Skellig Michael: The Mysterious “Star Wars Island” in Ireland
If you’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you will definitely recognize this view. The final scene of the movie was filmed on an island so beautiful I wondered if it was a real place. Were these dramatic views and steep stone pathways just CGI and movie magic?
I was thrilled to discover Skellig Michael is a real place — and you can go there. And it looks exactly like it does in the movie.
Skellig Michael is a tiny, remote island located 7 miles off the western coast of Ireland.
The first inhabitants of the island were Christian monks in the year 600. They lived on this rugged island in complete isolation from the mainland. The monks built the stone staircase leading to peak of the island where they lived in beehive-shaped huts. The steps are in the original condition as when the monks built them over 1,400 years ago — they have not been updated.
What to Expect
The closest town is Portmagee. Boats to visit the island depart from here. However getting a ticket to visit Skellig Michael involves some advance planning — and a bit of luck.
Skellig Michael is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the number of people able to step foot on the island each day is limited. Only 180 people per day are allowed to visit the island.
If you are interested in visiting Skellig Michael, it is highly recommended that you book your tickets in advance. We booked our tickets 2 weeks in advance, but the earlier you can book, the better.
However, even if you do manage to reserve a seat, there is still no guarantee that you will go to Skellig Michael. The rough conditions of the seas frequently cancel the excursions for the entire day. You won’t know until the morning of your trip if you’ll actually go or not.
Only a few boats make the trip out to Skellig Michael. Even in good weather, the trip to Skellig Michael can be very rough, with huge waves splashing over the side of the boat. Choosing an experienced captain who can handle the seas and safely land on the island is essential. You don’t want to arrive to the island wet, seasick, and miserable.
Knowing which boat to book with can be confusing. They all cost about the same, but some are more reputable than others — some boats are nicer than others and some captains are more experienced with the rough seas than others. When booking our trip, I didn’t see a whole lot of reviews for the boat companies or information on how to choose the best one.
We had originally booked with a captain called Nealie Lynn. We were instructed to call the night before our trip to check on the weather and see if we’d be able to go in the morning or not. Unfortunately we heard the news we were dreading… The seas were too rough and no boats would be going to the island for the next 5 days.
Of course we were crushed. This was one of the things I was most excited to do on our trip!!
We mentioned our disappointment to our Airbnb host. She said this happens often — in fact all boats had been cancelled the 2 days before, and were likely to be cancelled for the next 5 days. But in the end she said, “Let me see what I can do. Go to sleep, I’ll come knock on your door in the morning to wake you up if you’re going.”
We went to sleep that night very uncertain if we were going Skellig Michael the next day or not.
Sure enough, we awoke to a knock on our door the next morning. I’ve never jumped out of bed so fast in my life! It turns out that out of the 15 boats that usually make the trip out to Skellig Michael each day, all but 4 had cancelled — leaving lots of hopeful passengers disappointed.
However, our wonderful Airbnb host used her connections and managed to secure us a spot on what we found out later was the nicest boat that makes the trip out to Skellig Michael.
Best Boat to Take to Skellig Michael
We were very lucky that Skelligwalker Luxury Cruises was able to accommodate us at the last minute. We found out later from talking to locals and the Skellig Michael tour guides that Skelligwalker Luxury Cruises is the nicest boat that makes the trip out to Skellig Michael.
The Skelligwalker is the only boat that was built specifically for trips to the island. It is the ONLY boat with a fully enclosed cabin. Our trip to the island was warm and dry. If we’d been on a different boat we would have arrived soaking wet and freezing. The inside of the Skelligwalker boat is honestly like a luxury first-class cabin — wide leather seats, plenty of leg room, tray tables, seat-back pockets for holding gear — all for the same price as the boats with no shelter and wooden benches for seats. It is also one of the few boats that has a toilet on board. This can come in handy since the total trip (with time on the island) can be 5-6 hours and there are no toilets on the island.
If visiting Skellig Michael is a priority and you want to ensure you have the BEST chance of going to the island, I highly recommend you book with Skelligwalker Luxury Cruises. Not only is it the nicest boat, but it also has one of the most experienced captains skilled enough to navigate the rough seas required to land on the island. We got lucky and were able to get a last minute seat, but lots of people weren’t so lucky. The passengers who had booked with Skelligwalker in advance didn’t have to worry or scramble around at the last minute trying to find another boat!
Visiting the Island
Boats to the island leave in the morning, between 9:00 and 9:30 AM. The boat trip usually takes around 1 hour. You get 2.5 hours to explore the island. This is plenty of time to hike to the top of the island, explore the monastery, and take all the pictures you want. It only takes about 20 minutes to climb the stairs to the top of the island where the monastery is located.
There are 3 guides that live on Skellig Michael during the tourist season. They are stationed along the path to teach visitors about the history of the island and answer any questions you may have.
If you want to see the puffins of Skellig Michael, book your trip between April and July!
Where to Stay
We absolutely loved our room in Portmagee that we booked using Airbnb. It was very close to the pier where the boats depart for Skellig Michael. It is also literally right across the street from the Cliffs of Kerry — more on that in the next post! We could not have asked for a better location.
The room is a private apartment with its own entry and bathroom. The bed was super comfortable and there was great water pressure in the shower. There was even a kitchen that was well-equipped if you wanted to make dinner in the apartment. Our host Marie had even left a few things for us in the refrigerator for breakfast — eggs, milk, butter, cheese, tomatoes, jam, bread on the counter, etc.
She’s also the only reason we were able to visit Skellig Michael!
Stay tuned for the next post for what to do in this area after your trip out to Skellig Michael!