Ocean and this coast is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a popular tourism route along the west coast of Ireland.

Where should I stay when visiting Skellig Michael Island?

For a visit to Skellig Michael Island, I’d recommend staying in the town of Portmagee. The towns of Ballinskelligs and Cahersiveen are also viable options, as they are close to the primary departure points for boat trips to the island.

During my trip we stayed at The Moorings Hotel in Portmagee. The hotel has an onsite restaurant (there aren’t many in town), friendly staff, breakfast included and as a huge bonus you can walk across the road to the boat docks where your tour will depart in the morning.

Portmagee, Ireland
Portmagee is a small town with one primary strip of shops near the harbor

Since most of the boat tours that land on the island depart early in the morning, you’ll want to stay in one of these towns the night before your scheduled departure. The area is a five hour drive from Dublin so if you’re jumping off from the Irish capital, you’ll need to rent a car and book a hotel nearby.

What to expect on your tour

A trip to Skellig Michael Island is a great way to experience some of Ireland’s rugged natural beauty at a location that is a bit more off the beaten path.

Man viewing Skellig Michael Ruins

The island is home to a well-preserved early Christian monastic settlement, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can explore the ancient stone beehive huts, oratories, and churches that date back to the 6th century.

The island also boasts incredible natural beauty, with steep cliffs, rugged terrain, and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, Skellig Michael is an important breeding site for seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, and kittiwakes, making it a popular destination for birdwatching.

The combination of natural beauty, ancient ruins and abundant wildlife are why I named the Skellig Islands one of the most beautiful Irish landscapes we encountered during our travels.

Man hiking on Skellig Michael Island
The viewpoints on Skellig Michael are out of this world

When planning your visit there are two key logistical components to keep in mind. The first is that the tours generally depart early in the morning from the west coast of Ireland so you’ll want to stay nearby so you can wake up, eat breakfast and then quickly board your boat.

We arrived at Portmagee and stayed at The Moorings Hotel the prior evening and really enjoyed our stay. Portmagee is a small town and there are limited restaurants that typically close early in the evening. We barely caught dinner at the hotel restaurant amid our 8:00pm arrival.

Harbor at Portmagee, Ireland
The Moorings Hotel is directly across the street from the harbor

One of the other popular sites in this area are the Kerry Cliffs. Try to budget time the afternoon you arrive or after your boat tour to swing by and view these iconic cliffs.

We had actually planned to visit them during sunset the night we arrived, but learned that the access point is on private property and was already closed for the evening. If these are on your itinerary, be sure to visit earlier in the day to avoid missing out.

The other important logistical component is that you’ll need to rent a car to reach this less inhabited part of Ireland.

The drive from Dublin to Portmagee is just under 5 hours if you do it straight through. Rentalcars.com is one useful tool that I use for comparing rental car prices across providers to ensure I get the lowest price possible.

We had stayed in Liscannor the prior night (visiting the Cliffs of Moher) and spent our subsequent evening exploring the city of Cork. I’d suggest capping your travel days to about 3 hours of actual driving when road tripping Ireland.

This allows plenty of time for stops along the way and means you’ll have the opportunity to spend time in smaller towns, away from Dublin, that have a completely different feel than the Irish capital.

Small boat approaching Skellig Michael Island, Ireland
A boat exploring the rugged coast of Skellig Michael Island

The day before our tour departed we received a notification that our tour had been postponed by 2 hours. This isn’t uncommon (neither are outright cancellations) so be sure to monitor your email for any communications from your tour company.

Once we departed we enjoyed a 60 minute boat ride out to Skellig Michael that included a circling of Little Skellig Island.

This was an awesome addition to the tour as we had the opportunity to view a bird habitat that’s home to over 25,000 birds! The white you see on the island isn’t snow.. it’s the result of that many birds living in one small area, if you catch my drift.

Small boat approaching Skellig Michael Island, Ireland
A boat exploring the rugged coast of Skellig Michael Island

After Little Skellig you’ll enjoy a circling of Skellig Michael Island where you can take in views of its dramatic landscape from every angle before you boat eventually docks and lets passengers disembark onto the island.

