Featuring prominently in the last two Star Wars films, the Skellig Islands – and the spectacular Skellig Michael in particular – inspires and attracts visitors from around the world.
Want to learn more about this incredible and jaw-droppingly unique part of Ireland? We’ve collated frequently asked questions into a travel guide to this fantastical island and UNESCO heritage site. Navigate the page using the links below.
Skellig Michael is the larger of the two Skellig Islands. Also known as Great Skellig (while the smaller one is known as Little Skellig), it is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both islands host sea crags that tower high above forming the beautiful and iconic rock that dominates Skellig. On Skellig Michael, find the remains of an ancient monastic settlement – the most iconic of which are the drystone beehive huts.
Looking out from Skellig Michael, you’ll see the rugged rocky stacks of neighbouring Little Skellig island in the distance, home to one of Europe’s largest colonies of sea birds – particularly 27,000 pairs of gannets.
Learn more about birdwatching in our guide here.
Skellig Michael is located 11.6 km (7 miles) west of Ireland’s beautiful mountainous Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. It is part of a grouping of two rocky pinnacles, Skellig Michael and the Little Skellig.
While it is possible to visit Skellig Michael’s shores, Little Skellig is a protected wildlife and bird colony, so the only way to get a glimpse is by boat.
Visiting Skellig Michael
To visit Skellig Michael, you’ll need to book a boat tour. There are limited boats and places available, so it’s recommended to book well in advance of your trip. Do keep in mind that weather can cause changes or cancellations to your boat excursion, so it’s recommended to stay in Kerry for a few days in case your trip doesn’t go ahead as planned. Boats depart from Portmagee.
Use the buttons on the map to zoom out and see how far Little Skellig is from Skellig Michael, as well as where the islands are in relation to the mainland.
Star Wars Jedi
The main reason that Skellig Michael is famous today is that both Skellig Islands appeared in both the 2015 and the 2017 Star Wars films Episodes VII and VIII. Skellig Michael featured heavily as Luke Skywalker’s island hideaway, where he trained Rey in the ways of becoming a Jedi. The iconic triangular silhouette of the Skellig Islands makes the Skelligs both unique and immediately recognisable – and entirely unforgettable.
Historically, Skellig Michael was inhabited from around the 6th century onwards when a group of monks withdrew from civilisation and took residence on the island. Between the 6th and 8th centuries, a monastery was founded on Skellig Michael and the famous stone ‘beehive huts’ were built by the Christian monks as habitations for those who chose to reside on the island.
Skellig Michael History
Skellig Michael was a symbol of friendship between the Vikings and the Christian monks on the island, as Olaf Tryggvason, future king of Norway, was baptised on the island in 993 AD. In typical Viking fashion, this ‘friendship’ only came into existence after the Vikings attempted to raid the area in 823 AD.
The iconic location is famous for making an appearance in Irish legend – the myth is that the king of the world, Daire Domhain, used Skellig Michael as preparation ground for a magnificent battle with legendary hunter-warrior Finn MacCool (or Fionn mac Cumhaill in Irish) and his band of warriors known as the army of Fianna.
Skellig Michael’s Steps
Skellig Michael is also known for the number of steps on the island. Nobody seems to agree on the exact number of steps – some people will say there are 618 others will say there are 670 steps, but everyone tends to agree that there are between 600 – 700 stone steps. As you climb the rugged stones up 600 ft (180 meters), feel the historical connection with the monks who lived here as you imagine them climbing up these same steps every day hundreds of years ago.
Learn more about Ireland’s adorable and amazing puffins.
Leaving behind the world of fantasy and venturing back into the real world, Skellig Michael, or the Great Skellig Island, is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1996 the United Nations awarded Skellig Michael a coveted World Heritage Site qualification. The island achieved the status through its cultural significance, described as having ‘exceptional universal value’ as well as being a unique example of a piece of land evidencing the creation of an early religious settlement.
Skellig Michael met two forms of UNESCO criteria:
This island is truly remarkable – a wild and eerie place in which you can sense the echoes of the ancient inhabitants who once lived here in their chosen isolation.
Skellig Michael in Irish is called ‘Sceilig Mhichil’ and Great Skellig in the Irish language is named ‘Sceilig Mhor.’
Skellig Michael unquestionably has a distinctive appearance with its huge rock stack standing tall almost as if it is reaching for the heavens. Fittingly and unsurprisingly, the word ‘Skellig’ from Irish Gaelic is translated to mean ‘rock in the sea.’
Today, the islands are more often (but not always) known by their Anglicised versions.
When was Skellig Michael Abandoned?
It is not known as to when the exact date that the monks left the Island, but the monastery located on Skellig Michael was continually occupied until roughly the 12th or 13th century.
Already exceedingly remote and inhospitable, weather conditions declined further. Though its remote harshness was the point of the religious outpost, life grew perilous on the island. During the 13th century, the climate around Skellig Michael grew colder and was more prone to battering storms. Too much for the monks to endure, they decided to relocate their order to an abbey in Ballinskelligs on the mainland of County Kerry.
It is important to note that the island is not open year-round. Skellig Michael island is open to the public starting from the middle of May and closing at the end of September. Little Skellig is closed to the public year-round.
Getting to Skellig Michael
There are only a handful of licensed boats allowed to land on Skellig Michael (landing on the Little Skellig is not permitted), but all boat trips are extremely weather-dependent.
Due to the popularity of the island, we recommend booking your place as far in advance as possible – before the season starts is best. As the boat sailings are weather-dependent, we recommend you spend a few days in the region in case the weather causes your trip to be cancelled.
Another option is to take a non-landing boat trip, which circles both the Little Skellig and Skellig Michael but doesn’t land. This is good for those who don’t want to climb 600+ steps or in cases where there isn’t any availability for landing tours.
Sail to the Skelligs
Due to their popularity and dependence on weather, the best and easiest way to visit the island is by booking a tour. On our Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry, you’ll enjoy an adventure to the beautifully historic Skellig Michael Island without enduring the hassle of organising the boat trip – you can leave that to us.
Beyond Skellig Michael, you’ll also get to visit other captivating islands in Ireland’s southwest region, as well as stunning coastal vistas, beaches and hikes.
Read more about the islands of southwest Ireland in our guide here.
Visiting Skellig Michael with Kids
If you prefer a private family holiday, you may want to book our exciting Family Adventure – Legends of the Southwest. Not only will you have your own private guide and transport, but you and your family will visit many of the hidden corners of Cork and Kerry, trying different activities such as kayaking, ghost tours, even creating your own toy.
For those who prefer a custom-designed trip, feel free to contact our expert trip designers to build the perfect trip for you.
You’ll also be able to see the Skelligs from dry land on the famous Skellig Ring, once listed on Lonely Planet’s Top Regions to Visit. Though a short drive, the Skellig Ring packs a bundle – not only will you get phenomenal panoramas of the Skelligs, you’ll also get to walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs (tetrapods to be exact) on Valentia Island, as well as some spectacular cliffs on Kerry’s amazing coastline.