The Cliffs of Moher are consistently at the top of Ireland’s most visited places and for the most part deservedly so.
Over 700 feet tall at their highest point, the shale and sandstone cliffs drop almost vertically to the Atlantic ocean far below.
From the top there are views, on a clear day, to the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, the Maum Turk and Twelve Bens mountains in Connemara to the north and Loop Head in Co Clare to the south.
Visitors are almost invariably left with a sense of awe and the realisation that they are indeed very small and insignificant.
Tourism and the Cliffs of Moher
The small castle-like tower at the top of the cliffs was built in 1835 as a viewing point for the many tourists who came here as part of their ‘grand tour’ of Ireland in Victorian times.
It was built by Cornelius O’Brien, who made a tidy profit by charging an entrance fee for those wanting to climb to its top for a ‘better view’, although in fact the view is pretty much the same as the one you see from the ground.
This tradition has been reintoduced in recent years, with an additional €4 per person charge for a tour of the tower. Honestly, it’s not worth it.
It is the views and the sheer grandeur of the cliffs that have kept visitors coming over the decades since, to this wild, remote and beautiful place.
The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre
An interpretive centre was built at the site, at the whopping cost of €31.5 million euro and opened in February 2007. It is quite impressive although it still seems like a somewhat pointless intrusion on what should be simply a visit to an elemental place. There isn’t a whole lot to ‘interpret’ about cliffs. Still, there are toilets and a reasonably good cafe.
Before the centre you could drive to the cliffs, pay a modest charge to park and walk along the cliffs, which is basically what most people want to do.
No more. Now the charge is €8 per person (excluding the tower tour), which is pricey enough.
The centre is really very well built and integrated into the landscape.
It’s a beautifully constructed space inside and it has very good disabled access and good clean bathrooms. There is a coffee shop and a restaurant. We had lunch in the latter and it was very good, plus the views over the cliffs from its windows are spectacular.
There is also of course the inevitable gift shop, selling the same overpriced stuff as most tourist gift shops do.
That’s what they bill it as now – “The Cliffs of Moher Experience”.
In truth, the Cliffs of Moher has always been an experience, an adventure even. That is why millions of visitors have made their way there for hundreds of years.
It still is, but it’s a different experience now. Safely indoors, you can see audio-visual presentations about the geology, fauna and flora of the cliffs, even have a simulated multi-screen virtual reality experience of standing on the cliffs on a sunny day. Cornelius O’Brien would admire the cheek of that, but then again the weather around here is often pretty filthy so at least if you visit on a bad day you will get an idea of what it is like out there.
A lot of it is a bit pointless though. The interactive computer stuff wasn’t that interesting even for kids and the presentations at times take themselves way too seriously. Much of the content is really just big photographs of what you can see outside.
There is a strange sense that actually going out on the cliffs is now something of an optional extra.
On the Cliffs
Climbing to the top along the old narrow path back in the day you used to feel you were pitting yourself against nature, leaning into the wind, looking down from a huge height at the crashing waves of the Atlantic and, on a clear day, marvelling at the seemingly endless views. It was wild, elemental, exhilarating.
It was also dangerous if you stray off course. People, including tourists, have died falling over the edge.
The walk to the top is now carefully paved, quite unobtrusively walled and safely set back from the edge. This does not take from the experience and if you stay within the marked areas is now perfectly safe.
There is a ramped path that gives wheelchair access to the path and to well sited viewing platforms.
Our Verdict: Should You Visit?
Once we would have said the Cliffs of Moher were a definite ‘must see’, now it’s a bit less clear cut. It is now a much more commercialised, more sanitised experience. If crowds of tourists bother you, then you may not enjoy it. If you like your nature straight and unfiltered you may hate what has been done here.
But it is still a beautiful place.
If you have been there before expect something very different on a revisit. I admit to preferring the old ‘experience’, I cannot rid myself of the feeling that something indefinable has been lost, but acknowledge that the new set-up is probably necessary to deal with the number of visitors at this point.
If you have never been before then all that is irrelevant – it’s worth seeing, you should go. But we recommend that unless the weather really stinks you should skip the Atlantic Edge bit and save your money on that. It really adds little or nothing to a visit.
Saving Money on Your Visit
By booking online in advance you can get half price entrance at off peak times (morning and later in the evening) – but beware, if you book for the morning but show up in the peak afternoon visiting time you will be charged extra.
Walk from Hags Head – Free!
Or at least nearly free!
While it isn’t for everyone you can walk along the cliffs to the Visitor Centre entirely free of charge from Hags Head. This is close to Liscannor and there is parking at a private house who have an honestly system if you are travelling by car – put €3 per car into a box.
From there the cliff walk is signposted and is at first an easy walk along a paved road. Once on the cliff path however the path is narrower and a bit rough in places, but it is an easy enough trail for anyone used to walking in the countryside. The views are a bit different from the main centre but equally beautiful. This trail is really not a great plan if the weather is wet and windy, but it is absolutely lovely in summer and you’ll be well away from the crowds.
The walk from Hags Head is about 5.5km and a further 6km (if you are feeling energetic) will take you on to Doolin, a small village with good pubs for lunch. A shuttle bus operates about every hour and half in each direction between all three locations, so you can take it easy on your return journey.