After 40 days on the Emerald Isle, I knew it was a great place to go hiking! There are so many beautiful places to explore here. This is my list of great hiking destinations in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
Despite being Ireland’s #1 tourist attraction and bringing in a record number of visitors in 2016, there is still a way to explore the Cliffs of Moher without the crowds. The Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk stretches 12.5 miles (20 km) from Doolin to Hag’s Head along the Wild Atlantic Way. The full walk usually takes 5-6 hours to complete but is definitely worth doing if the weather is cooperating. Hikers will encounter beautiful parts of cliffs that are not seen by many visitors.
My favorite part of this hike was having ten minutes of peace and quiet by myself while observing a stunning waterfall cascading down the cliffs. The walk itself isn’t too difficult to do outside of steep sections about 90 minutes into the hike coming from Doolin.
To get to the Cliffs of Moher by bus, take Eireann Bus 350 which runs from Galway in the north to Ennis in the south. The bus makes three stops in Doolin and a stop at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor’s Center. This bus runs five times a day in peak summer season and three times a day throughout the rest of the year. If you are coming from the south (Cork, Killarney, etc.), take a bus into Limerick and hop on Eireann Bus 343 to connect you to Ennis.
Glengarriff and the Beara Peninsula, County Cork
The Beara Peninsula isn’t on everyone’s Ireland itinerary. However, its winding roads, gorgeous mountains, and beautiful hiking trails make it well worth a visit.
Due to the unpredictable weather, I didn’t attempt to climb any of the high peaks in the area. However, there are some excellent hiking in the Glengarriff Nature Reserve. These trails guide you through the thick forest, across the Glengarriff River and up to beautiful waterfalls. The Lady Bantry Lookout located just west of Glengarriff has excellent views of Glengarriff Bay, Bantry Bay and the rugged mountains along the Beara Way.
To get to Glengarriff, you can take Eireann Bus 236 from Cork (2 hours 20 minutes) or drive on the N71 from Cork or Bantry and turn on the R572 if you want to complete the drive around the Beara Peninsula. You can stay on the N71 which takes you through a beautiful stretch of road on the way to Kenmare.
Kinsale, County Cork
Kinsale is one of Ireland’s prettiest towns and well worth hiking and exploring for a day. It is located on the south coast of Ireland and at the start of the Wild Atlantic Way.
One of the popular things to do here is the Scilly Walk, a 3.7 mile (6 km) round-trip walk from the outskirts of town to Charles Fort. Hikers will be treated to a beautiful waterfront path with great views of the Kinsale harbor. Continue on High Road and up the hill to reach Charles Fort. I recommend getting a guided tour of the fort’s beautiful grounds because of its interesting history. Charles Fort was used as British Army Barracks for over 200 years until 1921.
Besides the Scilly Walk, the town of Kinsale itself is worth a walk around with beautiful houses, cobblestone streets and neat local shops. You can easily make a day trip out of Kinsale by taking Eireann Bus 226 from Cork (48 minutes) which runs frequently throughout the day.
Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry
The Dingle Peninsula was the biggest surprise of my Ireland trip. Its towering mountains, stunning cliffs, and gorgeous countryside made it one of my favorite parts of Ireland.
I took a trip through this beautiful landscape courtesy of Hidden Ireland Tours as part of an organized Pre-Bex tour leading up to the TBEX Ireland travel conference in Killarney. A hike up Mount Eagle was on the itinerary but dreary morning weather canceled those plans. However, we did still manage to stop and do a bit of hiking at Slea Head. This popular stop was pretty windy when our group was there but it didn’t take away from the stunning views of the surrounding islands, mountains and cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula. I definitely plan to hike Mount Eagle, Mount Brandon and do plenty of exploring when I return to the Dingle Peninsula in 2018.
You can get to Dingle Peninsula by bus. Take Eireann Bus 275 from Tralee year round or Bus 276 from Killarney (summer only) with both buses making multiple stops on the Dingle Peninsula. The full journey takes 70 minutes with the last stop in Dingle, which is an excellent base for exploring the peninsula.
Killarney National Park, County Kerry
Ireland’s first national park (established in 1932) has something for everyone. Over 1.5 million visitors come here every year to see its natural beauty, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and so many trails to explore! I spent a couple days hiking here while I was in town for the TBEX Ireland travel conference.
Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey, Muckross Lake, Torc Waterfall, and Ladies View are some of the many highlights in Killarney National Park. You might even get lucky enough to spot both the Red Deer and Sitka Deer grazing in Killarney National Park. You could easily spend a few days exploring all the trails. There are crowded areas of the national park but you there are plenty of trails to explore and get away from these crowds. One of these places is Reenadinna Wood which you can see on my Killarney hiking vlog. I definitely plan to climb up Torc Mountain on my next trip through Ireland.
Killarney is easily be reached by car, bus or Irish Rail from many cities throughout Ireland. If you’re coming from the north (Galway or Limerick), take Eireann Bus 14. If you’re coming from the south (Waterford or Cork) take Eireann Bus 40.
Slieve League, County Donegal
The landscape around Slieve League is one of the most picturesque places on the Emerald Isle. On top of being home to the highest cliffs in Europe (601 meters or 1972 feet), the Irish media has listed County Donegal as their favorite county in Ireland!
If you plan to hike to the highest point in Slieve League, you can follow the Pilgrim’s Path from the beautiful town of Teelin to the viewpoint. You can also choose to observe Slieve League from a more distant viewpoint by following the signs (see below) and taking the road a bit farther south.
Once you reach the cliff edge, a brave and experienced hiker can scale the vertigo-inducing One Man’s Pass to reach the highest point. The views are amazing especially if the weather is great. I don’t recommend attempting to climb One Man’s Pass in poor weather conditions. The visibility was really poor when I did this hike (I could barely see 100 feet in front of me). I was using the yellow-marked stones to guide me until they stopped once I reached the cliff edge. I decided it was best to turn around from here.
You can get to Slieve League by taking the Intercity Bus Route 293 from Donegal and get off at Kilcar or Carrick depending on where you choose to stay.
Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
Exploring 40000 basalt columns is an impressive site to see in Northern Ireland. However, walking away from the crowds and further up the cliffs will give you some of the best views in the country.
Start by climbing up the Sheperd’s Steps and turn left onto the ‘Yellow Trail’ when you reach the top. This trail stays relatively flat after the steps and zigzags for 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers) along the cliffs to the Dunseverick Castle ruins (3-3.5 hours). You will probably see very few people on this trail (at least compared to the Cliffs of Moher Cliff Walk). I stopped many times along the way to just soak in all the amazing views by myself. There is a trail that goes all the way to the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge but I couldn’t find it. From the town of Dunseverick, I walked on the main road back to my hostel.
You can get to Giant’s Causeway by taking a frequent bus to Coleraine from Belfast Europa Station or Derry/Londonderry. On Sundays, the train from Belfast Central or Derry/Londonderry is cheaper than taking a bus. Once in Coleraine, get on Bus 172 headed for Bushmills/Giant’s Causeway.
Mourne Mountains/Silent Valley, County Down
The Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland are truly something special. It is well worth your time exploring this area, especially around the Silent Valley Reservoir. Tucked away in the Mourne Mountains, the reservoir’s beautiful blue color truly stands out at the bottom of the sloping valley.
The surrounding nature trails south of the reservoir can easily be completed in 2-3 hours although there are many more trails to explore. You can continue along the eastern edge of the reservoir to reach Ben Crom Reservoir! Most of these trails are suitable for all ages and skill levels so bring the whole family! I also recommend hiking up Knockree, which is a hill just south of Atticall. You will be treated to an excellent 360-degree view of the Mourne Mountains and the Irish Sea. The best time to do this hike is in the evening if you want to observe a beautiful sunset over the mountains.
You can easily make a weekend trip out of this from Belfast or Dublin. If you decide to go by bus, take Ulsterbus 20 from Belfast to Newcastle and connect to Ulsterbus 37 from Newcastle to Kilkeel. If you are going to or coming from Dublin, take Ulsterbus 39 from Newry to Kilkeel. From Kilkeel, you can take Ulsterbus 125 from Kilkeel to Atticall but it’s important to note this bus only runs Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Wicklow Mountains National Park, County Wicklow
This is the ultimate mountain getaway for those looking to escape the city. Averaging over 1 million visitors a year, it is one of the most popular national parks in the country. Due to its proximity to Dublin (less than 90 minutes by car), it is very common for locals and travelers to come here for the day or a bank holiday weekend. As a result, it will be very crowded during this time so plan your trip accordingly.