Once disembarked you’ll follow a gradually sloping ramp up part of the island, past the restroom facilities, where you’ll eventually be greeted by one of the conservationists who will give everyone a quick safety briefing before sending you up the islands 600 ancient stone steps leading to the monastery.

Ancient steps on Skellig Michael Island, Ireland
The ancient steps shoot straight up the side of the island

There’s a really nice resting area roughly half way up that most visitors will stop at on the way up and again on the way down to take a quick break and to soak up some of the epic views.

As a reminder be courteous to other visitors on the narrow steps, avoid blocking the stairs to take photos of wildlife! It will be tempting as you’ll have an opportunity to view countless puffins up close which are quite adorable.

At the monastery there will be another conservationist providing a history brief on the inhabitants of the island and what day to day life would’ve been like for those living there. This area also offers the best view of Little Skellig and the Irish mainland that you’ll see all day.

Skellig Islands of Ireland
Views from atop Skellig Michael looking back towards Little Skellig Island

Once you’ve had your fill of the monastery and views, you can start working back down the steps. Your tour guide operator will have provided you a meeting time to be back to the docks, so just be mindful of your time as you’re enjoying the area.

The hiking time roundtrip will be around 40 to 60 minutes for this activity depending on how quickly you work the steps and you’ll be allotted about 2.5 hours on the island which means you won’t be in any kind of rush!

Small puffin on Skellig Michael Island, Ireland
Be sure to keep an eye out for puffins during your trek!

We really enjoyed our visit to Skellig Michael and couldn’t have been any luckier with the weather we had that day. The unfortunate reality of this activity is that nearly 40% of excursions are cancelled due to rough seas or poor weather so if you make it to the top consider yourself one of the lucky ones!

Re-bookings of cancelled tours can be challenging since every boat tends to sell out well in advance and if your boat doesn’t get off you might miss out on visiting the island entirely.

What is Skellig Michael Island named after?

Skellig Michael Island is thought to be named after the Archangel Michael with the word Skellig derived from the Old Irish word sceillec which means steep rock.

It is believed that the island was dedicated to Saint Michael by the monks who established a monastery there around the 6th century.

Can you stay overnight on Skellig Michael?

Unfortunately you cannot stay overnight on Skellig Michael Island. The island is not equipped with accommodations or facilities for visitors to stay overnight (even though it would be really, really cool to camp here under the stars).

Skellig Michael Island views from the water
Taking in the stars from atop this island mountain would be a bucket list experience. Maybe one day!

Access to the island is strictly controlled to protect its fragile ecosystem and archaeological sites. Visitors must leave the island before evening on the boat which they came and return to the mainland.

Is visiting Skellig Michael Island worth it?

Yes, visiting Skellig Michael Island is definitely worth it! Especially for those who appreciate history, natural beauty, and unique experiences. The island is home to a well-preserved early Christian monastic settlement that dates back to the 6th century, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In addition to its rich history, the island boasts breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and rugged landscapes. Skellig Michael and Little Skellig are also important breeding sites for over 25,000 seabirds, making it an ideal destination for birdwatching enthusiasts.

Keep in mind that the journey to the top of this island can be challenging, with a boat trip and a steep climb up ancient stone steps. Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, snacks, water and good hiking boots for the journey.

If you’re a bird watching enthusiast, don’t forget your binoculars!

For anyone still filling out their travel plans, you can search for other guided activities during your trip to Ireland here. You might also be interested in checking out my post on visiting Slieve League, these cliff faces are nearly three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher with way fewer crowds.

What are some interesting facts about Skellig Michael Island?

Skellig Michael Island was founded as a monastic settlement in the 6th century by Saint Fionán and was continuously inhabited by monks until the 12th or 13th century. There were typically twelve monks who lived on the island and wealthy families would send their children here to be educated.

Small boat approaching Skellig Michael Island
I couldn’t imagine adventuring to the island on a 6th century boat!

Skellig Michael is an important breeding site for several species of seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, and kittiwakes. You can see many of these birds up close during your time hiking to the monastery near the top of the island.

The island served as a location for the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, representing the planet Ahch-To.

