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like a pro

How to do the Cliffs Of Moher like a pro: Cheap parking, great coffee, and hot tubs in whiskey barrels

Plus the best place to see the sunset.

THE CLIFFS OF Moher are the top natural tourist attraction in Ireland, with around 1.5 million visitors coming every year to see the dramatic landscape and stunning scenery.

But what’s the best way to explore this spot on the Clare coastline and avoid the crowds? We asked Martina McCarthy of Moher Tours, who grew up in the area and now brings visitors on guided walks around Liscannor and the famous cliffs.

When’s the best time to visit?

As huge numbers of visitors flock to the Cliffs of Moher every day, especially during the busy summer season, McCarthy says that the best time to go is early in the morning or later in the day.

As well as picking a good time, you might also need to check the weather before you go. “The cliffs are spectacular at any time of year. But you just have to be a bit more careful in winter – the paths can be a bit slippy if it’s wet and I would avoid when it’s very windy because you’re extremely exposed,” she adds.

Pro tip: Visit in the evening for a more relaxed Cliffs of Moher experience. “If you go at sunset, that lovely pink glowing light shines on the cliffs – it’s spectacular and so quiet compared to going in the middle of the day.”

Shutterstock / Patryk Kosmider Shutterstock / Patryk Kosmider / Patryk Kosmider

Where can I park the car?

There is a large car park at the Cliffs of Moher visitor centre. All-day parking here is included in the price of a visitor centre ticket, which costs €8 per adult (children go free), or €4 per adult when you book an off-peak ticket online.

Alternatively there’s Guerin’s Path, which is about 1km away from the visitor centre and costs €5 per person. Or if you’re prepared for a bit more of a walk you can leave the car in the nearby villages of Liscannor and Doolin.

Pro tip: Park near Hag’s Head, the most southerly point of the cliffs. “There’s a little car park with a €2 honesty box, and it’s just a 10 minute walk to the cliffs from there,” McCarthy says.

What are the top sights to check out?

Many tourists will head straight for the visitor centre, which is built into the hillside by the cliffs. Inside there are videos and interactive exhibitions, while outdoors there are protected pathways and viewing platforms. For an extra €2 you can also climb O’Brien’s Tower, which has been standing at the highest point on the cliffs since the 19th century.

But there are also plenty of spots where you can enjoy the scenery for free, looking out at the sea arches and caves caused by coastal erosion, as well as wildlife such as puffins and dolphins.

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“It’s just nice to look at the lovely flowers, the birds, the ocean, the stone. The air is pretty fresh up there and on a clear day you can see everything,” McCarthy says.

“To the west and the north you’re looking out to the Aran Islands and the Galway mountains. Then to the south you’re looking down to Liscannor Bay, right out to Loop Head and the Kerry Mountains.”

Pro tip: Give yourself a few hours to explore the cliffs and the scenery properly. Some people just have an hour to spend, which gives you time to go and take the iconic photograph. But for those that have a bit more time, absolutely get out and walk around because it’s so worth it,” McCarthy adds.

Where are the best places to stop for lunch?

There is a cafe and a restaurant at the visitor centre, as well as picnic tables outside if you decide to bring your own lunch.

But if you have a bit more time in the area, McCarthy suggests paying a visit to Liscannor or Doolin, where there is a wide choice of cafes, pubs and restaurants. This includes the Rock Shop, Doolin Cafe, McHugh’s, Egan’s, Vaughan’s and Gus O’Connor’s.

Pro tip: Check out Moher Cottage on the road into Liscannor, which was voted ‘best coffee in Ireland’ in a Today FM poll. “That’s a lovely place to pick up coffee and a scone. It was converted into the most gorgeous coffee and gift shop by Caitriona Considine. Plus her husband runs Considine’s Bar across the road and they do great pizza on the weekends,” McCarthy says.

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How can I escape the crowds at the cliffs?

If you’re looking to get the best views but want to avoid the crowds at the visitor centre, head for the Cliffs of Moher coastal walk. The walking trail runs for nearly 20km along the coastline, from Hag’s Head to Doolin, through local farms and land.

“The coastal walk is such a completely different experience, you might not see any other tourists at some points,” McCarthy says.

“You can start from either direction, but if you’re fit enough I often recommend starting at Doolin in the morning and walking the 8km to the visitor centre, and then you can keep going to Hag’s Head, which is another 5km.

“It’s a narrow path on an exposed cliff edge so you really have to be careful, particularly with small children. But it is a straightforward path, you can’t get lost.”

Pro tip: There is a coastal walk shuttle bus that runs from Doolin to the visitor centre to Hag’s Head and into Liscannor. “It does that circuit all day long, from 9am into the evening, so you can do a section of the walk and get the bus back to your car,” McCarthy says.

Are there any hidden gems I should look out for?

If you’re exploring the Clare coastline, you can’t miss a trip to the beach. There are several popular spots near the Cliffs of Moher for swimming and watersports, such as Lahinch, Spanish Point and Fanore, but if you’re looking for a hidden gem, head to Clahane.

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“Lahinch gets quite busy, but Clahane is a gorgeous little beach that would be well known by the locals,” McCarthy says.

“It’s a great shore beach, it’s not sandy, so you can jump into the sea and there’s lots of little rock pools for children to explore. There’s car parking there and you can do a circuit walk around Clahane and watch the sunset.”

Pro tip: Look out for the Wild Atlantic Seaweed Baths, which regularly bring mini ‘hot tubs’ made from old barrels to Clahane. “The heated seaweed barrels can fit two people and you just sit there under fairy lights, watching the world go by. That’s probably one of the most beautiful experiences,” McCarthy adds.

More: How to do Dingle like a pro – and find the hidden spots only locals know about>

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