If you have heard of Doolin, Ireland it’s probably in association with the Cliffs of Moher. Located on the Wild Atlantic Way, only about 90 minutes from Galway, Doolin is the closest town to the Cliffs of Moher and therefore a popular stopping point for day trip tours or tourists on an Irish road trip. Yet few people spend more than an hour or two in this adorable Irish town; considering it to be more of a convenient stop rather than a place to visit in its own right. Well, guess what? They’re wrong. Doolin and the surrounding area has a ton to offer that makes it so much more than just a lunch stop. Here are the top things to do in Doolin, and why it’s worth spending at least one night in this adorable Irish town.
The Best Things to do in Doolin
The Doolin Coastal Walk
The Cliffs of Moher may be the most famous coastal section on Ireland’s west coast, but as stunning as they are, you can get plenty of other scenic ocean views in the area. The Coastal Walk links the towns of Doolin and Liscannor together on a walking route stretching 18km along the coast. It’s quite long but don’t worry, Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher is only 8km; a much more feasible two hour walk each way. If you have good weather, it’s one of the best things to do in Doolin.
While the section closest to the cliffs are busy with tourists, the rest of the trail is relatively quiet, allowing visitors a much more peaceful experience.
You can do the trail on your own, just keep an eye on the weather (waterproof clothing is a good idea) and stick to the path. Or, for 10 euro, you can join a guided run by a local man named Pat Sweeney who will share some history and stories about the Cliffs of Moher along the way. You can find out more about the guided coastal walk here.
Drive Through The Burren
The Burren National park offers a landscape like no other. It’s almost like being on another planet; a very rocky one. The name “Burren” comes from the Irish word “Boíreann” which means ‘rocky place’. A very appropriate name because the limestone rock landscape is nothing like the rolling green hills that Ireland is so famous for. It’s a very dramatic landscape and definitely worth a drive through, especially considering its history and botany. A visit to the Burren isn’t just one of the best things to do in Doolin, but its also one of the best things to do in all of Ireland.
Shop at the Burren Perfumery
As rocky and bleak sounding as the Burren may sound, you may be surprised to know that 70% of Ireland’s wildflower species can be found in this area. In fact, the Burren has a strange mix of plant and flower species from a variety of climates and habitats from around the world. Renowned botanist Bob Gibbons actually rated the Burren as one of the top 50 botanical sites on earth.
Unsurprisingly, this area, perfect for growing so many of Ireland’s plant species, makes for the perfect place to set up a perfumery. The Burren Perfumery has been around for over 40 years and sells a selection of beautifully fragrant perfumes, oils, lotions, and creams using the scents and ingredients from this part of Ireland (I love the lip balm!). The Burren Perfumery also has a tea room, making it a great place to shop and grab a bite to eat. You can learn more about the Burren Perfumery here.
Take a Burren Hike with a Local
So you now know that the Burren is a unique landscape known for its variety of plants and flowers. But it has one more fascinating thing going for it: The Burren is also one of the richest landscapes in North-east Europe in terms of archaeology. From ring forts to holy wells to prehistoric tombs, over 2000 archaeological monuments have been found and recorded in this area alone.
Intrigued? Why not take a hike with local Burren expert Tony Kirby, the man behind Heart of Burren Walks, through the Burren and let him show you some of its hidden treasures; both historical and botanical. Whether you only have a couple of hours or an entire day, he’s happy to create a custom walk for you. You can also join one of his scheduled walks which run five days a week throughout the summer months. Tony is a great guide with plenty of knowledge and an easy, going personality. If you’re keen to learn more about the area, or just enjoy hiking, put one of his hikes at the top of your list of things to do in Doolin. Learn more about Toby’s walks here.
Photograph Doonagore Castle
I’m a firm believer that you can never see too many castles in Ireland, so Doonagore Castle is a must see on your list of things to do in the Doolin. It’s a 16thcentury tower house located about 1km from the town. It’s not open to the public (though you can get close and photograph it) but it is actually a private holiday home. While it’s not as large and majestic as other Irish castles, it makes for a pretty striking image against the Doolin landscape.
