Star of a million tourist brochures, the Cliffs of Moher (Aillte an Mothair, or Ailltreacha Mothair) are one of the most popular sights in Ireland. But like many an ageing star, you have to look beyond the famous facade to appreciate its inherent attributes.
The entirely vertical cliffs rise to a height of 203m, their edge falling away abruptly into the constantly churning sea. A series of heads, the dark limestone seems to march in a rigid formation that amazes, no matter how many times you look. On a clear day you'll channel Barbra Streisand as you can see forever; the Aran Islands stand etched on the waters of Galway Bay, and beyond lie the hills of Connemara in western Galway.
Such appeal comes at a price: mobs. This is check-off tourism big time and busloads come and go constantly in summer. A vast visitor centre is set back into the side of a hill; it's impressively unimpressive – it blends right in. As part of the development, however, the main walkways and viewing areas along the cliffs have been surrounded by a 1.5m-high wall that's too high and set too far back from the edge.
But there are good rewards if you're willing to walk for 10 minutes as you quickly escape the crowds. Past the end of the 'Moher Wall' south, a trail runs along the cliffs to Hag's Head (about 5.5km) – few venture this far, yet the views are uninhibited. From here you can continue on to Liscannor for a total walk of 12km (about 3.5 hours). To the north, you can follow the Doolin Trail via O'Brien's Tower right to the village of Doolin (about 7km and 2.5 hours). The entire Liscannor to Doolin walking path via the cliffs is now signposted, note that there are a lot of ups and downs and narrow, cliff-edge stretches.
With binoculars you can spot the more than 30 species of birds – including darling little puffins – that make their homes among the fissure-filled cliff faces.
The roads leading to the cliffs pass through refreshingly undeveloped lands, the rolling hills giving no hint of the dramatic vistas just over the edge.
For awe-inspiring views of the cliffs and wildlife you might consider a cruise. The boat operators in Doolin offer popular tours of the cliffs.