Revealing the Haunting Beauty of Skellig Michael, Ireland

skellig michael island

Revealing the Haunting Beauty of Skellig Michael, Ireland

Skellig Michael is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in County Kerry, off the southwest coast of Ireland. It is known for the remains of a Christian monastic settlement that may date back as far as the 6th century. The monks lived in beehive-shaped stone huts and built terraced gardens to grow crops. The island was an important pilgrimage site for centuries, but has become world renowned more recently for its use as a location in the Star Wars franchise. It’s one of my don’t-miss destinations in Ireland.

skellig michael island

How to Get There

To visit the island, you will need to take a boat from one of the tour operators that offer trips from the harbor of Portmagee, or the Visitor Center on Victoria Island, just across the bridge from Portmagee. Tours typically depart in the morning and return in the afternoon, allowing for two hours on Skellig Michael. Access to the island is weather dependent and some tour operators may cancel or postpone the trip in case of bad weather. Additionally, a limited number of visitors are allowed on the island each day. Advanced booking is highly recommended.

To purchase tickets in Portmagee, find the small glass tour building at the harbor. Public parking is available in a nearby lot with public restrooms. The Visitor Center on Victoria Island offers more of an experience while you wait for your tour. There is free parking, public restrooms, a cafe, small museum about the Skelligs, and a gift shop. In addition, a short film about the site runs throughout the day in their auditorium.

What to Bring

Both the return boat journey and the island itself can be quite windy and cold even in summer. Be sure to bring warm clothing, waterproof gear, and sturdy footwear. Additionally, pack binoculars, sunscreen and a hat to protect from the sun. There are no restaurants or snack bars on Skellig Michael so you will also need to carry water to keep hydrated and snacks or a lunch.

If you are prone to seasickness, don’t forget the Dramamine! Sea conditions may vary by the hour. The morning we went, we encountered fifteen foot swells. Bringing these supplies will be key to making your experience on Skellig Michael an enjoyable one.

What To Expect

It’s important to note that visitors must be physically fit as the island has steep, uneven, and sometimes narrow paths. There are 600 stone steps to reach the monastic settlement at the top with no guard rails or fences. People with a fear of heights may find it difficult to traverse the path so close to the cliff edge and sheer drop to the sea, particularly on the way down. We saw several people descending the steps on their bottoms. There are two areas on the climb that make convenient rest stops to catch your breath when you need to.

While the tour operators will tell you that there are no facilities once you leave the mainland, that is not strictly true. There are no bathrooms on the small open boats during the 40 minute or so ride in each direction. On the island, however, we did find a small public restroom with three stalls not too far from the dock, and before the stairs.

Once at the top, visitors can expect to see the remains of stone beehive huts, an oratory, and a number of other architectural features that were constructed by the monks who lived there. Also expect to be wowed by incredible views, and the number of seabirds that still inhabit nearby Little Skellig. 

Special Considerations

Because tours to Skellig Michael are weather dependent, they are frequently canceled. To have the best chance of making a tour, leave room in your itinerary for two back-to-back days in the area. If your tour is canceled, you’ll have another opportunity to go if the weather clears. I recommend a visit to Victoria Island if you plan to stay in the immediate vicinity, or some time exploring the Ring of Kerry or Killarney National Park.