Men hiking on Skellig Michael Island on a sunny afternoon
Me and my brother near the top of Skellig Michael Island!

Skellig Michael attracts a wide variety of tourists, from bird watchers, outdoor enthusiasts, to Irish locals and enthusiastic Star Wars fans looking to check out this filming location firsthand.

The island is accessible only by boat, with a limited number of licensed boats allowed to land each day to protect the fragile ecosystem and archaeological sites.

How much does Skellig Michael Island cost to visit?

The cost to visit Skellig Michael Island primarily consists of the boat trip to and from the island. Boat tour prices can vary, but generally a trip that includes landing on the island is going to run you at least €125 per person.

This cost includes the round-trip boat journey and a semi-guided tour of the island. We also spent 30 minutes circling and observing wildlife on Little Skellig before landing.

Portmagee Harbor in West Ireland
Views of the harbor at Portmagee, Ireland

There is no additional fee to access the island itself or the monastic settlement. It is important to book your boat tour in advance, as there are a limited number of licensed boats and daily visitor numbers are restricted to protect the island’s environment and archaeological sites.

The season for visiting the island is short (summer plus shoulder months) which means seats can sellout well in advance.

Be sure to budget transportation for reaching Portmagee and a hotel stay the night before into your trip planning costs. I’d suggest bringing plenty of water and something to eat with you while you’re on the island since this activity can take five or more hours to complete.

How long does it take to visit Skellig Michael Island?

A visit to Skellig Michael Island will require most of your day. The experience itself will require 5 to 6 hours. Budget additional time for logistics to and from the boat dock of your departure town.

The boat trip from the mainland takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes under ideal weather conditions. During my tour, we spent an additional 45 minutes viewing Little Skellig and Skellig Michael Island from the sea.

Views of Little Skellig, Ireland
Little Skellig is an equally impressive site that you’ll enjoy from the water

Once on land, we had around 2.5 hours to explore the monastic settlement and surrounding areas. While the climb to the top (where the monastery sits) is challenging, as you’ll need to climb 600 steep and narrow steps, it will take most visitors less than 30 minutes to complete the climb.

This ensures you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy a packed lunch and enjoy the full island during your visit.

It’s not uncommon for departure times to be delayed, or for this tour to be cancelled outright due to weather conditions. Keep your afternoon free in case your departure time is pushed back and consider having a back up plan in case your tour is cancelled.

Are there bathrooms at Skellig Michael Island?

You’ll be relieved to know that there are bathroom facilities on Skellig Michael Island. As you ascend the ramp from the boat dock, you’ll pass the bathrooms on your way to where the stair hike begins.

I was pleasantly surprised with how nice they were considering how remote the island is. The conservancy that runs and protects the island looks after the bathrooms.

Additionally, the boat that took us to the island had a small restroom on board.

Was Star Wars filmed on Skellig island?

Yes, Skellig Michael Island served as a filming location for two Star Wars movies. The island was featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Skellig Michael represented the planet Ahch-To, where Luke Skywalker was in self-imposed exile.

The island’s unique landscape and ancient monastic settlement provided the perfect backdrop for the remote and mysterious Jedi hideaway.

If you happen to have a beer or dinner at The Moorings Hotel during your trip through Portmagee, you’ll even find an old poster hanging on the wall that shows Mark Hamill pouring a Guinness at this local mainstay between filming!

Do I need any special hiking gear for Skellig Michael Island?

There are a few things I’d recommend ensuring you have during your visit to Skellig Michael Island.

Hiking boots or other footwear with good grip is a great starting place since you’ll be navigating a lot of narrow surfaces that can be slick when wet, with steep drops and no handrails.

Since the duration of this hike isn’t too long (30 minutes each way tops) trekking polls aren’t necessary from an endurance perspective. However, if you’re looking for some added security when navigating the narrow terrain these could be a plus, especially on the way back down.

Water, sunscreen and salty snacks are a must given the duration of this activity and the lack of any options to purchase these on the island. Be sure to check the weather forecast in advance as well. Conditions can be rainy or windy for part of the day and layers or a rain jacket could be necessary.