Aillwee Cave & Birds of Prey
One of the most popular things to do in Doolin is to visit the nearby Aillwee Cave. It is about a 30-minute drive from Doolin village and one of the oldest caves in Ireland. Guided tours are about 35 minutes and you can also check out the Birds of Prey education centre where you can see some flying displays and meet some of the resident birds. There’s also an on-site restaurant where you can grab lunch and the Aillwee Cave Farm Shop which sells to-die-for cheeses. Learn more about Aillwee Cave here.
See the Great Stalactite at Doolin Cave
Got a thing for caves and geology? Well, you’re in luck because Doolin is home to another impressive cave: the Doolin cave. While there are a few things to see and do at this Doolin tourist attraction the main draw at the Doolin Cave is the Great Stalactite. At 7.3m long it is the biggest free hanging stalactite in the northern hemisphere. Hard to believe that this monstrosity was formed by a single water droplet thousands of years ago. To learn more about Doolin Cave check here.
Take a Surf Lesson at Nearby Lahinch Beach
Less than twenty minutes from Doolin is one of Ireland’s nicest beaches: Lahinch Beach. There’s a small town here too but it’s small, seasonal, and relies mainly on the surf culture. Because, believe it or not, this part of Ireland is home to some pretty awesome waves.
Whether you are an experienced surfer or just looking to try it out, you can grab some rental gear and a lesson from Lahinch Surf School. The owner, John McCarthy, is a former Irish Champion and pro surfer and a pretty awesome teacher. He has a great team willing to teach anyone of any age how to get on a board.
I had my first ever surf lesson here in 2016 and it was a blast. Definitely one of my favourite things to do in Doolin.
Check out Lahinch Surf School here.
See the Cliffs of Moher from the Ocean
So you’ve seen the Cliffs of Moher from the cliff tops, but how would you like to see them from the water level? You can take a one-hour boat cruise leaving and returning from Doolin that passes by the cliffs so you can see them from a whole new vantage point. Keep your eye out for puffin nests and the famous cave from Harry Potter. You can learn more about the Cliffs of Moher Cruise and book your tour here. Experiencing the view from this unique angle is one of the best things to do in Doolin.
Take a Day Trip to the Aran Islands
Most people go to the Aran Islands from Galway, but you can also go to the Aran Islands from Doolin. Doolin ferries operate four passenger boats that go from Doolin to the Aran Islands during the months of March to October. It is recommended that you book your tickets online in advance (you can do so here). Check out this post for tips on what to see and do in Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands.
Listen to Irish Trad Music at Gus O’Connor’s Pub
I’ve got plenty of favourite pubs in Ireland and Doolin’s Gus O’Connor’s definitely makes the list. This is where I had my first pint of Guinness (they pour a good one), heard my first traditional Irish session, and got paid to eat a packet of ketchup (easiest money I’ve ever made). But it’s not just my favourite; Gus O’Connor’s is a well-known pub known for its great music (which happens every night) and delicious food. Dinner and an evening here isn’t just one of the best things to do in Doolin; it’s a must! Check out Gus O’Connor’s Pub here.
Have a Pint at The Burren Brewery
About a ten-minute drive from Doolin is the village of Lisdoonvarna, home to the Roadside Tavern. An award-winning gastropub and home to The Burren Tolkien Society. Also, as of 2011, a small microbrewery. He produces three beers that are pretty much exclusive to this pub; the Gold, Black, and Red. While The Burren Brewery may be quite small and local, the beers have been recognized by Lonely Planet and were include in their 2017 Global Craft Beer Guide. Learn more about the Roadside Tavern and the Burren Brewery here.
Doolin is a great Irish village. Small, charming, and filled with friendly locals, it’s a must stop for anyone travelling along Wild Atlantic Way. Come to see the cliffs, but stay a day or two longer because there are plenty of things to do in Doolin.