Most hikers will base themselves in Glendalough (Irish for ‘valley of two lakes’) where multiple trails begin at the Visitor Centre. There are nine trails here and some of them do overlap with each other. I spent two full days completing all the trails in the park which I highly recommend doing. However, if you are limited on time, my recommendation is to hike the White Route up the beautiful Glenealo Valley to a stunning view of the Upper Lake. Continue scaling along the top towards the Spinc before going back down and finishing the White Route near Poulanass Waterfalls. From here, climb up the Orange Route for great views of Glendalough and the surrounding area before finishing back at the Visitor Centre. This route should take 5-6 hours and is a perfect way to spend a day in the Wicklow Mountains!
Glendalough is easily accessible by car but you can also take the Glendalough Bus from Dublin. It costs €13 one way and €20 for a return ticket.
Bray Head Cliff Walk, County Wicklow
If you have an extra day or two in the Dublin, why not spend it hiking. Bray and Howth are beautiful walks in the area with excellent views Both hikes are very family-friendly.
Bray Head cliff walk is a fun 4.3 mile (7 km) walk one way along the beautiful Irish coastline to Greystones. Starting near the beach, you begin heading south with Bray Head on one side and the cliffs on the other side which give some really unique vantage points. Keep your camera in position to take some pictures of the DART train darting in and out of the tunnels.
Since I was short on time, I climbed up to Bray Head to get an excellent view of the surrounding area (Bray, Howth, Dublin, Wicklow Mountains). I continued along the top before coming back down around the halfway mark between Bray and Greystones and turned back towards Bray. This route should take around 3 hours total. The full cliff walk takes 2-2.5 hours one way and 4-5 hours roundtrip.
The best way to get to Bray from Dublin is by taking the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit). A return ticket costs €6.95 and just €6.00 if you have a Leap Card.
Howth Cliff Walk, County Dublin
Howth cliff walk is rougher and rockier than the Bray cliff walk but still relatively easy. Starting from the Howth promenade, follow the arrows up the hill into Kilrock car park where you will see a sign for four different trails. Take the path that guides you along the cliffs and gives you great views of Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island. Look out for wildlife such dolphins, lizards and a variety of seabirds. Continue all the way to the Baily Lighthouse for some great views of Dublin.
From here, you can decide either to return the way you can or explore inland and hike up Ben of Howth for a great view of the area. Both routes are around 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) in length and take 3-3.5 hours to complete.
The best way to get to Howth from Dublin is by taking the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit). A return ticket costs €6.25 and just €5.00 if you have a Leap Card. However, if there is a tube strike, you can also take Bus 31 to Howth. A one-way ticket costs €3.30 or €2.60 with a Leap Card.
It’s definitely worth getting a Leap Card when you are in Dublin especially if you are planning to stick around for a few days to visit the museums. Check out Traveling Mitch’s post on his visit to the Irish Emigration Museum located in the heart of the city.
Due to the unpredictable Irish weather, I wasn’t able to go hiking everywhere I wanted to go. Here is my list of hiking spots I want to go to on my next trip to Ireland!
Errigal Mountain and Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal.
Letterfrack and Connemara National Park in County Galway.
Carrauntoohil and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in County Kerry.
Croagh Patrick, Westport and Ballycroy National Park in County Mayo.
This is a short list of my favorite budget accommodations while staying in Ireland. These three places all have very friendly and helpful owners who went above and beyond to ensure I had an enjoyable stay. *Obviously not paid to say it but I highly recommend them all*
Blue Pool Hostel in Glengarriff on the Beara Peninsula, County Cork
Derrylahan Hostel in Kilcar near Slieve League, County Donegal
Mourne Lodge in Atticall near the Mourne Mountains, County Down
**BONUS** If you enjoyed reading about hiking in Ireland, I recommend checking out my Panama Hiking Overview!
Have you done any hiking in Ireland? If so comment below with your favorite spots to hike in Ireland. You are also welcome to send me an email using the contact form below. Tell me what you are thinking!