If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, consider bringing medicine in case the seas are rough during your ride out to the island.

It’s a bit overkill for this particular activity, but if you want a fool proof hiking checklist to ensure you haven’t missed anything, be sure to check out my complete day hike packing list when you’re finished here.

That list will also come in handy if you plan to climb Croagh Patrick during your trip (definitely read about that hike if you aren’t familiar)!

What is the best time of year to visit Skellig Michael Island?

The best time of year to visit Skellig Michael Island is during summer when the weather is more favorable. It’s only possible to book landing tours for this experience from May through September so options outside of this season are extremely limited.

May through July are considered some of the driest months in Ireland so this could increase your odds of a successful excursion.

Skellig Islands, Ireland
A distant and hazy view of Skellig Michael (right) and Little Skellig (left) from the water

Not only is summer a great time of year to visit Skellig Michael but it’s also prime beach season in Ireland. Irish beaches are, in my opinion, Ireland’s best kept secret.

If you’re interested in learning more be sure to check out my post on Dog’s Bay Beach which is one of the most picturesque beaches you’ll find in Western Ireland.

We also spent some time exploring Inch Beach during our road trip through the Dingle Peninsula where we could drive our car directly out onto the beach!

What is the best time of day to visit Skellig Michael Island?

The departure target time for visiting Skellig Michael Island will be determined by the tour operator you book with. Expect your tour to depart in the early morning, usually between 8:00am and 11:00am.

Due to the activity duration you won’t find tours starting much later than this. Sometimes weather conditions can cause delays and your boat operator may contact you after booking to update the departure time.

For my visit we had initially booked an 8:30am departure that was eventually pushed back to 10:30am. For this reason, I’d suggest keeping your afternoons relatively free on the day you plan to visit the island.

Morning departures usually offer calmer sea conditions, increasing the likelihood of a smoother boat ride.

Do I need a reservation to visit Skellig Michael Island?

Yes, you need a reservation to visit Skellig Michael Island. Access to the island is strictly controlled to protect its fragile ecosystem and archaeological sites, and only a limited number of licensed boats are allowed to land each day.

It’s essential to book your boat tour far in advance to secure a spot, as tours can fill up quickly, especially during the peak summer months. This is a good rule to follow when visiting any other popular tourist sites in Ireland, such as the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Northern Ireland.

I booked our tour with Skellig Coast Adventures and can highly recommend them. If they’re out of availability you could also try booking with Skellig Michael Boat Trips or Skellig Islands.

If you’re booking super late in the season and availability is seemingly sold out, I’d recommend emailing multiple operators directly to be placed on their waiting lists in the event of a cancellation.

How long is the Skellig Michael Island hike?

The hike on Skellig Michael Island involves climbing approximately 600 ancient stone steps to reach the monastic settlement. While the hike is fairly steep and the path can be narrow at times, it will take most visitors around 30 minutes to reach the top and slightly less time to come back down.

You’ll typically be allotted between 2 and 2.5 hours to explore the island once you land which means you’ll have ample time to enjoy the views and explore the monastery during your visit.

Check out these activities available near the island

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Is visiting the island dangerous?

While the Skellig Michael Island hike is not inherently dangerous, it does present some risks and you’ll need to be careful during your visit. The steps can be steep and uneven, with some exposed sections and no handrails. In wet conditions, the steps can become slippery, increasing the risk of slips and falls.

It is essential to wear appropriate footwear with good grip and to take your time during the ascent and descent.

If you’re physically fit, comfortable with heights, and exercise caution, you shouldn’t have any issues completing this hike safely. During my visit we saw a few visitors who weren’t great with heights, but by taking their time (and letting the larger group pass by first) they didn’t have too much difficulty completing the trek up.

Looking for more Ireland travel inspiration? I put together a video highlighting the most beautiful Ireland landscapes that I encountered during my trip that’s available on my YouTube channel.

Be sure to check it out! It includes video from some of Ireland’s most beautiful locations including the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Benbulben, the Dark Hedges and the Assaranca Waterfall in Donegal.

I hope you find this post covering a visit to Skellig Michael Island helpful during your trip planning process!

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